Hitting the road across Europe in support of their fantastic new album “Paramount”, Andy Read jumps on board the Sieges Even tour bus to share a packet of peanuts with singer Arno Menses.
In the early 90s German outfit Sieges Even created quite an underground following with their unique flurry of Technical Metal. Then they became lost, presumed dead, for almost a decade.
When news of a comeback emerged a few years ago, guitarists across the land were sharpening their plectrums in eager anticipation of another dose of guitar dexterity. What emerged, with the superbly titled. “The Art Of Navigating By The Stars”, may have disappointed those eager six-stringers, yet it won the band an extensive new fanbase across the globe.
I’ll put my cards on the table, and say that that album stands as one of my all-time favourite pieces of music. In effect, one song split into numerous melodic sections, it is the perfect example of modern progressive music.
The chance to hear those songs in a live setting, is one of the reasons that, on a chilly morning, I find myself in the small Dutch town of Baarlo. The third date of a tour, with German Progmetallers Dreamscape in support, has landed both bands a slot on the ProgPower Europe Festival, alongside the legendary Jon Oliva.
Baarlo is familiar territory for the band’s singer Arno Menses, who is actually from The Netherlands. We had previously spoken at some length about “The Art of Navigating…” album. Back then, the best story was when I learnt that how his invitation to join the band was a fairytale come true. The amiable singer had for many years been a big fan of the band.
This time around, I begin by asking how he had found it, settling into a line-up that he had admired for many years.
‘I think it all went really naturally,’ he answered. ‘The band accepted me immediately as one of the guys. It was never a case of ‘you’re the newcomer and we are the experienced members’. That made it so much easier for me to accept that I was part of Sieges Even. I could see that they are just normal blokes, have normal jobs and are skilled musicians. Maybe, I also came to realise, that I have some skills as a musician too, and can compete with them.’
Even so, performing with musicians he had admired for many years as a fan, must have been a nerve-wracking experience.
‘The very first time I met them, was for a demo recording. I was in the singer’s booth with my headphones on, and the band was sat on some settees opposite. I noticed my lip frantically quivering every time I sung. At the end of the first take, Alex merely said: ‘Do it again’. So that was the first time, and we drunk a beer together and after that everything was cool.’
“The Art of Navigating…” is a classic concept album, following the journey of the individual from new-born to manhood. On “Paramount”, the songs appear more individualistic. I ask Arno if there is again an idea, which ties the songs together.
‘This time they are all individual songs,’ he offers, ‘but there is a message again. The Paramount refers to the dreams of human beings. What am I capable of? About reaching for goals. On some songs it’s more evident than on other songs, but there is a small red line going through the album.’
In reviewing the new album, I commented that it appeared a natural successor to “The Art of Navigating..”, but with a heavier use of the guitar, and a poppiness to some of the melodies. I ask if Arno agreed with such an analysis?
‘If you listen very carefully, there is still a lot of ‘Navigating’ in this album. The difference, is not so much in using more heavy guitar, it is in the essence of the songs. We have really tried to make the songs exist without any bullshit.’
Having now settled into the Sieges line-up, I wondered if the singer was able to play a greater role in composing the songs, or does he still just concentrate on the vocal melodies.
‘Actually, I was completely involved from day one. The only difference this time around, is in the song writing itself. It was completely done through the internet. We didn’t actually physically see each other. Most of the time, I receive almost the finished product when I get the mp3 files in my mailbox. I literally put it in my computer and go ‘lalalalala’ over the top. If the band likes the melody, then Marcus immediately starts writing the lyrics on top of my ‘lalalalala’s. In some cases he so liked my lalalalala’s, that he just kept them in as they were.’
Surely though, that approach is a more difficult one, than getting together and feeding ideas off of each other in a rehearsal room? The chance to spark a bit of spontaneity out of each other.
‘No it’s easier, ‘ he insists. ‘You have so much more time to respond and make good ideas for yourself. You get an MP3 file, along with a comment such as ‘Here's a riff I came up with. What do you think?’ A few guys will change this and that. There is more bouncing ideas around, more time to think things through. You do not have to decide immediately. It is not a matter of being in a rehearsal room for only three hours and having to do something. I think this way is better.’
In promoting “Paramount”, Sieges Even was able to secure a dozen or so dates around Germany and the Benelux countries. The band hopes to have a second spell on the road next year, when they aim to go a little further afield to Italy and Greece, play a few festivals and hopefully a stop in the UK.
‘I’m a big fan of everything to do with the UK,’ admits Arno. ‘The whole Prog thing originally came from England.’
So what can fans expect from a Sieges Even live show?
‘Well, we are concentrating on the last two albums, because we’re picking up that the audience is more interested in the newer work. Of course, there are some real proggies who want to have the thousand notes in one minute. But most of the time there is no response to the old songs anymore. I think that time has passed. The music from “A Sense of Change” comes closest to what we do now. We do play a couple of songs from that album, and it is perfect in the set. But when we play “Lifecycles”, it’s a bit like a novelty act.’
‘As for my approach, well it depends on the audience really. I haven't written down some strict story or act that I have to go though every night. I like to joke around sometimes. One night I may just say ‘Thanks a lot and the next song will be…’, or it might be that I ask people to dance or whatever. It’s the heat of moment. We try to be very spontaneous, and try to show that we are having a good time onstage. We don’t want to pretend we are serious people. We hope the audience picks up on that and has a good time too.’
Last time we spoke, Arno had only played a couple of live gigs with the band. The first of these was as headliners at another festival in Holland, a performance that he was unusually honest in admitting that the band had under-rehearsed for. I am surprised to hear that they didn’t rehearse for this tour either.
We just live so far apart,’ confesses Arno. ‘Marcus lives in Vienna. I live in Rotterdam, someone in Hamburg, someone somewhere else in Germany. We can’t just meet up for a few rehearsals. On the Thursday, before the show on Friday, they did a rehearsal together. I didn’t. I wasn’t there yet, as I still had to work for my boss. So tonight will be my third rehearsal!’
With that in mind, the band’s stunning performance that evening, can only be testament to the superb musical talent that Sieges Even possesses among its four members.
Onto the future, and I enquire whether the tour bus has yet hosted any discussions as to what musical territories the band would like to explore on its next journey into the recording studio.
‘We were discussing where we could go next the other day, and I really haven’t a clue. I was thinking, because we work with samples more now and because everyone’s a big Peter Gabriel fan, maybe we should move more towards exploring that side. But I also heard Alex saying he’d like to do more of a fast song next time. It’s like all kinds of ideas. You put them in a shoebox, shake them around a few times, and this will be the sound of the next album. What I do think, is that we will change. We don’t want to do three albums the same.’
With such a long history to the band, I guess there must also be growing demands for the ubiquitous live album and DVD?
‘People are asking more and more about that. I do think it will be wise to do one more studio album first. This line-up is a very young band, a very new band. We need more live experience together. There is plenty of separate live experience from other groups, but as Sieges Even we need one or two years touring. Then we can go for a really good live event.’
Last time we spoke, Arno revealed that on joining Sieges Even he had been singing in another band, with the eye-catching name of Turd. I am amazed to learn that Turd is also on the rise (!), having just signed a deal to release their debut album.
‘It was called Turd,’ chuckles Arno, ‘ but when we got a record deal, we had to change the name back to Bonebag. I guess shit doesn’t sell!! Although you do hear a lot of it on the radio!!’
INTERVIEW FOR DPRP BY ANDY READ
Sieges Even Official Website
Sieges Even MySpace Page
Bonebag Offical Website
Bonebag MySpace Page
DPRP Review of Sieges Even's - Paramount (2007)
DPRP Review of Sieges Even's - The Art Of Navigating By The Stars (2005)
DPRP Review of Bonebag's - Noli Me Tangere (2007)
DPRP Interview with Arno Menses of Sieges Even (2005)