This turned to be one of those interviews that falls into pieces as soon as you get down to it. Who would have thought that in less than 15 minutes of my conversation with Vanden Plas singer Andy Kuntz the battery in my telephone would run out of juice, and my attempt to transfer the call to a different station would fail dramatically - the connection simply broke off and I never got to hear Andy again. Nevertheless, we managed to get in contact with another Vanden Plas member, keyboardist Gunter Werno, who kindly provided me with answers to the questions that I didn't manage to ask during the first attempt. OK, the more the better, check out what leaders of German progressive metal scene have to say about their new record "Beyond Daylight" and their career in general.
Part 1: Andy Kuntz
MetalKings.com: Hi Andy, where are you calling from, what is the band doing at the moment?
Andy: At the moment I'm in a studio with another band I'm gonna produce (Snail's House - ed.), a German band which plays a mixture between Fury In The Slaughterhouse and Robbie Williams, it's in German language. I produce other stuff as well, not only progressive metal, so I'm sitting in a studio in Wisbaden and calling you. (laughs)
MetalKings.com: And I'm sitting in Moscow at my workplace!
Andy (laughs): Not bad!
MetalKings.com: I've heard a lot about health problems that your guitarist Stephan Lill was suffering. How is he now?
Andy: He had some problems with his arm, it was a carpal tunnel syndrome, don't ask me exactly what it means, but he's getting better. It's not totally gone, but it's not a problem for him to play live or in the studio, it's not a handicap anymore.
MetalKings.com: So there won't be any line-up changes, will there?
Andy: No, never. It's more than a friendship, more than a brotherhood at the moment, 'cause we've been playing with this line-up for 11 years, I've worked with Stephan for 15 years and with Andreas for 18 years, so we are like brothers. If somebody's got problems, that's not a point to make a line-up change.
MetalKings.com: Your fourth album "Beyond Daylight" is going to be released next week. Tell me about the recording process, was it in any way complicated by Stephen's disease? In general, how did it go?
Andy: We delayed it a bit till the time when everything was right with Stephen. I think the delay made like 2.5 months. Fortunately, two years ago we decided to build up a small home studio in Gunter's home, so we could work more easily on other projects. At the moment everybody's got so many things to do, everybody has like three or four other projects that he's doing, actually, we're going to play with the whole band and me as an actor in the "Rocky Horror Picture Show". Everything was not that easy, and we decided to build up a small home studio to realize all the ideas that we had over the last 1.5 yeas for Vanden Plas, so that we could record them there and make everybody listen to them on MD and give everybody a good idea about new ideas for the Vanden Plas stuff. Having listened to the material, we sat together and discussed the thing, we went back to the home studio and we did a few things different and then in the end we met at the rehearsal room to put everything on tape again, but with the whole band and to make the band again listen to the songs and figure out what difficulties we could meet in the studio. If was a very different kind of working, for me it was very freshening. Normally when you go to a rehearsal room and somebody comes up with an idea, you try to show it to the others and it takes a very long time for the others to understand what you mean. Then you get a feeling that you need to change the melody line or the drummer says, "oh, I don't know exactly how I should play the break" and you're working on the break and everything. For me it's much greater if I can work on melody lines at home by myself, I listen to the stuff for several days and see what I can add to it concerning the melody lines and vocals.
MetalKings.com: The album is not yet out so there is no way to find out anything about its lyrical side. Can you tell me something about it?
Andy: I don't want to mention it before the album comes out, I don't want to go too deep into the stuff. This time it turned out to be a concept album, which I tried to deny during the writing process, because I don't like concept albums at all. But it turned out to be a concept album and I couldn't deny it, because the lyrics constituted a unity in the end. Basically, when you listen to all songs, there are nine songs on the album, and when you listen to them in a row you see there's a red line through them and in the last song everything is combined. "Beyond Daylight", the last song, is like a heart of the album, and every song leads to this song even if you don't realize it, but when you listen to the last song it combines all the other songs. They're showing up a creator who's telling you not exactly what it is, but telling you that he was the storyteller of all the other stories in the songs you have listened to, and that's basically the idea of the concept.
MetalKings.com: As far as I understand, first comes the music and then you write lyrics, right?
Andy: This time, yes.
MetalKings.com: And who writes the music?
Andy: Basically it's Stephan and Gunter, and on a few songs it's me, but most of the songs were written by Stephen this time.
MetalKings.com: A limited edition of "Beyond Daylight" contains a bonus track called "Point Of No Return", a cover of Kansas. Why this particular song, what's so special about it?
Andy: We thought about it when we brought out "Far Off Grace", but we settled with "Kiss Of Death" (by Dokken) at that time. Nevertheless, we are pretty happy to do it in the end, cause it's a great song in a new version. We wanted to do something like that this time, we sat down and asked ourselves which song could be great for another cover. A few ideas came up, we though about "Gethsemane" from "Jesus Christ Superstar" or something from Magnum's "On A Storyteller's Night" album, but in the end I went to a concern of Kansas, they were in our home town, and I liked this song so much that when I heard it first time live, I said: "We should try out this song." I think that was a good choice.
MetalKings.com: Now let's speak about your producer Markus Teske. Now did you find him and how was it like working with him?
Andy: This time we produced this album ourselves, we only had an engineer who is listed as a co-producer. We did pre-production which did not sound that good, but you could already imagine that it would sound in the end like it sounds now. As to Markus, I've worked with him for three years, also with this German project that I produce, and our relationship is getting better and better, he's a great engineer, he realizes very well what you want from the album in the terms of sound, which is sometimes not so easy. We worked together on the Vanden Plas live album "The Spirit Of Live" and he did such a great job. We were recording it in Paris, we only had like four or five hours to settle everything there and the result is such a great album with such a great sound that we wanted to work with him in the studio. When he's got time to prepare everything right it must sound even better. We are very happy that we did it like this.
MetalKings.com: Speaking about the live album, I know that the tracklist is different on the U.S. version. Why is that, what was the problem?
Andy: The problem is that we had Don Dokken as a guest there, we asked him to come to Paris cause he liked the new version of "Kiss Of Death" so much, and he had a kind of promotion schedule in France, so he asked if it was possible to delay it for eight days so he can play with us on stage in Paris and we said, "Wow! That's really great!" Dokken is one of the greatest live acts of the 80s and Don was our hero. So he played with us, but the point was that he had a record company in the United States that's very big, and it would have cost our record company a lot of money to release the album featuring him over there. So this track was omitted and we had to find another track.
MetalKings.com: How did you get to know Don?
Andy: Stephan Lill, our guitar player, is one of the biggest Dokken fans, and as to me, I like his "Under Lock And Key" album very much. When we met him for the first time, he hadn't heard our version of his song yet, but then Stephan sent him the CD. They are still in contact, they call each other every three months, it may not seem frequent, but if fact it is because I sometimes have no time to call my friends for half a year. Our relationship is developing great, he's a very charismatic person and to me, he's a very subtle guy.
Part 2: Gunter Werno
MetalKings.com: Your latest album has just come out, can you tell me a little bit about the recording process, was it easy or difficult to record it?
Gunter: It was quite easy, it's quite easy every time, because we produce our songs before we go to the studio, so this is the thing of getting together for a longer time. We started in January last year, Stephan and me wrote the music first and made it in Q-Base with a sequencer program so we could easily change or copy parts and make the songs the way we wanted. We introduced the songs to the others in spring, when we met in a practice room to arrange them, I did all the changes on demos then, so we were well prepared for going to the studio. The recording process is the matter of finding the right sounds and what becomes difficult is the mix, because some songs like "Beyond Daylight" contain a lot of parts, longer songs are always more difficult to mix than shorter songs. But basically, it was an easy work because Markus Teske, the engineer that we'd chosen who also recorded and mixed our live record, is a nice guy and the atmosphere was great.
MetalKings.com: What are the band's immediate plans?
Gunter: At the moment we are playing the "Rocky Horror Picture Show", tomorrow's the next date, we're doing that in a theatre.
MetalKings.com: As far as I understand you're planning to go on tour really soon, right?
Gunter: Yes, we wanna go on tour, we have a date on the 28th of April, we're planning a gig in Elysee Monmartre in Paris and we want to build a short tour around that date, maybe for three weeks or something like that. And we want to go on a longer tour in September.
MetalKings.com: Why will it take you so long to start touring? The album is released in January and you are about to start playing live in April.
Gunter: It has to do with the theatre, we are kind of bound there, there are some contracts and stuff, but in April we have a break and we will use it to make a tour. We had a chance to go on tour with Savatage right now, which would have been really great, but we had to cancel that because of the "Rocky Horror" thing.
MetalKings.com: Does it mean that the theatre is your main occupation?
Gunter: No, my main occupation is Vanden Plas, we're doing that theatre thing as a kind of side project, first, they pay good money, and on the other side, you can learn a lot from playing in theatre.
MetalKings.com: The reason why I'm asking is that I've heard that almost all musicians in Germany have day jobs…
Gunter: I don't have any. Everything we do is connected with music, two band members are giving lessons, Andy is producing another band, and Stephan and me are doing some side projects. I play guest keyboards, for instance, I played on the latest Angra album "Rebirth", which has been my biggest side project so far. I'm also planning to put out a solo project together with Dennis Ward, bass player of Pink Cream 69 and a good engineer, too. We're planning to bring that out as soon as possible, we don't have any pressure because nobody knows about it (laughs), but we want to bring it out soon so we're working on that.
MetalKings.com: Let's go back to the past a little bit. How did Vanden Plas sign a deal with Inside Out and are you satisfied with their work?
Gunter: They got to know us from our first album, I guess they saw some concerts and they offered us to work with them. We signed a license deal for "The God Thing", and we are pretty satisfied because they are really into that thing, you know, only skilful and tasteful bands are on our label, they show a certain taste of music and they love music; in addition to being businessmen, they are still fans. I'm pretty satisfied. Moreover, the label doesn't have too many bands, they can set priorities, which means that right now when we have a release we are the main theme at that company, and the advertisement and work for the press is focused on us. That's good for us.
MetalKings.com: Before joining Vanden Plas you had a band called Juliet. How many records did you make?
Gunter: We didn't have any records, only demo tapes and a single on vinyl in 1987, it was in the style of Survival and Heart. We collected some experience, we won some prizes in our region, it was pretty interesting.
MetalKings.com: And how many songs were on that single?
Gunter: Two. The single doesn't exist in record shops. I think I've got the only item.
MetalKings.com: I've also heard about a band called Romeo. What was that?
Gunter (laughs): Yeah, that was really my first band, we played in American clubs here, because American soldiers were here for a long time, and we had those clubs and promotion companies. You had to sign a contract with them to play in clubs over Germany, but you only had to play cover songs, like five hours an evening. It was a nice experience, but only with cover songs, we never had a chance to play our own material.
MetalKings.com: If you don't mind, I'd like to ask a few questions about your side projects. You worked with D.C. Cooper on his first solo record. How did it happen? How did you get to know him?
Gunter: Because of our management, Bottom Row Promotion, one of them is the drummer of Pink Cream 69, Kosta Zafiriou. It was basically their plan to make a solo album of D.C. and they didn't have a keyboard player, so I joined them, they asked me.
MetalKings.com: Did it happen before D.C. left Royal Hunt or after that?
Gunter: Before… no, no, after leaving Royal Hunt.
MetalKings.com: Do you know anything about that story of D.C. leaving the band? All the parties involved made statements on the matter and they were contradicting each other.
Gunter: I only followed the press, I didn't ask D.C., but even if I knew anything, I wouldn't tell you (giggles).
MetalKings.com: My next question is about Pink Cream 69. Their latest record "Endangered" has a line in the booklet saying "keyboard ideas stolen from Gunter Werno." What does that mean?
Gunter (laughs): Yeah? Really? I haven't read that! I did a lot of work with Dennis beginning with D.C. and I played piano and some keyboard lines on two Pink Cream records and he had a lot of my midi files from that work. Maybe he was just looking through those files and saw that they could fit, maybe changed it a bit, that's how it happened, how it came to that sentenced.
MetalKings.com: I've read on your webpage that some Vanden Plas members are involved in a certain Missa Mercuria project. What is that?
Gunter: It is a rock opera invented by a woman. Stephen, me, Alex Beyrodt from Silent Force and Alfred Koffler from Pink Cream have written some songs for that project and recorded it. The management of that project is our management, they take care about everything. I don't know whether it will be released. I've heard that it is mixed and maybe there's a chance that it will be released.
MetalKings.com: Let me ask you a question about the early days of Vanden Plas. I've always wanted to know how you sounded in the beginning of your career, like on the first demo. Was it something similar to "Colour Temple" or something completely different?
Gunter: Some songs on "Colour Temple" like "Push" or "Back To Me" are a bit simpler [than the rest of our music], we played more straightforward stuff back then and even had a rock'n'roll song which Andy and Stephan wrote when they were on holidays jamming around and singing about women, drugs, sex and rock'n'roll (laughs). But soon this kind of lyrics didn't fit into our new direction anymore.
MetalKings.com: I guess you've been asked the question many times, but most of interviews with Vanden Plas on the Internet are in French and not all the people can read it. What is the origin of the name Vanden Plas?
Gunter: Vanden Plas is a car tuning company, they work for Jaguar and Volvo, I think they are from Holland. Andy went to the ERR, an international automobile exhibition in Frankfurt and he saw that model Jaguar EE Vanden Plas, it was a nice car and the name stuck in his head. I wasn't in the band at that time, but as far as I know they were thinking about the band name and Andy came up with Vanden Plas. If you name your band Destruction or something it's pretty clear what kind of music you are playing and at that time they didn't know which style they were going to play because there were many different opinions within the band. So they chose the name Vanden Plas because it doesn't say anything about the kind of music they play.
MetalKings.com: In the early 1990s you wrote two songs for your local football team. Are you big fans of football?
Gunter: We are normal fans of football, not big but… Andy's cousin Stephan Kuntz was in the German national team, and he was in that team, Kaiserslauten, too. The first song ("Keep On Running") was for women of the players, they came to us three weeks before the championship and said, "Oh, if they become German champions, can you write a song for us?" We did, and fortunately, they became German champions (laughs). That was really quick work! The other song was a gift of the players to the fans because Kaiserslauten's fans are considered the best fans in the world and the team wanted to say 'thank you, that's for you' and that's the title "Das Ist Fur Euch" (this is for you).
MetalKings.com: There's a special Virgin Megastore edition of "Far Off Grace". What is included there?
Gunter: There are a lot of funny pictures of us from our childhood and youth days. Every single member of the band is introduced. Besides, there's a longer biography of the band.
MetalKings.com: In what language? Gunther: In French. MetalKings.com: You also have a song in French ("Combien Des Larmes") as a bonus track for "The God Thing". Who wrote the lyrics for it?
Gunter: Andy himself. It's a translation of "How Many Tears". We had somebody to ask, but…
MetalKings.com: You've been playing with the same line up for many years, how do you manage to stay together, to avoid all conflicts?
Gunter: First of all, we've become closer after all these years, and you may say that we have become friends. Vanden Plas is like a family for us. From the beginning we had a splitting of duties - Stephan was the guy who wrote most of the songs, we were writing the rest and Andy was in charge of the lyrics. In addition, Stephan occupies himself a little bit with the management side, he's the person in contact with our management, in the past he did the management alone. Our drummer is in charge of the financial side, the bass player has the duty to deal with the merchandize, I have some duties as well. We split the duties and everybody has something to do, has something to bring in that team, you know, and that's something that holds us together.
MetalKings.com: Do you think involvement in side projects contributes to unity of the band?
Gunter: No, not really. We only allow side projects if we have enough time off Vanden Plas, if not, we cancel these projects, as I've just done. I cancelled a tour with Kamelot which is going on at the moment, I was at their concert last Friday, they are touring with Axxis right now, and I should have done that tour because I was in Kamelot last year and three years ago, but I cancelled it because of Vanden Plas. Vanden Plas is more important.
MetalKings.com: How did you get in contact with Patrick Rondat (famous French guitarist, ex-Jean Michel Jarre - ed.) and bring him to play on your live record?
Gunter: I think he was introduced to us by the French promoter when we came to Paris for the first time to play a short acoustic set. He's always a nice guy, he's funny and somehow we asked him if he wanna join us onstage. He's a guy that you can call in the middle of the night and say, "please come and play" and he would come. He loves to jam and he loves to play music.
MetalKings.com: Let's speak about acoustic shows, I know that you have done a lot of them. What's so special about that type of thing for you?
Gunter: That's a thing that happens more in France because it's a habit in France that you promote your album by playing live in record stores like Virgin or something, and you do acoustic concerts there. We never thought about playing our songs in acoustics, but when we did play them that way, we thought, "Oh that's fun, that sounds different, but kinda nice." Reactions to our acoustic shows were great, so we decided to record some songs and we had a possibility to bring that out. It was nice, we discovered a new side of Vanden Plas in doing acoustic shows.
MetalKings.com: Is it possible that you do another acoustic album in the future?
Gunter: Yeah, that's possible. We are planning to bring out "AcCult II", we already have a few new songs, not electric songs in acoustic versions, I don't know when it will be released, but we already have some material for that.
MetalKings.com: I'd like to know your opinion about bootlegs. You know, Vanden Plas are one of the very few bands that list bootlegs on the official web-page.
Gunter (laughs): The bootlegs… I don't know. (pause) It's hard to say. On the one hand, you can be proud if that kind of thing happens with you because it only shows that you are in demand, that people are still interested in you, on that side it's OK. On the other side, it's not OK that we cannot decide which recordings everybody can hear, because after all it should be the band's decision, but there's nothing to do about it. I don't think that it harms the band, only if you make gross mistakes on stage (cracks), but hopefully we don't (laughs), so I think it only makes people curious for the real thing.
MetalKings.com: In general, what do you prefer, recording in the studio or playing live?
Gunter: You can't compare. There are different atmospheres, the live thing has a lot to do with adrenaline, with being ready right on spot and right in time, and you have that thing with the audience going on. In the studio, it's a different thing, you can play relaxed. Sure you have to be concentrated, but if you are lucky to have a nice engineer you can have a nice atmosphere.
MetalKings.com: What is the best show that you have done so far?
Gunter: I guess when we opened for Dream Theater and Angra in Le Bourge, it was nice, but sure it was our headliner show in Paris which we recorded for the live album, that was the best. It was great and indescribable.
MetalKings.com: You recorded keyboards for Angra's latest studio album. Are you going to play with them live?
Gunter: No, I think they are on tour already, so I don't play there. They didn't ask me but if they had done it, I would have had to reject the offer because there is no time.
MetalKings.com: Will there be a future for Consortium Project? Will there be more albums?
Gunter: Consortium II is out, but after that I don't know. Ian is very busy with Elegy, I don't know what he will be doing.
MetalKings.com: What is your favorite record among those that you have done outside Vanden Plas?
Gunter: Right now it's Angra, "Rebirth" is a piece good music, I think.
MetalKings.com: Let's speak about the beginning of your career. What are the bands that made you want to become a musician?
Gunter: I started to play keyboards and showed real passion for it. Then I joined bands at the age of 16, in my first band I played Hammond organ and we played Santana songs, it was just fun. From then on I knew I have to play with other musicians because it's like speaking with each other on another level.
MetalKings.com: What kind of music were you listening to back then?
Gunter: Deep Purple, I was a very, very big fan of Jon Lord, I knew "Made In Japan" by heart. Besides, I was listening to that classic rock at that time, like that jazz rock thing, mostly bands that don't exist anymore like Exception, there was an organ player and they played stuff like Bach and Mozart. Then I was listening to Rush and Queen at that time, Santana for sure, and Kansas too.
MetalKings.com: And what kind of music is your favorite at present?
Gunter: I cannot really say, I'm quite open minded, I listen to a lot of music… though I have to say that I don't listen to music a lot, mostly when I'm driving a car I listen to the radio, but that's not my style. At home I'm listening to Tori Amos, she's a good piano player and of course a great musician and composer, Spoke's Beard was the last record that I was listening to, and other stuff in that direction - Rush and Alan Parsons Project…
MetalKings.com: OK, is there anything special that you want to say to your fans in Russia?
Gunter: Yeah. Hello, I'm Gunter Werno from Vanden Plas, please stay open-minded and listen to every kind of music if you have the chance. I hope we can see you soon or you can see us in concert some day in Russia, I would love to do that.
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