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Daniel Brennare: “I wanted a cosmic skin and three persons: the cosmonaut and two ominous brothers to tell this story that brims with heavy emotions.”

Lake Of Tears is één van de bands die we leerden kennen begin jaren negentig toen doom/gothic metal furore maakte. Hun albums ‘Headstones’ en ‘A Crimson Cosmos’ zullen zeker bij sommigen een belletje doen rinkelen, al haalde het daaropvolgende ‘Forever Autmn’ de beste verkoopcijfers. Men is steeds (erg goede) albums blijven maken, maar soms moesten we er lang op wachten. Nu ook weer tien jaar verstreken zijn sinds ‘Illwill’, begonnen we toch ongerust te worden – zeker als we de ontboezemingen van Daniel Brennare op zijn sociale media lezen – want we wisten dat hij jaren geleden al leukemie doormaakte en dat blijkt chronisch te zijn. Gelukkig is Daniel in een periode van herstel wanneer we hem aan het woord laten over zijn nieuwste conceptalbum ‘Ominous’ want die schijf is een echte catharsis van alle doorstane emoties.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 23 februari 2021

The new album ‘Ominous’ feels like a journey through space to the end of the world. Can we say it is a kind of concept album?
Yes, I think that is proper in this case, it is all connected. It is all built that way, so I must say it is a concept.

It has been a long time since the previous album ‘Illwill’ came out, to be precise about ten years. Why did it take so long?
O there are so many things, especially now when I am looking back, there are so many things, so many moments that I can say ‘this is it’ and ‘that is it’, but the main reason is that there is a story involved in this record and since all the songs had to be put together, with the pictures and stuff like that. The main reason was that the story was not really finished. I don’t really mean the technical aspects, the notion of aspects of the story. I did not want to finish it in the middle of some kind of life crisis, I think I had to come to a certain moment in time when I could at least accept some – not a happy moment – but an acceptance. I think that was needed to finish up the story.

In 2014, when the live album came out and I talked to Johan, he already told me that you were writing new songs, for this album.
Yeah it already started there, it started seven or eight years ago that I was writing the first stuff for this one. So it has taken quite some time.

What happened to the rest of the band, because you are alone now except for Christian Silver who does the recordings for a long time already?
Yes I am alone now. Actually Johan was the last one to leave the band. He had to take care of his family and I don’t even remember now, four or five years ago maybe, and then it was kind of difficult times because I have always been writing music in the band and it is always so nice to go to the rehearsal room and play. It was a little dip in my career let us say, trying to find another way to write stuff, but I think the band just fell apart naturally. We have been together for almost thirty years and things happen in that time. And indeed, with Christian Silver we did ‘Black Brick Road’ and ‘Moons And Mushrooms’ in the studio with him, he is a familiar face in the studio, so I contacted him and I know that he is a very good drummer. So I asked him if he wanted to play drums and sent him some demos. Of course he wanted to play drums and record it.

It is obvious that there is a space theme running through the album. Where does this fascination come from? Were you already interested in the universe as a kid?
Yes, I think so, somehow and I think it started from the third Lake Of Tears album, when we started bringing in the cosmos. I like that word, it is a nice word. From there I think it has been something that has come back into the music in many different ways, but this time I wanted, not like ‘A Crimson Cosmos’, this colourful universe. This time I think it would fit better to make it really dark.

Yes, it is really dark. I get shivers and goose-bumps listening to it…
That is very nice to hear. I haven’t heard so much feedback yet, since it hasn’t come out yet. So it is really interesting to hear people and people already told me that it is really dark. Darkness may not always be a good thing, but this one is that way…

It is also very intense, you can really dive into it…
That is also nice to hear. The intensity… the songs may have been built in a slightly different way than normal, ordinary pop songs. When you say intensity, well I wanted to feel it in my body, how the breathing goes up and down, how the heartbeat goes up and down, some parts I wanted to make really intense, to give some emotion in the body.

Another pro is the coherency, the songs flow into each other, there’s no abrupt ending…
Well, maybe I was thinking a bit of ‘Illwill’, one of the criticism for ‘Illwill’ was that it was so diverse, the record and I think this one is also quite diversified, but I wanted the songs fit together, I made many calculations in the tempo of the songs, in the keys of the songs, changing to fit together.

When you start listening with the single ‘At The Destination’ you expect something completely different…
O you mean the single, oh yeah It was kind of strange. I am quite used to, when I put out a new record, that quite a lot of people say ‘this does not sound like Lake Of Tears’, this is something else, but with this single I got a lot of very personal messages from people. Some are very disappointed, it is like their favourite soccer team lost or they lost a good friend. I am not telling anything until the next song or when the record comes out, and I think, hopefully they will change their minds. This first one is much more electronic than the rest. Really different.

The music is hard to put in one pigeonhole, but when mentioning bands like David Bowie, Sisters Of Mercy and Pink Floyd we can make a proper hint. These three bands are present in the general atmosphere. Do you agree with that?
Yes I think so too. I remember talking with the record company about this promotional stuff and I was thinking about the small amount of people who heard the record and what they were telling me. They told me there is a little bit Sisters Of Mercy in there and a little bit of Pink Floyd you can hear in the slow songs. It does not mean so much to me to put it in a certain genre. I am a little bit happy that it is so hard to put it in one genre, because that is how I wanted it to be.

Can we see it as a kind of metaphor for the illness you have?
Yes, that is the basic for the whole record. The basic emotions are coming forth from illness. I did not want it to be specific for my case. It is quite general for an illness like cancer or leukaemia. First you get the physical part of it and that is the first monster and after that it gets into your mind and you get the mental part of the illness and that is the second monster. So this was the central emotional theme in the record.

Wow some bands sing about misery and death and sadness, but you experienced it…
Yes, in some way. I mean, I have not reached the end yet. I hope for some years still. It was very important for me to let it out. These kind of emotions are hard, even to talk about, because they are even not named for all kind of emotions. They come like in different times, so I wanted to write some kind of story to make it easier to understand, because otherwise I think the emotions would be all over the place all the time and that is really difficult. So I wanted a cosmic skin and three persons: the cosmonaut and two ominous brothers.

Do you have a kind of personification of those two brothers and the cosmonaut? Is one of them you?
I think the cosmonaut is mostly me, that is the basic but of course not totally, but there is a lot of me in him. A lot of my emotions you can hear in there. Have you seen the pictures for the songs? There is one really nice picture for every song, with a small text. It makes the story even more understandable and bigger and the LP is with a big booklet. I am happy for that.

Is Ivan one of the ominous brothers?
No, he is my dog. Through my dark times he has been my light in the darkness. I love him like crazy, he is my best friend. Animals are great. I wonder sometimes, we humans do we deserve to have such friends? The older I get the more I appreciate this kind of affection I think.

Indeed, when I was twenty, I was a party animal, but now I feel better at home with cats…
(chuckles) I guess we all go in that direction finally.

The piano and violins are marvellous on the album. Did you do that yourself with some samples maybe?
You mean the strings? It is something I started about one and a half year ago I think. I don’t know how, It just came that I started to appreciate this kind of orchestral music. I learned a little bit about it and I was fascinated by all these musicians, playing together. You have the string section, the string solo section, how they sit and how they play against each other, with each other… So I started to learn that a bit. So everything has been done by me, the strings. I still have some years to go I think, before I am good at it, but I really enjoy it. I think this will be one of my main musical parts in the future.

The violin stroke in the beginning of ‘Ominous Too’ is really extraordinary… that repetitive eerie sound…
That first part in the beginning, it was a reminder to me. It should almost be seen as a heart machine in a hospital bed. This rhythm…

That song has also Pink Floyd influences, maybe I recognize that because I am a huge fan…
I think Pink Floyd is one of the best bands in the world. They have a certain atmosphere, they are great in that and I think you can hear that in my music as well, because I like them so much. This kind of atmosphere. Of course I can never play a guitar solo like Gilmour, but who can do that? (chuckles).

It is a kind of record to listen to in winter, when you are a bit moody and weary… melancholy is important in music…
Yes, I don’t think it is a party record haha. It is not something you listen to when you are twenty and go out to party with your friends, That is not the kind of record, but for me and hopefully also for other people as you say. It is no problem being moody, but some people might be moody for some negative experience and hopefully this can be some kind of help. I don’t know if help is the right word. But for me, to write, to have written this album, has been like a therapeutic process also. Hopefully it can also be a therapy for other people.

I have a quote from our former interviews and I would like to know your reaction on it. Once you said: sometimes music can be more fun without expensive special equipment…
Yes of course, music is something that is out in nature all the time and it does not need some kind of equipment to go into you, but what we have done is amazing of course, that we can record music and arrange it and produce it to be something else, but I think music can be very pure. Let us say, maybe that came from our touring in Russia – we have done quite a few Russian tours – and some of the places there, when we borrowed equipment – we only brought our guitars – there was not so good equipment there. So we have learned to play on lousy equipment and without certain stuff, but I think afterwards it gives a very special feeling. Every gig is a special thing. Bands nowadays, everything is recorded, you don’t even have to press your guitar pedals, everything is prepared and ready. All sets show after show are the same. To keep it special and try to do something unique, I think you should do it without so much equipment.

Did you actually play live after the release of ‘Illwill’?
Yes, we did some live shows for a couple of years. The live DVD came out. I think the last show we did was on the boat from Miami to Jamaica, I think it was two shows, on 70,000 tons of metal cruise in 2014 or something.

You did not play live that much, but most of the time in exotic places…
Yes, since time was getting more and more limited, we got something from visiting new places. To be somewhere as first western band in some Eastern small village or something, was really an amazing experience. It is a kick, ah nobody played here before us. That is a nice thing, kind of an exploration.

Do you live in the woods or in a town?
I live in a town, but in the outskirts of a town, so there are some woods like twenty meters from my house.

So you can have a nice walk with the dog…
Yes, I try to do it every morning. It is very good … especially when you are feeling down. It feels like you conquer the world, and I am always amazed by this little fellow, his small legs are running so fast. It brings me a little bit of happiness in the morning. So that is really a nice thing. Yes, it is nice. I am sitting out here on my porch with a glass and I am following birds and all the animals. I hear squirrels and deer and stuff. We had some snow, but now it is gone. So now it is totally dark. I can do without the snow, I am not so fond of the snow. It is okay for me.

The artwork is done by Vladimir Chebakov. Do we see ravens on the cover?
No, not really ravens. I remember them like several years back. Several years ago I saw like two big floating rags with just bird-like heads. They are not ravens, but bird-like, that gives a certain emotion.

With the space thing involved in the record, one may speak of a kind of futileness of human beings… part of a bigger plan?
I don’t know, maybe. I hope so, I like to think so, but who knows? Who knows about life outside our planet? I am quite convinced that there must be something else, but… We come from material that must be all over the universe. Of course it can start to develop in other directions, somewhere else, but who knows? Let us hope we get the experience before our time on earth is done.

What can you say about the fact that there is always – or mostly – a kind of mysticism and psychedelic semblance in the music?
Well, I like mysticism and a bit of psychedelica but actually I think there is more on this record than any previous I have ever done. It may not be psychedelics directly, but if you go into mathematics, like hidden mathematics, it has a lot of those behind the initial stage, if you put it like that. I really like that kind of stuff myself, to puzzle the pieces together and symbolic stuff. So there is quite a lot in here, but it is quite well hidden, much of it. It will be very interesting to see who will find out some of the things.

With the instrumental song ‘The End Of The World’ I had a feeling that it is not just an end, but a new beginning. The next song ‘Cosmic Sailor’ portraits you as a space traveller facing other horizons…
That is true. It is a little bit connected to what I said before, I did not feel that the story was finished. I did not want to be inside of it totally, because it is good to write about something when you are inside it, but I needed to come to some kind of ending, to be able to get perspective and looking back at it. Yes, it is like an ending and also a new beginning and if you had the booklet there, it would be even more obvious, because there that picture has some colours in it and in the lyrics too. Like my life, everything is black and white until in that song, some colours are coming into it. And it is hopefully a better future than the past. I don’t think happiness is the right word, but a conclusion, an acceptance maybe; and I hope as they say: time heals everything. You still can remember it, but you can at least take a step forward. You don’t have to be in bed the whole day. One day you will rise from the bed and move on.

Are there still plans for other video clips?
I don’t know, not right now. It has taken a lot of my energy. Of course it should be strange otherwise. It is not just the record, but my whole life. I am quite certain that I will write music, but I don’t know if I want to do it as Lake Of Tears and especially I don’t think I want to do another six to ten year project, because it takes too much of the energy I think.

Maybe an EP?
Maybe. It is always funny when you are in the studio and you record. Then you get really creative and feel like: oh I can do three more songs now.

Did you write more songs than finally ended upon the record?
No, not in the final recording, but I have three songs. Actually this is the first record that I had so many songs that I could take away some that did not fit. Otherwise it was usually like that: if we should record nine songs, seven were ready and we did the last two in the studio, but for this one, everything was done and there are at least three more or less whole songs that I removed.

Except for you and Christian, there is nobody else playing on the record?
Yes there is, a friend of mine is playing bass. He has been a friend of mine for a very long time. He has been playing in a death metal band right here. We know each other since kindergarten. It is really nice to have him with me and we also had a guy who plays – I don’t know if you heard the bonus track ‘In Gloom’? – he plays the upright bass on that song. His name is Lars Rapp. So in total there were four musicians on the record.

In your vocals I can hear more depth and warmth, I think you improved…
Oh I don’t know because this last year I have not been practising vocals or guitar or anything, but I decided for this one – I am always very nervous about doing vocals. I have never been good in singing notes and stuff like that, but for this one I tried to be as relax as possible, just to sing with my own voice, at least I try not to imitate someone else. And especially for the bonus track, we wanted a bit different production on it. We were also trying out different microphones and different microphone preamps to get the right timbre and the right feeling.

That last song reminded me a bit of Mark Lanegan. Do you know him?
No. (singer Screaming Trees – down music, very melancholic, singer-songwriting) I will have to check it out then.

Would you consider – if there was no corona or if corona is gone – playing live with this material?
Oh I really don’t know. I usually tell people that ask me – I usually say no, because that is easier, because otherwise I have to answer a lot of questions and right now, as it is right now, I would say no. But who knows? I never wanted to play live actually, it is not really my thing. I always feel a bit outside of all of this, if you look at them posing and bringing rock-‘n-roll. It is not really my nature to be artistic in that way. Maybe it is not too late, I am approaching fifties, so maybe in a couple of years and it is never too late to go out and playing music live, but I don’t think I would like to do it in a metal setting anymore. I would like to find something new. A kind of new setting, because I actually think that it would be quite fun to play this record from the beginning till the end. And put some extra live things in it and make it more like – not a theatre – but something more than just a show.

Yes, it has the potential to appeal to another audience…
Nice to hear. Fame is not the drive in life anymore. I am approaching fifty and maybe, maybe if I am lucky I get seventy. We love the small things, like feedback on the music that we write. That is the best reward an artist can get.

Production wise sometimes all records sound the same, but this one is different, it breathes…
I am really happy you say that,   I don’t want to go too much into details of pop and rock production, but there are certain patterns – especially today – they are really used in the poprock world, like verse/refrain and it has to be 40 seconds before changing etc…  I was actually trying not to follow these kind of rules, because for me there is something else than this kind of music that one hundred or thousand bands sound almost the same. Everybody must do their own kind of music, because they are stuck into music because of something. So everybody has the right to do it their way, but for me I wanted to do a whole record, because I miss that. Today it is mostly songs. I wanted a whole record, I am a little bit different, and it is a little bit experimental in that way, because it will be interesting to see people’s reactions.

But I think it will appeal more to those who listen to progressive rock in this case too…
Yeah maybe. I think progressive rock is really strange nowadays, because on my older records progressive rock thirty years ago has been quite complicated in playing. They are really good musicians and I really try to play not complicated, so it is quite funny that I appear sometimes in those newspapers that have this more complicated stuff. They are asking me stuff that I don’t know about, I think I like to be progressive, but not in a complicated way. I like to go forward with the music.