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23.02.2006. SAMAEL, Vorph 1

 

TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE

This interview with Vorph of Samael was done by phone by Audrey Dujardin on February 23rd, 2006.

After being worshipped as one of the precursors of black metal as we know it and after becoming THE reference of industrial black metal with their album PASSAGE in 1996, Samael have turned into a myth in the metal scene Europe wide. The band likes to cultivate its mysterious decorum by going by pseudonyms and it's originality by emphasizing alternative stage performances including stand-up drumming, a simple imagery and above all a high-quality lights show with every concert. A year and a half after the release of Reign of Light, Samael ties bonds once more with old time label Century Media to release their experimental side project Era One. These words were spoken by Vorph just several days after the release.

Hi there are you calling from home?
Yeah I’m home.

I don’t know if Chris (Mas) told you who I write for, have you heard of Tartarean Desire?
Yeah I know them, I go there sometimes.

I had tried to interview you in Lausanne when I was at the gig a couple weeks ago, but since that was the last date on the tour and since your family was there I didn’t want to disturb you at the end of the show, I saw that you guys were all busy… I’ll use the same questions that I had brought that day…
OK

My first few questions are about the tour. So how was the return from the tour?
Well it was really easy going, it was a one month tour. We had already done a tour to promote Reign of Light in 2004, and this was just a bonus tour. There were some people who came to see us who had already seen us, and some who hadn’t the first time since they didn’t make the effort to come.

Has anything particular happened on that tour?
No, everything went as planned. It’s always like that, when a tour goes well, there’s really nothing to tell.

How did the Obituary crowd react to Samael?
I don’t think the audience is that different a priori, but it’s true that it’s still not the same. Some people came for us and some people came for Obituary, those we tried to convince. One could however sense that they were a little skeptical at first, but half way through the shows you could tell that something was happening in some of them, and that was great.

How about the Samael crowd, were they seduced by Obituary?
Look, I remember buying their first album when it came out, and I really liked it! So…

And why didn’t Obituary finish the tour with you?
You mean the Lausanne date? That was just an extra date, it wasn’t really part of the tour. And because we finished the tour in Ludwigsburg in Germany, we went home for one night and then did the gig in Lausanne.

That’s that for the questions about the tour, my next questions are more about Samael in general. The next question is for you in particular. Is it deliberate for you to sing in English with a French accent?
I didn’t know I had a French accent… I’ve already heard people say that I have a German accent, but obviously it’s not done on purpose.

And that really makes you unique and gives you a trademark, which is why I asked the question. There are some parts in French on the album Passage, why don’t you write some more lyrics in French?
That has never appealed to me, really. Among all the albums that I listened to at the time, I have never listened to any French bands, except maybe Trust. That’s just not my culture, not my affinities, it doesn’t speak to me.

To get back to what defines Samael as a band, has is ever been problem for you not to perform with a complete drum set? I mean that’s part of what defines Samael, but was that ever a problem live?
That’s possible. We had been warned when we decided to do things that way, by our label and our management. They said that in the studio it would be ok, but for the live part we should find something else. We thought about it but were pretty confident, that’s where we wanted to go, that’s what we wanted to try. So after that of course some people want to see a drummer, for them it’s important, it’s the rock and roll spirit, you need Marshall amps and a double bass drum kit, why not, but that’s not our way of doing things.

But that’s alright because your way of doing things live works anyways since your brother (Xy) has his own stage gimmicks…
Well we did add some percussions in addition to the programmed drums in the live shows. We even spoke of going a little further, no really setting up a drum kit, then again, it’s not impossible that we’d even do that one day, but that particular formula works for us.

I had heard a lot of people talk about the last album (Reign of Light). And many people compare that to Rammstein. I don’t really agree, but of course, you did work with Stephen Glaumann. What did you answer to that?
He only mixed the album. It doesn’t bother me that much. I don’t think they’re an influence, and I don’t think that there’s that much in common. But we wanted to work with Stephen for a long time. I remember liking what he did with Peace Love and Pitbulls , with Clawfinger… We didn’t think that he’d be accessible. We though that he’d be very expensive and very selective, but in the end, he’s not cheap, but it went really well.

But did that give the album a Rammstein touch anyway? Do you have fans in common? Did you gain some Rammstein fans?
Honestly I don’t know. I know that we played with them here in Switzerland…

At the Paleo Festival…
But I don’t think there’s a link… We also played with them in Germany several times, 2 festivals… There were discussions between us to tour together 5 years ago. But I don’t think that it’s the same…

Well I agree with you but a lot of people say that you sound like Rammstein, the electronic beat, the Germanic tone…
I wouldn’t say Germanic I’d say martial…

 

I’m going to ask you a completely different question now. Don’t you find it ironic that the band is called Samael and that you live in Sion?
I had never really thought about that! Look, it was more by chance. I explain that when people ask me the question, it was like love at first sight with that name. I can’t explain it. I had many books at the time that were dealing with things like that and I wash brushing through them. And when I found the name I just thought ‘that’s it!’. That’s how it happened. It presented itself to me. And then the more I read about the different significations the name had the more I thought it fit. The way it sounded was important to me. It’s like Vorphalack, that didn’t mean anything, but it sounds nice in my ears.

But at the time you had those long names you and your brother, and now you changed them to something shorter…
Well that’s because people called us that so we kept it that way.

Speaking of your brother, can you tell me more about his solo album, ‘Xytras Passage’ where he plays the songs from the Samael album Passage on the piano. What sort of impact did that album have? Why did he make it?
I don’t know about the impact it had. Most people talk to him about it. In the beginning he had worked on two or three tracks for himself. He had the midi piano parts, and he rearranged them and made us listen to the results and we encouraged him. We said it was great and pushed him into releasing a mini album, maybe a maxi, and when he had enough for a whole album he released it.

And about Era One, I had listened to it about a year ago, a friend of yours sent it to me as a curiosity, and the first time I heard that it reminded me a lot of Xytras Passage. I was wondering if that album was composed a little in the same way, that you composed it for fun and only decided to release it afterwards? How did that happen?
Well that happened at a time when we didn’t have a guitarist. Our label was asking us for a new album, and we didn’t feel like working on Samael tracks. At the time when we started working with programmed drums, it sort of opened a door to all the possibilities that we had with that approach. So there were all these alternatives that we could explore. So we thought ‘why not, it’s now or never’, so we tried that, without knowing where we were going really, and that’s why the album lacks cohesion, in some respects. It’s going a little here and there, we didn’t have any real guidelines, we let ourselves do any and everything. Yeah we thought the album would be released, but when we understood that Century (Media) was going to keep it in a drawer somewhere for a while we thought it’s time to move on. We worked on it some more since then, that was the idea, right before it came out, at the end of last year. We remixed it.

Ah ok… Because I thought Century Media wasn’t going to release it at all…
They didn’t take it seriously. They didn’t care about the project. They said ‘this isn’t a Samael album’. We explained to them that it was a project, and they answered that they could care less about it. We had discussions because we wanted it to come out as ‘Era One’ obviously, without any connection to Samael, but for contract reasons that wasn’t possible. But I’m glad that we had time to introduce it to people and explain what it as about. So far I haven’t heard anyone feel cheated about it. We explained to everyone that it was a project, something different, and the people who made the effort to listen to it, they like it or they don’t, it’s up to them, but so far no one thinks it’s a new Samael album, so for me the message went through.

And it’s going to be released through Regain, right?
No, it has already been released! It was released on Century (Media) who changed their mind about it and that’s the reason why we remixed it. It was released 2 weeks ago.

Oh sorry I misunderstood…. Last year I was told that they didn’t want to release it at all, so I assumed that the release was going to be done by someone else, and I got confused on the release date, I thought it was coming out at the end of the month…
It was released as double, with an instrumental album of electronic music.

Was it by you too?
Yes, it was by Xy only. It could have been a second Xytras in the sense that he was given full latitude to do what he wanted. But it’s very different. Personally I prefer that to Era One, because I’m less used to listening to it, and it’s playing non stop in my car player these days. It’s not really what I’d call background music, but it’s more like ambiance music.

Yeah I know what you mean… I play that record when I’m painting actually… So you told me that you explain to people that this isn’t Samael as you know it, so how about the general public, and the press, have you had any feedback on that?
No yet. A few messages, but in general it’s quite positive. We haven’t really had any bad reviews yet.

I think people might be surprised if they didn’t know that it’s a one-off project.
I thought the message went through… For now it seems that the message went though.

In 1997 I bought a book in the USA called the ‘Collector’s guide to heavy metal’. And in that book there was a promotional CD from Century Media. That book was like a dictionary and the author, Martin Popoff reviewed hundreds of records in that book. And in that promotional CD, were all the great classics of the time, Moonspell, the Gathering… And there was the song ‘Rain’ by Samael. Do you think that this American promotion that Century Media did had any impact for Samael?
Honestly I don’t know. I didn’t even know that they released it. Look, it’s probably good for us, there was probably a deal between Century Media and the guy who wrote the book. But I didn’t know about that.

So you aren’t on Century Media any more…
No but ironically, we’re not with them anymore, but we just released something with them… It’s a little strange…

Yeah.. And speaking about that, I imagine that a lot of things have changed now that you are on Regain?
Look, a lot of things changed. Especially our relationship with people. Because in the beginning, we were mainly having problems with the management of Century (Media) in Europe. And now that it’s not the same people anymore, it’s easier. Still, we don’t regret leaving the label. At that time, it wasn’t possible (to continue cooperation) for us anymore.

OK… So what did Regain provide you with that Century Media didn’t?
Well he’s the only ones who let us do our album. He gave us a budget anyway, he didn’t ask us what we wanted to do, he didn’t ask for a demo or anything. So it allowed us to release an album. We had other offers, but because there were issues with our contract with Century (Media) no one else wanted to take the risk. So it was our chance.

So is this a one album contract?
Yes

So what are you going to do now?
Now? I don’t know… We’re going to start working on a new album. And then we’ll see. When we have new songs, we’ll present them.

So you’re open to business?
We’ll see. We signed for 2 albums, with Nuclear Blast in the USA, so logically they should make us an offer for Europe. It would almost be logical for us to go with them. But I don’t know. We’ll see what else it out there.

Nuclear Blast, that’s not too bad, especially in Europe!
Yeah in Europe it’s great.

OK on another note, I’d like to talk about a less fun episode in the media life of Samael, I’m talking about the time when you were invited to famous French radio and TV host Arthur’s radio show in 2005 and he made fun of Samael and the whole genre and community of metal. Please tell me what kept you from walking up to him and breaking his face. I don’t know how you could stand him.
We weren’t in the same room.

That’s the only reason?
Uh-hu.

Yeah because you guys stayed really polite. I admire you self control.
Well we didn’t know that they were talking while we were playing, and it was more or less the atmosphere of the show, letting loose, acting silly, but I’m happy to see that there was a real reaction from the people. There are many people who sent emails and called up to complain. I’m not talking about him personally, but of the people on his team, it’s true that they were insulting to the metal community. But there was a real reaction. So the next day, they called me back. They didn’t actually apologize, but they tried to make amends.

I wanted to know how you and the rest of the band react when the public and the press always compare new electro and industrial metal albums to ‘Passage’. It seems that that album has become a reference in the genre…
Well people talk a lot about Passage. We’d like to do something that has such an impact. But it’s true that we feel like people are still dwelling on that album. The next one went sort of un noticed, because (it came out) at a bad time, or I dunno… Thankfully some people know that we did a new album, because at some point I was thinking that ‘Eternal’ went completely unnoticed. It was only the people that have been listening to us since the beginning who knew that we had an album after ‘Passage’. So that may mean that we have to do something stronger to have an impact on people.

Well it’s still a compliment to Samael that people think that Passage is a reference in the genre…
Of course it’s a compliment, but it’s still the past. So you feel like telling people ‘it’s time to move on’.

On ‘Reign of Light’, you picked ‘Telepath’ to make a video. How come? Who picked it?
It was my decision… Uh… Well first we did the single. Because it was a small budget and because there it no real marketing plan, saying ‘first there’ll be the single and then this….’ It was more one thing after the other. We worked on the single without knowing that there would be a video clip, and then when the single came out and when the album came out, they asked us for a video clip. So we thought it was logical. I had some ideas for that song and it happened in one day in Sweden, so it was relatively quickly done. And I even seized the occasion to do some promotion there too. So in the end the video clip ends on our second single, which means that there really no plan on how to market the album.

 

To my knowledge, in France, there are no such music clips on TV yet. Do you think that it will happen one day?
Look I don’t think that will happen unless there is a specialized program. I hear that in American there is the return of the Headbanger’s Ball, which we didn’t have in Europe for a very long time. I don’t know if they even have it on MTV in England. Unless there are specialized programs I don’t think that will happen before a very long time.

Well why not, the songs are a lot better produced than in the past and I’m sure it would appeal to a wider audience now…
Well if it happens, why not!

Do you have anything else to add about you future plans? Mas was telling me that you were working on some new material…
Well we’re working on it now. I have some lyrics, but noting definitive, Xy had 2 or 3 songs before the tour. Now he’s not happy anymore and wants to do it all over again. I don’t know where the project it at now. I still have heard nothing of what he did. But I think that within a week we’ll meet again to see what to do. But in general, it’s more or less each one works on his own and the we see what we bring.

Okay, so everyone composes, or is it more you and your brother?
Yeah it’s more that.

Are you going to collaborate with guests on the album?
Guests on our album? It’s possible… but we have no one in mind yet. But last time we had 2 guests, who weren’t planned in the beginning. Look, it depends on the direction the album takes, if we feel the need to have some one else, or if we make interesting encounters. But it’s not planned for now.

I have a last question to wrap this up. Samael have been around for what, 20 years?
Yeah, not exactly 20 years. But we’re getting there.

So, will you still be here in 5 years?
In 5 years? Look, I hope! It doesn’t look so far away! But there is an age when you still need to reconsider!

So what can we expect from Samael in 5 years?
Well I hope that we’ll have put out a new album by then!! I don’t know. Honestly, my real questions are about what we are going to do in the immediate future… How will the album sound, what will we put in it, apart from that there’s nothing in my head. It just takes all my time. Once we start it, I don’t have any long term projects.

Okay… I hope it lasts! Is there anything else that you would like to add that I way have forgotten to mention?
Look, I think we went over a bunch of things there…

Well thank you for taking the time.
My pleasure.

Hope to see you soon, I heard that you are going to play a gothic festival in Germany?
Yeah the Wave Gothik. I’m not sure what day yet. And there should also be some other concerts. But I don’t know much more for now.

Alright, well thanks again and have a great evening!
You too, ciao ciao.

 


Links of interest:

Samael
Regain Records

Read the article in its original context
here

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