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10/10/2009 – Interview with MOB RULES

On the 10th of October I was invited to the listening session of MOB RULES's (official website) upcoming album, "Radical Peace", at The Rock Temple in Kerkrade, The Netherlands. This little town is home to Rock Inc., doing promotion and distribution for the Benelux. One of the labels they work for is AFM Records. The EP "Astral Hand" preceded the new album and has been since several weeks and was also recently reviewed by me (Tim). See here. Due to the element called time, the interview I had after the listening session got delayed in terms of uploading (2-3 weeks). But it's here now, so all worries are gone. MOB RULES said goodbye to their drummer Arved Mannott and welcomed Nikolas Fritz as the new warrior of thunder. Or basically, new blood and as the listening session clearly showed, MOB RULES are back and with recharged batteries which were dying to be recharged. Or in other words, more Metal, more guitar riffs, more power, more diverse drumming.

Representing the band were bassist Markus Brinkmann, lead guitarist Sven Lüdke and new drummer Nikolas Fritz. The others were taking a break, getting ready for their performance later that evening, preceded by ORDEN OGAN, who recently signed with AFM and presented a raw mix of their upcoming album, due early 2010. They too were available for interviews, but as I had travelled the distance specifically for MOB RULES... Anyway, the music sounded good (the review will follow soon), the guys were very friendly and it was great to have 45-minute chat with them.

Mob Rules logo

MOB RULES, the name is known because it's a BLACK SABBATH album. But what about your popularity? I know that Germany is home to your biggest fanbase, but what about other countries? Which ones loves you most?

Sven: Hm.. difficult question. We haven't been to all countries where our records are released. As far as I'm concerned, wherever we play, it's great. There are always fans [who will come to our gigs]... we played in San Fransisco in the United States and there were people that had driven 500-600 kms to come to the show. And for me that's a sign that even here we have fans that come especially for us.

Markus: We get feedback from all over the world. And it's very interesting these days when you get a lot of feedback, for example, on our MySpace page from all over the world. It makes you think "wow, we sell records there?". So that's quite cool.

Sven: That's one of the positive aspect of the internet. You can get in contact with people, be them from Nepal or elsewhere. Getting comments on your site like "Great! I love your music." is like "Wow, we didn't know we sell our records there."

Markus: It's always special when we play in certain countries for the first, like the USA or Spain. The reaction from the audience is just awesome, because these people have waited five years or longer for us to come play there. Especially when we haven't played there yet (or not much). They're so enthusiastic and happy to see us, it gives a very good feeling.

MarkusSvenNikolas2009But you can't change the way gigs are organised? I mean, lots of people say "come to my country" and South America is one of the continents that have a great demand (Colombia, Brazil, Chile, ...). But I somehow think they don't understand it takes people to bring bands to the country.

Markus: Yes, it's always a question of money. Also, with areas like South America, with the visa issues... it's not that easy. If we could, we would play all over the world.

Sven: Sometimes it's a matter of time, lack of time even like last year when we were writing and producing. We cannot play that many live shows, because most guys in the band have normal jobs. So it's difficult to find the time.

So, when having a band I take it you need a set of rules like fixed rehearse day, when playing gigs everyone should be present there and at a specific time, and whatever more.

Markus: It's difficult to make a schedule, especially with six persons. Each of us has his own job, own private life . Our singer has a child and family, so it's difficult to find the time to rehearse and more difficult to do longer tours.

Sven: We're pretty strict in that. We rehearse every week on a fixed day. Even when there's nothing to rehearse. When we play a lot of shows, this is not needed, because we're in a good shape. But still we come together each week to maintain the band chemistry. There's always something to talk about, be it merchandise, cover art, how to make the band bigger, etc...

Markus: It's not only about making music, but also about the whole organisation.

Line-up change. You've got a new drummer. "Tadaaa"! (note by Tim: all of us pointing at Nikolas, Sven even saying something about a "handsome guy". Lots of laughter included :-)). He's quite friendly, we talked earlier today. He even understands Dutch, so that's a bonus point. ;-) Basically, what happened?

Sven: Arved's wife got pregnant. He's one of the members who have been around since the beginning. He had the feeling it has been enough for him. He has a job, he has a wife, now a kid. He said "I enjoyed the time, I've had all the success I wanted to achieve with this band. I played tours, I've been to different countries and recorded albums. For me it's time to leave.".

Markus: There comes a time when you want to do something different and that's fine. We have a good relationship with all of our ex-members.

Did you hold auditions?

Sven: It was right at the beginning of the songwriting. And at that time Arved said "Ok, guys, for me the time has come. I need more time and space for my family without all the stress that comes with being in a band." And then we started writing songs with a friends of us, the drummer from METALIUM (Michael Ehré). We asked him "Can just jump in and help us out?". So we started with him, but for us it was clear we needed a full-time member. And so we got in touch with Nikolas. He came to the rehearsal, started jamming the new songs and we were impressed by the high energy level, the intense drumming. It gives the music more power. And we "hey, you can't leave anymore. You must stay in the band!". (evil voice, everyone laughing)

Markus: There's always a good and a bad side when a bandmember leaves. When a new members comes in, you get fresh blood, new influences for the music. That's important for the development.

Mob Rules 2009You didn't ask Arved, your previous drummer, for his opinion to choose the new drummer?

Sven: No, he wasn't interested anymore, since he wanted to spend more time on his family. The rest of the band decided who would be the new drummer.

Nikolas, what other bands did you play in?

Nikolas: My first band CIVILIAN DAWN, a demo band. We're very good friends and played together for about ten years. I also played as subdrummer (substitute) in bands like ETERNAL REIGN from Bremen...

Ah, I know them. :-)

Nikolas: I played for them for two or three gigs. MOB RULES headlined that same show. So I knew the guys, especially Klaus, the singer. One day he called me, saying they needed a new drummer and asked if I could help them out, first as a subdrummer and the rest is history.

Did AFM have something to do with this or was it "you're the band, deal with it, just deliver us the album"?

Sven: No, he became a member before we signed with AFM.

On to the music then. How does the songwriting occur? It seems you (Sven) have a big hand in that.

Sven: Yes. Everyone in the band is involved. We write as a band in the rehearsal room. Our keyboardist Sascha and me, because I'm the lead guitar player, sometimes prepare things (riffs, parts, choruses, ...) at home and bring them to the rehearsals and arrange them into full songs with the whole band. Every single member has an influence in the songs, but it's mainly Sascha, because he's a trained musician, and me that deliver the parts. But anyone can request changes or offer alternative options. If Markus plays a bassline, I might like it and try to add fitting riffs and such.

But it always starts with you and Sascha?

Sven: It depends.

Markus: Sometimes someone comes up with a riff or part in the rehearsing room and then we jam on it. At the same time we record what we are playing and at the next rehearsal we listen to it and analyse what is good, what needs to be altered, etc...

Sven: "What did we do there?" *laughter*

Markus: Writing music with six people in the band... we all have different tastes. This also leads to discussions, obviously. But in the end everybody's happy with the result and that's the most important thing. We're totally satisfied with the songs we play. It's not like someone made a song and makes the rest of the band play it. The others wouldn't like this way of working. Compromises are therefore needed.

Speaking of the songwriting, I talked to Nikolas about the drumming. Who decides on that part?

Sven: The drumming? I noticed you've heard the new record?

Yes. But I mean the technical aspect. I've got two of your albums, the last two, "Among The Gods" and "Ethnolution A.D.", and even when you were practising earlier today I was thinking "Nikolas, add something like a tom roll or whatever."

Sven: Of course.

But apparently he's the new guy (;-))...

Sven: Fresh blood. For me this is a very important part, especially on this record. There's a new level of energy because of his drumming. He kicks the band's ass. And we were like "Wow, what's going on here?". The double bass, the drum breaks, the china, ... pretty much power. So I can take my guitar and use this power to create guitar riffs that have the same power, which creates a fat and heavy sound. Arved was more a cosy drummer (boom, tsjak, boom, tsjak, ...).

More linear. And that's what I mean. When you're playing a certain melody, the drumparts could be more diverse by adding cymbals or toms. It would spice things up and keep the attention alive. Else you might want to skip to the next song. But overall the music's very good, but the drums could add the extra spice.

Sven: Don't you think he did enough? Could he do more breaks and stuff?

What I've heard so far sounded good, also with the improved production, but I'll need the album to properly hear it all. It is better than before, but...

Sven: You like drums, right? :-)

Yes, a lot! It's the first instrument that catches my attention at gigs.

Sven: Have you played drums?

I've played them 13 years ago, was much younger then and not enough money for a kit, so... But it's an instrument I pay a lot of attention to. One example is GWYLLION, a female-fronted band. Wouter is a really good drummer and can make his play interesting without disturbing the flow of the song. Personally, I think it would be beneficial for the music and the band. ;-) And I think Nikolas is capable of that.

Sven: We'll think about it. For me it has to be a good mixture. Sometimes it's fun to play weird parts...

I don't mean you have to add Jazzy influences like OBSCURA (note from Tim: I forgot the name at the time of the interview). More fills would be nice.

Sven: Sometimes a certain riff can evolve in power when it's full on the floor (tsjak!).

Markus: It's also a question of taste.

Indeed, I agree. I'll try to mention it in the review.

Sven: But I know what you mean. I know it from myself, listening to a CD and as a guitarplayer I listen primarily to the guitarparts.

You've got a few albums out now. What are, in your opinion, the good and bad or less good sides of each of them?

Sven: Pretty difficult question. I came into the band in 2004, so I only took part in the last two albums.

Last two albums then? ;-)

Sven: It's hard for me to judge the albums I didn't help make. For me it is like this: I joined the band, heard the music and got all the CDs to listen to them at home and practise the songs. I always thought "great production, great sound, great melodies and arrangements". But I was missing some kind of heaviness, the guitar riffs that are really Metal. Not the Hard Rock style. The guitar riff as the foundation of a song. My idea was, if I can bring in this heaviness, more modern Metal style guitar playing, and mix it with the great melodies and great vocal lines, that would be great. I think we reached this on this record.

That was going to be my next question, about the production. It has improved a lot. Especially compared to the last few albums.

Sven: Yep, when we where writing the songs, we noticed the new material would be rough. Lots of guitars, lots of Metal riffs, high energy drumming from Nikolas. We acknowledged this is going to be heavy, so let's incorporate this into the sound. Sascha, the keyboardist, was studying for his exams and therefore didn't have much time to come to the rehearsals. So I had more freedom, I could bring in all the guitar riffs I wanted.

That wasn't fair. ;-) *laughter*

Markus: Life's not fair. *laughter*

Astral Hand coverThen the question Theo (from Rock Inc.) also asked: why an EP or single? Was this AFM's idea?

Sven: No. Releasing "Astral Hand" as a single was our idea. It wasn't that serious, it was more about having a single for ourselves. We'll sell it at the shows, the live concerts. AFM took this idea and decided to make it bigger by giving it own artwork, cover and turning it into an EP. And we thought "If you think so, go ahead.".

The song stands out from the rest. I think you chose this song because it's more radio-friendly compared to the others.

Sven/Markus: Yes, that's right.

Sven: It was one of the first songs that were finished and we had the feeling this song would fit as a single.

Markus: We also tested the song before an audience. We played it on several festivals and the reactions were quite good, so that influenced our choice.

How did the deal with AFM happen? And why them?

Sven: During the songwriting process we heard about SPV being insolvent. Luckily we heard it, so we could look for other labels who might be interested in us. But we didn't panic. AFM was our preference and we wished we could sign a contract with them. And they accepted, so that was great.

Your contract with Limb was terminated then?

Sven: We were on SPV last.

Oh right, before that you were with Limb. My mistake. Considering the deal is still new, how would you compare the collaboration with AFM with Limb and SPV?

Markus: Very good, because SPV was a very big company with a lot of bands, lots of bigger bands. The problem was that the promotion wasn't that good for our music. They put a lot of energy and money into promoting bigger bands like WHITESNAKE and KAMELOT. The smaller bands didn't get the chance or opportunity to get lots of promotion. With AFM it's totally different. What they've done for our new album is just awesome.

Sven: They have a great marketing plans, promotion plans and lots of ideas like planning cd-release shows and stuff like that. All the things SPV never did. All the Pop artists in Germany are on SPV and that's a bigger thing that going on MTV, Viva, etc... It's a single business, all is based on a single, on big record sales. Now we're on a label that has a lot in store for us. That's great.

So it's in fact important to be signed? Nowadays you see a lot of bands releasing their albums themselves, but on the other hand have to look for contacts, bookings, promotion, and so on themselves.

Sven: Pretty difficult, indeed.

Markus: The whole market changed, with lower sales as a result. It's a hard time especially for smaller bands, who don't sell that many records like... MOB RULES? ;-)

Markus: Like MOB RULES maybe, but with the new album we hope it will change. :-)

- Did the legal filesharing have an impact on your band?

Sven: The illegal or the legal?


Both. :-)

Sven: Yes, of course. The illegal filesharing... the market has broken down.

Markus: It affects the whole market, not only us. Especially smaller bands suffer from this, because they don't get much money from record companies for the production. Bigger bands still sell their records and get lots of promotion, but for the smaller ones it's very difficult.

Radical Peace coverGoing back to the album, the previous ones were more in a Fantasy context, but with the upcoming one and "Astral Hand" it's more realistic.

Sven: That's a change that already was applied on "Ethnolution A.D.". The "Ethnolution" song, which consists of the first five songs, has these realistic themes. And we thought, considering the seriousness of the music and not containing "lalala" melodies (*laughter*), the lyrics have to be serious as well and realistic. It's boring to always sing about knights, swords, castles, dragons and warriors.

Do you care about the correctness of the lyrics? I mean, when you sing about what happened to JFK, do you add you own interpretation to the story or do you take elements from the media, books and so on and put them into lyrics?

Sven: Yes.

Markus: It's mostly Mathias who writes the lyrics. It's very interesting what is happening now or what happened in the past. Considering he writes the lyrics, it's best to ask him.

Are all songs on this new release new or did you use leftovers from previous writing sessions?

Markus: All brand new.

Like you said during the listening session, the "Ethnolution" part 2 track also consists of several tracks. But why not put them together into one big track? Or would that be nefast for the listening experience?

Sven: You mean the "Oswald File", that's split into six tracks? The difference with the "Ethnolution" song on the "Ethnolution A.D." CD is that there were five songs put together as one. The "Oswald File" song is really one song. The record company wanted the listener to be able to skip to a next part. This is actually one song, we wrote it as one song. It was not like we wrote three songs and tried to match them together. We wrote it from the beginning to the end. The audio track on the production system in the rehearsal room was about 4-5 hours long. Writing this song was a hard job and we feared it would be boring. Sometimes we tried different arrangements on this song. Sometimes certain arrangements made it to hard to keep on listening, as every half minute or minute a new part started, a new melody was played. It was hard to follow the song, to find the right balance. It's a long song that doesn't become boring. There's not too much in the song that would make you skip it or end it after maybe eight minutes. We worked many weeks on this song.

Markus: It took us about eight months.

Sven: The studio, the recording, then came the mixing. We put the radio news about the assassination of JFK in it and we felt this was the right arrangement, that it didn't make you think it's 18 minutes long.

Gigs then. I saw you've played at the Magic Circle festival. How did this happen? Was Joey (MANOWAR) suddenly very much interested in MOB RULES?

Sven: Yeah, he came to my house, we drank some coffee, ... *laughter* No, just kidding. I don't know, I think it happened through our management.

Markus: The first time it happened spontaneously. They called us three weeks before the festival and confirmed we were able to play there. The festival was great. We also got the opportunity for a video shoot at the festival for the DVD.

Sven: They made a DVD of it and that's great for us.

Markus: Joey saw it and said he was very surprised about the music and he felt we should come back for a next edition. So last year we played there, too.

Mob Rules 2009The album will come out in several weeks. Any tour plans already or is that for next month?

Sven: There are several single shows for the promotion of the album around the release date and Markus is planning a small tour in the UK. The promoter from the UK called him and asked if we wanted to play there. We've been to Bloodstock Open Air.

Markus: And that was a really good show for us, because people in the UK saw us for the first time. MOB RULES waited for this day and we got great feedback from the crowd. It was great for the promoter, too, so that's why he called us for a small headliner tour, which we are currently working on.

What will the setlist be like on tour? Do you plan to focus on the last few albums, or will you include a couple of older track as well?

Markus: There always has to be a place for songs from each album. That's why we always try to make a good mix of all albums and not just focus on the new album. We may play 3-4 songs from the new album and the rest is a mix of older songs.

Sven: When you do a tour you realize that some songs work well live. The audience is waiting for these songs, partying on them and you know you have to play them next time. The setlist evolves on its own. Sometimes you play a certain song and afterwards, after the show, you feel it doesn't work. We don't have to play it live anymore. On CD it sounds great, live it doesn't.

Final question then: considering most of you have dayjobs, do you still have time for yourselves, hobbies?

Sven: Ask my girlfriend. ;-) I'm lucky, because I earn my money with music. I'm running a music school in my hometown, working as a sound engineer and the band. Work and hobby are one and the same for me. But I think the other guys, with their dayjobs, don't have much time for hobbies.

Markus: It depends. I work as a technician for electronic measuring instruments. I'm glad my boss is cool, likes the music I play and he supports me. And if I need some holidays for a tour or something, it's no problem. First priority is the company, of course, but it's possible to get time off for gigs. Now I work five days a week, eight hours a day and after work I go to the rehearsal. I also have a second band with which I play cover songs. And that affects my private life, I must say. My wife doesn't really complain, but... *laughter* Sometimes you realize it's a bit too much.

Nikolas: I've cooked for several years and last year I did my final exams. This year, one month ago, I started the studies for digital design, graphical design and communication in Hannover. So the next four years I'll have to study. Hobbies are drumming, painting, drawing and stuff like that.

Markus: One more important thing: Nikolas is responsible for the whole artwork of the "Radical Peace" album. He did an awesome job.

I'll comment on that later. *laughter* Ok, I'm done. It's actually the second time I see you. The first was about two years ago when you played in Heule (Belgium).

Sven/Markus: Ah, yes, with RAGE. And..

I can't remember either (note by Tim: my memory came back, it was REBELLION), but you were good. Not joking, you were good.

Sven: Thank you.

So, thanks a lot and have a good show tonight. Unfortunately I won't be able to see you perform.

Sven/Markus: What?

I live two hours from here, so it's a long ride back. But I've already seen you once, so..

Nikolas: But not..

With a new drummer, indeed. :-)

Sven: Not only hearing him drumming is funny, seeing him drumming is funny. :-)

I'll try to speak to some contacts to bring you to Belgium to solve that problem. ;-)

Sven: Ok.

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