WAR AND SERENITY
Serenity are firing on all cylinders! For the first time in 12 years, they’ve got an album which features a female lead vocalist in the permanent line-up. Their touring schedule is as intense as ever and despite having released 4 albums the band members do not yet seem to be short of ideas.
A tour of Europe recently gave fans of the old continent another reason to celebrate the start of Spring. Taking advantage of their London date, I sat down for a chat with male vocalist Georg Neuhauser and guitarist Thomas Buchberger (we were later joined by session keyboardist Franz-Josef Hauser and female vocalist Clémentine Delauney). Ever so forthcoming and perceptive, my interviewees’ enthusiasm was becoming infectious…..
Through this tour with Visions Of Atlantis, you’re unveiling a new album and a new line-up. Do you have any apprehensions on how it will all go?
Georg: We’ve just released a new album last Friday [3 days ago]. Here in the UK, it’s being released today. It’s called “War Of Ages”. Every band will tell you that their latest album is the best album they’ve ever written but that’s how it really is for us. We’ve continued the historical concept we started off with “Death & Legacy” [Serenity album released in 2011].
We’re currently touring with our label-mates Visions Of Atlantis and with a new band called Souldrinker. As a band Souldrinker aren’t so famous but the musicians in the band are quite well-known. The tour is turning out to be fun and everything is working our great so far. So we’re very happy at the moment.
“War Of Ages” sounds heavier than previous Serenity albums, the female vocals are more upfront and the production sounds different too. All in all was it a difficult album to write?
Thomas: Of course the writing process is always the most difficult part of it because as soon as you have written all the stuff you can work methodically to record the songs and I think we learnt how to deal with that. With the writing process, however, you never know what happens because ideas are always different. I think for the next album it will be different again. You never know what comes out in the end but in the end [with “War Of Ages”] it worked great. I think the album is great.
What does the album title refer to?
Georg: The title is connected to the fact that Europe and the whole world has always somehow been at war. Here in Europe it’s probably the first time since the birth of humanity that we have had such a long time of freedom, without any war. Everything has to…..[pauses as he tries to find the right words to express himself]…..everything…..cultures, empires….eventually faces their own downfall. And that’s what the album is about. For example we speak about Napoleon, who grew to be the biggest general in all of Europe…
But, to my knowledge, he died in isolation…
Georg: Exactly. We also speak about other personalities such as Alexander The Great, also him a huge general.
Do you think it’s the characters which shape events or vice versa?
Thomas: I think most of the times it’s a combination of events, of the countries the people live in, the families those people grew up in….you cannot say it’s only the person or only an event which influences history. Everything comes together in a particular way otherwise those things would never have happened.
You made an indirect reference to the next album. Well, incidentally Serenity’s official website recently described “War Of Ages” as “the perfect transition record between what SERENITY was and what it will become in the coming years.” Does this mean you already have plans for the successor of “War Of Ages”? Where do you want to take the band, musically speaking?
Thomas: I think the point is that Clémentine, our new female vocalist, was totally new to this band, even though we had already played a few shows with here over the last 2 years. We still had to learn how to use her voice on our songs. We had to learn her range, to test what she was able to do in the recording studio. So that why she’s not yet the main lead vocalist. That’s why the vocals parts [in “War Of Ages”] are not divided 50% between our 2 singers. Of course now we have learnt how to deal with her voice and how to deal with her in the studio and all of this will be reflected in our future albums where her voice will be a bigger part of the music.
Tell me something about the artwork…although the lyrics speak of war, the artwork is quite beautiful. Does it have any link to the album’s themes?
Georg: For sure. You see a very beautiful lady behind the mask with blood dropping from her mouth. It means that although the first impression is that of beauty, you see destruction hidden behind a mask.
Interesting. Do you think that visual art in general can inspire you to write music?
Thomas: Yes, it can. Of course most of the time it’s not our own artwork that inspires us because our artwork would have been created after the music. For example on “Death & Legacy” we have one song that lyrically deals with Albrecht Dürer, a very famous German painter. So that is one example how visual art inspired us to write music.
Sometimes the recording processes of Serenity’s albums can get quite complex, involving several recording studios and sound engineers. When that happens, how difficult is it to keep focused on the organic development of the songs?
Thomas: Not very. When we write music we hardly ever include anyone else. Only our producer Oliver Philipps, who also does the orchestrations of our albums, is also involved. He’s sort of our quality assurance surveyor. So whenever we finish our recording we send it over to him and ask for his advice. Maybe he’ll tell us “OK, I like it” or he might suggest we change a chord. So then we try out his ideas and if we agree on them we’ll use them. Besides that we don’t include anyone in our pre-production phase. We record everything in our home studios and afterwards, when everything is written and recorded, then we go out to Oliver Phillips and then we record the backing vocals, usually at Jan Vacik’s studio in Munich. And then of course we do the mastering.
When preparing for the interview there was one thing I couldn’t figure out…who’s playing keyboards with the band right now?
[At that precise moment a man who was about to leave the touring bus abruptly stops, turns around and grins sheepishly. Georg and Thomas burst out laughing.]
Thomas: He was running away!
Franz-Josef: Hi, I’m Franz-Josef, session keyboard player with Serenity. [He shakes hands with me.]
I believe you’ve already been involved with Serenity in the past, is that right?
Franz-Josef: Yes. I’ve known both Georg and Thomas for 15 years. We went to school together, then we formed a cover band for 10 years. During the band’s 2007 tour with Threshold, I was also then session keyboard player for Serenity. Then Mario Hirzinger was then band’s full-time keyboard player.
So when you weren’t playing with the band, you still kept in touch with the members of Serenity…
Franz-Josef: We are always in touch, either for friendship or for music.
Serenity’s music has a lot of orchestrations that enrich it. Have you ever performed live with a full orchestra instead of using samples or keyboards?
Thomas: No. I mean it would be great to play with a real orchestra. It would be awesome. The problem is money because right now there’s no way we can afford to do it. So we use the best samples we can possibly get, most of them already sound so great and powerful. Even some movie productions rely on those sample libraries. I think it’s the best way for us. I mean most Metal bands work that way anyway.
Incidentally, before the initial deal with Napalm Records the band self-financed all its projects, including the recording of your debut album, the artwork and early tours. Wasn’t that a risky thing to do?
Georg: For sure. But without putting in money, you will never ever make it. Never. Yes, for the first album “Words Untold And Dreams Unlived” we spent 14 or €15,000 to make. However only with that finished product did we get the record deal.
Times have changed. 20 or 30 years ago, bands would just send in a demo with 2 or 3 songs and perhaps got signed. But today, without a complete and finished product you won’t get the deal. The labels don’t want to take risks any more. And when you have a finished product, at least they won’t be risking too much.
Thomas: Also keep in mind that there are many people out there spending a lot of money on their hobbies. For example I think it was last week when we met someone who owns 3 snakes and 62 spiders which he keeps in his cellar. That costs a lot of money. Or there are other people who invest a lot of money in their car or whatever it may be.
Georg: Everybody has his special passion.
My friend Reinier, at The Power Of Metal Webzine, recently reviewed “War Of Ages”. He commented that with this album Serenity enter within the best 10 Symphonic Metal bands. If this were so, according to you who are the other 9?
Georg: Nightwish, Within Temptation, Avantasia, Rhapsody, Kamelot…
What about you, Thomas, what names would you add to the list?
Thomas: Well, they’re not exactly Symphonic but Yes, also Blind Guardian, Avantasia of course, Edguy…
Georg: Also Symphony X, especially on their “V” album.
Thomas: And Epica.
Georg: Epica, yes.
Thomas: You know, there really are a lot of bands out there but everyone sounds a little bit different. Many bands are lumped into the Symphonic Metal category.
[Georg spots Clémentine at the other end of the touring bus and invites her to join us. But first Thomas has one last recommendation to make…]
Thomas: At the end of this week we’re going to release our new video and it’s called ‘Wings Of Madness’. So look out for it on the internet!
Clémentine, is “War Of Ages” the first album you’ve ever recorded?
Clémentine: It’s the first album I’ve recorded which was released.
What was the experience like in the recording studio? Stressful?
Clémentine: It was stressful because there were a lot of expectations but Oliver Phillips is a wonderful person so everything went fine and we managed to work positively and efficiently together so actually I felt really good recording with him.
When you left Whyzdom to join Serenity, what was the biggest change you faced?
Clémentine: It was completely different. Everything was completely different. First of all Serenity was a foreign band, so the language was the first thing and then the music style, the approach towards music, the ambition and the overall quality of working together was not comparable.
Clémentine: It was more intense, yes, but it depends from what aspect. I mean with Whyzdom I was the only singer for the whole gig so that was very intense as well.
For the sake of Serenity fans who are unfamiliar with you, could you tell me something about your musical upbringing? How did you get into Metal?
Clémentine: I started singing before I listened to Metal and I discovered Metal with female voices afterwards. When I eventually listened to it I thought that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
Which were the bands that first attracted to that kind of music?
Clémentine: Evanescence, Nightwish…even male-fronted bands gave me the will to express myself in this genre.
[Check out Serenity’s ‘Wings Of Madness’ video clip here.
© 2013 (Chris Galea)
Interviewed by Chris Galea