Sometimes you just feel like it is the right time. The right time to change things, to risk certain moves and to throw yourself in unknown territory. German singer/songwriter Stefan HONIG just felt like it was the exact right time. After releasing several EPs during the past years – which he recored in his own home – his upcoming longplayer Empty Orchestra is a huge step into a professional life as an artist. Recorded with several musical friends and in an own studio the album will be released via the well-respected label Haldren Pop Recordings. Just one reason why HONIG played at this years HALDERN POP FESTIVAL where we later met him for a nice little chat.
Empty Orchestra – which will be released on the 21st September – is an ambitious and musically high quality longplayer that can stick up with the big international competitors in the wide world of folk and singer/songwriter music. There aren’t many musicians in Germany who seem to have as much potential to touch the hearts and minds of people all around the globe as HONIG has. So it’s our duty to introduce you to this lovable guy, his background, his ideas and his thoughts on friendship under musicians, the folk scene and the wisdom of a certain age.
Is it true that you originally come from a metal background?
Yes, I’ve had a band with the bass player and drummer who are currently playing in my live group. It was a progressive metal band that sounded a bit like TOOL. We named ourselves COCOON – with as much O’s in it like TOOL … Wait, we even got one more which made us actually cooler then them. (laughs)
And how did the musical change to more melodic and reduced melodies arise?
Well, it happened over a certain time. This whole metal thing was a good musical direction for me when I was younger. I still like and understand the music and certain records but I took a different direction – especially since there is a lot of cliché-filled rubbish along all the good bands in this metal genre which made me took a different way. I discovered groups like BEN FOLDS FIVE or BEN HARPER and I thought ‘Well, I want to sing too, not only scream.’ I always saw myself more as a singer than a guitarist. And I once had a bad tinnitus too which was also a point where I had to change my musical preferences.
On the 21st of September you’ll release your new album “Empty Orchestra” via Haldern Pop Recordings. What can we expect from it?
It’s a record a recorded live in it’s entirety. I mean, not everything but guitars and vocals are .f.e. one-take-recordings on every song. It’s just me in front of the microphone. I went to the Czech Republic for ten days and recorded the basic versions there. Than I invited friends of mine who added their ideas and instruments to these rough constructs. Or I mailed them some files via e-mail and they recorded new sections in their home studios. And than I added even more on their parts – and, well, this is how the whole album basically came up.
You recorded these basics in an empty school building, is that true?
Well it’s not empty – it once was a school building hundred years ago in the Czech Republic. The aunt of a befriended bass player from one of my former bands still lives there on the upper floor. Her husband had a carpenter workshop in the basement which is not there anymore since a few years. We traveled there in the past with my old band, jammed, practiced and wrote new songs and stuff and it’s just a fabulous house to make music. It’s just very rustic, with old showers and a lot of tiny baby kittens running around, hedgehogs visiting the studio and stuff. It was just the first thought that came to my head when I was looking for a place to record my songs. And I was just there making music everyday. And after this a lot of friends just contributed there parts to the songs. TIM NEUHAUS for example who’s basically one of the nicest guys I know – I can’t really say anything bad about him because he’s so damn nice. (laughs) It was a good feeling to give some responsibility away to friends. But, well, in the end it’s still a HONIG album which means I have the last word which is kind of cool compared to playing in a band previously.
In the past you often performed as a solo artist – just you, your guitar and voice on a track. What’s the difference now while you’re playing with a real band?
Well, playing alone is fun ’cause you can do your own thing and get totally lost into the music sometimes without having to focus on others – but with a band you have to stick to a certain concept. And it’s also a logistical question. You can travel quite cheap without a group and play spontaneous gigs or support every band – quite often concert promoters just want one guy who’s playing with a guitar in front of the people. And that gave me a lot of opportunities at the beginning of the year I must admit. I even played a gig with KASABIAN which was really a strange but good experience. But I’m enjoying the gigs with the band, I love the full sound and energy despite the logistic efforts. After being very quiet in the past years it’s a nice change sounding more like a rock band again. I even found a new form of voice, this belling sound it now sometimes makes – I didn’t do this that much when I was playing acoustic shows.
Before that you were working as kindergarten teacher – so when exactly did you decide to leave this job behind and try a more risky one in the music business?
It’s a decision that came partly with my age. I’m 33 now and I think – well, without sounding to idealistic – that it is wrong to constantly think in terms of security and comfortness in the form of job, money and stuff. It might work for some people, but it ain’t for me. I’m not afraid to get stranded somewhere or sometimes in the future as I got plenty of friends who will catch me. And I got no special relationship towards money – I need it for doing my music but for nothing else. The whole decision was some sort of logical consequence at a point in my life where it made sense. I received great feedback, already hat a base of friends and fans – so I said ‘Now or never’. In the end it was some sort of relief.
In Germany there are currently a lot of young male musicians who try to bring the traditional singer/songwriter idea into a more pop orientated context by using there native language. You’ve chosen English. Why?
It was not as a reaction towards this trend. I’ve always sang in English, even when I was still playing in my hardcore band. For me, this is the language of music – I like the humor within the language and possibility to express certain words. I’m reading books and watching movies in English since about ten years – it’s just my opportunity to act, speak and think in a total way of freedom I can’t do in German. In my opinion it doesn’t really work out for many artists – except a few ones like GYSBERT ZU KNYPHAUSEN who is really an impressive lyricist.
So you got no ambitions in recording German songs?
Well, aside of that German trend – you can clearly notice a bigger interest of the whole world in traditional folk- or singer/songwriter music with all the big success people like BON IVER or WILLIAM FITZSIMMONS got. Can you explain that?
Well, I think it’s probably a bit because it is music you can do without much effort. I organized a lot of concerts in my hometown Düsseldorf, also living room concerts and stuff. You can do such gigs with a minimum of work or costs. A lot of ‘real’ bands with a certain amount of musicians and instruments have trouble to find gigs when they aren’t that famous. It’s easier when your concept is more reduced. So, a lot of people took this opportunity which helped creating a certain network – especially here in Germany – where you’re automatically running into the same people again and again. Plenty of passion and cool people are involved in this scene which helps a lot. It’s more viral and logistically better – well, next to punk bands who play every way and just don’t give a fuck about anything. (laughs)
Are there certain artists from this genre you appreciate a lot?
I’m basically appreciating the people I know and I’ve met in the past. HELLO PIEDPAPER from Cologne for example, JONAS DAVID from Wuppertal who’s also part of my live band. THE BLACK ATLANTIC are also nice, we’ve toured with them. ENTERTAINMENT FOR THE BRAINDEAD – who’s also part of my live group makes great things with the help of loop stations and stuff. Well, a lot of great artists I can really recommend you. I might forgot a lot of them. (laugh)
Final question: what does ‘hope’ and ‘passion’ mean to you?
Passion is extremely important for me and the music I made. And I would change the world ‘hope’ with the word ‘optimism’ as I think it’s an essential part of it. What can I say, my biggest dreams already came true by playing here, recording these songs and share them with everyone. I’m just truly thankful – and pretty relaxed. (laughs)
acoustic / folk
from Düsseldorf, Germany