FeaturesBoon - Go with the Flow

Boon – Go with the Flow

Authenticity matters, even in heavy rock and metal. Once you gain a follower, that person can sense when a musician isn’t being true to themselves or true to the music they play. Which matters in a world where you can freely choose to invest your time, energy, and money into thousands of possibilities when it comes to entertainment. All the more reason to get behind a band like Boon, who hail from Austria and bring a sense of real rock and roll to their brand of groove-oriented heavy metal.

Their latest self-titled album Boon runs the gamut from punk rock-oriented fare to straight ahead heavy rock, even at times throwing in a bit of thrash-like energy in there – along with a ballad that contains piano and slide guitar strains. Reaching out to guitarist Ken Straetman on Skype, this is an engaging conversation into the longer process behind the new album, their outlook on what makes the band unique, thoughts on social media and videos in the modern age, as well as some discussion on the NFL outside of learning more regarding this fine quartet.

Dead Rhetoric: Boon is the band’s latest album, nicknamed the ‘red’ album for its striking red cover art. Where do you see the major differences between this album and the previous output for the band, were there any surprises, obstacles, or challenges that came up in the songwriting or recording process?

Ken Straetman: Yes, a lot actually (laughs). The main difference I think is the band has progressed a lot. We have some new band members, and thus new influences. If you talk about obstacles- we started working on the album in 2016, and by the end of 2016 we actually had an album written and recorded, 90%, only some vocals missing. But in the end, the producer was our drummer back then, and in the end we weren’t happy. This is not what we were looking for, Mattias the drummer kept urging things along to say this is what we are going for. We just weren’t happy, the songs weren’t there yet- there’s good material and good ideas but the songs weren’t finished. We weren’t happy with the sound. We separated with the drummer, he was the producer and he didn’t give us the finished product so we could continue to work on it.

We had to start from scratch but not with the songwriting. In 2017 we started looking for a new drummer – our first drummer from Boon helped us for a couple of gigs but due to his busy schedule he couldn’t get into the band full-time. In September we found Nick (Sartorius) our current drummer- fine-tuned all the old songs and wrote some new ones, and then went back into the studio. That became the red album – there was a lot of turbulence, but everything happens for a reason. If something negative happens at the moment, you can get bummed because you put a lot of money and effort into something that may not work out. Now I look back at it and see it was the best decision that we ever made. It was well worth the effort to keep on working on things- right now we are all happy we did things this way and stoked about the results.

Dead Rhetoric: When you look back at the process, do you think there is a specific song or two that benefits from this longer period of work on the record?

Straetman: Most of the songs, because what you usually don’t do when you are writing music is take the time to reflect on it. We were forced to do this because of looking for a new drummer, and in a situation that was out of our control. The benefit from that was we gained time- and if you have time, you can digest the songs and be able to listen. When you are writing, you are in the midst of the band, you are not really the listener. We got the chance to take a step back from the songs, and after a while you can listen to them as somebody outside of the band. Parts can (possibly) be too long, or maybe it doesn’t fit very well – and that’s the advantage that we got, to get a third-party perspective on all of the songs due to that break. We fine-tuned a lot of structural things – taking a couple of measures out of songs or making another transition into a riff. That was a pretty good thing- maybe we should make it more of a common practice.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the acoustic-oriented duet “Open Eyes” develop with Amadea – as it appears to be a track that could literally open up horizons for it has very commercial hooks and melodies?

Straetman: It was actually our singer/guitarist Wolfgang (Pendl). He likes to write all kinds of music and all kinds of songs. I remember he was fiddling around on Facebook live, he made a live session and just films it to put on Facebook. He did an acoustic progression, and we all said, ‘wow- what is that?’. He was just fiddling around – and I thought we could build it into for something for Boon to bring in a little bit of a change, diversity into the music. We only started to arrange it in the studio – we had the acoustic part, he wrote a lyric on it, and we adapted it to the song.

Our manager came up with the idea, to add a singer Amadea- she had done some pop songs, but that’s not the direction she wanted to go in. I met her and we were talking at a festival that I met her at with one of the other bands from our management – we thought about helping her getting into the rock area. She was very open for that- it came about very naturally. We asked her, she worked a bit on the song and there it was. We arranged the song with our producer Daniel Fellner – he has a metal background but he also does work in the Austrian pop scene. He had some cool ideas to put in the piano, and the slide guitar that started at first as a joke. We were recording the vocals and I told him I could see a slide guitar filling in the gaps- so he asked me if I had one. I rented one at a music store, bought a bottle neck, and it’s the first piece of slide guitar I’ve ever played. It worked out neat, it took us some time. That’s the way that song came about- a lot of coincidences and talking about it.

Dead Rhetoric: Your latest video is “Overdrive” – a straightforward performance-oriented shoot. Where do you see the importance of the visual medium in terms of enhancing the band’s profile, especially given the landscape of social media platforms where often curious minded people use YouTube and Spotify to learn about new bands?

Straetman: I think it’s very important. Some bands go really wild – I’ve seen some bands in Austria that release an album and will have a video for every single song on the record. That’s very expensive and time-consuming, but some people really put in everything. What we wanted to do, we are very old-school guys. We like not only social media, because we are into that too otherwise you are not really relevant- but we are also into real television and real radio. We can get regular airplay on GoTV- which is the Austrian version of MTV- and they need a good video. We started off the first video, straight up performing, and getting the theme of the red color involved in the shoot. The stage show will be reddish, I would say. We got together with a video producer, we wanted it to be useful on YouTube but also be played on television. It was a pretty nice shoot, as some can get boring. We had a lot of fun and a good time doing it, it actually went pretty fast.

It’s very relevant nowadays to be present on social media. We try to keep up by having Facebook accounts, Instagram accounts, YouTube. We will push that a little more, we need some more proactive motivation for that. We are going to push these channels, and launched a new website that we will promote.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think it’s important to also show the personality of the band through some of your social media activity, behind the scenes stuff as well as funny moments?

Straetman: It is. The whole background of the band, the people in the band, we take the music very serious but ourselves, not so much. We want to start incorporating our fans into that and show them some behind the scenes footage, rehearsal videos. We like to have a lot of fun, and share that with our fans. There will be a lot more of that. When we play gigs, we are going to take the fans where they normally don’t go. Also the red album, we were talking about legendary albums and how important this one is for us. We were looking for a title, but nothing was screaming ‘that’s it’. Boon has been in the scene for 20 years, why don’t we just call it Boon?

The first idea was to just put a red cover, nothing else- but then we thought that would be a bit too cheesy. We put some graphics into it – and the comparisons to the Beatles and Metallica came about because the Beatles had their white album, Metallica had their black album, and now Boon has their red album. The funny part is some people take it way too seriously and really think that we are trying to compare ourselves to The Beatles and Metallica, and we don’t think so. We have some realistic views on life. We want to be authentic and who we are- we don’t rely on gimmicks. The music speaks for itself, it’s pure and nothing too fancy. Pretty straightforward and that’s how we are and who we are. We want to let the people get into and be a part of this.

Dead Rhetoric: You embrace a groove metal style without sacrificing strong hooks and musicianship. What criteria do you believe makes Boon different from other groove metal acts – as it seems like your influences come from a wide birth of artists past and present?

Straetman: We are very careful with labeling ourselves. You have to give it a name, but we try to keep the spectrum very wide by saying that we are between heavy rock and groove metal because that is more or less the truth. In the end, one of the basic principles we used for this album is there are no limits. There is nothing that is wrong or nothing that is completely right – we just said that we weren’t going to say what is or isn’t okay for Boon. You probably notice… it’s the reason why we put “Open Eyes” and “Furious” after each other, to make the people see how diverse our music is. You have “Rise and Fall” with a punk rock influence, “Furious” has a lot of thrashy stuff in it, you have groove parts, rock parts, some Foo Fighters in there. We didn’t want to label or limit ourselves to one style of heavy rock or groove metal, whatever styles are out there today. Go with the flow and whatever comes out of us, that’s what Boon is going to be in the future or the present for that matter.

That’s what sets us apart. Normally I’m a guy who like to make plans, especially when it comes to business. Here we said it’s about music, it’s about emotions, it’s about feelings. One day you feel like this, another day you feel like that- and that’s exactly how we want the music to be. To have something for every mood, and we didn’t want to think too much about it. Wolfgang would come with an idea, start to jam on it, and there you have a song. Three of us will jam sometimes on a riff, sometimes a riff I’ve had in my head for 15 years or so. “Geh Weida” developed out of that, we all jammed on that riff, added another riff, had a little structure going on. Wolfgang came into the rehearsal a little later, and he said he had a perfect lyric for what we were writing, so we continued to work on it. One hour later, we had a song. No calculating- just whatever comes out of us. We would rather write down a spectrum, as there’s a lot of music in between, we don’t want to be a band that develops 11 songs that could be just one song. Whatever we feel like, we just play it.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Boon when it comes to your outlook on live performances? What have been some of the best shows you’ve played to date – and do you feel the differences between playing clubs/theaters versus outdoor festivals or outdoor gigs when you get the chance to do them?

Straetman: For us, a stage is a stage. We like to record and rehearse, but we live to play live. That’s where you connect to the audience, where the connection and the energy flows. To be perfectly honest, we feel very much at home on all kinds of stages. We have played Rock in Vienna in front of Kiss, at a giant upper festival stage. We have a Viper Room in Vienna too, it’s a small brother for the one in Los Angeles. A 300-capacity club, looks like an underground tunnel, and we played there last May. The club was completely packed, sweat dropping from the ceiling, and something completely different, but for us it’s playing live. It doesn’t matter how, we just want to connect to the people. Even club gigs are more appropriate for that, the proximity of people, you can really feel what is a great gig. Last month we did a small showcase in a music store- they used to do that a lot for Austrian bands. We got 150 people in that store, they didn’t know where to put the people. We really would love to play more stadiums – AC/DC won’t probably be a possibility, as I don’t think they will be back, maybe with Axl Rose again, who knows. There are some things in the pipeline for next year that are of a good size. We like to play everywhere, everything has its ups and downs, pros and cons. We feel best on stage, and if there are only 10 people we entertain them.

Dead Rhetoric: You also spent four years in the melodic death/thrash act Days of Loss – why did you end up leaving the band, do you feel like you are better off focusing your energy into one band versus splitting your time in multiple projects?

Straetman: Definitely. The main reason I left Days of Loss was because when I do something I like to do it with all of my heart. For me, it’s all or nothing. If I do something, I want to be successful, fun, productive. That wasn’t happening anymore- the mentality was not so good, people relied too much on what I did and they were waiting for me to do stuff. I loved the band, they are really nice guys, but the level of aspiration and motivation was too much of a gap between what I expected and what they expected. So we made a nice goodbye gig at a festival in Europe, a Sunday gig on the metal stage- we separated in a friendly manner. There is no bad blood.

Since then they haven’t released anything. If I put my energy in something, I want to record, play live, and do something for the people. That was simply missing for me. I got the chance to play with Boon, so I decided to concentrate on that. It deserves my full attention, and that was also a part of the decision.

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