Brainstorm – Haunting at MidnightMonday, 3rd September 2018
Rare is the day that a veteran band could possibly think a twelfth studio album is possibly their best in a deep discography – but after copious playbacks of Midnight Ghost from Brainstorm, many will attest to the vast quality within these tracks. Brimming with power riffs, bristling with energy, supplemented with proper harmony and melody accents, it’s all in there and more driven by hunger and the latest producer switch to ‘Seeb’ Sebastian Levermann, known to most as the leader of Orden Ogan. Add in intriguing lyrical content that conjures up all the fears of darkness, the unknown, and things that crawl in the dead of night during your childhood and you have the makings of a power metal effort for the ages.
Reaching out via Skype, vocalist Andy B. Franck appears quite excited to discuss this latest effort. We tackle everything from how Seeb was the perfect choice for producer to the quest for the perfect take, special memories surrounding changes in sound during the Memorial Roots and On the Spur of the Moment records, and a bit of talk over how festival organizers struggle to let some of the new guard take over higher headlining slots from the safe veteran acts they put on bills year after year. And if Andy gets back to the USA soon for a show or two, make sure to take the man out for some buffalo chicken wings with the hottest sauce you can find…
Dead Rhetoric: The latest Brainstorm album Midnight Ghost is the first with Orden Ogan’s Sebastian ‘Seeb’ Levermann as a producer. Can you explain how this outing and your meticulous attention to detail allowed for a potent final product that you seem very satisfied with?
Andy B. Franck: I have known Seeb for two or three years. That’s the time when we worked back in the days of the first Almanac album. Since then we’ve become more than just friends, and he told me that he’s always been a big Brainstorm fan for many years. I was really surprised when he told me about that, he’s been following us for 10-15 years, going to our shows and he gave me all of our CD’s for him to sign them. It would be the biggest dream for him to work with us one day for an album. Right now we were searching for a producer, we were making up our minds about what the next album would be about and he said if you want, here I am. I told the other guys in the band, and the rest is history. What came out is fantastic – it was like the missing link. Whenever I listen to the album I feel like this is really, really missed over the last couple of years. Of course all the other guys did a great job on all the other albums. If you work together with someone though who is a big fan of yours as well, that makes a little bit of difference because he goes over the edge. He’s not stopping in a moment where he says, ‘okay- it’s now recorded’.
For example, in my case he treated me so hard while I was recording the vocals. He was like again and again, do it harder, do it rougher, do it lower. This is something a producer is not normally doing with you. He’s an amazing person, an amazing musician, and it was a pleasure to work with him.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think because he was such a big fan of the band, he was more critical of every take you guys did, or just put different ideas out there with the songwriting?
Franck: Yes. The main goal for him was that he wanted to record the best possible Brainstorm album. And I said okay, that’s a goal! (laughs) That was the big challenge. As I said, he was so enthusiastic about everything. He went into this so prepared, when I came into the studio on the first day, he was totally really into the material – we can change something here, do something there, after a minute, 45 seconds we have to change a note here, do something there. I asked him how often he had listened to the songs, and he said you won’t believe how many (times). When you are in a studio, there’s nothing better that you can have as a musician to deal with such a great person, a great musician- and then at the end a fan as well! Amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s a thread running through the lyrics regarding fears that take place during childhood. Discuss some of the topics you tackle, and did it summon up any specific fears from yourselves that maybe came back to the forefront of your childhoods?
Franck: Yes, that was me. I’ve released now with all the Ivanhoe, Symphorce, and Brainstorm stuff I’ve recorded around 22 albums or so. When I received the demo tapes for the first time for the new album, I was like ‘oh God- what can I write about this time?’ It’s very difficult sometimes, you have to start reading books again, you start watching documentaries, and reading newspapers to find any themes to write about. Then I thought about writing about something that happened to me when I was a child – for example when I was about 7 or 8 years old I came back from playing soccer to run through a 300-400 meter long forest, but it was in the evening. Outside it wasn’t dark, but inside the forest it was definitely dark and this to me was like relating to the gates of hell. I dropped the ball and just ran through the forest, like the devil’s behind me.
I do remember this for the rest of my life, running through the darkness – when I was 5 or 6 years old I watched a movie that made me scared about what’s underneath my bed. I took a lighter to watch under my bed, I was so scared about this. These are the things, what’s in your cupboard, what’s behind the curtain, these are all things you are scared about when you are a child. I thought I should write about something like this- these are honest and true stories. Why just listen to the newspapers, everyone knows what’s going on in the world and it’s sad enough. I said to myself, we’ve never been a political kind of band, why not just write about something that I’ve been scared about since I was a kid, and still can be scared about under my bed. Sometimes I still watch under my bed (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: You decided to go for a live performance style video with “Ravenous Minds” – including decent special lighting and pyro effects. What was the game plan behind the video shoot, and where do you see the importance of visual clips in the social media marketplace versus the days when bands were seeking airplay through music television or other outlets decades ago?
Franck: The thing is really in our case on Firesoul we recorded a video clip where we were wearing suits for example, for Scary Creatures we released a video clip with us wearing masks. A lot of fans just asked us why we were not shooting a video with just us playing live as a performance. The record company was not happy with us not showing our faces, so we decided to go back to what Brainstorm is all about. Playing live and just banging our heads, the people can see that we are having fun in what we are doing. That was the main reason why we decided not to wear suits or masks or anything like that, we gave the people what they want to see.
You have to remember 20 or 30 years ago, I would go into the story and buy myself a VHS tape that came out with Kerrang magazine. They brought out every 3-4 months the newest clips from the biggest bands, and I was really into watching it. Nowadays I think video clips are important, and the people want to see the band as well. It’s okay for us – I love making the video clips and it makes me a little bit proud because 30 years ago I went into stores and bought these tapes to watch video clips from other bands, and now I am shooting video clips myself. I think it’s important, but not so important as it was. Social media is of course the magic word- and it’s also what the music business is now all about. People do not read that many magazines anymore, you have to spread the word over social media accounts and so on. That’s 2018- but sometimes I do miss the old days because I used to love buying myself the new Metal Hammer magazine, I’d go back home and read the magazine to find out the news about many, many bands. These days, when you buy a magazine – all the news has already been around on the internet. You can see our faces in the clips, and you can see us sweating, so that’s pretty good (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think metal magazines, especially in print magazines, still matter in your home country?
Franck: In Germany, yes. As a musician being on the road though for about 25 years, I do see a lot of differences between when we started and now today. Let’s say for example in 2000- I would be on a promotional tour all over Europe, I did hundreds of interviews. Most of them were with radio stations and print magazines, that was it. These days, you do not have to go on a European promotional tour for a band like us. It’s okay if you do things in three or four countries, the others you do by phone – and most of the interviews you do are for other sites. There are two or three in print magazines for Spain, but I remember in 2000 there would be 10-15 print magazines. Now you have 20 internet style magazines or webzines. Back in the days, you had more people reading the magazines. It’s sad, but they are all gone. In Germany, it’s still big- you have Metal Hammer, Rock Hard, Rock It!, Classic Rock, and so on. There are four or five big magazines, and these magazines are still important- thank God! (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the major differences between the studio and the stage for Brainstorm? Have your ideals and viewpoints changed with the band over the length of your career?
Franck: Sometimes it changes, yes. You sit there and think you have to do something different here, something different there. I think that’s something that all the bands are going for- after so many years, you’ve tried to renew the band anyhow. It’s not necessary. For example, we thought (we had to) do this on Memorial Roots or On the Spur of the Moment, that we had to change something here, look at what’s trending and what kind of hype we have – what we could change with Brainstorm to make us more popular. That was not necessary, because the people love us from the first day onward, and love what we stand for. This is our kind of music. We decided to stay to our roots, especially since Firesoul, which was a very important album to us. This was the first album for us after several years which went back to the point from where Brainstorm started. This is what Brainstorm is all about- we love playing live.
To me to be completely honest, hanging out in the studio is a complete pain in the ass. I hate it, but I know of course people want to hear new music (laughs). Especially if you have a person behind the boards like ‘Seeb’ – you stand there and he says he wants to record this again, and again, and again. There are parts on the album where I sang for at least 200 or 300 times. He sat there and I was like ‘why’. He would let me know I didn’t get that part right. I would get so pissed, and then he would say, ‘now you have the why’. Why didn’t you tell me, ‘Andy- be pissed!’. He said I must feel it and have it.
Live is of course always better. You can feel the energy of the people, there’s so much energy, and it’s a give and take. You give them energy, they give you energy. This is of course the thing I grew up with. I’ve seen Maiden, Priest, and this is the kind of energy I felt and now I am able to give this back to our fans. As a musician, this is the moment that you live for.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you weigh the risk/reward factors when it comes to changing things up record to record, especially with such an established fanbase that expects certain elements and standards for Brainstorm?
Franck: I always call On the Spur of the Moment the album like Kiss The Elder. That was an album I was very surprised to hear when it came out, and I thought this is my favorite band – so what is it? It was important for us to record these albums, and I still think these albums have some great songs, I still do. It wasn’t 100% Brainstorm – some of our diehard fans, they came to our shows and they said, ‘this is not really heavy, this is not Brainstorm – but it could be heavier, darker a little bit’. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s that bad to get a reaction from your fans. Whenever you record good albums, they keep saying good as always, good always. But these two albums made people speak about us again. Some people would say they were better in the past, some people said with the follow up albums that we were now great again. It’s funny to see, the tours went okay, the sales were okay – those two albums started this kind of a discussion on the internet and with our fanbase.
Bands like Kreator, they went through this as well with releases like Endorama several years ago. To me, it looks like after such a long time period you start to think about the band and what can you renew and change here and there. In the end, it’s the same for all the bands- you do not have to change anything, they love you for what you are. I think it was a necessary step, and I am still satisfied with that. Today, I’m (happier)! (laughs)
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