Them – Back to the Manor

Wednesday, 14th November 2018

Developing from a tribute to King Diamond into a full-fledge band, Them brings about a mix of power/traditional metal with some thrash inflections. Also unique in the fact that the members hail from the United States and Germany, they have quickly made their mark in a scene that is awaiting new blood to stand out because of their theatrical stage show and equally enticing storylines record to record. As you’ll read in this engaging conversation with vocalist K.K. Fossor (aka Troy Norr in real life), it’s quite a fascinating journey for this lifelong fan of music in general.

The latest album Manor of the Se7en Gables continues with the storyline that started on their previous album Sweet Hollow – intertwining heavier, slightly progressive-oriented action with “Circuitous” against more dramatic outings like “The Secret Stairs”, keeping listeners on the edge of their seats at all the melodies, harmonies, and layers of sonic output to hit the senses. Prepare to learn more about the development of this group, thoughts on what to expect from live performances, their ability to be efficient as an international outfit, and how a specific personal incident led to a rebirth of K.K. in terms of singing again.

Dead Rhetoric: Them is a theatrical heavy metal band that evolved out of a King Diamond tribute act into an original entity. Tell us how the concept of this international band developed and where do you see the major differences between what you do and other ‘theatrical’ metal acts past or present?

K.K. Fossor: Like you said, we started as a King Diamond tribute. How it got from there… to where it is today, is very interesting. The guys I was performing with in the King Diamond tribute, are great musicians and great songwriters. They started to work on the first Them album with me. Because of how everybody’s lives are set up, they can’t always coincide with your path and your dream. I had a particular vision and a particular goal. They weren’t on the same page as me. It prevented them from going forward on a grander scale in an original sense.

In 2012, it just so happened that I had a casual business dinner with Andi Preisig, from Battle Cry Records. His small company was re-releasing my first band Coldsteel, some prerecorded material that they were re-releasing. While he was here in Long Island, he wanted to meet with me and have dinner. He had other Germans with him, and some of them were members of the band Lanfear, a progressive metal act similar to Dream Theater. I knew of the band, great band – we were sitting there, but I didn’t know them. I pulled out my iPad and showing Andi ideas for an original band called Them. I showed him the logo, concept art for album art, makeup designs. He was looking at this, and he told me I had to bring this out as soon as possible. While he was talking with me, Markus Ullrich was listening, watching, observing- very quiet. He didn’t say anything. We became Facebook friends, and we would chat periodically.

I remember the day came when the guys I was playing with in Them told me they didn’t really want to do this anymore. I told Markus, not thinking anything would happen- and he said he would do the record and write it with me. He wrote the music, I did everything else. Now we are here. That was a major pivoting point. You have to find the right combination of musicians and songwriters to be able to accomplish something like this. Since then the other guitar player, Markus Johansson, out of Illinois, has jumped in on the songwriting process for this record. There was a demand for live performance out of being a studio project- and that’s when we became a real band. We started playing, and SPV wanted a record to invest their time and money into us. We wrote another record – I thought it would take two years to write this, but it didn’t.

What we are doing as far as the theatrical portion is expressing a single story. When you look at it one piece at a time, it’s a story and a concept- and that’s been done before. This is not a trilogy, it’s one story. When you put the two records side by side, the ending and the beginning continues with no skip of a beat. There are references to a future record within that first record. Of course there will be comparisons to King Diamond, Attic, and they throw a theatrical element into the live performance. K.K. Fossor is not only the narrator, but also in the story. Every detail is accounted for the character- why he has an inverted cross burned into his face, about his past. He’s not a bad person, think of him as an anti-hero. Sometimes he does the wrong things to make the situations right. He looks evil, but he really isn’t. Yes you will have comparisons to King Diamond to Them – I’m not going to deny that, but I’m not going to copy him. I respect King as an artist, I couldn’t replace him if I tried. He is who he is, and I appreciate him as a master storyteller and songwriter. I do what I feel in my heart and I’m passionate about. I love horror, I love Kiss, I love different things. I love Billy Joel- but King Diamond is very apparent because he’s very unique.

Dead Rhetoric: How did SPV enter the picture to sign the band for this latest album Manor of the Se7en Gables, as your first full-length Sweet Hollow was released on Belgian label Empire Records?

Fossor: Our booking agent, TSR bookings, they book a number of acts- one being Air Raid. They’ve been around a while, classic sounding metal like Iron Maiden and they are Swedish. We performed with them in Austria, an excellent band. SPV contacted our booking agent, and they were interested in Air Raid and Them. We knew what we had to do, SPV/Steamhammer is the next level. They are one of the top labels in Germany – and a second point is they have their own distribution. They distribute all over- some of these other labels use SPV to distribute their product. We’ve read some things, they do what they say they are going to do. The contract is long, it’s like ten years – in their time they are going to want quality music, and they’ll put it out. We wanted a backing company that would form a good relationship with the band to put these records out. Nowadays, you don’t need a label – but let me tell you, you have to know how to get it out into the marketplace. And that’s where you have to have skilled people. It’s remarkable what they’ve done so far, and the record isn’t even out yet. They are very efficient. We just feel that this is great.

We met them in February in Germany, and met with the whole staff. We’d go from one room to another room, and they showed us a room where the Scorpions rehearse before every tour. It’s not just a room, it’s like a gymnasium. Seeing the history, who’s been there, who’s recorded there, the gold and platinum records lining the walls. There will be different European, US and Canadian tour runs, so we’ll be busy for a few years.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the specific concept surrounding these songs as it’s the second record in an already planned out trilogy – and do you find it easy or difficult to handle the storyline and have it possess the right cohesion track to track, while also retaining the individuality the songs need?

Fossor: Yes, it’s not easy. So how do you do that? You need to create this flow, and each song has to be strong enough to stay on its own. They all have a purpose. One way of achieving, and the fundamental element to achieve that, is before any of the lyrics or vocal mapping was created, we developed a mood chart. The mood chart consisted of how many beats per minute each song would be. I would discuss with Markus Ullrich the songs being fast, moderately paced, slower songs, etc. If you looked at the wave, it’s similar to the flow of say a Star Wars movie. A bombastic beginning, it dies out, builds up, and the ending is climatic. That’s the formula George Lucas used. The music drives the story. If you listen to the music, besides keeping the story flow going, how do you create vocal lines over that? Are you grunting, are you singing, are you talking, are you screaming? What makes sense… I have a white board that’s six feet long and five feet high, and on that white board I have the name of the album and track one to track twelve, and the names. Under each title, I have what the song is about, a one-line summary – and I had that when I was writing lyrics.

One big difference from the last record to this record is we worked with Paul Sabu, who’s a brilliant songwriter, producer, and musician. He did a lot in the 80’s and 90’s, he’s known for stadium-like choruses. He injected additional tracking for our songs, he didn’t write the parts, but he injected layers to make things sound bigger. He’s a great guy, very professional and easy to work with.

Dead Rhetoric: Video playthroughs and lyric videos seem to play a part in today’s advance promotional work to set up records as proper music video footage for the band. Do you believe these insights and previews further the cause for people to discover more behind the band so to speak – and in turn develop faithful followers?

Fossor: Obviously the whole industry has changed. Twenty years ago, when you have MTV people would look for their favorite bands. Now there are labels that are releasing lyric videos. Our label only wanted us to release lyric videos at first. Now they are seeing the response they are getting, they want a real action scene video. That will more than likely be released during the first quarter of 2019. The lyric videos are great- it allows new found fans to get a taste of what the band is about.

From a marketing standpoint, it saves a lot of money for the labels because they don’t have to invest in a music video that a majority of people these days won’t watch the whole thing. Our attention spans- from what I’ve learned with the label, because part of our meeting with them was to discuss this – our attention spans have decreased over the course of time. Especially with the introduction of social media, we are flipping and scrolling. We watch something for a few seconds and then go on to the next thing. It’s very interesting, because after I came back from our meeting in Hannover with SPV, I noticed that with today’s youth. My daughter will play ten seconds of a song, and then go into another song – my son did that as well. People are doing that nowadays, they aren’t listening to full songs.

I think what’s the most successful is a music video with the lyrics incorporated. Where you will see performances and lyrics going at the same time. For Them, we’ve done two lyric videos for the new album, and we should have a third one that will be more live footage. We have a company in Germany that does the editing, and who knows what they will do. This project deserves the visuals, and there’s a lot to take in.

Dead Rhetoric: Have you always had an interest in horror, fantasy, and the darker elements that can often go hand in hand for heavy metal lyrically? Do you have a favorite medium (books, television series, films) that inspires and fuels that creative fire for Them?

Fossor: I’ve always had an interest in horror and dark elements. It allows you to escape. A typical day to day experience, it takes you out of that element and allows you to be in a different place. I love the anti-hero concepts – the man who saves the day but may have to kill people to save the day. Bruce Campbell’s Ash from The Evil Dead– that’s one character that I really enjoyed. I love the Evil Dead series. As far as progression in time, my love for horror is still there. My day to day obligations prevent me from enjoying it the way I would like to enjoy it, I still love it. As far as a medium – things I’ve read, but film is my biggest inspiration. There are films I’ve been introduced to see from other band members, that I wasn’t originally aware of and widened my perspective on the genre. I’m a big Stephen King fan as far as a novelist. I incorporate some ideas into the music – one thing is certain. In the stories there is actual fact, and real-life elements that are added.

On the first record – Sweet Hollow is actually a real place on Long Island. Locals call in Sweet Hollow’s cemetery. The real official name is Melville Cemetery. There is folklore that surrounds that cemetery- one being the ghost of Mary, who inhabits the cemetery and supposedly killed her whole entire family with an axe. She lived in a sunken house somewhere in Long Island, so I took some of those elements and put it into that part of the story. Manor of the Seven Gables- there’s a real house, house of the seven gables. Nathaniel Hawthorne owned the house, located in Salem, Massachusetts – the characters in Sweet Hollow, their last name is Hawthorne. So there are factual elements added into the story- and the rest is fiction stemming from some of my influences.

My daughter voiced the dialogue and screams on the first Them record as Mary and Miranda. I added the parallels of what happened in my life to make things more real for the character of K.K. Fossor, dramatic (things) that people can relate to. People feel bad for him as they learn the back story, he has been through a lot.

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