Litterature, theater and Metal: the artistic trinity of Vanden Plas

Vanden Plas is one of the oldest bands of the progressive metal scene, albeit one that has never achieved the success it deserves. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem: Vanden Plas just keep going forward and doing the best music they can, hoping to get recognition from a wider audience one day. However, what recognition they already have comes from on high – more specifically from German writer Wolfgang Hohlbein, extremely famous in his country and relatively unknown beyond its borders, to whom we owe the Chronicles Of The Immortals saga. Andy Kuntz, Vanden Plas’s singer, is a huge fan on the author and has had the great honor of working with him on this double album (the second part of which will be out next year), entitled Chronicles of the Immortals – The Netherworld. Used as they are to writing rock operas, Vanden Plas deliver an album that remains true to their sound – no surprises there –, but this time, they also allowed themselves a personal treat.

Andy Kuntz explains the genesis of this record, the hows and the whys, and the way the band had to work this time. For the first time in their career, they composed music based on a libretto custom-written by someone else – Wolfgang Hohlbein himself – to create a story within the Chronicles Of The Immortals.

« For me it was very very strange because I’ve been a really huge fan of Hohlbein for like 20 years and every time, when I had the chance, I told that to people. »

Radio Metal : The input for this new album came from Wolfgang Hohlbein. Can you tell us more about the beginning of this collaboration ?

Andy Kuntz (vocals) : Yeah, I met Wolfgang Hohlbein, the first time in 2009 while we were playing Christ Zero in Munich. Based on the CD we composed also a rock opera and we played it in Munich in a big theater there and we had a bit of luck because Wolfgang Hohlbein and his manager Dieter Winkler came to visit us there and to watch the show, and they were very satisfied about the result. And after that, the manager called me – Dieter Winkler – a few days later and told me that he’s the manager of Wolfgang Hohlbein and that they are interested in working with us and they had an idea together for a script based on a novel by Wolfgang Hohlbein set into music by Vanden Plas. For me it was very very strange because I’ve been a really huge fan of Hohlbein for like 20 years and every time, when I had the chance, I told that to people. So at first I was a little bit shocked because I thought that it must have been a joke, that somebody was calling me and only saying that he is the manager of Wolfgang Hohlbein, because I never thought that a world star, a big star like Wolfgang Hohlbein who is selling like 43 million books worldwide would be asking us to work with him. But in the end, it came out that it was true and that was the first possibility to meet him, then after that we had the first contact and formed a vision together and based on that vision, a rock opera came out. We played it 25 times in Kaiserslautern, in a big theatre where we were sold out 25 times with 750 people and it was a big production that cost something like 500000€, with very big pictures with more than 100 persons on stage, it was a really big success. After that, the record company came up and said “hey, this could be an idea, to bring this out as a CD”. It’s written so, now we go around to other theaters and try to maybe play it in other theaters too.

Did you have a role in the theater play?

I had a role, yeah, and it was clear from the very beginning, I mean I’ve been an actor for 25 years now and for me it was very clear because I also played the main role in Munich while we were playing Christ Zero. So, he saw me and fortunately in the end, when we decided to use the material of Chronicles Of The Immortals, this was a role in 14 books of Wolfgang Hohlbein, and the main character also looks a little bit like me on the cover of his books and also he’s got some kind of Comic, and this Comic is very very popular in France. He brought out the first three tomes of this Chronicles Of The Immortals also as a Comic and in this Comic, the main character, Andrej Delany looks really a little bit like me, so, yeah he decided from the very beginning that he wanted me in the main role also, not only composing music but playing the main role in this.

« We had a lot of luck that a man like him liked our music and that we had the chance to work together. »

I guess playing in a theater is a very different experience from other traditionnal live shows for a metal band…

It’s very different, yeah, but we’ve been doing that for 20 years. I mean, I started in 1991, I played my first theatre role, and after that, ’92 and ’93, I had the chance to bring the band in to play Jesus Christ Superstar. And Gunter and the other guys had the chance to sit down in the orchestra seats and learned a little bit how to arrange or how rock music works together with an orchestra. So these were our basis and yeah it’s something totally different. Normally when you rehearse, for like a concert with a band, you go into the studio rehearsing five times then you go on tour, on stage and get better and better; in the theatre it’s a totally different way, you have to practice like 6 weeks, 12 hours a day and before you go into practice, everything has to be written down on notes for everybody, for the whole orchestra, for all the main characters, etc. So this is really a very very hard and big piece of work, but we are used to that because we did it, now like 4 times, we produced by ourselves 4 theater plays already, so we know what comes up for us. But it’s pretty hard and very much different from going on tour and rehearsing for a tour.

Did Wolfgang already appreciate your music when you met him?

He’s very much into rock music, he also worked with Manowar, and he’s a big fan of rock music and he liked our music very much, I think, otherwise he wouldn’t have asked us to perform one of his stories. So yeah, in the end we had a lot of luck that a man like him liked our music and that we had the chance to work together.

Was he involved in the writing of the music for the album?

No, no. He gave us the idea to form this musical, based on his Chronicles Of The Immortals, the whole 14 books and I told him that it’s impossible to write a theater piece which is based on 14 books. We really set like months to get the goal to form this theater piece and in the end I had the idea to write a story within the story, which has never been told. I had a good idea and he loved the idea and then he decided to write a book especially for our rock opera but he only helped us out in working on the script and a little bit on the story but he has nothing to do with the music. He’s not a musician at all, no, he loves music and he says “okay, I can imagine this song fits very well with that character”, but in the end he wasn’t involved in the writing of the music. The only role he had is that he was the narrator in the very beginning of the theater play.

« […] I think there’s so much in the music we are doing. I mean, we are releasing the CD and it’s nearly one hour of music, so, making a double CD at this time would be a little bit too much for the listeners, I think. So we decided to divide it in Act 1 and Act 2 »

This isn’t the first time you write a concept album. But how was the writing of this particular album different from any other album of the band?

It was not the first time we wrote a concept album, Christ Zero is also a concept album, but this time we did it the other way round. The last years, when we did something like that it was like: I sat at home and I thought about “ok, this could be a nice story to tell and now we have to find some songs which can transpose this idea”. But this time it was the other way around, we had a concept coming from another person and we had the chance, when we had the story, to really write music directly on scenes. And I think we tried to transport that on the CD which is a totally different thing from the book. The theater play is one thing, but from a theater play to a CD it’s another big step, but I think, in the end, it’s still much more Vanden Plas inside the music on the CD than in the theatre piece, but you still hear, out of every chord, out of every note that this music is composed for special themes like cineastic – it sounds a little bit like songs or music for a big movie, for me.

Can you tell us more about the part two that’s going to be released in 2015?

It’s already composed because it’s the second act of the theater play. We had so much material we wrote for the theater that we had to decide – we had nearly 2 hours of music, and we had to make a decision, either go ahead and make a CD out of it, or release a double CD, which in my opinion wasn’t necessary because I think there’s so much in the music we are doing. I mean, we are releasing the CD and it’s nearly one hour of music, so, making a double CD at this time would be a little bit too much for the listeners, I think. So we decided to divide it in Act 1 and Act 2, and we already went in the studio where we had a little bit of fine tuning to do, a little bit of mixing also, but this album is nearly ready, it should have been mixed now, so I think we’ll release the next CD, the Part 2 about one year from now.

Despite the fact that Vanden Plas is one of the oldest and most respected progressive metal bands, it doesn’t have the recognition and the popular success of bands like Dream Theater, for example. How can you explain that and does it bother you?

No, I mean, in the end, you only can try to do the best you can. I mean, I like Dream Theater very very much, really, these are nice guys, we went on tour with them, they have a lot more success than us, but I’m not angry about that in anyway. They succeed, they had luck, they are very good musicians, and the only thing we can do is go ahead, do what we can, try to do the best we can and hopefully, sometime we will pass another step. It doesn’t matter, it is like it is.

Interview conducted by phone on February, 26th 2014 by Metal’O Phil.
Transcription : Judith.
Introduction : Alastor.

Vanden Plas official website : www.vandenplas.de

Album Chronicles of the Immortals – The Netherworld, out since February, 21st 2014 via Frontiers Records.

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