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Hannes Grossmann: "It's More Direct This Way"

Obscura's drummer Hannes Grossmann talks to 50K MUSIC MAG's Jonathan Keane about crowd funding his upcoming solo album on Indiegogo ... and more. Published November 02 2013.

  by Jonathan

It’s not exactly uncommon to find a musician with multiple itches that need scratching, where the full-time band, or “day-job” if you will, isn’t hitting the all the spots. Take the case of drummer Hannes Grossmann of Germany’s progressive death metal maestros Obscura. He also sits behind the kit of tech metal super-group Blotted Science alongside one Ron Jarzombek and Cannibal Corpse’s Alex Webster. Add in Hannes’ time with Necrophagist and you have one busy guy. It is however not quite enough and the stickman is looking to bring his solo compositions, in The Radial Covenant, to life.

The new material, written entirely by Hannes, was originally intended for a future Obscura record. “I had written these songs, which is like of 40 minutes of material,” says Hannes, “and we were discussing this earlier in the band that we want to go back to writing songs as four-piece, like everybody puts stuff into it.”

He continues: “I had the songs and I really liked them and I didn’t want to have them ripped apart. If you come up with 40 minutes of material, it is a record. It would not be a real band thing anymore so I decided to do it as a solo record.”

The writing process for Obscura appears very democratic and the songs that are making up The Radial Covenant were in fact finished compositions that were totally Hannes’ and he intended to keep them that way – “I just like the songs as they are. I didn’t want to make a compromise this time so I thought that this is a typical situation to put out a solo record instead of a band release.”

So while the songs were written with Obscura in mind, two songs in particular he explains, there were a few differences that made them really stand apart. “They only worked with a different guitar tuning. They are tuned to C and we are tuned to D,” Hannes reveals. “It would have made it impossible to play it on our guitar tuning. The consequence would have been to change the song and again I didn’t want to do that so it sounds like Obscura, but it’s one tone lower than we actually usually play,” he laughs.

Given the independent nature of The Radial Covenant, it allows Hannes a great deal of artistic freedom to explore on the record, which is why he has enlisted the services of several musicians to help create it. Notable guest guitarists include his Blotted Science band mate Ron Jarzombek and former Nevermore guitarist turned solo virtuoso, Jeff Loomis.

“Actually all of the people on the record I know personally and had some contact with them and had met them,” he explains. “I met Jeff Loomis at a festival. We talked and he’s a huge Necrophagist fan actually and I didn’t know that and told him that I was playing with them. The reason to have guests on the album is obvious because I’m not as good a guitar player as I would like to be.”

Joined by fellow Obscura members Linus Klausenitzer [bass] and Christian Muenzner [guitar], Hannes fleshed out the line-up with a number of other musicians contributing to whole songs or just a solo. For vocals, he’s nabbed two friends of his from German black metal band Dark Fortress. “One of the guys Victor uses this black metal name, he’s calling himself V. Santura,” Hannes says. “He produced our [Obscura] last album. He’s a good singer, good death, thrash, black metal singer. I thought his style could fit a lot and he’s a friend of mine so that’s obvious.

“The other guy is the singer [Florian Magnus Meier] for Dark Fortress,” continues Hannes, “He’s really good and he’s also a really, really good guitar player. He’s a classical composer as well so we’re doing a lot of stuff together.”

Hannes goes onto explain why vocals were important to have on The Radial Covenant. “Usually solo records of drummers and guitarists are more instrumental stuff but I didn’t want to do that; put out an instrumental solo record with lots of drum solos or stuff like I that,” he says. “I wanted to write metal songs because that’s what I usually do so I had to have good vocalists. I’m very lucky have to those two guys to help me out.”

The drummer is also composing a cover version of Obcura’s Euclidean Elements to be played by a pianist. “I wrote the part and transformed the notes into a piano piece. It worked really well in the programmed version,” says Hannes.

“At the moment we’re facing difficulties as it’s not really possible to play it,” he laughs, “because you know, it’s a metal song. It was written for bass and two guitars. It’s not very much like a piano player would play.”

He continues: “I’m in touch with a woman, she’s a professional piano player and classical trained. She said at this time the notation… it’s not possible to play it. I need to change it first so I’m hoping we’re going to make it, otherwise I’m going to have to come up with a plan B, make it a little more simple or something like that.”

Making all of this possible is the reason we’re talking though and Hannes’ IndieGoGo campaign has hit its goal of € 4,000. It raises the question of why he opted with crowd-funding.

Hannes refers back to why he wanted to do a solo album in first place; preserving the vision of the songs he created, and to do this he wanted to go it alone and without the business of a label getting involved.

“Probably I could have released it through a label,” he begins, “but that’s a lot of writing emails and a lot of business talk and it takes a lot of time. We’re almost done with the music on the record but then it takes another six months until finally it’s released,” he says referring to label’s scheduling of releases and promotion.

“I’m just too indulgent at this point to wait for a record label to do all that,” he laughs, “and I know it would be easier to promote the album with somebody else doing it because that’s what record labels are good for. But for them, it’s a huge risk to put out a solo record by some guy. I don’t think they would have done a good deal and then I was thinking that for a rather small project, why should someone else other than me and the band profit from it?”

At the same time, Hannes is quick to mention that his label Relapse Records, where Obscura make their home, has been fully supportive of the band with no complaints. “I’m pretty sure they would have put it out on their label but it’s more direct this way,” he says.

“It’s a good kind of test for myself,” he adds, “to see if people are really interested in what I’m doing; it’s hard to tell. I mean, when it comes to stuff like Facebook and these things, it’s really an inflation of values. It’s really easy to ‘like’ something. You just have to push a button and it’s not really selective but if you have a record where you say you can contribute and make it happen, it’s a much higher priority and I like the idea about it.

“It’s something to prove that a record like that can be done independently and that for me was very important,” says Hannes.

“It’s also a risk shift; most of the time the artist has the risk of production or the label. With crowd-funding, the risk disappears in some way because I know how much money I get in advance and people don’t have a huge amount of risk because they are just donating a small amount of money and in the end they get something for it.”

With the album now funded, The Radial Covenant is coming close to its completion with the necessary backing behind it. The album will remain a solo studio endeavour and Hannes has no plans to bring this work to a live setting. However, Obscura are no stranger to the road and will be heading out shortly with Death To All, the all-star tribute act to death metal legends Death and their leader, the sadly deceased, Chuck Schuldiner.

“It’s probably the best audience we can ever get because some of the stuff we play is really influenced by Death, stylistically very similar I would say at times,” he says. “We’re also going to play a new song on this tour, which we just finished.”

That moves us to the topic of a new Obscura record, a follow-up to 2011’s Omnivium and the current status of the band. “We started the song writing process for the new album,” he says to finish. “I think it might take another year because we have to write eight or nine other songs to complete an album. It takes some time but it’s going to happen for sure.”