On the 23rd of May 'Into The Open', the debut album from German rockers 21 Octayne, is released through AFM records. Having reviewed the album and been more than a little impressed, I get to put my surgical gloves on and delve a little deeper.
Guitarist Marco Wriedt very kindly agreed to take some time out of the band's busy schedule (they are currently on the road) to answer a few questions.
Firstly for those over here in the UK who haven't come across the band as yet, I believe the seeds were planted in 2010 at a jam session when three members of the band - yourself, drummer Alex Landenburg and bassist Andrew Lauer - got together. Was there an immediate spark, that moment when you think 'holy shit we have got to do this'?
"Yes exactly! Alex Landenburg and I always wanted to form our own band with top notch guys and Andrew was a friend of Alex and he told me great things about Andrew! So we three met up in a rehearsal room and yes, the magic was there after five minutes. I was so blown away by Andrew's abilities.
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"We're just a four piece but he is also like our rhythm guitar and keyboard player in a sense. His bass playing is that diverse and powerful I loved it after ten seconds. I was playing with Alex in AXXIS before and I've been a huge fan of his style for years now. For me Alex is the best example how a drummer can combine groove and technique.
"It's a always a thrill to play with these guys! Every gig is different - we don't use Mac Books on stage, no backing tracks, no click tracks... just four guys playing music and of course Hagen's voice has such a unique quality that we all admire - he's the best singer for this group!"
I'm glad you mentioned the bass playing. Andrew Lauer is not only a technically good bassist but incredibly creative as well. The funk type patterns he plays, especially at the beginning of tracks, are superb. Is that something you aimed for or a sound that just happened in the studio?
"Well, Funk music is one of his major influences for sure! It's in his DNA you know and you don't need to tell him what to play or what not to play... he just knows what the song needs. Same with Alex, I'm blessed to play with these amazing musicians."
Some who know me probably get tired of me saying it, but to me the biggest part of the better bands is the songwriting. How does that work with 21 Octayne, what is the process?
"Our goal is to combine hooky songwriting with exciting musicianship! We want to sound fresh and current but on the other hand we want to bring back that musical element that I have been missing in the mainstream Rock world the last couple of years.
"Everybody in the band also has different influences and we are all very open minded musicians so we mix it all together! Andrew, being American, adds this groove touch to the band which we all very like, so our songwriting is a combination of many many things. I prepared all the riffs and the majority of the harmonic structures and we just jammed in the rehearsal room. It was that easy and natural! No "Email songwriting" as I call it... we all wrote the songs together in the rehearsal room like all the classic bands did in the past."
You mentioned to me that your musical influences personally mainly come from over here. Who were the people that inspired you to do what you do? Coming as you do from a country that produced such guitar geniuses as Michael Schenker and Uli Roth, did that have an effect on your musical upbringing?
"Yes, Michael Schenker and Uli Roth are amazing players with such a unique tone and sound. I always liked them a lot but I grew up with many different kind of players. I could name a couple... Steve Morse, Steve Hackett, Marty Friedman, Steve Howe, Jimmy Page, Tom Scholz, Neal Schon, John Petrucci, Brian May but also Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach had a huge impact on me. But yeah, I was mainly influenced by all the Prog Greats. I just love Progressive music especially from Europe - Yes, Genesis, Nektar, Tangerine Dream, King Crimson...
"Alex and I are also huge AOR Fans... but at the same time we love Dream Theater and Michael Bolton, Elton, Electric Light Orchestra...so you get the picture."
Talking of Germany, so many great rock bands have come out of there - Scorpions, Helloween, Accept, Rammstein, Kraftwerk to name a few. Is it something in the water?!
"Yes, I'm really proud that there are so many German bands that have or have had an impact on the international music scene!"
Being a mischievous person as I am.... What is your opinion on the very inappropriately named talent shows that we are bombarded with these days such as X Factor (I feel a cold shudder just saying the word)? To me it has very little to do with music but we are faced with a generation of people, many of whom think that is the way music should be created, and many of those who have something to say musically are being lost in the sea of corporate mediocrity.
"I don't like these shows and I can't take them serious at all but I think Amercian Idol produced some great talent like Adam Lambert or Carrie Underwood! Because those guys are really amazing singers, but over here in Germany these shows suck really bad! It's just about being famous for two weeks and that's it... it has this McDonalds mentality! It's just a product and has nothing to do with music..."
Touring is of course the staple diet of rock fans and bands. This day and age it is a lot harder than it used to be with so many venues closing down and music culture having changed over the years. Is that something you notice and find frustrating? Do you find the majority of your audiences are of the classic rock generation or are you managing to draw a lot of the younger crowds?
"There are still many clubs where you can play. The booking agency is very important. If you have a good booking agency then you are on a good way...
"I grew up in the 90s... I never cared about certain styles or Genres. I just liked what I liked you know! Of course, we're not living in the 80s anymore but I don't know if that really is a bad thing. There have always been good and bad things in every decade but as I said before we don't like this plastic mentality these days.
"More and more rock albums these days sound as plastic as modern pop productions. Programmed drums, too much editing... you name it... you are killing the soul with that. We want to be different and send a statement.
"There are of course great new bands out there these days. Bands like Rival Sons or the comeback of the The Darkness or Circus Maximus... I like these bands a lot! And yes, of course we also want to draw younger crowds, we are in our late 20s so yes... this music is for everyone. You can call us "Classic Rock 2.0".
"21 Octayne wants to unite generations of music lovers - we have something in our music for everybody!"
And talking of touring, what are your plans regarding coming to the UK?
"We want to come over as soon as possible of course - playing support shows with bigger bands and doing the club gigs. I guess next year looks good or maybe even in the end of the year, fingers crossed."
Time to be devil's advocate again! What are your opinions on the modern music industry and the current state of rock music?
"I could talk about that for hours! As I mentioned before, there is a lot of plastic and bubblegum out there at the moment and I don't like that but you still have successful bands out there these days that are great and highly skilled. There just should be more of them.
"Then you have the downloading/streaming problem these days and I hope in five years time there will be a solution to the illegal download/internet problem. Rock music is having a hard time at the moment. The big festivals do work of course but I hate the fact that some of the even classic bands are playing in front of 200-500 people nowadays... that's just not right. Even the "Evil" 90s were better in that way. I still love and buy CD's and even vinyl and that will never change!"
You mentioned getting back that sound that has been missing from rock, the traditional songwriting and live methods. To my mind there is a reason that so many bands that have been around for a long time are still delivering the goods - they all served their apprenticeships, spent time on the road living out of vans, grew as musicians whereas now a lot of it is about instant success and the idea of being famous is more important to some people than the musical content. Do you think too many have got away from what a rock band is all about and why people play music?
"Yes, the whole rock/music business has nothing to do with rock n' roll anymore... Fourty years ago bands would do 3/4/5 encores if it was a magical night. These days it's curfew at the 11pm, "Thank you good night" because the next day there is Holiday On Ice in the same venue and everything has to be cleaned up early in the morning! Everything got so commercial and generic, everybody knows the setlist before they are entering the show etc...
"Add the casting shows on top of that... plastic... again... lots of plastic... less and less real emotions. There also great things these days but some feelings, moments and excitement of the past just needs to come back 21st century style and we will do our very best I promise."
Regarding the last musical piece of the 21 Octayne jigsaw, vocalist Hagen Grohe. How did his involvement come about?
"Hagen was a buddy from Andrew back in the day! Andrew heard about Hagen's involvement with Joe Perry and told Alex and me about it. At that time, summer 2010, we were looking for a singer and all of a sudden there was Hagen! And it was just fate I guess. He was the missing link, incredible singer with an amazing range."
Listening to the album, it is easy to hear the massive range of music that influenced the band. I would think that just about every genre of music is covered. Was there ever any doubt about how it would all fit together?
"Hagen's voice is the glue I think. We can do whatever we want musically because when he sings it all makes sense and I think there is a red line. First and foremost we are a rock Band... We just don't like to eat Pizza every day ;)"
What are the future plans for recording for the band?
"I've started collecting the first couple ideas for the second album! We all have some ideas already but we all concentrate on our debut album now."
Do you have any words for those who think the rock musician is a dying breed?
"There is always a way if you believe in yourself and in the music!! After all it's the music that matters. That's why we do it."
The album itself is out on May 23rd. How can all the eager people get hold of a copy?
"It's a worldwide release and you can pre-order it already on Amazon."
Now everyone knows how 21 Octayne came to be so it is just left for them to be as blown away as I was listening to the album. May 23rd is definitely a date for the diaries.
Marco thanks for taking the time to answer MetalTalk's questions. We look forward to seeing and hearing you on these shores very soon.