The last night of a tour is always a big event for any band, and for German prog rockers KariBow, who were playing their eighth concert in nine nights, today was no different.
After sharing the stage with fellow prog bands Zio, The Room, I Am The Manic Whale and The Hayley Griffiths Band, tonight's show at O'Riley's in the northern English port city of Hull, was the last of three nights co-headlining with This Winter Machine.
The driving force behind KariBow is Oliver Rüsing. Before stepping onstage he chats with the DPRP's Stefan Hennig about the tour, the new KariBow release, Supernatural Foe Rebirth, and many other things.
Interview with Oliver Rüsing
DPRP: Its the last night of the tour, how has everything been going?
Oliver Rüsing: Fantastic, it feels like we have just been warming up.
I could not believe it when I first saw the list of tour dates. Rather than playing the usual big cities like Manchester, you decided to visit smaller towns and venues.
We had some criteria. Every day off costs you money, so if we played venues which were not specifically prog venues, it's better to have a few people there, almost like a public rehearsal, which is better than just spending money on a hotel. Luckily we had people watching us, but there was a danger no one would come. We said we wanted to play as much as possible and we wanted to do it in a reasonable sequence.
The only long way we had to go was to Tavistock in Deon. Sue and Colin Smith who very much organised the tour, together with me, live in Barnstable, so we started the tour near there, then to Southampton, from there to London, Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Leicester.
It's nice having bands visiting the North of England.
I would have loved to have gone to Scotland, but people have told me that is a long way to go. It was not possible this time, but when we come back, which we will, as we have been asked to come back by some of the venues, we will start in the North and then go further up North.
The beauty of Hull for bands from the continent is you can get straight onto the ferry back home.
That is what we are doing. I was a bit worried about sea sickness, but the band convinced me it was better to take the ferry across to Holland, and then back to Germany.
The impact of the UK leaving the European Union and the effect of foreign bands touring the UK is not yet known. There has been talk of bands who enter the UK having to pay tax and duty on merchandise they bring with them when they enter the country, irrespective of how much or little they sell. How do you feel about possibly being one of the last European bands to tour the UK?
Yes, we may be one of the last! I have no idea what impact it will have on people living here. People may have more important things to worry about than bands. I have thought much more about prices, with the exchange rate going down over the last weeks in a remarkable way, and we are getting little back from places like Amazon when it has been paid for in pounds, not Euros.
The live band. How did you go about taking what was essentially a studio project and turn it into a live band, and how did you find the other members?
It has been a long process, because I was not used to working with other people. I had spent 13 years in the studio, just producing for myself. There are about 20 unreleased KariBow albums nobody knows about.
Hopefully they will get released.
Yes, other people keep on asking, as there is an increasing demand. The band, a friend said, I know a drummer and a bass player, and we got together in 2014. From there, there is just one band member left who is sitting right behind me, which is Gerald, the drummer. The drum's were what I worried about the most, as I still feel like a drummer.
How do you find a drummer to play in your band when you are primarily a drummer yourself?
I got the feeling that if I could play with another drummer, then I would be able to play with other people. There were certain reasons why other band members left, or it didn't work. One thing was people did not, on first, listen to the music, realise how complicated the music is, as it has so many hook lines. Most people concentrate on the vocals, they concentrate on the hook lines, but when you get deeper into the arrangement, you realise nothing is repeating. The bass and the bass drum are always combining. They all have to learn a lot of stuff, which I very much appreciate.
It is so much easier when you compose it yourself, because you already have it in your head. They have to learn all the stuff I'm doing. What we tend to do is arrange things a little differently, so it works with the band. They all love the way it sounds on the album, so they want to get as close as possible to the original. The one very important thing is that we are all friends, and the newer members have a great chemistry, so we don't feel like a KariBow cover band. They feel involved in the process, which will make it much easier for me in the future to get them involved in the studio productions.
Is that the way forward for KariBow?
I have been inviting guests from all over the world, which is a step forward for me. Take Micheal Sadler, it was an honour to work with him, I have been a Saga fan from 14, then this guy is singing on my album. I had to get used to his voice because I got so used to working on my own, and then he sang a vocal line which was a little different from how I had sung it before. But then I got used to it and now I think it is much better than how I sang it.
For me it is a learning process, and I have begun to open up, but I am not at the point where I invite the band to play the whole of the songs. It's step by step, piece by piece.
It appears you like to be in total control of a recording project. Do you have anyone you let hear your music before it is complete; a critical friend so to speak?
For me it is very complicated. I have a very organic way of composing. I always do it when I am on my own. I keep switching instruments all the time. When I have an idea I record the drums, then I record the bass and it flows, it's very organic. For me it feels artificial to stop in the middle, as I always have ideas. My problem is I never have no ideas. I don't know what it feels like to be bored. There is so much stuff in my music that I have to learn how to reduce it, which I hope I managed on the last album. Now, when I am not quite sure of an idea, I go and ask the band, or band members, which begins getting them into the process. It is a learning process for me until, for me, a song comes alive. That's the moment when I think that's really great. I want it like this.
The new/old album. What made you decide the time was right to re-record Supernatural Foe? Was it almost a cathartic exercise after recording MOnuMENTO?
It was an important thing, I have become very much confronted with my past. I keep asking myself how can you stand 13 years in the studio? And what happened to your project which started out as a six-piece band in 1997/98. It was long ago. After producing MOnuMENTO, which was a monumental project, the sound is really big, it is a huge wall of sound, I thought what can I do next?
I wanted to do something which was a little bit more reduced, a little bit easier. When I originally recorded the album in 1998, everything was very effortless, because there were no goals, no audience with any expectations, and it felt kind of right for me to go back and re-record it with the modern equipment.
Is there a chance of releasing any live recordings?
We tried on this tour but not all the venues are capable of giving us all the stems. We had a wonderful live recording from the kick-off show in The Netherlands. From this I got the stems to do the mixing. Background Magazine have provided the videos. It would have been a wonderful base, but we have not done any recordings here because we could not get all the stuff with us on tour. It is a future project.
Now you are at the end of the UK tour, what's next?
I think it would be good idea to start the next year finally playing somewhere in Germany. The fans there have been waiting for two years to play in Germany, and I'm afraid it's becoming something like the Scorpions story. I did an acoustic project in Germany and it was a good idea because you can make money doing that and it was a nice approach. There are no fixed dates but we will defiantly play in Germany next year, and also come back to the UK.
KariBow - Supernatural Foe Rebirth
After toiling away writing and producing music for 20 years, and having just released your most lavish piece of work, the double CD, MOnuMENTO, what do you do next? Well, for Oliver Rüsing, he went and did the total opposite of what anyone would have expected. He went back two decades, to one of KariBow's earliest releases, and re recorded the whole thing. Not just remixing it, no, that would not satisfy Oliver. The whole album was re-recorded, so that it benefited from the technological advances since the release of the original.
Not having a copy of the original release (these are not easy to come by, it was limited to only 100 copies), the only comparison I have between the two releases are the track timings of both. The length of tracks on the Rebirth edition all exceed their original lengths, except for current live favourite Is That You?. The new version is nearly a minute shorter, and features current KariBow live guitarist Philipp Dauenhauer, providing the solo on the new recording.
Some of the newly recorded tracks far exceed their original timings. The longest two, Burning Books and The Garden, are the stand-out songs on the release. Burning Books nearly doubles its original length to eleven minutes. The song appears to be almost auto-biographical, seeming to reflect the choice Oliver made when leaving his original vocation as a teacher, and making the tough decision to follow his dream of writing and producing music. The song has an amazingly addictive hookline, delivered with such passion, it brings a lump to your throat when hearing it.
Some recent releases, which have featured external soundbites, have done it so badly that it is cringe-worthy to say the least. The most obvious example being Dream Theater's The Astonishing. Unlike many who hate the album, it is probably in my top 5 favourite Dream Theater albums, but the appalling sounds used for crying and marching are awful. Unlike The Gardens, which begins with sound of nature and birds singing, that sound real. A great deal of care has been taken in capturing these noises, so they sound authentic and add to the pleasure of listening to the music. The lyrics appear to be about life choices, and decisions being made. They could almost be a poem when read independently of the music.
Some of the tracks do contain obvious parts that, knowing they were written 20 years ago, give reference to the era. This is due to the AOR feel of some arrangements. But if you were not aware of its origins, then the album still feels fresh and vibrant. The obvious musical similarities are with Saga, who Oliver confesses to have been a huge fan of, and fellow German prog bands Everon and Chandelier. Added to this are touches of Peter Gabriel and later period Genesis. This, for me, is a match made in heaven.
The change of running order is probably to enable the album to flow better than the original. If this was the case, then opening track Run was the correct choice to introduce the listener to KariBow. A foot-tapping rocker, which enables Oliver to demonstrate the versatility of his voice, and his skill in writing great hook lines. The musicianship shows that you are not listening to an ordinary rock band, as the ever changing musical landscape draws you in, and keeps your interest in wanting to discover more.
The introduction to the title track, Supernatural Foe, is evidence of the fact that Oliver Rüsing is a drummer at heart. A fast, melodic, and ever changing drum pattern is a joy to listen to. The drumming drives the track along, through ever changing tempos and rhythms.
The bonus track, The Black Jam, is an instrumental which will leave you laughing at its start, before launching into a Van Halen type riff, then taking you on a musical roller-coaster ride. Well worth its inclusion.
A feature which could be easily overlooked, is the stunning production. It is so good on this album, it feels effortless, but the quality is an aural delight. This eye to detail extends to the packaging. The design is terrific, and in my many years of collecting music, it is the first time, when putting the booklet into its holder in the digi pack, that the lines on booklet and cover match exactly. If you get a copy, try it and be amazed.
It has been a long time since I have heard an album that oozes the passion, love and commitment which can be heard on Supernatural Foe. It is apt that the title has Rebirth tagged to it, as the experience gained over the years since its original release, has helped create something fresh and new.
Of all the emotions that I felt during listening to this release, happiness is the overriding one. So, next time you are thinking about buying a lottery ticket, plump for Supernatural Foe Rebirth instead, because money will not bring you the guaranteed happiness that listening to this release by KariBow will.