Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fury In The Slaughterhouse + Me - parts 2 & 3

When I was in Germany in 2008, I asked Thorsten what was going to happen with the members of the band after Fury packed it in. He pointed out to me that pretty much everyone was a musician and that they were probably going to keep making music, just in different forms.

The Driftland album - track it down!
Sure enough, Kai and Thorsten formed Wingenfelder:Wingenfelder (who would eventually be renamed to just Wingenfelder, despite the fact that Kai's solo album 'Alone' had also been released under the name Wingenfelder – no, that's not confusing at all), Rainer Schumann released a solo album under just his last name, Christof formed a band called Wohnraumhelden (Living Room Heroes), Christian I think started working with a charity and Gero, well, we'll get to what Gero was up to later because it's too funny to rush through. Kai also founded a record label called Burrofeliz, and he also has a Celtic-styled band called Baltic Sea Child. Thorsten also put out one solo album under the name Driftland, and one under his own name.

I have done my best to get all of the things the guys have been up to over the years. It's a bit of a challenge because of the language barrier, but I'm pretty good at finding things. I didn't know about Wohnraumhelden until after I got back, so I just recently picked their albums up, but most of the rest of the things, I've either had them imported through Amazon.DE (the German branch of Amazon) or found them on iTunes. Finding what Burrofeliz has put out has been a lot harder. I found the band Subwave early on, but only recently found another band on the label called Porno Pony. There might be other releases – I should remember to ask Kai.

A couple of years later, Kai and Thorsten joined Facebook, and lo and behold, they each sent me a friend request, which I gladly accepted. I'd been getting the Wingenfelder records imported from German, and while the lyrics were all in German, I enjoyed the songs themselves even if I had to muddle through a Google translation to understand what they were singing about.

The Furies reunited for a single show in 2013, but they made it clear that it was likely a one-off. I thought about trying to get out to Germany for the show, but the option didn't seem all that viable.

The Wingenfelder poster from Soren, and my messy desk
In 2014, Wingenfelder started crowdfunding the recording of their next album. I kicked in a chunk of change for the album, but because I was reading the entire process in translation, I made a mistake in what rewards I wanted to get. Which meant I hadn't actually signed up for a copy of the new album itself! The challenge of working through a language barrier. So I contacted the crowdfunding organizers through the site and an admin for the band, Sören, corrected the mistake for me, ensuring I would still get a copy of the new album. And Sören also offered to mail me one of the spare posters that Wingenfelder had from their acoustic tour. I mailed Kai, Thorsten and Sören each a copy of my self-published novel, “Escaping Heaven,” as my way of saying thanks.

As part of the crowd funding, the brothers sent me a postcard from the studio, which I put into my book of concert tickets. That's also where you can find the signed copy of the “Brilliant Thieves” CD sleeve as well as the backstage page from the final show. I didn't have actual ticket stubs from the Fury shows. But that's okay. Sometimes it's something even better.

Now we leap forward to 2016. In February, pictures of the band altogether again in a studio were posted to their Facebook, and it was clear something was happening. On March 9th, 2016 (although I think it was March 10th in Germany), Fury In The Slaughterhouse released a new song to Hanover's FFN radio. It was called “30 (It's Not Easy).” Thankfully, FFN broadcasts through the Internet, and since it was a Wednesday night for me, I was over at my weekly boardgame night with a bunch of my friends. When the song came on, I stepped away from the games for a few minutes, put in my headphones and listened with a huge grin on my face.

Horror of horrors, the stream cut out in the middle of the song, so I missed about a minute's worth of the three and a half minute song. And while I was annoyed that the stream had cut out, it was such a great song that I didn't mind that much. The old magic was back, even if I didn't hear all of it. That said, as soon as I got home that night, I posted to the Fury In The Slaughterhouse Facebook group, asking if anyone had recorded it on the radio to share, as I'd missed part of the song because the internet stream had dropped on me in the middle.

About twenty minutes later, after I'd gotten a fairly scratchy version from one of the fans, I got a message from Kai, and he personally sent me the mp3 for the song itself. I was ecstatic. It was a very strong return to form for the band, and I was hopeful that it wasn't going to be the last thing the band was putting out. But it was also announced that the band was going to play a 30th anniversary show in Hanover at TUI Arena in 2017. One single show. But it was only the initial spark.

Things blossomed quickly for the band after that first announcement. One show turned into two. Two shows turned into three. And when three shows in their hometown of Hanover wasn't enough, it turned into a tour. I was very interested in going to the shows, but money in the spring of 2016 was tight. People asked on the Fury page if I was coming to Germany for some of the tour, like I had back in 2008, and I said while I'd like to, I just didn't have the money needed to travel out and back.

That was when the band said they might be able to help. Things grew quiet for a while, and I just went about my day. A few months later, one plan had fallen through and another had sprung up in its place. There was a crowdfunding movement to try and raise money to get me out to Germany, and the donations came in very quickly. The Fury fanbase is even more than generous than I suspected. Best band in the world, best fans in the world.

By November, there was enough money to cover my plane tickets to and from the US, to cover the train between Frankfurt and Hanover, and to cover the housing at a hotel run by one of the donors. The trip was a go. The band would provide an all access pass for all three of the Hanover shows, and was looking forward to sitting down and talking with me around the shows. I made sure to set the time aside on my calendar.

But there was another thing that happened in between worth mentioning. In June, I got a message from Kai. The band was going to go in the studio at the end of the month to record an EP of new songs. He wanted me to take a quick look at the lyrics for the new songs to check his English, as a native speaker, if I didn't mind.

If I didn't mind.


Getting to read Fury In The Slaughterhouse lyrics before anyone else? It was a honor. For the Fury fans who are wondering, I only suggested a few minor tweaks here and there. I offered maybe five or six minor adjustments over all the songs, total. Twenty or thirty letters tops.

I also got to hear the demos for the new songs, and all of them sounded great. In fact, they were some of the strongest songs Kai had written in a long time, in my humble opinion. If I'm totally honest, I kind of wish that he'd written another six or seven songs and made a full album out of it, but hey, you take what you can get. And we as Fury fans were getting a whole lot of amazing new Fury In The Slaughterhouse songs.

Not telling anyone that I knew more songs were coming was hard, but I wanted to respect the trust the band was extending me, so I didn't mention it on the Facebook group. Eventually, though, the band posted pictures of themselves in the studio again, and so people knew something was up. But I remained quiet. My ground rule for anything the band tells me that is upcoming is that I don't tell anyone until I've seen them posting about it themselves, first and foremost. Better to be overly cautious, I figure.

RIP Sören
Towards the end of the year, right around the time the crowdfunding group was buying me plane tickets to and from Germany, the band announced the upcoming release of “30 – The Ultimate Best Of Fury In The Slaughterhouse,” a 2 CD collection of 30 songs that would include the EP with the new songs. But the songs themselves weren't announced, the titles anyway, so I kept silent about it, but I was grinning left and right.

There's a sad shade to the tail end of this chapter, unfortunately. In November of 2015, I got word from Sören that he was in the hospital, battling cancer. I never got a lot of detail about it, but he was trying chemotherapy, trying to purge the cancer from his body. He'd been one of the first people to contribute to the crowdfunding, and I was looking forward to meeting him when I got to Germany, but sadly, Sören Möller passed away on February 11th, 2017. If there's an afterlife, hopefully he's got a front row seat for the band in heaven. Thanks Sören. You are missed.

The trip to Germany itself was relatively uneventful. I flew from San Francisco to Seattle and then from Seattle to Frankfurt. On the flight up to Seattle, an Icelandic man asked if I could swap seats with him so he could sit with his wife. I was already settled, but I can understand wanting to be next to the one you're with, even if I'm single. I had hoped to sleep on the flight from Seattle to Frankfurt, but there was a child, maybe a year and a half to two years old, who spent most of the flight crying and screaming. Every time I was just about to drift off to sleep, the child would start to scream again and I would get jolted back to consciousness.

Me and Claudia
When I arrived in Frankfurt, I passed through security, and passport control asked what my final destination was. When I said 'Hanover,' they asked if I was in the country for business, but I told them I was going to Hanover for concerts, and the guy at the counter seemed surprised. Then I gathered my suitcase, headed down to the subway, took the subway over to the train station and then hopped on a train to Hildesheim. Staying awake on the train was a challenge, but if I fell asleep on the train, I'd overshoot my destination, as the train went all the way on to Berlin. So I stayed awake.

In Hildesheim, my point of contact on the ground, Claudia, was waiting for me. I'd made friends with most of the people in the Facebook group that had been set up for the crowdfunding movement, and so I knew what Claudia looked like. She welcomed me to Hildesheim, and gave me a lift to the hotel just a little bit away in Giesen. I tried to stay awake, but after just a little bit at the hotel, I headed upstairs and went to bed a little after 7 p.m. local time, and then passed out. I didn't wake up until a little after 9 a.m. the next day, a full 14 hours to get my body clock right.

Claudia was a charming host. The hotel, Hotel Ernst, is a family business, with her and her brother doing most of the management for it, it seems. I took a picture of one of the wooden rafters, where Anno 1605 was inscribed. Four hundred years and change that building's been there. Talk about history. Claudia and I spent a lot of our time talking music – both about the band itself but also about other bands. She'd spent some time in Ireland, and in fact she'd gone to a concert on Tuesday night after I'd gone to bed, a German band called Broilers. (Note: You can hear a lot of the music that Claudia recommended to me in Episode 119 of my podcast.)

For much of the trip, Claudia would also double as my translator. While most of the people associated with the band spoke pretty good English, many of the fans, people who had contributed to getting me to Germany, they often didn't speak more than a handful of words of English, so they were all happy to talk with one another and Claudia would translate for me in the breaks, so I could at least get a general idea of what people were talking about.

I posted that I was awake to my Facebook, and Kai posted that the band was just hanging around the arena for the day, doing some prep work and some media interviews, if I wanted to swing by. Of course, I wanted to spend as much time hanging out with the band as I could, so I told him that I'd be down to the arena in just a few hours. He told me that if I had any trouble getting in, I should just call Benny, their manager, and gave me his number. Of course, Kai posted it to my Facebook page publicly, but he took it down almost immediately and then sent it to me via private message. Oh, Benny, I hope you didn't accidentally get a ton of phone calls.

When I got to the arena, I got a laminate, a backstage pass marked AAA – Access All Areas – for all three of the shows, and the days surrounding it. It meant I could go anywhere, stand anywhere, as long as I didn't get in the way. I've been around an arena in advance of a show before, but it had been a good long while, not since I was a journalist in college.

Press day
It's fun to move through a space designed to hold 12,000 people when there's just 50-100 of you in the entire building. I had a blast just walking into the space, and sure enough, as soon as we're into the arena itself, Kai wanders over to say hello and greet me. He's got a little bit of time to chat before the press shows up, and he's happy to spend some time talking with me about the music industry, about what the band's up to, and a bit about politics.

Politics isn't an uncommon topic of conversation for the entire trip, but I don't mind. I'm in agreement with everyone – I don't really understand what's happened in the US right now, how Trump could possibly have won the election, and how so many people identify with this misogynist, racist asshole. As soon as I tell people how anti-Trump I am, there's always this sigh of relief, as if to say 'oh good, you're one of the sane ones,' and then I get to hear a bit of how the politics of hate is threatening Germany as well.

I also spend a bit of Wednesday talking with Thorsten, who's in good spirits as well. It's a good omen that the brothers are all smiles, even though they're spending part of the day talking to press. I don't see the whole band around – it's just Kai, Thorsten and Rainer, although I do hear that Christof is off doing interviews nearby. There isn't a ton going on today, but it's nice to spend a bit of time chatting with Kai and Thorsten. Tomorrow they tell me will be soundcheck and light testing, if I want to come by, and I tell the guys I'm down for everything, and anything that they invite me to, I will definitely show up for.

Me & Thorsten at soundcheck. Courtesy of Olaf Gebert
Thorsten's getting a bit of a late lunch (or maybe an early dinner) and we talk for a bit about the Driftland album, his solo album and why almost all the Wingenfelder stuff is in German. (The exception is part of 'Off the Record.') He tells me he'd been a good ways into making a second Driftland album when he decided he wasn't feeling a connection to the material, and so he rewrote all the songs to be in German, which became his 360 Degrees Heimat album under his own name.

I told him that part of the reason that I felt like Fury's music, and the Driftland album as well, were so insightful was that they come at English from an unexpected angle, a direction that a native speaker wouldn't necessarily think of. There's a certain insight you get when looking at something you aren't as comfortable with, when something hasn't been ingrained in you as to become reflexive. I tell him that I hope we keep getting more English works from all of the guys, be it as part of Fury or part of Wingenfelder. He tells me he can't make any promises, but my comments about coming at English from a new angle, like Picasso deciding to make a new kind of art, is something for him to definitely think about. He also found it hilarious that I still remembered old Fury songs, like “Anthem of the Hansom Ransom,” which is off "Hookah Hey," the third Fury album, and wanted to ask if it was partially true, and indeed, it was. It was clear from the grin on his face that he hadn't thought about that song in a long, long time.

Claudia and I headed back to the hotel where I grabbed dinner down in the restaurant attached to the hotel. I was happy to take a seat at the bar and watch people coming and going while I eat.

On the way over to Germany, while I was in the Seattle airport, I called my cell provider and asked what it would cost to have internet access while I was over in Germany, and they quoted me a price. A ridiculous, silly, exorbitant price. So I decided I would just stick to WiFi while I was over there, and at first, the hotel was the only place I had internet access, so I was checking email and posting to Facebook while I was at the bar.

One thing I did notice over dinner, however, was this strange concoction – a glass half filled with beer and half filled with Coke. Apparently it's a thing in Germany. They call it diesel. They also have a similar thing called spezi, which is half Coke and half Fanta. Apparently there's actually a bottled version of it called Mezzo Mix, but getting it mixed fresh is better. I developed a taste for spezi while I was in Germany last time, but you can get a close approximation to it here in the states with Orange Coke from the Coke Freestyle machines. It's not the same, though. I didn't feel bold enough to try diesel. I know it's sacrilegious, but I'm not really a beer drinker.

"Dolly" and me, at breakfast
Thursday was soundcheck day. Thorsten had told me they were starting up at around 2, so we headed over a bit before that. Before that, though, I got to meet Dolly. Eberhard “Dolly” Doleczik was the crowdfunding program's link to the band. I got the impression that he's an old friend of Kai's, and everyone in the band seemed to know him, and talked about him fondly. Dolly was in the army for a while, and has both of his motorcycles detailed with Fury related images. His English isn't spectacular, but it's certainly better than my German.

The soundcheck was fun. I was still getting used to just being able to walk into the back door of Tui arena, but the laminate definitely granted me access. Before I'd gotten the pass, I'd had to wait outside of the gate, not even able to enter the parking lot until we called Benny and they gave us permission to come up to the door itself and get the pass, but now the guy at the gate just saw the laminate and gave me a little wave. I stopped and chatted with him a couple of times over the week, although his English was hit and miss, but he was friendly enough.

When I got there, they were about an hour from starting, and I had a bit of time to talk with Kai again. He gave me one of the first copies of the new Ultimate 30 Special Edition, taking a minute to get all the members of the band to autograph it for me. They were still doing some final tweaks to the show, so they were going to run through a bunch of the songs for soundcheck, maybe half of each song, just so they were comfortable with it.

After Kai gives me the CD, he has some things to review before soundcheck, so he heads off, and a little bit later, I see Gero walking through the arena, taking pictures of the stage. I barely talked to Gero when I met the band in 2008. I knew he played a bunch of instruments, but he'd also been the most off-the-radar since they'd packed it in back then. He also recognized me immediately, and wandered over to say hi.

This time I got a chance to ask a question that had been bugging me for a long time. Fury's album “Brilliant Thieves” opens with the song “Bring Me Home,” but before it, there's a track called “Intro” (which isn't in the above video for the song) that the liner notes said was performed by Gero Drnek, and was from his upcoming solo album. For years, I've been looking to try and find any trace of that album, all to no avail. But now I could ask Gero all about it. I'd been nervous about talking to Gero before. Hell, I'd been nervous about talking to all of the band back in 2008, but in the intervening years, I'd gained a lot more confidence, and talking with Kai a bit the year before had helped me with that. I wanted each of the band members to deal with me on their comfort level. If they wanted to talk a little, I'd stay out of their way. If they wanted to talk a little more than a little, well, I'd happily talk with them as much as they felt comfortable with.

Gero at soundcheck
Gero, as charming as he is, is happy to talk. A lot. And he's a great conversationalist.

As it turns out, Gero never released that solo album. “All of my friends would love for me to,” he told me with a smile on his face, “just so they could talk badly about it.” I ask what he's been up to since the band went on hiatus and the first thing that he tells me is that he's been happily at home, cooking. That he's replaced his love of music with his love of cooking. I'm still not entirely sure how much he was kidding and how much he was being serious. He's sly like that.

I mention that I'm surprised with all the instruments he can play that he wasn't constantly busy with other musical projects. I know he played with a few of the other guys with a Hanover musician named Kuersche on a few live albums, but other than that, he's been completely off the radar. “Nobody called me,” he sniffed, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Some of my friends thought I must be busy. Some of them were afraid of me, I think! So I sat at home. An unemployed musician.” I couldn't tell who was more tickled by that, him or me.

I asked Gero how it was, the band being back together again, and he seems to grin. He says the band's energy has changed, back towards what it used to be, that they feel better. It's a story I'll hear a lot over the next few days. Things are better, far better now than they used to be. And the more I hang with the band, the more I can feel the energy, the comfort. It's a bit like falling in love again with someone you haven't seen in a long time. The arguments are all in the rear view mirror and you can't even remember what you were fighting about.

They're older, wiser and when the soundcheck starts, it's easy to see they're all still enjoying each other's company. A little later, I talk to Christof for a bit, and tell him how much I loved the guitar tones in the demo for “My Personal Everest,” and he smiles a bit at that. He tells me that when they were recording the demo for that, it was the moment when it felt like they were all back where they needed to be, when they'd recaptured the old magic and everything was healed.

The band plays through parts of a bunch of numbers, and they're in good musical shape. They've shaken the rust off and I can see them playing off of one another here and there, goofing around. Having fun. And that warms my heart, more than the access, more than talking to the band, more than getting to stand behind the barricades, more than getting to sit and eat dinner with them... I'm happiest most that they're happy again.

On the satellite stage, at soundcheck
There's a point in the middle of the sound check, when the band is practicing one of their acoustic songs, and they all walk out onto the little satellite stage, and sit down, and Kai calls out to me. “Hey Cliff,” he says, then he tells me that when he wrote this particular song, “When God Goes Home,” the lyrics felt just as relevant then as they do now. 

“There are mad dogs in our governments / With dollar bills and guns in hands /Building walls then knock'em down / First destroy then buy the town / They write the book of history / With lots of blood and misery / Every page is drowned in red / Sleep well in your bed...”

You can see why they're particularly poignant now. He'll tell a variation of the same story to the crowds, in German, over the next few nights, but at the soundcheck, it feels like it's just for me.

Kai's had hip surgery not too long ago, so he heads out part way through the soundcheck, so he can rest up and be tip top for the next three nights, but the rest of the guys hang around to push through some more songs. I notice that Christof isn't smoking on stage, which sort of amazes me. The last time I saw the band, it seemed like Christof had three cigarettes going simultaneously at all times. In fact, apparently he even had the nickname “Piff Puff” for the longest time. When Thorsten comes out to chat after the soundcheck, I point out how surprised I am, and I'm told that Christof has given up smoking, mostly given up drinking, no more drugs... and now he's doing, of all things, yoga. I shit you not, I would've paid good money to see Christof doing yoga, but I know it's true because I see someone chiming in on one of his Facebook posts not long after that they were missing him at yoga class.

After all the rest of the band has taken off, Christof is still wandering around on stage with an acoustic guitar, simply enjoying the space, noodling and playing snippets of melody. When we're about to leave, I tell him how proud I am that he quit smoking, that my father smoked for half a century and I know it can be a bitch of a habit to kick. He tells me that sometimes his left hand wants to reach for a cigarette, but his right hand slaps it down, and keeps him good. But he admits it's been good for him, and I suspect it's been good for the band as well. I tell him not to stay up too late – tomorrow, they're back in front of an audience.

1 comment:

Jörn said...

Goosebumps ��