Deadlock – On PerseveranceSunday, 7th August 2016
To say that the last few years have been taxing on Deadlock would be an understatement. First, one of their founding members, drummer Tobias Graf died of cancer. Then they lost vocalist Sabine Scherer, as she wanted to be more involved with her family. All of this coming just after a time when they had signed to Napalm Records, and things seemed to be on the up and up. What’s a band to do?
Well, in the case of Deadlock, they decided to continue moving forward. Sabine had a hand in picking her successor, vocalist Margie Gerlitz and the band hit the road, and eventually the studio once more. As vocalist John Gahlert states below, it is evident when you hear Hybris that it’s a more personal record. While the vegan/naturalist vibes are still present, there’s a more emotional tone that strikes deeper than some of their previous material has. Gahlert spent a few minutes with DR over Skype, providing some interesting and honest answers to our questions…read on.
Dead Rhetoric: Congrats the release of Hybris – has it felt like you’ve been fighting an uphill battle?
John Gahlert: Yeah, that describes the last two years pretty well. We lost our founding member and drummer [Tobias Graf] due to cancer, and we have been in terrible trouble with our former management, who took a large amount of money from us. It felt like a battle the whole time. I think when you hear the album, I think you also hear that. In my opinion, it’s the first album that comes directly from the heart and the gut at the same time. We put a lot of wrath and anger into it from the private situations that we have been through. The band is kind of like a family, we are more than just good friends. When you see a good friend dying, there is a lot of anger/rage and you don’t know where to put it and you don’t know who to blame for a situation like that.
We had a lot of conversations when our vocalist Sabine [Scherer] was going to leave the band to focus on her family – we thought about quitting. But we decided to make a new album, and now having the final master in our hands – we recently had a meeting at the rehearsal room, and I feel better. We made it! After all the stress and problems, we made it through, and the whole process was filmed on DVD. So we can watch our biggest battle whenever we want. Every time something puts us down again, we can watch the movie and listen to the album, and know that somehow everything will work its way out.
Dead Rhetoric: What does the DVD entail in terms of what was going on within the band?
Gahlert: It’s a behind-the-scenes look, but there’s a lot of emotion. The interview parts were all recorded at that time. We didn’t go back afterwards to discuss what was going on – it’s all in the same timeline. It’s like a snapshot from that particular moment in time. After watching the DVD and hearing the album, everyone will have a very detailed view of how strong the connection is between our bandmembers, and why we do this. It’s a very private look at Deadlock.
Dead Rhetoric: In terms of the lyrical content, are the vegan and animal rights aspects of the band still just as important as they have always been?
Gahlert: Yes – we are still a vegan band and we have a very close relationship with nature. We all have smartphones, but we are still hippies [laughs]. When the band started, it was at a time when the vegan movement was small in Germany. Our former drummer, Tobias actually started the first vegan wholesale distribution [in Germany]. It was pioneer work for the vegan movement, and that’s why Deadlock was more associated with the word vegan than we might be now. The album Manifesto was released to complete the message on the vegan nature of things, and since that album we still work with symbolic phrases within the lyrics, and there are certain word combinations that you can find on all of our albums (like “crown of creation”). These are typical phrases which we use, and will continue to use, which have a meaning to those with a vegan background. With Hybris, there are some minor links, but it was more therapy. It was taking the wrath out of our heads and screaming it onto the songs.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned that the band almost broke-up when Sabine said she was going to drop out. Was there ever a moment when the band thought of trying something different with Sabine’s departure, like abandoning clean vocals or using a male vocalist?
Gahlert: To be really honest, the weekend before Sabine told us that she was sticking to the family business, she had cancelled hours beforehand. She didn’t tell us a reason and we were so pissed because we were already driving to the shows and didn’t have a female vocalist – we tried both of our guitarists and had them sing the female lines. Right after the first song, we all decided that we would never do that again. It was so horrible! It actually caused a lot of trouble with the promoters. When Sabine was able to tell us the reason [she was pregnant] that next day, I had to puke.
We didn’t ever think about not having female vocals in the band. Sebastian [Reichl], our only founding member at this point, has had a musical vision for Deadlock, and that includes female vocals. His decision to continue the band was a driving force for our decisions [to continue] – with no founding members, it’s better to call it a day. So we thought about finding a good solution. Sabine presented Margie [Gerlitz] to us because they are both vocal coaches. They were both trained from the same teacher. If you listen with headphones, you can hear it in their voices. Margie is a little bit softer, but they have the same kind of feeling of melody around the guitar chords. It sounds different, but there’s still the Deadlock sound and ambience, without it sounding like a copy of Sabine.
Dead Rhetoric: She had been playing in the fill-in role for a while, correct?
Gahlert: Yeah, it was the best way to figure out how she fit into the band. Sabine introduced Margie one week after she told us [she was leaving], and said that Margie had a great voice, she always wanted to sing in a metal band, and she was vegan! She played shows with us for about 8 months, filling in for Sabine after she wanted to completely quit the band. The first show wasn’t the best, but from the second show on – she was a great live performer, with a great feeling for the people on the stage and off it. She’s great – no diva attitude, she’s down to Earth, and funny. She fits perfectly in the band. The last barrier was how she would sound on the album. It took a few days in the studio, but we found the Deadlock sound with her, and that was the breaking point in really moving the album forward.
Dead Rhetoric: How has the reception been to Margie Gerlitz so far?
Gahlert: Of course, haters gotta hate [laughs]. If you compare it to Sepultura – their vocalist has been in the band for more than 10 years…and he’s still the new vocalist. You get the responses like, “I like them with their new vocalist” or “I don’t like them since their new vocalist.” There will always be fans that get lost along the way. If you are close with a band or with a style that the band plays, you always lose some fans with change. No matter how good the new one is, or how bad the old one was – I guess even Arch Enemy lost some of their fans with their vocalist change. But it’s also an opportunity to get new supporters, and get your current supporters even closer to the band. We still have close contact with Deadlock supporters from the very first album. We keep in touch with them, we invite them to our shows – it’s like a friendship. To see that there are fans that develop as the band develops – that is what is most special to me. It’s a good reason to keep going.
Dead Rhetoric: Your vocals have a stronger presence than they did on The Arsonist – have you gotten more comfortable in your vocalist role at this point?
Gahlert: There’s a pretty simple explanation for that. I played in several death metal bands over the years, starting at age 12. I was always a vocalist and always did death metal vocals. When I took over the vocals in Deadlock, I was forced to give my voice a different style. I wasn’t forced per say, but Deadlock wasn’t a brutal death metal band. On The Arsonist, for me, the producer pushed me in a way to make my vocals a little bit less death metal – to give them a different feel.
When it came to the best-of recording (The Re-Arrival), which we did with our former label [Lifeforce Records], we re-did old songs, and three new songs. For the old songs, I felt pushed as well, but for the new songs, I worked with Alexander Dietz of Heaven Shall Burn to produce my vocals. I had worked with him in the past, with my death metal vocals. For this album, Alexander put me in the recording cabinet and locked the doors. He said, “Hey dude, you did a lot of great records in the ‘90s, but your last two albums were crappy. I will only unlock the door once we find your true style again.” I was in there for 8 hours, with many evil words spoken – it wasn’t meant to be a punishment, but in the end, we recorded a test song for Hybris, “Carbonman,” and he said, “You have it back. You know what I need. You have the first song done, so you have three weeks at home to take the rest of the recordings on and jot down your ideas and then we’ll meet again.” It was like someone reminding me of my old strength. It made me more self-confidence during the recordings and I had the same feelings that I used to have in my old recordings – without pressure to sound a certain way. I don’t want to say that the recordings for The Arsonist were bad, but I was pretty happy to make that step backwards for Hybris.
Dead Rhetoric: How was the decision made to do a minute of silence in honor of Tobias Graf?
Gahlert: All Deadlock songs are written by Sebastian, and when he started to record the album he started to turn on his nerd mode. Thoughts like, “My birthday is 14/03/83, so I take this chord with the four and the one.” There are so hidden links to his mother’s birthday, or on Hybris – special dates with Tobias, and his day of death was turned into chords and melody lines. Sebastian is the one that presents the concepts. For Hybris, he wanted to do a version of Brahm’s “Requiem,” a minute of silence on the album, and a hidden song. It’s not really a hidden track, but an intro – you can’t skip a track in order to hear everything. This is the spice on the potatoes to me – those little tiny aspects involved. We dedicated “Requiem” to Tobias, and the minute of silence is a tribute to him, but it is also open to interpretation. Even if you are 18 or 25 or however old, everyone has sad moments in their past – it’s not like the times when our parents were younger. When I look around, people who are in their mid-twenties and thirties – everybody has to carry a burden with them.
Dead Rhetoric: On a lighter note, what inspired the two cover songs that appear as bonus tracks on the album?
Gahlert: We did Marilyn Manson’s “Fight Song.” Marilyn Manson was the only band I hated when they were at their height at the ‘90s. Everyone loved him so much, and thought he was a poseur-guy. But a few years ago, I started to get into the lyrics and art-aspect of Marilyn Manson. For me, the lyrics of “Fight Song” represents everything I would like to talk about. I feel pretty close to those lyrics with my opinions – it nails it. We didn’t do a metal cover – we keep it as a rock song. So the first lines are done by Margie with a ‘90s grunge rock girl vocals, just to keep it closer to the ‘90s. In the ‘90s, girl rock was cool, kind of. The other song, “Uncivil Hands,” is a Morning Again song. They were a straight-edge band that Sebastian and Tobias had hyped in the past, when the straight-edge/vegan/hardcore thing came to Europe, with bands like Earth Crisis. They were pretty close to that scene at the time, with political/straight-edge lyrics from the ‘90s, so it is kind of a picture from the past of Sebastian and Tobias.
Dead Rhetoric: Any possibility of hitting North America with the new line-up?
Gahlert: That would be awesome. Deadlock has never been to the States, and with each album we have gotten more fans in North America but we have never made it to a tour. With every album, we talk about opportunities with promoters, but we never landed the plane so to speak. At the moment, I can’t answer that question – after the summer festivals I am sure we will have a sit in to discuss our opportunities.
Dead Rhetoric: What concrete plans are in the works for touring, etc as we move further into 2016?
Gahlert: We have some festivals in Germany and other European countries. After the summer, we are talking about a southern Europe tour in Spain and Portugal and potentially a larger European tour in the beginning of 2017. Hopefully there will be some more festivals in 2017 as well – I’m pretty sure of that. We would like to start talking about another album after that. What we would love to do, as we did in the ‘90s, is to do some EPs/splits. Sebastian is a daddy now, and I have some plans in that direction – we are going to work as hard as we can.
Dead Rhetoric: So now that you’ve made it through the turmoil, you are ready to move forward?
Gahlert: Yeah, it was like a second wind. I’m pretty sure that we will be a little more active than we were after The Arsonist.