Interview with vocalist and guitarist Steffen Kummerer
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: April 4, 2020
Thulcandra is the creation of vocalist/guitarist Steffen Kummerer, better known for his main band, Obscura. Besides an enthusiasm for playing technical, progressive and tricky Death Metal, Steffen also has a soft spot for melodic and atmospheric blackened Death Metal, as he grew up with bands like Sacramentum, Unanimated, Crown of Thorns and yes, Dissection. He formed the band in 2003 although things didn't start rolling until 2008 when Steffen revisited the band's 2005 demo, Perishness Around Us.
Since then they have recorded three studio albums, all of which were released on Austria's Napalm Records with the latest album, Ascension Lost, from January 2015.
When Obscura went on tour in Europe in February 2020, Steffen used the opportunity to take his second band with him. Playing two shows every night proves the guy loves performing for the fans and speaks to his total commitment to a serious career as a musician.
The Metal Crypt traveled to downtown Helsinki, Finland, to meet Steffen, who was more than keen on talking about his future plans with Thulcandra, plus Obscura as well...
OF TOURING PACKAGES, DOUBLE SHIFTS AND STUFF
Luxi: First of all, welcome to Finland. Is this your first time in Finland or have you been here before?
Steffen: Thank you. Good to be here.
I had a short stint playing at the Tuska Festival in 2016 I think, but we did not see the country itself. That was a little bit sad. We arrived quite early in the day, did the show and boarded a flight the next day at five o'clock in the morning, so nothing. This is actually the first club show in Finland. It was something a couple of friends of ours from Finland have demanded for years but we never made it happen since the ferries are so expensive.
If you fly in, you have to go with a certain amount of people to do a tour. It's hard but this time we combined the Baltics, traveling from Southern Europe through Eastern Europe through the Baltics and through Scandinavia to Germany. We finally made that happen.
So, coming back here it's my very first time sitting in downtown Helsinki [*laughs*].
Luxi: This tour been going on since February 15th, how has this tour been going for you so far? Where has the best response been thus far?
Steffen: First of all, the entire tour package was kind of an experiment. In the past we always played with genre-typical bands. We always made packages that fit the technical or progressive Death Metal scheme. This time, we tried to bring a little bit of diversity. God Dethroned are kind of fulfilling the old school Death Metal and melodic direction. Thulcandra have a slight hint towards Black Metal and Fractal Universe from France, are more or less a new band. I would say they are more the modern younger generation, combining progressive Heavy Metal with some good Gojira-like groove.
It's kind of mixed but it is actually a big success. It's very nice to see that you have friends that are not into, for example, Black Metal and wouldn't actually listen to us or watch a show of Thulcandra and vice versa. In terms of turnout, there are very good shows here and there. If you have a concert on a Monday or Tuesday, it's so-so, but still you do a good show and people go home with a big smile on their faces and that's a success in the end in my opinion.
Luxi: Indeed, it has a lot to do with which day of the week it is.
Steffen: Yes, if you think about it, you go to a show on a Monday or Tuesday you have to ask yourself, "okay, I'll have to work during the entire week. Is it worth it?" Then you go and you still have a fantastic experience.
Luxi: What is it like to play two shows each night, with Obscura and Thulcandra? I can only imagine it being pretty tough to get those two shows done each night.
Steffen: It's demanding, that's for sure but fun at the same time.
Luxi: How do you pull it off every night?
Steffen: It is just a band in between. Thulcandra is the second band every night and Obscura the last one and in between, I have like an hour but still, I love it. For me personally, it is a completely different world playing with Thulcandra because we don't work within certain systems, we don't work with a huge production; it's just pure old school and straightforward, and this is rewarding.
With Obscura, it's completely different. Everything is planned, everything is spot on. It's two different worlds but I founded both bands more than 15 years ago and playing with both each night is rewarding.
PRE-PLANNING MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Luxi: Did it require extra planning about where to start this tour and where to end it? Coming up here to northern Europe can sometimes be problematic because you need to cross this little sea by boat and that in itself requires some extra muscles, you know.
Steffen: Well, it was all a matter of planning indeed and my initial plan when we released our current album with Obscura, Diluvium, in 2018, was to play not only one of those, let's call it "regular" European tours. I wanted to play in most of the countries. What we did is basically divide tour into two legs. The first leg happened in 2018 when we went to Portugal, through Spain and France and back.
This tour, I wanted to cover Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltics because after four weeks or longer, the motivation and let's say, the physiques of everyone is like, going under. I wanted to have that done. I was not able to include every country I wanted, for example, Croatia, Greece and Turkey. We'd like to play Albania or Iceland, too. Still, we covered most of it, I would say 90%. It's all a matter of planning. If you have a good team around you, it works.
I don't do all this myself, of course. I have to send the directions but we have an agent, we have a management team and even friends that promote shows. For example, in Bosnia and Serbia, friends who actually organized our very first shows in the country 13 years ago when we went there in a sprinter, helped us. The same guys are still friends and now help us out with the bigger shows.
We had a good turnout and we enjoyed it. It's something that reminds you why you're doing this and why you start even as a small, tiny underground band, you make friends all over the world and in the end, if you're a nice guy, if you behave, it somehow comes back. That karma thing [*laughs*].
Luxi: Generally speaking, if you treat people well and give them something good, they do the same.
Steffen: Yes. Fifteen years later and it still makes me smile.
On the other hand, you have to face the fact that the Northern part of Europe is wealthier than the very Southern or Eastern part and you simply have to make things work.
And yeah, it still worked. We got, for example, help from the German government to rent gear in Scandinavia - Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, I'm not sure. It's quite normal that if you're in a band, you're basically ambassadors of your culture, of the country. You go out and you get some help from the government with logistics. In Germany that started some years ago. We got help to make it happen.
My basic intention was to play shows of the same standard in a very poor country where gear is simply not that developed or you don't have it there as in, for example, Sweden, Norway, Finland or in Germany. That definitely works and I'm very proud of that, that we made that happen. That's also coming back to a question on the matter of planning logistics upfront.
Luxi: Yes, careful pre-planning means everything. You need to start early making plans of how to make it happen without losing a fortune on the road. You can't just crisscross Europe in your cozy nightliner because it costs too much.
Steffen: Yes, that's very true. It's a matter of organizing and I started planning this tour a year ago. Roughly a year ago, planning carefully where to go how to do it, and so on...
BIRTH OF THULCANDRA
Luxi: You are, of course, mostly known for your work in Obscura and you also Thulcandra rollin' since 2003. What made you decide to form Thulcandra?
Steffen: That was not really a decision, to be honest. If you listen to the first and only demo of Obscura, it's like a mixture of different styles. Death Metal, a little Black Metal, a little this and that, we even tried some odd meters here and there. It was like a mixed bag; you couldn't tell if the band had any character or any real origin to it. It was basically four friends playing music together and everybody puts on the table what they have in mind and we figured it was too much.
With Obscura, we went the Death Metal route, but at the same time, Black Metal or the Swedish Black Metal scene was the other half of my musical "Metal education" if you will. Fun fact, the founding members of Thulcandra were all Obscura members. We basically split the music away and wanted to see where it would go. It all has its roots in Obscura but a year after Obscura, I founded Thulcandra with the guys and we're still here.
We are still making music but you see how different it went. Thulcandra, of course, is on a different level. With Obscura we play all around the world. For every Obscura record, we will have a touring cycle. With Thulcandra, we just play selected shows and some smaller tours. We only do things when we want to. With Obscura it's my main income, it's what I make a living off so it's a completely different story.
Fun fact, we rehearse more often with Thulcandra. We meet like twice a month, roughly something like that. With Obscura it's just before tours. We have a strict schedule of three weekends, we rehearse entirely from front to end. It's two different worlds. If you cover both, it somehow makes me happy.
INFLUENTIAL SWEDISH MELODIC BLACK/DEATH METAL SCENE
Luxi: It's actually Jon Nödveidt of Dissection's musical heritage that shines through strongly in Thulcandra's music. Was it intentional to carry the same musical torch that ended after Jon committed suicide back in 2006?
A follow-up question is does it bug you that some people call Thulcandra a Dissection clone without realizing that one can pay homage to legends in so many different ways?
Steffen: First of all, there was one Dissection, no other. I still listen to Dissection. It's a broad palette of all those bands that were released on Sweden's Old Fashion Records. I'm a collector and as I collect all of those records from Mörk Gryning, Unanimated, Eucharist, Sacramentum, Dawn - the Swedish one - that is basically my world. I simply loved it, all this melodic Swedish Black/Death Metal stuff, also a band like Vinterland. All this stuff merged into what we're writing with Thulcandra.
If you see the album covers of Necrolord, Kristian Wåhlin, who has made all the cool looking covers for many bands, they look all great. Barely anyone really puts the effort these days to invest in good artwork. Most are more or less cheap Photoshop artworks.
There are also some good album Photoshopped cover works but we paid a lot of money for a real oil painting artwork simply to benefit in the end by having a very nice vinyl edition, like making special vinyl editions having all those artworks. It's not made for fast consumption; it's made to enjoy the entire thing.
Luxi: Did Kristian create all of your album covers from scratch or were they taken from his gallery?
Steffen: Yes, completely from scratch. We give him a complete freedom. He knows exactly what we are playing. He gets a pre-production demo, songs with a couple of lyrics, and then he starts. We don't know how it will look until he delivers it. Since you mentioned the galleries, it went completely the opposite. He drew the three album covers for us, and he'll also be drawing the fourth one, and he brought those covers to his own gallery. I have seen the Under a Frozen Sun artwork at many of his exhibitions. It's fantastic.
Luxi: You have done three studio albums with the band so far. The last one, Ascension Lost, came out in 2015, so I assume there's some new material in the works for a new album. Can you tell me about this new material? Is it in line with the band's previous albums?
Steffen: That's a hard question. We play a certain style and we won't move from that at all. We play a new song from the forthcoming new album on this tour. In fact, we are in the middle of writing it and the big gap from when we released Ascension Lost to this day is simply that I was so busy with Obscura. I released two albums. I toured, I don't know how many hundreds of shows we played, a couple, and that's the reason. It's basically my fault that Thulcandra was, not on hold per se, but we didn't record anything during that time.
Luxi: Do you ever feel like 24/7 still isn't enough time to be really productive for both bands? How do you split time between your bands?
Steffen: Actually, there was a third and a fourth world as well. I had a regular job until the end of last year, but I quit. I make a living out of music only now.
That helps a lot with splitting time between Thulcandra, Obscura and the fourth one, my family. I have a lovely daughter and she requires some attention, but now it's way better. With Obscura and Thulcandra, I simply have to get into the right mood. I don't write a song for this band first and then another song for my other band. I write the entire record with the guys from front to back and then I start another one.
Luxi: When you grab your guitar and start jamming, you're not thinking this riff might fit Thulcandra and this might go well for Obscura. You're just focusing on one thing at a time.
Steffen: I tried that but didn't work for me. It might work for other people, but for me it's not the right thing to do. I'd rather have an entire project finished from start to the very end and just start focusing on the next one.
Luxi: Some musicians write stuff when they're on tour, does that work for you, too?
Steffen: As for writing on tour, we did that with Obscura for one record, but it didn't turn out too well. It's too complicated to concentrate since the schedules every day are very, very tight. Even if it's a European tour with cities a little bit closer to each other, compared to North America for example, it's quite hard.
To start writing a song when you know you only have an hour or there's another appointment or something, it just doesn't make much sense. I would rather try make things right; the correct way and then take the next step.
Luxi: If you keep yourself busy, it eventually starts killing your motivation and everything else in between really.
Steffen: Yes, totally.
Luxi: How much do the other members support you in the songwriting for this band or does this train have only one conductor, i.e., you?
Steffen: That actually changed from album to album. The first album was kind of mixed. I think I wrote roughly half of the music and the other guys wrote parts and all of us together rearranged everything. On the last record, Ascension Lost, we had a completely different split. Our then guitarist wrote all the lyrics and I wrote the music. On the new album, it's completely mixed. We even write songs together.
As I mentioned before, we still play the same genre, but since we change how we write those songs every time, our songwriting methods tend to change. Also, we take a different musical direction here and there. We have a different drummer since Erebor from Secrets of the Moon joined the band some years ago. Also, we have Christian Kratzer on bass and Mariano Delastik on guitar. From the previous record to this new one, we have a completely new lineup. Everybody plays a little differently. Especially drummers, I can tell you within a second it's a different one, so it will sound a little different, but I'm very sure and convinced you will immediately hear that it's our band.
Luxi: Do you see yourself as the main filter there it comes to approving and choosing the right riffs, melodies, and stuff, for the band?
Steffen: Yes, but it's a democratic dictatorship [*laughs*].
Luxi: Haha... that's a new way to put it. Thulcandra has been around for 17 years, how would you say the Metal scene has changed since you started the band? Do you still find it innovative and exciting or do you see it getting less unoriginal and uninteresting?
Steffen: Actually, there's a bright future for Metal music, at least that's how I see it. What I can say is that there's more music being consumed than ever before since it's way more convenient. You have services like Deezer, Spotify, all these streaming platforms, which means you don't have to buy devices for playing physical formats of music anymore. That might not be the best thing for all the collectors. On the other hand, you are able to listen to whatever music you want to immediately. That means when you go to your job or you visit friends, you have whatever music you want there. The entire distribution of music is way better than 10 or 20 years ago.
Touring is also getting way better. What I have figured out over the last 20 years, the communication with the Internet is so easy. It's so easy to make tours happen even on a low level, even if you play just for a couple of friends, not looking at money, not looking at budgets, if you want to go out you have the option to do it. That was not possible like 20 years ago.
I remember the first tours we did, there were a lot more borders, fewer countries in the European Union or in the Schengen Area. Now it's quite easy. When we go outside of the European Union, for example, I feel, "Okay, it can still be a hassle".
In the end, the options are way easier to access for everyone. On the other hand, here's the big con, there are so many bands that everything is flooded. There are so many shows that people I think will get bored quite soon because there are so many festivals, so many club shows, you cannot visit all of them. It's not possible. Even if you would like to, it's not possible. For example, I live close to Munich in Germany, and we had 29 Metal shows in November alone. Twenty-nine and I'm sure I didn't count all of them. There's only a certain amount of people listening to that music although it's more popular than ever. I know that Finland, for example, has the most metalheads per capita, listening to this kind of music. Even in Germany, Metal is largely accepted. A big event like Wacken Open Air is accepted the same way as our Oktoberfest in the south. It's just a cultural event that's accepted. Twenty years ago, if you had a long hair and spikes and leather jacket, you were not going to that venue.
Luxi: People assumed you must have been unemployed or a drug user or some kind of hermit living outside society [*laughs*].
Steffen: Yes, exactly. Something like that, and that has changed. Let's see how it turns out. In general, I'm very, very positive. There are so many good new bands coming up all the time.
Luxi: I meant to ask this before but are you guys still on Napalm Records?
Steffen: Yes, we're still on Napalm Records. The next album will be released through the label as well. We just released three live clips from our 15-year anniversary show. They're on YouTube, we just made them for friends and fans, which is really fun to see. Actually, we talked about recording the album two years ago.
Not everything works as planned. We expect to have the new album released by early 2021.
Luxi: What do you expect from 2020 as far as Thuncandra's comings and goings are concerned?
Steffen: There is a chance Thulcandra will play a North American tour for the very first time, but we have to figure out if it's possible, concerning jobs and families. Aside from that, we just want to record the album finally. That's the biggest focus we have right now.
Luxi: It's been such a long time since your Ascension Lost album came out, there's always a risk that some people may forget that there's a band called Thulcandra from Germany.
Steffen: That's why we actually went to do this tour, to get the attention back a little bit. It's been working quite well. CDs were sold out a week after the tour started. Everything is gone.
Luxi: When I came over here, I had an intention to buy all of your albums from the merchandise desk, but I noticed quite quickly that there was none there...
Steffen: Vinyls were sold out immediately, so there is definitely demand for this music because there's barely a blackened Death Metal band with that melodic approach out there touring at all or playing bigger festivals. Of course, there's Necrophobic, a fantastic band, and great people and a really good live band. Maybe Naglfar, but that's it. I'm very sure if you went to two or three festivals in your life you've seen both.
We are still newcomers after 17 years and people really enjoy it. I see that. At every show we play, most of the audience doesn't know Thulcandra. Maybe 20, 30 people have heard the band before. In the end, it works. We really get a good reaction.
Luxi: You guys are keeping the melodic Swedish Black/Death Metal flag high via Thulcandra...
Steffen: Fun fact, we are from Germany.
In fact, I'm looking forward to playing in Stockholm, Sweden, in two days. Actually, three or four years ago we were invited for a show in Stockholm. It was a Dissection tribute night, and it was sold out in Stockholm. We were the main band playing there. Germans coming to Sweden, to Stockholm playing Dissection.
Luxi: That must have been a cool and fun night for you.
Steffen: It was really fun, and I have good memories from that show. All the guys who invited us had us sleep at their houses back then, and, of course, they visited the show in Stockholm, too. That's what I call a true friendship. That's something that doesn't change over the years.
Luxi: True words. The whole Metal scene is a really friendly place. When you meet people who are metalhreads, they become one big family, basically. Everybody seems to have the same topics, same mindsets and so on. It's just one big family.
Steffen: Yes, it definitely is. Like for us, it doesn't matter if we play in Romania, in Switzerland, in France, or in some other country. Metalheads, even if most of these people are strangers to us, they come and talk to us, which is nice, of course.
Luxi: It's cool to be a metalhead. Alright, I believe I got everything covered, so thanks a lot for your time, Steffen. Hopefully, I got that right as I don't have an idea how to pronounce German names.
Steffen: Your German pronunciation is surely better than my Finnish.
That's for sure. Thanks to you, too, for coming over and having this chat with me.
|Other information about Thulcandra on this site|
|Review: Fallen Angel's Dominion|
|Review: Under a Frozen Sun|
|Review: Ascension Lost|
|Video: Spirit of the Night (Live)|
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