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Interview with Oliver and Simon from Finsterforst

Interview with Oliver and Simon from Finsterforst
by Erika Kuenstler at 22 June 2015, 6:22 AM

At the recent Napalm Records warm-up party at Out & Loud festival in Germany, I got the chance to chat to Oliver and Simon, the vocalist and lead guitarist respectively of FINSTERFORST.  With the name FINSTERFORST reflecting their origins from near the Black Forest in Germany, this band is becoming increasingly well known internationally. With the release of their fourth full-length album “Mach Dich Frei” earlier this year, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a few details about this album, as well as a few tantalizing hints about new and upcoming music. 

A memorable part of the band’s stage presence is that you appear besmeared in dirt. How did this come about?

Oliver: Haha, that’s a question for Simon. I just joined the band wagon!
Simon: I don’t really remember when we started using it. In the beginning we didn’t use any body paint whatsoever. We were a little students’ band and didn’t do anything like posing on the stage. But at some point we thought “Hmm, we’re doing Pagan Metal and it’s becoming pretty trendy, and it would be of huge benefit if we also appear like that on stage, so we started painting ourselves with coal. But after some time we realised coal is not healthy for our skin, haha, so we changed to Fango, which is a very healthy mud used in physiotherapy and stuff like that. But it looks dirty and very fitting to the whole Pagan Metal posing style. It’s a bit annoying, but oh well.

Yeah, I can imagine its hell to clean it off your instruments.

Simon: Well, every instrument has its nicks and scratches, and all our instruments generally look a bit more used. My guitar is brown anyway, so I don’t really have many problems with that.

Speaking about instruments, you have some unusual instruments for a Metal band, such as the accordion. Is that something that you set out to have right from the start, or did it just happen as the band progressed?

Simon: We started out from the beginning to write with the accordion, from the first song I wrote. It was simply the idea that we had back then when we thought about starting this band. It was like a project at first, as the line-up was not completed so far. We didn’t have a drummer. But my vision or idea was to include the accordion because it adds a party mood; although the music certainly developed into something else during the years. It was pretty dancy and cheery in the beginning, and now it’s completely something else.

Does it ever get chaotic with so many members on the stage all the time? I can imagine small stages are really cramped!

Oliver: Oh yes, that’s a struggle sometimes. You just stumble into each other. But I think we’re doing pretty well with that. Sometimes it’s really a struggle though because you have to fit seven guys on a stage. And we’ve played in really small clubs like bars that has about eight square meters for a stage, then you can’t really move so there’s not much else to do other than headbanging.

And how does the compositional process work? Is it a group effort or more of an individual thing?

Oliver: Yeah, it is a group effort: we all tell Simon we want a new album and he composes everything! Haha. No, it’s really all just Simon composing and stuff and the other guys don’t really have a say in it. Maybe someone will say “Look at that part again for me” but it’s really up to him. And when he’s done composing, I do the lyrics. That’s how it works, but with seven guys, I don’t think you can really make it a group effort, because you’d never come to any sort of agreement.
Simon: Especially for such music.

One thing that I enjoyed about the album “Mach Dich Frei” is that even though there are so many instruments, there’s still such a clear sound quality and you can hear every little detail. How did you manage that?

Simon: We put in quite some effort with our producer Christoph Brandes in his Iguana Studios. We’ve been working together with him since our first production. I know him very well, he knows me very well. With each production we give ourselves new tasks, new challenges, and we somehow manage to top it again and again and again. Haha, maybe it’s with the help of eating meat, haxen, the knuckle of pork. But it’s a lot of work. It’s pretty stressful: when we are done with recording, we invest a lot of time into the mix until it is… Well, you can always mix until the sun freezes over, but at some point you have to set yourself a limit.

Did you face any challenges in the production?

Oliver: I think the physical challenge was pretty huge for our drummer Wombo, because he did everything in two days. But other than that, there were a few challenges with the vocals but otherwise Simon was running stuff. He sees what the members of the band are capable of doing.
Simon: Yeah, this time we had more work with the vocals because there are more melodic vocals, especially solo melodic vocals. We split them more and experimented a bit more in the studio. But you can’t really tell which part of the recording process was the most loading. Everything was pretty intense.

That was one thing that really stood out about the album, the difference in vocal styles. Are you happy with that, and will you stick with this in the future or go back to a less melodic style?

Simon: I love it; I’m very happy with it. It worked out very well. We have four of us doing vocals, and everyone has his own solo parts which add some great flexibility to the vocal work of the album, and we also have some choir. So in future, for sure we will stay on that track.

Is there a red thread that ties the songs of “Mach Dich Frei” together?

Oliver: in terms of music, I think Simon has to answer that, I think it’s all his brain fart! Haha, maybe that’s the red thread!
Simon: In terms of music, there was not any idea about a connection between the songs. The only idea was that I compose the five songs in the right order. The idea was that I start with one song and this one would be the first on the album, the second I wrote would be the second. I insisted on this order.
Oliver: Which we never did before.

Why do it that way?

Simon: I don’t know, it was just a feeling. I started with a song and told myself “I want the album to start like the beginning of this first song. And then with the end of the first song, I already tried to imagine “Ok, this song ends like this, how do I begin the next one?
Oliver: And with the lyrics, except for “Finsterforst”, everything touches freedom in some kind of way. It’s much more about personal freedom than freedom like in Braveheart. It’s about setting yourself free and just doing what you really want to be doing. If you feel like hating somebody, do it! If you feel like loving somebody, do it! Don’t let anybody oppress you.

The video for “Mach Dich Frei” seems to be about breaking free of societal chains and grabbing hold of this freedom. Is that what you were trying to portray?

Oliver: In the video, yeah, that was the absolute whole idea. We talked to Leo, the guy who produced the video, and had some ideas and he did the script, and we just loved what he put in it, so we just went with it. Like you said, it’s about breaking free from society. And we had this great actor Udo who just did a great job of being first this office guy and then at the end standing on the mountain top like “Fuck you world!” You just gotta love him!

With the song title “Reise Zum…”, (“Journey to…”), that was an evocative song title that got people thinking about the end goal or destination. Was that the idea, to get people thinking?

Oliver: Well, the idea was more like, when we went to the studio, Hannes came up with like “I’ve got a theme from “Finsterforst”, from the song, for this. Let’s vary that”. And in the studio, this was more like jamming with Seban and him. I was thinking about a title, and I was like “This is leading to “Finsterforst”, so let’s call it “Reise Zum…”. And that’s the secret behind it!
Simon: “Journey to the Finsterforst”

Speaking of the song “Finsterforst”, you saved that name for the longest and most epic track on the album. Was this representative of the band?

Simon: I wrote the song and Oliver wrote the lyrics and called it like that, and I found it amazing and fitting.
Oliver: That was the most weird lyrics I ever wrote because I had a totally different idea when I first heard the rough structures of the song. I started writing lyrics but didn’t really come to grips and didn’t really come to an end. I was really delaying. Simon was already in the studio, and we had a rough mix. I listened to the rough mix, and at some point I just felt “Ok, I’ve got to sing this on that part”, and the lyrics kinda wrote themselves. It was a really interesting feeling because it wasn’t so much my brain that did the lyrics, but my gut. At the end I looked at the lyrics, and I was like “Fuck it, this is “Finsterforst”.  So yeah, interesting. I really can’t describe it. You hear that from so many other bands, but this time it’s true!

You’ve churned out a lot of albums; four in eight years. You really don’t seem to rest on your laurels; are you already working on new material?

Simon: Yeah, we’re working on something, but I can’t tell what it is, because I’m not sure if it will be the next album. Maybe we have some funny experiment planned. Haha, but only maybe! Yes, we do, but what it is I can’t tell. The process of composing and planning is still too undeveloped. But I don’t know when we will do this next year; I hope in the beginning we can record it, and then we’ll see. But that doesn’t mean that we will break the line of staying on the musical path which we have done now with “Mach Dich Frei”.
Oliver: Well, we might to some degree, haha.
Simon: Our next full-length album will appear again heavy and long and epic.
Oliver: I think it’s about evolving.

Sounds interesting! Well, those would be all my questions. Thanks for taking the time to answer them!

Thank you very much!


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