Interview with Vanden Plas Guitarist Stephan Lill About Their Newest Release, "The Seraphic Clockwork," and What's New with the Band
Band Photo: Vanden Plas (?)
When I was first approached about doing an interview with Stephan Lill, Guitarist of one of my favorite Prog/Metal bands, “Vanden Plas”, I was stoked to say the least. Not only am I a big fan of the band who possesses every studio album they have put out (with the exception of colour temple), I am also a huge fan of their lead guitarist. Now although personally I felt all their recordings had been nothing less than phenomenal, I was nevertheless skeptical to there ability to follow up their previous release “Christ O”, a very adventurous and epic album, and one of my personal favorites. A lot of bands when faced with the challenge of creating a follow up to a great album, buckle under the pressure, releasing lack lustered efforts at best. Upon hearing the new album “The Seraphic Clockwork” I knew that this was not the case for these guys.
Chaos 3:16: Hey Stephan I’m glad you could find time to do this interview, I know you guys are cutting a pretty hectic schedule right now
Stephan: Hi Pierre!
Chaos 3:16: The first thing I initially noticed upon listening to the new album was that it was more progressive, and experimental than anything else you guys had done thus far, was this your purpose when you started writing for the new CD?
Stephan: It wasn’t planed like that, we simply didn’t want to limit ourselves. With every new CD a band has a chance to include some new elements or ways of arrangements in their music. I think that´s what we did.
Chaos 3:16: As always your guitar work is nothing less than incredible, you appear to have approached the guitar in a slightly different way on this album, was this a conscious deliberate action or did the music just come out that way?
Stephan: Thanks a lot for your nice words. I can´t force myself to go in a special direction when I compose songs or work out the guitar parts. Somehow I found my way of playing guitar, and i´m glad that people seem to like it. I think a guitar player shouldn’t focus only on playing as fast as possible. it´s also important how to arrange the riffs and how to include melodies in your playing. this is what the listener remembers.
Chaos 3:16: Your lead singer, Andy Kuntz has in my opinion one of the best singing voices in the progressive metal genre. While other singers are slowly but surely loosing ground, how do you think he is able to maintain and improve his vocals, from album to album?
Stephan: I agree, Andy’s voice is really outstanding. I don´t know exactly how he is training his voice, but i´m sure our work at the various theatres helps him a lot in improving his voice.
Chaos 3:16: Are there any more solo albums or projects in the works for you or Andy, or does Vanden Plas keep you guys too busy these days?
Stephan: We are very busy at the moment, beside the work with Vanden Plas, we are also involved in different theatre productions. so for the moment there is no time for side projects, not for me, Andy or anyone else in the band. from time to time we appear as guests on other CD´s, I just recorded some songs for the upcoming Consortium Project-CD, the band of the former Elegy-singer Ian Parry.
Chaos 3:16: I believe I read somewhere that you guys possibly did a theatrical version of “christ O” live can you elaborate on that, and did that experience affect the newer fresher approach heard on the new record?
Stephan: Actually we have already played "Christ O - The musical" twice. the first time we played it was at a theatre in Munich, the second time it was at the theatre here in our hometown of Kaiserslautern. both times we played it more than 15 times with a big production. I can say that it was a huge success.
Chaos 3:16: I apologise beforehand for asking what must be a typical question for you guys, one I’m sure you probably tire of answering, but I feel my own curiosity compels me, what is the translation, and or meaning of Vanden Plas?
Stephan: You can´t really translate it as it is a real name. we saw it on a special edition of a Jaguar-car which was designed by “Vanden Plas.”
Chaos 3:16: I noticed that you, Andy Kuntz, Gunter Werno, and Andreas Lill all have mentioned working with Theatres, and or being influenced by musicals, such as Little Shop of Horrors and Jesus Christ Superstar, does this play a major role in what sets you aside from other Prog/Metal acts out there today?
Stephan: I think so. first this helps us in being independent regarding the stuff we do with Vanden Plas. beside that the work at the theatre influenced our way of writing songs, and we’ve been able to release our own musicals like "Abydos", "Ludus Danielis" or "Christ O - The musical."
Chaos 3:16: As a Guitarist I have to ask, Stephan what piece, or pieces of gear do you use that you attribute to being responsible for the Vanden Plas sound?
Stephan: For “The Seraphic Clockwork” I used my Eng gear: the Engl preamp Special edition 570, the Engl poweramp 840 50/50, and a Engl Vintage-cabinet. the guitars I used: my TTM signature model, some Gibson Les Paul and some Peavey Vandenberg.
Chaos 3:16: what is your biggest musical influence? and what are some of the major influences of the band as a unit?
Stephan: We are very various in that, and we don´t have one major influence for the band. I like bands from the earlier days of rock like Whitesnake and House of Lords, but at the same time I also like some of the bands of the newer generation like Machine Head and Slipknot.
Chaos 3:16: what is your opinion on the current state of progressive music? do you like the direction it is heading in? how does it measure up to progs past? and what would you like to see happen to the genre in the future?
Stephan: For sure it was a bit better some years ago, but i think that is the same for all variations of rock music. it´s getting harder to sell your CD´s as everybody is able to download the songs from the internet. so everybody in the music business - the labels, the bands and the fans - have to think about how to go in the future. for new bands the internet is a great thing to present themselves the first time, but it makes it almost impossible to get a fair deal in the future as the labels aren´t interested anymore in spending a lot of money on unknown artists who aren´t going to be mega sellers.
Chaos 3:16: as a fan of progressive music what are some of the acts you enjoy listening to, and playing with these days?
Stephan: Hard to say for me as I don´t listen to progressive music that much. but if i did, it would probably end up being the earlier records of Queensryche, Symphony X or Dream Theater.
Chaos 3:16: Is there anyone you haven’t played with yet that you would really like to share the stage with?, and can we expect to see some american tour dates in the near future? Prog Power maybe?
Stephan: I really like the style of John Sykes. so playing together with him would be a cool thing. maybe we will be back in the USA next year, maybe at Prog Power 2011. but there is no final decision done yet.
Chaos 3:16: Does it ever bother you that there are a percentage of prog fans out there that discount anything that doesn’t sound like Dream Theater?, don’t get me wrong I think that DT are a great band, arguably one of the best prog acts out today, but the term progressive rock/metal has grown to mean so much more than can be defined by any one band or artist.
Stephan: Everybody has the chance to decide which music he wants to listen to. so that fact doesn’t bother me at all as I can´t change it. the only thing we can do is write good songs and release good CD`s. that´s the only way to give the people other opportunities to listen to.
Chaos 3:16: So Stephan what can we expect to see in the near future from you guys, whats next on the horizon for Vanden Plas ?
Stephan: We are already writing new songs for the next CD, and we are also working on different theatre-projects. so there is enough to do for the moment.
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