July 4, 2016
T. Ray Verteramo
“He keeps getting better at everything he does; writing, mixing, drumming.
And how dare he keep getting better at everything he does…dammit!” –
Alkaloid bandmate and guitar virtuoso, Danny Tunker
Hannes Grossmann is a drummer of the finest caliber, no question. But, he is further considered one of the most skillful and celebrated musicians in the world, not just a drummer. Ironically, though his mastery behind the kit and the soundboard earns him praise on their own merit, it is his ability to compose and exercise extraordinary adaptation to animate a song that sets him apart from other talents.
So, flexible, in fact, he has successfully drummed for Black, Prog, Tech, Death, Classic Metal, Power Metal, Jazz, and so many other genres with only his signature skill as recognizable, not a distinct style.
His chameleon fluidity with his work, as well as skill and experience, makes him a highly coveted studio and tour musician for hire. But, it is his Muse that earns him love and respect from the public, students, and peers.
Two years ago, Grossmann released The Radical Covenant to the delight of fans he left behind in Obscura and Blotted Science’s wake. Then, in 2015, he founded a new treasure in the Prog-Death chest with his own band, Alkaloid. Their beautiful debut, The Malkuth Grimoire, was shunned by labels, (with no hard feelings), only to be 169 percent funded through a crowdfunding campaign, which went on to earn no less than 96 percent of full critical marks in over fifty international online and print publications.
Spending most of his time on the road filling in for Dark Fortress and Hate Eternal, as well as enjoying a stint with Denner-Shermann members, Uli Jon Roth, and others at the Israeli Titans of Metal festival last year, Grossmann has reunited with his Alkaloid mates, along with other special guests, for his sophomore solo effort, The Crypts of Sleep. Once again, he brings it straight to the fans and the campaign has already met over 75 percent of its goal with one month left.
Ray talks to Hannes on what all the fuss is about, how he connects with his bandmates, the business end, and the endless pursuit of inspiration.
You’ve been busy!
It’s usually towards the end of the year where all the stuff gets pretty busy. It’s pretty quiet, actually. At the moment, the only thing I’m preparing for is recording in the studio, as well as I’m going to India for the first time with Nader [Sadek]. I’ll see how it turns out. Apart from that, it’s pretty quiet. It’s usually at the end of the year where everything usually stacks up. Last year, if I sum up all the songs I had to learn and also had to re-learn, as well as recorded for Alkaloid in 2015, I learned something like 80 to 100 songs total; Learning and playing or recording, something like that. So, like 80 to 100 different songs and most of them were not easy-structured, it’s all complicated stuff.
You also recorded for Eternity’s End [Christian Muenzner’s solo Power Metal project on Power Prog Records], as well.
True, yeah. I had to learn the songs and play them. So, all-in-all I think it’s been about at least 80 songs. I made a rough calculation.
But, I don’t mind because that’s how you get better, I think, practically. I’m not so much into practicing technique anymore. I’d rather try to expand and extend my abilities or skills with actual music and actual songs. That has been perfect. My goal was to play live more and more different stuff and so far, it works.
Fun? Dark Fortress was fun because I like the music. I also played with a fusion band called Counter World Experience. It’s instrumental stuff…and it’s some kind fusion Metal stuff. It’s great to play that kind of music. We only played one show to a few hundred people, but, it was fine because it was something different, and I played that kind of fusion stuff for years and I never had the chance to play it live. It was really, really fun.
And I mean, all the projects were fun. They were all different. Hate Eternal, for instance, is a blur — I would say almost towards ‘sports’ because you have to maintain a high speed for a very long distance. That was something I had to practice a lot for. And finally, getting onstage and seeing that it works, that was really a breakthrough moment. Anything new that I played live was fun and of course, the Alkaloid shows, finally playing together, that was awesome.
During this time, were the songs that you used for Crypts already written or did you write them on the road?
Oh, that’s a good question. Once in awhile there are riffs I’ve had for 10 years and some of the stuff is brand new. I don’t know, it really differs.
My biggest fear is to lose creativity and stop writing because I don’t have any ideas. It’s not happening, luckily.
Somehow, I don’t know, I can’t remember where actually, but today or yesterday I had an idea for an Alkaloid song. I wrote it down and without recognizing, three hours had just gone. Just spinning around ideas and working with some ideas and getting some structure. But also I think, really fun so I don’t realize or recognize how much work it is or how much time it takes. Usually I work best at home or in a studio where I can work something out. It’s somehow in between the work
Fear of losing ideas is pretty much universal for any artist. I think history has shown that as long as you’re alive, inspiration is there for you to hunt down and beat with a stick.
It always takes finishing one project, like this new solo record, to get one thing done and then it takes a while to get new ideas. Then it all, or a lot of it, comes in one big chunk and then another pause. There’s like phases, different phases where I’m creative and not so creative. It just alters.
But, yeah, these songs…yeah, good question. The last song I actually wrote for the album was the opening track or the one I already put online.
“To Sow the Seeds of Earth”?
Exactly. It’s the last song I wrote for the record because I thought, “Oh maybe I’m missing a good opening track, like something that’s catchy.” Sometimes, it just takes one idea like that, that’s like, “Hey, I could write a song that grabs attention.” That’s the general source of inspiration. When I come up with something, it’s like what Florian [“Morean”] says, “Sometimes we just have to sit down and get to work and eventually something will show up.”
There’s a lot of excitement surrounding this new project. The campaign is almost three-quarters finished and you still have a month to go.
It’s pretty amazing. I’m very positive that I will actually make the goal – and the goal is crucial to finance it and get it done because there are a lot of costs involved. So, hopefully, I’ll get something in return. After the crowdfunding thing is done, I’ll have enough to ship them worldwide…to me, that’s the most important thing, to get it out finally.
I don’t think you have to worry about that. You Alkaloid men seem to be charmed…
It’s a new way to get the fans more involved, people who might be interested in something, so we put out some perks. You know, not something like some of those by bands on a label or something and think, “Oh we can make big bucks from that,” and they offer something like “Hey, let’s have a party with us” or a phone call where they’ll charge you hundreds of bucks for a phone call. I always thought, “Hmmm…I’m not sure…” *laughs* I really want to offer something of value.
The workshops! The drum lessons and the songwriting workshops are a great touch.
Yeah, like the workshops, they’re something you get in return for putting some money there for supporting it. Actually, I want to work for a living and I don’t want to beg for anything. Some crowdfunding campaigns end up like that, with nothing to offer. But, that’s also why this and the Alkaloid campaign are so successful, because they offer something. It’s not just a cheap way of getting funded.
You bring up a point about that borderline prostitution thing: “For a hundred bucks, we’ll call you.” The VIP pass/phenomenon.
I have got to say, though, it seems weird but there’s one part. We all agree that the industry is changing and the records aren’t sold in a large extent so, every defender of the new way is saying you have to make up your mind on other ways of raising money other than buying records because that industry is dying.
I just wouldn’t do it. When you’re playing like smaller clubs, that’s one thing. Maybe if you’re playing big arenas, that’s different. But, if you’re not, you’re playing smaller clubs, you meet the people anyway…another thing is I don’t necessarily want people backstage. I just want to change my clothes or something and be on my own or something. It’s all got two sides, but I’m not really into that. Also I wouldn’t put any perks up there just to charge you for something. It’s just weird.
*laughs* There’s a tendency, I’d say worldwide, pretty much. The only thing we can do is not participate.
Let’s talk about the “Alka-shuffle,” when you have the same members of Alkaloid playing on different projects. What is the difference between a Hannes Grossmann album and an Alkaloid album?
The difference is that I write all the music and the lyrics and on Alkaloid I don’t. We write stuff together and other members are contributing.
I would say the next Alkaloid record, which we’ve also started writing, to answer the question, may sound a lot different. Maybe not completely different, but we’re going in a new direction, I would say. That’s where I’m at, at the moment. And I can see it shaping more and more in the direction that is really more Prog-Rock with some Death Metal elements. My solo record is a straight up Death Metal album with Heavy Metal elements.
Also, I don’t want to force all my songs on a band, and it’s an hour of material. If I put it out as Alkaloid, what’s the point? I think the Crypts of Sleep is much closer to my last solo album in terms of sound; it’s a lot heavier, much more Heavy Metal. But, musically it’s different.
And the reason why I ask the other members, that’s pretty easy, it’s like in any band…If you know some people that you’ve worked together with and work well with, then of course, it would make sense. If I don’t want to play the guitars myself, and I don’t, I would ask somebody like Danny [Tunker] because he’s the first to come into my mind to do it.
Initially, I had the idea to use other bass players on the album, and more on that in the future. But, it didn’t make sense. The songs don’t really fit for a lot of people I had in mind…and Linus [Klausenitzer] was just so perfect for those songs, so why mess with it?
And, since before you had mentioned it, because I had to learn all those songs last year and I was very busy, I could just give those notes to those guys and they record it at home and I know it’s going to be perfect. It just doesn’t make sense to exchange people just to exchange people.
It’s extraordinary that all of you are not only bandmates and friends, but you also seem to be fans of each other.
How much of that fandom between you influences your own work?
I would put it this way: For example, that Noneuclid record, Monotheosis, is my favorite death metal record of all time and that’s the reason why I wanted to do music with Flo. Also, because he’s a classical composer and that’s something I’m very impressed with. He just understands music on a different level. But, I also like his writing and that’s one more thing, and that’s with every band member, I would say.
I think that Linus got the gig in Obscura from his work in Noneuclid because I just love that album. And when Chris put out the Eternity’s End record, I didn’t know which direction it was going. But, when I got the final release, and I’m not so much into Power Metal, but I like the record, I like the songs. Not because Chris wrote them, but Chris writes stuff that I like.
When we work with someone we admire, it makes us “up” our game, keeps us on our toes. Does working with your bandmates help you become a better musician?
Definitely. I would say, and I would extend that to all the guys that I work with these days. I’ve been, ever since I’ve been a member of Blotted Science – and that was another thing, I was a big fan of Blotted Science, also…obviously, I’m a big Alex Webster fan, also. And that music is very challenging, so that made make a step forward in my playing, just by playing the songs of that band.
This is the same for Alkaloid. Once we got together for the last record, I just could feel that I could make a step forward as a musician, by writing and producing, learning so much by doing it. And the same goes for playing drums in Hate Eternal. I learned new things, I picked new things up…you definitely improve by playing with people.
I would definitely say that my biggest influences are the people I play with.
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The Crypts of Sleep was released on August 30th, with the Indiegogo campaign successfully ending with reaching 130% of its 10,000 Euro goal, to rave reviews.