Phil Jonas: “I wanted every song to be a room that you can enter because the songs all have a very unique approach. So it was a very visual album already very much at the beginning.”
Vijf jaar na ‘SUN’ bracht het Duitse Secrets Of The Moon zopas het zevende studioalbum ‘Black House’ uit. Daarop wordt de sinistere gotisch getinte rock/metal van de voorganger nog verder uitgediept op een manier waarbij Secrets Of The Moon toch altijd een unieke band blijft, of ze zich nu manifesteren in de black metal scène of andere stijlen hanteren. Een mooie gelegenheid om ons volgende gesprek te hebben met zanger/gitarist Phil Jonas (sG).
Vera Matthijssens Ι 10 mei 2020
Hello Phil, how are you doing? These are weird times, but I hope that everybody is doing well…
Hey Vera, nice to talk to you. Weird times indeed, yes. I just woke up, had a coffee. Now it’s time to work a bit for the band. After having done that, I will go hiking in the woods. Nothing better to do right now than that. I hope you’re alright too.
Yes, thank you. In 2015 we did our previous interview for ‘SUN’, so let us pick up the thread around that time (time flies!). What happened next after the release? Could you support the album with enough gigs and was the new style well received when you look back at it now?
Yes we played like 45 shows for ‘SUN’ which for us is a huge number to support an album. We toured with Dodheimsgard, Behemoth, Crippled Black Phoenix, Mgla, Tripytkon… lots of enjoyable acts and good people. Many festival shows…. Being such a small act, we can’t really ask for more than that, you know? The album was really well received. It was a huge step being able to start from scratch musically and found new ways of expressions AND having people actually liking it. I guess the band would be dead by now if that didn’t happen.
One gig stands out in my mind: Prophecy Fest 2016. How do you look back at that happening at Balver Höhle?
Oh it was a beautiful show and evening as far as I remember. It was the first time we worked with video projections for the entire album which really stood out. And of course the venue itself is stunning. Good people everywhere. So yes, that was definitely a highlight of the ‘SUN-era’.
How come that you changed the acoustic gig into an integral performance of ‘SUN’? (which was really enjoyed by us by the way!)
Our bass player back then left us quite spontaneously, that’s why we couldn’t rehearse the way we wanted to for this particular show. We wanted to bring up additional instruments on stage for that show and she was responsible for that. What a bummer. Still, we hope to make this happen someday. Really liked the idea a lot and now we even have more songs to choose from that can easily work for an acoustic show.
It is the second time that you did not work with Markus Stock as producer, but Michael (Ar) was at the helm of producing. And this was a special process at the Church of Sound Studios. Please tell us as much as possible about the atmosphere over there, the writing and recording process and the impact of that ‘house’ on your art?
It was actually the third time, because Markus Stock did not produce ‘Seven Bells’. We just recorded it with him. Oh well, recording ‘Black House’… I remember this being really long intense sessions, 14-15 hours a day. We just didn’t run tired of it. I had this idea of the ‘Black House’ very much at the beginning of the session. I wanted every song to be a room that you can enter because the songs all have a very unique approach. So it was a very visual album already very much at the beginning. I remember we struggled a lot with the recordings of the drums, that took forever because we wanted it to be the perfect foundation of the house. But when thinking back at it right now, it more feels like a dream or a bubble. It’s not easy to reconnect with the moods right now that were present when making the album. What I remember is, that in the second or third session when we recorded the vocals, Michael and me were sure that we were doing something special. This is the farest we ever went together musically.
I think ‘Black House’ shows your smooth musical evolution after ‘SUN’, more or less in the same direction, yet different. But how do you see that as creators of this album?
Musically speaking it is of course our most artistic, mature and valuable piece of music. But then again when I listen to e.g. ‘Carved In Stigmata Wounds’ today it feels like “ok, this is me too when I was 15 years younger”. You know? It’s all mine. I don’t see too much of a difference because it all comes from the same feather. That’s very interesting. As the creator you’re so much into it that you barely see the change over the past years. Yet this change is so important.
‘Black House’ marks the return of former member Lars Plegge (Daevas). How did this reunion come into being and can you tell something about his input (or influence) on the record?
We always remained friends, we have a long, long history. And he followed the story of the band even after he left it. It’s crazy. He was about to sell all his gear the next day when I sent him a text that our bass player was out. I didn’t want any “new” member in the band. I was so annoyed of having session musicians on stage that I barely knew. So I knew that if we’ll ever get a new bass player in the band, it has to be him. No matter what. Fortunately he had the very same idea. The rest is (new) history.
How did the idea grow to include so much guest artists?
That all came very naturally. We knew that we needed a few additional voices to underline important parts or choruses of the songs. Unfortunately the other guys are even worse singers than I am, so we had to ask some people who came for a visit or recorded in the same studio. It’s that kind of studio romantics that we love so much. It’s something people nowadays barely do anymore because everything is just home recording. Just have a look at the credits of ‘Use Your Illusion’ and how many people are involved in the making of a song. We yearned for the same vibe and made it happen.
Yet I think it is mainly your voice that stands out to create the idiosyncratic atmosphere… most of the contributions are melt into the whole sound, don’t you think so?
Yes, absolutely. That was our intention. Apart from ‘He Is Here’, where Jules Näveri took the chorus by his own.
Well, let us shine a light on the guests. Please some words about your affinity and contribution with the guests:
(Dolch): Michael produced their new album(s) so they were in the studio at some point and we asked them to contribute. Their singer added wonderful nuances to ‘Don’t Look Now’ and ‘Heart’.
Jules Näveri from Enemy Of The Sun: He was just there at the studio recording with Victor Bullok and he had an incredible voice. So we just tried things out and it worked really well.
Jarboe: That was basically my idea. We worked together before on the CRONE EP and even toured together. I love her voice, she was just the perfect choice for ‘Cotard’.
Meilenwald from Ruins Of Beverast: You know the band Unholy from Finland? We needed that kind of voice for the ending of ‘Heart’ and Meilenwald was just the perfect man for this job. Glad to have him on the record.
Thomas Helm from Empyrium and Noekk: A friend who is among Germany’s best voices. He usually performs at “Bayerische Staatsoper”. He used to help us a lot on ‘SUN’ and we wanted to have him back on ‘Black House’.
Wasn’t it strange to return to the outside world after been living for almost a year at the studio place?
No. When the recording sessions came to an end it was Michaels and Victors job to mix this whole thing. That was an even stranger situation, just waiting that all things we recorded would fall into the right place. Would everything make sense in the end? Would the vocals be good enough? I was very happy when I heard the result.
Can you go deeper into two or three songs on the album, the ones with a special place in your heart… or the ones that were a challenge to finalize (I know these are all your babies, but well, still…)
Well, that would be ‘Cotard’, ‘Mute God’ and ‘Heart’. These three songs mean a lot to me, musically and lyrically. I don’t want to talk too much about their contents. They just feel like they’ve been written in exile and had a very healing impact on my being, on my soul. That’s the positive effect of making honest art.
What can you tell about the artwork?
Oh what can I say? I think it’s best displayed in the artbook and I’m very happy with it. You have a very close view of how it looks like in the Black House. It’s definitely worth seeing. It was worked out by French designers Valnoir (Metastazis) and Dehn Sora. They did an incredible job and simply brought my vision into something visible. Something I would not have been capable of. Check it out.
And there is more visual art coming: you have planned a video clip for every of the nine tracks! Did you fulfil that challenge already before the corona madness broke out?
Fortunately yes, with the designers I talked about in the previous answer. I’m very glad that we did that. What a immense amount of work. It’s crazy that they managed to go through all this. This videos can all be seen on the DVD that is attached to the artbook.
At the moment there are video clips for ‘Veronica’s Room’, ‘Earth Hour’ and ‘Don’t Look Now’ I think. So maybe you can tell something about the approach and the making of…
Every song is connected to an object that is displayed in the video and in the artbook. You have the lamp in ‘Veronica’s Room’, the globe in ‘Earth Hour’, the painting in ‘Don’t Look Now’, the apple in ‘Cotard’, the umbrella in ‘Heart’ etc. All things that you can find inside a house. I don’t want to spoil this too much, but it all makes sense in connection with the lyrics.
I guess you are also struck by cancelling concerts. Did you have to cancel many things or is the damage limited until now?
For us the damage is limited, because we just started booking shows when the madness began. I think we have three shows cancelled, one tour is being postponed. We hope to make this happen early next year. Just imagine, we will support the album live in a year or something. Crazy times…
Anyways, I hope the best for the Fall or next year. Any artistic plans to keep you busy with the band during these lockdown eras? Maybe writing new music?
Yes, I started to write new songs and keep myself busy. That’s the best thing to do right now (beside answering interviews).
If there is anything you’d like to add, please feel free to do it right here…
Well, everyone stay healthy and safe. If you need some extra social distancing, grab ‘Black House’. It’s the perfect place for quarantine.
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