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Sunday, July 10, 2011
Interview - Valborg/Owl's Christian Kolf
In recent years, Ive found the output of Christian Kolf, both his own work and what he releases on Zeitgeister Music, to be very interesting and different. Due to certain circumstances out of my control, I was unable to conduct this interview in the usual way and was forced to do it over my phone, so I have to thank Christian once again for putting up with all the difficulty this interview might have given him.
Ian: I guess the first question would have to be how you're doing now that both Valborg and Owl are out?
Christian: I'm feeling great. The release of Valborg's "Barbarian" lasted more than one year. In this time we rehearsed some songs of "Barbarian". So I was really sated. The highlights for me, are the songs I didn't listen that often to or didn't play with the band, like Towering Clouds, Iron Dreams or Samantha Alive. With OWL it was a little bit different. I wrote the songs more out of boredom and for the fun of creating this kind of Death Metal. I didn't over-listened it. The track I listened to most of the time, is the ambient piece Threnodical Ritual At The Spectral Shores of The Eternal Sunset. Each night in the last three months I listened to it when I went to bed. This is what I did with the ambient piece on Anathema's first record "Dreaming: The Romance" in the last 10 years. I need such kind of meditative sounds to get peaceful at the end of a day.
Ian: Cool, so would you say that having Threnodical Ritual At The Spectral Shores of The Eternal Sunset at the end of the album was important to the overall concept and flow to the record?
Christian: Definitely. The ambient piece was very important for the whole inspiration. When I started out, the vision of this ambient piece was already there, it didn't come after I had finished 4 songs. I had always this dream of doing a Death Metal album like that with an ambient track at the end of the album. A dream of my youth. I was really inspired by "Serenades", the first Anathema record, in that case.
Ian: I think it really acts as a calm after the storm of the first four death metal tracks. Would you agree with that?
Christian: Yes. The first 4 songs are like a bestial and frantic storm, like a battle. At the end of that you need to rest. For me personally it's like an amplifier of the feeling of the whole album. A solemn coming down.
Ian: Did you intend for it to wind up being 30 minutes long when you started writing it?
Christian: I wanted to have a 30 minute ambient track from the very beginning. But just for an ordinary purpose: It's enough time for me to fall asleep. Yes, it's like a lullaby for me.
Ian: Was that how the name Owl came about, a sort of symbol for the night?
Christian: It had to fit and sound cool enough for the music. You have to give the child a name. But I also wondered that there's no metal band out there using that name.
Christian: After the record came out, I realised that there a lot of bands out there who use the name OWL. But whatever. I was a little bit sloppy when I did the research and just overwhelmed by the feeling of naming it OWL. It's a good name.
Ian: About how long did it take you to record the album?
Christian: Five months to write the music and to record guitars, bass and synths. 3 days for drums. 3 days for vocals. 2 days for mixing. Something like that.
Ian: The sound has a really nice sludgy feel to it, was that another influence from Anathema? What other groups influenced Owl's sound?
Christian: Soundwise I was inspired by PORTAL and the latest MAYHEM record. I wanted a muddy sound, very dark and rehearsal-room-like. For me that's the essence of cool dark metal. The sound of the old British doom metal albums was an inspiration as well. Old Paradise Lost, old My Dying Bride. Gorguts are a huge influence too. I guess also the first ISLAND record "Orakel", which I recorded back in 2003 was an influence. I wanted to approach to that style of riffs again and bring it to another level.
Ian: I really enjoy that sound, personally, so I think it turned out great.
Christian: Thank you. Patrick (Drums) also had a big influence on the whole atmosphere. I guess he brought the true bestiality into the music.
Ian: Did you use 8 string guitars on the record, or at least a low tuning, cause the sound of the guitars are just so long and sludgy on the, it kind of reminded me a bit of "Domination" era Morbid Angel?
Christian: I used a 6-string half-baritone guitar built by René Marquis here in Germany. It's a beautifuly instrument. Most of the time I tuned the guitar to drop A and sometimes the lowest string to deep E. "Domination" has great sound. So groovy and sludgy.
Ian: That's really cool, do the guitars tend to sound good at that low tuning, or is it a struggle to keep them tuned that low?
Christian: With some guitars it is. But the half-baritone was built especially for low tunes. I have no problem with it at all.
Ian: Nice, back onto the album, is there some sort if a concept? A lot of the songs have quite grandiose titles.
Christian: Dark words about death, horror and lost love. Titles are very important for the whole feeling as a listener. A good title makes a good song even better I think. I wanted to animate the the imagination of the listener.
Ian: They certainly inspire the imagination but I think that the music certainly brings pictures and images into a listener's mind as well.
Christian: It's the cream on the cake.
Ian: I guess we can move onto Valborg then. I have yet to hear "Songs for a Year", how do you believe the band has grown since then?
Christian: We founded Valborg in 2002. We were around 22- 25 years old and spent our weekends in the rehearsal room. This was a special time and we had a strong feeling. We were young dogs and just dreamed around. The music was the only thing that was important, we didn't think about playing live. The songs were more progressive, but we didn't play as well as we do today. After one year we split up. In the following three years we only recorded some songs from time to time, which we are going to release sometimes. These songs were really experimental. We listened a lot to Jazz, Fusion and classical music. Just go to our myspace page and listen to "Wurzeln", it's from 2005 or so. So in 2007 the old Valborg line-up came back together and we decided to record an album. "Glorification of Pain". But as soon as we started to write songs we realized that the old times are over. We had the dream to record this album live on analogue euquipment and we soon realised that old Valborg-style is not the best music to record live. And we also grew older. When we wrote "Glorification of Pain" we wanted to rock. After that Patrick left and Florian came, so this also had a big influence on the second album "Crown Of Sorrow", which was more metal again. With "Barbarian" we wanted to return a little bit to "Glorification of Pain" and get more heavy and epic. And 3 weeks ago we recorded our 4th album, which will be called "Nekrodepression". There's more dirt, greyness and punk in the music now. Playing live had a big influence on our music. We took a little break after the recordings. In the coming weeks we will start to rehearse again. We have some visions for the new song and an album title, of course. But I won't tell it, it's too early for that.
Ian: It seems like you guys mesh well together since you're already done with a new album and are already thinking about writing more. How is the writing process for you guys?
Christian: Most of the time someone prepares some riffs or a whole arrangement, then we meet at our rehearsal room and jam over it. On "Barbarian" most of the songs were already arranged before we rehearsed them. On the other albums we arranged everything together.
Ian: You said that you think of Valborg as more of a rock band, but I hear much more of a classic doom metal sound, are you. Influenced by stuff like that?
Christian: Yeah, I'm influenced by old British Doom Bands as I said earlier. Old Paradise Lost, old My Dying Bride, old Anathema, Sevenchurch. Old Katatonia. That kind of stuff. Good stuff from the mid 90s. Also Mindrot from the USA. Go check them out. They are awesome. Their album "Dawning" is a total masterpiece.
Ian: I also hear a lot of candlemass as well. Who influenced your vocals?
Christian: Influence on my vocals? Don't know. It's just my voice. I'm interested in all vocal styles and I try to sing a lot as possible. I really like Carl McCoy, Mark Lanegan, Peter Steele, Chris Cornell, Devin Townsend, David Coverdale, Brendan Perry, Jaz Coleman...
Ian: Well I was referring to the music, but would you say that the your main goal with the band is to keep an authentic and live sound on your records?
Christian: Definitely. We want to keep it as honest and natural as possible, because that's the only way to write good music. First up we just do it for ourselves. And I don't want to listen to music I created that is not honest. That's the worst thing ever for me.
Ian: And from a production standpoint?
Christian: Yes. Valborg is a live band and we want to sound like that. When we are in the studio we don't need to try out a lot of stuff. We just use our equipment we use in our rehearsal room, built it up, plug in and play. All three in a room. We only do a little bit of overdubbing after that, like doubled guitars, solos, vocals and synths.
Ian: When you go in to make a new album do you discuss what sort of sound you want to go for before you actually set out to write and record anything?
Christian: We have always an album title ready before we start writing new songs. It's really important for us. We did it that way now with four records. With the album title comes the atmosphere, a story, ideas for lyrics, ideas for the sound, ideas for riffs. When we came up with "Nekrodepression", it was clear to us that it won't sound as epic as "Barbarian". It really makes a lot of fun to work like this. Heavy Metal phantasies, you know? With Barbarian it was like that: "Hey let's do a metal album that is called Barbarian, that would be so heavy".
Ian: I felt that "Barbarian" was your most consistent record yet with Valborg, would you agree with that?
Christian: Yeah, would agree with you. We wanted to go a step further with "Barbarian" after the last two records. We wanted it to be longer, more heavy and more epic. Maybe it has also to do that we wrote the whole album in 6 months.
Ian: It definitely flows the best compared to your previous efforts and is probably a more complete sounding when you listen to it from beginning to end, would you agree with that?
Christian: Yes. We think that our albums should be like a journey. We experienced that with "Crown of Sorrow". At the beginning we didn't know how the album will turn out. After we had finished it we realized how intense it is. Every song stands for itself and at the end of the CD it gets more intense and surprising. We wanted to keep that on "Barbarian". A little bit proposed and a little bit by chance.
Ian: Could you explain a little bit about the song Samantha Alive, that song really stuck out to me on the new album, in a similar way to how I Am Space did from "Crown of Sorrow."
Christian: Two years ago I just discovered Whitesnake's 1987-album. I was just blown away, especially by the ballad "Is this love". So a few months later I came up with the first part for Samantha Alive. I listened a lot to Led Zeppelin this time and I wanted to write an epic rock ballad. I just did that at home and presented it to the guys. We decided to put it on the album. At the beginning we were a little bit uncertain about that song, but it got stronger and stronger. I'm really really happy that we did it. The vocals are one of my best ever. I recorded them in one take.
Ian: It's definitely my favorite song on the album, it's really catchy. Would you say that it was important to have that song at the end of the album?
Christian: That's the right place for the song.
Ian: What's your working relationship in Valborg?
Christian: We have very good working relationship. No big discussions, just a common will to play music and keep the flow going.
Ian: How about with Florian Toyka, I know you two work together quite a bit?
Christian: We play in three bands/projects and founded Zeitgeister Music together, so the relationship is very good. He is very pushing and supporting. Without him there would not be that much, because he was the one who showed me how to do it in the music world.
Ian: So is the creative process any different in those bands compared to Valborg? How does it work in your solo, or mainly solo, projects?
Christian: Not really. In my solo-projects I have more freedom and I try out stuff that I'm not able to do in the other bands, because I don't have to bear the others in mind. But when it comes to writing the basics - it's always the same: Sitting down with a guitar and jam around.
Ian: I know you have a bandcamp page for some of your projects, why did you decide to release them there instead of on Zeitgeister?
Christian: It's just a question of money. I wrote so much music over the years, so I decided to finally release it online, instead of letting it rot on my harddrive. There are some more releases to come and probably I will sell the albums via bandcamp or give it away as free download if there's enough interest. We will see.
Ian: I've heard some rumors about a new Woburn House record, is there any truth to that?
Christian: The new record is nearly done, we just have to master it. It will be called "Sleep Summer Storm"
Ian: What's next for you and your various projects/bands? What's next for Zeitgeister?
Christian: Next up will be the release of the new Woburn House record. Then the release of a Slon EP (Grind/Punk Project feat. Patrick, Angry Teng and myself), a new Klabautamann album. I'm working on some stuff that will probably become the new OWL record, but the final recordings will happen in the coming year. Until then we will be busy with the recordings of a new ISLAND album. Beside that we want to write the new VALBORG album.
Ian: Nice, I guess that's about it. Thank you for your patience, really, and for allowing me to interview you. The last words are yours.
Christian: Keep it heavy. Thanks for your interest.
Once again, Christian, thank you very much for allowing me to interview you. I hope anyone who has checked out even one of his bands will check out the rest, as they are all top quality.