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Serious Black

Serious Black
Tonight It's Our Time


Архив интервью | Русская версия

Just three years in existence, this band has quite a lot of history behind their backs. Originally a supergroup put together by such power metal heavyweights as Roland Grapow (Masterplan) and Thomen Stauch (ex-Blind Guardian), Serious Black got a life of its own already by the time they released their sophomore full-length, "Mirrorworld", which was, by the way, just one year after their debut CD came out. As if this was not enough, within 11 month the band came up with yet another record, a concept work aptly titled "Magic", because it's indeed something outstanding and clearly the best album this six-piece has come up with so far. In the run up to Serious Black's first shows in Russia, scheduled for early October, we caught up with vocalist Urban breed to obtain more detail about 'making magic'. And even though getting Urban on the phone turned out quite a bit of an undertaking, because the singer travels from the U.S. to Europe and back in a totally unpredictable manner, he did eventually find the time to tell us about his current band, as well as some of his previous affairs (old-timers should remember him from Tad Morose, Bloodbound and Trail Of Murder, younger ones are strongly advised to check them out).

Your new album "Magic" is coming out this Friday. You personally have been involved in making many albums before, so what are your feelings on the eve of the release of this particular one?

I have never been as deeply anticipating a release as this time. I'm still happy with what we've done, it was a lot of hard work, and I'm really looking forward to hearing what people think about it. I'm pretty sure we're gonna see people either loving it or not liking it at all, which is exactly how I want it, because then it's good art.

"Magic" is a concept album with a fantasy story behind it. What inspired you to come up with such a story? Does it have any connection to events in real life, or is it pure fiction?

It's all really inspired by real-life events, because that's how I like to do it, but I thought it would be fun to frame it this kind of way to give it more color. I think it's an excellent way: magic in the story is really just a way to be able to portray this in a more fanciful manner rather than portraying it in how really life is. I like real life, too, but in this case I thought it was fun to do something like this and frame it in a fantastic kind of way. In essence, the core of the story is that there's a tragic event in your life and you don't really resolve what it is, and eventually you come back to face it. That's really what it is about.

You said in an earlier interview that you and Bob (Katsionis, guitar) came up with a concept for every song without even touching an instrument. Does it mean that the music was actually written after lyrics to reflect the lyrical content?

If you got the impression that every song was written like that, maybe I worded it poorly. There were two songs that we did this way, basically, and the rest of the album was more of a normal progression as far as songwriting is concerned. For some of the songs I had the lyrics beforehand, and for other songs I had the instrumental part beforehand. It was a little bit of a mix and match. "One Final Song", for instance, was something that Bob and I had for the previous album, and I finally got Bob to finalize it, and I finalized the lyrics, and we finally put it together. It was a little bit of a different workflow, it was a very interesting album to put together because we used so many different approaches. I think you can tell that the album is different for good variety, it's not the same song and one song, it really goes from one to the next, but it has a beautiful flow to it, and every single song complements the next song.

How will you perform the new material live? Will you play the album or part of the album as one big block, or will you break it down into separate songs?

That is a good question. The first thought you have is, of course, "Let's play the whole thing from start to finish". Then you start to think about it and you're like, "No way, if we want to do this right". At some point in the future, I really hope that we can play this altogether, from start to finish, but we would need a little bit more money, a bigger budget for that one to happen, because I would really want to do it right, and we would need some actors and actresses, and some extra props to make sure that it really comes to life. This time we're gonna take a few songs, quite a few of them, and we're gonna fill the setlist more freely.

Serious Black is an international band - you have members from Germany, Austria, Greece, and you, as far as we know, are living in the United States. How does it work logistically wise? Do you ever get all together for rehearsals, and if yes, in which country?

Most of us are hanging around in Munich, two members are from Munich, and that means that Munich is the central hub for us when we come together to rehearse. Yes, we do stop by for rehearsal before any tour we go out on, because people seem to think it's better, and we think it's better with rehearsal, too.

You are originally from Sweden, how did you end up living in the United States? Do you like it better than in Europe?

I don't know. It's different, that's for sure. If it's better or not... You know, everything has its ups and its downs, there are a few things that are better by the U.S., and there are a few things that are better by Sweden, and there are a few things that are better by Germany, and there are a few things that are better by Spain or the UK. Everywhere you go, you'll find it. What it really comes down to, and why you should move anywhere - it comes down to the people you want to be close to. Where you're gonna live or where you're gonna work, it doesn't matter, because if it's with the people you like, you're gonna like it anyway. That's what it really is. If you don't move for the people but for the location, I think you're making a wrong choice. You're gonna miss the people you love, and it doesn't matter how good the place is.

When you were asked to join Serious Black, did you agree immediately or did you have to think about it? What made you accept the proposal?

I can't say that I said yes immediately, but it didn't take long. Basically I told the guys I was gonna call them back in a little bit, and it was an hour later. We had a long talk, and at the end of it, I said, "If you understand that I am a very strong-willed person, I have strong opinions about music and art, and if I get the final say on my vocals, then I'm in". Luckily the guys understood that. It was really decided during  the afternoon that I got the call, but it wasn't immediate.

Originally Serious Black was advertised quite intensely as the new band of Roland Grapow and Thomen Stauch. When Roland left, it was announced very clearly that he wants to focus on Masterplan. But Thomen kind of disappeared quietly before the second album. What happened to Thomen, and do you have any idea what he is doing now?

I know what happened to Thomen, because I was the one that had to make the unpleasant phone call and tell him that we would be moving on without him. I really love Thomen a lot, we had lots of fun, and we had great chemistry working together. But it came down to the back issue that he had and things like that: further cancellations would cost too much for the band at that point in time. We really couldn't continue, we needed to find a drummer with who we didn't have to worry, "Do we have a drummer tonight?" That's really why Thomen is no longer with us in the band. What he does right now? I think he is living a family life, taking care of his daughters. I hope he's having a great time, I haven't talked to him in a while, he isn't very happy with me, I'm sure, because I made that call. But what can you? I still love the guy, and I do hope some time in the future we can get back together and take it easy.

In your opinion, when did Serious Black turn from a project into a real band? Or was it a solid band with far-reaching plans from day one?

Well, when they called me, they said that it looks like a project, but, they said, "we are going to make it a band". We talked about that, and I made it very clear that that instead of just working as it's a bit of a side project, produce an album and don't do anything we should actually form a band. That was the plan. If I ever used the word "project" in this respect, that was rather carelessly by me, because it was never intended to be a project. If you look at our past right now, at what we're doing, it's quite clear that we are a working band. I understand how people would think this wouldn't work. Quite frankly, it didn't work the way we wanted it to be in the beginning: Roland immediately had to jump out because he didn't have the time. Then there was this thing with Thomen. But we are a band, and no matter what we're carrying on. That's how it is.

Your previous album "Mirrorworld" had a limited edition with a total of seven bonus tracks, nearly twice as long as the regular version. Why did you decide to leave so much material just for the limited edition?

I would say that it's a little bit of a mistake there. It's partly my fault, because I fell sick during the recordings. We originally had a plan to have an extended version, however, not that extended. (everybody laughs) We were supposed to have two, maybe three more tracks on the limited edition. However, since I was sick, and we had a deadline to meet, we decided, "OK, we're calling these songs bonus tracks and putting them on the limited edition". That was more or less a mistake, a thing we couldn't really handle, it just turned into what it turned into.

The new album is also going to have a huge limited edition, with something like three CDs. Can you say a few words about it?

Well, absolutely! It's my favorite version. I'm sad that this is not the only variant (laughs), because it's such a cool package! But then again, it's good that there are other editions, because it's also very pricy. If you only want the new album by all means, you'll happily buy a digipack - that's fine, you're gonna get all the music anyway, except for the second disc, which is an acoustic album, called "First Flight", with songs from our past. And then there's "Live In Atlanta", so you'll have a live album, an acoustic album, plus "Magic" - of course, in a special box, so if you can afford it, come on, get it, it's awesome. It also comes with a custom Tarot deck with 22 especially designed cars just for this one, and with an ouija board, which we call a witch board for trademark reasons, because someone has the trademark for the word "ouija board". And it comes with a planchette as well. It's a beautiful package.

Each of your three albums is very different musically. Is it intentional, or is it just happening this way?

It's a mix of both. We talk about what we're doing, and we all have a feel for what we want to do next. "I don't want to do this, let's do that". But then again, what you want to do and what you end up doing are not normally the exact same things. Things change, it's very organic. And we're also working with a lot of people, everybody makes their own contribution, and things gradually change into something else. I would say the Serious Black albums, they all have one great thing in common: it is the fact that we've got good songs on there. That we change the production process a little bit is natural. Between "Mirrorworld" and this album we made a big change: we said, "We are tired of heavy compression, we are tired of sampled drums, we're tired of hyperquantised production. We're gonna keep it a bit more organic, we're gonna use real drums and no samples". We went to Spike to mix the album so that we would get a more open sound, and then we really kicked it all off and sent it all the way to Finnvox in Finland for the mastering to give it that final touch. It's a great sounding album.

Before Serious Black you had a project which we like a lot, it was called Trail Of Murder. Why didn't you continue with it after the first album ("Shades Of Art", 2012)? Did this album fail to live up to your expectations?

No-no-no, I think that album is actually wonderful. Of course, the way we had it - we didn't promote it properly, we didn't have the budget for it, and it would have been a lot of underground work for it. I still think it's a beautiful album, and I'm very proud for it. The only reason that things ended like that is personal kind of business. There were different opinions about how things were handled, people were unhappy, and someone had to go. It turned out that I wanted to go rather than stay, so... But they're still playing, and that's fine.

There is a song on that album called "The Song You Never Sang", with lyrics in the booklet written in Morse code. How did you come up with this idea, and what does it suppose to symbolize?

Oh well, you know (laughs), it’s just me and my stupid mind. I thought it would be funny if we take a song that’s called “The Song You Never Sang” and we don’t really put the lyrics in there. (everybody laughs) It’s a bit of a joke.

How do you now look back on your time with Bloodbound? You recorded two albums with them, but each time you only stayed for a short time with the band...

It’s a little bit more complicated than it’s looking on the outside. But it’s not that complicated, I can probably tell you the story in just a few sentences. For the first album (“Nosferatu”, 2005), I wasn’t actually a member, I was a hired hand, I did have a little bit of an input, I co-wrote three of the songs, but I didn’t really feel like I could stand behind the lyrics for the rest of them. (laughs) They don’t talk for me. At some point the band, of course, wanted to move along and get everybody to be a member of the band, because it was cheaper for them, and I didn’t really wanna do that, so I stopped. That’s the reason it ended the first time.
After that they got Michael Bormann and a few other people to do some stuff like tours, but they found it difficult, I don’t know why, and they decided to ask me again. They first asked me just to do live shows, and we had fun, and they asked me if I would consider to be a member. I said, “Sure, if I get to write vocal melodies and the lyrics”. And we did “Tabula Rasa” (2009). Now you may wanna blame me for the whole direction of the album, but that’s not the case at all because basically the original ideas for most of the songs were the ones that Tomas Olsson (guitar) came up with, so you should blame him just as much as me. After some tours I was fired, and I understand why – I demanded that I got to write all the vocal melodies and lyrics, and that had been Tom’s and Fredrik’s (Bergh, keyboards) job, and they were becoming uphappy with it. I should have foreseen it. But still I’m happy that I did that album, and I was happy with it at that time, so when they fired me I was kind of disappointed because I was really looking forward to what we could do on the next one. But I think they’re happy doing what they do right now, and that means it was the right decision to fire me, because they weren’t happy when I was doing my thing. (laughs)

How did you get involved with Project Arcadia? Are you going to continue with them now that you're so busy with Serious Black?

Well, we were gonna try to make another album, but timing worked against me. Me and Plamen (Uzunov, guitar) talked about that, and he told me that he wanted to do it a little bit faster than I could, and I said, “OK, then move along with somebody else”. He sent me some samples of the new man they’re working with, and it sounds good. I’m wishing him all the best, he’s a wonderful person. The reason I ended up working with him is basically because he reached out to me and called me and sent me a few songs, and I saw that they had a great potential. I wanted to do that, so that’s how I ended up in the band. Unfortunately, as you said, I’m too busy with Serious Black and I can’t do everything, so I would begin preventing them from putting out another album. I think this is the better solution, even though in my heart I love the music we’ve made together and I’d love to do the second one. You know, you gotta be pragmatic about these things, and it’s better for everybody.

A lot of musicians become quite disillusioned with the music industry after several years with different bands. Now if you read newswires, there's somebody leaving quite established metal bands nearly every month because they can no longer support their living from music. What keeps you going forward after all these years?

That is a difficult question to answer, because I’m not really sure I know. Sometimes it seems to be an internal drive to create. I understand anyone that wants to get out of the music business for the reasons you mentioned, because it's hard making a living. In fact, when Mario (Lochert, bass) called me up to ask if I was up to do it, I was seriously considering this thing. It's not that I'm done, but it's not the first time I had that thought and every single time I decided, "OK, I'm gonna call it quits", every single time somebody gives me a call and says, "Hey, do you wanna sing on this?" There's no way I can get away from that. It may be hard, it may be tough, and it may not make me rich, it may even keep me poor, but I'm a musician, a songwriter, an artist, that's what I do, and that's how it is.

Are there any young bands that have caught your attention recently and that you consider promising or talented? Do you check out young bands, or do you prefer older classics?

I don't really check out any new bands. Probably the youngest band I know that I paid any attention to is a band called MindMaze, they're based out of New Jersey. There's a reason I know them, because the first time I played in New York, I met with a duo of musicians, Sarah and Jeff Teets. I talked to them, and they asked me for advice, and I said, "One thing you should do is never play for free". I think they mostly heeded my advice. I've kept in touch with them over the years, and eventually they came up with a full band and put out a new CD. I thought it's good, I like them a lot. That's one newer band that I keep track of. Other than that, I don't really listen to any music. I don't know if it's a conscious decision really, but I do feel it's probably easier for me to not listen to any music and write new music rather than listen to new music. If you start listening to a lot of new stuff, it just gets into your head, and eventually it affects your confidence. I'd rather not do that.

What are your expectations from your upcoming shows in Moscow and St. Petersburg? As far as we know, it's our first time in Russia...

It is my first time, and I don't really know what to expect. I do hope, and I'm really looking forward to it, that I get to meet a lot of people, I get to talk to people, talk to the fans we have and make some new ones. I'd rather go there with an open mind, and just see what happens, see how people are. I assume that people are people like everywhere else - you have happy people, you have sad people, you have good people, you have bad people. I want to basically meet them all and see how it goes.

Serious Black on the Internet: http://www.serious-black.com/

Special thanks to Irina Ivanova (AFM Records) for arranging this interview

Roman Patrashov, Natalia "Snakeheart" Patrashova
Photos courtesy of AFM Records
August 21, 2017
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