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Sweet Ermengarde - Interview

Interview with: Daniel Schweigler, Lars Kappeler
Conducted by: T.V.

While the German dark/gothic rock bands are taking the throne of this genre in the last couple of years, especially bands like Mercifull Nuns, Aeon Sable,... also the amazing Sweet Ermengarde can't be counted out. The band caused quite a stir already with their debut album, Raynham Hall, released in 2013, but after some line-up changes, vocalist Daniel Schweigler and guitarist Mike York (Kalt, ex-Garden Of Delight) joined in, while Kuba Achtelik (vocals) and Marco Förster (guitars) left, and they've returned even stronger, with much more darkness and emphasis on atmosphere inside their music on Ex Oblivione which was released in March this year through Équinoxe Records (read the review over HERE). The album is also since its release on the top of Terra Relicta chart Top 20 of 2016 and is already counted as one of this years highlights. The line-up of Sweet Ermengarde today is: Daniel Schweigler (vocals), Mike York (guitar), Danny Elevator (guitar), Lars Kappeler (bass) and Rafael Skudro (drums). Ex Oblivione is a stand out album, it's one of the key albums for modern era gothic sound, and even if it is gothic rock in its origin - distinctive parallels to the sound of bands like Fields Of The Nephilim, And Also The Trees and the early The Mission are detectable. But Sweet Ermengarde are no mere retro line-up, even if in particular the British 1980s decade is echoed in their music. They rather transpose their roots into modernism and thus manage to create a sound close to the pulse of time. I had to ask the friendly Lars and Daniel to explain some things about the background of the new album and to give us some details about the band, their influences, preferences and other interesting things.

T.V.: Hi guys! I'm really stunned by your new album Ex Oblivione. It's a proper gothic rock masterpiece in my opinion. Tell me, how are you satisfied with the overall result and response from fans and media so far?
: Oh yes, we are! After the good response after Raynham Hall we were not sure if our second album will be able to build on this success. It was clear that Ex Oblivione will be more dense and atmospheric than Raynham Hall. It works best as a whole album, not with single tracks, which also makes it a little bit more demanding for the listener but that’s the way we wanted to have it. And that we had to change our frontman makes it even more difficult. But the album was well received, maybe even better than Raynham Hall, which makes us grateful and also a little bit proud, of course.
T.V.: Some words about the recording process? I find the productions quite different regarding to your debut album, Raynham Hall...
Daniel: We tried to find a fitting sound for the new material. This time it is a little bit harsher than the sound of Raynham Hall, but it actually was recorded under the same circumstances and was even mastered by Eroc again, who is the same guy who mastered the album before. He really is a name in this business over here in Germany and apart from that a really cool person. It was fun to watch him do his thing.
T.V.: At first listen, Ex Oblivione, sounds pretty much influenced by the legendary Fields Of The Nephilim. Is this band your main influence and inspiration?
Daniel: The Fields definitely had some deep impact on some of the members in the band, but I wouldn’t say we seek inspiration in them or try to sound a certain way. To some degree I can understand people when they see parallels between Ex Oblivione and some of the stuff the Fields did, but only to some degree. It is a kind of shortcut-thinking to reduce the music just on those parallels. Like telling someone Buffy Sainte-Marie sounds like Leonard Cohen or Darkthrone sounds like Mayhem... Our writing is some kind of organic process and in the time we wrote the music for Ex Oblivione there was this kind of gloomy mood around. It was some kind of a mixture of finality and the overcoming of it. What we did was to catch the momentum, transform it into music and this is what happened in the end of the day. This is what inspired us. Right now we are writing new material and I guess the overall atmosphere around us is a new one. So, the new material will differ from the stuff we did on this album like the Ex Oblivione stuff differs from the music on Raynham Hall.
T.V.: Can you explain me for what does the title Ex Oblivione stands for? What are the main topics you are talking about in lyrics?
Daniel: Well, it is hard to talk about concepts and lyrics in general. You can compare this with the analysis of a poem. Let’s say the poem has just like four lines. In the process of the analysis you will be able to write much more than four pages about those four lines and you still don’t even get close to the core of it. So, it is better to stick to those four lines of poetry in the first place. The main topics may be quite obvious. It is about darkness and the absurdity of existence. At the same time it’s about overcoming these feelings, about perspective and inner light. In some way.
T.V.: If I dig a deeper into this topic... It’s pretty obvious that H.P. Lovecraft must be one of your inspirations, but still, what else inspires you when it comes to lyrics? Is there some kind of a hidden message inside beside talking about the absurdity of existence?
Daniel: I have to confess I am not into Lovecraft at all and his writings don't inspire me personally. When it comes to Lovecraft Lars is the fan in the band and it is his influence. Anyway. Literature does inspires me sometimes. I like Robert Anton Wilson, Murakami is great too and I worship Carl Einstein, even though I am not too sure if I ever get what he tried to say. Maybe I am close to it. In general I am more inspired by modern and postmodern stuff, which gives me a weird feeling in general or questions reality in some way or another. The last novel I read was Szezepan Twardoch's 'Morphin', which was pretty good actually. Hidden messages... there might be some subliminal stuff in some of the songs, but you better find out for yourselves. In your dreams.
T.V.: Ok, I understand your point... Your sound became much darker than it was on your debut. Is this a consequence of new members who joined the band, vocalist Daniel and guitarist Mike York? How did Daniel and Mike fit into the group and is the chemistry right?
Lars: Yes, pretty much. No doubts, Kuba had a good voice and was an experienced singer, but he always sounded very energetic and rough. That’s not bad at all, at the end we made a really good album, but Daniels Voice is much darker and he has a better feeling for our music. It was amazing to hear, how some songs changed when Daniel made the vocals. Finally we’re sounding like Sweet Ermengarde.
Daniel: Mike wrote these doom-laden riffs of "Drain" and I wrote "Nigredo-Clad", which are some of the darkest songs in our Œuvre. Of course we took part in the shaping of the rest of the album as well, but I would say this drab direction the whole thing took was determined before. It’s hard to say, if it was our influence. I don’t think so.
T.V.: There’s quite a lot know about Mike’s past, but your past musical endeavours, Daniel, are a mistery to me...
Daniel: I played, usually bass in quite a few projects. Some black metal, some technoid post-punk, but mostly recording stuff at home, delete it from my computer afterwards and lament the loss of it. It is always hard to find people with the same vision and at least a little stable chemistry to form a band that lasts.
T.V.: Can you now explain me the background of the front cover artwork for Ex Oblivione? How can we connect it with the songs on the album?
Daniel: The picture was chosen very early in the making of the album. Lars came up with it and since he wrote most of the musical basic ideas it must have been some kind of meditative object to build the music and it’s atmospheres upon. I think it was a visual tool to get into the right mood for the music that was about to be created. So, it fits the album perfectly well and it was the right and natural decision to choose it as the cover.
T.V.: Album was released by Équinoxe Records and I'm interested how are you satisfied with this label so far?
Lars: Yes, I can say we are satisfied with the support we got from Équinoxe. It's not a major label of course, so their resources are limited. But it's run by enthusiasts and not commercially driven. So we are free to do whatever we want and they like what we do.
T.V.: Have you ever tried to contact some big labels? And if you did what was the response?
Daniel: No. That wouldn't be an option for us. The music we play is for a niche and should better stay underground. It would be pretty stupid to think that you can have a commercial success with stuff like ours nowadays or even make it for a living. It would be a financial disaster. So, maybe, after all we should try.
T.V.: For the single "Tender Russian Roulette" you also teamed up with your friends of Aeon Sable who did a remix for it. What can you tell me about this cooperation and can we expect more of this kind in the future?
Lars: That was an easy choice. We thought that a remix of "Tender Russian Roulette" as a bonus track for the single would be great. And we are not only friends we also already made a remix for Aeon Sable of their song "Visions". So the Sables were our first choice and they agreed immediately. There are no plans for further remixes at the moment, but we like to work with them, so it's not very unlikely and we surely will do some live shows with them.

T.V.: Maybe an European together with Aeon Sable? That would be really great!
Lars: We’ll see...
T.V.: That would be one of the most amazing tour combos if it happens! But if you’ll had an unlimited option to choose any band to tour with, what would be your answer and why?
Lars: Okay, if I can choose freely let’s lay aside what’s too obvious and what maybe will happen someday anyway. So I would really love to tour with Lady Ga Ga. She’s absolutely awesome! I would ask her if she wants to make a song with us. The result would be really interesting and I can learn a lot from her, she’s a talented musician and great songwriter. Almost supernatural! But we have to be really tough to perform in front of her fans... Maybe I should ask her. Right now!
Daniel: That would be amazing! Even though I would appreciate more to tour with Lana Del Rey. She is a big influence when it comes to singing, concept and image. Apart from her I would love to play with Grave Pleasures, which I really like. Their bass player Valtteri Arino is a cool and nice guy with whom I like to hang out whenever I have the chance to see them live. It is always nice to play with people you can enjoy hanging out as well, so I am quite open when it comes to cooperations. I welcome genre mixes. Apart from that I am really looking forward to play the show in august with King Dude.
T.V.: Yeah, haha, that would be really amazing, Sweet Ermengarde feat. Lady Ga Ga! Let me know what will be her answer... In some of the tracks there's a presence of some elements that could be categorized as dark ambient. Is anybody of members a fan of this specific genre or did you use this just to deepen the atmosphere?
Lars: Oh yes, of course and we already did it on Raynham Hall with "The Call Of The First" and also the next album will contain a track 13. Especially Daniel and I are fans of dark ambient. After concerts, when everything is over, we like to chill out together in the hotel room and listen to albums of Lustmord, raison d’être or Kammarheit, for example. So it was not like “hey, let’s add some dark ambient shit for more atmosphere”. We did it because we like to create such dark and atmospheric music and don’t care about mixing genres even if we thought, that some of the common gothic rock fans wouldn’t like it. They can switch off after "Beneath This House", Ex Oblivione would be still a full length album. But we haven’t done it for self-purpose, "For Your Bodies Are The Temples Of The Holy Ghost" is essential for the album.
T.V.: Ok, now we know that beside Fields Of The Nephilim also some cool dark ambient artists you’ve mentioned are your influences. I wonder which bands/albums (in general) are you listening the most in the recent time? What’s on your playlist now?
Daniel: Right now there is Oranssi Pazuzu's new album spinning constantly. I am really amazed how they sometimes develope really minimalistic musical phrases into complete strange arrangements and progressions. It is absolutely great and for me it is the album of the year. I think The Cure are a little bit overrated, but I really dig their Pornography album. The last time I had a real musical crush was in 2012, when I heard the two first releases of Beastmilk. They had this real cool thing going on. Mixing post-punk and punk with these black metal atmospheres. It was very dark and funny at the same time and they had this really unique kind of songwriting. Right now I listen to Dead Can Dance, Leonard Cohen, Kingston Wall and stuff in which Josh Homme is involved in a lot. When we are on the road we quite often listen to Nancy Sinatra and Lars usually intruduces me to some bands I didn't know before.
Lars: In the last time a lot of Killing Joke and Laibach, two of my all time faves. Also Pink Floyd, And Also The Trees, Love Like Blood, Type O Negative and some of the bands Daniel mentioned before. Did I already say Bauhaus? And Iron Maiden, of course, I'm a bass player. Rammstein is cool. And Siouxsie, Christian Death, Dead Kennedys, The Sisters Of Mercy,... a lot of awesome bands out there.
T.V.: I don't recall if I ever came across the explanation of your bands name, Sweet Ermengarde. I wonder how did you came up with it and what does it exactly means to you?
Daniel: It is all about the overwhelming presence of Lovecraft in darker music. There was this short story by him called 'Sweet Ermengarde', which is actually the only romance or better said satire of a love story he ever wrote. I think with that in mind it is easy to imagine what was Lars' intention to choose this name. Oh, subversion...
T.V.: If I return back to the last album of yours, I wonder which song is your favorite and why?
Daniel: Today's faves are "Nigredo-Clad" and "Carmilla". They represent to me the darker and lighter sides of Sweet Ermengarde in 2015.
Lars: I think my favorite still are the three opening songs. They are the most atmospheric and also most powerful songs of the whole album.
T.V.: "Tender Russian Roulette" got also its video form. Tell me how do you enjoy shoting videos and is there a video for any other song in the making?
Lars: Enjoy? Ha, we were trapped in this empty house for about 18 hours with no water or heating and our only job was to stand still. It was boring as fuck. But of course we would like to make more videos, but it's always a very complex thing to produce a video and you need a lot of ressources too. Maybe we will do another one for the next album.
T.V.: If somebody who never heard Sweet Ermengarde asks you to describe the music of yours, what would be your answer?
Daniel: We are some kind of a postmodernist rock group playing music for the hopeless goth atavists.
T.V.: Before you mentined that you are already working on new songs, and of course I’m interested if you can tell me what can we expect to hear in the future?
Daniel: My idea is to get more psychedelic on the next album and to enlarge the spectrum of our music. Let in a little more light to get the shadows growing as well. We shall see what happens.
T.V.: Thank you very much for taking the time and answer this interview! Is there anything that you would like to add at the end of this interview?
Lars: Is someone still reading this? Wow, looks like we made it finally.
Daniel: Amen.

Sweet Ermengarde links: Official website, Facebook, Bandcamp