Obsidian C. outlines the new face of Keep Of Kalessin

Keep Of Kalessin has recently seen the end of an era, with a change of label and the end of a rather tense relationship with vocalist Thebon. The conflict has received a fair share of media attention, through press statements that revealed opposite truths. Following the drama, Arnt “Obsidian C.” Grønbech, the band’s leader and guitarist, stepped into the singer/frontman’s shoes, with his bandmates’ approval.

Obsidian C. talked to us about these events and the transformation they brought about. The new record, Epistemology, more varied and grandiose than ever, shows the new face of Keep Of Kalessin: the new set-up as a trio implies a different composition process and a change in live dynamics, and having a new frontman means there are fresh creative possibilities. The new-found chemistry will help Keep Of Kalessin reinvent themselves and go further. Epistemology is only the first step in a new journey.

The new album is also a way for Keep Of Kalessin to involve their fanbase in the creative process, since the artwork is actually the work of one of their listeners, picked through a Facebook contest. Obsidian C. confesses that he finds the collaborative process particularly interesting. Who knows, maybe the next album will contain a riff written by one of your readers?

« Since I’m used to pushing everyone else, it’s actually easier for me to push myself because I know my limits, I know my boundaries and I know that I’m capable of pushing myself quite far. »

Radio Metal: What happened with Thebon, with him going to South Africa, and not giving news, ultimately leading to your split with him? It’s pretty surprising. He later just said that he was not missing in the jungle as you had declared in a statement, but went to study and relax for three months and didn’t hear anything from the band at the time. So what really happened?

Arnt « Obsidian C. » Grønbech (vocals/guitar/keyboards): Our statement was not really serious. It was just the fact that we haven’t heard from him. We knew that he went to South Africa and we didn’t hear from him for a long time so we just wrote that in the statement. It was meant like half joke half reality, because like I said, we knew nothing, [we didn’t know] when he was coming home… It turned out that he had actually been home for several weeks when we tried to contact him. So, it was him just avoiding contact with us, which is, of course, a reason in itself to get fired from any band, because you don’t just disappear from your work and when your boss tries to get in touch with you, you just [respond to him]. I think it’s several different factors. I think one of them was that he was tired of keeping on working. He didn’t want to do it anymore, but he didn’t have the balls to tell us face to face. So we kind of made this decision for him, and he made it really easy for us because we wanted to contact him and hear what he had to say. But when he disappeared, we just needed to move forward. So, he kind of made this decision really easy for us. So the fact that he made this statement afterward, it’s just kind of weird because he was the one who first avoided contact. And like I said, when you have a working relationship, when you’re doing a band like this, you simply don’t just disappear for some months and not answer the mails from the people who try to get in contact with you.

He also said that he learned in a press release that you had recorded music and fired him in public at the Inferno Festival. He said this clearly proves that you have made your decision about him some time before. So, was the thought of getting him out of the band already in your mind before him going to Africa?

Not before him going to Africa. We had already made preparations when we wanted to get in touch with him. Of course we moved fast, and then we had the Inferno Festival coming up, so we just had to move forward and get the vocals done. So I had to do the vocals. And then the result turned out to be really good, so that’s when we actually decided that: “Ok, we can actually make this without him”, because the result was so good. So we decided to announce this at the Inferno Festival, after we had tried to contact him several times. So, we fired him kind of in public… Well, we didn’t fire him in public, we just made the new single official at the Inferno Festival, and this was in public. This was the first single that he was not part of, of course. But we have been trying to contact him prior to making this announcement at the Inferno Festival. So what happened was that we announced it at the Inferno Festival, but we had tried to contact him weeks before that. So him saying that we fired him in public is just bullshit. We couldn’t get in touch with him, he avoided to answer, we wanted to talk with him and explain what he needed to do, and then he didn’t get in touch with us, didn’t answer his phone, didn’t answer on Facebook… And we know that he saw the Facebook messages a few weeks before this. So it was him that avoided contact with us. And of course if you avoid your boss, if you don’t show up to work, you get fired! It’s very easy!

You made the decision to handle the vocals by yourself. Still, have you considered auditioning vocalists before taking this decision?

Not really because when we knew that Thebon was not going to be in the band anymore, I felt that it was time for me to step up and do the vocals myself instead of hiring a new vocalist. It’s easier for me to do this because now I know that we’ll never ever have to change singer again. So it’s easier for me to step up, to be the frontman, because I am controlling the band. I was already writing the music and lyrics – most of it -, so it’s much easier for me to also deliver this both on the album and the live situation, I think. It’s never easy to hire another singer. We all talked about me stepping up and frankly, the misconception that many fans have about this is that I like to control things. But let me say this: it was Wizziac and Vyl, the bass player and the drummer who made the final decision, because I wasn’t sure if it was the right decision to put me as the frontman and doing the vocals. But Wizziac and Vyl were the two people who actually convinced me to make the decision to just go ahead without Thebon.

In December 2012, you had announced that you had recorded guitar parts for 19 songs that would come out in 2013, within two or three EP’s and the next full length. Ultimately, you have released only one EP called “Introspection” before this album. So what changed your plans?

There were a lot of things. Number one was the lineup change with Thebon that had an impact on the recording process itself, of course. Number two was the contract negotiations with the label and stuff. I don’t want to release a lot of EP’s on labels that just take everything, so I wanted to finish our contract with this album. Now we are free to do more singles, more EPs, more digital releases, and keep being consistent on that. So it’s more important for me, I think, to fulfill my contract with the label first and then start moving in the direction that we kind of planned in 2013.

How did you choose, among all the songs that you had, those which were going to be on the album?

It’s very easy. I think that when you [select the songs] you easily find out what songs are the best, and you also find out what songs are best suited on an album. Some songs that we have lying around now are better for singles, better for just different releases or an EP. But the songs on the album kind of match each other; they fulfill each other in a different way. So we choose the songs that fulfilled each other on the album and that have the right kind of flow and atmospheres that connect to the album.

And what will you do with the rest of the songs?

We will most likely release some of them… Two of the songs are bonus tracks on the Epistemology limited edition, so a couple of those songs are on that release. And then there are some songs that are probably going to be released as digital singles or maybe just EP’s or whatever so. I think that it will be easier for us to release something, digital EP’s or whatever, now that [we’re free from the contract with the label].

« I know that Epistemology is just the beginning for us. We have just started. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what we’re capable of doing as musicians. »

This full length album only comes out three years after having announced that you were working on new material. Did you want to really take your time and perfect this album?

We wanted time to perfect the album but we also needed time to set up the promotion, stuff that we did on Facebook with the contest and stuff. And it also hasn’t been a focus for us because we needed to start looking up to our personal life and not sacrifice everything in our life for the band. Obviously, when focusing on the band, time moves very quickly on other projects. So it was just that everyone in the band was focused on doing other stuffs than music at the time. So, yeah, [it was because of] a lot of personal things that made it difficult to focus on the band and that it took five years [since the previous album].

And has the band becoming a trio and you handling the vocals affected the dynamic of the writing process of the band as a whole? What differences does that make?

Everything is moving more easily now. It’s like we have less baggage. The band moves more easily, the band is efficient, the band is easier to produce, it’s easier to do a live show, it costs less… So right now, I think that we have the right kind of set up and we’re moving very fast in everything we’re doing, so hopefully it will be just a benefit for the band to keep going and doing what we’re going to do.

How do you feel about going on stage as the frontman of the band?

I think it’s cool. I was a little bit afraid at the beginning that I wouldn’t be able to handle the guitar duties and the vocals as good. But we have a better response from the audience now than we have ever had. So I think it’s much better in a live situation and I feel like I have more control over everything that is going on on stage. It’s easier for me, like I said. It’s easier to deliver this wholeheartedly to the audience instead of having Thebon, because he doesn’t live and breathe for this band, his heart is not beating for this band, his heart and soul is not in this band. So it’s easier for me who live and breathe this band every day. It’s easier for me to deliver it in a live situation, so everything has gotten better.

Keep Of Kalessin has never sounded as diverse vocally as on Epistemology, with various clean vocals and effects. I guess that handling the vocals by yourself gave you an extra control over this element of the music, but did that also motivate you to experiment more with it?

Yes definitely. Because whenever you are in the studio and you’re producing someone… For example, when Thebon came into the band on Armada, I used like three or four months in the studio just shaping him. He was an ordinary death metal vocalist. He had some skills but he didn’t have the right kind of sound to keep going and pushing him took a lot of time and effort; just like producing any musician takes a lot of time and effort. And we pushed him to his boundaries. Since I’m used to pushing everyone else, it’s actually easier for me to push myself because I know my limits, I know my boundaries and I know that I’m capable of pushing myself quite far. So I wanted to see what I could do, I wanted to experiment, I wanted to try all the different angles, I wanted to try different vocals, and I know that Epistemology is just the beginning for us. We have just started. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what we’re capable of doing as musicians. I think that this is kind of a new beginning and I hope that we will be more consistent and that we will deliver even higher class metal in the years to come.

Epistemology is more diverse and cosmic sounding than ever – if that makes sense to you -, with more grandiose sounding keyboard arrangements and choirs than before. What was your state of mind artistically?

It was just what you were saying: it was cosmic. I wanted to go more cosmic on the album. It’s more philosophical, it’s more based around a universal philosophy and universal questions, and it’s in a cosmic feeling. That was the whole idea. And if you heard that in the album, then I’m very satisfied because we have actually reached our goal in making the album sound cosmic.

The album is called Epistemology, so can you tell us more on the reasons why you chose this branch of philosophy as a base for the album?

Basically, it started with writing the lyrics about more realistic stuff than what we did on the previous albums, which are a little bit more fantasy oriented. So we started doing more realistic and philosophical lyrics, like I said, the universal cosmic type of lyrics, based around science, science-fiction and stuff like this. We’re also really asking some philosophical questions, oriented towards our existence in this whole grand design that we are in, and I think that Epistemology, the title, just assembles all of those aspects. It’s kind of a title that holds everything together. I’m very satisfied with that title.

Could we apply the philosophy of Epistemology to music? Or could we even say that you have an epistemological approach to your music, considering the intelligence and knowledge that goes into making it?

I think that we definitely are inspired by, motivated and interested in all kind of sciences, science fiction and all kinds of knowledge. We are actually quite hungry for knowledge, for most of us in the band. And we are constantly looking up new knowledge and just talking about all the science aspect of everything. We have a quite scientific approach to our beliefs. Definitely, it’s a title that’s very interesting and I think it captures a lot of our personalities as well.

« I have even thought about having the fans write lyrics or write guitar riffs for us. I mean, the possibilities of what you can do with your fans right now are limitless, because you can engage them. You can imagine how a fan would feel if they’ve actually got a riff on the next album or even some lyrics! »

The cover art was selected as part of a contest soliciting designs by your fans. So can you tell us more on this experience? What pushed you to do that?

We wanted to engage our fans more on Facebook. We did this contest so the fans could just upload the design and vote for it. There was a massive response; there were over a hundred designs submitted. It was a huge success for us and I think it’s a great way to let the fans be part of the band, to engage them, to let them have a saying in what we are doing. I have even thought about having the fans write lyrics or write guitar riffs for us. I mean, the possibilities of what you can do with your fans right now are limitless, because you can engage them. You can imagine how a fan would feel if they’ve actually got a riff on the next album or even some lyrics! Even, let’s say that a fan wrote a chorus line for one of the great songs on the next album, that fan would be very excited and very proud of [being a part of it]. So we just wanted to start with this design stuff because it was very easy to do, and let the fans and the community around see what’s out there. We know that there are a lot of great artists that never get any attention. So there are a lot of great artists that just fade away without even being recognized. So I think that doing this contest have helped some designers out there, and many of them actually have gotten jobs after they’ve been doing this contest. So that’s a great way for us to say thank you to everyone involved, and see that maybe a contest was kind of a turning point in a designer’s career or whatever. I think it’s great that we did it.

So I guess we can expect you to go further and further with that? It’s really seems that you want Keep Of Kalessin to be this collaborative experience between the band and the fans…

Yes, a lot of it could be that or maybe do another project with the community like that. But I think it’s important to be present in social media and also let the fans be engaged by what you’re doing. It’s almost [unavoidable] for bands these days, they need to be there. And why not just do things like this? Because it’s a win-win situation for all parties.

And have you met the guy who actually did the artwork?

I haven’t met him but I’m in contact with him on Facebook. He’s now in my contact list and we talk to each other. If he ever needs a job for something else, then of course I will recommend him. And my label is already in contact with him, I think, because they told me just a couple of weeks ago: “Ok, he will for sure have more work coming from Indie Recordings”. Because they’ve seen the quality of what he delivers, so that’s great things for him. And he is really excited about this, so that’s a great way to give something back to him.

Do you think that you will continue to collaborate with him?

Yes, maybe. I think that we will sooner or later do something more with him if he decides to do a cover or whatever for us. I think we will continue doing some more work with him, definitely.

Your brother has formed a couple of years ago the band named Khonsu and which is not far removed musically to what you do with Keep Of Kalessin. As a matter of fact, Khonsu has recorded the Keep Of Kalessin songs “IX” and “Travellers” in an EP. Can you tell us more about your relationship with your brother? Do you feel close to each other musically?

Yes, we are close musically and there are a lot of similarities between Keep Of Kalessin and Khonsu. There are definitely some similarities but still, I don’t see him that often anymore. He lives in a different city than me. So he has his Khonsu thing going and I help him out whenever I can, but I’m busy with Keep Of Kalessin and there are no big connections between the two [bands] now. He has recorded some great songs. I have been producing the new album; the guitars in the album are produced by me. So it’s a good killer album and he has written some really cool and great metal. So it’s a great band and they will also have a new album out, I think, towards the end of this year.

Interview conducted by phone 22th, january 2015 by Philippe Sliwa.
Retranscription and traduction: Clément Cahuzac.

Keep Of Kalessin official website: www.keepofkalessin.com.

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