eGigs interviews 80s thrashers Exumer

Mem Von Stein, Ray Mensh and Tony Schiavo on Tuesday 11 March 2014

In the wake of the bands that have been unable to play as part of Martin Walkyier's Viking Funeral and have pulled out on the eleventh hour, eGigs gets to exchange words with Mem Von Stein, Ray Mensh and Tony Schiavo of German '80s thrashers Exumer for their first London show in over twenty five years.

How are you?

Ray Mensh: Great.

Mem Von Stein: Hungover but it's fucking great. 

How do you feel about the events surrounding this now M-Pire of Evil show with Elvenking and Skyclad pulling out and when you arrived here, you realised you have to play a longer set?

MVS: The set is not a problem. I think you have to think about the fans in these types of situations. I think a good band is always willing and wants to adjust to any situation that's out in front of them. You've got to think about the fans; they'll be disappointed so everyone on the bill has got to work a little extra hard so everybody goes home happy. 

Thank you for staying on the bill and not cancelling.

T. Schiavo: We had no reason to drop out so anyone who wants to come and watch us play, we play. We're already here.

RM: For us, it's always a hard challenge to play anywhere because they [Mem Von Stein and Tony Schiavo] are from the States, we [the rest of the band] are from Germany so we are happy when we're on the road and can play for our fans.

MVS: We can't just say we're not playing. Their business is their business. As long as we are not experiencing any surprises or strange things then we're cool. 

Going back to your reunion album 'Fire And Damnation' from 2012, how did fans and critics react to this album?

MVS: It was amazing. It was really cool to see. We didn't really know what to expect after coming back after a hiatus from recording. All we were thinking [was] that we'll try to do the best record that we can and we thought that everybody would like to hear because that's what we want to hear. After that, we wanted to do a good execution and production, the right producer, the right label, all that. Everything that we were able to control, we did our best to do it and once it was released, it's up to the people to decide. We can't do anything else but everyone was happy. Nobody hated it at all. 

Were there any challenges? Did you have any anxieties about coming back after such a long hiatus?

MVS: No, we actually started touring in 2009.

TS: So that invigorated everything.

MVS: And then Matthias [Kassner, drums] joined the band in 2010 and we did two tours with him. At that point we were a pretty locked unit. When you're on the road, you become a band so we took that into the studio and had that vibe going throughout the record. 

'Fire and Damnation' sounds a lot more modernised than a standard '80s thrash metal record. How did that come about?

TS: Twenty five years [laughs]. It's just different. We're not going to be retro when we've just done a twenty track tape and do some weird angle on it. Some bands do it and I get that aesthetic and that's cool too. I don't think it's overboard at all like some bands are. It's just a current way of doing things, no weird trickery.

MSV: We didn't want to sound like a throwback. We also didn't want to stay true to what we know and what we like so the idea was to take the vibe of our records from the '80s and put it into an up to date production. You can't go out there and say "I disregard any kind of development in technology and I'm going to look for some dingy dungeon and record." On top of that, we did our records in the '80s so why would we do that again? There were so many good aspects of the records from the '80s so we took that aspect and put it on. Obviously we're better players maybe [laughs]. We tried to combine all of the best worlds. 

Did you find there were any struggles writing this new music compared to the old material?

RM: The most difficult thing was the same situation as being on the road – these two guys are in the States and we're here so writing music is not as easy as it would be if you meet three times a week and rehearse.

MVS: What we do in order to create the vibe of the band is we all develop ideas and send them back and forth. We have bare skeletons as tracks and we come together as a band and lock ourselves in for ten or fourteen days and that becomes our job, just eight hours days banging out tracks in the rehearsal room. If you take all those hours that we cram into fourteen days, it translates into six months of a regular band's rehearsals, twice a month or whatever they do. We definitely always come together as a band and write as a band; everyone is involved in the creative process but I still need riffs and drum beats next to vocal lines so it doesn't matter if I get a track off Matthias and Ray – guitars and drums, I still need that. We all have to do a little bit more homework but any bigger band, like Metallica, they don't all live together so they have to do little projects and the album is a project. That's what we do. It's quite challenging with two continents but we manage our way around it. 

You made a video for the title track of 'Fire And Damnation'. Why did you choose this song?

MVS: We think it's a slamming song. It's ripping. It was our first video clip ever so we wanted to have a really strong song with some cool imagery and set the bar real high.

RM: When we wrote that song in the recording studio, we were all like "Wow, that's it." He [Mem von Stein] decided to say this is going to be the title track of the new record, before there were lyrics.

MVS: Exactly.

TS: That was the first one we ever did, or one of the first ones.

MVS: We did that and that set the bar. With the intro of the song, I knew right away.


Why did you choose Sao Paolo to record in?

MVS: We have a history with Brazil. We were one of the first European bands to domestically get released on records. We were one of the first European bands to play Brazil. I think prior to us, there was Venom and Iron Maiden from metal. We figured after being away for so long, we were going to elicit a good reaction and draw a strong crowd. That night was fucking amazing and we had a feeling it would be like that so we decided to shoot a video. The audience was insane, like oh my god! You don't get that every night but that's what you want to emulate. Our shows are like that. We try our best. 

Thrash metal has had a revival since you broke up. There are so many new younger bands. How do you feel about this new wave of bands coming through?

MVS: It's great.

TS: It keeps the thing going. We'll never lose out because we were one of the originals in there. It's all good.

MVS: It's a mutually beneficial relationship. They draw inspiration from us but then they bring the younger crowd to listen to us. It's the same thing; we were young guys dabbling in Metallica but they were only three or four years older than us but it's the same idea. We went to our friends and said this sounds great and it's the same spirit. We're honoured to see people with our mascot running around, tattooed on their bodies – tonnes of tattoos. It's a humbling experience. I get a tattoo pic once a week on Facebook. I actually got a message from a guy who's got an Exumer tattoo of our mascot and a 'Bonded By Blood' tattoo from Exodus and he's coming to the show in Bergen in Norway. He asked on Facebook if he could meet us and show us his tattoo. I was like "Yeah!" 

How do you think the thrash metal scene is now compared to the '80s?

TS: It's tough. I grew up in the '80s but it was so new. Now, I'm sure if you're sixteen, it's the same sensation. It's the same thing as me in the '80s seeing Led Zeppelin and that's only going back [to their peak] ten years ago. So maybe they're just as excited as we were. But [thrash metal] was magical back then. It was really new.

MVS: I think all these advances like the Internet and all that is awesome but Tony and I always say the same thing. Sometimes it's good not to know what your favourite guy is doing.

TS: You get desensitised to the whole thing.

MVS: You get an instant update about XYZ musician the minute he does something. That's not a lot of myth.

TS: I think vinyl is coming back to and to me, there's a thing of holding something and making up what it means to you. Nowadays, they're telling you. I still stare at the back of records and I read everything and I sit there like a kid. The magic is lost now a little bit. 

Do you listen to any new metal bands that you bring in an influence into Exumer?

MSV: Not really.

TS: Not consciously. I think we still pull from the old soup.

RM: We listen to different styles every day but not to bring into it. 

What music do you listen to outside of metal?

TS: You know, everything. Everything good. If it's good, it's good.

MVS: Right now, for instance, I have a tonne of stuff from Britain from the Rise Above label. I pretty much buy almost all of their releases and then I listen to the soundtrack of 'Boogie Nights'. Then I'll listen to some crazy grinding Australian insanity, black metal, weird, anything that has a vibe. To discriminate is stupid; you're just limiting yourself.

TS: How developed can you be if you just listen to one thing? Inspiration doesn't necessarily mean it has to have a direct link, like a riff. You can be inspired by something that has nothing to do with what you come out with. You can write that riff based on something that's not even connected, at least me. 

What are Exumer's future plans? Is there a new album in the pipeline?

RM: Yes, that's what we're planning on doing actually.

MVS: Actually this year, we're going to play the rest of this tour and maybe a couple more shows, then we want to focus on writing and recording. Basically, record labels like bands to release in a two year cycle and we said we weren't going to just release anything and they were cool with that. We said we would deliver a record that would be released in 2015 so we would have a three year cycle. For twenty five years, there was no record so they can wait three years [laughs]. We're lucky we can negotiate to our advantage. It's because we're in that place and we're not reliant on records coming out and we go on tour. We try to keep the band as mysterious as possible by not playing six or eight months out of the year. If a good opportunity comes along then obviously we would but if it's just some random tour then we won't. 

Any final words?

MVS: Thanks for coming out for us. 

Thank you for making it in spite of all the craziness that has followed this tour.

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article by: Elena Francis

published: 11/03/2014 09:58

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