Steffen Kummerer: “All the visuals, everything that has to do with videos or graphics, that is something I am very keen on, I am very interested in. Beside the music, it is as important for me as the music itself. The video clips for this album area well-thought trilogy for instance.”
Steffen Kummerer blijft het aardig druk hebben met zijn bands Obscura (techincal death metal) en Thulcandra (black/death metal), maar toch neemt de sympathieke, Duitse muzikant ruim de tijd om ons bij te praten over zijn passies. Dit interview focust op de release van het vierde Thulcandra album ‘A Dying Wish’, de opvolger van het in 2015 uitgebrachte ‘Ascension Lost’ en kan men een pleidooi voor positieve ondernemingsdrang noemen, zelfs al zit het niet altijd mee in het leven. Duik met ons in de leefwereld van Steffen Kummerer!
Vera Matthijssens Ι 17 november 2021
It has been a while since we talked for the previous album ‘Ascension Lost’, six years to be more precise. In the world a lot of things were going on, but what happened with you and the band in that time?
Actually a lot. First of all, we have been touring for ‘Ascension Lost’ with Thulcandra more than ever. We have been on several European tours. We supported Secrets Of The Moon and Dødheimsgard. We have been on tour, a very long tour, with Obscura, with God Dethroned and Fractal Universe, besides many, many single shows. We did our own headlining tour with Nailed To Obscurity from Germany as support. So we have been quite busy actually. At the same time, I am making a living out of music and my main priority is the band Obscura, which is touring the world, which is only containing professional musicians. Obscura has a different set-up. While Thulcandra is a group of people that have regular day to day jobs, both bands are taken very serious. Both have a different set-up, but I try to keep them in balance. There have been some years in between. Also I think that the new album could have been released one or two years earlier. We also experienced an issue… not an issue, a loss, because our bassist passed away last year. To be honest, that also took some motivation to continue for a while, but when we started assembling the new album, we did it in full force and now it feels right. So it was quite a rollercoaster. Six years with many, many stories and we haven’t been lazy at all.
No, I hadn’t the intention to mention that (laughs)…
Running both bands full time, there is always something to do. There is always a video to shoot, there is always a song to write, produce or pre-produce, so it doesn’t feel like a job or something that I have to do. I am quite exciting and looking forward to everything we are doing.
When exactly did you feel the urge to write new songs for this album?
Well, it was not only myself, it was everyone involved: also the bassist who passed away, the new guitarist Mariano Delastik, the drummer brought some ideas to the table, so it was a collective effort from scratch. Everybody had different ideas at different times, so we collected all the material from two years, maybe three years and finally made the decision: ‘let’s go, let’s assemble all the songs, let’s finish the sketches we had’ and that was somewhere earlier this year. We had all this material, we just had to sit down and finally make a move and make it happen basically. We needed that someone hit on the table and said: okay finally let’s go (laughs) Then everything was coming together super smooth. We also changed the producer. We worked for the very first time with Dan Swanö from Sweden.
Yes, I found out! How was that adventure?
That was fantastic! It was way much easier than I expected, working with someone with such a long list of great releases and experience of 35 or maybe 40 years. Of course you have some certain respect. You expect everything to be super tight and straight. To be honest, working with Dan Swanö was very relaxed and very fast at the same time. First of all, we talked about what we were looking for, because he produced 1000 different bands with 1000 different styles. So we told him exactly what we were going to do, what kind of sound and style, artistically but also in terms of feelings we were looking for and he understood everything from scratch. So he sent us a first mix and, besides a few tiny details, it was super perfect. He simply understood the band to the core and this was something I was really looking up to. And besides that he is a really humble and nice person. Overall it was a wonderful experience and the sound is fantastic. I love it! He hit the nail. It is not polished, it is not too clean at the same time. You hear a real band performing, it is not edited to the max, but at the same time you won’t hear a wrong note or something. This balance really makes a band sounding cool and I am very happy how it turned out.
Did you have any sound in mind or themes before you started that you wanted to cover on this album?
Of course, I always want the acoustic guitars to sound crisp and wide and big and that sounds fantastic. Of course these days it is quite easy and usual to work with good electric guitar sounds. Of course most of the people can edit a drum set or make the drum set sound good, also it is the most stressful or demanding instrument when it comes to production, but having acoustic guitars sound good, bright and deep within this set up we have, that was something I was really looking forward to. In the last albums I think they were a little bit thin and therefore I am happy. It really sounds dynamic and wide, like a real band performing.
What was the source of inspiration for the lyrics?
Well, obviously the loss of our good friend and bassist has been a major theme on this album, but ‘A Dying Wish’ is not any kind of concept album. There are different topics that are all related to the life after death so to say, but it is not a concept album.
My condolences. I think he is now replaced by someone from Nailed To Obscurity, isn’t it?
Yes that is true. Carsten Schorn. He is the bassist of Nailed To Obscurity. Now he also helps out Thulcandra on the upcoming tour. We already performed on three different festivals and the decision to ask him was quite simple, because he has been on tour with us. He also knew our ex-bassist and since that tour – I think it happened four or five years ago – we are close friends. That counts a lot. Of course you need someone who’s able to pull off the demanding music, but at the same time the social part is very important and his music fits with us music-wise.
Were there not other line-up changes too since the former album?
Yes, since the former album but that was… it did not happen at one day. After a couple of years, friends that had been in the band they moved to different cities in Germany. One moved close to the border with France, the other is living now in the very north. I think they stopped listening to music and they don’t play in any band anymore. Well, simply said, I think they grew out of the music, they have not been motivated anymore, so it is better to split then, rather than force something. I am happy for the time we spent together. We did three cool albums, now we are still looking forward. We are still marching on. New people, new sounds, new album… everything new. We already played three shows last summer. All of them happened in Germany, small festivals in between 700 and 1000 people capacity. It worked well. The first one of course was something special, being back on stage, playing a normal show, that was something really nice. In Germany there are still restrictions, but when the world is unfolding again, I am a positive, optimistic thinking person and it will be fine again. At least later and next year. For November/December we booked a little tour to celebrate the new album. Most of the dates are in Germany and that is simply because of the pandemic, because crossing borders is not clear. After that we would love to finally explore many different countries in Europe again.
If I listen to the album and look at the artwork, I have a feeling that there is an ice-cold atmosphere…
Well, we always strive for a certain atmosphere, with Dan Swanö producing the album of course it changed maybe a little bit, rather more towards classic albums Dissection did and Unanimated and Sacramentum which actually Dan also produced. It definitely has a different feel. It is a more icy feeling and I am glad that you noticed that.
It is obvious that the album ends with two longer, epic tracks. Let us shine a light on them…
Well, ‘Devouring Darkness’ was a contribution from our new guitarist Mariano Delastik and it sounds a little bit different than what we did in the past. From my perspective, his nocturnal black metal roots shine through a little bit more. And ‘A Dying Wish’ was simply meant to be the very last song on the album, because first it is the most epic and long track, with a very long intro and a very long outro and a tiny different atmosphere. I think it is a wonderful closer, but at live shows this will be our opening track, because the intro is so nice. It is simply perfect to use to open the show.
I really enjoy that you insert so many introspective parts with acoustic guitars…
Some of them have been played by our old bassist. We have two interludes on the album: ‘Orchard Of Grievance’ as well as ‘In Bleak Misery’. Those are two tiny acoustic tracks and before we went to the studio, everything was pre-produced, the entire album has been recorded with programmed drums, not with recording drums, but everything was done before. So we are always well prepared before hitting a studio and the two tracks I just mentioned, these are actually the pre-production of Christian Kratzer performing. So we finished the album with his tracks, even if he is not there anymore. So for us it was very important to have those two pieces from the pre-production being well reworked by Dan Swanö to bring it on the same level as the regular album tracks and have Christian’s playing been part of the album, literally, that was something we wanted to force. It is a bittersweet ending, so to say.
I also hear background keyboards from time to time. Who is doing that?
I was recording the bass on the record, added the keyboards, acoustic guitars and obviously singing and playing guitar. The keyboards have been on the previous record as well. They were just delivered less prominent, always just used as a little effect on the solo sections or choral sections or something like that. On the new record we just decided to have a little more spicy additions here and there.
For example the middle part of ‘In Vain’ is very nice…
Yes when everything slows down. That is actually something I am working on with each band I am performing with, to brighten up the mix. Add acoustic guitar to the regular rhythm guitars. Even if you barely hear them, it just opens the entire mix. That is fantastic. I am really happy that you recognize these details. That is something that makes me proud (laughs).
How did you experience the covid-19 era? Did you start doing old hobbies? Did it struck you badly with the bands?
Well, I am making a living out of music, so if I am not able to play live shows, of course I have to somehow manage it, but I did many good decisions in the past. That helped me a lot in this case and I was able to focus on, instead of playing live, producing music videos for both bands. I assembled an entire new live production, entire new live gear. Everything was built new from scratch and I made two albums, Obscura and Thulcandra. I had a lot of things to do every day. I was not lazy. For Thulcandra we are going to release three music videos in total. Two have been published already, a third one will be recorded in November in Poland with Grupa 13. I am really looking forward to that. That is also always a kind of adventure. All the visuals, everything that has to do with videos or graphics, that is something I am very keen on, I am very interested in. Beside the music, it is as important for me as the music itself.
Well, please tell me something about the video for ‘Funeral Pyre’ then…
It was meant to be a really old school nineties looking video clip. To keep it a little bit obscure and distant at the same time, we tried not to show our faces too often. We focused on the guitars and the instruments. A blue and foggy atmosphere and we cut it rather slow, instead of hectic cuts. So I was focusing entirely on the atmosphere of the song. I am happy how it turned out. It is not one of the clips you see everywhere or every day, it is a little bit different and raw. This was the intention, it had to look like a real band, not like a product or something. You see the band in an environment. We hope we can also translate that into the live shows. That was the big aim, the connection between the video and our concept.
And what about the video clip for ‘Nocturnal Heresy’?
‘Nocturnal Heresy’ has a little bit different approach. ‘Funeral Pyre’ is the opening track of the album and I would say it contains all the classic parts we have been using for the band or with the band since the beginning. ‘Nocturnal Heresy’ has a different approach. It contains some kind of doomish middle parts and even some classic heavy metal riffing and therefore we built a tiny little stage, with fire, with floor fog… It is the second video of the entire campaign, so there we show the faces of the band members and the third one will be the next step. So it is basically a directed story, from the first video to the last one. The third video will be for the title track, ‘A Dying Wish’. It will be released in December, but in the meantime we have another track. We filmed our hometown 15th anniversary show in front of all of our friends in Landshut. From this session, we recorded the entire show. There are already a couple of live videos on line, but we never released ‘Night’s Blood’, the Dissection cover. Those recordings feature our former bassist who just passed away. We decided to finally release these recordings as well. Dan Swanö mixed ‘Night’s Blood’ for the second time – after he did with Dissection – and at the moment we are just waiting for the video edit of the live track. That will be published soon as well. So in total we have actually four music videos for the new album: three music videos and one live video. It is also used as a bonus 7”, as a special edition Napalm Records is selling of the album, together with another live track. It is something special we wanted to give for free along with the album.
How did you end up with this very blue-ish artwork?
Well, regarding the artwork we have our framework what we want, where we want to go and we have already released three albums with a certain colour palette. Blue, silver, white, black. Therefore we wanted to go that path a little bit further. Initially we had Kristian ‘Necrolord’ Wåhlin hired for the new artwork, but the artwork got delayed. So we worked on a very last minute solution with Herbert Lochner, a very old artist from Central Germany. I was not even sure that he is still active, but he created this artwork in the vein of exactly what we were looking for. I am very grateful that he delivered such a nice artwork. And I just got the new backdrop, ten metres wide. So you have the artwork on a really huge size and that looks fantastic. And on top of that I even got the original painting in oil, I have it here next to me. I am looking for a new frame, a real frame made out of wood. I am going to have it sprayed in silver or gold or something and then I will put it on the wall as a real old painting. Amazing!
These are things to cherish!
Absolutely. We are not giving away anything. I think I still have all of the flyers, tour posters, everything we did with both bands. I have got my own archive and it is growing day by day.
Now that vinyl was selling well again, they are going to raise the prizes, sometimes double. Do you think that fans will pay so much?
No, I don’t think you should pay anything like that. That is also the reason why we made reissues of our entire back catalogue, because the demand was so huge and there is always that guy who sells collector items on ebay or discogs for hilarious prizes. Since so many fans asked for it, we simply did a reissue edition for a reasonable price. Unfortunately I think we underestimated the demand (chuckles), after we announced the reissues to be in presale, three days after, everything was sold out. So we are sold out again, even before those re-releases got delivered (laughs). Maybe in the future again, but I don’t want to overdo it. Overall I am just grateful for such a loyal fan base, because as you mention Thulcandra, it felt like the band was not doing so much, but at the same time, the audience was simply growing year by year. So these days we have more fans than ten years ago. It felt like a break, we haven’t released an album since six years and now everything comes together. It is fantastic. In metal you will not be forgotten.
The next tour is with The Spirit as support act. Is that arranged by tour manager or you?
No, I always chose the band we are touring with. I know the band, I also met them and I think they are really interesting. I saw them live and I am just looking forward how this package is going to be attended by a lot of people. So far the feedback is very positive on the tour package, and we don’t know how many people will show up, since the pandemic still forces a couple of fans to stay home, but in general I am just looking forward to finally hit the stage with this underground package, but I think The Spirit is a fantastic band. They are already working on a third album that will come out after this tour.
Are you going to tour with Obscura as well?
Yes, we are just going to announce postponing the November/December tour, since all the travel restrictions forced us to postpone it to September next year. It is just postponed, not cancelled, so all fine. Early next year, in Feb/March/April we are going to hit North America again with 50 shows. We have shows booked in South America, New Zealand, China, Australia, Japan… everywhere. So we are on full force again.
And it is always a huge effort with visa and working permits…
Yes, that is something you have to do. Unfortunately it costs you a fortune. Last time I paid 10,000 US dollars just for the visas. As a band you really need to think about, if you want to go there, because it is extremely expensive and always a gambling if you get a visa or not. I had to face this issue twice. I had not received my visa for Chuck Schuldener’s tribute tour, where I was supposed to be. Also in 2015 we lost ten thousands of euros.
Let’s hope the UK isn’t going that way…
Nobody knows. So far it looks okay but it can change every minute. Quite unstable. But what can we do? We are still looking forward and we are marching on.
You have a positive vibe, that’s great
Yeah, otherwise I should stop (laughs)