Serious Black


03 Juillet 2017


Blaster Of Muppets

Interview Urban Breed

So, this is Serious Black’s third record and this time, it’s a concept album. How challenging was it to come up with an entire story and fourteen new tracks just one year after “Mirrorworld” and the tour that followed?

Well, I wish I could say it was easy, ha ha ha… But, in a way, it was because it kinda came naturally. Everything came naturally. The story, the songwriting… And we have a whole bunch of songwriters in the band and we don’t stop writing. Basically, a week after I had done the last takes for “Mirrorworld”, I was writing a new song. And it’s like that, you just keep going, and it’s not much of a problem because creativity feeds creativity, you know. I do something, Bob does something, Mario does something, Jan does something… everybody has ideas and we react to each other’s’ ideas… and it just keeps on rolling. The same thing with the story. I had been thinking about a concept for a long time but when I really made up my mind to propose to everyone to make this album a concept album, it was after my wife had made a joke. She had said: “you should call your next album Serious Black… Magic” but she was joking, you know. But I said “Hey, no, this is actually a brilliant idea!”. It worked just fine because I had been thinking about the story and it just fit. So I said, “I’m gonna do that” and she said “Really… ?”, ha ha ha. And the fact that it’s a little bit of a play on words, it’s fun too. And now, the title track is “Serious Black Magic”… even though the title of the album is just “Magic”. It is really our Serious Black song because now we’ve done a song entitled “Serious Black Magic”, we can’t write a song that would be called “Serious Black”. That would not a bit stupid… or maybe… (laughs)
Anyway, it was fun and also a challenge to make everything come together… especially when someone said “Hey, can we move this song here and take that one as the opener… and can we move this other song back?”! Because when that happens, you have a problem with the story. And there are a few songs we did move. I wish I had taken pictures… the back wall of my studio at home, it just looks like these walls you see in movies or series about conspiracy nuts, you know, with all these names, threads, and notes everywhere… I had to do it because there was so much going on in my head that I had to put it down and be able to see it. So if I moved a song, I could see how it affected the chronology of the story… and there were two songs that we could move, just a little bit, not too much, and it still worked.

So, you’re finally fully exploring the link between the name of the band and the topic it is related to, that is the world of magic, right?

Yes, it was Thomen’s (the previous drummer) idea to have this name for the band and I had been trying to steer away from it to be honest… Because we’re not a Harry Potter tribute band, you know (laughs). But now, we’ve done two albums before this one and I think now it’s safe to do this. And we do have this “magic” connection but we’re not all about magic. And it doesn’t mean that we’re gonna sing about magic and dragons all the time, you know. We’re just doing this concept now, we’ll see what the future holds.

Where did you find inspiration for this story? What interested you in particular?

You see, you take the story and It’s a story about magic, of course, but it really is a social commentary and a love story too… The magic element gives a little twist but there are other things, concerning life in general, interpersonal relationships. So it was interesting to create a story with these different elements and characters… not just the fantastic side of things.

Right from the beginning, “Magic” sounds different compared to its predecessors, was going to places you had not explored before a priority this time?

Well, we have already done “As Daylight Breaks” and “Mirrorworld”, so why do these albums again? But, I think no one said “Let’s do something different this time”, what happened is that we just gave ourselves a few guidelines. We wanted to bring a few changes but some didn’t work, ha ha. So some new things or changes were incorporated in the writing but you can also see that there are familiar concepts and songwriting that we’ve used before. But yes, it’s a little bit different. The approach was different, the way we recorded it was a little bit different, the way we mixed and mastered it was different too… and also, the way I arranged my backing vocals was different. You have way less backing vocals on this one. And it’s because Bob asked if we could make the vocals a little bit stripped down, in most parts but not everywhere. And I said yes, I think it works out just fine… because you don’t necessarily have to have sixteen Urbans singing backing vocals during a chorus.

The main character’s name is Mr. Nightmist. I suppose that’s him we can see on the cover of the album but, strangely, he looks quite like you…

He kinda looks like me, ha ha ha… Obviously, I’m actually dressed up as Mr. Nightmist right now. He’s the main character of the story and I felt that we should bring him to life on stage. So I’ll be wearing these clothes on the next tour.

Did coming up with a full story about witches and magicians have an influence on the music? Have the lyrics changed the sound of Serious Black?

A little bit. Obviously, we had written songs before I came up with this concept. So we chose the songs that worked best with what we wanted to do… and we left some out because they were, I don’t know, maybe a bit too mechanical or because they didn’t really fit with the concept.

And your singing, have you adopted a more theatrical approach for the needs of the concept?

I would say that the story calls for it but I will say this: I think that I have always been a little bit of a theatrical singer. Occasionally, I hear people say “Urban, just sing it!”. And I’m like “No no no, I gotta find the expression, or put that weird little thing to it, or maybe give it some more breath in the opening, or maybe make the voice break up a little for this part…” (laughs).

In this respect, the ending of the album, the final track, sounds very theatrical and melodramatic, it’s full of changes and vocal harmonies that reminded me of Queen…

We weren’t aiming for it but when it was done, yes, I had to say that we had obviously taken cues from Queen (smiles). But really, we didn’t plan it, we didn’t say “hey, let’s do something Queen would do!”. It was more like “Oh, it turned out like something Queen might have done”… Well, not completely actually but it’s got a little bit of that flavor.

Talking about concept albums, what are your references or models in this particular genre?

I don’t know if I have any, hmm… let me think… I think the concept album that I have liked the most is “Operation: Mindcrime” by Queensrÿche. I can’t say that it has influenced this album at all, it’s very different… but maybe the fact I like “Operation: Mindrcrime” so much is that there is a bit of soclal commentary, just like there is some social commentary in “Magic”.

How has the writing process changed for Serious Black since the beginning of the band?

When the band started , I had so many demos, as well as for “Mirrorworld “actually… and even for the new one. I have been cannibalizing the solo album that I planned to do but that’s never gonna happen now because I have used most songs I had for Serious Black. Now, the big change from the first album to the second is that obviously, we had already used a bunch of demos (smiles), but we had more time to write. People think it’s the contrary, that we had a lot of time to write our first album and that we had to hurry for the second but it’s not what happened. For “As Daylight Breaks”, I got involved with the band in September and the album got released a few months after that, in January. Sure, the band already had some songs but we still had to write, arrange and record in a very short period of time. For “Mirrorworld”, sure, we were busy, we were touring for our first record, but I got more time to write, Bob (Katsionis) wrote as well, everybody basically… That’s why we had so many songs in the end. And the only reason why the regular version is so short is because I got sick and couldn’t finish three of the tracks that we wanted to put on the album. To me, the regular version of “Mirrorworld” is really the budget version… the full thing is really the version with all the bonus tracks.

It seems you’ve shot a video for your new album…

Yes, in fact, I just flew back from Munich where we shot the video to here yesterday… So I just went to bed here, woke up and here we are, doing this interview.

What was the song chosen for the video?

Well, if you had to guess which song we did, which one would you choose?

From what I’ve listened so far and remembered, there are many songs that would do very good singles but there is one in particular that really stood out and got stuck in my mind, it’s “Now You’ll Never Know” which has a killer infectious chorus…

Very good choice, I have to agree with you there, it’s one of the songs that we brought up on the table for the singles but it’s not the one we chose, ha ha. But I have to be honest, I told AFM “You can pick whatever you want, I’m fine with it, I like every song on the album” and I trust them not to pick the introduction (laughs) or the final track, it could not be a single, you know, ha ha… So our first single and video will be “Serious Black Magic”. Now, I’ll tell you a funny story about “What You’ll Never Know” : it was supposed to be a bonus track for Japan. So I left this song for last, you know… And on the very last day of mixing, I was staying up overnight, tracking the vocals for it and the next morning, I brought it and said “here are the vocals”. We mixed everything, sent the song to AFM and said “this is too good a song, there’s gotta be another bonus track we can find for Japan”, so it’s on the record finally.

Ok! Now, about the band: Thomen had to leave because he had back problems I believe but I couldn’t really find out what happened with Roland Grapow…

When Mario (Lochert, the bass player) pitched the whole thing with the band at the beginning, I think he understated the amount of touring that we wanted to do… I say “we” but really it was more Mario because I was not even involved with the band at that point, I was the last guy in. So I think that when Roland found out that we would be touring that much and that we would record another album right away, he said “Wo wo wo, I’ve got Masterplan!”. You know, Mario gets things done this way, he tells you “Hey, you wanna do this? And this?” and then, he reveals the whole picture (laughs). At least, you’ve got an album out and things get going… and then you solve the problems afterwards. But you know, this is an approach that kinda works, we’ve done three albums already. You kick the ball rolling and see if you can catch up and make it work, ha ha. So, we had a great time, a great start together and it’s a bit of a shame that it had to go that way… but on the other hand, he’s doing fine with Masterplan and we have a good time every time we meet. And we have Bob who’s doing a great job! So, that’s fine, you know.

There’s a picture of three CDs posted on your facebook page with a mysterious message saying there will be other releases this year. Can you tell us more about that?

I can tell you exactly what it is now because it will be announced by the time this interview is published, I think. So of course, we didn’t write three albums, we made “Magic”, that’s the first CD, and we also recorded a show in Atlanta at the ProgPower Festival, that’s gonna be the bonus CD on the digipack version of “Magic”. And finally, I finished my vocals, like two days ago, for an acoustic album.

Are there going to be some songs from your three albums on this acoustic CD?

Yes, it’s a spread. I can’t actually tell you at this point which songs are going to be on the CD exactly, I can only mention the last ones I worked on, ha ha ha… Which ones did we do again? I don’t know… We’ve been so busy. I like it but it’s a little tough sometimes, it’s difficult to keep track. Sometimes, the other guys ask me “Can you do this? And this?” and I say “Hey, I can’t even understand what you’re saying, there’s so much spinning in my head… Let me finish the one thing I’m doing right now and then you can ask me again”.

Yes, I suppose that with the other bands you worked with (Tad Morose, Bloodbound, Trail Of Murder…), you didn’t have to work and tour that much, did you?

No, there was plenty of time to think about things, that’s true. But I’ll say this right now: I love touring, I love being on the road, it’s fantastic. You don’t have to worry about anything else… I just have to be on the tour, doing my job, enjoying meeting people, talking to them, having fun… that’s great.

We’re running out of time… Anything you’d like to say to our readers, say it now:

Ok, what’s really important I think is when you do listen to the album, try to get a hold of the listener’s companion, it’s going to make a lot easier to follow through and get in touch with the story, and when you’ve done this, get back to me. Post a comment, I want to hear what your thoughts are, I’m curious… because I’m so happy with this album, I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I really want to hear some feedback from people.