Subsignal interview (Arno Menses)

"You need to be a fan of your own music, otherwise you can never put your heart and soul into it in the first place"

02/09/2013 @ 14:05
Subsignal continues their own way to their own melodic niche of progressive music. With their new album they change things a little bit and they seem be aware that this is the album that has to take them to the next level. Arno Menses takes some time to analyze how "Paraiso" was formed and gets into details about the music, the lyrics and other interesting things about it.

SubsignalHi Arno. How are you doing sir?
I am doing very well, thanks very much.

I never really doubted about the quality in any of your new albums and “Paraiso” couldn’t let me down. Congratulations for another great album. How do you feel about it?
Well, thanks for your trust. Of course I, again, am very proud of what we have achieved with “Paraiso”. You sometimes ask yourself "is there musically and lyrically anymore to tell?" the answer up till now is "yes". And maybe an even more important question is, if you can make changes and head in different directions. I think we also we succeeded there. So, yes, we are very happy with the outcome of this album.
You’ve chosen to change the game a little bit this time around. Could this be a really crucial album for Subsignal? What led you to change some things this time around?
Of course this is a very crucial album for us (the theory says that the 3rd album will tell if there's a future for the band). So, we are keeping our fingers crossed. The changes were not made deliberately; it just felt that way, so we did it that way. The only difference is that Markus this time did most of the writing. Also not planned, but the man had an unstoppable flow of inspiration, so much, that we had to tell him to slow down once a while. The result is that 80% of the songs came from Markus' pen, and of course Markus has his own, in my opinion, brilliant way of playing with melody, moods and words.

Subsignal - ParaisoI’m asking this because it’s obvious - for anyone familiar with your music - that you tried to keep it simpler and tighter this time around, with less complex structures and mostly shorter songs. Yet, you tried to include all the basic elements of your music in less space. Was this as challenging as it seems?
This is a thing Markus and I have been trying in the Sieges Even days already, to bring songs down to the core, but still keep them interesting and challenging. It seems like we are nearing that goal more and more. Not that there's something wrong with long songs with many different patterns and notes, not at all, and I am not saying that we won't ever write a long or epical song anymore...when the song asks for it you should do it. But for us right now, the essence of writing songs is to strip them down as much as we can. We did not really shorten songs for the sake of having a compact song.

So, what was the process? Did you have long tunes and tried to shorten them, were focused on keeping it shorter from the moment you started the writing sessions or did it just come naturally?
In general the process was that Markus, Dave and I all came up with roughly finished songs, so not too many parts or no parts had to be added, it was just a matter of each member arranging his own parts to that particular song and that was it. Like I said, it just came naturally. For instance, my idea at first was to put more into "A New Reliance", because this song has the tendency to be a longer, more progressive song, but when i reached that point that what now is the end of the bridge, I felt it did not need more, so I chose not to. As for Markus' songs, when I got the demos they were pretty much finished already, and I don't remember him or anyone else suggesting to take any parts out.

SubsignalIn my opinion it worked great and “Paraiso” is a great album that in the same time keeps the essence of Subsignal while adding something different so as to keep things interesting for both musicians and the fans. I guess that is what you aimed for, right?
Indeed. In the first place, when you write a song, or a whole album for that matter, you have to have that feeling, that if it were an album by another band..."would I like/buy that too?". You kinda need to be a fan of your own music, otherwise you can never put your heart and soul into it in the first place. If those words and melodies reflect the emotions you are looking for in music made by people you admire, then this might affect our listeners/fans the same way too. So yes, that's definitely what we aim for.

The first single off the album is the title track and you’ve also shot a video for it, which must be your first proper video. How did you decide to have “Paraiso” as the first single and video? Are you satisfied with how the video came out? Also, how important is it nowadays to have a promo video as a rock/metal band?
Well, of course, “Paraiso“ is also the title to the album. It is a melodic, compact song, that has a very strong chorus and basically is a signature Subsignal song. In short, all the elements we needed for this to be a proper candidate for a video. I am more than satisfied with the outcome of the video. It's represents the story of the song  very well and is crafted very professionally. The result for our first ever video is better than I expected in the first place. The importance of a video at first was a bit underestimated by me, I just thought "the 80's are over, noone needs to see our ugly faces on the TV". But, this is a promotional thing, with which we can reach more people than with just the release of an album, so yes, it's important. Also, because, nowadays you are not dependent on just TV, but you also have YouTube, Facebook and such, to reach an audience.

SubsignalThen, one standout track is “A New Reliance”. The first time I listened to it I was surprised by that small middle section. What’s this song about and how was it formed?
Well, as told earlier, at first I felt like writing more parts for it, but when I reached that point in the bridge where the theme of the intro comes back, I thought “let's bring this to an end, it doesn't need any more than this”. It all started with this bass-line (intro), a kind of Ska feeling, up-tempo (I always make sure we at least have one song on the album like that) and the rest of the song just followed as I carried on writing. I had a couple of ideas for the bridge and honestly did not know how to get back into the last chorus. Then I listened to some very old songs of mine (maybe 20 years old) and I had this outro for a song, then called "The Longest Night". This had to be the outro for “A New Reliance“, I thought. So, I bended it back and forth till it fitted to the end of the song. David (who also wrote the lyrics to the song) made it more compact and logical afterwards. Then I thought, maybe I can work with this theme somewhere in the bridge too. So I stripped it down a little and wrote some vocal lines to it (Once the shores of promises were awaiting...). After that, I could do nothing else than conclude that (even though of course I could have written more to it) the song, for my taste, was perfect as it is. "A New Reliance" is about finding new strength at new stages of life, when what you relied on in the past is gone. Every new chapter brings new  challenges, which you will meet with a different perception, fresh ideas and values. The old strongholds will shatter and on those ruins you build yourself a new inner reliance.

SubsignalGenerally, your lyrics have a similar aesthetic with your music and they usually sound to me quite ambiguous. You seem to have a thing about nature, earth and stuff like that. What was your inspiration for “Paraiso” lyrics wise?
The philosophy behind “Paraiso“, basically, can be taken from one sentence in the song "I am the compass to my own Paraiso", Paraiso meaning Paradise. Saying...In my head is my paradise... the only one that can lead me there, is me. Most lyrics come from Markus' pen, David writes a considerable amount too. Since I know Markus, also like the music, he is stripping down his way of writing, bringing all back to the essence, the basics. He has a very strong tendency indeed to incorporate things like the "elements" into his lyrics. But, he also uses those terms to describe other things like "love, relationships, anger, pain etc". That's the brilliance of Markus and his lyrics, he might choose certain words and expressions, but behind those words, others words and expressions are hidden. Dave's lyrics, in my opinion are getting deeper every album. His lyrics on the first album were very graphical, but I see his lyrics getting simpler - and I do mean that in the most positive way - with every song. Saying less, but telling more.

SubsignalAlso, it seems that you have an extended use of piano this time instead of strings that were used in “Touchstones”. Is that right and if yes, why so? Are there any other similar differences that diverse the new album to the previous ones?
Again, that just felt right, so we did it. Not only David writes piano parts, but Markus too...and me sometimes. For many songs on this album we felt like piano was the right instrument to use, so we did. Next album might have more strings, or more synthesizers, or a little bit of both. I think there are a couple of things that are different. The songs got even more compact, the melancholic factor is more evident than before and... the album sounds far more organic than “Beautiful & Monstrous“ or “Touchstones“. That has something to do with the way the songs were written and the choice of instruments and sounds, but also the way Charly Czajkowski, Markus and I produced the album. More direct, more open.

An obvious question is about your collaboration with Marcella Bovio on “The Blueprint Of Winter”. How come you chose to work with her?  This has to be the most commercial song you’ve ever written. Could Subsignal go more commercial than that?
Well, Markus, Dave and Danilo really wanted to work with her (since we were doing a duet thing again) and I trusted their opinion. So, Markus contacted her, asking her if she would be interested to work with us. After she heard the song she immediately said yes. And she did a killer job, plus is a very pleasant person to talk to and work with, so I am glad we did it. Yes, it is commercial in a sense, but it is no different to me that vibe that for instance "Eyes Wide Open" has. And yes...we can be even more commercial than that...if we will...i don't think so, but time will tell.

SubsignalHow do you plan to support the release of the album? Do you have any extensive tour plans? I am using the word “extensive” for obvious reasons, so as to know if we have a chance here.
By putting in other recourses, like for instance this video. But, also, a bigger promotional offence by our record company. Paired of course with touring, supporting our album live wherever we can. Of course, Greece has a chance to see us live, Markus and I have played there before and have incredible memories to those shows. So, if a booker is interested to book us, we would be more than happy to come over and play.

Has this prog revival been helpful to you at all? I mean, there are so many things concerning prog taking place, like prog tours, prog awards, prog magazines and it would be a shame if this hasn’t been helpful for you at all...
Of course it has been helpful, more and more prog media, festivals etc take notice of us. For us, it is sometimes hard, because we are not that typical a prog band. We have many AOR influences, which sometimes are interpreted as "poppy, or too commercial". But more and more proggies realize that we are not the "boy-band" of prog. We have a different approach, that's all.

Arno Menses (Subsignal)Now, we’re having a huge article about progressive metal with the absolute guide about it. Among the 100 albums that we present one can find "The Art Of Navigating By The Stars" and "Touchstones", but also "A Sense Of Change". Tell me your favorite prog metal artists, your favorite prog metal albums and which one band was the most influential for the genre.
Well, first of all, it's an honor to be in your top 100, and that with so many albums. I am really happy to hear that "Touchstones" made it on the list, that means we are on the right track, let's hope "Paraiso" will some day make it too. Of course, "A Sense Of Change" must be in there, although I wasn't part of Sieges Even when they recorded it... it was an honor for me to be given the opportunity to sing those songs live on stage with Sieges. Well, my favorite prog artists... it‘s not metal at all, and also not a secret, are Kansas. Because, they had the same technical skills as most prog bands of their time, but had a far more melodic touch to their music than most prog bands AND a singer that blew every prog singer of those days away! Favorite prog albums: Kansas - almost every album, Sieges Even - "A Sense Of Change", Spock's Beard - "The Light", Steve Walsh - "Glossolalia", UK - 1st album.... and the list could go on and on.

What happened to that AOR / commercial solo album? Anything new about that?
I had some changes in my private life, which changed my time-schedule immensely, so I had to put that on ice for a while.

Thank you for your time. The last words are all yours. Time for me to swim home and give "Paraiso" another spin...
First of all, thanks for the great interview. Glad that you like the album, and hopefully we'll see each other, once we make it to Greece again.

Chris Karadimitris