In their 18 years of band history, it has always been a special occasion to experience those Austrians live on stage. And recently Dornenreich released their 8th studio album named „Freiheit“, at the same time announcing that they will make themselves scarce in the scene afterwards … Many reasons to take the chance of meeting mastermind and singer/guitarist “Eviga” before the show in Köln to talk about music. Life. Everything.
How are you?
Thank you, I’m quite fine. It’s not sounding like that, because my voice seems to break, right? But I feel quite good.
How was your Walpurgisnacht (April 30th)? Did you do something special?
It was as bad as it can get. Because of the bad luck it was just raining all the time, during the show. It was good for the atmosphere, there was a lot of natural fog. We played outside, so it was quite risky. It was very cold, so for us it was not so good, but we made the best of what we could.
And how is the tour going so far?
So far going well, but we only played two shows until now. And in the club in Stuttgart it was very good, very intense, great audience.
What makes a good show for you?
Ahm… When we play a separated show, like you know, acoustic set and then metal part, it is always better if the bar inside the venue is not in the same room as the stage. So in Stuttgart there was no bar, so it kept the audience very-very quiet during the acoustic set. This is very rare, unless you play in a church or something like that, because to church people go in a different mood than to a rock concert. Also a good soundcheck is also very helpful, because if you don’t hear anything of the monitors, you know… And we have a violin player, it is a very tough instrument to play alongside guitar and a distorted guitar, therefore we need to have a very good soundcheck. And then of course the mutual energy between the audience and us also makes a huge difference. In Stuttgart that was also very special.
How happy are you with the new release, Freiheit?
Very-very happy, but I am a very critical person. Freiheit is that kind of album that I always wanted to do on many levels. The majority of it is acoustic music, but there are metal and rock elements, and many-many other elements, but just as the whole demands it. Nothing there is forced, but the focus there is on authentic sound of acoustic instrument, there is nothing electronic. Also the production is very good, the sound of the violin especially and this time we had a fifth string on the violin, a low string, so with that violin can also play very deep parts, similar to a cello. That added a lot to our range of expression I guess.
How complete do you feel this album is compared to your previous releases?
Very complete. To be honest, I think this our best one until now. I mean all our albums differ from one another. There is a lot on this album, Freiheit, what one can discover, on a lyrical and musical level. And it sums up many things which we tried to explore on the former albums. Freiheit is like a brighter twin of the last record. Last time there was only one acoustic song, but this time it is the opposite, just one song that is based on metal fundaments, with the screams and everything. The structure of this album is very special.
This fourth song, “Das Licht vertraut der Nacht” really stands out!
Yes, because after the first three songs you’d think you know what is coming up next, but then there is dramatic break. It is there on purpose, it is like a wave coming in. It’s like a wave builds up and then it breaks, then it builds up… and so on, during the last three songs. This album is like a cycle. The smallest cycle you can, a wave is building and breaking, it is also mirrored by the cover. The metaphor of the sea, the threshold between day and night. Sunrise and sunset also, which becomes clear when you have the album in your hands.
What is Freiheit (“freedom” in German) for you? What kind of freedom are you talking about?
It has many aspects. When you live in central Europe, you have many rights and this kind of social freedom, that you don’t appreciate actually. It is a real luxury to have thoughts of inner freedom and when you live in a country where you are safe. So I know the fundament on which we start is not a given thing, it is a big chance for us, and I speak of the inner freedom. Because that’s the core of everything. Society is built up of individuals, who take their decisions consciously or not, and when you reach a certain level of consciousness, a liberty within yourself, the way that you judge yourself, it will also be mirrored in your outer life at then. But it all starts with your inner conditions and mechanism, which are going within yourself.
How did you reach this thought?
Well, the band toured a lot and we have been to many countries, also eastern countries. There is a big difference actually! I read a lot of books on Eastern philosophy, and Celtic spirituality, I like thinkers and people who know about world religions, there is a common core to it all at the end. It is great to have the outer point of view, not from the inside, not from one system, but something universal, a lot more primal, natural approach of life and art, which is one at the end for me.
In that respect then, what is music for you? Is it work, is it lifestyle…?
For me this is something very-very essential, but to be honest, it is not the best for me as a person. It is good for the band, but I really want to get across something to people. I really like to perform music, and I like to develop a certain passion for expression. Music is the deepest kind of communication I guess, between people. There is so many aspects to it. To me it is very important that you are aware of a certain moment. Dornenreich is based on a very strong moment that we build up in every song. You will find many parts that are based on like gestures in a way, the words and the music are so interwoven into one another, so it becomes very pictorial. It means a lot to me, because music transcends so many borders of this existence. Music unlike other forms of art, like sculptures of paintings, it is type of art that unveils itself over some time, like a movie or a radio play. So it’s very vital. It takes place in the consciousness of the listener. I could go on forever about this topic!
What comes first for you, the music or the words?
The music. It is very intuitive. Most of the time the album title is clear. Music, based on intuition, comes alive, and then I listen to this music over and over again, and then I write the lyrics, according to what there is already.
Is “Freiheit” a concept album?
Yes, absolutely. It is important to me that each song can stand on its own as well. Also the lyrics are important and that the title of each songs gets across a certain meaning, on its own. And the title has to sum up the core message of the whole song and the lyrics. And all the single phrases and the sentences should mean something on their own as well.
So for example the seventh track, the “Traumestraum”, there are almost no lyrics at all, but the music somehow visualizes the title.
Yes, you are right. (laughs)
And my whole impression from the “Freiheit”, as I listened through it, with your singing style and the music, was as if I am in an audiobook!
Absolutely! I am a big admirer of radio plays and audiobooks, very much so. One can hear it for sure on this album. And especially when you have the third song, “Des Meeres Atmen”, there is this big first motive, it’s like a wave building up, it is very pictorial in my opinion.
It works in this case, that music speaks more than the words, and then it does not matter if there is rhyme or no rhyme…
You’re right. I think that our lyrics have a lot to offer, if one is interested in it. But I also think that the music can be understood on its own. Which is important of course, because we only use our mother tongue, German is a well known language, but it is not English. It’s the same with Alcest for example, they all the time sing in French only and it does not seem to be a problem world wide.
Did you ever consider writing soundtracks?
Yes. It would be a great challenge for us, but it is what we are doing already. It would be a good thing to really do it. It is difficult to get it started, and we have not yet been approached by anybody from the movie business. That would be great.
Is Dornenreich your full time job?
Artistically speaking, yes. I am also working with Empyrium and in Angizia, don’t know if you know this band, it is quite old established in 1994, in Austria, very ambitious, very theatrical, similar to Devil Doll, if you know them? A cult band from Slovenia. With this band I am just doing some vocals, and that one is even more like an audiobook or a radio play. I am the narrator there. When it comes to Empyrium I play session-live-guitars. Otherwise Dornenreich is my main project.
Dornenreich has been already some 18 years, since 1996. If you look back over that time, what is your evaluation of what you’ve done? Do you have any regrets?
That’s a very good and apt question. But in a way, it comes too early. Because as we are sitting here right now, I am absolutely absorbed by the band and the promotion for the new album, and so it will become a lot clearer in a year or so, when things will be more quiet again. But yeah, what can I say? It was a long journey. I was 16 when it started, now the band is 18, so the band is older now than I was when I started! And of course in a way, I am another person now, than I was back in 1996. But there is still the same kind of idealism and passion for music. And it has to be like this, otherwise I would not be here. Nobody told me to do it or to push for it that long, we never made any compromises. I guess many bands say that, or try to pretend that they do so, but in our case it is very true. It is not an easy way and during last years we learned the consequences for our pig-headed-ness in a way, just not giving in to the typical challenges and conditions of the music business. It is also a very big privilege that we have so loyal fans. We are still an underground band, but especially in the German speaking countries, we have a big fan base, and over the years, those people keep coming back to our concerts. They really show that this band means a lot to them. I guess it is important to see who is your audience.
Are you happy with being “underground”?
Ah ja… (laughs) Happy?! – yeah! In a way, there is a lot of freedom then. I guess as all things in life have two sides, the same is true with this status in a way. Our label Prophecy Productions is very much dedicated to us, their profile is strong, and I even like their name very much, you know – prophecy. Starting with that, the people there, we know them, we trust one another, we have absolute freedom, artistically-speaking. This is a really rare thing. Starting from the cover art work, the order of the songs, everything. We have no pressure, no time schedules, when we decide not to make an album in the next five years, it is ok with them. Of course it would be great if we could reach a bigger audience in a way. Because the input is the same, if you play in front of 30 people or 300 or 3000. Then of course the intimacy will break away. Dornenreich is strongest within smaller clubs, up to 500 people. Then we can really get across all our intensity. Did you also ask if I regret anything?
Yes, one of the questions. 18 years of the band is a long time…
Yes, I regret the fact that I did not realize what impact it had on my way of growing up. I released my first album at 16. Back then I did not know that it would change many things of my youth. Back then it was just great, such an honor to go to a real studio to record my album. But it has other aspects as well, and sometimes I struggle a lot with that, with this imbalance in a way. And I do still today. When you listen to the album, it is quite clear that I found a certain area of peace, or a balance, or a fundament, but I guess it is hard for me to embrace the cyclic nature of life. It is still a main theme for me, how it’s always been. The first album was called “Nicht um zu sterben”, which means something like non-acceptance of the transitoriness of (earthly) life. I could not accept the thought that we will all have to go one day.
You dealt with such thought so early, at 16?!
Yes, it has a very personal background also. I was the only child, no siblings. And I had to cope with a lot of extreme experiences within my family. I thought a lot about how my life would’ve turned out without music. At the end, I am very lucky to have this way to express myself in a creative way.
The lyrics are also more personal then, or is there still fiction?
The majority are non-fictional. It is very personal, yes. Sometimes I really struggle with the fact that art often has a lot to do with narcissistic tendencies, and egocentric views, but that was not my intention with this album. But still, the album deals a lot with separation of self and ego, and all these things, subjective things again, but at the end for me it is very important to establish the atmosphere that is far away from such an egocentric perception of life in general. And therefore the last song “Blume der Stille” does not have any lyrics. It is hard to get it across verbally. I like to meet people just as we are sitting here now, this is very great. Because sometimes the topics I deal with are very multifaceted and multidimensional and I like to think about what other people think that I am saying actually.
Author: Marina Minkler, transl. K.Weber, photos: band, M.Minkler