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TELL US EVERYTHING, PROFESSOR VOLK-MAN


Volk-Man (Die Apokalyptischen Reiter) could pretty much teach history, sociology or geopolitics. Basically, he has knowledge, eloquence and is able to captivate and maintain your attention. It is for this reason that this interview flows easily from one subject to the next : from philosophy to open-mindedness in music to the latest political events taking place in North Africa. In fact, he has quite strong opinions about the Occidental attitude towards Egyptian and Tunisian affairs.

At the end of the interview, the discussion was largely about the relationship between rock music and the German language, as well as their sad heritage that the Nazis left on the German music culture.


« Somebody goes shooting someone in America or somewhere else, and suddenly you have experts all over the worlds telling you it’s because this person watched too many movies or played video games. […]These experts proffered by the State don’t think of the real reasons this happens. They just try to fight the effects. »

Radio Metal: The new album, Moral Und Wahnsinn, talks about the morality that hides in all of us – including in the craziest soul in the world, who is represented on the cover of the album as a character who looks like a Gestapo officer. Are you convinced that a good person hides in every one of us? If yes, how can one manage to awaken this good side in a bloodthirsty person?

Volk-Man (bass/vocals) : It’s hard to say, really. You’ve got the intention of the artwork, and then the title is also there to bring the notion of morality to the audience in a lyrical as well as in an pictorial way. In English, the title means “morality and insanity”. We wanted to show how difficult this question is to answer: what is morality, and what is insanity? We don’t think morality is always good, or insanity is always bad. For us, insanity and madness are what the green guy in the middle stands for: freedom, anarchy and natural wilderness. The freedom just to do what you want. Morality comes from two authorities: the Church and the state, or dictatorship. They want to whisper in your ear what is right and what is wrong. But as you can see, we have changed the insignias of power: Jesus has a gun and the Nazi has the shepherd staff. It represents how difficult it is to see who is able to tell you what you can or can’t do. One of the greatest threats to mankind is that some leaders make masses believe there’s a higher order, and that’s how they justify their actions. They say: “This must be done in the name of God”. Leaders often manage to mobilize the masses for the worse, in the name of morality, which is really only collective insanity. Just look to Italy, Iraq or Afghanistan. We can’t give any answers, because the question “what is morality?” has been discussed since the ancient times. Even by Greek philosophers like Plato or Socrates, or by German philosophers like Schopenhauer or Nietzsche. They all wrote books about this topic. To be honest, there is no universal morality. It depends on what part of the world you’re in. Here in Europe, we have our own identity, our own culture and history. A French or German guy would probably think that having two or three wives is immoral. But just look at people in Saudi Arabia or in Iran: they’re used to it, for them it’s normal. Look at people who live in Amazonia: sometimes they killed children if their father dies. Everybody here in Europe thinks: “How can they do that? It’s immoral!” But for them, it’s normal. You have to be very careful when you want to transpose your own rules to other parts of the world. You can’t think that people want to live like you live. Everybody would have a different answer to the question: “What is morality?” To somebody, being 10 minutes late for work is immoral, but somebody else would think: “What the fuck? I don’t care!” It’s an easy example, but society is full of examples like that.

This duality reminds us of the multiplicity of the human personality, which we tend to forget. Movies tend to produce characters who only present a single personality trait. Do you have enough of this narrow vision of the human being?

Yes, of course! Somebody goes shooting someone in America or somewhere else, and suddenly you have experts all over the worlds telling you it’s because this person watched too many movies or played video games. They don’t ask the right questions. In my opinion, the development of society is really suspect. These experts proffered by the State don’t think of the real reasons this happens. They just try to fight the effects. When you watch TV and see what’s happening in Algeria, Tunisia or Egypt at the moment, you understand there are multiple reasons for people to act. It’s unfair to pick out one of these reasons and say: “This is the truth”. But of course, it’s pretty easy for governments to blame one specific thing. Nobody really wants to discuss things through; if you do, a lot of things have to be questioned. If we go back to Egypt, for instance, everybody knows that there’s been a dictatorship there for 30 years. But have the United States or Europe ever blamed the president or asked him to do democratic reforms? No, it remained that way until people went in the streets to fight against it. If they hadn’t decided to fight, nobody would care.

« Everybody knows that there’s been a dictatorship there [Note : In Egypt] for 30 years. It remained that way until people went in the streets to fight against it. If they hadn’t decided to fight, nobody would care. […]Here in Germany, we have concerns about travel companies.[…] They just let people believe it’s safe there, so just jump in the plane and go to Egypt for a holiday! »

I suppose you have a very bad image of the French government, who only a few months ago were still friends with Tunisian president Ben Ali, and who decided to support the people when they started to fight against him?

Yeah, there’s a lot of hypocrisy in this, because everybody is motivated by economical reasons. They just wanna make good business. Here in Germany, we have concerns about travel companies. They don’t tell the truth about what’s going on in Egypt at the moment. They just let people believe it’s safe there, so just jump in the plane and go to Egypt for a holiday! That’s because it’s one of the biggest markets for travel in Germany. It’s very famous, and everybody wants to go on holiday there. And then, somewhere in South America, a single bomb hits the street, and there’s an immediate travel warning in the official pages. There’s a lot of pressure from the industry to the government to not say the truth about what’s going on.

Your vision of life seems to be related to your vision of music. You do not like to put human beings or music bands in boxes, do you?

Sometimes, boxes make sense. I mean, if a band plays death metal, it’s death metal. That’s easy. But for a band like us, it’s not really helpful; you’d need like a hundred boxes! There’s a little bit of this, and that, and then there’s this… And of course you need to explain that to people who don’t know anything about it. If anybody asks me: “What’s your band all about?”, I tell them: “Just listen, it’s the easiest answer I can give you. If you’re not interested in listening, I cannot explain it”. It’s interesting, it’s weird, it’s unique; it’s different. I don’t know if you’ll like it, but it’s hardly possible to explain it. In Germany, we have a big newspaper that usually uses graphic icons for a style. If you’re a death metal band, you get a skull, and if you’re a black metal band, you get an inverted cross. They have like 20 icons they use to categorize bands, and usually, it works. But for this album, we got our own icon! It’s a funny thing. If you try to explain the style, it’s just explaining, you can’t give anything more.

Your music is very diversified, the last album contains death metal tracks, ballads, some folk and indus touches. Considering how much the metal audience is attached to classifications, do you think that it is open-minded enough to appreciate your approach? For example, do you think pure death metal fans could appreciate your music?

Yeah, they do. Our audience is very varied. The music is so diverse and has influences from so many styles that we attract death metal or black metal fans as well as folk music fans and normal German music fans. We see the band as a messenger between different styles, and our concerts are like melting-pots of different cultures. We never really thought that we needed to classify music in details. If you say DAR plays hard, progressive music, it’s enough. People have brains and they can imagine, they can reflect upon what this means. It’s always pretty interesting to see what kind of people come to our shows. In a way, I think they’re an open-minded audience. But I wouldn’t say they are closely connected to other things. Some people listen to a band like us, but they prefer either extreme death metal or grindcore, or cool, chilly surf music or reggae. Personally, I don’t have rules that forbid me to listen to this or that.

In the metal world, trying out different styles is not seen in a good light. For example, you can have extreme death metal fans that will not listen to anything else. In your opinion, why is it so?

I’m not sure why everybody in the metal scene wants to be separated. In the end, for me, it’s just a matter of personality. Nobody remains the same all the time. And if you’re into brutal death metal, DAR is probably not the right band for you, because we’re much more than brutal death metal. But we do have some brutal death metal parts in our music. Some emotions or feelings fit very well to this music. But playing it all the time… I mean, a hundred other bands are playing that style. I’m not going to be sad is someone says: “Your music is too diverse for me”. Then go ahead and listen to other bands! It’s not a problem for me.

« In Germany, we have a big newspaper that usually uses graphic icons for a style. If you’re a death metal band, you get a skull, and if you’re a black metal band, you get an inverted cross. They have like 20 icons they use to categorize bands, and usually, it works. But for this album, we got our own icon! »

The track “Die Boten” contains a short interlude with an acoustic guitar and a trumpet. We can also hear this instrument on “Dir Gehört Nichts”. It sounds like an Ennio Morricone original soundtrack; is this reference deliberate?

It was written by us. It was just an idea to have an instrumental track on the album, and it was recorded with a real orchestra, so it has a very impressive sound. We think it has a good place on the album, because the first part of the album is wired, it has a lot of energy. It’s good to have some time of peace before the last part starts. I like it very much. We are not that much influenced by Ennio Morricone, but of course I totally like his work, and I think he’s a very talented composer. Especially all his western stuff, that’s really amazing. His mafia soundtracks are really good, too. I bought a DVD where he conducts an orchestra, and it’s really fun to see that. It’s good stuff, yeah.

Talking about this new album, you declared that you had the feeling of “having created something unique, which has never been done before”. Can you tell us more about this? What is it that makes that album so unique for you?

The whole working process, how we put the songs together. We experimented much more with the orchestra, with brass instruments. We gave an anthem to our own keyboard player. We have all these epic elements, and by contrast, we have these mean, rude, extreme parts, and rhythmic parts. There’s a whole combination of styles, but there’s also a red line you can follow through the album. It’s not only a collection of songs, it’s a real journey you can undertake when you put on the CD. I think it’s a very strong unit. Even the position of every track is really well done. Emotionally, you can have a very good trip with this album. In our opinion, we’ve never done such an intense and balanced album before. It has classic, traditional tunes as well as very progressive and never-done-before parts. It was hard work for us, and we’re really, really satisfied with the final result.

« Even if we sang in English, we’d still have this very hard to pronounce German name. »

You’ve always sung in English and German. Licht and Moral & Wahnsinn contain only songs in German. Why? Does it mean you’ll only be singing in German from now on?

Yes, I think so. We’ve been together for 15 years and we tried a lot of things. But in the end, everybody in this band is very German. The lyrics, the attitude, the whole meaning… It’s very connected to our own culture. It’s really not possible to explain and to translate this into English. We did a few tries, we tried translating it, but it was not satisfying in our opinion. Even native speakers from England told us: “Sing in German. It has more class and a more special attitude”. We just think we should express ourselves and not try to be something that people want us to be.

Can we suppose that you used to sing in English at the beginning of your career to become known?

I’m not really sure. Even if we sang in English, we’d still have this very hard to pronounce German name. No matter what we do, we’re still this German band nobody can really write the name of! This is a fact we have to accept. The only thing we can do is say: “Yes, that’s what this band is all about”. The German language belongs to this band, from the first day on. When we put this name on our first demo cover, it was clear that this German thing would be following us. We cannot hide it now!

Do you nevertheless think that people now react differently to the use of German language in music, thanks to bands like Rammstein and Oomph for example, who popularized the use of German in rock music?

I think the bands your mentioned helped the whole German scene in the world. It’s very interesting to see how much German music is accepted. I was in contact with a big American website that only features German bands, even if they don’t speak German! But the sound of the language fascinates them, they say it makes the music special. It’s the same for me: I don’t speak much French, but I have a huge collection of French reggae music, and French hip hop stuff. I don’t understand what they sing, but I really like the rhythm and the melody of the language. I can understand when people say they like the hard side of German in songs. This is probably just the same thing, only on the opposite side.

« I spent a few weeks in India, and you can see swastikas everywhere there, because it’s an old Indian symbol. But I cannot wear a swastika and say it was because I went on holiday in India! Nobody would understand it. Some metal bands use forbidden symbols, and you cannot do it without being blamed for this Nazi stuff. It was not that long ago, and nobody can forget this. »

The traditional German music became taboo after it was used by the Nazis to propagate their political ideas. Is it still the case?

It’s totally OK now. The metal scene has not been too much infected by German-singing bands. But the alternative scene and the traditional rock scene are much more influenced by German lyrics. There was a huge wave in the 80s, when German music was more or less re-invented. It’s called Neue Deutsche Welle, and a lot of bands came out of it in the 80s. It was the first time the German language was widely used again. But in the beginning, of course it was problematic, because of History. But now I think it’s a new era, now, a new age, with new people.

The Nazi regime used old, traditional songs to spread their political ideas. The songs ended up kind of polluted. Do you think these songs could come back without the bad connotation?

No, no, no. I don’t think so. This is something that is still seen as a very bad time in German history. These songs were misused by the Nazis, and we won’t be able to use them for the next 100 years, I think.

That’s sad, because these songs were there before the Nazis…

Yes, I know. But we have to deal with the fact that they used it. It’s the same thing with the symbols the Nazis used. It’s not only the swastika. I spent a few weeks in India, and you can see swastikas everywhere there, because it’s an old Indian symbol. But I cannot wear a swastika and say it was because I went on holiday in India! Nobody would understand it. Some metal bands use forbidden symbols, and you cannot do it without being blamed for this Nazi stuff. It was not that long ago, and nobody can forget this.

The name of the band and the omnipresence of the apocalypse topic came from a conviction that humans are taking the wrong path and might provoke the end of the world. Did your opinion change after all these years, or did it actually grow stronger?

It’s pending. Maybe the forces of good will make the right decisions in the end, in order to save the environment and this planet. But every day you turn on the news on TV, and you realize everything is horribly fucked up and nothing has changed. I still believe there will be something big one day. I don’t know, call it apocalypse, doom, whatever. Everything is ending, and sometimes you can lose all hope that mankind, governments and this world are able to solve all the problems we’re facing and make the right decisions for the future. These decisions should not help just a small part of the population, but help every person in the world to have a good life. This is something I’m not seeing at the moment.

Thank you very much! One last thing to say?

Thank you very much for the interview. I’m looking forward to our next French show. Nothing’s confirmed at the moment, but I’m sure we will return to France in the fall.

Interview conducted in february, 2011 by phone

Transcription : Saff’

DIE APOKALYPTISCHEN REITER’S Website : http://www.reitermania.de/



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