Posted on October 28th. 2017
Questionnaire by C. on behalf of METAL TO INFINITY WEBZINE BELGIUM
One of my favorite newer bands in the symphonic metal genre, when I was approached to interview Serenity frontman Georg Neuhauser, I jumped at the chance. But, as with all good things, there was a catch: I would have to wake up very early to do it! Bridging the time difference between California and Austria was no easy feat, but I was up to the task. Besides, how many more opportunities like this would I ever get?
So, at 6 o’clock in the morning, while it was still dark outside, I answered the phone call that came from Georg, in his office at the university in Austria, where spends his days as a history professor when he is not a rock star by night. His day was nearly over while mine was getting started! I hoped I would not be too groggy from lack of caffeine beforehand. It took a few minutes for us to get started, but once we found our footing, Georg was one of the most interesting people I had ever interviewed. He was a fount of fascinating historical information, and my only regret was that I had so little time to pick his brain and get his insight on the many things that I would undoubtedly have asked if there had been the time. I also learned he was a fan of the show Outlander, just like me, but that is definitely another conversation for another day! Maybe someday I will get a chance to talk to him again in a similar setting, but with time to spare and neither one of us worrying about international phone charges!
C.: Tell us about Lionheart!
Georg: The thing is, the album is another concept album, but it’s not a thorough history, or a typical concept album with a beginning, middle, and end. There’s no chronological order to the songs. The album is about the life—and I must underline this—the real, true facts, not the myths, like all this Robin Hood stuff…this is about the true, proven, historical facts of Richard the Lionheart, King of England. We continued [on] the way we did in the past; [the previous album] Codex Atlanticus was about Leonardo da Vinci, this one is about Lionheart and his life: what he experienced, all the problems [in his life]…there are a lot of battles in this theme, and you can hear that in the music. In general, Lionheart is for sure heavier than Codex Atlanticus; the guitars and drums are more up front again, the orchestration is a bit in the background now. We also concentrated on very catchy, “glorious” melodies. We did a step towards the direction of real, melodic power metal, [rather] than a more progressive thing, which was still part of our music in the past.
C.: How was the recording process?
Georg: The recordings started in May , and we finished everything by mid-July. The artwork was again done by an artist from Hungary, who also did the artwork for Codex Atlanticus. It’s his second time working for us. Mixing and mastering was done again by Jan [Vacik] from Serious Black; he’s produced all of our albums so far. Never change a winning team!
C.: So it is a concept album. I got that feeling when I was listening to some of the songs, and I noticed the two music videos share a similar theme.
Georg: It is a concept album about one theme, but it’s not in a chronological order. The first song isn’t about his birth, and the last song isn’t about his death.
C.: Then it’s about certain events or historical moments in his life.
Georg: Exactly; every song is about a certain event in his life. For example, “Lionheart” is about his followers. Many people believed in him, and that is the reason why they followed him to the Holy Land. There is a lyric in the song, “like a lion we fight, together we will die for the glory of our God”…that is what it is [referring to]…”follow Richard Lionheart”. This is something I have to mention here, because some people are complaining about such things already on [social media]…how we often use the word “God” in our songs. But this song is about the Crusades. Yes, we use the word “God”, but we are not a Christian band or any religious band. It’s just about history and about a topic that happened in the past.
C.: I do find it annoying sometimes, when people view historical material through modern eyes. Like when people watch historical dramas and get angry when they see behavior that isn’t proper nowadays. People get angry, but that’s the way things were back then.
Georg: It’s really strange, some people just want something to complain about! [Laughs]
C.: As the saying goes, “history is written by the victors”, so it’s always interesting to me to see how the perception changes when we look through the lens of those who didn’t win the battle. Have you ever written a song from that angle, or thought about writing a song from a “history written by the losers” perception?
Georg: For example, just speaking about Lionheart, Richard wasn’t always a winner. He lost sometimes. When he traveled back from the Holy Lands to England, he was imprisoned in Austria because he had big troubles with the archduke of Austria when they fought together in the Holy Lands. It was something about honor; when you capture the wall, then you can put your flag on this side of the wall. Our archduke did it, then Richard removed the flag, so for our archduke, that was a big thing. He got his revenge when Richard was captured on his way back to England. There, he was a loser. Then, he lost almost all of his lands, because when he was in the Holy Lands, his brother Johan ruled instead of him. Johan did not want to return the lands when Richard returned. There are many points in Richard’s history where he isn’t the winner. But I know what you mean [about your question], there were some songs on the War of Ages album like “For Freedom’s Sake”, about a soldier who is hiding in a foxhole during the first World War. He is one of the “losers” of history, because soldiers in a war are always the losers; even if his army is winning the war, because psychologically he has lost. In that song, it is about a soldier who is lost in war, thinking about his beloved wife at home, who he will probably never see again. There are some songs where we sing about history’s losers, not just the winners.
C.: Was it because of King Richard’s ties to Austria that you picked Richard as your subject, or is this a character you have always been fascinated with?
Georg: When I was 4 years old, I visited a castle for the first time. From that moment, I was completely nuts about knights, castles, swords, shields, weapons, armor…it was a romantic thing, especially nowadays. As a child, whenever I played with Legos, I always built castles. When all the other kids dressed up as witches for Halloween, I dressed up as a knight! That’s why I studied archaeology and history. Lionheart was always with me somehow; I used to watch these old movies about Robin Hood and Lionheart, even though Robin Hood was completely a myth. Even if Robin Hood did exist, they lived in entirely different times [according to the legend]. This was one of the things I wanted to tell [in this album]; give a history lesson…Robin Hood never existed, he was a myth.
C.: It is so easy to build myths around famous figures. Even in modern times, when a celebrity dies, some of them become these mythical figures, and people forget whatever flaws that person may have had, and they just become elevated to this saint-like status. Or in regards to current events; one person’s viewpoint becomes reality, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s all of the story. Did you find that there was a lot of this in regards to Richard Lionheart, or was there already so much material there to make a concept record already?
Georg: In general, we choose characters or topics we already know have a lot to tell. Most of the time, I pick two or three themes, I read about it, then I decide which one will be the topic of the next album. This time it’s Lionheart, last time it was Leonardo da Vinci, next time perhaps it will be someone else.
C.: What would you most like people to learn about Lionheart when listening to this album?
Georg: Like I said, there is always a huge difference between myth and fact. When you tell myths for so long, people believe they are facts. In the case of Lionheart, although he is glorified today, he killed many people and others suffered. People say today he was a big hero, but he wasn’t. Even when you talk about emperors like Napoleon; people think because he was a strategic general, that made him a good man, but he wasn’t. Perhaps this is the message I want to give to people about Lionheart.
C.: [Fan-submitted question: Martina from Serenity Fan Legion]: Would you ever consider doing an acoustic or “unplugged” album?
Georg: That’s funny, because we are planning one right now! We want to do a whole acoustic show, at least one hour’s worth of acoustic songs from our older albums. On the Lionheart album, there is a deluxe edition where we have piano-only versions of past songs, like “When Canvas Starts to Burn” and “Engraved Within”. It’s only piano and my voice; it was a lot of fun, so we decided to do a complete acoustic show sometime in the future. It’s planned for the beginning of 2018.
C.: Will this be released to DVD?
Georg: There are already plans to release a DVD with one hour acoustic show, and one hour of a metal show. The only thing is the financial part, so for the first time we are thinking about doing a crowd-funding [campaign]. I’m not completely sure yet, but we’ll see. Far as I know, our label will not pay us enough for a full DVD, but we have to check first. This is something I need to clarify—although everything is getting bigger with Serenity, we’re still not really making money off of it. That’s a big problem, because you need all of the free time that you can to push the band, but you don’t get paid for it. You get some money, but you have to reinvest immediately to make the next step forward.
C.: Thank you for educating the public on this! It is a huge misnomer, and it drives me crazy—people have this overblown idea of what “rock stars” make, when in actuality, many of these bands that you think are making all this money, they actually hold day jobs and put all their “day job” money into this band, making no profit at all, or they aren’t as rich as you think. Even in regards to crowd-funding, people have this attitude of, “what do these big rock stars need a Kickstarter for?”, thinking that if you do music for a living, that you just have all this money lying around. No one stops to think that there is an entire crew behind the scenes that gets paid, and it takes money to make the entire engine run. If the band sees any money, it is very little at the end of the day.
Georg: Exactly. We just got some invoices from Spotify, and you have 270,000 album streams on Spotify, and that comes up to about $360. That’s reality.
C.: So that leads me to a bit of a selfish question: I know you guys are going to be busy touring throughout Europe, but when, if ever, are you coming to the U.S.?
Georg: It’s really a pain in the ass to tour the U.S., because it’s very expensive. If we are doing it, we have to come out first as a support act, to build a name over there. For example, a U.S. tour costs about $30,000 to make things happen. You need visas, you need a crew, you’re traveling around…for example, bands like Sonata Arctica can play to only about 100 people in some places in the U.S.
C.: So we’re at the end of the interview. Any final words to the fans or anything you would like to say?
Georg: Thank you very much for all the support. After Germany, the U.S. is the next biggest market for us. Thank you for that. We hope that people keep on supporting us, and spread the word. Perhaps one day we will be able to tour the U.S., and it would be great fun. Let’s hope for the best!
C.: Thank you for everything! You’ve been great.
Georg: Thank you very much. See you!
Live photos courtesy of Jim Wilkinson at Wilkinson Image & Design. http://wilkinsonimagedesign.com
Thanks to Claudia Steinlechner at Napalm Records.
Special thanks to Jim Wilkinson at Wilkinson Image & Design.
“United” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGB6axzZpRQ