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„Thrilling and exciting“is probably the best way to describe the situation the Berlin based band Zeraphine has been in for the last few months. It´s not enough that they are working on a new, fourth album „Still“(release date: 30th June) – they have started their own record company together with Phonix Records. In this interview singer Sven Friedrich talks about the kind of silence the title of the upcoming record is concerned with, about how quiet the album is musically, and lots more.
Starting your own label isn´t something you do lightly. How many sleepless nights have you had? After all, this kind of thing is never without risk.
No, there are great risks attached to it – especially for the individual members. And we´ve had many a sleepless night, but really only in the early stages, when we all wanted to do it, but weren´t sure whether we could pull it off. We talked to a lot of potential partners and practically all of them encouraged our plans. After all the calculations had been made, we were actually quite relaxed. When a label offers you a lot of money, you can´t help but ask yourself: „Am I daft or something?! This way I could easily make a living out of music!“ But it´s really not worth it, I would like to be able to get up in the morning and look in the mirror.
Why did you take this step: were the offers you got not suitable? Were they too restrictive? Did they offer you too little freedom?
That last point is about accurate. We used to be with an excellent label, Drakkar. Our contract expired and the problem was that our frontperson, Silke, emigrated. She could have just helped us out with the promo, but she definitely did a lot more for us and got a lot things done for us. In a lot of areas they were coming up short. That was a reason for us to go and look for other companies. We talked to some big labels and a few of them were very interested. But at the same time it was unmistakable that they were talking us into certains thing and it´s a compromise one doesn´t like to make, since you never know what you are getting yourself into. I don´t mind being talked into things concerning music when the person doing the talking is someone I trust a hundred percent, someone who has the same goals, but with people we don´t know, we can´t compromise like that. And we are not prepared to be the older version of Tokio Hotel.
Did it have anything to do with the fear of being pulled under at such a big label?
You never know with these companies. Will the next big thing come from the US, from the UK or from Germany, and when everyone is focusing their attention and energy on that, will there be any time left for our little album? The labour turnover at these big labels was also something that bothered us, because you never know whether you will work with the guys you started out with again. There were a lot of issues that made us decide against and finally we said: We don´t want to sign with a small label like Drakkar, the big labels are also out of the question – let´s see if we can make this work by ourselves. We discussed it a lot, had meetings, talked about things and made calculations and because we had been very frugal in the past year, we had a decent seed capital with which we could afford to do it. There were simply so many reasons why we should do it all ourselves. And it really worked out well and it´s beginning to pay itself back.
Your drummer Marcellus is a lawyer and so he deals with legal issues. Do you do the rest of the work together or how have you arranged that?
We have divided everything according to topics, preferences and skills. It makes sense for Marcellus to deal with all the legal issues and things to do with contracts and such. I mainly take care of the visual stuff, like graphics and things to do with promotion. Manu handles everything to do with live performances. Norman takes care of all the book-keeping stuff. Micha does a lot the organisational things, so all of the bureaucratic issues, and worries himself with officials. Our producer Thommy Hein, who is also on board, deals wih the marketing issues. This way we have all the different areas covered and when something else needs to be done, someone who has time to spare, jumps in.
That sounds like a lot of added stress.
It definitely costs a lot of energy, but it´s not all that bad, since it´s also fun and exciting to do. It´s considerably more work than before, but we are getting things in order, we are working and doing so with partners like a promotion agency and the marketing also takes a fair amount of work. We used to do relatively much ourselves before – at the moment those things are expanding.
What do you have planned for the future? Will you be building up a small label with more bands?
That is the idea, but first we have to make sure that we´ve got a handle on things and we absolutely don´t want to experiment on some band – we´d much rather experiment on ourselves first. But the long-term goal is to form a real label with other artists. In order to do that, we need to have a stronger financial basis first, so we can deal with a flop in case of need without going bankrupt, but it will be a while before we are at that point. In our current situation we can´t sign any newcomers, since we can´t be sure what to count on. The financial risk would simply be to great. We won´t be able to do that until later. We are already taking quite a risk at the moment, but we know what our sales figures are, so the risk is manageable.
Has starting your own label already payed off in the production of the new album?
Even though our record company never interfered with our music, we were even more free with this album, because now we are only accountable to ourselves. You always have this voice inside your head, saying the people from the record company just pump a lot of money into your band because the record has to sell and perhaps that made us hold back a bit before. Now it´s our money that is going into it. We also ventured a change in sound.
That brings us to the second big change: The road to the new record was different than usual. This time you weren´t on a farm in the Spreewald to create songs – was it a conscious choice to try something completely different, or did it just work out that way?
It was a combination of both. Originally we wanted to connect the Spreewald with our new venture. But we didn´t have the time for it. So we decided that we preferred to play the songs together in the studio. This time there weren´t too many elements that needed to be woven together into a song, as was the case on most of the previous records. The compositions were quite far along this time, so the creative phase on the farm wasn´t really necessary. We wanted to jam a bit more as a band. Everyone knew the demos, was well-prepared and then we played the songs many times in the studio to complete the arrangements. we were able to look each other in the eye and it was a very, very productive labour.
The lyrics were once again written by you, aren´t they?
Yes, I wrote the songs and all of the lyrics over the summer and autumn of last year and part of it at the beginning of 2006.
How do you do it: You have released four albums in six years and you tour so much – yet you never seem to be short of energy or ideas…
No, so far I´ve never had a writer´s block, and I am very happy about that. There are always new experiences and incidents that really influence a person – whether in a positive or negative way and that gives you new ideas. I always have plenty of musical ideas as it is and I collect those and later on I try to make those ideas into songs. Usually there is already a theme for the lyrics. The actual business of composing is already completed by the time we go into the studio. Six or nine months down the line you already have new ideas anyway.
Did you think about the direction of the album beforehand or did you simply let the songs themselves decide?
Definitely the latter. Before you go into the studio, you always get together and discuss what the sound of the new album should be. The compositions are already completed by that time. The question is whether the sound should be more strummy, louder or softer. We vaguely have the intention to be a bit more dirty, we want everything to be a bit rougher, but it should be recorded well.
The title of the new album is „Still“, a title that may be interpreted as German as well as English and can have the same meaning in both languages – but not necessarily...
It is meant in the sense of the English word „still“ that means the same thing in German. The album title is also the title of one of the songs, and if you don´t know the song, you might expect it to be very calm and quiet or about something calm and quiet. But the song is about a different sort of quiet, about a very ominous and uncomfortable kind of silence. The song has the opposite effect to what is usual and what the song is. I think that is partly representative of the album – this contradiction, which isn´t a obvious this time as it was for example on „Blind Camera“.
And whoever thinks from the album title that this record is quiet, will know better, even though there are also some calm pieces on it. One of those is „Halbes Ende“, which starts off very quietly, with your extremely deep voice – it´s very captivating.
We don´t want to do without songs like those. The are a part of Zeraphine and they will be a part of every record. They simply belong there. And on this album I screamed a bit more again. It depends of course on the songs and this record provides such songs.
The song „Fang mich“ is completely different. It´s a very surprising song.
Yes, it´s very electronic, but that is also a part of our sound. It´s just never had so much space as it has in this song and we thought it would be exciting.
The song that moves me the most is „Nur ein Tag“ – which is your most moving song? Or are songs less moving to you when they are so close to you?
But they are. All of the songs move me, since they are all about very personal matters, but „Nur ein Tag“ is even more emotional to me whenever I hear it or when I sing it.
Let´s have a look at some of the lyrics: „Nobody notices when worlds fall apart“ is in one of the lyrics. Is it easy to tell when something in your world falls apart – it doesn´t have to be an end-of-the-world matter?
I think I´m pretty much an open book. I am very bad at repressing or hiding how I feel. In that sense you can easily tell how I am feeling, whether I am feeling good or bad, whether I am in a good mood or a bad one – at least people who know me a bit can tell.
„She drags along a tangle of thoughts. And you stumble, it holds you back and you fall“ is what you sing on „Nichts aus Liebe“. I interpret those tangles as being ghosts of the past, who follow you, won´t let go and prevent you from moving on, too many thought and worries etc. – many people are very good at that, what about you?
The song isn´t specifically about my own history, it´s about the thoughts that people always carry with them, that make them stumble. That´s what happens to me a lot – they don´t make me fall, but I stumble.
It´s easier, although perhaps not better, for people who can take those thoughts and casts them far away.
It can have a very positive aspect, stumbling on certain issues, it can give you strength. I believe that people who never stumble on anything, are possibly too ignorant. I get something positive out of stumbling on thoughts, or sometimes even falling over them.
„It´s quiet – from here to the edge of the world. The dreams have been silenced“ is another fragment. What is your dream?
There are always a lot of dreams, that´s really hard to say. At the moment everything is about the new album, and because of our venture, this is the first time things are going the way they are going. Right now the real dream is to get everything concerning the album and the label sorted and to the stage and above all, that people enjoy the record. That´s what my life is all about at the moment.
About a year ago something else very exciting was in front of you: last summer you played as one of the three support bands for The Cure at Wuhlheide in Berlin. What was that experience like for you, being a fan of The Cure?
Ever since I was twelve years old, I have been a big fan of The Cure. This band accompanied me all through my childhood. Every single album I relate to a certain period in my life. It´s truly phenomenal. We have already played at the same festival as The Cure twice, but that´s not quite the same thing as playing as a support band at one of their concerts, knowing that Robert Smith had a look at our homepage, listened to our albums and said: „This is cool. These guys should play.“ Fortunately, when first I heard of it, it was already certain that we were going to be doing it. Otherwise I would have probably freaked out. It was very impressive, also how relaxed the band is – including Robert Smith.
So you had the chance to meet him?
We were able to speak to him afterwards. I was very impressed by this guy and also the band. They rehearsed a bit at the soundcheck, without Robert though, who hadn´t arrived yet. It was very cool! And I talked to him! Author: Melanie Haack, translation: Sanne Peeters Date: 2006-06-29