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Interview: Torsten 'Todde' Ihlenfeld (Brainstorm)

Pure metal...interviews

Brainstorm is one of those bands that will definitely stick in your memory, especially if youíre given the opportunity to see them live. Having really enjoyed their live performance at last yearís Wacken festival, and with their new album 'Liquid Monster' ready to be released, I arranged a telephone interview with the bandís guitarist Torsten 'Todde' Ihlenfeld. Torsten spoke to me about the bandís future plans, their autumn UK mini tour with Saxon as well as his opinion about the new Judas Priest album.

Hi Torsten. The last time I got in contact with the bandís activities was last August, when I saw you guys performing at the Wacken festival. What have you guys been doing since then?

Torsten: The first thing that happened was that we did some more festivals like the Summer Breeze festival in Germany and also the Prog Power festival in the USA, and after that we started pre-producing the new album. This took place from the beginning of last September, till the end of October in our rehearsing studios, and in the beginning of November we started recording the album.

Did it take you guys two months to prepare the songs then, before you actually began the recording of the new album?

Torsten: We already started writing songs and catching ideas while we were on tour and during our performances at the festivals. The tour started on the first of April last year, so every time we had some spare time during the day or a long night in the hotel, we stayed together and shared our ideas. These two months were only to finish the songs and to pre-produce them.

See Torsten, I could never understand how a musician can find that energy and tranquillity, while on tour, to create new songs. This must be quite a tiring process really.

Torsten: As long as itís fun for us, you donít think that you consume your energy in any way, nor do you feel stressed about it. We had so much fun writing the songs, due to the fact that they were created under a totally different situation than the ones on our previous albums. It is the first time that we recorded songs while on tour, and it was nice because we had all the adrenaline and the energy of our live shows still in our veins and this is something that you can hear in most of the songs of this album. We tried to capture that live feeling here and make the album sound more spontaneous than on our previous releases.

One of the things that I do remember from the bandís performance in Wacken was the fact that you all seemed to enjoy yourselves so much on stage - something that also comes across in your music.

Torsten: Yes, thatís true. Weíre a live band. We are a band that has its own rehearsing room and we really have so much fun when weíre playing live, so it is good when people can recognise that in us. This is a kind of entertainment that we like to provide to people, especially since they have to pay lots of money when they go to festivals like Wacken. On the other hand, weíre in a really lucky situation because we love to go on stage and do those things, so that is a really good combination after all.

When I listened to the new album, I realised something that Iíve known since the days of 'Ambiguity' - the first Brainstorm album that I ever bought. Brainstorm seemed to have more of an 80ís Hard Rock attitude as a band, and then I saw on your bio that you guys have been together since 1989. I like that 80ís attitude when bands were serious enough in order to do a professional job, but not serious in a way that would deprive them of enjoying themselves. It feels like Brainstorm is a typical 80ís band in that respect - do you agree with that?

Torsten: Yes, I think that youíre totally right. We have grown up with all the bands of the 80ís and of course there is some spirit from that period that affect us when we are doing our song writing. I also believe that the fact that we know each other as people for such a long time, gives us a special feeling. When we started playing music together, nobody had a driving licence and we had to go to school every morning. We have really good memories being together. After the rehearsals, we tend to go to our favourite bar where we will have a pint of beer or a glass of wine and it all feels very familiar since we have been doing this for ages. We are also quite lucky because we never had to make a living out of our music. We all have our jobs, so we really donít have to 'prostitute' ourselves and make bad music. I know that it probably sounds quite silly to you, but itís nice to have our day jobs so as to feed our families, and then have our music for our own pleasure.

Another very interesting thing is that the people who make up the main core of the band have been together since the very beginning, with the only change in the bandís line up being that of the singer when Andy Franck joined in. That means that Brainstorm have been together for the last fifteen years, which is quite amazing really.

Torsten: That is very unusual indeed. We go through everything together and after all these years we are still in the same band. It is really important though the fact that weíre really good friends. That has helped a lot I guess.

Can I ask you, before we start talking about the 'Liquid Monster', to evaluate the bandís career so far, and which you consider to be the most important moments? Is by any chance the addition of Andy in the ranks of the band one of these really important moments?

Torsten: Definitely. Andy is a great singer and is very important for the band, although he is not involved in the basic songwriting. That is being handled by myself and Milan (Loncarie: guitars).

So it is the guitar players of the band who are calling all the shots.

Torsten: Yes, we come up with the main ideas and then we bring everything we have to our rehearsing room and we try to present the general picture there. Then itís Andyís turn to create the vocal lines and the lyrics, after which we take what we have in the studio and we arrange it with the rest of the band. It is very important to have Andy with us, because I strongly believe that heís one of the best vocalists that you could ever wish to have.

Brainstorm

Letsí start talking about your new album, 'Liquid Monster'. So far, you have released a new single, which is the song 'All Those Words' and allow me to say that this is one of the few times that I actually agree with a band about the selection of the song which is to become a single. My opinion is that 'All Those Words' is one of the best songs of the album.

Torsten: I think so too. For us it was pretty clear from the very beginning that this song will turn out to be very special. We didnít know if the record company would agree with our choice though.

What made you feel so insecure then? It is a great song indeed.

Torsten: It is a very unusual thing for us to release a single prior to the album. Our plan was not to release a single which would only have a couple of extra songs in it. We wanted to make that release a good value for money, but without thinking of make it sound commercial. We told Metal Blade that we wanted to include five or six songs on that single but also to keep the price as low as possible. Luckily they agreed with our idea and said 'OK, letís try it'. Thatís what weíve been thinking of doing, and weíre really lucky because labels normally tend to approve things that will guarantee them commercial success.

I understand what youíre saying, but historically speaking, you have a good relationship with Metal Blade. You have been with them for quite a long time now, and since the days of the 'Ambiguity' album, you are also doing really well sales-wise.

Torsten: That is true, and by the end of the day they did agree to release the single after all, but it is good to think about all the things that can happen in general.

Torsten, being one of the main composers in the band makes you the most appropriate person to ask this question. How come Brainstorm decided not to follow the typical German heavy Metal sound and which would you say are your main influences?

Torsten: I agree with the fact that we do not sound like the typical German Heavy Metal band. There is a great distance between us and bands like Helloween and Gamma Ray for instance. Itís not that we donít like that kind of music - both the previously mentioned bands have done well and achieved quite a lot of things for the German and the European Metal scene, but we have been mostly influenced by bands like Savatage, Queensryche and Crimson Glory...

Crimson Glory - thatís the name that Iíve been expecting to hear you say. I believe that 'All Those Words' sounds like it belongs in the 'Astronomica' album, if you know what I mean... Based on that, if I didnít know that Brainstorm is a German outfit, I would assume this is an American band with quite a few European influences.

Torsten: Thatís cool! I agree about the European influences too - you will always find some Judas Priest elements in our music. I really donít know why we sound that different, because all of the bands that Iíve mentioned before also have the same influences with us. I think that acquiring our own sound is something that came out naturally over the years, and thatís really important if you are planning to hang around for more than just a couple of years as a band. We have been a band for the last fifteen years, and in two years time we will be celebrating our first decade since we recorded our very first album. Thatís a really good thing, since many bands donít manage to stay together for so long - either because they chose to work with the wrong record company, or because they do not have the heart to go through the difficult times.

Brainstorm always seemed to be quite fond of using oriental scales in their music. The first song that I ever heard of your band was 'Maharaja Palace', and again I saw that there are quite a few songs from the new album which are based on similar scales.

Torsten: We like to use those types of harmonies. Even the oriental culture is very interesting to read about. That for me started during the childhood years after I read books like 'Thousand and one Nights'. Milan and I often experimented with such scales, so we think that itís very interesting to use them since they blend so well with Metal music. They create a really special atmosphere for the songs, so there is at least one song in every album that runs with those harmonies. In the 'Soul Temptation' album we did a trilogy based on that idea, but this is not what we had in mind this time round because it would be like doing the same thing twice.

Is there a specific concept behind 'Liquid Monster' that we should be aware of?

Torsten: The main idea that we had was to keep everything as free as possible, not planning any more trilogies or any specific themes for the lyrics - we preferred to let the music do the talking. We decided that the lyrics would simply complete the picture which was already created by the music - not that they are not important but I believe that they are more independent and also more personal from Andyís point of view this time. I think that the fact that we chose not to make 'Liquid Monster' a concept album, made it sound more direct and spontaneous. Who knows what weíre going to do when weíll record our next studio album. I also believe that we made a really good decision by not taking a break after we finished touring and doing all those festivals. Everything seems to have fallen into place, so as to make 'Liquid Monster' the kind of album that it really is.

Having constantly listened to your new album for the last three days, I realised how refreshing it is to see that you have decided to record an album that contains so many different types of songs. The fact that you chose to move towards so many different musical directions made the whole process of listening to it quite relaxing and enjoyable.

Torsten: I am really happy to hear that.

I didnít manage to get my hands on a copy of your new single 'All Those Words', so I really donít know if there is a video or any enhanced material available as bonus.

Torsten: We put a bonus video of 'Doorway to Survive' which is a song from our previous album that we have never before released on CD, but itís a clip that we liked really much. Itís a combination of footage weíve shot while we did these festivals in 2003 and also a few new video parts. We are really happy that we were given the chance to put that footage on this single, because it was never before available. We also did a Judas Priest s cover of 'Before the Dawn', which is a beautiful ballad. We are all fans of Judas Priest, and we thought about doing a cover of one of their songs, but one that has never been done before like 'Painkiller' or 'Breaking the Law'. It was Andyís idea to do this song, so we thought 'hey, why not'. I think that the result came out pretty good. You can also find another previously unreleased track which is called 'Shades and Shadows', which is a double-bass driven song, and also 'Cross Godís Face' which was the bonus song on the Japanese version of 'Metus Mortis'. I believe that you get quite a few songs for a CD single.

Would you like to tell us a few things about the recording process of the new album? Is there anything that you guys did differently this time round?

Torsten: The only thing that we did differently this time round was that we did the pre-production in our rehearsing studio here, and did the whole recordings in our music studios near Stuttgart. On our previous albums we recorded the guitars and bass on our own studios but this time we wanted to only concentrate on playing our instruments, and not worrying as to whether we had the right sound level in our amps or anything like that. After having recorded two albums on our own, it was nice to simply have to concentrate on having a good time. That worked out pretty well. We worked together with Achim Kohler once again - the same guy who helped us with the recordings of the 'Soul Temptation' album. Itís great working with him because he is very experienced and also a quite easy-going person. He knows exactly what kind of sound we want to have and also understands the vision of the band. I think we made a good decision to do things like that - just to plug in our instruments and start playing music, nothing else.

You also had a few additional musicians helping you out? I was quite moved by the beautiful female vocals that you can find in the album.

Torsten: Itís a girl called Carmen Schaper that did the female, which was once again Andyís idea. Achim, our producer, knows Carmen really well, so we asked her to help us out and luckily she had time to do that and agreed on doing some vocals for us. We even had some keyboard tunes, as in our previous album, which were prepared by a guy called Michael 'Miro' Rodenberg, who also does stuff with Rhapsody and Kamelot and has been recording keyboards for us since 1998. This is one more long running relationship for us. He is such a great keyboard player, that he never manages to have enough free time- everyone wants him (laughs). He is a really nice person that loves music. I believe that sometimes he does more for music than time really allows him to (laughs), but luckily he managed to do some keyboards for our new album. We also had Freddy, who works for Axel Rudi Pell and Rough Silk, doing some keyboards for our new album - this is the 'other' guy (laughs).

How are you guys going to manage to recreate the sound of the new album when you decide to go on tour? Are you going to use any samples, or acquire the help of any available keyboard player at the time?

Torsten: Having a keyboard player with us on tour is not something that we can really afford to do. I believe that weíre going to work with samples instead. We did that already on the last two tours that weíve made and it worked out pretty well because keyboards are not the dominant part of the Brainstorm sound anyway. They give a nice colour to our music and also complete the whole picture, but I donít think that itís necessary to involve a real keyboard player in this. That way there will be more stuff for the rest of us to drink and eat when we go on tour (laughs). No, Iím only joking here. This is something that works really well, and bands have been doing this for years, so why not us!

One idea that came into my mind after listening to how well keyboards blended with the rest of the music is that it would be very interesting if Brainstorm were to one day create a more symphonic album. Has this idea ever crossed your mind?

Torsten: That would be a very interesting thing to do for sure, but I donít believe that this would be the right time to do it - not even with our next album. I think that this would be something out of the regular album-tour-album-tour set up that we currently have, so as to make it be really special. This is, by the way, something that a hundred bands have done before, so when we believe that something like that will fit our music, we will do it without being ashamed of doing so. I donít know if weíll ever decide doing a whole album like that, or do only a couple of songsÖwe will see.

Who is the artist that created the album cover for 'Liquid Monster'? He did quite an unusual but very interesting job.

Torsten: The guys name is Tom Thiel. He is from Germany and he normally does illustrate computer games. The guy who does the album lay out is our singer Andy, and he came up with the idea of asking Tom if he would do the new cover, He sent us some sketches which were really good, so we decided to use him as the cover artist for 'Liquid Monster'. Andy had the idea of having monsters arising and disappearing or whatever (laughs) for the sea which he told Tom about. It was really great, when the first sketches started arriving, to see that Tom had managed to get the exact idea of how we wanted the album cover to look like.

This is not the first time that you guys chose to use monsters as the main theme of your album covers. In 'Ambiguity' you have those two evil monsters guarding what I assume is the gate of hell. Is this thing one of the things that you have chosen to keep from the 80ís mentality?

Torsten: Yes. A good album needs to have an equally good album cover. There have been so many amazing album covers during the 80ís and even the beginning of the 90ís really. I believe that itís a real shame having to put such a great album cover in front of such a small thing like a CD. You could, of course, release vinyl versions of your album, but itís very expensive, so you really have to make the best out of that situation. We love good album covers, so we try to have some of them on our own CDs.

Brainstorm, as you quite correctly put it, is a live band. Do you guys have any immediate plans as far as touring is concerned? Are you going to participate in any of this yearís German summer festivals?

Torsten: We will play very few festivals this summer because we have been on so many festivals last year, and the main focus on live performances as far as 2005 is concerned is definitely our own tour that will start on the 19th of April. Thatís the first leg of the tour which will bring us though continental Europe, starting from Denmark and continuing in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary and Slovenia - many European countries. That will go on until the middle of May. Then we will do a few summer festivals in southern Europe and then we will concentrate on the second leg of the tour which will start somewhere in September and will bring us back to the US. Then in October, we will come to Britain.

Bravo Torsten - thatís what Iíve been expecting to hear. Which is the band that youíre going to be playing here with?

Torsten: We will be playing with Saxon.

Thatís great news - Saxon is one of my favourite bands. You made me really happy.

Torsten: Weíre really looking forward to it, because we had a very warm welcome in London last year when we played with Nightwish in the Astoria club. That was really amazing because it was a sold out gig. Of course, people had come to see Nightwish, but people treated us really good and that was great.

Well, they had a good reason to treat you nice, since youíre doing such a good job.

Torsten: It was a wonderful experience playing in the AstoriaÖyes, we contacted the Saxon management through our booking agency so the shows were originally planed for this March, but with all that bad situation with Biffís house being on fire and all we had to postpone those gigs for October. Yes, the whole thing will start on the 16th of October, and it will bring us to Bradford, Edinburgh, London and also to two more places in Britain that I cannot think of right now.

The album seems to be doing really well all over the world. Is there a specific country that you would like to visit this time round?

Torsten: In general, weíre trying to visit as many places as possible, as long as the stage is big enough to hold us five and our instruments. It doesnít matter where we are as long as we and our audience has fun. We have never been to places like Japan and Australia before, and of course it would be very interesting if we could manage to play in those places. We are very looking forward to covering a large part of our world live wise this year, so we will see what happens. The main thing that weíre really happy of is that weíre finally able to do our own headline tour for the very first time, and we will have some great support bands with us.

Who are you going to play with this time?

Torsten: It will be Advance and Mercenary, so I think that it will be a great packageÖwe will see what happens. We will try to give our best performances this time.

What would you say that the next logical step would be for the band? What do you think that you need to achieve as a member of Brainstorm and that will make you really happy?

Torsten: I donít know where we go really. Things are looking really good for the future of the bandÖwhen we look in to the future, we see the release of a live album and also of a live DVD, but that will not be the next thing that Brainstorm are going to release. We will first do another studio album, and record our next tour on tape so as to prepare an interesting package for the fans. These are the things that we have in mind right now, but nobody knows what will happen in the end (laughs).

Are you happy with the popularity that Heavy Metal music is enjoying lately?

Torsten: Yes, it is true that Metal music is once again in the public eye which did not happen seven or eight years ago when Grunge was around, and thatís good. On the other hand, there are so many bands out there nowadays, that nobody can afford to buy all those releases. It is sad to see that there are so many good albums out there that do not manage to receive all the recognition that they truly deserve.

Thatís quite true. Itís more about the quality nowadays. Whenever I go to the record store, I donít know which album to buy first.

Torsten: Thatís right. Thatís the reason why many bands will disappear in the next couple of years. It is very hard to get recognition as a newcomer. We are in a good position because we have already been accepted by the Metal community - who knows what would have happened if we had started making albums five years later or whatever.

You have to admit though, that because of that situation, bands are 'forced' to record better quality albums in order to survive. That wouldnít have happened if there was not so much competition out there.

Torsten: The truth is that you always get both good and bad things out of every situation. As a member of a band, you need to try to make the best out of every situation and thatís what weíre trying to do here.

You have just made me come up with another question now. What is it that will make people choose to buy the new Brainstorm album instead of any other Metal release?

Torsten: Because the music comes from the bottom of our hearts and it is both true and honest. We love whet we do and we do not do it only for the sake of money. Itís good to have money coming in for the band, but thatís not our only intention here. Thatís what kept us over the years.

One question as one Judas Priest fan to another. How do you like the new Judas Priest album? I recently saw them live here in London, and they blew my mind completely!

Torsten: I love the new album. I donít think that anyone expected something like that when they first listened to the 'Angel of Retribution' and thatís what makes it such an amazing album. We have Judas Priest back with Rob Halford as a frontman, and theyíre still creating amazing songs - what else should anyone expect? On the other hand, I feel the need to say that there have been quite a few good songs in the albums with Tim 'Ripper' Owen, but the band was completely different and thatís why people found it really difficult to accept them back then.

Torsten, I really enjoyed doing this interview with you. I really hope to meet you in person this coming October and I wish you all the best for you and the band. The last words are yours.

Torsten: I would like to say another thank you to the London fans for treating us so nice last time we were here supporting Nightwish, and we will definitely try to pay you back guys this coming October!


Album review

Interview © 2005 John Stefanis


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