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29/05/2007 – Interview with SERENITY

Austrian Progressive Metallers SERENITY (official website) have recently released their debut "Words Untold & Dreams Unlived" via Napalm Records. Overall, a nice release, but the follow-up promises to be a lot better. At least, that's what Mario (keyboards) told in one of the replies. You can read my findings on the album at this location.

To know more about the band, the album and other little things like earplugs from mp3-players (Andi works for a company that does research regarding the human hearing system), I sent the guys some questions. Mario (keyboards) was very kind to answer them elaborate as possible. Enjoy and while you're at it, check out the band's website and MySpace page and then buy the album if you like it.

Serenity logo

How long have you guys been playing together before the name SERENITY was chosen and before you decided to make the jump, to go for a label contract?

Well, I had been playing together with Matthias Anker and Stefan Wanker (founding members of SERENITY) since 1994. When this band broke in late 1999, Stefan and me rehearsed with a new drummer (our current drummer Andi), short time later his brother also named Stefan came in as a guitarist and when Matthias rejoined the band in early 2001 we chose the name the band still has. The great line up change came in February 2004 - and that made it all happen! The decision of trying to jump into 'big business' was made after all the positive reactions to our second demo in 2005.

Are you all self-taught musicians or did you take lessons?

We mostly are autodidacts, although everyone has had some lessons in the past. At the moment it's only me attending music school (piano since 2004).

Serenity bandHow do colleagues, friends and family react to the band's music and you being in a Metal band?

Of course we have a lot of friends and relatives that are big fans too! Even the overall reaction in our families is very positive. But there are a lot of funny situations which show that certain people can't really imagine what it is like to play in a metal band, and they often can't understand how much work we have to do besides our jobs to keep the band 'running'.

Since you are from Austria, I guess it was a logical decision to sign with Napalm Records, right? They probably have the most means to help SERENITY get international recognition. Or are there other labels in Austria that are capable enough of promoting the band?

The fact that NR is an austrian label is only a bonus. The things that mattered to us were the contents of the contract i.e. promotion, touring activities ... and Napalm's offer came up nearest to our expectations, so we signed to them. And we do not repent that as they do a hell of a job for us! Of course there are other labels in our country but we did not even talk to them ... most of them are releasing Austrian Folk music, so forget it. ;-)

Are you familiar with the other bands on Napalm's roster? And which do you like?

As long as it concerns me, I'm currently trying to get familiar with some of them! At the moment I listen to AHAB (crazy stuff), I'd like to get a copy of the latest release of INTENSE and I'm looking forward to hear the new VISIONS OF ATLANTIS-CD. And I like the latest EDENBRIDGE-album "The Grand Design".

For how many albums did you sign? Is Napalm confident about the success of the band or did they (or you) play on safe and just started with a one-album-contract?

I think they are satisfied with us and expect some little success as we do ourselves! If things turn out well, we will have the chance to collaborate with Napalm for some years - so let's hope for the best.

Words Untold & Dreams Unlived coverThe cover art was done by Seth-Design from Athens/Greece. How did you arrive with them and who else did you have in mind for the job? In addition, did you have certain expectations or desires for the cover?

There were artists like Travis Smith, Mattias Norén and Niklas Sundin on our list. It was Georg's suggestion to contact Seth and his offer and the art he delivered a few time later were just awesome! Of course we had some kind of a 'plan' for the cover image, but in the end it turned out different from that. Nevertheless we are very, very content with the whole bunch of images.

How is the cover art connected to the songs?

It is not connected directly with them, but with the title of the album. As the picture designed by Seth is much more surreal than our suggestion, we have a poetic, almost philosophical explanation to it - feel free to discover (i.e. "Words Untold" - no mouth of the person visible etc.).

Since "Words Untold & Dreams Unlived" contains two resting points (the album title split in two ;-)), is there a certain story or theme that is told through the songs?

I'm sorry but - no! The songs are eight separated stories (which are taking place from something around 3,000 B.C. to 26,391 A.D.).

SerenityLanvall (EDENBRIDGE) and Axumis (Maggo Wenzel) (TRISTWOOD, INZEST) made a guest appearance on the album. How did they get into the picture and is there a specific reason (besides liking their work ;-)) for having them contribute to the songs?

It's clear that an established name in the metal business is helpful for a newcomer band. We like Lanvall's playing and Georg gave it a try and contacted him. It was no question for him he would do his contribution as he is a very polite and enthusiastic person. And Maggo is one of Austria's best Death grunters and something like an icon of the underground scene.

For the songwriting it's just Thomas, you and Georg who start with certain riffs, melodies, etc... and you exchange the ideas. But are the others satisfied with this way of working? And do they sometimes come up with ideas with which the rest of the band can make new songs?

Andi and Simon have enough self-confidence to criticise parts they don't like ... and sometimes they even bring in their own suggestions, although it's more Andi doing this. But up to now there has not been any musical part written by them in one of our songs. Maybe in the future there will be some as Andi knows playing guitar a little bit besides drums and has a great feeling for harmonies and voices.

Georg sounds a lot like Tony Kakko from SONATA ARCTICA. Is this a coincidence or is Tony one of his favourite singers?

He likes SONATA ARCTICA very much, but his favourite singers are guys like Roy Khan, Russel Allen or Freddie Mercury. It's a coincidence but actually we in the band don't hear that many similarities to Tony's voice ...

Lots of songs on the album are midtempo, although certain intros and riffs could make you think there will be a speed increase... which never comes. Personally, I think this would very much fit for a band like SERENITY and be good for the sake of variety.

I agree with you and are happy to anounce that we are currently writing the fastest and the slowest SERENITY-song ever for the next album. I would also love to use some short blast beats ... we'll see what Andi says, but I know Simon would go nuts.

The guitar solos are quite short, it seems. Would longer soloing make the songs less interesting or are you not into playing solos that much?

In my point of view the solos have the perfect length. Nobody in SERENITY is an instrumental showman, so isn't Thomas. It is very important to him to get the solo to the point and play it in a way the listener can follow.

When you walk into a record store and you see your album(s) being sold there, does it give you a satisfying feeling or are you somewhat indifferent, so to speak, and just happy that one doesn't have to go far or onto the internet to buy it?

Finding your own album in a record store is just amazing, no way you feel indifferent about that. It is one of the most important things for a musician that the distribution of his outputs is working. Although the status of the internet concerning music has increased in the past years it is still necessary to deliver the 'hard ware' to the metal heads out there.

"Words Untold & Dreams Unlived" was recorded in the Dreamscape Studios. What is so special about that place and did you consider going elsewhere?

Considering the fact that Jan at Dreamscape Studios did a great job mixing our demo "Engraved Within" it was clear for us to let him produce the full length album. It is quite near to the place we live (1 hour and 15 minutes to go) and Jan made us a fair price. According to that he is a musician himself (plays keyboards in DREAMSCAPE) with a very sensitive hearing and cool ideas - and he knew what we wanted to sound like.

For the mix and mastering you - or the label - chose the famous Finnvox Studios. Will you appeal to them again for the next album?

It was Jan who suggested us to have the mix done up there! The album sounds great, but we may will move to another place for the mix of the second album ...

SerenityWhat inspires you to write songs, both on a musical and lyrical level? In addition, since Georg teaches History, haven't you thought about making an album or write some songs inspired by or about things that happened in the past?

When I write music, I try to be inspired 'by the moment' - I sit down behind my synthesizer and see what happens. Lyrically, I mostly have the title of the song first. Then I develop the story around that, always having the vocal lines that Georg created in the rehearsal room in mind. There are lots of interesting things in the past history worth to write about them, but this needs a lot of investigation, because it would be a great problem for me telling something wrong. This is also a question of time, as we all have regular jobs. I prefer writing lyrics rooted in my fantasy, in books I read or my view on mankind's place in the universe.

Any tour plans? I've checked your website and it seems you'll just stay in Austria for the moment. Are SERENITY and your jobs hard to combine, also in view of a possible European tour?

The next tour will take place in September and I will have to stay at home and go to work - f***ing shit!! I'm a nurse in a hospital and three members of my team have their holidays in that month so it's impossible for my boss to set me free. Normally it would not be a problem, but September still is main travelling time. Even Thomas can not participate, because he will become a father at that time and doesn't want to leave his girlfriend alone of course. So, two other musicians will join SERENITY for this tour ... Surely we are aware about the fact that our holidays in the next years will take place on the road with the band, but this is just damn cool.

Making money with Metal is hard nowadays and you all seem to have an occupation to solve that 'problem'. I read in another interview that Andi and Simon are in research and development in a hearing aid implants developing company. I hope this also means that they take good care of their hearing? ;-) Metal isn't played on a low volume, as we all know.

This is only Andi's profession, Simon works in Swarovski's crystal glass- and optical industry. We know for sure that our hearing is a precious thing so we really take care of it. When we are visiting a concert, you will not find us unprotected. We do 'safer metal'. ;-)

Related to the previous question, and I thought it would be better to make it a seperate question: the last few years mp3-players have become quite trendy and everyone is walking around with earplugs. There have been issues with mainly the iPod and its high volume, causing lots of hearing damage. Many youngsters seem to turn the volume up if sounds and noises around them prevent them (the people) to properly listen to the music. So, louder music, the plugs are IN their ears - contrary to headphones - and thus in the short term, many will have hearing problems. I have headphones, but never set the volume of my discman too high and regularly put everything aside and just use my stereo or PC speakers. Any tips you can provide for those 'earpluggers' and 'headphoners'? ;-)

Besides the health risks you already mentioned there even are other dangers that come along with using ear plugs: using them while participating in traffic as a pedestrian or with a bicycle one switches off an important sense - and this is f***ing dangerous! Music shouldn't be a form of permanent background sound, because this way it becomes just another part of all the noise pollution around us. It should be something special. So listen to your music consciously, choose a volume that doesn't hurt and do your ears a favour and listen to the 'sound of silence' from time to time - every sense needs relaxation so that it can remain sharp enough for a long time.

Metal never gets credit on the radio, or it must be in a late night programme... for one hour or so. If a TV station decides to make a documentary or report of a festival, they are usually (at least what I've seen, here in Belgium) very wrong. Mainly because they just don't do enough research. In short: Metalfans never come out positive enough. How similar or different is the situation in Austria?

In few words: it is exactly the same here! Austria is strictly following Germany what concerns fashion, music etc. so you can imagine the very low quality of TV- and radio shows (it's all just like opium for the masses to keep them dumb!). But I think the behaviour in the underground scene is much more important, and regarding this (I'm talking about gigs, fanzines, webzines, metal clubs and private radio stations) we can be content with what happens in Austria.

Next to Metal, what other music do you listen to?

Georg is a huge QUEEN-Fan, Thomas likes the soundtracks of Nintendo-Games, I like listening to ABBA and LIVE, Andi sometimes listens to Jazz. Simon and Andi also play in brass bands once a week.

Do you have certain plans set out for the future or are you more the "we'll see what happens/comes on our way" type?

Now we're in the lucky situation to make 'real' plans, as we know i.e. that we will enter the studio once again in the end of this year and release the second CD in spring/summer 2008. We will play ProgPower UK next year and other great things are yet to come. Of course we also love to be surprised, but we know exactly on which things we have to focus in the next time.

With SERENITY and your jobs, do you still have time for yourselves, family, hobbies, ...?

One band member more, the other less I would say. It's an acceptable amount of work for the band so we won't lose the fun doing all that! In fact I sometimes really enjoy doing nothing concerning music all day long and go out for a hike ...

That's it for me. Many thanks for replying and I wish you all the best with SERENITY and whatever keeps you busy. Any final words are yours to add. :-)

Thank you very much for this interview, Tim! Hi out there! We hope you will enjoy our album, expect some more next year. Don't miss our shows and see what metal made in the Alps is like. ;-)

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