I spoke recently with Haniel of Death Metal/Experimental group Markradonn about how they have created their unique sound, by incorporating brass instruments and Timpani.
Where are you from originally? Can you tell me how the band started, was it easy to find gigs, what problems did you face at that stage? Also, if you were starting out again, (knowing what you know now) what would you do try to do differently?
Well, the history of Markradonn goes back at least 15 years, when I was just doing vocals in bands on Long Island in the late ’90s. At that time, I wasn’t playing any instruments, but I was working on a lyrical concept about some of the things I was feeling at the time. It was a rough time, and my head felt like a constant blizzard of confusion and frustration, and I was really beginning to get sick of other people’s BS… so much so that at one point I said to someone “I’d rather gut myself than put up with one more second of your crap!!!”. Have you ever felt like that? (Gerry: Hell Yes!)
So I created a concept, based on my own feelings and sense of despondency, about a fictional, nameless person who completely renounces his life, beliefs, and his very identity. He is filled with so much “internal hatred” that it consumes him, and he ends his life in a ritual, which I call the Ceremonial Abnegation. The first three songs deal with the moments leading up to his eventual, inevitable, demise and the last two songs on the album deal with the very last few seconds of his life, right up until the point of his “last breath” and his final thought. The demo song “Final Dying Breath” is one of those last two songs.
This concept is pretty involved, so we broke up the entire thing into about 22 songs, spread out over three albums. So the first one Ceremonial Abnegation: Ad Ex Carne Excoriation will be out at the end of this summer and we have an EP with two songs from the album coming out this month to get things started. The second album deals with what happens to him after he’s dead.
And using just regular conventional instruments like Guitars, drums, bass, etc… wouldn’t be enough to express the mood of the music, so we are incorporating a full-time brass and concert percussion section, and I play some Guitar Synthesizer as well.
As far as gigs, I never intended on this being a “live” project. But, ya know, the other guys in the band are really committed, and we are getting such amazing support that we are now a full time band with live gigs planned. Since we have an ensemble, the logistics are the real major obstacle right now. Most clubs don’t have the space or the set up for Horns, Timpani, etc… so right now we are working on putting together our own shows, where we’d rent out a place with the right set up and just put on the whole production ourselves.
Knowing what I know now… what would I do differently? I definitely would have relaxed a little more!! But the way things are turning out now; I think I wouldn’t do anything differently, because all of the past experiences contributed to who or what this band is now. Even the negative people who drove me nuts; they just added motivation. But I think if I could do one thing, it would be to have learned audio software sooner.
That is a very interesting concept; I guess I understand it as kind of like wiping the slate clean, or rebooting in a way, but doing it in a safe, non-confrontational way?
I guess you can say it is like “wiping the slate clean”, although it is really more of surrendering to the primal emotions that plague and dominate his internal world. When the album comes out, it will be clearer. The song, “Final Dying Breath” is actually about a very intense confrontation he has while breathing his last breath. The next song we are releasing, “Frenzied Winter Sorrow” explains some of what is going on inside his head.
As far as influences, wow… where do I start? There is a strong classical/symphonic element, because half of the band is made up of classically trained musicians. Stravinsky, Wagner, Gustav Holst, and of course the big names like Beethoven, Bach, etc… In fact, Matt [horns and fretless bass] keeps trying to convince me to do a metal version of the beginning of The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, which is probably the heaviest thing ever written.
Progressive stuff like Rush and ELP are big influences, and Tim the drummer really likes deathcore and groovy stuff. And then there is of course the metal aspect, which is huge. I love Therion, and Christopher Johnson is nothing short of a genius. Arcturus, Winds, Eucharist, Death… I always loved Chuck’s guitar tone and how he approached riffing. Joe Lodes from Maelstrom was my guitar teacher, so you see a little bit of his style in my playing. Paul Gilbert and James Murphy are my biggest lead guitar influences.
Ultimately, though, what influences this more than anything is a burning need to express something that has meaning to us. In the arranging sessions with the horns and concert percussion, we create some visuals and imagery to help us “create the right mood” to convey what we are trying to express.
Why brass instruments? Why not synths/keyboards etc?
The Brass instruments are so critical to creating that “mood”; think “war horns”. They are naturally powerful instruments, and they require a lot of breath to power, so the expressiveness and responsiveness of brass instruments utterly dwarf that of anything we can do with digital samples. It also gives us flexibility to create different sounds on the spot that you can’t recreate with MIDI or samples. Also, we are very much about being “organic” in the sense that when you hear something, it is a real human being playing it. I could have simply done all of this with MIDI, but it would have lacked emotion and humanity, and to me that is not very authentic. We use technology for the writing and the arranging process, like I do a lot of arranging in Cubase, but when you hear a trumpet or French horn or Timpani; real people are playing those on the recordings. The natural instrument sounds so much better to me.
There will be some keyboards on the recordings, but only instruments that are naturally keyboard-instruments, such as organ, piano, etc… On this first album, though, I don’t think we’ll be using any of those except for perhaps one part.
I do play a Roland GR-synth through a guitar I had fitted with Graphtech MIDI electronics, so yeah, there will be synth, but only sounds that you can’t recreate with natural instruments (like old school analog organic and sweeping synths, soft pads, etc…) and a couple of solo instruments like flute, clarinet, etc… I also use the GR to add a little extra bite to some of the brass ensemble parts. Of the parts I am playing with this band and project, the GR-synth is what excites me the most. The possibilities are endless, but it is a challenge to use and play. Future recordings will feature more guitar synth than this first one.
Such a broad array of instruments, it is refreshing to hear that you guys are taking the time to do things properly. It can be so easy to churn out audio using programs like Garageband and others.
There is no question that programs like Garageband, Cubase, Ableton, Pro Tools, etc… are useful for music. We use Cubase and Finale to do some of the basic composition, so I am by no means against using computers and technology. However, I think when you start using MIDI and digital samples to replace actual players you lose the “human” element to the music. That flesh-and-blood element is so important to what we are doing. That is the only way we feel that we can truly express emotion in the music.
You mentioned creating imagery to ‘create the right mood’, how important is the imagery, also how do you feel about the use of video to promote the band?
Imagery is the most important aspect to this whole concept, which again brings me back to the “human” element of the music. Horns and percussion are very dynamic instruments. Much of the sound and tone come from the person playing them. For instance, horn players can project greater volume and a more powerful sound by pushing out their exhale harder. That extra “oomph” is noticeable in the music, and can create a certain ominous feeling. Or perhaps the horns can be played “softer”, as on Final Dying Breath, to create a more “haunting” sound.
At the rehearsals, it’s pretty interesting, because we are all fun loving guys that just have a blast practicing and recording. We tell jokes and mess around a lot, which allows us to relax a little more and focus on the task at hand. But the “mood” we set is really me just describing what the lyrics are trying to convey, or some vision to capture the right “feeling” of the part. For example, at a recent practice we were working on the instrumental piece on the album, which has a major focus on the concert instrumentation, and I was describing the “mood” of the piece to Chris and Matt as a procession of demons, with charred flesh hanging off their bones, dragging a mangled corpse on the ground to a violent ceremony. Having something like that in mind can really help when writing and recording the horns.
With sites like YouTube do you feel that music videos are complementary to the audio or do they sometimes get in the way of the music and distract the listener?
We do have plans for video, and a youtube account is on it’s way to being launched soon. At some point this summer, most likely the end of July, we’ll have our first performance, which will include the entire horn and percussion ensemble. We are creating a video of the performance and will post some of it on youtube as well as create a DVD of it.
Video absolutely doesn’t get in the way of the music, if the music video is done right. Some videos that come to mind are of course Death’s “The Philosopher” which to this day sends a chill down my spine when I see it; “Heartwork” by Carcass; Amberian Dawn put out a sick video for “Arctica”.
We will absolutely have live video of the ensemble, but we are also discussing producing a “music video”, which if I have my way, will be utterly brutal.
If you were able to collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
Hmm…who would I collaborate with? Alive or dead?
I’ll give you both:
If I could collaborate with any other musical talent who is no longer on this planet, it would have to be Basil Poledouris. Hands down. This is the guy who did the soundtracks to Conan the Barbarian (the Schwarzenegger version), Red Dawn, RoboCop, Hunt For Red October, Iron Eagle and Starship Troopers. He IS the reason why I am using Horns and Timpani and can’t imagine Markradonn without those instruments. His Scores create the sort of imagery and visuals that enhance a film, and in some cases define the film (see RoboCop and Conan). Basil is my top influence for Markradonn, as well as Gustav Holst. Holst would come in second because I feel that his Planets suite is the predecessor to much of what we hear today in movie scores. “Mars” is seriously one of the heaviest things I have ever heard. Nile did a sick synth cover of the theme of that song as the intro to “Ramses Bringer of War”, which is nearly as heavy as anything else they did. I also freaking love Nile.
Oh, and if I could pick a Movie director, it would be Dario Argento. Susperia is my favorite horror movie and he’d be a lot of fun to do a soundtrack for.
If I were able to collaborate with someone alive today, the first person that comes to mind would be Christopher Johnson from Therion. I love Therion; they are one of my favorite bands but I’d love to add in some old school heaviness to some of his recent symphonic compositions.
And if I could find Mike Davis, the guitarist from Nocturnus, I’d LOVE for him to lay down a solo on one of our songs. He is the main reason why I picked up a guitar and tried to play fast. If my old guitar teacher, Joey Lodes ex-Spooge/Maelstrom, was open to doing something I’d jump at the opportunity. He is the best guitarist that no one really knows about.
But to be honest, I a having a great time working with Tim, Matt, Jon, Allen, Chris and our new recruit on Trombone, Alex. They are so much fun and they make it really easy. I have not a single complaint about this group of guys. Everything I want to do musically I am doing with these guys.
Hit shuffle on your iPod and name the first 3 songs that come up, no cheating!
Ok, hitting shuffle on my “Fuse” (I don’t have an Ipod)
1) Necrophobic: Shadowseeds
2) Naera: The Orphaning
3) Mortification: Terminate Damnation
I think I am the only person on the planet who has Necrophobic AND Mortification on the same play list… can’t get any more spiritually polar opposite than those two bands!
What plans have you for touring in 2012/2013?
Well, we have a live video shoot scheduled for Mid August, around the 15th. In order for us to accomplish what we want, and to really hit hard with the music, it really has to be experienced live. So we are creating a video of us performing all of the songs on the album in a live show for a bunch of people. We are going to have the full ensemble, 2 trumpets, 2 French horn, 1 trombone, Johnny on timpani and the rest of his concert percussion set up, as well as the full conventional guitars, bass, vocals, drums, etc… So we are hoping that this will be as impactful as the album itself.
Playing live is a difficult challenge with this line up, partly because of scheduling but mostly because of the fact that we’ll need a HUGE stage, specific miking for the concert instruments, and ample time to set up the ensemble. So this entire project is a huge undertaking, and to take it on the road would be the ultimate experience, but also a big time production as well.
So we have the video scheduled and we’ll be posting a few of the songs on Youtube and releasing a DVD, and we’ll be looking to play 1-2 more full ensemble shows before the end of the year. We also have plans to play about half-dozen gigs with just the guitars, vox, drums, and bass, which would be a lot easier and a lot of fun.
We are certainly planned for live shows, but we have to approach them differently than most other bands because of the instrumentation.