21 Octayne: classic rock 2.0

They seem to have come out of nowhere, and their highly mature and experienced first album, Into The Open, released earlier this year, came as a surprise. But once you’ve read the band’s biography, you realize the four musicians that make up 21 Octayne are all but new at this. Hagen Grohe sings in Aerosmith’s guitarist’s Joe Perry Project, guitarist Marco Wriedt plays in Axxis, bassist Andrew Lauer started out alongside guitar hero Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) in his solo band, and Alex Landenburg is currently the acting drummer for Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody and for Mekong Delta – and the list of bands in which he has taken part at one time or another is very impressive. No need to wonder how these guys are able to create catchy and musically stimulating songs: the answer lies in their résumé.

The truly pleasant surprise is the diversity shown by 21 Octayne: their music obviously has roots in hard rock and metal, but branches out into funk (with a few bass grooves and slaps here and there) and grunge, under a guise of classic rock. « We always kind of like to call us classic rock 2.0 », says singer, producer and artwork creator Hagen Grohe (who looks a bit like Tobias Sammet, if you ask me) at the end of the following interview, in which he talks about the formation of the band and the creation of the first album.

« It just happened that we have this broad variety of styles mixed into our songs, but what was important for us from the early beginning is that we wanted to make good songs. »

Radio Metal: You all had strong experiences within various bands before founding 21 Octayne. Was it important that all the members in the band already had a good recording and live experience?

Hagen Grohe (vocals): No, because we didn’t pick the members because of their experiences. We just met naturally when we were looking for the members of the band. We didn’t do some sort of casting or something. The band started when our drummer and guitar player, Marco and Alex, met for the first time years ago, and they became friends. And Alex had another friend who just happened to be a really great bass player and then he called him up. When they were looking for a singer, he knew me from some previous bands we were involved in and he called me up to see if I was interested. We just met and jammed and it felt really natural. We just hit it off and had this great chemistry. We weren’t looking for someone saying “we need to have someone who is already experienced in this or in that”. So it all just came together really naturally.

You began jamming together in 2010. So how comes it took you guys four years to put your first album out?

Well first of all it’s our debut album. We really wanted to give it some time to make it just right and just the way we wanted it to be. But actually the first recording of the first song started in 2011 already. We started working with a producer at the time and we almost finished the basic recording in 2012. But at that time we realized that it was all going in a direction that we didn’t really want to go musically and sound wise. It just didn’t come out the way that we wanted it to be in the first place. So we took kind of a bold decision at that time, we cut the ropes and stopped the cooperation with this producer. After quite some time of rethinking what we were going to do, we decided to take it all in our own hands and do the production on our own. So what happened was that I ended up producing the whole thing by myself in my own studio, recording it all over again, which started in about 2013. Then in the end, of course, it is also all about finding the right collaborating partners, starting with our manager who has been with us for about a year now. And the last piece of the puzzle, of course, was to find the right record label, which also took some time because we just wanted to be sure that everything is perfect, because you only have one debut album. So in the end I think that, in retrospective, it was one of the best decisions that we made to do the whole thing on our own and having just the four guys responsible for writing all the songs, for producing the record, for recording it… I did the mix and the master. I even did the artwork by myself. So, yeah, this was an important thing for us to do and we didn’t want anything half baked out there. We wanted to finish it up all perfectly before showing our music to the world.

Your first album features lots of hooks and melody as well as a strong musicianship. Was this kind of combination important?

Yes sure. First of all thanks for the compliment. Of course, it is important to us but again, this is something that came very naturally and that wasn’t planned. We have four really different characters in the band, personally as well as considering the musical background that everyone comes from. And there’s also a very, very wide range of musical tastes in the band. So when we first met, we jammed together. We didn’t want to restrict ourselves to anything. We said: “No boundaries. We’ll just see what comes out.” So we played together and we wrote the songs together, and everyone put their different influences in it. It just happened that we have this broad variety of styles mixed into our songs, but what was important for us from the early beginning is that we wanted to make good songs. We wanted to show good musicianship and stuff but we always to keep the songs structures simple, with short songs, not having like ten or twelve minutes songs with a lot of solos or stuff going on. We wanted to make songs with simple songs structures and hooky choruses; choruses were always important to us to make real good songs that appeal to a lot of people.

The album is very diverse, mixing many styles, whether it’s hard rock, progressive rock, metal and even funk. Are you a band that just doesn’t want to be limited by boundaries and genres?

Yes, as I just told you, it all came together very naturally because we have so many different musical characters in the band and we like all kinds of music, from funk and soul to pop rock to heavy progressive stuff and even classical music. So we just tried to bring everything together, mix it together, and we just wanted to see what comes out. This is another reason why every song sounds different and every song has different styles in it, one a little bit here, one a little bit there. Some sound heavier, some sound with more metal influences and some prog. There is some really poppy stuff, like ballads. With every song we just started from scratch. We said “Ok we’ll see what happens” and we just wanted to make just good music that we like.

« If you’re a metal fan or a pop mainstream rock kind of fan, everyone finds something in our music that he likes. »

How did you manage to have such consistency throughout your album despite having such great diversity? Weren’t you afraid at some point to lose the listener?

Sure, of course. When you first start you think about that and, of course, you think about how people will react to a mixture that’s that diverse. We never knew if people would listen to the album in the end and say “What is this? I hear this, I hear that, but I don’t like it.” But it’s the opposite actually, so we were really fortunate that our mixed styles really seemed to appeal to a lot of people because of the variety and the diversity. All kinds of music lovers, at least in the rock genre, if you’re a metal fan or a pop mainstream rock kind of fan, everyone finds something in our music that he likes. So this is a great thing. Of course, that was very important to us.

Does the album’s title Into the open represent the kind of music and freedom you allow yourselves?

Well sure, you could say that. I mean that’s why we chose the song as the title’s track. When we first wrote the song, or at least when the lyrics to the song were done and we knew that we had a song that’s called “Into the open”, we knew it was going to be the title track, because that was the perfect title for a debut album. That’s what we’re doing right now: we’re a new band, we’re getting this new music out there and it’s a challenge. Of course it’s always a risk to take because, as I said before, you never know what’s going to happen and if the people are going to like what you’re doing or not. So this is a very important song to us and especially because of the situation we’re in right now, you know, being a new band putting out some new music out there and see where our journey goes.

Why did you mention « no keyboards/no samples » in the booklet?

[Laughs] This was something I came up when I did the artwork and the booklet and stuff. It’s not that we don’t like keyboard or something, that’s not at all what this meant. We love keyboard and we love a lot of bands that have great, really heavy keyboard influences. But it just so happened that we’re a band that doesn’t have a keyboard player, because we only have guitar, bass, drums and vocals, and we wanted to make a real record with just the four guys playing. So everything you hear on this record is either drums that have really been played by Alex, with no samples added and something like that, or bass played by Andrew, everything that’s on there, the rest is guitars and that was all played by Marco. I did all the vocals on the record. So there were no external musicians who added something to the record or no extra effects or samples or keyboards and stuffs. I just wanted to have a catchy kind of way of reassuring people that everything you hear was really played the four of us.

This is a mention that we could read in Queen’s albums too. And we can actually perceive a bit of influence from Queen in your music. What do their music represent to you?

Actually it was just yesterday in another interview that someone told me that Queen had a statement like that in their early records. Honestly, I didn’t know that. So this sentence has really no reference to Queen because I wrote it down and I didn’t know about the Queen thing. But of course, you’re right about the fact that there are a lot of Queen’s influences in our music as well, because we’re all great Queen fans. I know that especially for Marco, with this guitar playing, that Brian May was one of his main influences. So there’re some influences in there and we’re proud of that of course. But the thing with the keyboard sentence was not really an intentional tribute to Queen or something because I didn’t know about that, obviously.

Would you define yourselves as the new generation of classic rock somehow?

That, of course, is a very bold sentence. We don’t really know where our journey goes. But if it becomes the case, if we become be the new face of classic rock, I mean this is really something. It’s nothing that you can plan but it’d be a huge honor to be called something like that of course. If someone asked “how would you define your music?” It’s very difficult [to answer] because of the different styles of music and stuff that we embrace within our music. We always kind of like to call us classic rock 2.0, with influences of metal and funk and this and that. I mean the classic rock part is of course one of our main themes and main influences. So we’d be really happy to be of some importance in that kind genre, of course.

Interview conducted by phone on June, 17th 2014 by Metal’O Phil.
Transcription : Thibaut Saumade.
Introduction and questions : Spaceman.
Photos : René Van Der Voorden.

21 Octayne official website : www.21octayne.com

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