Tongue-in-cheek German folk rockers FEUERSCHWANZ are soon releasing a new album, “Das Elfte Gebot,” through Napalm Records on 26 June 2020. We had the opportunity to talk to violinist Johanna von der Vögelweide about the upcoming release. Read the complete interview here.
Hi there, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. How are you doing during these trying times?
I’m fine. We have been really busy with the band lately, but it’s also been very nice.
How have you been keeping yourself busy during the lockdown? Were you able to work on any music?
Actually yes. Normally, we were supposed to play many festival shows this summer, which we obviously can’t do now. We’re still heading forward with the release of the new album. We are also planning an online open-air concert, which will be streamed at the end of June on the release date of our album. So, we have been quite busy preparing for this actually, doing rehearsals, planning everything. We also performed on a TV show in Germany last Sunday, which nowadays is one of the only ways to play some live music (laughs). In a way, we are still busy.
It must have been really fun for you to be able to play for an audience of some kind. Is it very different for you to play without a real audience present?
Yeah, it is different because normally you would have all those people cheering and shouting for you, giving you some kind of response. (laughs) It’s kind of strange to not have that, it feels more as if you’re performing for a music video shooting when you do performance video shoots, it’s more like that.
Do you have to rehearse for that in a different way?
It’s quite the same actually. You try to imagine the people being there, so the way we are acting on stage and everything, it’s the same.
Are you planning to play some new songs during the virtual concert?
Yes of course, because it’s the release day and the show is also for the release, so of course we will be playing some new songs. Some of which we have already released as videos and singles, some that no one has heard before.
Are you nervous to play them because you won’t get feedback straight away from the fans?
Of course, we are pretty nervous (laughs), because usually you can test those songs in front of an audience during the festivals; so before the actual release day you can play them live and like see how the crowd reacts, which we are lacking now this time; so this is pretty hard for us.
How did you decide on the songs you are going to play live? Was there a certain thing about them that you thought would make a great song to play live?
Some songs were easy to choose, for example, the title song “Das Elfte Gebot” [Eng: The 11th Commandment], those were quite clear that we’d like to play them. Others are just some favorite songs that we like very much and we want to play live.
You are releasing your new album “Das Elfte Gebot” in a couple of weeks; how are you feeling about the release?
Yeah, we’re all pretty nervous actually. It’s a lot of work that is put into such a release with the recording, writing, and everything, now it’s coming closer; the final date… Right now we start getting nervous about it (laughs).
You have released a couple of singles now, how have the reactions been so far?
Yeah totally. We are very curious about the reactions to each song because all the singles we’ve released so far have been really different from each other. We started with the release of “Metfest,” a live video, which we recorded on our last tour. It’s the most FEUERSCHWANZ-like song that people would expect to come from us, so that was what people would expect from us. It was an easy start. Then we had “Das Elfte Gebot,” the title track, which is pretty different from what people usually see from us, because it’s more serious, more mature, even kind of melancholic in a way. We shot this video already last year, which is the only reason why we were able to release so many videos, because we’ve been working on those already last summer and last autumn. I totally liked that video already last year and I was curious about how people would react to it. The reactions were very positive overall, that was a huge relief.
The cover song, “I See Fire,” was originally planned for release much later. It was already recorded last year, but we wanted to release it later this summer. With corona and us not being able to play live, we had a huge gap in between, so we decided to come out with it a bit earlier and yeah, it was interesting because it was the first English song we’ve ever released and the first cover. Most people were very positive about the track as well because they like the original and they like what we made out of it. It was also the song that brought us to the TV show last weekend, which was very interesting. Yesterday we released “Ding,” another cover song. Have you seen the video already?
Actually no! I’ve seen all the other ones, though. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
It’s the most crazy video we have ever done. We had so much fun recording it and shooting the material. It’s really funny. The video is also going through the roof right now, it hit 100,000 views already yesterday and it’s trending on YouTube right now and everything, it’s the craziest song musically and also visually.
I need to check it out then. Talking about the covers, how did you decide on what songs you were going to cover?
It was actually a long process because we were discussing which band member likes which songs and everyone was able to propose some songs, but we’re all coming from very different backgrounds musically, so if someone proposed a song others would be like oh cool, the rest would be like oh are you serious? So, we have a pretty interesting mixture of different styles, which we interpreted all in our own way with folk rock instruments. That was a big challenge for us, but we really enjoyed working on those very different songs. “Ding,” the song we released yesterday, is from a German reggae hip-hop band.
How do you usually start working on those arrangements? You have to at least have some kind of a vision about how you are planning to make the song sound like a folk song?
It depends on where you start with the song. We try to pick songs that have some kind of melody that could be picked up by our instruments. You have to keep the original arrangement because of legal reasons, so we try to see or find spots where we could fill in those instruments, which was very different for each song because with “Gott Mitt Uns,” for example, the SABATON cover, we picked up parts of the riff to play on the violin. I like that very, very much. For other songs like “Engel,” we started with a version that was pretty close to the original but then we found out that it just didn’t work for us, putting the electric guitars from the beginning. It sounded like just a worse copy of the original. We had to restart from scratch and now it’s totally different, more instrumental, so yeah, it was a different process for each song.
In general, how do your own songs come together? Are you composing them all together or is there someone who is the main songwriter?
The main songwriters in our band are Prinz Hodenherz, the big blonde singer, and Hans der Aufrechte, our guitar player. Those two work pretty closely together. One comes forward with an idea, gives it to the other one, and they give it back and forth all the time until they have an idea. Then it goes to the studio and to the rest of the band, and yeah, it’s produced. Those two work together very much, but everyone can put in some ideas, so our other singer he comes forward with ideas for lyrics, I put in one idea for a melody in “Mission Eskalation,” the violin part is my idea, so we have different people coming forward with small ideas, but the main work is done by two people.
What was the creative process like when recording the album?
Simon, our producer, he lives pretty close to where we live, so we can come to the studio just for a few days and then go back home again, so it’s not like everyone living together in the studio, but each band member can come over there, record his part, go home overnight and come back the next day. It’s easier this way because the whole band doesn’t have to come together at the same time. We’ve been working with him for quite a while, it’s very nice, it’s very relaxed.
Most of your lyrics are in German; what can you tell international fans about the themes in the songs?
One of the most important things that I have to translate a lot to international fans, I’ve been asked often now, is met. It’s mead, honey wine. Many international listeners didn’t understand the word, so “Metfest” is a mead party, a fest where you come together and drink mead and party. This is something that comes up quite a lot in different lyrics.
“Meister der Minne” is the first song of the album, it’s a song about a knight who goes out to fight and is very convinced he’s super cool and a big hero. It’s kind of meant as a comedy song because he’s singing about how cool he is, how awesome he is, and that he can melt the hearts of many people with this song.
“Das Eflte Gebot,” the title track, is translated as the eleventh commandment. It’s a serious song, not a party song, but it’s about living life to its fullest, right now, not later. That’s also kind of the message of the band itself, but in a more serious way.
Then, “Kampfzwerg,” which is translated as a fighting dwarf or a dwarf warrior, is about dwarfs just being epic under the earth and drinking beer and hammering around and doing dwarf things. Actually, the lyrics are pretty funny as well, but the music is also very cool, it has very hard riffs, I’m picking up with the riffs on the violin as well, so I like the music mixture on that one.
Then, there is “Mission Eskalation“; that one is also just a party song about escalating and dancing wildly and things like that. “Im Bauch des Wals” is a big rock song, but also a very serious song. We also did a video for this song, which is going to be released this summer or in autumn. It’s about the trash in the sea and all the fishes eating it, it’s inside their bellies. It’s pretty hard to explain what it’s about, but it deals with ecological themes.
Afterwards, there’s “Totentanz,” which I think it’s the most interesting song musically because the riffs are very heavy. It’s very different for us because this song was written by our guitar player and it has almost thrash metal guitar riffs. That one is the most interesting music-wise, it was the first song that was written for the album, written already in December 2018, when we were touring for the last album, “Methämmer.” Our guitar player had to stay at home because he was expecting his second child; he wasn’t able to come on tour with us. He was kind of excited because of the birth of his child, but also sad and angry that he couldn’t be with us, so he went down to the cellar and recorded some guitars and that was what came out. It’s very emotional, in a way.
Then we have “Schildmeid,” which is a song about strong Viking female fighters. It’s a song about all the girls that aren’t acting like princesses waiting at home for their prince to come, but instead are fighting on the frontline themselves. It’s a song I like pretty much myself actually.
Then I think the last song is “Lords of Powermet,” which brings us back to the mead. It’s just a very funny song, powermet is very strong mead, if you drink it you become super strong and yeah, very epic.
Your lyrics are often tongue-in-cheek. To me, it feels like Germans, in particular, put a lot of detail in their lyrics. Take, for instance, RAMMSTEIN – the lyrics are a very important factor in the songs. Why do you think that is?
I’m not sure actually. I think the most important thing is that the song works, understanding the lyrics and without. The music should always speak for itself, which is also the case of RAMMSTEIN, so you can like the songs and celebrate them even if you don’t exactly understand what they’re about, but there’s a lot more depth when you understand the lyrics of course.
Now that you’ve experimented with tracks in English do you think you guys might have some more English songs?
I don’t think so actually. We’re just experimenting with it and it was very interesting. In “Lords of Powermet,” we also put in one English line, I don’t know if you noticed it. The guys were just starting to experiment with that, but I don’t think they will write full songs in English, but we will see, we don’t know what comes out of their mind, so…
The title of the album is “Das Elfte Gebot” or “The Eleventh Commandment”; why did you guys pick that specific song as a title track and what does its title mean to you? Did the current situation of the world have any influence cause when you described what the song is about it kind of felt very appropriate for this time?
The funny thing about it is that we had recorded and written the song much much earlier. We filmed the video for it already last year, so it is a total coincidence that we released it now during corona times. We already knew before it would be the title song because we think it kind of sums up the message of the band: live life now to the fullest, death may be waiting tomorrow. This is maybe a coincidence, but it’s also how our life is working, you know, the situation is like this now – we didn’t know this before, but yeah, it’s kind of like we saw this coming last year without realizing it, so it’s pretty interesting for us.
If you compare this album to your previous ones, how would you say the sound has developed?
The sound has gotten much harder and more metal-like. We started as a neo-folk group, with much more folky elements. The songwriting process developed over the years. On this album, our guitar player had much more of an influence and yeah, gave more guitar impact on the songs and I think that’s what you also hear a lot that we dare to go more metal and a bit different folky. We also experimented with this already on the last album, like bringing in the violin playing along with traditional guitar riffs, for example; this is something we started on the last album and which we developed further now, so we kind of changed the songwriting process and also the sound was developed further.
Lastly, do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans/our readers?
It’s an exciting time for all of us, especially now that we can’t play live. We are still looking forward to the release of “Das Elfte Gebot” and how it will come to life in a few weeks. You should check out our video “Ding,” it’s really, really cool!
Written by Laureline Tilkin