The Spirit - Interview
Germans The Spirit have recently released their third full-length album "Of Clarity And Galactic Structures" which is a huge step forward in their career. The band always stood a little bit in the shadow of the almighty Dissection but they have emancipated themselves with this album and found its own way. I had the chance to talk with mastermind MT via Zoom about the musical changes that they went through and a lot of influences that you can find on the album. So, enjoy reading and watch the skies!
Hello Matthias, is everything all right?
Yes, so far everything is fine.
On April 29th you released your new album "Of Clarity And Galactic Structures". What do you want to tell us with this title?
First of all it sounds good. It has power and the lyrics of the title track describe it well. I always find it a bit difficult to give out details about the lyrics, because I always keep them quite open, so everyone can interpret something into it. Everybody who reads the lyrics can make his own picture, on the one hand by what is written and on the other hand by what you interpret into it. That's my thing and everyone who is interested in the lyrics has a different approach to the meaning. For me the lyrics are also ambiguous, I connect two things with it. In the title track and also in other lyrics it is roughly described that it is often good not only to take a step back and look from the outside at one's own life, or various aspects and things, in general at humanity. Sometimes it might be good to go back 10 million steps and see how the big picture looks then from a different angle.
Musically, I would say it's your most mature and independent album. You've stepped out of the shadow of Dissection and sound much more multifaceted now. Was that the logical step for you? What would you say is the biggest difference from the previous two albums?
Generally in life you try to try something new when you stop somewhere, no matter what. For me, it's important that there's a challenge in everything I do. With the first album, I had never recorded or released music before, even though I had been in the music business for a long time. So the challenge for me was to put out an album like I would like to hear from other bands, because I didn't get comfortable with the extreme metal scene for the last 10, 15 years. With Cosmic Terror the challenge was to go one step further. I wanted to take the step back then that we've taken now with the new album, but to be honest, I didn't have the balls for it in terms of songwriting and I played it a little safe. With the new album, I said we're going to try something new; we still sound like The Spirit and we're not going to reinvent the wheel, but for me, the important thing in the songwriting was that we worked a lot with odd beats. We did that a little bit here and there on Cosmic Terror, but we did it a lot more here. If you don't have much to do with writing music yourself, you probably wonder where the difference is and hopefully you don't hear it. It's from songwriting for me, how I write guitar riffs, it's had an incredible influence on it. You usually play 3/4 or 4/4 and if you've never done anything like that before and to work with a 7/4 time signature, that was kind of the undiscovered land. I suddenly got a whole new set of ideas and it was a lot of fun. It was very tricky at the beginning, it took me an eternity to get the first riffs together, but you get better at it. The first song was 'Arcane Wanderer' and I thought beforehand that I would like to write a complete song in 7/4 or 7/8. The song lasts 7 minutes and is the 7th song on the album. It was so much fun when we were working out the drums in the rehearsal room because it was so challenging as well. We were both sitting there with our eyes closed counting along so we wouldn't get out of time because we didn't really know the riffs yet...it was just different and we had so much fun with it that I said we're going to keep going in that direction. That's the reason why it sounds a little more layered. I noticed in a couple of interviews that maybe a lot of people don't get along with it because it's not quite as catchy. That wasn't the case with the other albums either, but you definitely have to invest more time here to get into it. Of course, we also have a song like 'Celestial Fire' that you hear once and then it's very catchy and short and with a chorus. But to go back to your question, we were thinking about what we could do to make it a little more challenging for us and then you're right into a machinery where you're always repeating yourself and then that happens pretty quickly that you get out of your comfort zone a little bit. That was the goal with the album.
Besides black metal riffs you can also hear some other influences. I thought a few times that it sounds a bit like old Paradise Lost, especially at the end of the title track or also the somewhat proggy 'Laniakea' which reminds me a bit of the theme music from Stranger Things. Did you consciously include new influences or was that more of a subconscious step?
Paradise Lost has not been a conscious influence. But this instrumentalization, which we also had on the last album...I'm mainly a guitarist and not a singer, but at that time we considered getting a singer in the band, but in the end it was difficult enough with 4 people, so I then put myself on the mic. You can also hear that in the songs, because I don't like to stand at the mic and accordingly we have a lot of instrumental passages. I like to create a certain atmosphere. We don't have keyboards in our music, although I like keyboards a lot because you can create great atmospheres with them and I try to create that with the guitars, meaning that there are harmonies and things like that in there. That this will be on the new album was clear from the beginning, I have already said this in interviews, when the question often came up, how it will continue. I've always said that Cosmic Terror, the song from the last album, is the strongest song on the album and also the one we like to play live the most and that this will be the direction we're going in the future. Accordingly, we then have even more instrumentation on the new album.
Another thing I noticed is a part in 'Laniakea' that reminds me quite a bit of the theme music from Stranger Things, but I'm probably wrong about that now....
I know what you mean. There's also a sequence in there that keeps repeating, but no. There are two things. One is that I like listening to Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream and artists like that who work a lot with sequencers. For me, the thing with synths that I just mentioned, that we don't have in our music but I'd like to have in it, but it's hard enough anyway to find four people to make music with and to get more on board there...too many cooks spoil the broth. But for us it's important that everything we do on the album can be done live. There are no backing tracks, we're not going to start doing anything on the laptop - it starts with synthesizers and if the bassist isn't there, the bass runs from the tape, then vocals from the tape...that's unfortunately such a story at the moment where it's going in metal that - I call it provocatively playback - is quite normal. You couldn't have imagined that 20 years ago, but it's like that now.
Yes, I remember when Samael did that in the mid-90s with the drum machine on "Passage", where everyone thought "oh shit".
We then figured out how to do that so we could play the stuff live. I worked with the kind of sequencer where I can play that when the guitars start, so it sounds exactly the same live.
What does 'Laniakea' actually mean? Is it related to our super galaxy cluster, in which the Milky Way is also located?
That is the meaning and comes from the Hawaiian word. That's our supercluster where we are located, that's what it refers to.
Where do you get your ideas for the lyrics? Are they based on any sci-fi books you guys read or series/movies?
It's not so much science fiction, though I love that, movies, books, you name it. But it has more of a pure astronomy or science background. I've been very interested in astronomy since I was little and wanted to study it when I was young, but unfortunately I was too lazy at school for that to work out and I ended up working instead of going to university. But I am extremely interested in the subject, read a lot about it and there is also extremely much to do. When you sing about Vikings, not that I'm interested in the subject, but there you're quite limited in what you have on it. With this topic, you have such a large pool to fall back on. New things are discovered every year and because we know next to nothing about the field and it's just super exciting. I then combine this theme with themes of how I see the world and it's then such a mish-mash of both. I try to keep it so that it's not heavy-handed and I'm not just regurgitating something from history that everyone's already heard or getting upset about politician XY, but writing things that everyone can kind of identify with and everyone can bring their own thoughts and memories to it and it's all a bit open-ended.
With your sci-fi covers, you must be eagerly awaiting the James Webb telescope shots, right? That might be an idea for a future cover.....
The first one already existed.
Yes, exactly, for calibration, but you couldn't see that much.
Exactly. I was asked the other day if I could recommend any literature for beginners. I then answered that a large part of the books I have would not recommend it because they are 10, 15 or 20 years old and no longer current. That's when I brought up the James Webb telescope and said that I hope that the current literature that will be written in a few years will then address the things that the telescope discovers and hopefully rewrite history.
You had to re-release your first album because it went out of print so quickly, and the second one has also attracted a lot of attention. Did you expect to achieve such a status within two years?
The deal with Nuclear Blast was definitely a surprise. We had released the first album ourselves because no label was interested. So the deal with Nuclear Blast was a huge surprise and that we were also introduced to a wider audience and reached a lot more people. Expected that, no. When I think back, the last two years flow in, where I think we made a splash in the underground, but where could we be now if we had been able to step on the gas for the last two years. The second album was released and we were able to play 6 release shows. 5 of them were sold out and it was unbelievable that within two years, where at the beginning nobody knew us, we filled clubs with 300 people and it was sold out. Of course the question is what else we could have done in those two years with more tours and especially festivals. That's the be-all and end-all in the business, that you play live and reach people that way. I hope that we can pick up where we left off 2 years ago and continue with the new album.
You were supposed to go on tour together with Thulcandra, but that was all canceled. Will that be made up or is that not possible?
We had three blocks and in the first block, one day before it started, our guitarist called me and said he had a positive PCR test. Everything was ready here, the merchandise boxes, in the rehearsal room, everything was packed up and we were waiting for the van and then we had to cancel the first block. Then the other two blocks were not allowed to take place because the restrictions were increased and all that was not possible. But the concerts will not be made up.
The cover was made by Eliran Kantor this time. How could you convince him to do it? And to what extent did you give him instructions or just let him do it?
When you have someone on your hook who has such a name in the scene and has worked with such big bands, I was super happy in the first moment that the collaboration really came about. It's not like you write to him and he says: "I'm going to make some money with this", but he chooses the bands he works with himself. I had an idea of what I would like and wrote to him, because I like his style, but he works a lot with personal cover artwork. I wrote to him that I didn't want something like that, but would have a different approach. We then wrote back and forth and I think he thought my idea was pretty awesome, just to do something a bit different. It still looks like Eliran Kantor and it is, but it's different from most of what he usually does. I also sent him the music and he also thought the album was super good and that's how it came about. I just gave him some guidelines as to what direction it should go in and, most importantly, that it should be something that wasn't too complicated and had a high recognition value. He nailed that perfectly with the first draft and the cover has a good atmosphere and fits wonderfully - I'm megahappy. Eliran is an absolutely cool dude. I talk to him on the phone from time to time and he's a super nice guy, totally reliable, which unfortunately is not a given in the scene. There are plenty of assholes and unreliable people like in any industry or maybe even more and I think it's good when you get together with people you can work with smoothly.
Last but not least, do you have a couple of albums you're particularly looking forward to this year?
I have no idea at all, I think Magma is supposed to release a new album, that's a French jazz-prog band that's been around since the 60s, otherwise Rammstein, but not for the music, but rather for the videos, which nowadays is not like it used to be. Rammstein does something different.
Yes, I thought the "Deutschland" video was totally cool!
It blew me away, it's one of the greatest videos ever! But I wouldn't know anything else right now, maybe if I thought about it until tomorrow.
Do you have any last words for our readers?
I hope all this shit will stop permanently and after touring in Europe, we can then come to North America and the US, because that's the second biggest market for us after Germany.
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