Out of the Dark, Into the Light

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Germany’s best kept musical secret, DIE APOKALYPTISCHEN REITER, are back with their latest album Licht. Currently preparing for a long tour, we had the pleasure of throwing a few questions at the band’s low volume mechanist, bass player Volk-Man and ask him a bit about the latest album, what’s been going on in the Reiter camp and take a look at what makes the band… them. But without further a due, let’s step into the divine light and see what unfolds…

You’ve just released your latest album Licht and it’s already doing good within Europe. How do you compare the latest one with the past few?

Yeah, Licht has been out now for four weeks and it’s still in the charts over here in Germany. We cracked into place 29, which is really amazing, considering the charts [in Germany] are not separated into different styles, everything’s included in the charts, from U2 to Amy Winehouse to Madonna… The album was listed even in the national charts of Austria and Switzerland as well, so we are totally stunned by the support from our fans. We worked really hard on Licht, so it’s a pleasure to see that it was well worth the effort we put into it.

When it comes down to the music, I can’t really say how much has actually changed compared to our previous albums. I think this album is more straight to the point, and the eleven songs create a strong unit where everything fits together very well. Sound-wise, I think, it’s the most massive sounding record we’ve ever done. We experimented a lot with the guitar sound, we had a new direction, used less gain, played with the midrange boosts, used new amplifiers… We wanted a clear but ultra heavy sound, and that’s exactly what you’ll find on the album.

Musically, the path seems to follow Have A Nice Trip, but how do you view the progress from day one to this day?

I think we’ve had a few groundbreaking changes in our music throughout our career. Our first three records, up until All You Need Is Love, I like to call the dark chapter of the band. The following three records [Have a Nice Trip, Samurai, Riders on the Storm] in turn, to me, are the colorful chapter for our band. Licht doesn’t really fit either of the chapters too good, so maybe it’s a new bright chapter. Maybe it’s something you cannot classify.

As a musician, I’m not really comparing our new songs to our old ones. We just try to keep the band going on. We’re lucky enough to be in a position where we can take our music through various different paths and not get whipped by our fans for doing so. They know we’re not like, say AC/DC, who you can rely on for sounding pretty much the same through decades. Die Apokalyptischen Reiter means freedom in music, freedom in mind and freedom in soul.

You also changed guitarists a while back, with Lady Cat-Man coming aboard the love boat to replace Pitrone. How’d this happen and how has the Lady fit in?

Losing Pitrone was not an easy thing to handle, especially when it was so difficult to explain the reasons to him and to our fans. In the end, however, you can sum the whole thing down two arguments. First, Pitrone wasn’t really into the musical style of our new songs and second, his lack of interest with the songwriting process to develop those new songs felt like a burden. In our mind, the music could have had so much more but he simply wasn’t willing to follow us and chip into the writing.

As for Lady Cat-Man, one of our friends, who also played acoustic guitars on the previous album, had heard about our dissatisfying situation and was looking for a replacement. He told us he knew this girl who was into metal and played guitar. So we met her in February, jammed together and felt that it could actually work out. It was pretty much a spontaneous idea to take her along with the ride. We simply didn’t have too much time to think about it, because the studio was already booked for March. Sometimes you just have to take risks.

Did the change have a deeper effect on the band or the music?

The songs were pretty much finished when she joined the band, but she did develop a lot of guitar melodies and made suggestions. Most of all, she brought fresh air to the whole band and we had really fun playing the new songs with her. It was a great feeling after such a long period with frustration. Finally. The last three or four months with Pitrone were really disappointing because we wanted to keep him in the band, but on the other hand we knew we’d have to let him go sooner or later as he worked more like a break rather than the engine he once was.

How does the songwriting process actually go for you? Do you come up with the lyrics first, the choruses or?

Both things come together. Mostly. Sometimes we do songs with ghost lyrics that sound pretty funny. But we are perfectionists, so the lyrics have to fit with the length of the riff and the meaning of the riff. So it is a long way until it fits perfectly. We are a classic rehearsal band. We come up with riffs, jam it together and try to get a feeling. We all have little studios at home, so all in the band are able to record some riffs with a drum machine at home and send it by email to the band members. We already have a lot of stuff for the next album.

Just as important as catchy choruses, you’ve embraced internationality on most of your songs; in All You Need is Love for example, you had a few lines of Finnish shouted and on Have a Nice Trip, you’ve got some reggae stuff going on. But most of all, musically, you’ve been very German, in a good way naturally, and have done covers of classic German disco songs. Where do the various influences end and where does Die Apokalyptischen Reiter start?

The international thing was more or less experimental as we felt it suited some our songs real good. After all these years of existence, we came to the simple but important conclusion that this band is in fact, German. The name of the band, the lyrics, the behavior, our philosophy is indeed German and it took us many, many years to realize this simple fact. The whole German aspect makes us special, it makes us unique. And thus Licht became our first 100 percent German album.

Does the rich German music culture, whether it’s the disco hit Dschingis Khan or the volksmusik of Southern Germany or even the Scorpions, present you with any challenges and obligations?

German folk music is not very popular over here, as it’s mostly listened by silly grannies. The core of the folk music has been totally fucked up by TV’s easy listening music. The so-called Volksmusik has pretty much nothing to do with the music of our ancients.

As you know, the traditional German folk music was misused by the Nazis and the Third Reich. Suddenly songs, that people had been singing for many hundred year, became a taboo after the end of the Second World War. The Nazis were pretty clever since they used the old traditional melodies and updated them with new political lyrics, pretty much raping the old songs.

So now, if you use an old melody from one of those traditional songs, a lot of people won’t go, “Hey, that’s a cool melody” but instead start raving, “You idiots, don’t you know that this is a Nazi song?” The door has been closed and our music scene simply doesn’t have access to the old traditional songs anymore. Except for old medieval melodies that bands like In Extremo use.

It’s terrible. We have this rich musical heritage, but its use can be very problematic. When you look at Scandinavia or the Baltic states, for example, they don’t have this sort of an extremely dark period in their recent history, so they’re more free to use the old traditional songs and folk tunes.

As for Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, we have a folk influence, but it’s mostly coming from Russia. We all grew up in the communistic East-Germany, so Russia and Russian culture was really present in our daily lives. I personally like the music from the East very much.

What other influences have become part of the band, whether they be musical or more spiritual, philosophical things?

It’s hard to name exact musical influences that would fit all of our songs, but the most inspiring thing is life itself. We like to travel a lot around the globe so when we come home, we’ve picked quite a bit of impressions from other parts of this planet. I think the most boring thing in life would be to be stuck in one location for the rest of your life. Visiting South America, India and Asia were the most eye-opening challenges in my life. I think that most of the people living in the First World don’t know how good their life truly is and how small their problems really are.

Other than using the theme of “Riders” efficiently, you’ve also had, almost like, sub-themes to all of your albums – even if they haven’t affected the actual music that much. On Samurai you were closer to Asia and moved across the pond to American imagery with Riders of the Storm, where you did a nice cover of the Stan Jones song. With Licht, there seems to be yet another theme going on. Are concepts of importance to you?

Well, the whole path of life is searching – searching for the truth, searching for the unknown. As a band you have different periods, different moods, different studios. Every day, everything changes. Everything we did was exactly right at the time, when we decided to do it. Every record is a document of time.

So I don’t like to interpret them too much, after all these years. Of course, every album has an overall topic, without saying specifically that this or that is a concept album. Riders of the Storm was an album like a storm – wild and crushing. It represented the band back those days, and the cover of Ghostriders simply suited the whole scenery of the album. Licht is much more bright, both the music and the lyrics. They’re more pure and reduced. The band is transforming and the album is reflecting that.

Do the themes and core concepts serve as a guiding line or are they about just having fun in order to produce a memorable overall package?

Fun is always important, but fun, silliness is easily misunderstood. We are a hard working band and not a bunch of clowns that make funny music. I’ve often had the feeling that many songwriters cannot handle a band that’s not limited by borders or a band that breaks through borders and rules. We want to fulfill our own dreams with our music. So in a way, I think, if you want to set the world in flames – you have to burn yourself in the process.

Returning to international matters. You’ve pretty much got all Europe in your hands, but a few years ago around the time of your album Samurai, you were trying to push to the American market with a force. The idea of translating the whole package, including the band name, seemed a bit odd to me. How how did that go and how is your domination of America doing now?

Going back to what I said previously, it took us an eternity to recognize what we really were. German. The whole American-Samurai-thing was, like you said, really odd. Instead of being successful, it was just confusing. We are Die Apokalyptischen Reiter and not something else. The only way to put sense to the whole American pressing is that it’s a collector’s item over here in Europe, as it was only sold in the States. I’ve heard from a lot of fans abroad that the German band name or the German lyrics are no reason to not like us, in fact, it seems like the exact opposite is the truth. We’re hoping to get Licht released in North America as soon as possible, as we’ll be touring over there in 2009.

Even though you’ve just made Licht and you’re now getting prepared to start the touring machine again, what’s in store for Die Apokalyptischen Reiter next?

The German and European tours are just up ahead and we’ll also be doing a tour in Russia. I will leave my family in two weeks time and will be on the road ’till Christmas. It’s going to be a blast. We’ll also have a big tour coming next year and lots of open air, festival gigs in the summer.

What goals await to be conquered, what drives the band forward and boldly go where no band has gone before?

After discovering our home market, we’re ready to explore new things and many countries and areas are waiting for Reiter to hit their shores. America, Japan and Australia just to name but a few. It took us a long time to find real partners in our quest, but I believe that we’ll be finally kicking down the pedal to the metal.

Classic question, but any last words for those who might have unfortunately missed the German metal machine?

Check our MySpace and visit our shop at reitershop-online.com to get your hands on all of our records, DVDs, jackets, shirts and everything Reiter. Thanks for the interview, my friend!

And on that note, we thank Volk-Man deeply for taking the time to share some light into the German heavy metal light-phenomenon that is Die Apokalyptischen Reiter and wish ‘em the best luck with their Reitermania that seems to baptize mere men into metalheads.

Comments

  1. Commented by: Desperado

    Pretty good interview.I love this band’s early stuff,own all their albums,ep’s etc.I wasn’t so fond of Samurai & Riders,but I’ll still listen to em once in a while.All you need is Love & Have a nice trip being my favs.


  2. Commented by: Apollyon

    Cheers!

    Yeah, “All You Need is Love” is definitely THE Reiter album for me, in fact, I think it’s one of the best albums ever put on tape.

    While the material that followed is slightly different, it’s hard not to like it. The choruses are so goddamn catchy it’s not even funny and the riffs/melodies are memorable as hell. Plus, Fuchs deserves a high spot in the “greatest metal vocalist, period”-list.

    Awesome band.


  3. Commented by: peter

    these guys are fuckin awesome. come to the US!!! we want you…


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