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Interview / Volatile Weekly, USA

Aktualisiert: 22. Dez. 2023

Interview with Sanity

15.. Dezember 2023 Jarod Smith

What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?

I was growing up in a strange type of musical home. My parents being born during World War II and having suffered bomb raids, displacement and separation from their families longed for a peaceful and silent haven to build a family. Imagine an austere Bauhaus-type house, filled with collector’s pieces and antiques, silent in its core, with classical music the only kind to fill the white painted halls every other fortnight or so. We did not have any TV, nor was there any radio culture. I was a clean slate when it came to popular music. First mixtapes from classmates featuring the classic eighties quickly lead to discovering rock music and I was already playing in a cover band at the age of thirteen.

After having seen The Offspring’s "Come Out and Play" on MTV during a family vacation in the United States I was hooked. The song was not yet known in Germany and so my twin brother and I decided to cover it. That was the beginning of  "Sanity" and it was 1994. And it was not enough. Not nearly enough.

I don’t think there was ever a chance for us not getting into music, this is how we expressed our inner self, the emotional turmoil were we going through back then (and maybe still today?). Some of my friends used sport to blow off steam, others created drawings and paintings to cope with their situations. Any yes, some succumbed to drugs and lost all their drive.

But not us. We were eager to experiment with creating songs ourselves. I wanted to find out how song writing actually works. Can I do it? How do I express what I musically enjoy? How does it sound if I compose these chords for guitar, the harmonic 3rd in bass and a progressive drumming underneath it? I was overflowing with creativity.

The early nineties in Berlin were special. You need to understand that West-Berlin was completely surrounded by The Wall, part of it adjacent to East-Berlin, part of it bordering East-Germany. West-Berlin was a small isolated island in East-Germany, an island one third the size of London! And there was no way out without proper visa application weeks upfront. I lived a stone’s throw away from the wall, we could hear the vicious border dogs barking everyday, we saw the heavily armed border patrols on their guard towers looking straight over the wall at us playing. Sometimes menacing, sometimes cheerful. Combine that with the fact that we were an occupied city. I lived in the British sector, the barracks of the soldiers near to a playground I used to frequent. Man, did we have fights with the children of the British soldiers who took us for fair game.  

So when the wall came down it was – overwhelming, literally. The wall was gone but the people that were now "neighbors" were so different from us. The villages and small towns just outside of where I grew up and which I was seeing for the first time in my life (!) were so bleak, gray, run down and depressing. In the coming years the music culture, as well, was developing very differently between Berlin and the surrounding ex-East-Germany.

I got pretty quickly into hard rock and heavy metal, starting with AC/DC and G’n’R. But then somebody from the "East" (that's how we referred to anybody who was from former German Democratic Republic) had me listen to Metallica, my first real heavy metal experience. Back then we called it "East Metal", because only people from the "East" would listen to it. It was not cool in Berlin – yet.

There was a music show on the public broadcast channel "FAB – Fernsehen aus Berlin" which featured a documentary about "Death Metal". Imagine, a teenager in a classical music-home (we had bought a (small) TV in the meantime) watching in all earnestness an educational television program about death metal -  and the next thing I know, I went to a music store to buy my first death metal CD. Funny but true, the shop clerk was totally lost when I asked him about death metal, so we both went to the "D" section and found a CD from a band called Death and he sold it to me. Luckily, it was death metal and that sealed my fate and the direction our band would be taking from now on.

By 1996 we had released our first three track demo and by 1998 our first full length album "Sinister Reflections". Atmospheric avantgarde death / black metal is what I had called our music at the time, heavily influenced by bands like Orphanage, Death, Paradigma and Septic Flesh. 1999 came "Nocturnal Poems" our second album where we journeyed into the realm of symphonic black metal. I had learned a lot about composing, arranging and was eager to add orchestra to our tracks (from a synthesizer, that is – this was how you did it back in the days). Both albums were produced with first generation home recording equipment since we were students and wouldn't pay for studio time. Then came the year 2000 and we had come up with a new quality kind of songs for our next album. Faster paced drums, intricate guitar riffings, much more advanced orchestra arrangements. This was the time to pay for studio recordings and we released "Schattensymphonie" in 2001. What a great album, the sound still holds up today and the songs speak of an almost forgotten rawness and hardness that we had back in the days.

Following the release of "Schattensymphonie" a lot of things were happening in my private live, first employment, move to another city, marriage, kids. All this slowed down my creative process and put a halt to regular band rehearsals. Still, already in 2001, the idea was born to create a concept album about the biblical book of Revelation, a prophetic, dystopian book that vividly and explicitly describes the apocalypse. And that is what my brother and I did over the next 13 years until around 2014 we called the band back together to start practicing the new songs. And this time I aimed at creating a master piece. I wanted it all, clean vocals, shouting, well arranged rhythm guitar riffings, lead guitars, fast drums, realistically sounding orchestra and choir. And we took our time. The EP Revelation was released on 11 March 2023.

What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?

My brother and me are really retro guys. I set up my hobby room like an eighties Arcade stuffed with games and collectibles many of us may remember from our childhood. It almost feels like a shrine with all these relics from the eighties, somehow we are stuck in that decade and this shows in our interest outside of music. We are both collecting arcade machines and eighties style gaming consoles. Let’s play some "Choplifter" or some "Ghouls N Ghosts" on my Sega Master System, what do you say? Man, I can really wind down after a stressful day by just playing those good old vintage games. 8 bit or 16 bit, simple game principles, but lots of fun and gratification. On the arcade machine "Donut Dodo" is high on my list for months now. There are only 5 levels, but I’m still  trying to beat it.

As you can see, we preserved a playfulness in our lives that is directly connected to the way we create music. The process of composing music in itself is playful. It’s often the daring and sometimes crazy ideas that later become favorite parts in our songs.

How long has your band been around?

Sanity was formed in 1994 in Berlin, Germany, by me, Philipp, and my twin brother Florian, initially as a grunge rock band with only one guitar, a bass and drums. Over the first years, the band’s musical focus shifted to death and then to black metal. Sanity released three full-length albums and an EP between 1998 and 2023. The genres read as follows: The first release "Sinister Reflections" - atmospheric avantgarde black / death metal, the second album "Nocturnal Poems" and the third album "Schattensymphonie" - symphonic back metal, and then for the EP "Revelation" - symphonic metal. Initial band members included Lars Maiwald on bass guitar and one year later Benjamin Russ on the second guitar. The band went on hiatus in 2002 and re-formed in 2014, all the while the brothers Weishaupt continued to compose songs for the next album. The band re-formed in 2014 to rehearse and finalize the material that would become 2023’s "Revelation". The line-up 2014 included Bernd Schweda (ex Dawn Berlin) on one of the guitars, replacing Florian who focused on vocals from now on. Ludwig Liebsch joined as bass guitar player. Rüdiger Lauktien replaced Philipp on drums and Philipp masterminded the project while playing keyboard. After the recordings for "Revelation" had been finished the line-up changed once again with Bernd, Rüdiger and Ludwig leaving. Philipp returned to the drums, Florian picked up the guitar again and focused on clean vocals. Silas Grünitz, as well as Julius und Felix Albe joined the band, Silas on bass guitar, Julius on guitar and Felix being the new shouter. This is the current live setup.

Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?

We are all based around Berlin, most of us living in the small towns in the surrounding region. Berlin is very rich in music culture and features hundreds of artists every week on the stages of the clubs. We have been part of the heavy metal culture in Berlin since the early nineties and have played with a lot of local bands.

Listening to the five tracks on our EP you will find influences from nineties black metal bands we saw on stage here in Berlin, like Emperor, Ancient and Bloodthorn, but also death metal bands like Orphanage, Gorefest, and Death. Then again, even Metallica plays a role.

Gothic metal bands like Cemetary or dark wave artists like Eros Necropsique and Elend were also a resource of inspiration. There was I time I was heavily involved in the Dark Wave and Gothic scene. We had a couple of Gothic music clubs in old historic buildings or even in a citadel, this was really something, all dressed up and gathering for a dance in these surroundings.

Berlin also has excellent concert houses and this is how I grew up, my family regularly went to concerts of classical music. To experience the fifth symphony by Gustav Mahler in a concert hall is something totally different than just listening to it on your stereo at home. The way we composed the orchestra parts was definitely formed by us seeing and listening to music from Ludwig van Beethoven, Arcangelo Corelli, Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Händel. At the same time, we learned from Arcturus, Obtained Enslavement, Throes Of Dawn or Rhapsody how to incorporate orchestra into metal arrangements.

How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?

Look, we founded the band in the early nineties when we listened to bands such as Death, Megadeth and Metallica, schoolmates wore bandshirts from Fear Factory, Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, Paradise Lost, … you name it. Metal band names had to have some meaning, most of them invoking some dreadful message that went along with their kick-ass music. I won’t tell you all of the names we came up with, I mean, we were teenagers after all, so, yes, we had some cheesy ideas like “Brothers of Destruction” and so on, but luckily we did not go for that (ha ha ha). After the initial hype of finding a suitable name we became reasonable and figured that we needed a name that went along with the music we intended to write and that expressed how we felt about us and saw ourselves in the world. With all the insanity that we witnessed around us in a world that was turned upside down after the cold had war ended and Berlin was a free town again, we needed to set an example and call us sane, being of healthy mind, reasonable and balanced. Our initial music experience (especially on the first album) was not about mosh pit, pogo dance and riot, it was actually pretty avantgarde and surely not easy to digest. And that’s were the name “Sanity” originates from.

Tell me about your most memorable shows.

Oh we had some crazy shows back in the nineties, it was all very underground’ish and some of the venues were really lousy, but then again you were on the road with your best buddies, could play your music in front of a crowd that was there just for you. You can’t beat that feeling. What made some shows more memorable were often what happened after the show. The people you connect with, the absurd situations you find yourself in, sometimes. There was a club on the countryside and we had no money for a hotel so we agreed to spent the night in the already crowded backstage room. You’re dead tired and totally annoyed by the unbearable situation, but you’re also young and passible, and you have your friends with you and at some point this becomes incredibly hilarious. We didn’t sleep much and one of us puked in the sink, but neither was any plumming installed nor was there any water… it was messy and hilarious.

What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?

We’d love to play some big stages of course and are dreaming about a small tour outside Germany. Scandinavia would be awesome or the US. Our latest release is a concept album of the book of Revelation from the bible, a prophetic, dystopian book that vividly and explicitly describes the apocalypse. A dedicated tour on that topic would be incredible.

If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?

Wolves At The Gate, Slechtvalk and Vials Of Wrath.

What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?

My advice to the the young artists: stay focused, reliable and stable. Don’t quit. You need years of playing together to become great. Two years in a band is nothing.

An advice to my younger self would be to take everything less serious. I was quite a perfectionist back then. Live a little.

If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?

Understand that you are truly gifted. Don’t let anybody tell you different.

Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?

“Throne”, the first song on “Revelation” is probably the pinnacle of our creative work of the past 30 years. It clearly shows off it's roots in black and death metal, but is enriched with massive arrangements of choirs and symphonic instruments. There is an abundance of lead guitars and melodic riffing, the song features low growling vocals, intense shouting and screaming but also beautiful clean vocals, from heroic viking chants to high-pitched power metal voices. The drumming ranges from fast-paced blasts with double bass drumming to intense progressive metal rhythms.

Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?

The song “Schattenverse” from our first album “Sinister Reflections” is probably the most authentic song and truly intense in music and lyrics. I wrote it at a very early age. “Cryonic Zombie”, also from our first album stands out since it’s a 15 minutes through-composed song with barely any repeating riffs, this is as avantgarde as it gets. My personal go-to-songs for kicking ass are “Highland Epos” and “The Linear Scaffold” from our third Album “Schattensymphonie”.

The most requested songs have always been the less avantgarde songs with passages where you could shout along during a concert, if you know what I mean: “Clone Wars” from the first album, “Die Verlorene Schlacht” from our second album “Nocturnal Poems” and “Insomnia” from our third album. “Throne” is the most requested song from our current release.

What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?

Usually the songs are written by one of us and then brought to the band rehearsal to refine. A song can take months or even years to come to maturity. Sometimes you feel inspired in a way that the complete song is finished in a matter of weeks. It all depends.

Over the past three decades I have come to observe that suffering is a necessary ingredient to creativity. I feel most inspired when in sorrow and distress. I also listen to my inner self and find that quite often music pushes outwards and wants to be composed. For instance, I wake up with a melody or hook line in my mind and am almost driven to sit down to write it down and record it.

What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?

Some songs on Revelation originated in 2001 already, we were massively creative back then, but needed to take a break from the band because my brother and me, we both got scholarships to study abroad. Then things happened which nobody could have foreseen, each of us came in contact with evangelical Christians, independent from each other, even in different countries! Their bible-based message about a living God that offers forgiveness and a place in heaven for free was so radically different from what religion all over the place teaches you. I was hooked and a couple of months later started living with Jesus at my side. This caused an uproar in our fan base since many could not relate to my experience and despised the institution of the church. For me there is a big difference between the God of the bible and the institution of the church. The latter one is run by men and women who all have their faults and might misuse the powers given to them. God, however, is trustworthy and offers the gift of redemption.  We managed to get into a dialogue with our fans and soon the waves calmed a bit, but we felt it was time to take a break from the spotlight.

As already told, we continued our creative work in the background. Was there a possibility to combine my new found faith with my passion for extreme metal? There is basically only one topic in the bible that is grim enough to be shouted on top of death or black metal music: The judgment of God told in the last book of the bible, the book of "Revelation". You can find a good summary of my vision in a video on youtube:

By setting the book of revelation to music I believe we are doing something that has never been attempted before, that is truly unique. By 2025 will will have released all three EPs that will make up the complete Revelation music project. And then you will be able to experience the events of the apocalypse by simply listening to the fourteen intensely dramatic songs that we created. This could become such a precious heritage to future generations. In the end, when the last days truly begin our music may help people to understand the events that are happening around them. It may allow people to hear about what God's word reveals about the future and how this God provides a way out.

Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?

Of course we have disagreements, this is only human. The feedback we got from people that are with us for the good part of the last thirty years is that we always treat each other respectfully. You’ll not find any violent disputes, swearing, or yelling in our midst. And then there is the fact that I am the band leader, simply based on the amount of energy and hours that I have poured into this band. It all comes back to the strong vision that I have for this band which I will defend and pursue as long as God enables me to do so. With me being the undisputed band leader this also helps in solving conflicts. Bottom line is that I feel responsible for making everybody enjoy the band. At the same time I am driven to pursue the vision that I have for the band and will make decisions that not everybody will agree with.

What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?

In February we played our record release concert in a small club where we invited friends and fans from the past 30 years. We had a blast doing so, it was such wonderful atmosphere, connecting with our fans, some of them with us from the beginning. You really should have been there, you would have seriously enjoyed it. In June we were booked for the German Church Day in Nuremberg. It's basically a huge, five day festival organized biennially by the German Protestant Church with over one hundred thousand people attending, hundreds of acts, shows, workshops, and discussions. This was a great event as we are able to present our music to a much wider audience than usual. The feedback was very positive and encouraging. The record release concert for the second EP "The Beast" is planned for March 2024 . There will be concerts in summer and autumn for sure, but we are still in the planning phase, nothing concrete, yet.

From the very beginning I had envisioned Sanity to reach the English speaking audience and thus used English lyrics. It would be pretty awesome to get in contact with metal bands from the UK or US and become their support on one of their tours. Let's see what the future holds in store for us.

Also, I want to note that now, with the EP “Revelation” in our hands, we are finally able to actively promote it. I have a lot of ideas for that. Our YouTube channel already has a good amount of content and I would like to add more. Official videos for the songs, more vlogs on the scary exciting subject of the apocalypse that our lyrics talk about. A couple of years ago I had already started a vlog series explaining our lyrics that I would also love to continue.

The EP "Revelation" is available at all major online stores and streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Amazon Music, YouTube, etc.). And, we have released an actual CD (compact disc) which you can order on our website

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