Interview with Mem Von Stein (vocals)
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 7, 2011
Here's the first interview with German Thrash Metal legends Exumer, since it was officially announced that Metal Blade Records will release Exumer's comeback album, titled "Fire & Damnation"; the band's first studio album in 25 years. Exumer have been working hard on their comeback album with producer Waldemar Sorychta over the past months – which as we speak, is ready to be released in 2012.
Now we let Exumer's original vocalist Mem Von Stein reveal more about the band's 3rd record, the new Exumer line-up, why good music (or art) does not have an expiration date – among other things as well. The Metal Crypt is proud to tell all about this first to the whole world...
Luxi: First off, congratz Mem for bringing Exumer back and putting together some relentless ‘Teutonic Thrash Metal', the one and only Exumer way! It must feel pretty darn good having the old band firmly back on its two feet again, right?
Mem: Yeah man, it's been a wild ride since we announced our comeback as a touring and recording band in 2008. We basically had, and still have to juggle the physical distance between members living in Germany and in the USA. However, I think we have found a great balance and I can say that we are totally functioning as a touring and recording unit or band at this point.
Luxi: As was previously reported in October, Exumer has finally finished the recordings for the band's 3rd album; the first Exumer album in 25 long years – and as you briefly updated me already, you are close to make a deal with some as yet unnamed record company. Without revealing the name of that company yet (if you don't want to), would you say you couldn't be any happier now how things have been going for Exumer's comeback – even if the already known fact is you were spending like months and months to get Exumer this far, having now your 3rd baby completely ready to be unleashed upon the whole world?
Mem: Absolutely, writing, rehearsing, recording and mixing an album with the already mentioned difficulties of not living in the same place is quite an undertaking but everything, starting from writing the new material to finding a producer and negotiating a deal has been nothing but a success and we have been validated with our decisions every step of the process. The label we have found, Metal Blade Records, is an awesome match and in line with the demands we had on ourselves the production team and the entire vision of Exumer in 2011/12.
Luxi: How many songs have you recorded for this new album altogether, and could you even say this forthcoming Exumer record represents some of the best material you have ever penned down with the band?
Mem: We recorded 10 songs for the new album and I would say that it is by far the best effort in regards to the level and quality of musicianship that this band has ever recorded. You have to remember that we were quite young when our first two albums dropped and now all our experiences or technical gains have been poured into this record. Having said that, I think we were able to maintain the spirit of our sound from the 80s with the force of our expertise of today.
Luxi: If you had to choose your personal favorites out of the content of this new Exumer record, which songs would be some of your instant fave tracks, and could you even be kind enough to explain us why this is so?
Mem: I like all of them across the board but "Fire & Damnation", "The Weakest Limb" and "A New Morality" are probably my current favorites. They showcase a wide range of very fast to mid-tempo song writing styles and incorporate old-school elements with punishing production. You will immediately understand what I am talking about once you have heard the album, trust me.
Luxi: While putting the songs together for this album, did you face any – either minor or major – setbacks when you, for example, tried to figure out which song part would go together with some other song part; how to make some of the lyrics fit and rhyme with the actual music itself; how to maintain the same relentless vibe and feeling you had when Exumer recorded the classic "Possessed by Fire" album – and things like that? Or, was it actually kind of easy to get this album done in the very end after all – from your intense rehearsal sessions to the actual final mixing and mastering process of the album?
Mem: The process of writing this album went in steps; we started getting ideas as early as 2008, continued to write through 2009/10, while we were touring and finally took off from playing live in 2011, to complete writing and rehearsing/recording in 2011. We scheduled a 3-week rehearsal session in the spring of this year, prior to entering the studio for recording, in order to play and finish writing the new songs in the rehearsal room. This way we sounded like a cohesive unit when went on to record the tracks in the studio and the material got a total "band/rehearsal room" vibe.
Luxi: Do you already have a working title of this forthcoming Exumer album ready to be revealed in public, or do you just want to keep in secret until you can do a big, official announcement about Exumer's working partner for this record that will put it out eventually?
Mem: The album is titled "Fire and Damnation", and the title reflects what this band has been going through in the past 26+ years. It also speaks to the difficulties of making this album and that is felt like going through fire, just to be damned on the other side. The artwork for the cover and rest of the sleeve is amazing and it will reflect all of what I'm speaking of.
Luxi: You chose Waldemar Sorychta (Grip Inc., Sodom, Moonspell, Therion, etc.) to produce this record. Was he the only name in your mind since the very beginning when you started thinking of the best possible candidates to produce the next Exumer record? Or were there also some other possible producers' names written on the sketch table that crossed your mind when you had this serious search going on for them?
Mem: Sure there were more names on the table but in the end it boiled down to budget and who is the best man for the job. We were not signed at the time but we knew that the material would be strong enough to get us where we need to be in the industry and Waldemar was the best option we had in regards to a realistic budget and getting the best out of the band.
Luxi: Can you tell why it took nearly 3 months for Waldemar and his production team to get the final mix done for this record? Were there perhaps some misunderstandings regarding the final mixing process of the songs how he personally wanted the songs to sound like on this record, while at the same time the band members had quite different mixing related visions in mind about the final outcome of the songs?
Mem: Well, it was more of a process to mix the album than to record the songs. The mix took place in phases and with a lot of A/B the material. The end result is what counts and we were all in agreement that we would mix the record until all parties are happy with the end result. It just took a while to incorporate all the elements and everyone's wishes but it all worked out in the end... 3 months later, ha!
Luxi: What did Waldemar bring into this forthcoming Exumer record production-wise that you could say without his experience and skills, those types of things would have been left completely unnoticed and/or rejected?
Mem: He definitely brought out good performances out of all of us and was very helpful in the tracking process overall. It's just really reassuring to have someone with a lot of experience behind the board, who knows how important this next record in the band's future really is. That was just a good feeling to know about the level of Waldemar's commitment to the project and likewise his engineer's commitment.
Luxi: How easily did both Ray and you find the right communication channel with each other to realize that it was absolutely the correct time to resurrect this old ‘Teutonic Thrash' corpse back from the dead (Exumer, that is), and start breathing new life into it?
Mem: It's all about timing, like with so many things in life but Ray and I have known each other since 1983, and it was total fate when we re-connected in 1985, to form Exumer. We also knew intrinsically that it was the right time to bring the band back in 2008. It's similar when we write music, he will play a riff and I will sing over the riff without much effort. We do not need to talk about music to come up with stuff and it kind of works the same way with the rest of our band related items.
Luxi: What about guitarist Bernie (Siedler) and drummer Syke (Bornetto) who also were in the recording line-up of both previous Exumer releases, i.e. "Possessed by Fire (1985)" and "Rising from the Sea (1987)"? Did it occur to you at all to look in their direction whether their life situation would have allowed them somehow to be a part of Exumer's comeback – and even taking part in the whole recording process by throwing some guitar and drum parts for these new Exumer tracks to make Exumer, at least ideologically thinking, closer to the original line-up you had in the 80´s?
Mem: The thing with Bernie is that he is firmly invested in his rock project September, and it's what he really wants to do. We asked him to join again after it became evident that Paul couldn't keep up with the band's demands but he declined and we had to move forward. None of us have kept in touch with Syke, so I don't even know if he still plays drums. We are very happy with the current line-up and it has been the same for almost 2 years now.
Luxi: If we jump about 26 years back in time, it's also a known fact that guitarist Ray (Mensch) and you are the only original members left from Exumer's first line-up. Back in those days the band was actually called Tartaros. I am just a bit curious to know why didn't you stick to that name and eventually changed it to Exumer?
Mem: Tartaros was the first band I had ever formed in 1984, and it was a short lived affair. Syke had drummed in the band and that's how he ended up in Exumer. I changed the name from Tartaros to Exumer, because I wanted to change the entire sound/look and bring it closer to my favorite bands at the time, respectively Exodus and Slayer.
Luxi: Back to the current Exumer line-up now though. How did you actually find these 3 new Exumer members to complete the Exumer line-up of 2011? I already know Tony Schiavo played guitar in your previous band Sun Descends in 2002-2003, so supposedly to make him interested in joining Exumer was relatively easy. But what about your new drummer Matthias Kassner and guitarist H.K.; how did you find them in the first place?
Mem: We found Matthias through Death Squad Management, who knew and recommended him. He immediately fit in and his drumming chops are out of control. H.K. is an old time Exumer fan and guitar teacher who lives in Ray's area. He approached Ray after he had heard that we were looking for a new guitarist. He went to Ray's house - they jammed a bit and a week later Ray gave him a call, asking if he wanted to join. I leave pretty much all the music related issues to Ray. I call him the musical director, while I take care of the rest. It's the most efficient way to work and that's the most comfortable way for us too. It's built on 28 years of trust and friendship, can't go wrong with that formula.
Luxi: How much did these recent additions to the Exumer line-up, help in the actual songwriting process by bringing some skeletons of songs on the table, in which they perhaps got more meaty things around their bones courtesy of both Ray and you?
Mem: Matthias was super important in the writing process because he would bounce back some killer drum patterns that Ray could then use to really spice up the songs. However, it's always a matter of how well the vocals vibe with the rest of the songs, so we write music to a certain point and then see where the song progresses with vocals on top. You will have something un-organic otherwise and hence it will not sound right.
Luxi: A lot of once defunct Speed and Thrash Metal bands have been resurrected from the dead within the last 3-5 years or so – and quite many of them have also made new records, after being away from the Metal scene for 10-15 years – or even more (Onslaught, Exodus, Death Angel, Assassin, Paradox, Heathen, Artillery, etc. – you name them). Does all this make you to think that somehow we have travelled a full circle in twenty years (and more) what comes to playing Metal in general: All good things in Metal music have returned back to us; all those things that once excited and inspired so many people around the world some 20 long years ago. Good Metal music is always good Metal music – and Thrash Metal has fought its way back to the Metal people's hearts again – only this time for good possibly? What's your take on all this that I mentioned in these few lines above?
Mem: I believe that whatever one created at a certain time with all of his heart and passion remains timeless or ageless. That's the reason why "Hell Awaits", is my favorite Slayer album to this date. Same thing with the bands you mentioned. Now, there is absolutely no reason why bands should not re-unite to deliver their vision these days. Good music or good art in general has not an expiration date, and the people behind creating the art go through changes just like everyone else. So, it's more a question if we all can make music that is as relevant today as it was 20 odd years ago. Why not? Ultimately it's up to the fans to decide but I agree that things occur in cycles and I'm sure that there will be a wave of new Black Metal or any other form of Metal come out of the shadows, just like Thrash Metal did.
Luxi: So, once Exumer's 3rd album has been put out, I guess you are also aimed to play as much live as possible – especially looking for some nice spots in some summer Metal festivals around the globe, is this correct?
Mem: We are totally dying to play live and destroy with the new material. We took an entire year off from playing live in order to write and record this last album, so you better believe that we are past overdue to play live...!!!
Luxi: What are overall Exumer's plans for the next year 2012 – besides to put the whole world on their knees in front of you and making shitloads of a good smelling money floating toward your own pockets, he-he?
Mem: Ha, I wish, no but basically just riding the wave and see where it takes us. It's a labor of love, not $, so I hope we can break even and have an awesome time while doing it... playing a ton of shows that is!!!
Luxi: I think that's it Mem. I hope I got everything covered as far as things related to Exumer's new record were concerned. However, if there's still something you'd like to add to this conversation between you and I about Exumer, your new album or just anything else, then by all means feel free to fill all of us in on some additional extra information. If not, then lastly I sincerely want to thank you Mem for your time and wish you all the best with Exumer's second coming, so to speak.
Mem: Thanks my brother, it's really people like you and the fans that make any of this possible for us!!! Who wants to put in all the countless hours if you can't share the fruits of your labor with people around the world?
|Other information about Exumer on this site|
|Review: Fire & Damnation|
|Review: Fire Before Possession - The Lost TapesÂ|
|Interview with vocalist Mem von Stein on December 4, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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