Heaven Shall Burn: Papa Smurf and world domination

Heaven Shall Burn finally also visited Helsinki, and surely STALKER was there, too. Moreover, we had the chance to experience the warm, a bit tight but still cozy interior of a tour bus during the chat with Guitarist Maik Weichert. Whatever you always wanted to know about HSB band history, exile, US foreign politics and the Smurfs, it is all revealed here:

How´re you doing? I hope you had a good arrival and a convenient flight over to Helsinki?
Yes, we been travelling by bus, not by plane. We had a gig in Sweden the day before yesterday.

… in Stockholm
yeah, exactly and then we went by ferry – it would probably be a bit cheaper to just leave the bus somewhere and continue by plane, but well, this way you´ve got all the equipment with you and that´s usually fun. You can spend some time in the sauna or something like that and just relax for 11 hours. That´s pretty ok. It actually went really smooth, the Baltic Sea isn´t that big, so you won´t be shaken about.

You´ve played only once so far in Finland, about roughly 2 years ago. Can you still recollect any of that vistit or how you were received then from the Finish audience?
Yes, but that was already our second attempt! When we were to fly over for the first time – that was during another tour – our airline unfortunately went bankrupt, we got informed about that only on the check-in counter so that we had to cancel the show.

… oh, how nice is that!
Yeah, that was peculiar indeed. But it was quite funny, the Ilosaarirock-festival I mean. It is actually a really diverse festival, whereas you might have rather expected us to perform on Tuska than there. But it was mind-blowing. We got the opportunity to play there through our old friend Janne, the singer of Endstand, who´s always booking our shows in Finland. After that we were actually planning to come over once more and do like another 5-6 gigs small clubtour, unfortunately though that didn´t happen, for we then took on other tour arrangements. But in 2011 we wanna step back a little bit in Germany and therefore work on the rest of Europe, so Finland is gonna be among that, definitely!

This is now your very first interview for STALKER… could you roughly tell us something about how the band initially came together, what kind of common goals you pursue and how you would categorize your own stile of music?
Mhhhh, what goals do we pursue? Well, as any other German band, world domination (laughter)… and the Austrian of all people is laughing! No, we actually started making music quite without motivation, so none of us was dreaming any kind of rock star dream. That´s probably also pretty inappropriate with the kind of music we´re playing, I guess. I started making music, because I´ve always had a political opinion, even as a child, that I wanted to communicate and I just noticed that if I do that through music more people are gonna listen, than if I would have instead given out leaflets or written an article for the school´s newspaper. So for me it was basically just a medium to make my opinion known; that is actually my motivation for making music. And with the others it´s been quite like that as well, which is why we got together then during some gigs. We´re all like-minded people in the band. Yes, so this is how it all began – we were just a bunch of kids, that weren´t good enough at playing their instruments in order to cover all the great metal bands… that´s why it resulted in some kind of metal core mix. A bit more aggressive and angrier.

You´ve just already said, that you gonna concentrate the next year more on the rest Europe. And you´ve been playing basically on all continents, besides maybe Africa and Antarctica…
But we´re working on Africa!

Oh, you do?
Yeah, well there´s two countries where it would be realistic – that´s Egypt and South Africa. That´s where you can do metal shows, maybe also Namibia, but actually South Africa ist the most realistic, if we manage. That´s what´s still missing on the map.

So you started as a small group and would have probably never ever expected expected it to become that big. What has impressed you the most on your way?
Well, it´s always the most impressive – you cannot refer to any country in particular – when you´ve got a 10-15 hours flight behind you, step out of the plane, play a gig and the people join in screaming your lyrics. Then it doesn´t matter if that´s in Chile, Australia, Singapore or anywhere else in the world – you go all goose-pimply! Definitely! That the music has such a global impact on a certain scene. No way you can talk about being international stars or anything like that, but you´re in people´s memory all over the world. And that´s what makes you proud of course and what also impresses the most.

Let´s talk about your latest record or rather about the whole “Iconoclast”-trilogy. What idea was actually behind it to bring a trilogy on the market, consisting of two records and the DVD?
It actually wasn´t any trilogy idea in the first place. We just noticed after the first part that there´s still so much potential and so many ideas for lyrics, that it would easily suffice for a second part. Releasing another LP as the second part right after the first would have then on the other handside been too easy. So we just developed that concept further in the DVD; that iconoclastic thought can be found there as well. We achieved that by including a fake documentary in order to demonstrate how manipulative the media can be, which can also be some kind of iconoclasm. So we just put the DVD as part two of the trilogy and continued the lyrics thematically in the third part, like these kind of alternative hero stories. But initially it was not planned to make it a trilogy.

Now you´ve already mentioned my next question a little bit. On the “Invictus” record most of the songs are dedicated to certain themes – historical events or persons. How was that idea born?
Exactly, that´s the basic idea behind it, that the picture you have of certain heros is being questioned or that it´s been told about a hero, that you might not think of as such, but that might still be a hero figure. That´s the basic idea and in our lyrics in general it has always been the basic idea to deal with historical things in order to express point of views. To use things that are still ongoing at the moment as an argument… well, I might have then cheered Obama half a year ago in one of my lyrics and now first people are starting to be disappointed and who know´s what kind of shit he might be up to next year. So that´s a little bit tricky, whereas the evaluation of a historical person such as Rosa Luxemburg, or at least the murder of her, or Nelson Mandela; that´s all finished processes, about which you can write something that one can reflect about and extract from, like a general political attitude, or to express a point of view.

Was there anything in particular that was decisive for choosing that e.g. “Buried in forgotten grounds” deals with the Chilean dictator Pinochet?
That´s actually something that has followed us throughout our band history. Already on the “Antigone” record we had a song (“The weapon they fear”) that is dedicated to the chilean singer Victor Jara and that now continues this theme. And on the “Whatever it may take” record there was “The martyr´s blood” about Salvador Allende, which is closely connected to the Pinochet putsch. I don´t know, maybe this is also the result of my childhood – as a 10 year old I still experienced the GDR and thus also its connection to Chile and that there had been refugees, that were still working or studying there. Also when you go to Chile nowadays, you gonna meet a lot of people, for whom Germany quasi is the DDR, that are still grateful, because they stood up for them in those hard times.

Chile is also a pretty good example for what kind of foreign policy the USA carried on during the 70ies – that was also a CIA-controlled Putsch and not only in Chile, but also in Nicaragua and now it´s supposed to go like that in Venezuela as well, in Cuba again it has been tried for decades. Chile is just a good example to set this forth. So many crimes have happened there that still today haven´t been atoned for. Even today – with Pinochet hopefully burning in hell – thousands of families still don´t know where their relatives were buried, where they ended up or where they died and this is just an intolerable situation.

Let´s have a little change of topic and talk about your music as such. On the “Antigone” record you used electronic elements in one song (“The dream is dead”), but now on the the latest record there are two songs with really hard electro beats, where at the beginning of the song you wouldn´t even expect it to be metal at all. What kind of reactions have you gotten to this?
Well, on this record all was pretty much relaxed and calculated, that we would do it this way. We had tried it out before on previous records, different beats and electronic stuff, but were always hiding it a bit. We had gotten really positive reactions to that so that we this time dared to used these elements more offensively. We were also looking for a musical element, with whom we could get our sound to be even more aggressive and at some point you get to the point where you have already used all kinds of blastbeats and louder and faster isn´t just an option anymore without it sounding stupid. So this is a new sound dimension we wanted to add. We´ve always been big fans of bands like Nine Inch Nails or Die Krupps and wanted to connect that a bit. But then again you don´t wanna offend people, but I think this is just a must to make it more aggressive, more brutal. To achieve that, basically all means are right.

And what would be the next step?
Umm, I really don’t know yet, remains to be seen.

Your new album was released only this year but do you already have some new plans or ideas what you want to tackle during the next few years?
Hmm, I think we won’t release a record in 2011, at least not a new one. We are considering whether we should maybe release this Iconoclast trilogy in one of those nice boxes but that, of course, needs some preparation so we would be able to offer lots of bonus material, a great artwork. So the people don’t feel like they have been ripped-off but that they are happy when they have bought it. We will think about that…but we certainly won´t start working on a new record before 2012.

You already mentioned your fake documentary…in the beginning there’s a scene where your are naked, silent and stock-still in the woods. Does nature have some kind of influence on your work as a band?
That’s one of the foundations of our ideology that we are campaigning for environmental protection. We’re all vegan in the band and, in any case, that has something to do with that, we take our strengths from that. In the beginning of the documentary you don’t realise yet that it is exaggerated…it could be something like a yoga circle or whatever, hugging trees to feel the energy but when you only look at it without any context than it’s definitely like that.

To come back to the lyrics – can you tell us a bit about the writing process as such?
Well, it’s always different. Sometimes you have a text ready in ten minutes, when you have marked a certain passage in a book that has inspired you and sometimes it takes half a year. Then you can’t even remember it, you only remember the inspiration or the moment when you got the idea for the text. But now the writing process as such, I wouldn’t call it an artistic process in our case.

Do you have a personal favourite or a text that is especially close to your heart?
On the new album it’s Of Forsaken Poets that is very close to my hear because it is about this writer Max Hermann Neiße. When I was reading one of his poems, I was really touched. That somebody from the Third Reich went into exile to save his life and there, basically, grieves for the rest of his life because his home country betrayed him and that he couldn’t understand how people could follow such a dictator and also this fear of him, to be forgotten, his works being forgotten and that he couldn’t cope with the language in the British exile. And that’s exactly what happened – I mean, who still knows Max Hermann Neiße? He was quite a big shot in the literature world and no one really remembers him anymore. So I thought, maybe one has to remind people of him again. Also, those fears that he reveals in one poem, a beautiful poem, have become reality and when you look at his biography, you find that he really died in exile, homesick and has really never seen his home ever again – that’s pretty touching.

Also this time you worked with the Icelandic composer Olafúr Arnalds again. If I remember correctly, he already composed the intros and outros on three of your albums. Could you imagine to, someday, unite those classical elements with metal in one whole song?
Yeah, I could definitely imagine that and I have already talked to Olafúr about it. But it hasn’t worked out yet because of timing. Something like that takes a lot of time and I have been to his studio in Iceland and we spoke about it…but to get it up to a certain quality level, that will take a lot of money and time and actually, it’s time that is the limiting factor – luckily, we have some money at the moment because of our success. But I could definitely imagine to do something like that in the future.

When I listened to the transition from the classical Intro Awoken to Endzeit, I was thinking only one thing: that’s ingenious!
Yeah, I love it, too. It was Olafúr’s idea.

And besides him, are there other artists you would like to collaborate with?
Well, definitely. In Germany for example, there’s an insanely good pianist, Nils Frahm. He is on tour now with Olafúr Arnalds. Maybe we will talk to him and ask whether he would like to do an intro for us. And there are, in any case, friggin cool people in the underground scene with who we could do something.

For all of you, the band is a project besides your day jobs, is it still true?
Yes, nothing has changed. We still are only one or two, maybe with a mintour, three times per year on tour and you can see that. Compared to Germany, where we have been in the top 10 with our latest record, in the rest of Europe it looks ok but we’re definitely not on the same level. To get there, we would need even more luck than we already had and would have to play something like 200 shows per year…but right now we’re maybe playing 50 shows per year.

But when you’re for example touring in the US, then it has to be very difficult to accommodate all things…
Yeah, well, it depends on the job. Our singer for example, he works as a male nurse but he has a great team of colleagues who guard his back and he can take a week of vacation whenever he wants. Then he will work on New Year’s Day and so someone else can stay home. Or our bassist he takes unpaid leave of absence. I’m at the university and write on a thesis…so it’s easy to shift it to some other day. It’s just a hobby that went completely off the rail, that’s just how it is.

What are you actually studying? (asks the Austrian among us)
I studied law, now I’m writing my doctoral thesis…in constitutional law.

So, we have almost reached the end of this interview; two short questions remain…with what three adjectives would you describe Heaven Shall Burn?
Mhhhh… passionate, political and honest.

Finally, maybe a bit off-topic…is there, let’s say a Disney character or some other comic character that would reflect the band, single members or yourself?
We could need an Uncle Scrooge, yes…he shouldn’t give anything away, only hoard the money for us… Mmmh, maybe the best place to look would be with Asterix and Obelix – our drummer Mathias would be Obelix, our singer would be Cacofonix and then the guitarist would be Asterix. And me? I would be the chief, what was his name?

No, Vitalstatistix was the druid…that could be our bassist. But I have no idea what’s the name of the chief [Actually, Vitalstatistix is the name of the chief, Getafix would be the druid, the ed.]. Or with the Smurfs…there I would be Brainy Smurf and our singer would be Papa Smurf or something like that. Yeah, exactly!

Alright, thanks a lot for taking your time to do this interview.

Author: Ulrike Schneider, photos: Klaudia Weber


GastmitarbeiterInnen / guest contributions

Regular guest contributors e.g. Melanie Kircher, Tatjana Tattis Murschel, Grit Kabiersch, Marina Minkler, Jasmine Frey, Maria Levin, Elvira Visser, Nina Ratavaara, John Wisniewski