Gathering The Skeleton Army

Story online since:  19.09.2009 / 18:44:08

The german collective KLABAUTAMANN has been around for some years now, and though they have recorded overwhelming albums on a high quality level somehow they never got the attention they deserved. Tentakel P., completely forced into a dreamlike trance by their newest album "Merkur", awakened only a few weeks later, bought all their available releases, locked himself in his room for another couple of weeks while listening to them - and after recovering from the insight that the earlier releases are nearly as good as "Merkur" decided to change something about KLABAUTAMANN's (self-inflicted?) low profile. So after praising "Merkur" in a review he decided to contact a delightfully sympathetic Florian Toyka for an interview, who answers everything you always wanted (or did not wanted) to know about KLABAUTAMANN.

Hello Florian! First of all, for our non-german readers, please explain what a "Klabautermann" is. And, for that matter, where he hides in your music.

Well, we shouldn't give the meaning of the name of our band too much credit. It's a ship's kobold, and when I was in kindergarten I chose this as a costume on carnival. I'm from a family with maritime roots, I'm from the northern part of germany and my dad was in the german navy, so there are many ties. The fact that we took that name also suggests that we're not a 100% die hard ultra true black metal band and have never been, we're normal people and here and there we do this band with a twinkle in the eye. But what I like best (thank you wikipedia!): "The name comes from the Low German verb klabastern meaning "rumble" or "make a noise". There you go.

Well, if you say so, then let's get ready to "rumble”! You are part of the prolific german collective "Zeitgeister Music" (for interested people, please visit and must be, if the pace of releases you are involved in is any indication, very busy. What significance has KLABAUTAMANN for you? And how do KLABAUTAMANN work? Are you rehearsing regularly, or does one person compose everything alone before you enter the studio?

Yes, you bet I'm busy! Luckily I'm not involved in every release, at least not so deep as in Klabautamann, Island, Woburn House and Valborg. For others I've only done some session-drums or recording, stuff like this. Still, there's always something to do, but me (and the others) like it that way. I have to keep myself busy. Now, KLABAUTAMANN is quite special for me, because it's the only band where I work with Tim – all the other Zeitgeister-stuff involves either Jan or Christian (or both). But I started playing and composing music with Tim and KLABAUTAMANN back then, and this has had a significant imprint on my method of working and writing stuff. In fact when I first met Christian and Patrick I had huge problems to get to their way of doing things. I had to lose some of my views to get a good flow with them and it took some time and almost cost a band. Through working on KLABAUTAMANN with Tim I got into perfectionism and accuracy, while with the other guys I learned to let things go their way.
Also Christian is a musician with a very unique and distinct stile, so all the bands where he participates are heavily characterized by his feeling of melodies and harmonies etc. which is very special... and I have to admit that although he's one of my all time favorite guitar players it's easier for me to compose with Tim (when we both play guitars). At the moment it's my only band where I play guitar, so it's a really special thing to me. There's also one album where Christian and I both play guitars, but it's still not released.

You have very obvious Kraut- and 70ies rock influences in "Merkur", which at least to my ears have been there before but not as present as on your latest albums. And furthermore, you did this at approximately the same time ENSLAVED started their transformation with implementing these influences into their music, long before Black Metal bands like AMESOEURS etc. started to implement shoegaze and other similar elements into their music, at a time where "true" was the word of the year. That makes you kind of pioneers, at least in the black metal sector. How did it happen that these influences appeared in your music? Have you any 70ies idols or did it just happen naturally?

That just happened. We both have our heroes from back then (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who etc), but I think Tim just got into that some years ago. For me metal has always been only one of the stiles I like. Anyway I think that it's quite normal when you play the guitar and don't want to stop at the level you reach after one year. You discover other things and if you're open minded they naturally find their way into the music. We don't want to drop riffs and melodies we like just because "they might not be metal”. Funny that you also mention ENSLAVED, they talked about it in the recent interview with Thor. You have to do what you like, you can't kick stuff you 100% love in exchange for some filler-riffs. Because when people approach you then and say "this riff sucks” you'll have to agree. When you are 100% behind your music this is no big deal – then you can reply "no, you suck” and be done with it.

…which to me is the essence of KLABAUTAMANN anyway; I dare say taking the non-metal riffs out of your music equals taking the strawberries out of the strawberry-pie. Anyway, have you had encounters with people who are of the opinion you should write straighter, more "Metal” songs? Or, what would you say defines your average KLABAUTAMANN-fan? I guess you need a certain open-mindedness in the first place, don't you?

Yes of course. Maybe that's where the name of our band is helping: anybody who is totally narrow-minded and doesn't tolerate anything not 100% metal will be scared away from the name KLABAUTAMANN – it's a ship's kobold, how ridiculous! So only the more open-minded people remain and from them we never had any complaints. The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly good, so I'm not too concerned with this matter at all. We've always done what we wanted through the years and people continue to love it. Also today there's such an oversupply of (metal) bands that you don't have to stick to a group you don't like any more.

What is your view on (the) Black Metal (scene) nowadays? How has it changed over the years? Do you, or did you ever, consider yourself part of it?

No, I never could feel some common grounds with any part of some Black Metal scene. I'm friends with lots of people from other bands but only a few are Black Metal groups. In my opinion this is very special music, for very special moods. I was quite impressed with some bands maybe 10 years ago, and they still have a very personal meaning for me. But I always thought it to be strange if somebody was so deep in the scene, only listening to Black Metal since 15 years, nothing else...
What I did recognize is that the bands that still get me are now not any more from the "wandering lonely in the forest”-fraction but rather strange and experimental/avantgarde outfits like LURKER OF CHALICE or DEATHSPELL OMEGA. But I can't say if this is a trend in the scene, I know too little about it.

On your first album, Marlon Drescher is playing the drums. Marlon is or was part of at least ODIUM IMMORTALIS and MALUS. How is your relationship with other bands outside Zeitgeister?

It's very good! Although maybe it's wrong to say "relationships with other bands”. Because in most cases there are very good and friendly relationships with many other individuals - and they happen to play in bands. There are very few cases where I could say "I know the band”. I really enjoy the fact that being a musician opens this additional social network for you. There are so many nice people I wouldn't know without the bands.

Yeah, that's definitely right, I know that from my own experience. Has this "network” (or maybe another opportunity) ever made it possible for you to meet one of your "idols”, and who might that be? If not, who would you like to meet in person if you had one choice?

Well last year I spent two days in New York and my top musical idol Toby Driver (Kayo Dot, maudlin of the Well) let me spend the night at his place after first inviting me to a concert of another band he was playing in. Was a great evening! Also we recently had the honor to meet Tom Gabriel Fischer during our VALBORG weekend-tour. But it's not only the big "idols”, it's more about if you like each other or not. For example, on the same tour we finally met Christopher of KERBENOK after being in touch via email for some time, and I feel his friendliness and kindness shouldn't go unmentioned here as well.

The artworks of your previous releases are very harmonious and fitting for your music. Would you like to introduce to us the artist of these booklets (who, if I am not completely mistaken, did the artwork of ISLAND's "Orakel" as well)? How do you work with him / does he work with you? And who has a faible for trolls and goblins: He or you? ;-)

I guess you're referring to Jan Buckard, he did the 7” picture disc and "Merkur”. He's also responsible for ISLAND's "Orakel”, the WOBURN HOUSE debut and the SLON and GRUENEWALD cds. We always work this way: He gets the music (and maybe some info about it) and then he has 100% freedom to do what he wants. You have to trust artists you work with. "Please paint this and that” doesn't work, it's just limiting the creativity and interfering with the natural process.
Yeah, the trolls and goblins... Tim and I are both fans of John Bauer, and since one of the tracks on the 7” is about a fairy-tale he illustrated it was obvious that we had to use these creatures again. The rest came together quickly: we wanted to make use of the format, a disc going in cirles. So we came up with the idea of having a bunch of trollish creatures holding hands and dancing around as soon as the record starts to spin.
The artworks for our first and second album have been put together by Tim and me. For the debut we used stuff from the great John Bauer, while on "Der Ort” you'll find pictures from the russian genius Ivan Shishkin (go get a book with his paintings on ebay!), who did tons of great landscapes. Highly recommended!

Regarding the artwork of "Merkur": This is one of the most beautiful artworks I have seen in a long time. Yet to me, it represents something new, which can also be said about your music on "Merkur": While the previous albums took the listener to magical places deep in the forest, the latest effort takes one far beyond, to a place the little skeleton sees through his looking somewhere in space. Maybe a three-dimensional expanding wood floating in space? The colour blue is commonly associated with dreaming and relaxation, too, so: What do you say to this interpretation? Where would you see the main aspect KLABAUTAMANN's development?

Well I wouldn't want to judge your interpretation, since there is no right or wrong when it comes to how you see and understand art. I also can't tell you the intention with this artwork, maybe even Jan can't. Also I don't want to know. I'm happy to see that people think about it and give it a meaning for themselves. Same goes for the music.
What's obvious is that we evolved since our last release, a big step away from being (only) a band which plays black metal with acoustic guitars, with lyrics about the woods. Haha, it sounds so devaluating when I put it this way, but it's a fact that we had explored this kind of music for quite some time now and it was time to go on. Of course we took many elements with us and will always be related to it, but this whole nature/woods-element has been forced out of our lives to a certain degree due to moving to a city, having jobs and tons of other shit to look after... when I find the time to get out of the city into the nature once per month while at the same time I'm struggling with many personal things every day then it's logical that the music follows this path.

...and what is yet to come in the future?

Nobody knows that. A new album maybe? I really have no idea. Maybe a shitty album called "Back to the woods” with lots of boring songs... :-)
I really don't know. At the moment I feel like we have to regenerate a little bit from "Merkur” and let it sink in for some time. I have to feel ready for the next step before we take it.

I shall take you word for granted here for a moment - would you even be able to write "shitty” songs today? I recall an interview with Fenriz from DARKTHRONE some years back, where he said something like (I hope I remember this right…) he likes his music dark and dirty and spontaneous, and part of the feeling is that you have to be (kind of) bad at your instrument. He said he would like to be as bad at drums as he was years back, but that he just can't no matter how hard he tries, he has gotten better and better and that is something he might never be able to switch back even if he wanted. Could you?

Haha, I don't know. Not really I guess. But when you play a lot in different bands you realize that your abilities grow and decrease to a certain degree, depending on what you play at the moment. I was, for example, quite surprised when Christian and I tried to dig up some old Woburn House stuff and I couldn't do some things any more. But those are only nuances. I think you can't really get "bad” again. Also I can't agree with Fenriz's views. They seem to fit with DARKTHRONE but I'm more into getting better over the years. 'Cause to me what really sucks is when you have some good ideas and can't perform them because you're not good enough. Oh this is also something special to me about KLABAUTAMANN: when we get some ideas which involve difficult (or too difficult) stuff we try to push very hard to still do it. This is sometimes good and sometimes stressful. With VALBORG we kick everything which is too difficult in the first place. So KLABAUTAMANN is something completely different –I guess there won't be any shitty songs too soon if I can help it...

If "Merkur" were a dream, what would happen in that dream?

Haha, that would be quite a ride! Definitely some cool epic metal-adventure! And at the time the song "Merkur” is up you would take a telescope and try to figure out what's going on in space... at which point you'll realize you became a skeleton...

Would you call KLABAUTAMANN a "surreal" band? Wether or not, what inspires you to write such music in the first place?

Not at all. For me it's a quite "normal” band... We're inspired by just everything that comes up in life. We collected some ideas before we embarked on our composing-session, so there's a mix of lots of things from the last years. Definitely there's nature, landscapes, atmospheres, life, other people, other musicians, metal, space, fantasy, nostalgia, fear, hope, hatred, autumn, personal relationships, a lonely day in some lodge far away from anybody else, the painting Jan left me when I took over his apartment, other countries, the time when I prepared my final diploma examinations, snow in the garden, a girl I liked, a new guitar, my work...

So, KLABAUTAMANN is about these magical moments in everyday's life which occur now and then? Or are there negative aspects as well?

Sure, everything is influencing us, both positive and negative aspects. But maybe it's a little bit more about the "good” stuff, I think the shit that really fucks me up goes rather to VALBORG than to KLABAUTAMANN. Maybe because we started this band when (for me) everything was still "ok”. The more serious problems I had and have to deal with started to appear in the recent 4-5 years, and even if we also had some serious problems with KLABAUTAMANN too now and again in my mind it's still the band from the good old times, it's more like some good dream or fantasy. And there you are again with the artwork: dreaming and relaxation seems to fit quite well into this..

Sadly, you do not play life these days, but there have been gigs in the past. What is KLABAUTAMANN live what it is not on CD?

Honestly, for me there are not too many good associations with Klabautamann live. Sure, we had cool gigs, met nice people and went to Switzerland two times, but it's always very time consuming and stressful to prepare for these adventures. For me Klabautamann is a studio-band, and with this in mind many things have been written and recorded. And since we don't rehearse every gig means to dig the songs up again and again, and you have to get session musicians who can follow. Don't get me wrong, it has been a good experience to do the few shows we had but it has been a huge amount of time we lost in the process. I think to be able to play live you have to rehearse weekly at least. Either you are ready at any time or you are not. We're definitely not.

If anything (anything! without monetary or even physical, spatial and rational restrictions) were possible, how would you present KLABAUTAMANN live to portrait its very essence?

Well I've heard about festivals in Switzerland which take place in the mountains. That would be quite nice. Right beneath the stars, between trees and old ruins. Just like our record: an epic metal-adventure...

Then please utter the epic last words to the little skeletons "Merkur” has turned your listeners into and who are watching you through their spyglasses.

"Verschlinge Deine Zunge, genieße die Langsamkeit!”

Also a big thank you to all the people who have supported us over the years, the success of our first releases made "Merkur” possible in the first place. Also thanks to everybody who still remembers that musicians like us put lots of their heartblood, but also money and time into their creations. I'm glad that despite of modern developments like file-sharing we still got fans who honor our efforts and pay for our music instead of stealing it. Last but not least thank you for the interview and the more then positive response to our music – and for sharing it with us!

Tentakel P.

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