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dinsdag 08 januari 2008
Le Grand Guignol: Something is Art when it inspires me to be creative.

Interview with vocalist/lyricist Philip Breuer by Vera on November 27th, 2007

One moment – seemingly out of nowhere – a CD in a beautiful package was dropped in my letterbox. I did not know that this enchanting blend of black metal, symphonic and theatrical elements and ingenious skilfulness on their instruments would soon leave me speechless about so much charming innovation in 2007. ‘The Great Maddening’ ended up high in my list of the year. Before even thinking about lists, I arranged an interview with the band and had some fine contacts with vocalist/lyricist Philip Breuer through We were prepared and looked forward to our conversation. Do I need to tell you that it turned into a very hearty conversation? Read and check it out…

You are from Luxembourg. Where exactly is your home base?
I am from Esch-sur-Alzette in the South.

But you live in Germany now I guess?
Yeah, I live in Karlsruhe for eleven years now. Because I came here for studies, but when I finished studies I decided to stay here, so I am still here.

Indeed, and that’s where the album is recorded…
Yeah Patrick (Damiani – another member and besides bass, guitar and orchestration he was involved in the recording process) is also from Luxembourg, also from Esch-sur-Alzette and he also stayed in Karlsruhe.

And Yves, also one of the core members, is he from Luxembourg?
Yes, Yves, one of the founding members, still lives in Luxembourg. He stayed there; he did not study in Germany. We are pretty much spread over Europe now, because our bassist lives in Hamburg and our drummer also in Luxembourg. It is difficult to meet.

Yeah, not that much rehearsals I guess…
Not at all, actually.

How are you going to do that in a live situation then?
We don’t know yet. Usually when we played concerts, we had rehearsal the day before the concert. But I think for the new material, if we will play live, that will be a problem because the material is much more complicated to play. So we really need some rehearsals. But anyway, for now no concerts are planned so we still have time to figure out how we will do it.

And now you are focused on the release, promotion and see what the album does, I guess…
Indeed, that’s true, if nobody is interested in seeing us live, there is no need to play live.

How did it all start actually?
It started long time ago when I met Patrick at school, like fifteen years ago I guess. We became close friends and we shared the same musical interests. By chance he won a guitar at the fair and he learned how to play guitar. We said, okay you play the guitar, I will try to sing. Of course our first tries were really bad, but still we had fun. For both of us, the fun did not last long because we needed someone else to play along with us, because just guitar and vocals is a bit boring. By chance we got to meet Yves in a pub and after some drinking and some talking; we discovered he had the same interests as we have, let’s do something together. Back then, he was also playing guitar, so we had two guitarists and one singer, but this is of course still not really a band, so one of them also played drums to record some demos and basic stuff. Then we got to know our drummer (Michel Spithoven) who played in a Luxembourg band which was famous for us because it was a proper band and we asked to join us. He agreed, so that was really good for us. Then we were something like a band and composed songs, in 1999 we recorded our first album. It was in the same studio as now, but back then it did not belong to Patrick but to someone else. It had a different name. Patrick also played bass there because we did not have a bassist yet, which we found shortly after the recordings, we found a drum and bass player who also liked our musical ideas (Ingo Merten). That’s how the band came together and there are still the same five people. We never had a line-up problems or stupid things going on, we are really close friends and we respect each other.

That is quite unique…
Maybe, I don’t know. We are not so egoistic about certain things. We know that we have to work together if we want a good result. I think we are mature enough to realize that.

But initially the band was called Vindsval and you made a record called ‘Imperium Grotesque’…
When we started we were much more interested in the Edda and northern mythology of the Vikings. We chose the name from the Edda which is the north mythology book, so to say, and we chose the name Vindsval which is the name for the father of winter, he’s called Vindsval. We liked the name very much, so adopted it but quickly after our first demo we were not really that much interested in this topic anymore because it restricted us. We could not be free anymore to make our music, because if you play this kind of music, it is kind of restricted. We did not want to play this music anymore, but still we kept the name because we liked the name. Under that name we recorded the ‘Imperium Grotesque’ album. But now as the new album was about to come out, we said “Hey, we have to change the name because people who are looking for Viking or pagan metal, if they listen to our music they will be really disappointed or even angry because they do not get what they think they’ll get. Le Grand Guignol gives us the total artistic freedom we need, you can interpret it in many ways, it was the perfect change and it was also the right moment to do it.

The album came out at Maddening Media. Is that your own label?
Yes, I run the label. I made myself independent after my studies. I had the choice, either I’d become a construction engineer but I did not like it. I opted to become independent and try a label, so this is the first release on my label.

And are you going to do other bands as well?
Yes, yes, of course. Some things are planned. So it is not just a label created for this release but it is like… by coincidence the first release was my own band. But quite soon some new bands will come out.

Then you have to look for distribution as well…
(sighs) I am still looking for it. It is really tough these days because the music industry is not doing that good. Especially metal music is all dominated by a few big labels, like Nuclear Blast…

Indeed they are recruiting everybody these days. Korpiklaani is popular and here they go, they are signed by NB…
Their quality is good, so I cannot say anything negative about Nuclear Blast, but still it makes it very difficult for smaller labels to gain distribution deals, because they say: hey, we get everything from the big label twice, why should your music be better than theirs and it is really hard to convince them. So I am still looking for distributors in some countries, but I am very happy to have one for the Benelux countries and Germany…

Rock Inc. indeed they have been around for a long time and they know what they are doing…
I hope so (sighs)

I hope too! But of course the name Le Grand Guignol implicates an interest in books, theatre, art, classical music and so on…
Yes, that’s true, everybody of us of course has his own preferences, but I am very much interested in art. I cannot say I have got a favourite artist or so, but I like being impressed by things and that’s what I think make art special. Something is art when it inspires me to become creative myself and that’s what I really like. So I often go to smaller cinemas or even theatres or museums, lots of my friends are artists, so that’s why I have got the opportunity to see a lot of things. I like being impressed by creative minds of other people, so this has a lot of impact on my creativity as well, indeed. And as for Yves, he is our main songwriter, he is very much into classical music. That’s also a reason why there are so many classical influences on the album. He is really into it. He is not really that much into metal.

Yes, I hear it when he is playing piano… more classical influences…
Yes, he really learned how to play the piano and the guitar and now even cello he is learning, so he comes from a completely different direction. Patrick is also an autodidactic metalhead, so to say…

But you are the man of the lyrics, I think…
Yeah, that’s me.

Can you tell a bit more about them?
(laughs) Well, of course I can. Actually the album has got a quite strong name. It sounds like it has to be a concept album but it is not really a concept album. Although most of the parts are circling around the main idea, which is madness of course. This madness is not about crazy people, but the madness you get when you try to reach another level. If you try to become better and better, trying to reach your limits, sometimes your sanity is in danger by your thriving to become the best one. It is also a great influence by Günter Stolz for example, the German writer. And of course, Goethe's Faust. You have to give up something to reach another level to gain something more. Lots of the lyrics deal with this, with this craving for more to reach another level. Trying to reach another level, physically or mentally, it does not matter, getting a stronger body for example like myself now, can drive you mad if it does not work out like I wanted it to be. Sometimes you want to improve your intellect, you want to understand things which you cannot understand at first point and it makes you mad. This is what lots of the album is about.

The longing for being perfect actually… in any kind of sense…
More or less yeah. And unfortunately the protagonists who have to live in my lyrics are always unlucky (laughs). They always kill themselves. They end up always in a bad way.

Isn’t it strange that failure always inspires musicians?

A reviewer always thinks about other bands to get some comparisons, maybe not that pleasant for you…
I am not mad if anybody tells me “hey you sound like this” but what is funny is that it should be impossible that we should sound like anybody else because the one who writes our music does not listen to metal music. I did some interviews before and they were surprised to hear that the one who actually wrote the music does not know Arcturus and he does not know Devildoll for example. I did not know Devildoll myself, but somebody told me that my vocals are like his. Of course I knew Arcturus, but I did not write the music, so…

Do you know Winds?
No, I read it in your review. Apparently you said that someone of Arcturus plays in Winds, so I think I have to listen to it, because I like Arcturus a lot. I definitely have to check them out.

There are also contacts with Falkenbach?
Yes, that is because when we were still named Vindsval, we had a contract with his label. He is not only a band, but he has also a label, called Skaldic Art Productions. Over the years we really became good friends with him. So, one day, when he wanted to record a new album, he needed a clean guitarist, he needed a drummer and he needed a vocalist to do the scream vocals. Of course he asked us because we were his closest friends. That’s how we came on the record. But we are all great Falkenbach fans, so it was really an honour for us to do this. We did it twice actually, for two albums.

And what is the link with Rivendell?
Rivendell recorded in the same studio and on one of their albums also our drummer plays. Patrick, our guitarist plays also some guitars on it, I think. The album was called ‘Elven Tears’ (2003).

And there is also a link with Umbra Et Imago I think?
Yes, but this link is not that important. Patrick helps them out live on guitar, he is not like a band member or something, it is just that he enjoys touring with them and playing with them live because their guitarist got married or something, I don’t know exactly.

You can download the album on your site, isn’t that eh… stupid?
(laughs) But you have to pay for it. At first we did not want to make the album available as MP3’s because it destroys the product. I still like a CD with the booklet. But there are so many, especially young people into this MP3 and downloading stuff, so we thought “Hey, let’s go to ITunes and give them the possibility to download it”.

The artwork is very beautiful and made by our Belgian artist Kris Verwimp…
He did it a few years ago already, I think he never expected that the album would really come out. Because I think he made it for us in 2002. We started recording the album in 2000. It’s been a long road. There were many things in between that did not work out. We had to re-record the album two or three times, because we got better. Our playing capabilities got better; our equipment got better; so we had to record it again and all over again. But now we are satisfied (laughs).

The sound is amazing, the production is top notch!
I will tell Patrick, he will be happy. (smiles)

Oh yes and the mastering was done in Belgium!
Yeah indeed. I think it was in February or March when we came to Belgium to Galaxy Studios to master it. We had this great product and we only wanted the best mastering. I really think the Galaxy is among the best studios, even worldwide.

Otherwise Manowar should not come over to that place, I think they are pretty much perfectionists as well…
Yeah they are and apparently they are really, really nice guys because we spoke to the woman who did the mastering for us and just one week before we came, Manowar was there for their new album. And apparently they are such nice guys, not like that image of macho guys, but intelligent, calm guys. It is just their image, you know.

In one song you still hear some folk and Viking influences, in ‘Lucilinburhuc’.
That is actually the oldest song on the album. It is the only song with Luxembourg lyrics. We thought “hey, what the Norwegians can do, we can do as well” (laughs) But even though the title looks very nationalistic, it is not a nationalistic song. We really don’t want to have to do anything with that. It is just a song for Luxembourg’s fans and a sing along song for Luxembourg people.

Who inspired you as a vocalist?
I think the one who got me into this whole metal thing was James Hetfield from Metallica, because I was a huge fan of him. I still like his voice, but nowadays their new music does not interest me anymore. James Hetfield was a big star for me. Because of Metallica I wanted to have a band. So maybe it was him, though my vocal style is far away from his (laughs). And later I was very much impressed by Satyr from Satyricon. I like his black metal voice, for me he has the nicest black metal voice in the whole business. And they kept on developing, they might upset the fans, but they just do what they want, always something different and I like that.

But you use a lot of variations in your voice…
But still, I have to learn a lot because in future I want to improve my clean vocals, because I don’t want to scream the whole time. The music is so diverse, with so many musical colours; I also want my voice to grow better. I really want to sing more clean stuff on future albums.

You have a videoclip of ‘Madness And Her Thousand Young’. Can you tell something about the making of this video?
Actually it was a very spontaneous idea to do this video. We had no intention to make a videoclip, because we did not think about doing one. But one day the singer of Umbra Et Imago, where Patrick plays live, said to Patrick: “Hey, I can give you the opportunity to shoot a videoclip at a certain location.” We thought, well, let’s go and check it out. It was an old military basis in Germany in the woods with some bunkers and stuff. It was a nice location. And also the people who worked at this military camp, they had got a special effects company, so they had lots of lights and equipment. So all we had to do was to hire a cameraman, a camera and shoot the video.

That’s a great opportunity…
Yeah, we had about two days to think of it and decide what to do. Very quickly we let everybody come to Germany to take part in the video, but unfortunately Yves could not be there. But until now nobody has noticed that he is not in the video clip (laughs). We had a very rough story: a bit live, you see the band playing, and a small story going on which is actually an artist going crazy, going mad because he does not reach his goals. The actor who plays the artist IS an artist and what you see is a part of his work when he was younger.

The man with the bottle of red wine?
Yes, he was drunk in the end, because he had to keep himself warm with wine. Poor guy. The clip was a kind of spontaneous try out, but we also had a director, he made the editing afterwards so he knew already how to cut stuff. All the people who worked on the video did it for free, which was really good for us because usually a clip is expensive. So we were lucky.

Did all the material you have written end up on the record or do you have a large amount of pieces that will be used in future?
No, not really. There are some more ideas which we did not use on this album, even some great melodies but I think they will not be used in future. I think we start something really new now. Stuff that was not used now is lost. We don’t use it anymore. Because already for this one, we used very old material, there are some parts of the songs on this album that are ten years old. You don’t hear it because it is mixed with new stuff and things, but now we really want to make a cut and start from the beginning. We want the next album to be a concept album, so we have to be focused and very straight to the point.

Then you have to write a story. Do you have already an idea?
(smiles enigmatic) Yeah, I have got many ideas, but I won’t tell them yet, because maybe I will change my mind later and then it looks stupid (laughs).

But I hope it won’t take too long…
No, no. This time I promise it won’t take so long as it took last time, because it was awful for us. We almost got mad.

Did you ever send the album to a label?
No, we never wanted to sign a contract with anyone else. If we would sign a contract with a bigger label, we would also be forced to bring out an album every eighteen months for example or we have to play concerts. We don’t want that pressure. We want to have the freedom to be creative whenever we want to and however we want to. That’s why we never wanted to sign a deal. Now we signed one, but with myself (laughs)

Can you tell a bit more about the name Le Grand Guignol?
The name itself means the big buffoon. Buffoon is like a puppet where you stick your hand in for the children. Actually it was a theatre in Paris. It opened its doors at the end of the nineteenth century. There they played very strange horror plays. Naturalistic avant-garde plays which were something new for that time. It was very daring, very fin-de-siècle you know. The whole mood among the people was quite anxious because there were so many things going on. There was the beginning of a new century with the industrialization which had reached its climax. So the people were insecure. This theatre pointed it out by showing these weird and grotesque plays. They found the nerve of the people, they did something new. I liked this idea very much and that is why I adopted this name as well for our band. To do something new, just to be something special and of course for me the name sounds good, I think it has some elegance in it, that’s why we chose this name. And of course because it is related to arts, artistic freedom, plays, visual performances,… I know lots of artists.

Does that live in Karlsruhe? Is there a kind of scene?
No, not really. Maybe there is a scene but then I am not part of it. So I don’t know. It is not bound to Karlsruhe. I know people from around the world so to say. I did a lot of travelling last year, because I finished my university and said: “Hey, now I am going to travel around the world” and it was good to get some inspirations from other continents and stuff. That’s great.

And which culture and continent impressed you mostly?
Japan especially. It was really great. And I got to know my girlfriend there, so of course I liked it (laughs). But she is Korean, she is not Japanese. I was five weeks there in Japan, just with a backpack and of course I booked the hotels upfront because I don’t know how to speak Japanese, but I really travelled through the whole country, all the cities, met a lot of people and it was really interesting. It really changed my life, it made me become more calm, more respectful towards other people, it made me… adult, so to say. I am now thirty years old but still it helped me to get over this point. When I finished my studies, I was still a student: drinking and having fun and things like that. But when I made this trip to Japan, it was like… wow, this is something really new; something really touched me. So it was really impressive for me.

Philip asked me if I had been to Luxembourg. Oh yeah, many times. I am very surprised to hear I did some famous walking in the mountains he never did. He explains:
When I go back to Luxembourg I am more like a tourist than a native Luxembourg because I moved from there when I was eighteen years old. I was a child when I lived there. So whenever I go now with my girlfriend, I go as a tourist. I will go to castles… and we really have to go to Petit Suisse, you are right.

We talked about travelling and the German scene for a while. This was a very fine conversation with a talented and friendly musician. I still cherish ‘The Great Maddening’ and in the meantime it has ended up in my top 10 list of 2007. I am looking forward to hear from them and from every issue on the label!

Geplaatst door Vera op dinsdag 08 januari 2008 - 22:56:05
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