Let’s start with, for those who don’t know much about you, how did the band come together?
Maschuw: It started in 2010, when Jens and I met at a rehearsal for a new Band project. We had a mutual friend, who introduced us to each other. We immediately “clicked“ and continued to play together for several years, till the former band broke up.
After that I think it was 2013, we decided to put together an EP and searched for new members, with the tracks we recorded at home. We soon realized that this project, was much more prog-driven, than the standard rock stuff we made before and we really started to like it. All this, odd time measures, quirky harmonies, were something we always had a knack for, but usually only on the listening part. So it was, and still is always something new, to make songs that aren’t the normal 4 to the floor rhythm and 4 minute radio songs with A-B-A-B song structures.
The first one we found was Chris, a drummer/guitar player (later sub on the bass and currently our touring drummer) and we recorded the first song with him, Nautilus. Which was our first real prog song. I think you can hear that this song kind a of “falls out“ of the album, because it was written first, and not by the whole band. While writing the song we also realized that the story behind the songs matters much to us. And so we continued to write proggy riffs, but we focused more on the story. It wasn’t until mid 2013 when we met Julian (Who played drums at first, but switched to the guitar later on) that we started with the writing of a full-length album.
After using the story we first wrote to establish melodies and rhythm (or guide us to melodies and rhythm) we thought that it would be great to pull off a full story, concept album, with a story first written and the music following it. We had some changes in the lineup, but after looking through some Wikipedia articles of some huge bands, I guess that is pretty common for every band. So I just jump to the present formation.
Right now we have the core Band that consist of Jens , Julian, Felice and me. Chris (former guitar player, bassist and drummer) is our live/touring drummer and will sub for us till we find someone, who is willing and able to be our man on the drums.
Did you find that losing members or having to change members, change the direction or the sound you had before they left?
Julian: I think there will always be a slight change in the sound and “chemistry” of the Band when people leave and new people come into play. Fortunately in this case this change is a rather positive one, because the new “rhythm group” – that unfortunately cannot be heard on the album – really makes us sound better and tighter than we have ever been.
Maschuw: With Felice (bass) and Chris (Drums, live drummer), we found that our sound got more compact, we played tighter as a group, but there is also new room for technicality when it comes to song writing. You can expect to hear more „dream-theatre-esque“ changes and unison melodies to be in our new songs. But there will also be more post rock spherical song parts and king crimson-like time measures.
How did you come up with the name Archonaut?
Maschuw: We were at the recoding of Nautilus, when we sat down and said: “Dudes, we really need a name”, which, for me, is the most excruciating part in forming a band. Especially in a prog band. The name shouldn’t sound too cheesy but also unique. So we searched for a name, and surprisingly found one, in a few minutes. After some heavy google-checking we found out that Archonaut is not only a kick-ass prog rock name, but also a pretty sweet play on words too. You got your everyday Archon (let’s say that this means leader of some kind or the first, it’s not like I study history right? (He does) and „Naut“ which translates from Greek to seafarer, but originally just meant “someone that controls a vehicle“. So you could say Archonaut means “he who controls the mighty”, or “lord of lords”. We also found a translation that could mean “first of the wanderers“ which, in my opinion, feels like the right translation. So I’m going with that.
It’s pretty cool to hear the way you came about the name and how it ties into your concept for the album. Is this theme going to be carried out in your live shows and other records to come?
Maschuw: We are currently working on a live show, figuring out how we can transport the narrative feeling of our album into a live experience. This is, sadly, more difficult than we first expected it to be. Since we aren’t a band that plays big venues right now, we have to deal with the small club feeling, which generally, contradicts the atmosphere of an epic rock show. But we’re working on it. The meaning itself, Archonaut, wont play a big role in our shows. I think we will be more focused on the feeling and atmosphere of the specific album we are currently playing, since we will always play the current album in its entirety (there will be gigs, like festival sets where we wont be able to do that, obviously). So when we are able to afford some stage props, you can expect to see a stage that is set in the mood of the current story we are playing (like Genesis did in the 70’s). With Jens, a singer that is also an actor, we also have the possibility to act out our stories. But we will have to see how that works out. It can seem extremely pretentious, which is always a big problem when playing pro, and we don’t want to drown in pomp and overacting on stage. There is a fine line between showmanship and Broadway-musical kitsch, we have yet to figure out.
Interesting. But once you establish that, you will have to continue it going forward with the music you produce and the stories you tell. It seems to be the type of evolution that you and the band’s music. I will see that will hep the draw for your live shows, as it did with Kiss and Alice Cooper. You pointed out Genesis, but some of the theatrics left when Peter Gabriel left. The fans will come to expect great things live.
Maschuw: One thing that really helps us, with the concept of a prop supported live show, is the fact, that we really visualized every part of the story when it came to songwriting. As much as we had a fixed scenery in mind when we wrote the notes and the lyrics, the same atmosphere will carry on into the theatrics when we start to establish them. I want our shows to be a real experience. A show you can sink into for 2 hours and enjoy every little detail. One of the negative things i hear when i tell people that we play prog is, that people tell me, that they want to just dance to music and don’t want to think about it that much. But i think the same hypnotizing feeling can be achieved with a show that just captures you for 2 hours, and at best, keeps you captured of a long time after.
My understanding is that you had put out EP prior to this album and put those song on Duchess as well, was that the initial intention?
Maschuw: We only put one song from it on the Duchess LP, which was Nautilus. We already knew that we wanted to have a story that is happening in an underwater setting, and this song was the first try on making a prog rock song. The other songs of the Nautilus EP, (Rapture and Mozaik) were songs Jens and me wrote and recorded when we were only a two man project. The Ep itself wasn’t really published though, and we originally only made it to find new members.
Julian: Right….so in the end actually, only one song of the EP ended up on Duchess. That’s Nautilus. The Nautilus EP was just a demo for us and consisted of three tracks which didn’t really have any connection since they arose from different stories written by Maschuw. Our goal for our Album was to create a concept album telling one coherent story: the story of the entity we called Duchess.
What can you tell me about the album art and why the name Duchess?
Maschuw: The Artwork is something we are really proud of. It was made by a friend of Jens, Michael Meißner, an incredibly talented and gifted Designer. My Idea, because it fits the whole plot of the story, was to just give him the lyrics, or parts of the story and just let him do his thing. After the first 3 or 4 ideas and sketches he sent us, we were so amazed by his ideas and the things he saw in the story (and later the music), and the fact that it almost matched the ideas and pictures I had when I wrote it, that we just let him continue doing the artworks. The final Artworks you can see on the website and the album are for me, one of the finest things I’ve ever seen, hands down. I love them.
Ah well, Duchess. I first wanted to name our protagonist “Baroness“ but there is already this sweet sludge-prog band that thought of the name first, so we switched to the next thing which was Duchess. It also has a nice sound when saying it. It sounds austere and yet devious, which is exactly the kind of person I wanted our Duchess to be. Try it. Say “Duchess“ with the attitude of the snake „Kha“ from the jungle book. You get it now?
I wanted our Duchess to have a certain kind of power, but to be a queen or a princess, was far too easy and also too powerful, because the story focuses heavily on the aspect of growth and evolution of one’s self, and I think in terms of medieval lordship, the “Duchess“ pretty perfectly represents the rank of our protagonist.
I do think Duchess rolls off the tongue with a kind of an authority type of attitude. I get why you like it. I am impressed that you put all this effort in the concept from the name, to the art to the music to make this package together. I can see the Duchess being your “Eddie” from Iron Maiden. Has that been something you thought about?
Jens: Not really. Of course, we grew a custom to the figure „Duchess“, and she will reappear in albums and stories that are yet to come (like little cameo appearances), but she wasn’t constructed as an omnipresent symbol. She will be our lead figure, but as soon as we got the next album/story out, she wont be in the focus anymore.
Maschuw: Right now we got the baseline of a big story written out. As of now it could be a huge two CD Album divided into two parts, released separately, and the duchess already got a spot in this story. So if you like her as much as we do, fear naught, she will return.
Speaking of the new CD, Most artists open their albums with a song that sets tone for the album. Not Saying that The Cavern Of Many Beings doesn’t, but an opener that’s 12 minutes long, was a bit of surprise. How did that come about?
Maschuw: Tough question. Seriously…. We wanted to knock the listener back into their IKEA bean bags (pretty sure every prog listener got a bean bag) with that song. We wanted to make sure that everyone picks up on the “well ok I need some time and patience for this record“ vibe, when listening to it the first time. We all know that this song is pretty hard to get used to (believe us, this is the opener of our live set too. A real son of a bitch to play), but I think it is also a very rewarding listening experience. It also is, in terms of storytelling the birth of our main character, which is not an easy/short one. So it fits the story quiet perfectly.
I like the idea of knocking them back to their IKEA bean bags. Well it definitely puts you in the thick of things on the album and gets you wondering what to expect on the rest of it, at first listen. The best thing, to your point it maintains a vibe about throughout the record. I mean you fall back in the bean bag once Ark kicks in. The album gives you almost an hour’s worth fo music for 8 songs, quite the deception at first glance. One would think 8 songs would be less than a half hour. Because you put so much thought into the whole concept, I’m guessing you had extra songs that you didn’t put on it. Will we be seeing them as a bonus of some kind or Duchess part 2?
Julian: I’m actually almost finished with writing a song called “Cavern Part II” or “Duches II” which picks up all the themes of “Cavern of many beings” and makes it a related, but still different song. I don’t think we will ever put in on an album though, maybe just play it live.
Maschuw: Yeah, we got all these reappearing melodies, that one can find after the 10th listening (like the “don’t waste your time outro of Ark, that is brought back in the chorus of “March“, to name an obvious one. Of course we have some spare material or ideas, where we were thinking, “wouldn’t it be great to have that lick in a clean, non overdriven part?“. We talked about playing specific encores that wrap up the store we played and pick up certain parts. But this will be songs you only can hear at live shows. Gotta’ keep a little mystery to the songs, and I always loved songs, that you can only experience live or on bootlegs.
Mystery and songs that you can only here live, but are part of the overall theme of the album or show. That is unique. I know Ted Nugent did Great White Buffalo in that vein (only live, initially). Some bands do a cover song. But, you are taking it to a different level. What inspired you do come up with that? Will you also take that concept to videos when you start to do them as well?
Maschuw: Im a big fan of hidden secrets and Easter eggs in any form of art, be it music, film or video games (i have to say paintings too, because my girlfriend, a painter, will castrate me if i leave that out, but take video games into account).
If you have a closer listen to duchess there are countless hidden things, from melodies to lyrical hints at what actually happens. In fact we had a discussion, if whether or not we just print the story and hand it out, but we decided to say: „let the listener figure it out themselves“, Because a story can be much more, when not told but shown as quick snapshots of events like we did in the songs. Some things can only be understood when you try to figure out the lyrics and the music as a whole. (Lets make a little game out of it. Whoever gets the story and writes us a quick rundown, gets a full merchandize package, with posters a shirt the cd etc.). This will carry over to the videos as well. We are pretty lucky to have a singer who’s also an actor and director, besides being a kick ass vocalist and stage performer. I think our intention is, to find a trinity of understanding between lyrics, music and visuals (stage props, artworks and videos).
How does the band go about writing songs, is one person or the whole group?
Julian: The procedure is almost the same every time: One of us has an initial idea/riff/part or maybe even a complete song written and brings it to a rehearsal. We listen to it together, jam to it and decide which parts to take, which ones to “throw away” and little by little a real song comes to existence. For example our opener Cavern Of Many Beings or the 4th song Siren consist of many different parts written by Maschuw and me. At first Jens mostly sings a kind of “gibberish”, the melody and amount of syllables is already pretty much carved in stone though after a few rehearsals.
Then Maschuw picks up on the lyrics and brings them to the next rehearsal. We all finish them together (this is especially important because Maschuw writes lyrics like a novelist would do, and not like a singer, so sometimes he sacrifices “singability“ for the prosody of word), and rearrange them after the whole concept album is done. The first story Duchess was written by Maschuw but edited by the whole band. So there is almost never a song that it written by only one person.
Maschuw: There are songs like „promise“ which are still works of 2012 when Jens and me were a two man group (So we got a basic song and the other guy just do their stuff) , and there are songs like “The Last March Of The Swarm“ which is basically a complete team effort. I think Julian wrote the groovy verse and I did the sludgy Pre- Chorus , and the chorus line. When it comes to bass and drums we usually let the rhythm group work their magic, and only intervene when something isn’t as groovy as we like it to be.
When it comes to singing Jens comes up with at least 95% of his melodies, a thing that I admire the most in him. He always has a feeling for a melody that sounds unique and almost never cheesy (We can live with a little bit of cheesiness though).
There are also songs like Ark. I wrote all the song parts alone, but I didn’t arrange the drums the bass, the lyrics or the second guitar. Every member usually has full creative freedom over his parts, and we are pretty happy with the way this works out. I’m not a big fan of the whole “I wrote this song alone“ attitude, because, as I said with Ark, without the guys this song would be a soulless skeleton of a song and I’m pretty sure that I never would have picked it up again if it weren’t for one of the guys saying, “hey, we can make a song out of that“.
I think it’s a great thing when all members participate. When you have some skin in it, it makes for a whole better sound. At least it’s what I think. It comes through in your songs that you have passion about what you do and trying to convey. Will you be doing any videos to help express the concept of the songs and or the album?
Julian: Thank you very much. Well we would love to do a video for one of our Songs but – believe it or not – we are probably one of the most broke Bands around, so that will have to wait. The ideas we have are simply too expensive to pull off. We will rather take some money and re-record 2 songs with our new Line-Up and also record one or two new Songs, just to show people who we are now and what our sound is right now. With our “old” album And the new stuff we will then approach every goddamn label on this planet interested in Prog-Rock and hopefully something will happen…you never know.
Maschuw: What Julian said
Can you tell me about your live shows?
Jens: They are pretty awesome :-), no, serious now. We had the chance to play live, quiet a few times, in the past few months, and there is a really good harmony-thingy between us 5. With Felice and Chris we now got an incredible tight rhythm group, that we can always rely on. But we are still experimenting with our live shows. Some things work, and we keep them, and well, other things don’t, and we never bring them up again and hope that no one remembers them.
There are a few ideas we have, like lighting, projection and videos in the background, that are sure to come, but right now not ready to be implemented (logistically and financially). But from show to show, the whole thing grows.
Are you touring behind the album or just doing selected shows?
Julian: Right now, we just take what we can get and play every venue that has a stage for us. We just want to play live and improve as a group. It also is difficult to play with this kind of music that often, because we don’t fit into every venue. Last week we had a gig with two….let’s call them „power rock“ bands (damn, they are probably mad when i call them that. Ok lets say: „kick ass rock“). Don’t get me wrong, the crowd was great and accepted us (though it had to get used to us) , but we were kinda the wrong band for that evening, when it came to musically style and performance. Next month we got a gig with two gothic-prog metal bands. Lets see how that works out 🙂
Maschuw: One is called “schakal“ and they wear steel masks. I’m hyped as balls! They better have a guy guarding these masks or you’ll be seeing me with one of them one our next shows. I’m talking „mission impossible I.“ mask-stealing here. That’s how much I want these masks. You guys think they have laser security…? Please let them have laser security…
Well I will have to check out the “Schakal”. Well, I hope to see you live some day.I want to thank you for taking time to do this interview. I will be on the look out for the tour and any new music you may have coming out. Thanks again!
Maschuw: Thanks for this in depth interview. It was hell-a-fun to answer your questions. I hope we’ll meet again along the way.
Jens and Julian: Yeah, thanks very much. A Very in-depth and interesting interview Seth. Really cool. Take Care.
If you want to keep track of what they do, you can check out their website: http://archonaut-music.com/
Or their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Archonaut/100647020022957?fref=ts
Better yet, check out their Bandcamp page and give them a listen. You can do that here: https://archonaut.bandcamp.com
Check out Nautilus, below and tell me that doesn’t get your proggy going, not sure what will!