BURDEN (Thorsten) INTERVIEW
Some young bands have all the luck in the world, one might say, but was it luck that got the German Stoner/Doom quartet Burden the slot of opening for John Garcia’s Kyuss Lives ensemble European tour? I beg to differ! Just a few quick spins will convince even the most ardent of critics of the young band’s quality and finesse. It was on the second day of performing at the London Forum that I met with the twenty three year old frontman Thorsten for a quite enjoyable chat. Confident but respectful, clever but well grounded, the young German was eager to explain how the band’s debut release “A Hole In The Shell” came into being, talk about how Burden deal with negativity and the Internet and finally what kind of lessons a young band like them can learn simply by opening for a group of well established musicians such as Kyuss Lives.
By Yiannis Stefanis.
- Hi Thorsten, it’s good to be able to talk to you in person, if anything to say how much I was impressed by “A Hole In The Shell”. This is the band’s first full length release and for a debut album, the work that has been put behind it is quite impressive!
Thorsten: Thank you very much!
- One element that really stands out in my opinion, as I tend to believe that in this style of music, call it Heavy/Stoner Rock, most riffs have been pretty much performed by other artists many years ago, are your vocals. I am happy to see that some people that play this kind of music can actually sing rather than shout!
Thorsten: Well, tell that to him over there (laughs) (note: Thorsten is pointing at the band’s lead guitarist Saint D. who is sitting close by in the tour bus). Thank you once again.
- I read a few reviews for “A Hole In the Shell” prior to coming here, mainly on the Internet, and most of them seem to be positive. What is the feedback that you guys have been getting?
Thorsten: Hmm…there’s quite some diversity there. We have mainly been getting positive feedback but there are quite a few people who are note really getting what we try to do as we do not play straight forward music. I still feel quite positive about what we do and everybody else in the band feels the same but I feel as if we are standing right in between two different worlds: we are not a Metal band so the True Metal fan might think “ok, these guys are not really my cup of tea”, and then the more Rock-orientated guy will most probably think “wow, these guys are way too heavy for me”. I read some stuff on the Internet recently where people were saying stuff like “the band that is opening for Kyuss Lives is some Metal douche bags” or whatever. It’s all right as I don’t think that we have chosen an easy path with the music that we chose to play. This is indeed a weird mix as the sound that we have is very Rock but the riffs are quite heavy and the vocals are…how would I describe the vocals…quite Rock, I guess. It’s the kind of mix that not many people will get along with, but the people who get along with it are really amazed by what we do and are truly positive!
- I appreciate what you just said however I find such an attitude to be quite surprising! First and foremost, we do live in the year 2011 and people are supposed to be more open minded and ok, this album does move between set barriers but that is not also a new thing as many bands have followed a similar approach in the past and became quite successful in the process. I really cannot understand why anyone would say a negative thing about this album!
Thorsten: Probably it’s the whole Internet thing as nobody goes to the Internet these days in order to say something good! If you check out sites such as YouTube, you will notice how everyone is complaining over everything! Especially users, I am not talking about fanzines and webzines here – I am talking about individuals that go on line and do that. You are probably never going to find anyone saying anything positive…I don’t know – maybe I am wrong about that (laughs). It’s just like…I try to see both sides of the coin here: the fanzines, the webzines and the magazines are very positive and then I try to stay firmly on the ground and listen to the opinions of people who do not like it. There’s always going to be people that will like it and people that will not like it, it’s quite normal. I like music in general but there are bands that I do not like and that is why I try to stay focused and hear both arguments.
- I both understand and appreciate that as I am quite similar in my approach to things and taste in music is indeed a very subjective thing, however I have always been a firm believer in the idea that when you claim that something is not good you need to be in a position to provide a coherent and well-structured argument as to why that is the case. I mean, you are touring with a band like Kyuss Lives which are the definition of a non-straightforward band which also cross over a few genres – they actually became famous as a result of doing this. So, the same guys who will come tonight and see Kyuss Lives are the same guys who will say something negative about Burden?
Thorsten: I really don’t know, maybe it’s also the whole support band thing. When I go to a concert to see one of my favourite bands, during the set of the support act I will probably grab myself a few beers and sit outside smoking, listening to things with only one ear and only really react if I end up really liking something. During this tour, people have been really supportive either by clapping their hands or shouting after the end of each song and that felt really good. Actually there were times where we didn’t really feel like a support act at all! I see that, I only want to make sure that nobody thinks that…I don’t know; we are still with our feet firmly on the ground. We are a support band and we enjoy that a lot. Yes, that is all I want to say really.
- Well, you’ve been on tour with Kyuss Lives for something like a month now, right? To me it seems like a great honour for any young band to be sharing the same stage with a guy like John Garcia!
Thorsten: It’s fantastic. When I first got in touch with the music of Kyuss it was after they had split up and I am only twenty three years old, you know (laughs). I got into their music slightly late, but even when I formed my first band when I was still in school I was always thinking to myself “it would be great to be able to play with Kyuss man” but, back then it was too late. Well, now they are back and we are actually doing this! I haven’t yet realised what it is that I have been enjoying these last few weeks – I think that I will probably realise it when I go back home and think to myself “fu*k, I was just on tour for three weeks with the band that I loved since I was fifteen years old”! That is crazy; I don’t even want to think about it! Sometimes it kills your idols if you end up touring with them but that is not the case here! I managed to find out that they are not only a great band but they are also very nice and cool guys! It’s just a great experience man!
- So what is it that a band like Burden can learn from an experience like this one? Granted, you are fairly new to this whole circus that we call the music industry and there are obviously many lessons to be learned. From this short period, these three weeks that you spent in the presence of Kyuss Lives, which are the most important things that you’ve gotten out from this relationship?
Thorsten: Hmm…always be questioning if what you present on stage is what you really want to be. Always try to increase and work on the stuff that you do, never to let yourself go and stay in one specific level but always move forward – that is probably the most important thing! After three weeks of playing almost every night we are still sitting at the back stage area before the concert talking about all the stuff that didn’t go well the last time we were on stage. We are always trying to correct things and we are always trying to be caring with regards our own development! That is the most important thing; not to stand still. You’ve got to find a way to…I mean…ok, let’s start this over. We have played something like twenty shows before we went on the road with Kyuss Lives so we have doubled our stage experience within the period of three weeks! I believe that we became more secure about the whole stage movement thing and about how to communicate with our audiences but we also noticed a few things that we have to make better the next time we go on tour. We really want to push things to the maximum for us and so that people will see that we really care about them. In Amsterdam we performed in front of twenty or thirty people because the opening of the doors and our stage time were so close together and I was becoming absolutely crazy. I smashed my microphone stand and everything anyhow; I was giving whatever I had in me for twenty people! These twenty people who were there to see us know now that we give everything we have when we go on stage.
- It must be really annoying for any opening act has finally been given the chance to open for a legendary outfit such as Kyuss to realise that the only reason why they play in front of a small audience is because some idiot decided to put their stage time so close to the opening time of the venue!
Thorsten: Well, we did play in from of three thousand and five hundred people in Berlin and that was fu*king crazy, so we are thankful about every day we play with Kyuss Lives so it doesn’t matter if it is only in front of twenty people sometimes. There are audiences that are big but which they do not react good and there are audiences that are totally insane and nuts; we’ve had all of that in a period of three weeks! This was the biggest experience ever and we have learned a lot from it, we have developed a lot as a result and I think that from now on we are going to take all these lessons with us and use them in our upcoming shows. We are actually looking forward to showing what it is that we have learned from this tour!
- Do you find it annoying when you go on stage, show tour vulnerability to people as every artist does, by opening up and present your inner emotions and feelings to people that may not necessarily react in a positive way? That must be the hardest thing that one has to cope with!
Thorsten: It’s very tough! I always use the energy that I get from the audience; when I give energy and there is nothing positive or negative coming back, like a black hole or nothing that is the toughest time for me! If somebody like raises his middle finger because he doesn’t like the music then that is good for me but not when people do not react at all!
- So any energy is good as long as there is one – basic physics, right?
Thorsten: Exactly! If there is no energy coming back from the crowd, then I will turn towards the other guys and from then onwards we are only playing for ourselves! I will try to catch the eye of the other members and in doing so tell them that we are doing us, but I guess even then people do appreciate the fact that you keep on going! This is a very good question that you’ve asked and that is indeed the toughest part when you are on stage. Still, it’s like a poker game; you open up yourself for the people and you never know what is going to happen! That is what I find to be exciting; it can be good things happening and it can be bad things happening, but this is probably why we do this!
- Thorsten, “A Hole In The Sky” is quite a varied album with songs that will inevitably attract the attention of a Stoner/Doom audience. Two of them really stood out for me and what these both songs share is their atmosphere. I am referring here to “Conflict” and also to “About The Veil And The Wound”. The atmosphere that you guys have created in these two songs is absolutely sensational!
Thorsten: “Conflict” is also my favourite song. When I was singing that in the studio I was thinking to myself “this is what I want to do”. Like you said, this is our debut album and we do need to find our own way, so in that respect this is one of the key tracks. “About The Veil And The Wound” is also quite atmospheric and I like that a lot. We have never played this song on stage and we really want to do that as this is pretty much what I like the most. I am not coming from the metal side of things, I am more from the melancholic and atmospheric side of things yet still I like the anger and the passion of Metal and I love this combination which I believe is responsible for bringing to life “Conflict”. It has pretty much everything in it and it is my favourite song as well. I think that this is the type of songs that we are going to be working on from this point onwards.
- And what a brave move to finish your debut album with a thirteen minute long track! That, for me, is the ultimate statement of intent! I am getting goosebumps just by thinking of this song!
Thorsten: That is what we are aiming at when we go to the studio; if there are Goosebumps involved then the song is working! The same thing we did here last night at the Forum when we played the song “Process (Into The Nothing)” as our last song and that is quite atmospheric as well and it was a whole different feeling, leaving the stage with a slow song! You leave people with an “Ok, what’s just happened here” kind of feeling! After we finish our set I normally take my mike and smash it on the ground and that creates another reaction from the audience! I like to play with that, how you leave the stage and what you leave to the people as the last echo of a set.
- You see, this is what I believe that we are generally missing; young bands whose music is of such quality that will make you think of their performance hours after their set is over. As a man who is attending quite a few shows each year I can say that there are a few of them are not memorable even an hour or so after I leave the venue and that is indeed criminal for music! I am not sure what your plans are for tonight but if you do on stage half the things that you do on the album I will be a happy man!
Thorsten: Don’t make me nervous (laughs).
- I believe that a good reason why these songs react the way they do with me is as a result of the dramatic overtones that can be found in your vocals. Your lyrics are indeed quite strong and there are many messages for people to find and to process – lyrics that I wouldn’t necessarily call negative but which are indeed fairly harsh. The way that your vocals behave in this album is a natural occurrence or part of a well-calculated strategy?
Thorsten: The interesting this is that I am the only member of the band that does not have a plan! My approach to music is quite chaotic, things just happen, and it is quite interesting to work on these songs with Saint D (guitars) as he is the theoretical type of guy with a plan and all, always knowing what it is that he wants to do and I am the type of guy that comes and says “ok, I want to try something here” and I just feed from the atmosphere that he creates with his guitar. I just react to what he does and what I come up with tends to be both atmospheric and dramatic; it just comes into my ear and I then decide how it is that I want to sound. Sometimes what I come up with is weird stuff and sometimes it is either calm or aggressive stuff. Things somehow come into my mind and what I do is I let them happen I guess.
- Are there any specific musicians or groups which influenced you towards this approach to music and song writing? Personally speaking, I heard a few elements from bands like Tool and Solitude Aeturnus in “A Hole In The Shell” – Doom bands that project feelings of angst through the vocals. Now, I am a fan of both those bands and that is why I am also excited with your album.
Thorsten: Tool definitely knows how to create a good atmosphere – it’s crazy! Especially their singer Maynard James Keenan is a great vocalist as he is actually creating something in your ear and your mind that is different to anything else out there! The biggest atmospheric influence for us would be Pink Floyd – Alice In Chains too, as they are also good in creating a sad and aggressive atmosphere; you can really hear some messed up thoughts there without even listening to the lyrics! This is the stuff that we normally feed from when we are trying to be atmospheric.
- As far as I know you have two more dates to do and after that, what happens next?
Thorsten: We have three more dates, Bristol, Manchester and Glasgow. Then we will take four or five days off as we will play three shows with Audrey Horne from Norway and then we will do our own headline shows in the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. We are going to play a few festivals as well in the summer and we are working towards a tour in September that will include Germany, Poland and maybe also some more countries; we will see how the bookings will develop right after the end of the Kyuss Lives tour. Finally, we are already working on another album so will have to find some free time to do that too; I don’t think that this is going to happen this year! We took a lot of time in order to do this album and our intentions are to top that one next time round, not to flop.
- People speak of the general rule that the first albums are always the best as a band tends to take enough time prior to releasing them. That rule also says that second albums are the crucial ones; either you will hurry them up and create something less impressive or you will choose to take your time and come up with something really impressive. I understand that you will opt for the latter option!
Thorsten: We are at that point where we are really happy to have Van as our record label because a major label would probably be calling us on our cell phones very ten minutes asking us what is happening with our new album. You see “A Hole In The Shell” has been out since October 2010 but it was only really released in Europe recently, so it is new for you guys now but not for us. Van Records is leaving us with a lot of free space when it comes to creativity, the process of writing songs and everything. We have a lot of time on our hands so they know that whenever something is going to come out it is going to be good. There is no reason to put any pressure on us really as there is nobody that puts more pressure on us on such things than our own selves!
- Thorsten, I don’t know about you but I really enjoyed this interview. All the luck in the world, mate!
Thorsten: Me too, this was a great interview! You made some really good questions and I like that – I had a lot of fun talking to you too.
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