Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

Interview with Obscura — “More Is Not Enough”

As part of the “Diluvium World Tour”, OBSCURA is returning once again to Europe supporting the critically acclaimed album with 23 shows in mainly Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, and The Nordics. The band is performing on 1 March 2020 at Tavastia in Helsinki. We had the opportunity to ask a couple of questions about the upcoming tour to frontman Steffen Kummerer. Read the entire interview below.

First of all, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. We’re mostly going to talk about your live shows since your album was released about 1 year and a half ago. How has everything been going since the release of “Diluvium”?

Everything has been going fine, better than ever actually. We have a stable lineup, we fulfilled our recent contract with Relapse Records by releasing “Diluvium” last year, we started our touring cycle with a very successful North American tour and toured in Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, and finally, we’re coming back to Scandinavia.

Yes, that’s the very reason we are having this interview (laughs). I’m not really sure about whether it was your first time or not, I believe it was. Your last time in Finland was your appearance at Tuska Open Air in 2016. Any memories from that particular show?

I absolutely remember that show. It was shortly after “Akroasis” was released and you’re right, it was the first and only time so far we ever played in Finland. We tried to do it a couple of times; I have some friends in Finland, I promised for years to do a regular club show there, but it never happened, never never never happened. Now finally, we somehow got to combine it with a couple of other Scandinavian shows. We are coming over from Tallinn by ferry to Helsinki, then we go to Sweden, to Stockholm, afterwards. But coming back to your question, I absolutely remember playing at Tuska Festival, the same day as GHOST. The band was a little bit smaller then at that time. I just watched their show yesterday in Munich and it was immense. From Finland itself we haven’t seen too much, we flew in, we had the show, and then flew out, unfortunately. But at the campground, it was really easy and I didn’t expect Finland being so… warm (laughs).

It’s actually interesting that you’re mentioning GHOST, because I saw that same show a couple of weeks ago in Helsinki and it was incredible. Given the genre you play, I wouldn’t have expected you to listen to a band like GHOST.

Well, I listen every month to something else. I had a couple of weeks where I only listened to MASTODON, some ASTRONOID, and now it’s GHOST, tomorrow it might be MORBID ANGEL. Who knows? Why limit yourself when there’s so much good music out there?

Yeah, that’s true. It makes me wonder when you go visit other bands’ shows, is there something that you learn from it as a musician that you can use in your shows?

Well, after yesterday, I really think we need confetti and a couple of shakers, and some girls playing keyboard solos, and a pope with a saxophone (laughs). To be honest, of course, there’s always something you have an eye for and you look for. What I enjoy is a band or an artist – let’s not only focus on bands – that is somehow entertaining people from beginning to end, where you don’t feel that it’s boring at any time. This is something I really enjoy, it doesn’t matter if you have a certain artist like Mr. Åkerfeldt from OPETH entertaining people with weird jokes, or a few jokes on the German language or something. There are other bands who don’t have any announcements, like RAMMSTEIN for example. They more have a theatrical dramaturgy from the very first minute until the last one, which is also working quite fine. There is always something you can look into, from light production, how people interact with their crowd, how the crowd is looking. Yesterday I was impressed, since the combination of TRIBULATION and GHOST, you might expect more extreme metal people there, you know… black and death metal fans, but actually I’ve seen families with kids over there (laughs), really interesting. Somehow you see, once again, don’t limit yourself, just open your eyes, have a good time, and see how other people work. Maybe there are one or two glimpses you can take to build your own show and make it a little bit better.

Yeah, I agree. What is it that you guys do to make a show more entertaining or whatever you wanna call it and thus keep the audience engaged?

That’s a very good question actually since we don’t play three-chord music. Yeah, I mean, there are bands like DRAGONFORCE, with trampolines on stage and still shred like hell (laughs). But I hope you don’t expect trampolines on our stage in Helsinki when we play there in March. (laughs)

No, not quite yet! Although it would be really cool. (laughs)

First of all, what counts is the music. Play your material as tight as possible, but at the same time, entertain people. We simply invested a lot of funds into the production of our upcoming tour. This is also very new to us and it has nothing to do with GHOST (laughs). The overall production is a little bit different than the last time we played in Helsinki at Tuska Festival. At festivals, if you don’t have a crew of 10-20 people, it’s hard to pull off a complete production. Now since we’re on tour, we can bring everything we have, so that will definitely be a very different experience for everyone watching the show and I am really looking forward to finally meet all of our friends and making new friends over there, and providing them the show we actually pulled off over here in Europe, including all the new [material]. A completely programmed light show, no dancers, unfortunately, but we’ll work on something for you.

You mentioned you don’t play like three-chord music and your music is, at least in my opinion, pretty complex. How hard is it for you to play those songs on stage? Do you feel like you need to focus the whole time?

Hard to say. From my perspective, I have three jobs on stage. First of all, I’m the guitarist, second, I have to sing along, and third, I am the entertainer and I must somehow interact with the crowd. My perspective says, if you’re in a live show, there are fuck ups. Nobody is playing everything one hundred percent accurate. If you want to listen to that, listen to the CD or stream it on Spotify. For me, the energy is more important and I really enjoy playing the really demanding songs. There are a couple of really, really exceptionally tough songs in our setlist, and even playing them on stage [means you have to] compete with yourself to make them fucking tight (laughs), which is really something I enjoy. At the same time, there are some songs that are obviously not that hard to play, but at the same time they are groovy, they’re fucking heavy, and this is something I really enjoy. I don’t play songs live that I simply don’t like, so for me, it’s entertaining, playing on stage, playing this demanding [material], and at the same time interacting with people… this is why you actually go on a stage and perform your music. So for me, this is fun. This is totally fun.

I noticed that your other band is the support act of the evening. Does that mean you have a double shift (laughs)?

Actually yes (laughs). We invited THULCANDRA, my second band, who has actually never played in Finland before. We only had, overall in Scandinavia, one show a couple of years ago in Stockholm, so I don’t know what to expect or how the feedback will turn out for this band. It’s a completely different kind of music and somehow not. Let me explain. The band is overall based on the early Swedish 90s black/death metal scene, so if you know SACRAMENTUM, DISSECTION, UNANIMATED, DAWN, you know those bands. On the other hand, it’s all death metal and the overall lineup of this tour is rounded out with FRACTAL UNIVERSE and OBSCURA on the, let’s say a little bit more proggy end. On the other hand, you have THULCANDRA, a black/death metal band and GOD DETHRONED a very old-school death metal band, who are playing a little bit more mid-tempo and groovy material. Overall, I think it’s a very balanced and rounded-out lineup. How it will turn out, we don’t know, but I think everybody who listens to some kind of extreme metal will at least love two bands and if you at least lend your ears to one or two songs from the other bands you don’t totally like, that’s fine with me.

Is performing with two different bands on the same night something you’re familiar with, or is this a new experience to which you have an adjustment period?

We had one show last year, the 15-year anniversary of both bands, OBSCURA and THULCANDRA, where I had to do double duties and that actually turned out quite well. People really enjoyed it and the broad dynamic of musical styles within the lineups turned out well. This is also the reason, since it worked out so well, that we are bringing this band on the OBSCURA tour. I will be totally dead after the tour (laughs), but I don’t mind. It’s also totally enjoyable since both bands are coming from two different planets, so to speak. On the one hand, you have the really demanding proggy technical music; on the other hand, you have the more melodic black/death metal style, which has a vibe coming from somewhere completely else, so for me, it’s totally joy. I don’t play in any other bands, I don’t have any other projects or anything, I only have those two bands, and wind up playing both each night. More is not enough (laughs). You know, one wise man a couple of years ago [Yngwie Malmsteen] said more is always more; I think more is not enough.

Are you nervous about the tour, since it’s going to be quite demanding, at least for you if not for your band members?

Well, I do have a certain respect for the two shows that I have to pull off every night, but on the other hand, we’re not partying every night either, so it will be fine. Maybe we can party after Helsinki since we have a day off after that (laughs).

I read somewhere that you actually invite the support acts yourself, so why did you choose to invite those other bands?

This is actually true, I always make sure we only play with bands that everyone in the band enjoys. Also, we try to support bands that we simply want to support. That’s what we did for a couple of years in the past, everywhere where we can do it. FRACTAL UNIVERSE is one of the most interesting newer bands, though they have already existed for a couple of years. They are also coming from this OBSCURA-like progressive technical death metal end, but at the same time, they combine it with something new. They have a certain… of course, they’re from France, so they have to sound a bit like GOJIRA (laughs), but I think this is a very interesting band and if you are overall into this proggy, death metal style, if you like that kind of music, check this band out. I always make sure or at least try to make sure that people show up very early and support all the other bands. In my opinion, it doesn’t make ant sense to put together a couple of bands on the tour that nobody cares about. Sometimes you see a lineup being confirmed, where there’s one band you know, maybe a second, and then the others you’ve never heard of before and style-wise they don’t make any sense there. I try to prevent that. I always make sure there are a couple of bands together on the bill that somehow work from the stylistic side, but on the other hand, we always try to push friends and bring them on tour. That’s what we did in the past with EXIST and INFERI, and a couple of other bands. I think this is quite cool, we never did a buy-on tour, on our end, I don’t want to make any of our friends, or all those bands that we have on the tours doing the same. We just give them the opportunity to play their music in front of a mediocre or a bigger crowd. Coming back to your question, yes. I chose FRACTAL UNIVERSE because I like them very much and try to support them. With GOD DETHRONED, we were looking for a little bit more of a melodic death metal band. We also talked to one Finnish black/death metal band with a more of a melodic side, but it didn’t work out. In the end, it turned out that GOD DETHRONED would release a new album before the tour, so that was a coincidence that everybody was happy about. So, we chose GOD DETHRONED, a band I listened to when I started to listen to black and death metal in the 90s I think? I’m very happy to have them on tour. It’s very diverse, but at the same time, still extreme music. So let’s see how people react. 

Do you think the general audience for these bands is similar?

That’s a big question mark on the tour. In the past, we always toured with similar bands, like BEYOND RAGE and REVOCATION, RIVERS OF NIHIL, SUFFOCATION, all of those bands. In the United States, we figured people are very open-minded. We toured together with DEVIN TOWNSEND, CHILDREN OF BODOM, and SEPTICFLESH. That’s quite a diverse lineup as well. So now we’re trying to bring that to Europe. Also sometimes people are a little bit… well, they think a little bit closed-mindedly, at least here in southern Germany. If there’s a black metal band and a thrash metal band, nobody goes there because (laughs) they think it doesn’t make any sense to mix those bands. I don’t know, it’s weird. I’m not able to look into the brains of our fans, although I would want to (laughs). For us, this is a total tryout and we will see how it will turn out. So far, what I can say is that the feedback overall and also the presales are really good. Who knows? We will see on the first of March in Helsinki!

Let’s go back to your music. On the Facebook event, it says that you promised a special show with songs you haven’t played for a while, things like that. What can people expect when they go to see your show?

As you mentioned, we definitely do play some songs that we’ve never played live and we also are bringing back a couple of old classics from all five records we’ve released so far. We cut out everything from the debut album, which was released more than a decade ago, and simply reworked a couple of songs. We will play at least one every night, so this will be something very special for the fans of the first hour, those fans who have followed us since day 1. The same goes for a couple of songs from “Cosmogenesis” and “Omnivium” we’re bringing back on stage and we haven’t played with this lineup yet. This means that we haven’t played those songs for 6 years. Some people have asked us for months or weeks or some even for years to bring back those songs, so let’s see how that turns out. 

That also means that you have to practice a lot of material for the tour as well. 

We are in the middle of preparing this tour for weeks (laughs). My fingers bleed for some of the songs and I can’t wait to finally bring this on stage, because playing alone at home, well, can be a joy in some way but in the end, you rehearse and play your ass off to perform it on stage. 

When I looked at your setlist before – but of course you might change things up now – I was wondering how you guys usually decide on the setlist, since you have quite a few albums, so you have a lot of songs to pick from. 

Now we are coming back to the discussion on how to entertain people (laughs). Presently, I try to understand the fans’ perspective. I’m still a fan; as I mentioned, I’m still going to shows. So there are a couple of evergreens you definitely need to hear from each band. If you’re going to a show and SLAYER is taking out “South of Heaven” from their setlist, everybody would be really upset on the way home (laughs). Not to compare us with SLAYER, but we have some songs we definitely have to play. On the other hand, I try to make it very, very interesting for the people who go to the shows. I don’t want to play only high-speed shreddy songs to show everyone that our band can play music or very fast, so we try to work with the dynamics. We always try to somehow work with the setlist and merge it into a certain event. From start to finish, I want to entertain people with the music and live show and if you only play mid-tempo songs, it could be boring; if you only play fast songs, it could be boring as well. I pick out songs from each record and put together a setlist with surprises but at the same, with the evergreens. In the end, it should be a certain kind of dramaturgy from the very first song to in case some people want to hear some more in the encore. 

You also mentioned that you have a light show and things like that. I’ve always wondered but never bothered to ask, but how much of a say does the band have in the light show. I would think you work together with the technician. 

(giggles) Actually, that’s my job. Everything that has to do with gear, technique, light show, stage production, audio technique, in the end, that’s on my table. I work that out and have a couple of technicians we always take with us on tour. Together we have a certain pre-production and get this thing running. Then we analyze it and in the end, after the pre-production, everybody can see, okay, maybe we can adjust something here, we can adjust something there, maybe they have a couple of ideas. But in the end, the light show grows out of my brain to the table, and from the table to the light desk. 

How important is it for you to have a light “show,” from a musician’s point of view? I’m a photographer, and from my perspective, it’s very important, it’s awful when some bands use only red light. 

(laughs) Oh yeah, you love red light. To be honest, this is a point I hadn’t thought about in the band’s first years. In those first years, you only take care to play your music and playing new songs, writing new songs, recording as well as possible, and everything else… (shrugs). They are topics you can take care of but you don’t have to. But what makes a concert really interesting is the overall event. You want to be entertained, but there’s a saying in German and I’m not sure if you can literally translate it, but “the eye is always listening as well.” That means that you cannot go to a show and just close your eyes and listen to the music. You have to have a kids’ party lightbulb above the heads of the musicians. The overall experience must be there and the light show, in the end, when it comes to events or a concert, the performance, sound quality, light show, the overall dramaturgy, that somehow all has to be in balance. I’ve seen many bands or shows in Munich over here with fantastic musicians who play their material unbelievably tightly and they play things I could not even think about, but it was boring in the end because there were two lights on stage and nothing happened. You lose interest. So you want to be a little bit integrated into the show. For me personally, a light show is extremely interesting and very, very important for an interesting show. 

Photographers can usually only photograph the first three songs. Is this something you take into account?

I know that is a rule for photographers, but we never make the decisions that you can only take photos during the first three songs. From our end, it’s allowed for the whole show, but sometimes at festivals, there’s no say from the band. Your word doesn’t count because there are usually 20-50 bands playing and if every band is having different demands, I think organizers will get annoyed quite fast. But to be honest, about the light show, I hadn’t thought about that. I try to make the best live show possible and photographers… I hope they have enough other colors than red (laughs). 

I’ll let you know in March for sure (laughs)! Apart from the tour and all that, because the year is coming to an end, do you have any other plans for 2020? 

We are actually working on a new record for 2020. At the moment we are starting to schedule our recording plans, so when, where, and with whom. But when it’s going to be released, I don’t know yet. Aside from that, we’re working on a couple of European festivals, we’ve gotten offers from different places I would love to go to, like China, India, Russia. Never been there. We’re also in negotiations with a couple of promoters from South- and Central America, and last but not least, we’ve gotten offers for North America. So who knows, there are so many things coming up right now. 

(laughs) Do you even have time for a new record? 

That’s an absolute priority, but the year is so long. There are so many days and so far what is announced is only the European tour. 

Concerning writing music, there are bands who take time off to write music while others work and write throughout the tours. What kind of a band is OBSCURA with regard to that? 

We tried to write on the road a couple of times, but to be honest, it doesn’t work. Also, collecting ideas within 2 years didn’t work out too well. The material was way too different and it’s not worth the time. Usually, all of those ideas you would write a year back feel old and then you put it in the trash can. What worked out the best so far was simply taking off some time, don’t take on any shows, and write an entire album within 2-3 months. That’s also for me the best way. Just getting into the mood, don’t do anything else, just start writing the record from start to finish. Everybody’s different, but for me, this works the best. 

I think that’s all of my questions. Do you have any last thoughts to share with our readers? 

If you want to do me a favor, come to the show in Helsinki quite early, watch all four bands, and complain afterwards about which band you don’t like (laughs). No, to be honest, just come to the show, have a good time, and since we have a day off afterwards, everybody’s welcome to have a drink with us. 

Thank you!

Likewise, thank you very much for the very interesting interview! 

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