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Mentalist's Kai Stringer: "For the moment we are concerned about democracy. For centuries there has been enlightenment and new standards in humanity that are now crumbling again after us"

Interview with Thomen Stauch & Kai Stringer from Mentalist
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 07 August 2020, 12:26 AM

Fragile times at times may result in extreme measures, a form of measures that won't sit well with has been accepted as a common ground, a consensus between people and government. Human rights, the freedom to speak, to report and to complain. Now, when a crisis is barely averted, so there is a risk that could arise. Somewhat worried about what has been going on in the world, not only due to the pandemic, there are the folks of Mentalist, a group of veterans armed by the talent to create melodic Metal music. Steinmetal was fortunate to have a talk with Thomen Stauch (ex-Blind Guardian) and Kai Stringer (ex-Starchild) about the new band, shared philosophies and opinions, music and its progress, and more…

Hello gentlemen, it is a mighty pleasure and honor for me to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine. How have you been doing in these rather complex times?

Thomen: A big HELLO to you Lior and of course to all the loyal Metalheads out there! Thank you very much for this interview and your interest in our Power Metal band Mentalist! As you can imagine, we were not amused about that Corona virus circumstances. Anyway, we did our best to go on with our work to finish our debut album "Freedom Of Speech"! Now, it´s finally done and we are proud that we managed to record and produce a fantastic and modern power metal album in the 21st Century, where music in general doesn't seem to have the biggest status anymore, as we i.e. had in the Eighties or Nineties, when bands as i.e. Iron Maiden, Helloween, Blind Guardian or Judas Priest etc. had their biggest successes!

Kai: Hello and first of all thank you for this interview. Well, Corona really has changed our all living conditions. I had to close down my music school at the beginning until the lockdown was released and since then the general corona measures such as wearing a mask, washing hands and keeping distance apply. At first it was very strange, but you get used to everything.

The only positive thing I could get out of this situation was that I had enough time in the last few months to finish the missing tracks for our current album in my guitar studio along with Peter (guitars) and Florian (bass). Thomen recorded the drums even before corona at the Caravan Recording studio in Krefeld with Christian "Moschus" Moos, who’s our engineer for the whole album by the way and the vocals (Rob Lundgren) were recorded in Stockholm.

It came down on me like a thunder on a sunny day, and I got to know your new band Mentalist. Since you guys have already seen quite a lot, what was the motivation to start Mentalist to begin with? Is it intended also to be a live act in the future or rather to remain a studio project?

Kai: We see ourselves as a full-fledged band. After the release of "Freedom Of Speech" live concerts are planned as well as a tour next year. We have a message and want to bring it live on stage.

Thomen: Definitely, we are a real band, not just a studio or live project! In addition, we are already working on our 2nd album, so you can probably notice how important Mentalist is for all our members. We have almost no patience to listen to the yet not existing songs of our second album already, hahaha!

Your leading mascot, the Mentalist figure, is quite an interesting character that appears to be holding much more secrets and carrying an enigma in comparison to previous famous mascots such as Eddie, Vic Rattlehead, Jack-O or Fangface. What is the nature of the character? What does it try to prove and what kind of messages does it hold?

Kai: One could understand the figure of the Mentalist as a magnifying glass, he intensifies the viewer's attention to a special point, like an information sign :-) It can be about past, present or future. In the context of our album cover, he points out the abuses of democracy and freedom of the press by standing symbolically as a right-wing populist in front of the crowd and behind his back he's burning  a newspaper to oppress the opinion of others which is in this case the press. He's literally manipulating the freedom of speech. I would say, it's a contemporary topic. Unfortunately!

“Freedom Of Speech” is the title of your soon to be released debut album. I must say that listening to the album, while following the title as a totem, it raises a series of questions regarding your inner disbelief and anguish of what has been going on in the world. What would you say are the chief aspects of “Freedom Of Speech” philosophically?

Kai: Democracy! That would be the direct answer. For the moment we are concerned about democracy. For centuries there has been enlightenment and new standards in humanity that are now crumbling again after us. The album addresses and points out some of these aspects…

Thomen: Democracy is one of the biggest and most important goods of mankind, I would say. Well, meanwhile we are living in difficult times and democracy seems to not have the significance anymore it had once. Even if the importance of democracy seems to fluctuate, it should never get lost completely. That’s at least my personal opinion!

The artwork itself tells also of what has been hidden from us as a global society. Terms newly implemented into the public chatter such as “Fake News” also became part of my thoughts while looking at it. Judging by the artwork, is this the future that you believe in or it is a version of a future to come that can be foreseen?

Kai: The album cover was drawn by the great Andreas Marshall, who has also made album covers for bands like Blind Guardian, Hammerfall, Running Wild, In Flames etc… But to answer your question, our cover is not the idea of a future, but rather symbolizes the present in which we live in now.

To be honest, I never quite expected anything before I started listening to “Freedom Of Speech”, I haven’t also entered your Facebook page until I prepared myself for this interview, yet once the intro was over, I knew what I stumbled into. Bringing back the heydays of melodic Metal puts the band in its element. However, while revamping the past into the present, in your view, what does Mentalist bring to the label that is fairly fresh?

Kai: We play melodic power metal and our goal is simply to write good songs. But I think above all, that the combination of our band members determines our style and freshness. Thomen’s incredible drumming paired with Florian’s groovy bass playing and the melodic and partly virtuoso guitar parts of Peter and me, make Mentalist from a purely instrumental point of view a unique mixture, I would say. And that's where Rob Lundgren, our “Swedish Nightingale” suddenly comes in. He is one of the most capable and flexible singers I have ever heard. He can easily sing at all pitches and always keep his unique timbre.

How would you say that the work on “Freedom Of Speech” developed you guys as songwriters? What lessons learned from your past were put into motion within this record?

Thomen: The songwriting process has brought us together more and more as a band! A natural dynamic workflow has evolved over the time that we definitely will continue with in the future. Surely every musician in the band brought in his own experience he made over the years so far already, but since times in the music business have changed a lot, we of course gained some little organizing problems in several concerns, too. But for good luck, Peter is a very tough, experienced and strong business guy, who reacted and solved upcoming problems immediately.

With being a Heavy / Power Metal album, crossing some of the legends of these melodic directions, it has also a rather progressive vibe hovering above. Therefore, the songwriting itself was probably assorted and complex in a way. Did you have any dilemmas regarding musical passages or arrangements? Any particular impactful second guesses or perhaps even dumped material that could have been worked on after a thought?

Kai: Yes, of course. Usually there were several options due to the variety of ideas and we had to select the best ones. But that' s how many artists feel. A completely normal process. I hardly know anyone who is in the process and gets stalled because he can' t come up with any ideas anymore - mostly it' s the other way round and you quickly get into a creative delusion.

In regards to melodic Metal music in overall, since the market has been in a constant shift, twisting and turning, especially due to present technology offering the options to overall produce a sea of records, there has also been quite a development towards technical musicianship. Do you think that the melodic edge of Metal kind is kind of struggling in contrast to the showcasing of technical playing abilities or both can rather coexist?

Kai: I absolutely think that both can coexist. The world is big and colored and there is an audience for all styles of music. And real handmade metal music will always be heard. I' m pretty sure about that. Yet I get a little worried when I think about the technical progress in nowadays' music productions. Not that I'm totally opposed to it - no! However, you can trick and fake so much by reworking tracks that almost everything is possible in the studio but cannot necessarily be performed live unless you use playbacks. I have little respect for such an approach.

For our part, we have recorded the “Freedom Of Speech” completely analog. Nothing was programmed- everything genuinely played! We put microphones on the drums, the amps, just everything …. and used no digital beep beep shit :-) I' m convinced that almost everybody who has still good ears for a natural sound will hear that! It has that certain vibe. Real music - real produced! Mentalist!

Rob Lundgren, now that was a fine discovery and an amazing prospect. A guy that became a YouTube icon while also participating in various projects and bands, such as Reveal. While forming Mentalist, was he a set target as the band’s front man? What is your appreciation regarding his performance on the record?

Thomen: A good friend and vocal teacher from Peter named Rubina (from Systopia) recommended Rob. We then contacted Rob directly and we got along with him very well from the first second on. After we sent him the first songs, he confirmed to join us, since he liked the stuff a lot. He is such great person and so relaxed and motivated. One can only be satisfied to call him the front man of his band! A fantastic and very variable voice he has!

Going over the songs, it is hard to ignore the opening “Freedom Of Press”, which unravels a personal concern regarding the freedom of speech. Furthermore, in terms of music, it is highly melodic, and could have been an Iron Maiden track easily. What can you tell about the track’s nature and origins?

Kai: Thanks! We are often compared to Iron Maiden. This may be due to the fact, that each of us is very influenced by this band and these influences show up also in our own compositions. The only thing I can say about “Freedom Of Press” is that it comes mainly from Peter’s pen. He has been collecting song ideas for years and “Freedom Of Press” was one of them. I think it was a very good decision to put this song on the album. It is very often in focus and provides conversation material mainly because of the textual content.

 “Life” also captured my attention, it is more realistic time after time of listening to it. It is amazing how you were able to capture every day’s life with such precision. Would you say that this song is a personal story or simply mentioning that no matter what, this is a version of our lives, reality sucks?

Kai: It' s about a person's past, present and future. And that you should always be aware of your own time in life and use it as well as possible. Choose your decisions wisely. That's about it.

Brining on the majestic Daniel Heiman (ex-Lost Horizon) on board, now that is an achievement. What is he doing nowadays? His duet with Lundgren is superb and his given role on “Belief” is out of this world, high quality as always. It surely made the track sound even stronger. What do you make of this cooperation?

Kai: Daniel Heiman is one of the best metal singers of all time and it was an honor to work with him. He lives in Sweden and records songs in his own studio. His last published project was for the progressive band "Dimhav". On "Belief" Rob and Daniel deliver a unique vocal duet. A vocal masterpiece by the two of them. It is difficult to put it into words, so I highly recommend listening to it!

These days of Covid-19 are surely troubling, and now with a second wave on the rise, nothing appears to be uncertain. How do you feel about this period of time for humanity?

Kai: Humanity always has a chance to grow spiritually and to improve. We should take this challenge seriously and not flippantly. After all, it' s about human life. One can only hope that a suitable vaccine will be available soon.

What are your plans to promote the new album? Will you do a live stream show or perhaps even go forward on one of these virtual tours?

Kai: The promotion for everything will take place via social media, magazines and some radio stations. We' re considering live streams and we're already working on a plan for 2021 to go on tour with a very popular, well-known and befriended band - We hope this can be realized.

Thomen: At the moment we all have to overthink our activities twice for sure, since the circumstances are strange for us all in general! Covid-19 killed a lot of our general life quality and interfered a lot the music business, artist’s lives in general. I’m surely not the biggest fan of all that streaming shit as replacement for a real live concert, but for a lot of fans it’s probably still better than nothing at all. But please don’t ask me, how a band will feel on stage without a real crowd in front of them! Poor it will feel and I’m pretty convinced that a band will never play with the same enthusiasm as with an existing crowd screaming and singing in front of them. But we have to deal with those circumstances for the time being! If we want, or not! So, let’s see, what the future keeps in hands for us…. hopefully better times for us all!

Gentlemen, it has been quite an amazing chat, I am immensely proud that we could have it. I wish you guys all the best, you got yourself another fan. Cheers.

Kai: Thank you so much for having us and asking us these interesting questions. And we also wish you a continued success with Metal Temple magazine for the future. You rock!!!

Thomen: That’s great to hear! Thank you so much for your support and that you like what you heard of Mentalist so far! We hope you will support our future releases, too.  Thanks to all readers and headbangers that support and follow us, too, of course! You all rock so much! 😊



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