By Dave Schwartz
In May, prog rock fans worldwide
celebrated the release of "La Muerta,"the fifth record from German
progressive rock band Subsignal. Since many in North America
are less familiar with Subsignal I’ll run down a brief history of
Subsignal was founded by Sieges Even
members Arno Menses (vocals) and Markus Steffen (guitars) in 2007
and originally was intended as a side-project. Menses and
Steffen left Sieges Even in 2008 and immediately began recruiting
musicians to turn the project into a functional "real" band.
Former Dreamscape bassist Ralf Schwager was first to join and
others soon followed. Today Subsignal includes Dirk Brand on
drums and Markus Maichel on keyboards.
I had an email exchange with Arno Menses
to learn more about "La Muerta," this is how it went…
DB: First of all, congrats on "La
Muerta," please talk a little about the record and how it came
AM: Thank you. The writing process
was much the same as any album we did before. Markus came up with
the first song, "La Muerta," which incidentally also became the
title for the album.
After that the writing continued as usual.
Markus writing his songs and me writing mine. We send each other
the demo of each song for the other to do some editing or
arranging on it in order for each song to maintain the "Subsignal
sound." The overall schedule as far as writing though has been
like every other album. The real difference was made in the
recording process in which Kalle and Yogi (producers Yogi Lang and
Kalle Wallner) were more involved than any producer before in
shaping the songs.
DB: When a band releases an
album it marks a point on their musical evolution, please contrast
and comment on the many changes apparent on "La Muerta" compared
to previous releases.
AM: It was an unintended change this
time. With the "Paraiso" album we purposely wanted to make an
album with shorter and more catchy songs. I'd say with "La
Muerta," although not planned this time, we succeeded.
The writing has no concept behind it. It
is not that we have a meeting before to talk about what the
musical or lyrical direction is going to be. We just start writing
and finish when we think we have enough material.
Of course some songs or themes got thrown
out along the way, because they were not the right ones or did not
have the right feel. But again, we have been working like this
since we did "Beautiful & Monstrous."
DB: Keyboards are more prevalent on
this record. Was this a conscious choice or just the way the
songs took shape?
AM: Since I play no guitars I write
all my material on keyboards or by programming. Markus though
composes mainly with guitars (apart from some kind of drumming).
So the fact that my songs involve more keys is obvious.
But other than that, it again was no
deliberate choice to do so. Though we intended to get an overall
more '80s kind of feel for the production, the mixes forced the
keyboards in a more prominent role.
DB: With "La Muerta" being your
fifth album, did you approach this record any differently than
AM: No, much the same as always.
DB: "La Muerta" is a very
accessible record for new listeners. When it comes to
writing new songs, do you write what you’re feeling at the time or
do you explore different stylistic elements to help round out the
AM: Well, I think it still has that
typical Subsignal sound and art of constructing the songs to it.
The difference is in the mixing. This time it's far more open and
transparent than any of our previous albums.
Of course with new faces on the mixing
console, you'll get a new approach or vision to how the overall
album might sound. You play with new sounds, different amps,
different mics, different samples and effects.
As I said before, it was not an
intentional move to write simpler, more accessible songs.
That just happened.
DB: The approach to the new music is
far more song-based than before. Please discuss…
AM: I think for the whole album
counts that "we did not want the music getting in the way of the
song." That means as much as keeping things transparent, not
stuffing every inch full of parts, licks and tricks.
Maybe consider it more "back to basics."
Of course you can always add a keyboard here, a drum fill there, a
litte uuh or aahh from the vocals there. But it is like
designing.... sometimes less is more.
DB: Yogi Lang and Kalle Wallner…
please talk about their contribution to this record.
AM: Their influence has been
extremely valuable. Kalle is a top guitarist and songwriter, he
really helped Markus with the guitar parts, not getting him
through it, I mean Markus is a top player himself.
But two know more than one and if you
discuss and analyze or restructure some things you've been
demoing, something even bigger might come out, which it did.
I worked with Yogi, and Yogi has a very
big musical knowledge, is a singer himself and a very good
producer. He liked all the stuff I had done for the demos, he just
had some great ideas on top of my stuff, which was the cherry on
the pie, so to speak.
DB: Please discuss any tour plans
for 2018 and 2019.
AM: Well, like always, we will tour
in Germany and Holland, Austria first at the end of this year.
Next year we will definitely continue and play shows in
other European countries.
As far as coming to America… yes,
that's also in our planning but when and where remains to be seen.
Markus Steffen (Guitars)
Arno Menses (Vocals)
Ralf Schwager (Bass)
Markus Maichel (Keyboards)
Dirk Brand (Drums)
Beautiful & Monstrous (2009)
Out There Must Be Something – Live in
Mannheim 2012 (DVD, 2012)
The Blueprint of a Winter (CD-Single,
The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime (2015)
La Muerta (2018)