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Custard's Chris Klapper: "We know that this depth in the songs is not the right approach for everyone, especially if you want this music to be nothing more than what I call “elevator music”"

Interview with Chris Klapper from Custard
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 08 February 2022, 11:15 PM

History, and it can be argued that is brutish side in particular, always suited well with Metal music, as clearly, it was proven that it this music can really tell a story, portray events of old. The Roman Empire has been an inspiration for many songwriters, the violent nature of their era, alongside the wonders of their advancements, still remain as one of mankind's interesting eras to learn, and understand. The German Custard, used to stage fantasy tales, this time around sunk their teeth into history, and made it quite well with "Imperium Rapax". Steinmetal had a chance to talk to Chris Klapper of the band about the album's epos, along with its meaning, and the music.

Holiday greetings Chris, it is a pleasure of mine to have you for this conversation with Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing?

Hi Lior, thanks. It is my pleasure. Basically I am fine; hope you are as well.

If we thought to ourselves that this time of the year would be better, in comparison to the last two years, I guess that we would be baffled, thanks to yet another Covid-19 variant. Would you say that this unrest, and concern, of the authorities is just this time around or merely an exaggeration?

I really understand that everyone is really pissed after all that time and had really hard times when it comes to jobs and income. I am really happy that nobody in the band had those problems- even if we had one member who took part of the very first wave of infections. It took him nearly two years to recover fully, but in the end there is nothing bad left.

The authorities are just going upside down each week and have really no idea what they are doing; at least here in Germany. There are new rules and regulations each week and we cannot rely on nothing.

Another aspect of the musical life that is still shaken up, and its future is laying in doubt, is the live scene. We are living in a period of time where the term ‘guarantee’ is non-existent. How do you view this situation as a live band?

That’s what I mean. In the last year we had a few gigs and festivals on the schedule, but in the end it was just one open air festival which really happened. It was a waste of time and energy to plan, re-plan due to changing regulations… and in the end these got cancelled one by one. Same happened with the idea to have a great release-show for the new album here in our home-area. We just started planning and after one week there was the first lockdown issue coming from the new regulations. We decided to skip this for now until we have a more reliable situation. Maybe in summer, maybe in summer 2023, who knows.

Taking your time, without any pressure, you released your seventh album, "Imperium Rapax". Since it has been out for several weeks, what do you hear about it? How does your fanbase take it after waiting for a while for fresh material?

Haha, we are lazy bastards! We enjoy that the label is not pushing us to work on new material and our fanbase is already used to expect a new album after 4 years… maybe. It is just a hobby for us, we don’t make a living from the music. That’s why we are more relaxed with this pandemic shit.

"Imperium Rapax", generally, is a concept album that covers the legendary, perhaps better states as historically critical, Roman Empire. I believe that it would be ought to ask what drove you to strive to the direction of this historical era of mankind?

This is where Olli should step in, but he is sick just now. Singers and wintertime is not a too good combination. Anyway, this is not our first concept album and we really like to act in this one big picture for a full album. With our last album “A Realm of Tales” we used fairy tales as concept and we got really surprised how good this came out. You can imagine that it is like dancing on a blade when fairy tales are the source for metal songs. Olli came with this idea and I know he reads a lot of historical books and watches movies. And compared to the fairy tales there is a lot of heavy metal compatible stories in the roman empire history. A lot of blood, fights, kings, queens and tragedy. Perfect frameset for us.

The Roman Empire’s influence on the world is undeniable. The term ‘Imperium’, or in the English empire, was carved in stone in their time. They ruled nearly the entire known world back in their heyday. Nonetheless, they eventually fell due to various causes, inner and external. Other than simply revisiting pivotal events throughout the empire’s lifespan, what does it represent through Custard? What does Custard try to pass to its listeners?

I think everyone spoke about that in schools' history lessons, so the basic frame is known. We just took a few of the remarkable scenes under a magnifying glass. Our intention is not to judge any of these things, but tell these historical stories in an entertaining way. In the end the influence of the Roman Empire is huge and many good and bad things from these time is still present today.

Sinking into the human element of this historical age, there is a common saying that man is evil from its roots, from birth. Do you believe that this statement came out as just, and right, in the case of the Roman Empire, in particular when it comes to the constant struggle for power, treachery and sorts?

Well, it's easy to say “the Romans” made all that, but I am pretty sure that 95% of the people just wanted to have a good life without war. But it was easy for the imperators to steer the public mind-set due to a lack of information and education. I really see similarities to the German infamous glory history, where a little Austrian man was able to manipulate nearly an entire population.

Looking at the world nowadays, in your opinion, through the events described on "Imperium Rapax", and constant struggles within the empire, what are the fine lines that share qualities with our present day, whether our social order, governance etc.?

As said there are quite some things who have the origin in this age. Let's say the democracy is one of the key things coming from that time, but there are many more things when it comes to politics and governance. Even if we can just learn from the mistakes they made, maybe.

Even though still under the insignia of Teutonic Metal, "Imperium Rapax" shares amazing quality melodies, and an attitude of the British persuasion. The end result is German heaviness with the finesse of the British kind, a mixture that is no doubt powerful and absolute. Would you say that this record, musically, is a next step in Custard’s musical development?

For sure we are developing our style in some natural way. We are not really planning how we evolve, but this album for sure is less “Happy Metal” than we had before and this is a trend we see over the last 3 albums. The individuals in the band are not really sharing the exact same taste so we always wonder if the next output will sound like Custard; but magically it did so far.

"Imperium Rapax", as a concept record, portrays a measure of memorability, yet not in the kind that would present the songs as aimed to be merely catchy hits, but with substance. What can you tell about your approach towards the songwriting of the record? What lessons of the past did you implement while the album was in the making?

Once we have set this Roman Empire frame most of the rest came really natural. We spoke about some scenes we wanted to use, like “the story of Hannibal is cool” and then it was up to us to give a musical frame where the listener can imagine some elephants walking over the alps. We know that this depth in the songs is not the right approach for everyone, especially if you want this music to be nothing more than what I call “elevator music”. You need to sit down and really follow the song to get into the scene. It is definitely not “sex, drugs, party” attitude- sure we have those songs and they work perfectly in live sets.

The use of instrumental intros throughout the album set the stage for the next in line timeframe of the Empire’s existence, at least from what I could grasp. The orchestration on the record, unveiling the gradually growing cinematic effect, certainly grabbed attention. Would you say that this element is the catalyst of the album?

We wanted to avoid to end up with a concept scattered in ten songs. The intention was to have a story line (btw: the line is chronologically correct) over the full album. Therefore, we initially had much, much more of these spoken word elements. Even between the songs. But in the end we decided to shorten these to the minimum required to understand the context and use these orchestral elements to set the desired feeling. I think it was a good decision to wipe out the long storyteller's parts.

I sense that one of the greatest challenges of the record is to find a way to illustrate to the listener the dramatic aspects of the story through the songs. How were you able to create that musical edge, in order to grasp the nature of these deep emotions you were seeking?

This is where the orchestration goes a long way to open the gate. As said, we designed most of the riffs to match the desired feel. That was in some cases really easy, but for example “The Goddess of Magic and Death” was really hard and it took us quite some time to find the right frame. I never seen any movie with this scene or else, but now I have a very detailed picture of Cleopatra and Marcus Antonius sharing their last moments in life.

One of the songs that showcased the mixture between German and British Metal influences is undoubtedly “Res Publica”. The song delivers a main riff that cannot be mistaken, a charge of heaviness that is a clenched fist, yet later on develops a strong atmospheric aura along with enchanting melodies that are no less of a comfort to the ears. What can you tell about this song and its impact on the record?

Hey, the foundation of the republic was a very special moment in Roman history, and we went very cinematic here. Imagine years in misery and finally the people dare to act and break the chains. This is not a straightforward process, so we had to respect this in the song structure. From fragile to strict, from broken to solid. I think we just set the right scene here.

Adjusting the musical end in order to capture the vibe came fruitful on the song “The Goddess Of Magic And Death”, which tells the tale of Roman relations, and later conquest, with the Egyptian kingdom. It appears that you came through with harnessing a kind of Mediterranean styled atmosphere within your riffs, perhaps it is only me, but it is there somewhere. What can you tell of the songwriting process of this tune?

That was quite a task and this track is not in the style we are used to play on a regular basis. That starts with cheesy longer tunes in the vocal lines, like “Cleooooooooopatra” and this very un-common staccato guitars following the vocals, like “Gods are calling us, Gods are calling us”. We did a lot of trial and error until we had the corresponding feel for the picture we had in mind. With this song, but with the full album as well, we learned a lot about giving songs a desired feel.


Sharing vocals with Crystal Viper’s Marta Gabriel is quite a refresher. What can you tell of the idea for a duet on this particular track? How did you know that Mrs. Gabriel is the right Cleopatra?

That was a magical moment! I mean, this song was written like a duet; it was clear that we need a Cleopatra singing these parts. We asked some ladies to do demos for that specific parts; really, really good singers and nothing wrong with it, but it just was not THAT what we are looking for. After a vocal recording session Olli and me were sitting in the studio enjoying a beer after the work we did and as usual we had a random playlist running in the background. We were discussing about the Cleopatra track and for magic reasons a Crystal Viper song played randomly. There she was: Cleopatra! The rest was easy peasy since I know Marta's husband for quite a while. Great voice, great people, perfect match.

Since there is nothing sure with booking shows, what can you tell in regards to your next steps on the live scene to support the record in 2022?

We decided to stop all live activities until we have a more solid chance to really make it happen. So nothing is in the pipeline right now. We do not want to do shows with a maximum of 50 people sitting on chairs in 1,5 meters' space between and we have to make sure that they are all 12-times vaccinated, 5-times tested and they have all the related paperwork at hand. This is just not how a Heavy Metal show should be.

Chris, thank you so much for your time, I wish you happy holidays, enjoy your time with the families. Also, thank you for releasing such an amazing record, shedding more light of one of mankind’s illustrious periods. All the best

Thank you very much for a really good prepared interview far off the usual questions. I really like that you went the extra mile to make it interesting. Have a good 2022! Chris Klapper


 



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