Serenity – Elevate MemoriaTuesday, 6th December 2022
What’s a symphonic-oriented power/progressive metal band to do when you release a great studio album for The Last Knight at the start of 2020- only to have touring cancelled as a global pandemic spread months later? In the case of Austria’s Serenity, they decided to work fervently behind the scenes for a special stripped-down acoustic-oriented theater show, which finally took place in the spring of 2022. The results are now available for the world to enjoy with Memoria – incorporating material from all of Serenity’s catalog, a new song, plus a Fallen Sanctuary track in the mix. The special guests enhance the festive atmosphere and enthusiastic response from the audience and could gain the band more appeal from outside the normal followers.
We reached out to vocalist Georg Neuhauser to catch up on the back story behind Memoria, the special guest choices, how recent touring has gone coming out of the pandemic, a bit of history/geography talk with his day job as a college professor, his diverse listening tastes from Queen and Toto to Kamelot, Eclipse, and Rhapsody, plus the importance in his eyes of education for the youth and the global impact going forward.
Dead Rhetoric: Memoria is the latest Serenity recording – a live album available in Blu-ray, DVD, and double CD formats of a special unplugged show recorded in your home country last May. How much work took place behind the scenes to pull this all together – and were there any nerves within the band to pull this off successfully, especially considering the delays and postponements that took place due to COVID-19?
Georg Neuhauser: (laughs). Yeah, to be honest, this gig has been planned since 2020. When this COVID thing blew up, we were not able to do our big headlining tour for The Last Knight album in April of 2020. We did some brainstorming due to that, and we always did one or two acoustic songs in our live shows in the past, and people loved it. We thought it was a good idea to make it a bit bigger, in a special location, with special guests. This was the plan, and to finance it because Napalm Records said they could give us a small budget due to it being acoustic and a live thing, not really many new songs as we only have one new one on it, so they didn’t want to give us a big budget. We did crowdfunding to make the budget bigger, and thanks to our loyal fanbase we were able to pre-finance everything here.
And then we planned it, checked the date, booked the venue – which is a really nice place in a small theater called Kultur Quartier within a small town called Kufstein, with a huge fortress from the medieval age on there. But then in the end, the second wave from COVID-19 arrived, so we had to postpone it again to 2021. And guess what? Surprisingly there was another wave, and we had to postpone it again. This was really annoying, many people wrote us – especially from the US, they did not get the fact in Europe that we had these big lockdowns. In America, things were more open. Us Europeans, especially the Austrians and Germans, we were very conservative, and we had strict lockdowns. Even if things were open, we would have all had to be masked up, that’s the reason why it went into May 2022. Finally, without masks or restrictions, I think the product was worth waiting for.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you end up choosing the specific special guests for the show – and how did it feel to have former Serenity vocalist Clementine Delauney back on stage with the band?
Neuhauser: It was very important for us not to have the biggest names as guests. With money, you can get many big names as well. For us it was more important to have people there who are and are still connected with Serenity. Marco, the guitar player and singer in Temperance, he’s a good friend of mine. We did some songwriting sessions together for The Last Knight album, and we have released a new album together Terranova by another band we have together called Fallen Sanctuary. It was logical I wanted to ask him, especially for the song “Set the World on Fire” because he wrote it with me. Clementine was also a logical step; she was in Serenity and a part of it. Especially for the two songs she did with us, “Legacy of Tudors” and “Fairytales”. She is on the original version from the War of Ages album, “Fairytales” is originally on the Fallen Sanctuary album but, we did an acoustic version of it on the War of Ages album as a bonus track and she sang on it.
Michele from Visions of Atlantis and Temperance, he is also a good friend of mine. He has helped us in the past with studio stuff, that was the next logical step. Sascha Paeth, he is our producer, and not only the producer of Avantasia and guitar player in Avantasia – he has produced albums for Angra, Kamelot, and Rhapsody. He is a colleague, we toured together in April as he was supporting us with his other band Masters of Ceremony. The other female singer Kathrin Raunigger, she has been singing with me for some years in a cover band I do. Next to Serenity and Fallen Sanctuary, I do gigs with a cover band here to earn some money that I can use to fund the activities in some of my other bands. She really has a fantastic voice, that’s why we invited her. The drummer in “Spirit in the Flesh” Niklas Müller, he is originally the drummer in Ad Infinitum, he was also a substitute guitar player in Serenity, he is a student of our guitar player Chris. Everything was connected.
The arranger PK, she is from New Zealand, and she is a good friend of our bass player Fabio. The flute player is Fabio’s girlfriend, and the violin player is also a good friend of ours. It’s a huge family tree.
Dead Rhetoric: Which songs do you believe took on a new life of their own in these stripped down or rearranged versions compared to their electric counterparts?
Neuhauser: For example, “Legacy of Tudors” in my opinion is a distinct version, it has a real folk vibe with new melodies, the flute melodies, the Irish whistle parts, it fits the lyrics about Henry Tudor, the English king. The Celtic influence works. The intro, a cappella, was originally written by Henry Tudor. The ballads are really fantastic in these acoustic versions. A song like “Velatum” as well, the folk and Celtic vibe, they work perfectly in this interpretation.
Dead Rhetoric: After being away for so long from the stages, what was it like this past spring to finally be able to tour across Europe – do you think there is a newfound respect and appreciation for live entertainment and the arts from not just the fans but the musicians as well?
Neuhauser: Yeah, for sure. After these two years, we all agreed that we miss this like hell. Being on stage, being on tour. In April, we were one of the first bands touring again in Europe. The tour was really great, and crazy – so many nearly sold out or even sold-out shows. There were also still people writing us, saying they have a ticket but didn’t come to the show because they were still afraid. There were some discussions in the forums, people not happy being there because there was a lot of people not wearing a mask. Some negative vibes in the audience due to this insecurity, a bit afraid, not everybody was able to enjoy this 100%. I think lately everything is okay again, in the end we have to live with this, because it will not be gone.
Dead Rhetoric: How much did the pandemic change your outlook on life as a person? Do you believe your priorities and what’s important to you has changed as a result?
Neuhauser: I cannot say that it really changed because for me, and I hope you don’t get this wrong, but nearly for fifteen years I can say that I’ve never ever wanted to be only a musician. Music is a huge passion of mine, and music was my first love. Also, history, archeology, and geography – I am teaching here, working at the university, it’s exactly the same passion. I don’t want to miss this as well. Due to COVID-19, I was able to finish writing two books, historic books. I really see that I want to have both. In comparison to other bands and musicians who really were completely down, they only have this as a passion and as a job, I was in the lucky situation to have another job which is as good as the musician job.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you enjoy combining your passion for history with the lyrical content you do within Serenity? Also, do you plan out ahead of time what areas of history you will cover?
Neuhauser: Yes. As you can already see for example with Lionheart, Codex Atlanticus, and with The Last Knight, my special topic at the university is late medieval, early modern time period. Surprisingly, all these three albums are in this exact period of time. Richard Lionheart is late medieval time, Leonardo Da’Vinci is early modern time, and The Last Knight is late medieval, early modern time. The next album will also be about a guy who lived around the 1500’s. I think that this has a huge influence on our topics. In this period, I know the most, I’m more into this stuff here and that is the reason why all these albums are in that time period.
Dead Rhetoric: What has been like to balance the work of Serenity with your work in other bands like Fallen Sanctuary and Warkings these days? Do you enjoy the versatility and variety of styles you are developing with your voice, lyrics, content?
Neuhauser: (sarcastically) I am not officially a part of Warkings! (laughs). No, just kidding. I love all three bands. Especially because they are different. Fallen Sanctuary, we just do what we want. There are no lyrical concepts, we are more of a modern band than in Serenity. I have another permanent vocal brother in Marco, who is by the way one of the best singers I’ve ever heard. He’s a great songwriter and has the same taste in music as I have. When we write songs together, it’s 100% Pastorino/Neuhauser. Serenity it’s different, because when I deliver an idea, Chris for example has a huge influence on the arrangement, the vibe of the song. He is really not into melodic metal – although he’s playing in Beyond the Black and Serenity, he’s more into harder and modern stuff. He likes Bring Me the Horizon, bands like this, that’s the reason why in the end although I write a song for Fallen Sanctuary which could be also in Serenity, if both bands did the arrangement, they would sound completely different.
Within Warkings, officially I am not a member of Warkings, so I don’t know what you are talking about (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: Now that you are in your early forties, how do you see the evolution of your abilities as a songwriter and musician – do you find that you are working on different aspects to your playing that maybe you didn’t take into consideration during your twenties and early thirties?
Neuhauser: Not really. My way of songwriting is always the same. I am singing melodies in a mobile phone, clapping with the hands the rhythm section, and so on. And then showing somebody who is really able to produce something – because I am not a producer. I drive to Chris’ studio, I tell him the melody, I sing it in A, C, F, and C sharp. But how he really plays it on a guitar, it may not be my cup of tea. Drum wise, I tell him to program a double bass version or a half-time version. This has been the same since the beginning of Serenity. The only thing that changed extremely is when we started with Serenity, we had weekly rehearsals. We met and we were arranging and writing songs there. Nowadays, we do this 100% online. I send him the idea, and he builds up an arrangement and then we finish everything. This is new, that’s the only big difference.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe those early rehearsals helps for the comfort of now recording separately?
Neuhauser: There are always pros and cons. The pros of rehearsals, you have this spontaneous possibility to feel something together. You are jamming, working on rough ideas, and suddenly somebody has an idea and you can do it immediately. You can decide immediately if things are better. With recording at home, the big advantage is you can build up a real arrangement already. In the rehearsal room, you have parts where nothing nearly happens, let’s say keyboard layers. All the other musicians have the feeling, what should I do in the meantime? This is something great, to get more diversity in songs, you can plan things more concretely on the laptop than in the rehearsal room. The teamwork or spontaneous vibe though, this is gone.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you been listening to as of late for music – metal or otherwise – over the past few months? Do you continue to get inspired by newer artists, or do you find yourself gravitating towards the classics and bands/artists that captured your attention in your youth?
Neuhauser: New artists, I hardly listen to nowadays. Mostly I am listening to older stuff like Queen and Toto. One band I really like a lot is Eclipse from Sweden. I listen to them quite often, especially while driving my car as their songs always cheer me up. Sometimes when I have a nostalgic moment, I listen to the first two Rhapsody albums Legendary Tales and Symphony of Enchanted Lands, or old Kamelot stuff with Roy – for a really long time, he was my vocal hero. New stuff, hardly – we are producing music on our own all the time, so we don’t have the time or mood to listen to other stuff a lot.
Dead Rhetoric: What types of goals do you set within Serenity at this point in the band’s career? Are there other bucket list items or things you wish to achieve over the coming years?
Neuhauser: For sure there are some things on my bucket list. Headlining Wacken (laughs). But I think this will be a dream, and nothing more. It would be really cool one day for Serenity to tour Japan. We’ve never been there so far. Also, it would be great to do some shows in South America. And what else? What is in the pipeline is that we will do a show with a real orchestra. This is something we really want to do, that will be the next big thing. First, we have to concentrate on a new album, we are writing and finishing that which will be out in the summer/early autumn 2023.
Dead Rhetoric: What concerns do you have about the world we live in, and what do you think the average person should concentrate on to make the world a better place?
Neuhauser: (laughs) How much time do you have? Just kidding. I have all these experiences on my own, and the most important thing I think needed in the whole world is education. If you have an educated youth, or younger generation, there will always be a future, there will be a bunch of people fighting for the right things. Where I am afraid is the fact that it’s visible that young people are more and more not interested in anything. They don’t have the interest in history or geography if it’s not their cup of tea. Everybody should have something where he or she really burns for. When I am talking to young people, 20-22 years old here at the university, they study history, but they just study it. They don’t feel the passion for it. I am afraid if this doesn’t get better, because they are all caught up in their social media shit. The only thing interesting to them is Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tik Tok. Look at the videos on Tik Tok, I don’t have an account but if you see something from it, it’s hilarious and nonsense for nothing. And they spend so much time on it, it’s something I don’t get.
For sure, with geography, I look out my window and see the mountains, glaciers, and so on. It’s December, and we don’t even have snow down in the city because of climate change. This is something we have to think about, if we want to have a world still in 200-400 years, this is our responsibility, and we have to change something now. And not tomorrow.
Everybody is always complaining, and this is something I really hate. You and I, we are sitting here having an interview about an album about a band. We both don’t have any problems to be honest. If we compare it – I always bring up the diary of my grandfather. He was a soldier in the first World War and the second World War. He fought in two world wars, and had complete hyper-inflation, two times. The whole economic situation was completely flipped down, compared to now. Everybody is telling me we are in a crisis. It’s not a crisis what we have now, it’s peanuts in comparison to what they had back then. For all the people who are not having a real war in front of their house, like in the Ukraine, we just have to say thanks for every day. We have nothing else to complain, even though everyone has problems. When you live in Somalia and have nothing to eat or drink, these are real problems, and not the Chicken McNuggets has been sold out in McDonalds for an hour.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for activities, recordings, touring, festivals, etc. for Serenity, Fallen Sanctuary, or any other guest spots/appearances over the next twelve months or so?
Neuhauser: Right now, we are writing new material for the new Serenity album, which will be out in the summer. We will do some summer festivals, and tour in the autumn in Europe. With Fallen Sanctuary, we have also already written several songs for the second album. We have no release date yet. There will be some festival shows and gigs. With the other band that I cannot say I am in (laughs), we just came back from a huge tour with Powerwolf, which was amazing. We will do another tour in April/May, and festivals like Wacken, Bloodstock, Masters of Rock. I think I am not bored. (laughs).