20.02.2017Архив интервью | Русская версия
The German soil in the 80s was so fertile for thrash metal that even the bands that failed to make it commercially made an impact that can be felt even 30 years on from that era. Exumer belong to this very ilk – not only their two classical albums still stand strong today, bur having reunited in 2008, they have very successfully proven that they’re capable of building on their early achievement. Just check out their latest album “The Raging Tides” (2016) – it’s 100% pure German thrash metal, but it’s also much more than recycling the same old riffs and vocal hooks. With such powerful output, it’s no wonder that the five-piece are welcome all over the world, and Russia is no exception. Exumer will return to Moscow and play in St. Petersburg for the first time in late February, and we phoned singer Mem von Stein to find out about his expectations from the trip, as well as about other interesting facts from the band’s current history. Some may be disappointed that we didn’t address the 80s in very much detail, but then again, the band doesn’t do it either…
Let’s start with a pretty trivial question. It’s been three years since your first gig in Moscow. What do you remember from that trip? Did you like the city and the fans?
Yeah, it was a lot more pleasant then we had thought it would be. At the time when we were going there, it was winter, and we thought it might be dark and grey and not the best time to go - I think it was February or something. But then we were very pleasantly surprised, it was super-cool, it was a great turnout at the show, the people were really enthusiastic, everything was just really cool and a lot of fun. The promoters were great, they took us out, we had a lot of laughs – overall it was a really positive experience. When we got an offer to return, we readily said, “Yes, we wanna do that again”. Then they suggested that we also visited St. Petersburg, and we had never played there, so we said yes to it as well.
What are your expectations from the second show? And what should the fans expect this time?
I think last time we had just had a comeback with “Fire & Damnation” (2012). Now we’re touring on “The Raging Tides”, and that album has been received really positively all over the world - we just come back from a South American tour last week, and it was really successful. A lot of people really like the new album, and we will definitely play a lot of new songs off that record. That’s one thing the fans can expect – while we’re also gonna play the classics, we’re definitely gonna be doing a bunch of new stuff. That’s the reason why we make records – to play our new songs and extend our catalogue and not fall into that frame where we’re like a throwback band from the 80s. That’s something that we definitely wanna avoid. We wanna represent what we are today, not just honor what we used to be when Ray (Mensch, guitar) and I wrote those records, especially “Possessed By Fire”, when we were just 18 years old. (laughs) That’s basically what the people should expect, and the usual trademark energetic show that we usually put out.
You said that “The Raging Tides” was very well received around the world. But what are your personal thoughts about it, especially that it’s been a year since the record came out? Are you still satisfied with it, or do you think you should have done anything differently?
No, I don’t think we should have done anything differently. I think we did exactly what we needed to do, which was expand on all the positive effect from “Fire & Damnation”, and build on the foundation that “Fire & Damnation” was laid on. Actually, if anything, I would do exactly the same record again. The cool thing about “The Raging Tides” now is as we go out more and play more of that music, it becomes evident that people are really into it, people sing along with the lyrics, they really-really support the record. That is something I didn’t think would happen. It’s a short time, a year is not that long, and then within a year people honestly appreciate the record and know the material. I would definitely not do anything differently.
Whose idea was it to bring back the Exumer mask to the front cover of “The Raging Tides”? And who is this person called Obsessed By Cruelty who did the artwork?
Basically when we came back with “Fire & Damnation”, the main thing was to avoid being this throwback and putting back the same imagery as in the 80s. With the cover of “Fire & Damnation” we definitely wanted to do something outside of the Exumer style. There are still elements of that mask, but it doesn’t look like 1986. For this record, the artwork was made by Martin, a friend of mine from Sweden. He designed a lot of T-shirts, and I would buy his T-shirts for classic bands that I really like. Over the years we started talking, and then I said, “Hey, would you be interested in doing a cover for us?” He said, “Absolutely I would”. We talked back and forth, and it came to the understanding between him and myself and the band that… He actually pitched a couple of designs, and when he pitched that design, we said, “Absolutely this is it”. We felt the time was right, because some time has passed since Ray and I started the band back up again in 2008, and nobody can really say we’re trying a comeback with this record. It’s not a problem to bring back the mask to the design now, because nobody will associate us with a throwback band just trying to live in the 80s. It was the perfect time to bring back the mask and to have this type of cover artwork. As a matter of fact, the music doesn’t sound like in 1986 either. There are elements of our trademark sound, but we didn’t record in analogue, we didn’t try to do anything like that, everything was pretty much geared towards our current sound. We thought it was a good idea to bring back our trademark mask, but we didn’t feel that way about it back in 2012.
All the music and lyrics on this album are credited to the entire band, but can you break it down a bit? Do you really gather together to write, and does everyone contribute to the music and lyrics of all the songs?
We always credit the band for everything because it’s easier for us. I mean, I write all the lyrics for Exumer and I come up with the artwork concept, and I deal with the concept of the overall thing. But the music is a real collaboration between all of us. Everybody is responsible for something. Ray usually writes the riffs and brings them to the table, and then we all work together on what we call projects. A record is a project for us, so what we do is we collect riffs, I collect vocal lines and lyrics, and then we come together in the rehearsal space. For this record we did this three or four times, each time for about a week or two, when we would get together and concentrate of fitting the music and vocals together. Matthias (Kassner), our drummer, comes up with his drum fills, our bass player (T. Schiavo) works the same way, and Marc (Brautigam), our guitar player, develops solos and stuff. It is in a way a collaborative process, however, everybody is responsible for their own input, the things they have to be contributing. As I said, my part is lyrics, vocals, the concept of the record and all that. Ray’s mission is to write the main riff. And then we all come together to put all pieces together. That’s why we credit the band for everything, when obviously everybody has an area of responsibility. I can’t ask the drummer to come up with vocals or lyrics. (laughs) And he can’t ask me to write drum fills, that’s the same thing. That’s the creative process behind our records.
By the way, as far as I understand, you personally live in the United States, and the rest of the guys are in Germany. How do you handle the logistical problems that definitely have to be there?
Tony, our bass player, also lives in the United States, and the three other guys do live in Germany. Basically what we do is we always prepare on our own. I’m sort of a lost orphan, I have all the instrumentals of all the songs that we’re gonna play live, and I rehearse here by myself along with a tape. It’s almost like playing along with the band, and everybody else does the same thing. However, the three German guys get together in Germany and rehearse as a unit. And then we get together before tours – for instance, before the latest South American run we got together a day before the tour started and booked a studio for four hours and rehearsed as a band so that it would come across as organic. In terms of writing music, the Internet obviously makes it really easy for bands to send ideas back and forth. However, when we’re actually writing and putting things together, we try to have everybody in the same room. Ray will have riffs and say, “Here’s a riff, I put some drum bits behind it, can you sing over it if you think it’s cool?” I’ll try it right there and tell them, “Yeah, we can work on this”, and we can expand on it in the rehearsal space, or I can say, “No, this riff doesn’t really work with any vocals”. Physical and geographical distances are not a problem anymore like they were, in the 80s we couldn’t have done it this way.
Coming back to the latest album, why did you choose songs by Pentagram and Grip Inc. as cover versions? And how did you get Rob Dukes (ex-Exodus) to do guest vocals on “Hostage To Heaven”?
We all love Pentagram, and I’m a big doom guy, and we all wanted to do something that’s outside of our genre. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to cover New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, it’s still very close to what we do, and Pentagram is clearly outside our genre. Still “Forever My Queen” is a really heavy song, and it was a challenge that way. The Grip Inc. thing was more because Waldemar (Sorychta), our producer, used to be in Grip Inc., and this was our second record with him. On the first album we became really friendly with him, and on the second album we thought, “It would be cool to incorporate him into the process more than just as a producer”. We were thinking what we could do, and Ray suggested, “Hey, this song they used to do is really cool. Maybe he wants to play on it if we do a cover of it”. He said, “Absolutely”, and then he asked Makka (Markus Freiwald) of Sodom, who used to be in a band with Waldemar called Despair if he wanted to play drums. And Makka said, “Yeah, absolutely, I’d love to play drums”. And when I started working on the vocals I realized that this song is almost ideal to split vocals on it, and then a friend of ours, Nick Barker, suggested maybe talking to Rob. We called Rob, and he was immediately on board. It was a kind of organic process how the whole thing got together. And we’re very happy with the result.
There was another release by Exumer back in 2015, it was called “Fire Before Possession”. Can you explain a bit what it contains? How much are these versions different from those on the original “Possessed By Fire”?
Basically the guy who reissues our stuff, the guy from High Roller Records, came to me, and he knew that a friend of ours had a tape that we did… I think we recorded “Possessed By Fire” in October (1986 – ed.), but before we came to the studio, maybe in late August or early September, we recorded this tape just to demo the songs. Not even all of them, but the majority of the songs, just for the label so that they would know what they could expect. Only one friend of ours had that tape, and Steffen (Boehm, president of High Roller) knew about it and talked to him about it, and he asked me if he could make a run on vinyl and CD of that, because it’s such a cool thing to have. The songs are really raw on that recording. I said, “OK, let’s do it”, and I came up with the title, and he printed it on vinyl and CD. That’s how it came together.
A couple of early tracks were re-recorded for “Fire & Damnation”. Do you plan to do anything like this with other songs from the 80s?
No, no. Basically we did it because we wanted to showcase two things. One was that the songs from the 80s still kind of hold up today, that the riffs are still as good as they were back in the day, and the other thing was that we wanted to incorporate at the time Paul (Arakaki), who sang on the second Exumer record. We wanted to have him in the process, and the way we thought was to switch singers, so that I would sing on a song off “Rising From The Sea” (1987), and he would sing on a song off “Possessed By Fire”. That was the idea behind that – to showcase him and to incorporate him in the process. It was a one-time thing we did for “Fire & Damnation”, just to kind of say, “We wrote those songs in the 80s, they’re still good today”. We’re not planning anything like that again.
Your work outside Exumer in the 80s and early 90s is documented quite comprehensively on a record called “A Second Of Thought” (2008). But why did the album you did with the band Of Rytes (“Without…”, 1991) stay out of it? Do you plan to reissue it as well?
Not really… I think it will stay as a vinyl out there. My buddy who runs Kaosmaster Productions wanted to compile my early work outside Exumer, and this was not part of the deal. I think the Of Rytes record is kind of leftfield. It was something that I was interested in back in the day, and this is just too outside of what the usual sound that I was part of was that day. Honestly a while after the demise of Exumer Ray and I was a part of hip hop / metal crossover outfit, and that obviously didn’t fit in that compilation either. Of Rytes was also just a one-off, I don’t know how to explain it correctly… it’s really not representative of the sound that I associate with my singing. So it’s probably gonna stay on vinyl.
Quite a lot of thrash metal bands from the 80s have reunited over the past 15 years, and some of them are even more successful now than they were in their original days. But there are also other German thrash metal bands from that era that still haven’t got the praise they deserve. In your opinion, what does it depend on?
I don’t know. I think bands like Darkness and even Accuser didn’t really take off. In our case, we do exactly what we wanna do, we’re not in a place where we tour 300 days a year, which we don’t wanna do. But we can fly to Moscow and St. Petersburg and have a show that’s gonna be great, and a lot of other bands are not in the same position. We’re obviously not what they call The Big Four - Sodom, Destruction, Kreator, and Tankard – we’re not in that either, but we can do pretty much whatever we wanna do and tour wherever we wanna go. We’re gonna be playing Maryland Deathfest in May, for example. Bands can only do that if they have a certain status, and we’re fortunate that we weren’t left behind, people know Exumer enough that we can do all these things. Bands from the 80s that are out there and are still doing things, especially bands like Darkness, they just don’t really get the opportunity.
Back in the beginning of this century, when thrash metal started to get big again, a lot of people believed it would not last. If you look at the 80s, there were just a few years, when thrash was really big. And now here we are, 15 years after Clash of the Titans, and the interest in thrash metal is still very high, Kreator’s album is number one on the German charts now. What is the reason, in your opinion?
The thing with thrash was that it fell victim to hair metal and Sub Pop and all that. I think thrash was in the same category of heavy metal altogether, and it kind of died with the rest of the genre. The reason for that was because metal became ridiculous, it became like a joke. I think people were fed up with Poison or whatever, and people couldn’t really distinguish between Poison and Nuclear Assault at some point, they were just saying, “We’re tired of metal, we don’t wanna have metal anymore”. Thrash went down the drain with the rest of the genre. What happened now is that people recognize that thrash is actually a really cool subgenre of metal, because it has some of the attitudes of punk and hardcore, and the chops that go along with playing like metal musicians. But it’s a lot more reality based, and it lends itself towards writing about real things. On “The Raging Tides” I write about subjects such as torture, things of political nature, terrorism, whatever it might be. That type of music really lends itself to that, whereas in power metal you most likely sing about dragons, do you know what I mean? I think these days the things that happen in the world are conducive to thrash metal, and in thrash you can express yourself in various ways, because, like I said, there’s a lot of punk and hardcore in thrash as well, at least in the attitude. Instead of talking about dragons, we talk about terrorist attacks, which is something that’s happening. That’s why the genre lives a lot longer this time around, and people actually understand that it’s an ideal vehicle to write about these things now.
You mentioned the rap metal band called Humungous Fungus which you and Ray had in the 90s. How do you look back at those times? And do you think rap metal will also have its resurgence some day?
I think it was a really good time for us, because as a musician, as somebody who’s creative, it’s cool to expand in different genres, in different avenues, do the things that are outside your comfort zone. Looking back to all that, it was cool, it was a really cool experience. We did our first record for Noise, then we did two records for Epic/Sony, and it was a big deal. We had a great time doing it. I don’t think we’ll ever do it again, and I don’t think there will be a resurgence of that. There are still bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn and all those bands that still go these days, but obviously on a whole different level, and that’s OK. I’m not really interested in ever doing that stuff again, I think that was very specific for the time, and that was an expression of what was going on back then. I’m not interested to the least in re-living those days. It was something that I did in my 20s, and it was cool that I did it, but I don’t need to do it again.
Over the course of your career you have played thrash metal, hardcore punk, rap metal and so on. What kind of music do you listen to for your own pleasure, and what kind of music does inspire you?
I listen to anything from… I don’t really make distinctions anymore, I can listen to a John Coltrane record, and then I listen to Frank Zappa, and then I listen to Bunny Wailer from Bob Marley and the Wailers. I can listen to anything that has true emotional content. If I connect with music in an emotional fashion, I don’t make any kind of distinction between what genre it is. Obviously I listen to a lot of doom metal, and I’ve been a big fan of Frank Zappa, and when I was a kid I collected a lot of his records, and then I found out that I still needed more, so I bought more. It depends on what I’m into at the moment, but as long as it can really connect to me on an emotional level, I’ll like it. I’ll always be into heavy music, regardless of whether it is thrash or New Wave of British Heavy Metal or hardcore or punk or whatever. Heavy is the preferred genre, if you wanna call it like that. But heavy to me can also mean dub reggae, it can be heavy, too. I don’t make a distinction between one thing and another as long as it’s good.
What do you and the rest of the band do outside Exumer? I heard a few years ago that you make your living as a kung fu instructor…
Yeah, I’ve practiced kung fu for a long time, I still practice it, but in an organized fashion I practiced it from the end of 1998 to 2010. We all have various things that we do outside of the music. Our drummer owns a drum shop where he sells drums, and he also owns a metal bar. Our guitar player Marc works at Century Media. We have various interests outside of Exumer. We’re in a fortunate position where we don’t have to rely on income from the band, but when we do the band, that’s all we do. When we get together, let’s say when we rehearse for a record, we don’t do anything but that for two weeks or something. We can choose what we wanna do and when we wanna do it.
Exumer have a pretty interesting touring life – as you said, you did a South American tour last month, and you will be appearing at Maryland Deathfest in May. Are you satisfied with the number of shows you play? Do you want to do more, or to do less maybe?
No, we don’t wanna do less, but none of us wants to be on a nightliner for longer than three weeks. For our European tour last year, we did about three weeks, and that was just the right amount of time to be on the bus. (laughs) At this point in time - I’ll turn 50 next year - I still feel pretty young, I don’t have any problems, but I don’t feel like touring like we’re 20 years old, and none of us do. We do wanna be with our families, we enjoy our family life, and again, we’re in that fortunate position where we don’t have to rely on income from the band. We don’t wanna do less, but we don’t wanna do more either. Now, let’s say, if a few great opportunities come up, for instance, Exodus ask us to go out for a week here, or Witchery ask us for two weeks there, we’ll definitely be there. But outside of good opportunities and the minimum amount of what we feel like important for us to play, we don’t wanna do a whole lot more.
What about any new material? When shall we expect the fifth Exumer album?
We’re looking at 2018 for the new record. We don’t wanna have another four years in between records like with “Fire & Damnation” and “The Raging Tides”. We’ll probably start writing new material in the later part of the year, and we wanna have a release in the fall of 2018. That’s what we’re looking at, that’s what we’re kind of playing with now. It’s also gonna be our third record for Metal Blade, and then we’re up for the negotiations whether we go with them for another record or another three records or whatever the deal is. They’re very happy, and we’re very happy with the deal right now, but there’s always room for growth and improvement, so that’s what we’re gonna be doing.
Exumer on the Internet: http://www.exumer.de
Special thanks to Olga Ovsyannikova (Spika Concert Agency) for arranging this interview
February 4, 2017