Èn af RockZeits farvoritpersonligheder i den moderne progressive rock, guitaristen og komponisten Markus Steffen, har måske ikke ligefrem celebrity status her i andedammen. Han er dog ingen ringere end manden bag det historiske Sieges Even og, sammen med sanger Arno Menses, primus motor i det nuværende band Subsignal. Vi fik fat i Markus Steffen himself, og fik nogle ærlige svar omkring Subsignals kompositionsmetoder, forholdet til gamle Sieges Even medlemmer, forberedelse til live shows… og så var der spændende nyt, så god fornøjelse;
I am proud of what we have done with Sieges Even, it will always be an important part of my life.
RZ: (regardig the album “The Beacons of Somewhere Sometimes”) Here at RockZeit we are really impressed with the darkness, the grandscale structures, and yet the ability to make some very elegant music. A modern prog classic, no less.
On your latest album, to us, it sounds like your approach might have been a little more similar to Sieges Even’s work, especially “Navigating”, “Paramount”, and maybe “A Sense Of Change”. It seems very interwoven, grand and spiritual and also a bit heavier than Paraiso. Do you ever have any ambition on either distancing yourself from – or getting nearer – the sound and legacy of Sieges Even?
Markus: You know, I don’t think very much about the past. I am proud of what we have done with Sieges Even, it will always be an important part of my life. And I certainly have my way of writing songs, so that is where the similarities might come from. But in Subsignal is also Arno Menses. And he is also contributing a lot. His way of writing is more in the vein of AOR music. So, I think the way Subsignal sounds is like a mixture of both our musical preferences.
RZ: We enjoy those bands that stick to their progressive roots, even though it might mean lack of economically or mainstream-costumer success – have you ever had discussions on which road to choose?
Markus: No, not really. I mean when it comes down to writing a new album we always discuss the direction but we would never go so far trying to write a ‘hit’ – whatever that means. What we try to do with Subsignal is write honest music, music that comes from within.
RZ: “Paraiso” had, in our ears, a very elegant and fine sound, whereas “Beacons” is more heavy.
I was the main song writer in Sieges Even, and I simply have ‘my’ harmonies, my way of playing guitar, my way of writing.
What is your own opinion, is it deliberate? Do you think about the composing direction beforehand (Do you ever try to direct the sound towards a popular and commercially acessable direction)?
Markus: I think both albums are very different to each other. With Paraiso we were simply focusing on compact song structures. That wasn’t really intentional, it simply happened that way. So I think this album is probably the most accessible Subsignal album. ‘Beacons’ was very different, it had to be very different. A lot of bad things happened in my life.. and the music that followed was a reflection of those occurrences… We simply wrote that way we felt, and during the time we wrote ‘Beacons’ everything simply felt heavy. With every new album we are about to produce we simply let things happen. And what is sometimes like a miracle to me is the fact that each album sound different to its predecessor.
RZ: Many citations have been used both in lyrics and tone material from the music of Sieges Even. Is Subsignal a “reminiscence band” that also in the future has something Sieges Even in its nature?
Markus: I like to quote Sieges Even here and there because I feel there is a link between both bands. But Subsignal has never been intended to become a Sieges Even clone .. But as I said before: I was the main song writer in Sieges Even, and I simply have ‘my’ harmonies, my way of playing guitar, my way of writing.
RZ: The latest album “Beacons” is a massive progressive rock monster, and perhaps your finest work to this day. The repeated signature motive has a very elegant but at the same time, powerful character. How did you come up with that?
Markus: The main theme of the album is represented in the intro ‘the calm’. It was originally written for classical guitar and later adapted for piano. This theme interlinks the songs, even though the album is not a concept album. It simply sets the mood for all the pieces throughout. Once the piano piece was arranged, I wrote variations for it for different instruments. So it appears in different forms.
RZ: Is there a kind of “code/message build in the little melodic composition? Did you always intent to repeat it during the album?
Markus: There is no code or message, but as aforementioned it represents the mood of what we have tried to accomplish with ‘Beacons’…It stands for solitude, the feeling of loss… nothing more, nothing less. Musically it was a challenge, of course, because it had to be a little bit different every time you hear it. Otherwise it would have been boring. And yes, the repetition was done on purpose.
RZ: The title track is one of our all-time favorites. Can you tell us about the composition process?
Markus: Well, thanks for the compliment! The title track consists of four individual parts. It was written in the style of a Baroque suite. Each movement stands on its own, but in the end the main theme reappears and interlinks the beginning and the end. Even though it is a long piece if you listen to it in its entirety, the writing was pretty easy. Sometimes it is even harder to come up with interesting short songs.
Live and rehearsal
I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to play the music exactly like on the album
RZ: Being as technically skilled as you are, how do you make sure that you can deliver the most important elements on stage? How much do you use samples?
Markus: The big advantage we have with Subsignal compared to Sieges Even is the fact that we have keyboards. They can produce a lot of the sound elements that you hear on the album. We also use samples here and there, but the main machine for that are the keys. Apart from that, I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to play the music exactly like on the album. A live situation is always different, so I thinks is quite alright to find slightly different interpretation of the songs for the stage.
RZ: Does the band practice in a traditional way in the rehearsal room, and sort of play “clean rock” without all the sound effects?
Markus: Well, we hardly rehearse. Only before a tour. I don’t like standing in the rehearsal room anymore. If done that for many years. When it comes to touring, every band member is prepared, we rehearse a couple of days, that’s it… but when we rehearse we have the whole production running, including the sound effects…
RZ: How do you weigh touring as opposed to recording?
Markus: I like both worlds. I love being in the studio, working on details and sounds. That is a process I really enjoy. Touring is different, each night a different city, a different audience, a different challenge. It is great to meet your fans out there, having a beer and a chat… So, I love both, the studio and the stage.
RZ: In Denmark we notice a growing interest in progressive bands, and “Touchstones” ,”Paraiso” and Beacons” have been found on vinyl in some physical stores. Have you ever considered including your Danish neighbours in a future tour?
Markus: We would love to come to Denmark. But you know, it tough out there. You need someone who is willing to take risks, to book you. But who knows, perhaps with the next album…
RZ: In Denmark, as we mentioned, we are beginning to find your albums on vinyl in some stores. We at RockZeit are, of course, also great fans of your former band Sieges Even, and have often thought that those records should be reissued on vinyl – do you have any comments on that?
Markus: To tell you the truth, I am always thinking about that. It would be fantastic to have the music on vinyl as well..but the problem is: we would have to deal with the other half of Sieges Even (Alex and Oliver Holzwarth), and to be perfectly honest, the relationship between both parties isn’t the best. I don’t think a vinyl re-issue of those albums is realistic in the near future.
RZ: What is your next adventure, do you have touring goals or recording goals? When will we hear new material?
Markus: We have almost finished writing the new album. I think recording will start this winter and we are shooting for a release in Fall 2017. By the way, we have just inked a new record deal with German label Gentle Art of Music and we are really looking forward to that new relationship. And there is a double headliner tour with Blind Ego (which is the solo project of RPWL guitar player Kalle Wallner) coming up in January 2017. So, a lot of work ahead – which is a good sign, I suppose…
Vi siger tak til Mr. Steffen!
Hvis nogen af læserne er blevet nysgerrig på at tjekke deres seneste album “The Beacons of Somewhere Sometimes” ud, så kan man jo starte med at læse vores anmeldelse. Derudover har vi lavet en favorit-liste, som måske kan inspirere jer til at dykke ned i det underfundige og karakteristiske univers af alternative rytmer og lyddesign, som gør Sieges Even og Subsignal til to af de mest avancerede progbands:
- The Beacons of Somewhere Sometimes (2015)
- Touchstones (2011)
- Beautiful & Monstrous (2009)
- Paraiso (2013)
- The Art of Navigating by the Stars (2005)
- A Sense of Change (1991)
- Steps (1990)
- Sophisticated (1995)
- Uneven (1997)
- Life Cycle (1988)
- Paramount (2007)