With brand new album ‘Sacrificium’ just released and the rejuvenated band in town to perform tracks from it with a brand new singer and bassist, we had the opportunity to grab a quick interview with main songwriter and guitarist Marco Heubaum and ask him about it all. On reflection it’s kind of lucky he managed to get the band back here with a new album at all as change did not come without one hell of a lot of uncertainty and doubt.
AN: Firstly congratulations on the new album. You have played a few dates so far on the tour, how have they been?
Marco: Well we have many of the new songs on the set which have been fun to play but also challenging because they are more complex and sophisticated. It’s a step forward for us but it makes it interesting.
AN: There have been quite a few things happening between Neverworld’s End and Sacrificium with new bass player Steven Wussow and vocalist Dianne Van Giersbergen joining the band. Did previous members leaving come as a surprise?
Marco: [On Manuela leaving] It was a total surprise to us and we couldn’t do anything about it. She changed her mind about everything as she wanted to do something different. It was a bit strange for us but we had to accept her decision. Now we are very happy of course
AN: You have had numerous singers leave the fold during the band’s career. It must be quite a setback losing such an integral part of the band? How did Dianne come onto your radar and what qualities would you say she has brought? She is originally from Holland, is she still based there and has this caused any difficulties with rehearsing etc?
Marco: The important thing is something you don’t get to see as an outsider, the chemistry of the band and how you get together. We share a van or a tour bus for a long time and we just need to get along very well together. We have a very good sense of humour but the most important thing is respect. If someone has troubles the others respect it, something we didn’t have in the band all the time in the past. Now I think we have the best chemistry we have ever had with our two new members!
Dianne lives still in Holland but you know, even if Manuela lived in Germany she was further away than Dianne is. The boarder to the Netherlands is quite close to our rehearsal place about two hours drive and Manuela was in the very South of Germany which took about eight hours, so it’s actually a lot easier.
AN: That aside it has still just been a couple of years between albums and that is quite an accomplishment especially as ‘Sacrificium’ seems to be your most accomplished and ambitious album yet. Would you consider this to be the case?
Marco: Well I don’t see that much difference between ‘Neverworld’s End’ and the new album. Both have been quite challenging and ambitious and are very cinematic and we took a similar approach to things. After the albums before these we took a break and wanted to change things to a new sound that we all like more from what we did in the past. There was a musical concept and this was what we wanted to achieve. Ee worked hard on it and this album was the result This was the basis and we felt we could wander around on this and explore some new things and use that as the basis for the new album. It’s a little less pre-planned but it’s not that different actually.
AN: I was interested in how you work at putting together an album of ‘Sacrificium’s’ magnitude. Are all members involved in the creative process and how long does it take you to form the songs and the lyrics to a stage that you are happy to go and record them?
Marco: First the music has to come. I always write the music first then I’ll work on the lyrics. It was quite a long process and when the others joined the band the songs were already written but Dianne could contribute the lyrics to two songs still. Even though I am the arranger of the songs everyone has their own input, it’s not like I tell everyone in the band you play that note or anything like that. Gerit may put totally different drum beats to parts I had originally thought of and in most of the cases I think oh well that’s cool and better than what I had in mind. It’s the same for all the other instruments which makes it very punchy and it always enriches the music more than it would if I had just recorded for me alone. I write the songs but we arrange them together, it’s the best way to get the results.
AN: As for the recording process itself how much time was spent on this. I believe Joost van den Broek was involved in the production and arrangement so did you spend time working on things in both Germany and Holland.
Marco: Yes we went to Holland to work with Joost, he did not come over to us. We worked a lot of the time via Skype or email on the pre-production. He also gave some feedback to the song writing as he was involved from the very beginning as co-producer. It was very cool to have the support and some more ideas. Then we went to his place Sandlane Studios in the Netherlands to record the drums, then most of the guitars and bass were recorded at my place at home. This was really easy these days as you can record and do the re-amping with real amps and big studio equipment as you don’t have to keep looking at the clock and keeping thinking oh we would need another week in the studio but we can’t do this because it costs too much money. Then the vocal parts were done in Germany at The Gate Studio.
AN: Not only are the symphonic elements really enhanced but you also have strings and the PA’dam choir from the Netherlands.
Marco: Yes I wrote songs and recorded demos and keyboards to show Joost what the basic ideas were for the orchestra lines. He is much more theoretically experienced and educated. He went through a year education for music and I did not so it is very difficult to keep up with him when it comes to making the orchestral stuff and the cinematic sound.
AN: There’s no mucking about with the album as the title / opening track is epic in every sense it’s not like you ease the listener in gently but really launch them into things here.
Marco: Yes we wanted to show this is not a pop metal album! This was the intention as there are so many albums around today which are so easy listening, which is also cool but we wanted to show that this was something with a bit more context. I like things that are more deep so you don’t just get into it on the first listen but there are things to explore.
AN: ‘Nightfall’ seems like a great track to introduce the listener to though, no doubt why it was chosen for the video. Where was that filmed and what was the experience like?
Marco: It was in an Eastern German town, very close to Leipzig called Zeitz. It was an abandoned church and there was no one really responsible for it. The video company were calling the town government but nobody said that we could or couldn’t do this. So we went ahead and did it and it was really kind of risky as it was all decayed and bits falling down. It was dangerous but we all survived it!
AN: Can you give us some insight into the narrative themes of the album?
Marco: Yes is not a concept album and you can’t say its all one theme. The title track deals with sacrificing yourself and is also about those that risk their lives for ideals and freedom. When I see things on the news about what’s happening in the world seeing people out there on the streets protesting I ask myself would I also do this and risk my life for others. I think this is a question that’s interesting to ask yourself and it was what led me to write this song by setting myself into this mood. It was very intimate to get so close to the idea of dying. If you listen to the lyrics to this and the outro of this it really goes into this. Other things on the album are very personal. What with the singer change everything was very unsecure with the future of the band and we had to shift everything back but we couldn’t just stop. It was very stressful. When something is so much the centre of your life, the music and everything I was really having the worst time of my life. Some of the lyrics on the album really reflect this.
AN: I also wondered where you draw inspiration from be it films or literature maybe. The album strikes as incredibly cinematic in scope, dare I use the word blockbuster?
Marco: Musically yes very much influence comes from soundtracks and film scores. We also want to bring imagination into things and often there is the sound of a movie in my head as something I just want to create for the listener as I really like the idea.
AN: Another thing I noticed is a big Celtic presence amidst the songs?
Marco: Yes this is something else I really like. I like the folk music of this area, where we are right now and Scotland and Ireland. I think it’s also because I can speak only for myself from the German. It’s not really our kind of folk music which is a lot of pipes and stuff and when we are listening to Celtic folk music it’s like we have all these stories in our head and all the legends. It’s very inspiring and I really like the atmosphere.
With the doors opening and the crowds descending we have to leave it there and the last question asking about the fact that most of the bands playing this style are a tight bond and act like one big happy family is pretty much obliterated although not something that Marco denies in the slightest. With that cheerful camaraderie in mind it’s time to grab a quick beer and look forward to catching the band on stage in a couple of hours.
(Interview Pete Woods)