Qntal - Not selling apples for bananas
Anyone who’s keeping a close(r) eye on Metalrage knows that I was positively surprised by the latest album of Qntal, called Silver Swan. Actually I was so impressed that I thought it would be a great opportunity to become familiar with the music a bit more by attending a live show and conducting an interview. Below you will find a conversation me and Shaydee had with musical brain of the band, Michael Popp.
First of all, you’re music is not typical metal but somehow metal fans are closely connected towards Qntal and your latest album lies in the metal section of our local record store. Can you explain that?
"I think that people always have been attracted to ballads, to the weak side of all the heaviness. And I do think that it can be connected to the medieval period where men used to be fighters for a military value. But on the other hand it was important for them to develop a weaker side, to make music and poems, not to live just like a living battle machine. And so there may be a connection because metal is also really a guys thing and maybe there is another side they like very much. The funny thing is that we were once asked to be the support act for a big metal band called Mötorhead. It was a long time ago and they wanted something completely different as an opening act. Unfortunately it didn’t happen but it gives you an idea of how we’re related to metal. And one of us, our keyboard player really is a metal fan and also plays in a metal band."
That’s an interesting answer because I thought on the forehand that you would come up with comparisons with gothic music.
"Well, you could but even when you look at that, the question would remain the same and you would probably get the same answer. Goth music comes out of a post-punk period. Personally I come from a post-punk background when the whole punk music scene was divided in several branches and one of them had theater aspects with guys having artistic influences. I’ve seen it developing so it is not so far away."
Then the album Silver Swan. You provide a lot of explanations about the record on the website and I was wondering whether you first came across the title or that you came up with the title after the recordings were carried out.
"It’s actually neither one of them. When we make an album, we first look for the lyrics, poems actually and one of them was the Silver Swan. And at first we had a few problems because medieval music can be related to party music like in Corvus Corax and many others. And because of that we had a lot of people who were already drunk when we had to go on stage. I don’t like that anymore. When I was younger of course I did but now I think that medieval music is so much more than that. And so, the Silver Swan is a symbol of that. And again we wanted to do something that is not very mainstream, very quiet and very soft, very romantic and go back to the roots where the combination of wave, gothic and medieval music are combined. That was the reason for this album."
And was the Silver Swan the first lyric you came up with?
"No, not the first one but it was a lyric we were dealing with. When we read it we thought it was describing our situation. Orlando Gibbons is actually a pretty well-known figure if you are familiar with the kind of writing he’s been working with. He’s not the really big person but also not the writer you have to look for in the far corners of the library. It’s pretty easy to get."
And what’s the connection between this album and the previous works because they all have the subtitle ‘Qntal’ and a sequel number?
"Well, the funny thing is that we first don’t know how to pronounce the name of the band, because it comes from a dream of our singer. She saw those letters in a dream and that’s how we came up with the name of the band. So there is no bad way to speak out our band name. As for the connection with the other albums; there basically is no connection because in the beginning there was no intention for us to form a real band. We just had all kinds of side projects; some of them were pretty famous in Germany of which Qntal was just one of the projects with no intentions on the long term. That’s why we were experimental in the first place and even thought of playing with different styles, even with metal or ambience. Many things are possible. But the more success we achieved the more that it is limited. People expect something from us, because they like the thing we’re doing right now."
I’ve always found that really interesting because a lot of people say: ‘Well, the record labels are trying to influence the music’, but my experience is that it almost never that way.
"Indeed, our record label doesn’t want apples as bananas. When a band makes apples why should they sell bananas? So it’s true, it is not really a pressure by the record label but you make it by yourself. You don’t want to go on stage, play the first song and make the people in the crowd think: ‘Oh, gosh, I was coming here for something else.’ And that’s why it is very difficult for famous groups to change styles. And as long as we were just a project we were able to change somehow. If you can create that image as a band, than it works. Like Massive Attack, they have always had an image of doing different things and thus they can do something else on different albums. You even expect from them to do something else."
It’s nice to hear you talking about Massive Attack because I hear some similarities with your music, especially in the ambience of the vocals.
"I wouldn’t say that they were an influence for us, but I do like it very much. Maybe subconsciously they were, because they were also one of the big bands in the 90s."
When I listen to the album, I immediately start to create images in my mind that reflect my feelings about the music. Mostly I see a nymph in a white dress walking in a clouded swamp. Do you also have that with your music?
"Very similar. My picture was actually the swan, also water. When I was fifteen years old I had a friend who was in a sect. And I went to an introduction evening and they showed this movie where a swan was pictured. I’ve kept that picture and was thinking about the grace and beauty but also power and nobleness. That was what I was thinking about and imagining pictures with the music is something I always seem to do."
So you immediately told the others about it?
"Sort of. The thing is, I’m the composer of everything. I talk to the singer a lot about pictures and images I have and try to include them into the music. Sometimes there are even ideas that are not possible to work out in our music."
Then the information you provide about your music is very detailed, especially on the website. A lot of things are explained, also about the support act. I found that a bit strange because especially with your music, I guess a gap in explanation strengthens the music even more.
"That is always difficult, because sometimes the imagination of the listener just doesn’t work. In our case, you know that there is something behind the music. It’s like in arts. In Germany we have an artist called Joseph Beuys, I don’t know if you’ve heard about him, he was an avant-garde artist and he had some works in Düsseldorf. He worked a lot with fat in and in that museum there was a fat spot in the corner of the museum. The normal people said it was disgusting. But the thing is that everything is different when you know the story behind it. The story is that in the Second World War in Russia, he was a pilot, got shot and fell down with his airplane somewhere in the middle of nowhere. He was found and people took him after his head was damaged really badly. They took him and healed him with only honey to eat and rubbing his body in fat all the time. That’s why a lot of his work is consisting of honey and fat. If you don’t know the story, than you have no idea and you will just see a big pile of fat in a museum. But if you do know the story, then your imagination will start. So explaining a little bit is always good to make people know that we’re not only making music but that there is something else in it."
And if you had to choose a movie in which your music would be used as a background, which one would it be?
"Hah? You mean commercial wise? Haha, no I think you can probably come up with an answer yourself."
Well, I actually was thinking about it and found it pretty hard, because I wouldn’t choose a fantasy movie, because…
"Because that’s too obvious."
No, not because it is too obvious but because I don’t think it would reflect the tenderness of your music. So I was more thinking of a movie like ‘Requiem for a Dream’, because after you’ve seen the movie, you have to think about what you’ve seen again in order to interpret the scenes.
"Well, I think you can probably change the question into which specific scene it would be applicable, because I think that our stories do not reflect whole films but can be applied to several emotions in several scenes. It does have a connection somehow, because we’ve talked about pictures previously. "
When I did some research about your band, almost all the reviews of the albums and concerts describe some kind of trance the reviewer gets in when being exposed to your music. Do you see that when you play live?
"Yes, I would say that when you compare it with metal for example, you’ll go to our show with a different expectation. I would say that people come to our show and they expect indeed some kind of a trance ambience. But we have also diversity in our work with beats; maybe dance music somehow so it’s a combination I guess."
Ok, this is our last question. I’ve heard that on your previous tours you use different glasses filled with water to create an instrument. How does such an idea emerge?
"They’re over there. It’s seven now. I used it for theater. It was very cold and there was a depressed situation and the director asked what kind of music would be applicable for that and I came up with this as a reflection of what was ‘ice cold’."
Ok, cool. That was the last question. Thank you very much for your time.
"Thank you and have a good time tonight at the show."
And as you can already read on our website, we did have a great time at the show.