Interview with JE (Lead Vocals, Guitars) and SEB (Lead Vocals, Guitars)
German space rockers Black Space Riders decided that their third release had to be something really grandiose, in tone with the sacred number of 3. So they decided to make a full blown space opera in the nature of D:REI which is made up of four different parts, each relating to a different concept: Defiance, Ruins, Escape and (I) Beyond. The album is like nothing you’ve ever heard; as it literally takes a melting pot of influence and spits it back out in a surreal manner that is absolutely uncanny and unmistakable. I’ve heard everything from fuzzy and psychedelic stoner rock to the experimental punk nature of Killing Joke and even gothic metal aficionados Type O Negative. D:REI is without a doubt, a surefire wild ride through the stars… And beyond!
Since I’ve just discovered your band upon the release of your third album D:REI, could you tell me how the band began and how you came to this point in your career? What were the first two albums like and how did they develop into this, or is D:REI something completely different from your other albums?
JE: Black Space Riders were born in the deepest winter of 2008/09. C.RIP (drums) and I wanted to play heavy rock again after some years of making decent songwriter-stuff. I contacted SLI (guitar), an old friend from the schoolyard. We had been doing a NWOBHM fanzine together when we were teens around 1979 -1980. He brought in SAQ (bass) and we started jamming in an old moldered bowling alley. It was great from the start. Fantastic musical and social chemistry! We created four songs in two rehearsals. We recorded our debut in 2010 and played shows while writing material for album number two, Light Is The New Black; which was released in 2012.
SEB: In early 2012 I was asked if I wanted to contribute some backing vocals; both live and for Light Is The New Black. JE and I then discovered a kind of chemistry in the matter of joint lead vocals.
JE: We are still the same band as anno 2009. The first two albums were written and produced in the same spirit as D:REI but nevertheless there is a big development or progress from album to album.
There seems to be a thick universal concept to D:REI, and you’ve said that you want people to form their own opinions towards the material. From what I can tell, the material deals with the current struggles in the world and how we may overcome them, but it’s a whole lot deeper than that. Could you explain?
SEB: I do not really agree that there’s a way shown on D:REI how to overcome earthly struggles and disasters. Maybe just a “starting moment”, a DEFIANCE. But I do agree with the point that the concept of D:REI is strongly influenced by recent tragedies.
JE: Actually there was absolutely no process of thinking or reflecting about how to involve “earthly” influences. While creating the concept and the lyrics there was no use of intellectuality… I was inspired by our music and by the books I have been reading, as well as the resident post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi movies in my own mind… We noticed afterwards, as most of the lyrics were almost finished, that obviously some additional levels of meaning or consciousness had slipped in. That wasn´t a purposive decision or trial, more a fortunate result of our screaming unconscious.
Of course, even if writing about futuristic and fictional events, we are still living in the presence nevertheless… in the middle of all the things that are happening around ourselves in our tiny living environment as well as in global playgrounds and warzones.
What was the writing and recording process like for D:REI? Where did you record it and how long did it take? What was the atmosphere like in the studio?
JE: The songwriting happened in our rehearsal room during and between rehearsals and jam sessions. We recorded every tone and every sound we created, discussed it and let it develop. The “story-concept” grew like a cancer in my head after having an idea of the musical direction we were about to take… let´s say after having about sixty percent of the basic song-ideas.
Then we arranged the songs, gave them a preliminary finish and started to write the lyrics. SEB and me we have been writing some of the lyrics together for the first time. Sometimes it was like playing ping pong. I had a song-title in mind, then wrote down the first line and gave it to SEB who added the second line and played it back to me and so on.
We recorded the album at Die Tonmeisterei in Oldenbourg/Germany. It´s a freaky, nice and well equipped small studio owned by our friend and engineer Role. He had been recording the first two albums as well so we know each other pretty well. He knows what we are trying to achieve and what we want to avoid. There is a great atmosphere of trust and friendship between each of the band members and Role as well. It is a real team. At the same time we are able to argue about a lot of things without losing respect. I believe that is because it is all about the music and our friendship and not about business.
Role shares our ideas of recording live and sounding natural, warm, thick and transparent. The studio-atmosphere is dim, cozy and familiar. It is not an elegant or fancy place but it´s absolutely perfect for what we needed.
Forgive me, but I’m going to have to talk more about the concept on this record, because it’s just so HUGE. There’s four pieces to D:REI, namely DEFIANCE, RUINS, ESCAPE and BEYOND (I). How do these four pieces connect as a whole? And furthermore, why is BEYOND represented with an I?
JE: Again, that just happened. Our drummer C.RIP had the idea to name our third album classically III. This made me think of spiritual or religious trinities, skipping the inappropriate Christian mythology and marching on to the Hindu concept of creation, protection and destruction. I comprehend this idea as a kind of circle which influenced the plot strongly.
On the other hand a double-vinyl consists of four and not of three sides, so we needed a chapter III+I which leads us to…
SEB: “Beyond” actually meaning “I Beyond” and representing, in our view; the retrospective of our protagonist.
There’s a concept here that I’m not familiar with on the album called “Memitim.” This seems like it could describe a person or an entity of some sort. You use the term in “Way To Me” and “Space Angel” which made me think of a Luciferian sort of concept here. Who or what is “Memitim?”
JE: I am not familiar with the “official Memitim-concept” as well. I am in no way a theological or scientific guy! (Winks) I tripped over the term “Memitim” and was immediately fascinated by its sound, it´s origin and its meaning. Please let me quote WIKI here: “The memitim are a type of angel from biblical lore associated with the mediation over the lives of the dying. The name is derived from the Hebrew word mĕmītǐm and refers to angels that brought about the destruction of those whom the guardian angels no longer protected. While there may be some debate among religious scholars regarding the exact nature of the memitim, it is generally accepted that, as described in the Book of Job 33:22, they are killers of some sort…”
Let´s say I have stolen this term and the general idea and adopted it to our plot. On D:REI “the Memitim” are a race of ancient, extraterrestrial avengers, a kind of death angels. Old prophecies predicted their deadly arrival on doomsday just in case mankind would not manage to turn the corner and stop it´s self-destructive course at the eleventh hour. Doesn´t look like that at the moment, doesn´t it?!
Of course this might sound like the Luciferian or Satanic stuff that a lot of nowadays let me call them “retro-occult” bands are playing with. But it is not! It has a different meaning and the Memitim are “just” a role in our little intergalactic play. Occult topics are fascinating to be used in stories or movies, but let me disappoint you (Winks again) nobody in the band is a Satanist, Nihlist or Luciferian. (I’m not disappointed one bit.)
Who would you cite as influences to your music? I can definitely hear some Killing Joke, as well as Type O Negative in some areas.
JE: I must admit that I absolutely love both of those bands and it´s an honor to be compared to them, but we definitely try to avoid copying! Though you cannot and should not deny your influences and your musical socialization.
SEB: I’m an early nineties grown-up, so Paradise Lost, Type O Negative, Faith No More Morbid Angel and Slayer were the main influences in this very relevant time of my personal musical development.
JE: But there is so much more in our music. Common band favourites are Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, NWOBHM, The Chameleons, Motörhead, Monster Magnet, Alice in Chains, Massive Attack and many more. For me personally, I like psychedelia as featured on the early Pink Floyd albums. I also like early dark wave like Bauhaus or Joy Division and the Big Three: David Bowie, Tom Waits and Johnny Cash.
Who would you cite as vocal influences?
SEB: Mike Patton. Not only in the way he sings, but above all in the way he uses his vocal chords as instruments.
JE: When I started singing in rock bands we used to cover our favorite songs from our favorite bands. So when we played “Rebel Yell” I tried to sing like Billy Idol. When we played “Hells Bells” I tried to scream like Brian Johnson, later trying to yodel around in an Eddie-Vedder-Grunge-Style or Whitebread-Kiedis-Rap-Shouting in a crossover-band. One day I decided to try to get rid of all these “vocal influences” and to find my own voice and my own kind of vocal expression. It´s been a long way and I am still travelling this road. I was obviously always impressed and emotionally touched by deep and dark voices, those kind of “untrained” and unique voices like Jim Morrison, David Bowie, Tom Waits or Johnny Cash. But that doesn´t mean that I want to imitate them.
Looking in the BEYOND section, you end the record with “The Everlasting Circle Of Infinity.” Do you believe that we are infinite? And if so, how do you explain that sense of infinity? What exactly is this circle?
JE: First of all we are referring to the above mentioned triple circle of creation-protection-destruction, and destruction is the root of all creation, so the circle can start again. But above that I have a personal belief in infinity and believe that we all are a small part of something very big and everlasting. This includes a deep belief in a long cycle of rebirths. This belief isn´t based on religion and it doesn´t really occupy my mind all day long. It is more of a spiritual but casual confidence.
There’s an interesting message to “Give Gravitation To The People.” It sounds like you’re telling people to come back Earth, and away from the notions that they’ll be leaving this planet and won’t have to worry about it.
JE: First of all I found that “Give Gravitation To The People” is a very cool sounding slogan and song-title. (Smiles) I love your interpretation so it is of course a good one and I agree that this meaning is of course possible.
I notice that a lot of people have lost ground-contact, traction, a grip of reality and their natural feeling of “earthing”. So they hurry and scurry around doing strange things. A lot of bad things are happening because of that. A little bit of metaphysical and spiritual “gravitation” for mankind could help. So this is my prayer… And you can dance to it!
Of course, I’ve also got to talk about “The-GOD-Survivor.” What is your opinion of God? Do you believe in a higher power or perhaps something even greater and deeper than a higher entity?
SEB: I believe in the power of life – no matter in what kind or form. And maybe it’s not too far away from what many people call God.
JE: I mentioned it above and it´s just my personal persuasion: There is a big sense in everything. And everything belongs together. I don´t care if you call this “God” or prefer a different name. In the story of D:REI the song-title has an additional meaning. The world is coming to its end, finished by mankind who wrongly self-proclaimed itself as “GOD”. Those who survived and overcame the terror of the evil godlike Memitim are the “GOD-survivors”, purified, humble and strong enough to leave and create something new beyond destruction.
Another thing I’ve noticed about D:REI is that many of the songs seem to flow into each other. Was that intended?
SEB: “Flow” is a very good word to describe the sound and the feeling within Black Space Riders. So the fluent crossings from one song to the other just seem to be a logical result.
JE: I absolutely agree: D:REI seems to be so perfectly balanced and cohering, both musically and lyrically. To be honest: that is a happy ending and not a result of a worked out master plan. We have changed the sequence of the songs several times to find the perfect flow through the whole album. For example, we had to fiddle around with song titles and lyrics in the last moment during the recordings.
What are your thoughts towards a global elite? Do you think that they really are out to set the world to ruin or enslavement? And by combining with this infinite source, can we overcome them?
SEB: They suck!
JE: Hey, I consider myself to be a member of the global elite! (Smiles) Fargh… No way! How can you believe that you are “better” than somebody else? Let me quote a wise man by the name of Lemmy Kilmister; “Just cos you got the power that don´t mean you got the right.” I am sure that we can overcome everyone and everything over time. The problem is that the self-proclaimed elite can do a lot of damage to the world before we overcome them. But every one of us can start today: Stop believing that somebody is better than you! Don´t do what they tell you! Don´t believe in marketing and propaganda!
In other words: “D: DEFIANCE” (I agree 1000%.)
Being that you’re a space rock act, what are your thoughts on extra-terrestrial beings? There are some rather interesting cases if you know where to look online for them.
SEB: I really believe that there’s extra-terrestrial life. But “beings” with two heads, five arms and ten penises? Oh no. I am convinced that my earthly brain is just big enough (and in many cases it is even NOT) to understand and perceive earthly things. Maybe extra-terrestrial life is disembodied and yes; THEY don’t have sex!
What are some of the most memorable tours that you’ve had, and who have you gotten the chance to play onstage with? Are you planning on tackling this entire eighty minute space beast on the stage?
JE: Great idea to play the whole space-opera in one piece! Usually we are a dirty slamming live act. A sweaty, loud and groovy wall of sound. C.RIP is always trying to push us to play the softer songs as well in the live-sets and is wimping around demanding to play “I see” or comparable songs from the first two albums. I believe we will do so soon.
One memorable night on a tour was playing one of the most intimate shows we have ever played. We had been playing in a squat, taken over by hippies. The room had place for us plus maybe thirty other people. But there were more than sixty in the room and the audience and the music… Everything was moving in waves.
What bands are you guys currently listening to? What would I find on your playlists or in your record collections if I looked? Any surprises?
SEB: Don’t know if it is a surprise, but actually my playlist rules. Currently it’s The Moth Gatherer, Beastmilk, Cult Of Fire and Darkside.
JE: You will find Abba, Beatles, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bob Marley, Underworld, Johnny Cash and Wolves in the Throne Room amongst about six thousand other albums. Sorry for being such a poser! (Smiles) (It’s okay, I don’t mind as I’m a fan of several of these acts myself.) Some new releases that really kicked me were Beastmilk, The Moth Gatherer, Nick Cave live from KCRW and Sahg.
What do you do when you’re not making music? What kind of hobbies do you have and is there anything in particular that you might recommend?
JE: Spending time with my family and being outside in the green nature. I would highly recommend exactly those two things to bring back to mind what really matters in life! This is “Giving Gravitation To The People!”
Finally, what is your goal for the album and what do you want people to take away from it?
SEB: Take your time and immerse yourself! Let the music boost the plot of your own movie!
JE: Form your own opinion! Make up your own mind! Fly! May the force be with you!
Thanks for making an incredibly unique album that I won’t forget anytime soon. It was wholly worth the effort and was spotlighted on The Grim Tower as such.
Pick up D:REI here: http://blackspaceriders.com/