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03/05/2010 – Interview with VAN CANTO

The German A Capella Heavy/Power Metal band VAN CANTO (official website) released their third full-length, "Tribe Of Force", earlier this year. You can check out the review of the album at this location. On this album they show that throughout the years the hard work and many gigs have had a positive impact on their skills as vocalists and composers. "A Storm To Come" was a good introduction to the band, but it's on "Hero" and their newest output that improvements can be clearly heard and not only soundwise. Personally, I found "Tribe Of Force" their best so far.

Because of this release, I sent some questions to know a bit more about the band, their music, the live performances and more. Main composer and responsible for the lower "Rakkatakka" vocals and "Wahwah" solo guitar vocals, Stefan Schmidt, happily obliged to provide answers. Enjoy and if you're seeking instrumentless (except for the drums) Metal or just an original way to play, eh, sing Metal, then VAN CANTO is a band you need to check out.

Van Canto logo

All of you have gained experience, knowledge and more by playing in other bands prior to VAN CANTO. In VAN CANTO you have to use your voice more than ever. Did that require special lessons or was this capability already within reach? Also, do you take more rest than before?

We definitely don't take more rest! We played about 90 shows in three years and recorded three albums. We did not take any special lessons, but of course it helps if you rehearse and play a lot. Inga and Sly have been lead singers in their former bands, so they were used to it.

You compose all the songs. Is that true or can the others also come up ideas and suggestions?

Van Canto bandMost ideas and all arrangements are composed by me, but on the new album all others participated in the song writing process.

Your music can be catalogued under Heavy and Power Metal. Is this because your taste lies there or because it's easier to sing such styles?

It's the music I listen to since I have been 15 years old and it's the music where I have the most know-how. I love Power Metal, so it's a logical thing that the band I write songs for is a Power Metal band as well.

How far can you go? Any chance of doing some Thrash (other than METALLICA's classics ;-)), Death, Black, or perhaps Doom?

I don't think so. We need melodies to occupy 5 singers, haha. METALLICA is a good thing to show how Heavy Metal A Cappella can get, but I don't think that we'll ever do a black or death metal cover, since this is not our favourite music.

On all album you've added one or more cover songs. Did you have to pay royalties? And did you receive feedback from the respective bands (ANGRA, METALLICA, IRON MAIDEN, MANOWAR, ...)?

All composer royalties go to the original composers. So we didn't have to pay them but they earn with every album we sell, which is totally ok, because they did a great job writing these songs. We had direct feedback from ANGRA, NIGHTWISH, BLIND GUARDIAN and MANOWAR and they all liked it. At least they told us, haha.

From Sony to Napalm Records: how did that go? And why Napalm?

We were with Gun Records, a sublabel of Sony that was closed by Sony in 2009. Napalm had already contacted us after the first album, so it was a logical thing to go to Napalm after Gun was closed. It's a good thing for us, Napalm does a great job and they sell our albums worldwide!

"A Storm To Come" and "Hero" were re-released, but the package looks different in terms of tracks, DVD, ... or lack thereof. How come?

First of all, we wanted that our fans have the possibility to get the albums again, after Gun was closed. So we decided to re-release them and put "Carry On" and "Kings of Metal" videoclip as bonus tracks.

Van Canto - Tribe Of ForceAnd since some weeks, album no. 3 is out, "Tribe Of Force". Are all albums linked to each other, lyrically, or does each stand on its own?

There is no special concept, so I wouldn't say they are "linked". But of course it's the same person writing the lyrics so you can get the concept: Believe in inner strength and fight for what you do.

Subject-wise, what are the lyrics on "Tribe Of Force" based upon?

Exactly that: Finding your path and staying on it, even if there are many people around telling you "do it this way or do it that way".

"Sing A Metal Song" can be catalogued with the gazillion other "Hail Metal!" tracks, no? Was this something you felt was needed in your repertoire? I mean, that you wanted to show it can be done in a cappella style as well?

We don't plan our songs that way. I played guitar one evening and came up with the main riff. I tried to sing it and noticed that it really sounded cool. So a new VAN CANTO song was born.

There are a few guests on "Tribe Of Force": Tony Kakko from SONATA ARCTICA, Chris Boltendahl from GRAVE DIGGER and Victor Smolski from RAGE. Now, VAN CANTO has always been about vocals and drums. With Victor you made your first song ("One To Ten") with guitar, no? Or did he sing a solo? :-)

No, haha, he played it. And he did a great job. We wanted to show a duel between a sung solo and a played one. And of course it's great if one of the best guitar players alive join this trip. Great. Same with Chris and Tony. It's so great to have your idols singing with you. They are so professional, but still so kind guys. Great.

"Tribe Of Force" seems to be your strongest album so far, at least in my opinion. Natural evolution or did you put special effort in making it so strong?

Of course, every musician wants to make every album a strong one. But of course we learned a lot during the last three years. "Hero" was stronger than "A Storm To Come" especially concerning sound and production, thanks to Charlie Bauerfeind. And on "Tribe of Force" we focussed on own songs, which is much easier than making a record with 5 own songs and covers from DEP PURPLE to NIGHTWISH.

All this hard work resulted in several gigs with several big names like RAGE, NIGHTWISH, and more. You even made it onto the stage at festivals like Wacken Open Air and Metal Female Voices Fest. How did that feel? Were you more nervous than in other live situations?

I felt like dying 5 minutes before the Wacken gig, haha! We have some experiences now but we are still nervous before gigs. That's because we are so motivated! When we played together with MANOWAR we were very nervous, too, because we always thought about if they like it or not, haha.

You also toured in Brazil. How did that go? And how would you compare their enthusiasm with that of the Europeans?

The Brazilians were very enthusiastic about our first release, so we managed to do a promo tour in South America, which was a great experience. The fans were totally freaking out and very hearted. If we had the possibility we would have packed them all in the plane and took them over to Germany, haha.

Van Canto bandPerforming the songs live sounds always different than what you can achieve in the studio. Do you sing the songs like they are, or do you rework them a bit?

There are 3 or 4 songs we can't play live, for example "Hearted" because of the growls and the guest appearance of Tony Kakko. But the other songs are sung just like on the record. Of course on the record you can do some overdubs which can't be done live, but it works really well.

VAN CANTO is the only a cappella Metal band I have heard of, although on an international scale there are far more bands that sing a cappella (in general). Do you have knowledge of people out there who also sing a cappella Metal?

No. We are still waiting for other bands to be founded so we can share our experiences.

Do you have a view on album sales, despite illegal downloads?

I think in Metal it's still ok. True metal fans want to own the album, watch the cover, read the lyrics. But since you can't live from record sales these days it's not that important. We love what we do and our love does not depend on record sales. We all have played in Metal bands for 15 years before we founded VAN CANTO, so we also would play in a Metal band if VAN CANTO wasn't there.

Who owns the right to the songs? You, the labels, ...?

Depends. The rights of the composer can not be given away, we own them for the rest of our lifes. But of course our label has the right to sell the albums.

How do you feel about organizations like GEMA? (In general and in VAN CANTO's case)

It's a good thing. Many foreign artists get a german residence only to be able to join the GEMA.

Metal always has had a bad reputation, despite the diverse styles and vast lyrical themes. Is VAN CANTO a way to show a different side of Metal or perhaps turn the tide?

We don't want to change Metal. It's great the way it is, including all substyles and sub-genres. We only want to create a different view on Metal. But VAN CANTO would not work if all Metal bands replaced their guitars by vocals, haha.

That's all from me. Many thanks for taking the time to reply. All the best to you and good luck with the gigs. If there's anything you feel like adding, fire away.

Thanks for your interest in VAN CANTO. Please visit us on Rakkatakka!

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