The ProgPower Interview: Beyond The Bridge's Peter Degenfeld-Schonburg and Christopher Tarnow
Band Photo: Beyond The Bridge (?)
On Day Two of ProgPower USA XIII, progressive metal newcomers Beyond The Bridge opened the show and conquered the ProgPower hangover. Moreover, they won the sincere respect of the audience as they made their USA debut performance, becoming a real fan favorite of the weekend. Between the many facial expressions of bassist Dominik Stotzem and the display of musical prowess by the band, it was hard not to enjoy the performance.
With “The Old Man and the Spirit,” their impressive debut album (reviewed here), and live show, Beyond The Bridge set the bar high for the other bands of the day to hit. Later on at night, after the band had savored the sound of an uproarious auditorium clapping for them, the main songwriters of the band sat down with me in the courtyard of the Artmore hotel for an interview. Guitarist Peter Degenfeld-Schonburg and keyboardist Christopher Tarnow opened up about the concept of their album, how the band formed, working in the studio, getting close to an idea for the second album, and even about possible adaptations for the first.
Frank Serafine (Progressivity_In_All): First, I will let you guys explain the concept behind “The Old Man and the Spirit.”
Peter Degenfeld-Schonburg: It came to me when I had a moment in my life where I wanted to decide whether I study physics or I study music. I thought that, if I decide for physics, I’ll really dig deep into physics for the rest of my life and everyday I’ll study physics. That was my plan if I studied it, so I felt like, “Okay, if I do this, maybe I’ll lose my life…” Then I came up with the spirit, which is the part of me that wanted to dig into physics and work on it every day. The old man was the part who said “No, no, hold on. You have only one life. Try to live it, not only work.”
Frank: How long ago did this come to you?
Peter: It was after high school, because in Germany, we have a year which we either work for the army or for social services. I worked in a kindergarten, and then I had a year to decide what I wanted to do. During that time, it came.
Frank: Being the primary writers, where did most of your ideas come from? What are your influences?
Christopher: It’s funny you ask me this, because I don’t feel like I’m part of the metal scene because I work as a sound engineer for classical music, so classical is my main influence. When I’m at home, I listen to classical music, as well. I am also a classical composer – that’s what I study.
Frank: What period do you like to listen to most?
Christopher: Well, I live in Leipzig, so Bach and the Baroque period.
Frank: But I swore I detected some Romantic influence in there!
Christopher: Of course, yeah!
Frank: That’s going to throw some of the exclusively metal readers for a loop – “What? Romantic music? (sarcastically) I don’t know any romantic METAL.” Anyway, in keeping with the tone of you producing your own records as well, do you think that bands, nowadays, should have a hand in their production, or do you see the role of a separate producer as being important?
Peter: Well, I think that the producer role is one of the most important things. Actually, we didn’t produce it – Simon (Oberender) produced it.
Christopher: Without Simon, this wouldn’t have been possible at all. He was very important for the project.
Peter: Before, we had all the weight on our shoulders. Simon came in and suddenly, we could split all the responsibility into three people. Simon not only recorded and produced it, but he helped out with finding a label. He had all the connections to the business scene. We are newcomers in this business, but Simon already had a foot in the business. So, in that sense, he helped a lot. He also knows all the technical details about little things like making a movie or designing a web page, which he does together with Christopher.
For my part, I feel that the most important thing about the producer is that he has good ears. Good ears. When you’re in the studio as a musician, and you played the last eight hours, the producer is the one that says, “No, that’s still not good enough. Do it again.” The producer takes a lot of responsibility, which you cannot take as a musician because you’re playing. He is outside the playing part, and that’s real important. Having good ears and making good decisions. That’s what Simon was there for and he’s good at.
Christopher: And he’s still important! While we sit here and speak, he’s sitting in our hotel room and preparing our keyboard backup. He still does a lot for us.
Frank: Does he play live with you as well?
Christopher: Yeah. He switches between keyboards and guitars.
Peter: Because we want to put him in the spotlight, not back there in the studio, so he’s part of the band AND the producer.
Frank: I noticed that, on this stage, the keyboardists and the drummer get way back, so you barely see them. You’ve got to put him out there!
Peter: We have a big stage this time. Maybe we’ll put him in front this time. We have four keyboards.
Christopher: Well, two players, of course.
Frank: What’s your favorite piece of gear?
Christopher: I’m not a gear guy at all! (laughs) I think that if you’re good at what you do, the gear can suck and it’s still going to be good.
Frank: On the instrumental, “The Primal Demand,” what were you using in that enchanted hallway passage, with what sounds like chimes and bells?
Christopher: The most interesting thing I use is my old radio. You very often hear modulated noise throughout the album. I have an old Telefunken transistor radio and I just recorded it while I changed the channels.
Frank: That’s the part at the end of the song, before it goes into the [sings a riff from “Doorway to Salvation”], where it goes [makes a noise imitating the sound], right?
Christopher: Yeah, exactly. That’s also from the radio. I used it on three other songs in this album. It’s my favorite sound! (laughs) The rest is just keyboard sounds.
Frank: It sounds like you played it in a big cathedral with a lot of space to it.
Christopher: The first version we did of it was a binaural mix (Editor’s note: this involves full 3D sound imaging), but we changed it, because when you listen to it through speakers, it sounded strange.
Frank: For the gear question, how about you? (nods to Peter)
Christopher: My favorite gear is my guitar – I have a Music Man guitar. I feel that most of the guitar sound comes from your fingers and the way you hit the string. Right now, for example, as an amp, I have an Orange Tiny Terror. It’s a $500 amp, and it’s 7 watts and still working great. It’s a small amp and you can carry it in your handbag.
Frank: Speaking of tiny terrors, would you guys ever think of casting Tom Cruise if this album was ever made into a movie? Who would you see as casting if you had to make a movie out of this?
(the guys laugh)
Frank: Who would be the spirit? Who would be the old man and the other characters? It’s got enough facets to be a movie.
Christopher: It’s a hard question!
Peter: It’s definitely a hard question! (laughs) Well, the role of the old man… Many people ask why Herbie is not old. The point of why we use the adjective “old,” is because we want to say that he is experienced and has all the power that a man can have. Herbie’s voice is really powerful. There is the one old guy who played in Lord of the Rings – he played Gandalf.
Frank: Oh yeah? What’s his name? (Editor’s note: Ian McKellen)
Peter: He could fit in well, because he’s old, but he’s got the experience and power that one should have.
Frank: And the beard!
Peter: And a beard and a deep voice! (laughs) And for the female part?
Christopher: Someone pretty.
Peter: The best thing we could do with this album is to find a theater and play 30 times in a row in that theater. We could actually make some scenes out of it on stage. That would be cool – just a matter of if someone would want to do that with us. We’ve prepared the music. We cannot do the theater part, but if some theater says “Let’s do that”, that would be really cool for us. I also think the music is well-suited for a movie.
Frank: How did you come by the vocalists, Herbie (Langhans) and Dilenya (Mar)?
Peter: Well, Dilenya was kind of interesting, actually. Back then, some of my friends said “Hey, I know you’re playing in a band and looking for a singer. I know a female singer. She’s a jazz singer, but you don’t have anything to do, so come with us!” (laughs) So I went there in the jazz club and she sang these jazz tunes. I felt kind of silly to ask her…
Christopher: Because we only had pre-productions of the songs at that point, with pan flutes playing the vocal lines. (laughs)
Peter: I felt silly, because I thought, “Okay, so I just go up to that pretty woman and ask her if she wants to join my METAL band, right?” And she was doing jazz tunes. I actually tried my best to impress her. I was telling her about the great studio we work in and the great compositions we’re doing, trying to impress her with words, but she didn’t care about all that. She actually listened to the CD, but only the pre-productions were on the CD. No, I only gave her one song! Because the first song, I thought, was too metal.
Christopher: Song two?
Peter: “The Apparition,” I gave her, yes. But then she called me back and said, “I’m in.” She said that she liked the compositional design. Herbie was easier, right? He was just a guest at The Gate studio with Simon.
Christopher: He just came one day and listened to it while we did recordings or mixing, and said “Yeah, I’m in!” It was really easy.
Frank: He’s a great choice. On our review of the album, we made a comparison to Jorn Lande and Chris Cornell, because he’s got a really gritty edge to his voice.
Peter: That’s his favorite person – Jorn Lande, I think, is his idol.
Frank: He also has some great stage poses, too!
Peter: He’s the metal guy. The real metal guy.
Christopher: Totally. (laughs)
Peter: The biggest balls, we would say in Germany. (laughs) It’s really important for the band to have someone that looks like someone from the metal scene. We have a classical guy, the jazz woman, and even Fabian – he’s a jazz drummer.
Peter: Dominik, our bass player, is also looking like a metal guy. Together, with Herbie, it’s really important for us.
Frank: So, this is your USA debut. Do you feel that there will be a USA tour after this at any point in the future?
Christopher: Well, hopefully, at ANY point in the future… (laughs)
Frank: I know you probably can’t tell within the next year.
Christopher: We just started doing concerts and this is our first CD, so who knows what’s ahead? We’re hoping for the best, of course.
Peter: We’re hoping. If we get the opportunity, we will, sure.
Frank: Are there any bands that you’re really excited to see at ProgPower, personally. You can chime in, too! [nods to Dominik Stotzem, bassist, who has just arrived.]
Dominik Stotzem: No, sorry!
Frank: No? (To the other guys) He’s the silent one!
Peter: He talks in German a lot. He’s the comedian in the band.
Dominik: No, I’m not.
Peter: He does all the entertaining and a lot of organizational stuff, on Facebook. If someone likes our Facebook page, it’s Dominik’s work.
Frank: When did you first come together as a band?
Peter: Well, three of us started as a school band.
Dominik: The rest is cast by American Idol!
Frank: Amaranthe was telling me yesterday that Max Martin wrote all of their songs (editor’s note: this is a joke, read the interview.) He wrote for Britney Spears and all of them…
Frank: He was just joking around. You’ve got to love those guys. As far as the future goes, are you already working on a follow-up album?
Christopher: We always write music, actually. That’s my free time activity.
Dominik: Because we have no friends!
Christopher: That’s the reason, yeah. Because we have no friends, we are working on another full album. Yeah. (laughs)
Frank: You guys aren’t even his friends? Just here for the show?
Dominik: I don’t know him. (laughs)
Frank: Are there any ideas for the concept of this second album?
Peter: I was thinking, we’ll stay one more week after the ProgPower show to do a holiday, and I’m pretty sure that we can come up with a concept then. If you had asked this later, I could say “Yes, there is an idea.”
Frank: Thank you, guys.
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