Steorrah is a German band that is definitely causing a stir in rhe underground scene, mainly due to their latest release “II: Thin White Paint”. The band members had a rather intensive and lenghty conversation with Pest. Read on…
The name Steorrah means Star in Old English. Why that monicker?
Andreas: There is no big story behind this really. I stumbled upon the word in Old English class and found it somehow appealing, mainly the phonology of it. The spelling with an h is not very common in most sources though. Funny thing is, we have since found out that there is a porn star and a Romanian football club with the same name (n.Adrian: there's no Romanian football club with this name, I guess they are referring to one, let's say similar: Steaua). I guess that doesn't happen to many Death Metal bands.
“II: Thin White Paint” is the band’s second full-length. Tell us about Steorrah’s story a bit.
Andreas: Christian (drums, piano) and I have been in bands since the nineties. After I came back from living in the UK for a while we decided to give it another go. In the meantime I had met Nicolao (guitars), who subsequently joined us. Our bass player Raoul is the new kid in the band, he joined early this year after Till from Agathodaimon had decided to leave Steorrah.
Raoul: When I saw Steorrah at the release-show of their first album, I thought they were some distant, unapproachable demi-gods (I was quite drunk, though...). Now that I somehow managed to join the group I happened to find out they were just some cool guys tossing their chops and talents together to create some incredibly beautiful music
Nicolao: I guess from my perspective there is not much to add, besides that we now have a great line-up with Raoul in the band and he surely has figured out that we are at least demi-gods in respect of having fun on the road… now that is something, is it not?
Andreas: I have been called many things in my time. Demi-god is definitely new to my list!
It seems people are having a hard time defining your sound. Do you think it is important to categorize and label it? What would the best description be?
Andreas: To be fair, most of the time people do categorise us rather quickly. From an artistic vantage point it's of course nice to see people having to actually think about what you're doing, commercially though it's probably a lot easier if you just stick to one thing and play one sub-genre straight, like most bands do. When asked I usually say that we play Progressive Death Metal, which more or less does justice to what we do, although in recent years that term is more and more associated with Djent bands who are trying to come across more sophisticated than some of them may actually be.
Raoul: I think the sound of Steorrah is quite distinct and shifting to a new level of uniqueness with the second album. It most certainly is Death Metal with some additional jazzy and balladesque ingredients as well as more typical elements that might help to achieve the extra-label “progressive”, e.g. odd time signatures. Being Death Metal without sticking to the traditional limitations of the genre in this fashion would make it Progressive Death Metal, wouldn't it?
Nicolao: In that sense of the word it would, yes. But I hope that we continue to explore unknown territories with the upcoming endeavours, to make the word ‘progressive’ what it tried to describe once, namely music that actually taps beyond the comfort zone of those who create it and subsequently the recipients. That would be interesting! I would like to try some things that I can’t necessarily do with my other band. Having that said, and in answering your second question: No! I don’t like categories that much. They create levels of expectations that limit you in one way or another - if not in the creative process, then surely how people compare you with the big names in the business and things that ‘need to be’ in the style. Or things you are not ‘supposed to do’, you know?
This album has been crowdfunded… how did the idea come up? Did you manage to collect all the money you needed? Have you ever helped a musical or other project in a crowdfunding event?
Andreas: Well, there's a cautionary tale. We did indeed manage to collect the money we targeted, via a crowdfunding platform called Sellaband, who at the time offered a system most suited to our needs, as they gave us a whole year to run the campaign. Also we were among the first Metal bands to do this at all. However this company turned out to be fraudsters who still owe us about 2,500€, let alone from a number of international artists they owe even more than that. We have legal help to act against them, but it's getting very ugly there. Luckily, when we went public with our story last summer, the metal scene went in to help, people from the entire world started buying our shirts and CDs, in order to help us pay the bills, which sort of restored my faith in humanity to some degree. But then again, those cunts in Munich are still owing me what used to be my personal savings. So yes, I do have an axe to grind there...
The album was mastered by the mighty Dan Swano at Unisound. Why have you opted for that studio and that master?
Andreas: It seemed like the logical choice. Michael Haas, who recorded and mixed the album agreed that a second pair of ears in the process is a good thing and Dan had already agreed to doing it. Michael's mix was already beautiful but the chance to work with an icon like Dan is something you don't just turn down. I'm still humbled by him working with us and the result speaks for itself.
Nicolao: We talked about this pretty early during the production. I know how Michael likes to work, since I play with him in my other band, Hadean. So even with the first album of that band, we decided to have it mastered somewhere else. When Andreas told me that he approached Dan Swano I thought: ‘hell yeah, Dan always delivered great sounding albums- it fits perfectly especially for the musical direction of ours; he would know how to significantly polish the mix’. And he did, I mean, listen to it!
Does the album have a concept throughout the songs?
Andreas: Yes and no. It's loosely based on a couple of nightmares I had as a kid, but also on more or less nightmarish things that happened to me or people around me in recent years. Pretty much every lyric line is an allusion to something, even if most people would probably read them entirely differently from what I see in them. Which really is the beauty of it, as far as I'm concerned.
The title of the tracks are so diverse and a bit strange. What are the topics you deal with?
Andreas: The titles come from the same place the lyrics came from. It's not easy to summarise, but also I would not want to pick words from the Death Metal thesaurus and do what everyone else does there. It would be boring.
Raoul: When asking Andreas how he came up with some titles, I was totally flabbergasted by the sheer diversity of references they stem from. I definitely like the idea playing some brutal Death Metal riffs with the song being named after some weird cockney expression.
In your opinion, of all the 10 tracks featured in the album, which one stands out the most? Why?
Andreas: I may be too biased to be answering this. What do the others think? Raoul: Rather than tracks, there are some “moments” on the album that totally stand out...there is for example the chunky outro of Tea Leaves for Eosphoros or the parts for three voices on The Milk of Human Kindness and I Think I Saw The Black Dog (Reprise). There is the super-technical, fast show-off riff on Winchester Geese and the crazy rhythmical transitions on The Twelve Nights of 1984. And that's why it's such a finely balanced album: The most outstanding parts are scattered throughout, making it a holistic piece.
Nicolao: I second Raoul’s take on this! We are definitely no band of hit singles, haha… there’s just too much dynamics in the music. But I like the cosy vocal part of ‘Twelve Nights…’ it sounds very different from all the other clean vocals. And for sure I like the vocal harmony part of Black Dog (Reprise), I remember the way we created it in the studio: with all the combined knowledge of music, arrangement and theory we obtained over the years, it was a naïve moment that led to this brilliant thing!
Andreas: Haha yes, there was that one moment where a mistake in the handling of the studio software led to a beautiful harmonic shift, probably my most favourite moment of the entire production.
Enlighten us about the album cover. Who designed it? Why have you opted for a so “non-metal” cover?
Andreas: The painting is called cauchemar, nightmare in French, from Poem Of The Soul, a cycle of paintings and poems by Louis Janmot, a symbolist painter. I thought a symbolist painting – from all styles – would probably suit the nightmare themes best.
Raoul: This is non-metal? I might have a weird taste, though.
Nicolao: I too find it extremely ‘metal’. It is weird and haunting; sure it is not gore-ish or monster-ish… if it is that what you mean. But that wouldn’t be scary at all! I find a nightmare scenario much more terrifying than zombies or these all things.
The reviews of your album have been awesome. Were you expecting it?
Andreas: We knew we had improved on performance and production and matured as a band unit, but we did certainly not expect so much praise. I just wish media appreciation would directly translate to increased sales and concert bookers taking an interest, haha. But if an album takes you longer than expected to make and there's some personal hardship to go through during that period, then every single positive review helps a lot psychologically. Particularly when months after the release there are still reviews coming in every now and then. It's like people haven't forgotten us as quickly as you might fear, given how short-lived music fashions can be. But then again “fashionable” is probably the least thing we care to be.
Nicolao: Right, reading all the good reviews made my day(s), we had a long production and with the crowdfunding disaster it was nice that at least that part of the industry was giving us a better time.
People have different talents… which special talent does every band member add to the band?
Raoul: People claim I cook fairly nice vegetable curry. The band has not profited too much from this talent so far, but I shall make sure they will!
Nicolao: Interesting question. Besides really liking the idea of vegetable curry I would say Raoul’s bass style and the few ideas he showed us already make for a great fit to the creative processes to which we want to return soon. And with him we have another real singer in the band, we will exploit that hopefully!
Christian is a very musical drummer maybe because from the start he was, and of course still is, a pianist. His piano contributions are crucial for our sound and we probably should exploit that a tick more, too!
Andreas thinks outside of the box in many cases and his background allows us to go to uncommon places for a Death Metal band, musically but surely to the same extent lyrically. We have developed a good working relationship with enough tension to push each other. What I really like about all the guys, they are always well prepared. And when we have just one or two rehearsals before a show after a long time doing other things, I don’t have to worry about the performance.
Andreas: Nicolao has been pivotal to the production and has become a bit of a personal counsel to me. What I value in Christian's approach to making music is his relentless dedication to precision and performance. Also, as a piano player he has an idea of what the guitars do, harmonically, which is a big boon. Raoul is also a songwriter in his own band, and already he is contributing to song writing more than Till could. And apparently he makes a good curry, he can clearly score with that if ou ask me.
Opeth is listed as one of your influences. What other bands/musicians influence you and Steorrah?
Andreas: There are so many musical influences...I guess bands that changed my outlook on how to write Metal would be Tiamat in the nineties and Ephel Duath in the naughties.
Raoul: As a bassist I seek inspiration from people like Kristoffer Gildenlöw, Dan Briggs or Arif Mirabdolbaghi who push the frontiers of conventional bass playing without neglecting the groove of the song.
Nicolao: Gosh, so many. Surprisingly much metal again, lately. Always Daniel Gildenlöw of Pain of Salvation, Kristoffer’s older brother. I guess everything I perform manifests itself in my system somehow. So lately I get inspired by Antonio Lauro and Yamandu Costa, that’s more South American classical guitar repertoire; Johann Sebastian Bach, always a favourite; singing Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ was a huge thing with the choir and also this summer had me singing in Carl Orff’s ‘The Moon’. Those tunes still are inside my head, so who knows what happens with these seeds.
What have you been listening to recently?
Andreas: I listen to Tom Waits a lot. And I really like the Scottish Folk singer Karine Polwart. As far as contemporary Metal is concerned, Karyn Crisis' Gospel Of The Witches or the new Ghost album. Oh and I saw Shining, the Norwegians, in London last month, which was quite something! Unfortunately I missed Caligula's Horse that night.
Raoul: My recent musical diet consists of Limp Bizkit and German underground Hip-Hop on the one and Bohren & the Club of Gore and crazy Japanese Jazz on the other hand. If I were asked to name some decent Metal, it would be Nevermore.
Nicolao: In more recent times I am listening to very few music actually because I was busy in so many projects music-wise. But one of the projects is trying to develop an electric version of the songs of Ari Hest, a brilliant American songwriter, who once was guest in the Institute of Music, Kassel where I study music at the moment. So I have to listen a little to that stuff.
Oh, yeah I listen to Blind Guardian’s and Nightwish’s new albums, being orchestral albums and since I am working on a track like that also, I am trying to figure some things out in terms of production and mixing. Besides, they are really good albums and they are both bands I listened to a lot when I was growing up.
The band has a few gigs scheduled. How often do you play live?
Andreas: It used to be a few shows per year, but now with the new album things seem to be picking up a bit. Actual touring is not really an option at the moment, due to some day jobs. We're playing Winter Metal Attack in Prague in January, we're quite excited about that.
What’s your favourite audience? Many German bands seem to be “forgotten” by the German crowd… does the same happen to you?
Andreas: I don't think I have a favourite audience. Sure, sometimes your standard metalhead can be a tricky target group for us and on the other side some people will be headbanging or moving along with our rhythm changes or sing along, so we know they know the music. That's something that feels cool of course, makes a musician happy. As for the German live scene...it's becoming really tough, the market is so saturated with the big Scandinavian and American names. Metalheads under 28 hardly seem to be visiting underground shows anymore. At the same time people happily pay three digit prices for festivals, to see the same old bands again and again, and will get flaky if an underground bands charges a fee at all. It's ridiculous. What makes up for it is this: the crowd we do have is amazing, there's people still writing to me, years after the release of An Eroticism In Murder, telling me how much they love it.
Nicolao: I have to say I really liked the audience in Romania and Bulgaria when I toured with Agathodaimon as a substitute live member. They were so passionate and they were giving a lot energy back to the stage! With Steorrah there is this little fan base in the Bonn/ Cologne area that is very very dedicated to our music! That is very humbling. So thanks guys, you know who you are!
What are your expectations for 2016 for yourself and for Steorrah?
Andreas: Well, we have just begun writing the first new bits and there's more shows coming up...
Raoul: Being the new kid on the block I'd like to take the next huge step after performing live with Steorrah by adding some creative input to the new material.
Nicolao: Let’s find out what the new line-up can do!
Interview by Sonia Fonseca