We have already published an album and a concert review, now we complete the “NEON” triple feature. After the show in Bochum, we stalked guitar player and main songwriter Ingo Hampf with our questions.
You’ve released two acoustic albums called “Nackt” and “Nackt II”. Now a third one, called “NEON” follows up. You are not the first band that releases an acoustic album, but in comparison to most others, you are very successful. Therefore you also had to extend the three corresponding tours due to the high demand. What do you do better than others?
Difficult to answer. (contemplating) First of all, we have been a very long time in the business. The first acoustic tour was in 2006, the 2nd in 2009. However, the three tours were spread over quite a long period. Many bands do not even exist for so long.
In 2006, it was quite obvious to do an acoustic tour because we are using a lot of acoustic instruments in our songs. So we have much more to offer than only switching the electric guitar with an acoustic guitar. Our idea for “Nackt II” was to turn the whole concept into real art. The stage set, the arrangements and everything else were extensive.
The idea for “NEON” was to combine two things that do not fit together at the first glance. Normally, nobody would even think about combing electronic music with acoustic music, especially not in our field of music. The idea is a bit bizarre.
You name the contradiction by yourself. In the beginning, I was sceptic if this concept could work. Wouldn’t it be much more logical to combine Rock music with electric sounds?
We have already been doing that since the release of our last album. Normally our music stays within a hermetically sealed field: Rock, Gothic, medieval and so on. The excitement is to include influences that do not belong into this field of music. The music of Subway to Sally has always been full of contradictions. When we started, we combined Rock music with bagpipes. That was very new and very crazy back then in those days. Today, 25 years later, everyone is doing that. It was and still is the challenge to walk a path no one has walked yet, an unknown path which is exciting and fascinating.
By the way, this approach is still ongoing. I guess that our upcoming studio release will contain some big surprises. We are far beyond good and evil, therefore we can do whatever pleases us. We’ve already scared everyone away who could be scared, but all the others will stick with us.
It should have been my final question, but now that you are talking about your next studio album, I have to ask this question right away: Do you have some detailed plans for your next album already?
We will begin the songwriting sessions when the “NEON”-tour is finished and everyone’s batteries are powered up again. I think that it will be in May.
You re-arranged many tracks for “NEON”. How can I imagine the collaboration with Cop Dickie who is responsible for all the electric sounds? Was he involved in the work?
It sounds stupid when I talk about myself, but most parts which exceed the typical Subway to Sally sound come from my mind. Although I’ve already reached mature age, I still go to clubs and listen to electric music. I like it very much when they play Dub Step. This was the basis for the idea. My bandmates did not like the idea at first and thought that was totally insane. But I did some demos that convinced them.
The preparation for “NEON” was quite similar. We did our latest studio album “Mitgift” with Cop Dickie, so a continuation of this collaboration was at hand. I re-arranged our songs and Cop Dickie added some electric sound and gave some input on further re-arrangements. We did this a few times and finally the stuff was done.
It is very fascinating to work with someone, who has a totally different background and approach to music. He knows how to play the piano, but in fact he does not play a real instrument on stage. He is more experienced in sound design and remixing. It is a completely different approach to music than we have and that makes it so fascinating.
Were there any songs that you wanted to re-arrange for “Nackt” or “NEON”, but which did not work?
No, actually not.
On “NEON” are ‘Unsterblich’ and ‘Falscher Heiland’, two tracks from “Engelskrieger”. In my opinion “Engelskrieger” is your most Metal release yet. I think that it is quite difficult to turn those songs into acoustic versions.
You can play every song with acoustic instruments as long as the harmonic substance of the song works. But I have to say that I don’t think that “Engelskrieger” is more Metal than “Mitgift”.”
You’ve owned your own studio and your own label for a few years now. In how far does that change your work?
Actually not much, because in the past we’ve always done what we wanted to. No matter which label had signed us, we were the enfant terrible. They never knew what they could do with us. The major labels were often shocked and did not know how to sell us. So we were moved between labels like Universal, BMG and Motor Music. The step of founding our own label was logical, because we do not need a label any more. Its task is to offer a loan for your recording and when you don’t need such advance any more, you don’t need a label any more.
But you need the distribution…
We still have Universal as a distribution partner and therefore we can still use their distribution channels. But all the rest is done by us.
You’ve had quite a stable line up for the past 25 years. Recently your violinist Ms. Schmitt left the band. You decided not talk about the reasons, which I will respect…
There is no reason for remaining silent. (contemplating) You have to think about it! Ms. Schmitt had been part of the band for 26 years. That’s more than a quarter century of Rock ‘n Roll and a lot of travelling. It is not easy to travel as much as we do, entering the tour bus and the stage day by day. We all feel that. We are all beyond 50 and that makes it even more difficult – especially for a woman. I want to remain silent about the rest.
Were you surprised by the decision or did you expect it?
Both, to be quite honest. It had been difficult for her to travel in the bus for some time. But she continued with it for 2 or 3 further years. But when she made the final decision I was surprised and also sad. Although her replacement (Ally Storch) is great, there is no day on tour that I do not think about Ms. Schmitt.
Is she still making music?
Yes, she does. She has her own band and she still plays concerts, but everything with less effort.
You talked about your age. Do you still party on tour or have you become well-mannered yet?
Party like an animal, haha! No, seriously: We still like sitting together and have a drink or two, but there will be no more excesses, I guess. (Drummer Simon Michael enters the room) What do you think? Are there still excesses and big parties on tour?”
Simon Michael: Noooooo, never! Eisheilige Nacht, after show party, disco!
Ingo: Ah yes, disco! After our Eisheilige Nächte shows (small indoor festivals after Christmas headlined by STS) we always make disco and dance.
Simon Michael: There are no excesses if have your own bar, noooooo!
Ingo: Yes, we do have our own bar. Hey, that’s civilisation!
You have studied music…
Simon Michael: That guy?!?
You did? Or not?
Simon Michael: Yes, right, Ingo studied music.
I think that you are one of the very few academic musicians in Rock ‘n Roll. Did you ever expect to become a Rock musician later on?
Yes, I did. It is a more complex story. When I studied, I was still citizen of the German Democratic Republic (socialist Eastern Germany, ended in 1990). There were not many possibilities to become a professional musician. It was not your own decision to live from music. There were actually two options: You could play in front of a commission to get the necessary documents, or you could study. Although I always wanted to become a professional musician, I had to learn a normal profession first: electric engineer. Then, before I was allowed to study, I was drafted by the military.
Yet I was sure from the start that I would play Rock music later on. I never wanted to do Jazz or other weird stuff. Although I actually do quite weird stuff today, haha! One thing that I couldn’t foresee is that I play baroque music and the lute. That has developed over the years.”
Your music attracts a heterogeneous target audience: gothics, metalheads, medieval and even “normal” people. Is there any scene where you feel home?
(contemplating) No, actually not. But what kind of scene is Gothic? There are so many different sub-genres, from funny folk to evil electric, from Feuerschwanz to Laibach. I’ve only been wearing black since the 80s, so most people would call me gothic. And of course I do have this background. I am actually not a metalhead, although I play electric guitar. But I also have this background. I liked Van Halen, Pantera or Metallica’s black album very much. But I also have a background of many other scenes, from baroque music to Dub Step. I appreciate every scene at the same degree.
Last question: Are there any bands you can recommend?
It is always hard for me to remember band names. Right now I remember The Browning and Beyond All Recognition. The latter I named have just released their new album “Drop = Dead”, on which they combine Heavy Metal with Dub Step. But there are thousands more that I could name and there are also some to be ashamed of. I am not ashamed of listening to them, but my bandmates would be, haha.
Start photo: Band Textphotos: Timo Pässler