Interview with The House of Usher by Tzina Dovve (DJ Lady Davinia)… The House Of Usher… One of Germany’s finest old-school goth acts to emerge on the dark scene over three decades ago… The House of Usher… The band give a deep insight on their early goth days to their new album ‘Holyghost’… The House Of Usher… by Tzina Dovve (DJ Lady Davinia)
Tzina: The House of Usher date way back to 1990. How and when exactly did this band come to life and what prompted you to start this music journey to begin with?
Markus: I learned about Jörg through a friend at the end of the 80s. Both of them were deeply rooted in the fantasy roleplaying scene. Nevertheless, our first meeting was, if I am right, at a Cure concert in Cologne. We felt that we were on the same level somehow and so we met more often at weekends. I had the dream of my own band, but my musical skills on guitar were extremely limited. Jörg was interested in this, however, and shared my taste in music and this dream. Because he could not play any instrument, he decided to operate the drum computer and later the microphone. First attempts we held on a small four track cassette machine. One day he visited me and told me that had already placed an advert in the German Zillo music magazine and he already had a band name at hand. So, we were more or less forced to do our first tape quickly. A bit later I met Rene, a Depeche Mode fan who wanted to learn to play guitar. So, I gave him lessons and shocked him with the fact that he would have to walk on stage in a few weeks. He had a colleague at work, Robert who played bass guitar. We met all together for the first time at the so-called ‘Lords of In- dependent’ festival in Bonn and the chemistry seemed right. And so this incredible dream slowly came to life. We dreamed of releasing our own record and playing concerts with our idols like The Mission and others. It was funny somehow and I’m not sure I believed it might come true. However, after 30 years most part has become reality.
Tzina: As l understand over the years there have been some line-up changes in the band. Who are the members of The House of Usher today?
Ralf: ‘Some’ line-up changes? There have been so many changes and guests that we could make up two complete football teams and play against ourselves! That’s nothing unusual and the ‘secret’ of being a 30 year old band who’s continuously composing, recording and playing shows. You join the band, stay for a couple of years (or decades), and maybe someday you drop out because you get ill, your interest in music vanishes, you have to raise your kids, you move away to a distant location, you take up a serious demanding job or whatever. We are not the ‘Rolling Stones’ or some famous band who live from making our music, it’s just our favourite spare time activity and although we take it kind of seriously our family and jobs come first to keep the fridge full and the heating on. If you’re ‘out of the band’ you may come back a couple of years later and rejoin again or play a single show for a band member who for whatever reason can’t attend the show. Or you play some tunes or riffs for the next album or single, even if you’re not ‘in the band’ at the moment. At the moment and during the last years I play the bass when we’re on stage. But no one of us is restricted to ‘his’ instrument. We all play more than one instrument (not really good, but good enough for Goth. This ain’t no jazz and elaborated musical skills are no good for our kind of music…) I have got guitars as well, Georg and Markus have bass guitars and keyboards at home too. Gerwin plays all kind of instruments, Jörg is very good with Cubase and everyone else is good enough with Cubase to at least record their tracks. So, if I feel I have a good guitar part to contribute even if I’m the ‘only bass player’ I record it. If our guitar players feel they have some cool bass line to contribute they record it. Do what you like if it works for the band.
Tzina: ‘The House of Usher’. One of most well-known classic horror stories in goth literature of all time. How did this name occur for the band? What is the story behind this choice of title? Can you elaborate.
Ralf: Not sure what Jörg and Markus intended back than when they chose the name. But over the years it turned out, that the band is kind of the ‘House’, where people/musicians come, live together and leave after a while, maybe to come back again later. Doors are open…
Jörg: Indeed in Poe’s novel it is the name of the house and the family at the same time. The House of Usher was one of various names we shortlisted. As far as I remember they all had something to do with horror movies. From today’s perspective the name is too long and too close minded … to become famous. But did we ever want to reach a broad public? I don’t think so.
Tzina: Your music has always had a unique style of goth melodies with some deep touching lyrics from the very beginning of your music journey. Who is the main songwriter behind these dark creations? How is a House of Usher song born? What gives you inspiration to make music and what are your main musical influences?
Jörg: The House of Usher started out probably like most bands start; in their rehearsal room. It was cold and we had to heat the stove. We came together every Saturday. Then the line-up changed and one half of us lived some hundred kilometers distanced from the rest. We had less meetings but sometimes we came together for a whole week.
Georg: In the last 15 years songs have sometimes been created in the rehearsal room, sometimes more or less finished demos come from Markus or, at the time, from Tom (O’Connell, a member from 2009 to 2013). In the meantime, we all work from home. Markus delivers basic tracks, first ideas, which are then refined into songs by Jörg. Ralf, Gerwin and I then jump in at different points within the song production adding our parts. In the end, everything is mixed and produced by Jörg.
Tzina: ‘Holyghost’, your latest album was released in December last year. Your eleventh album. How has this album been received by your fans and music press around the world so far? How content are you with the outcome of this album?
Ralf: Who’s the ‘music press’. Ah, yes, I remember: those greedy bastards who only publish your interviews or info if you buy an ad for a couple of hundred quid…
Jörg: You’re talking about mainstream press, Ralf, which is really a piss take. They tell you they are interested in your music and they make you an offer and if you don’t accept their conditions your feature is dropped because there were bands that are ‘more important’. On the other hand, there is an underground press that is not interested in such business. Like us they are independent, underground … whatever you call it. I only can say that even fans who know us for 20 or 25 years are rather glad with the new album. They say that listening to ‘Holyghost’ is like a sort of homecoming.
Georg: When you work very intensively on an album, it is always the best thing you have done so far. That’s just the way it is. Apart from that, when I was recording my tracks, I always had the feeling that something wonderful and beautiful was happening and taking shape. And well, the press and mostly our fans are all enthusiastic about ‘Holyghost’.
Tzina: ‘Holyghost’ is quite a dark and melancholy album reminiscent of other times in music. Songs from ‘When Dreams Come True’, ‘Beside You’ to ‘Invisible’ and ‘With The Eyes Of A Stranger’. Very touching melodies. What is ‘Holyghost’ all about? What does it represent for The House of Usher and what makes this album different from previous releases?
Georg: Oh that’s very easy to explain. It’s just pure magic similar to inspiration, which is also difficult to describe. It just happens, it comes over you and then something like ‘Holyghost’ comes out of it. And believe me, we used the same instruments (except for the acoustic drums, that appear for the first time on an The House of Usher album) and techniques, we had the same know-how and didn’t change our preferred beer brands as in the production of the previous album ‘Roaring Silence’.
Jörg: I’d say it has always been the melodies that were typical from us but ‘Holyghost’ is just like ‘Roaring Silence’, the result of our own musical socialization. I mean … we tried to do some things that are very atypical for The House of Usher, and what was the result? A typical album in which you find the many influences that each of us brings with them. More than former work it is about getting older and death because these are the subjects that keep us occupied. ‘Can you Tell Me?’ (ageing), ‘Summer Rain’ (dementia) and ‘God And All Of His Angels’ (death) are all examples but the sound in general seems optimistic. ‘Beside You’ is rather cheerful and ‘Rocket To The Moon’ expresses how much hope we place in our children.
Tzina: As l understand you have also released a limited deluxe edition of ‘Holyghost’ which includes wine and not only for your fans. What is the concept behind this edition of the album.
Jörg: With this limited deluxe edition (25 boxes were offered) we wanted to give our fans the opportunity to enjoy ‘Holyghost’ with all its senses.
Georg: The enclosed port wine and the port wine glass with individual engraving refers to the short story that is printed on the reverse side of the included poster (which, by the way, is also included with the purchase of just the CD). The release of the luxury edition was also due to the fact that a physical medium has no value nowadays. Everything is only streamed or saved as a file on these shitty crap smartphones as MP3s. There are fewer and fewer people who buy CDs and in order to give this supposedly anachronistic medium more value again, we have designed this edition …
Jörg: … and those who were lucky to get it agreed that it was value for money.
Tzina: A music video for the track ‘Summer Rain’ has just been released on YouTube. A video that was produced by the band yourselves with hand drawn pictures throughout the entire clip. A very different and unique concept of what music fans are used to. What is the story behind this idea of imagery? Do you plan to do more videos for songs from ‘Holyghost’?
Georg: Jörg could tell you more about it. He was the madman who made and coloured all those drawings and then animated them into 6000 photos. I was only the one who did the technical part. I took care of the colour grading, converted the photo tracks into videos and edited these video clips in sync with the music. By the way, this was done completely with open source software. And of course stay tuned for more!
Jörg: Indeed we had a lot of fun seeing this video grow and we’re planning a second one. Well, when I listened to ‘Summer Rain’ I always had these pictures in my mind … thoughts flying away like leaves, whales diving through endless oceans, the voice of a mermaid calling for me … I didn’t want to do any more band-plays-in-the-rehearsal-room or girl-wanders-over-a- graveyard-in-moonlight videos.
Ralf: I rejected being in any ‘real’ video, because I didn’t age well and prefer my 20 year old me. You don’t wanna see yourself getting old and grey, at least I don’t like it.
Jörg: You’re joking! But due to the Covid-19 pandemic we were not allowed to meet anyway. So we made the best of the situation and found our own way to express ourselves.
Tzina: The House of Usher has always been an active live band throughout their music journey with quite a number of shows under their belt. Participations in major goth festivals such as ‘Wave Gothic Treffen’ and many more..What is your most memorable experience from a live show and what do you miss most about performing?
Ralf: I miss everything about performing live, apart from the fear of being stopped by the fuzz while driving the van from the venue to the hotel 😄
For me there are way too many things memorable to decide what was the ‘most memorable’. Although many of those moments have to do with me meeting one of my musical idols. For example – just to pick one – here’s ‘English’ lessons with Wayne Hussey:
Location: the backstage loo of the ‘Mera Luna Festival’ in Germany. Me, after the show, slightly drunk, standing in front of the urinal doing business. In comes Mr. Hussey. Me: ‘Hello there’. Mr. Hussey: ‘Hello’. Me, pointing to a disgusting little slimey thing sticking to the tiles between the urinals: ‘What do you call that thing in English ?’. Mr. Hussey: ‘That’s what we call a ‘bogey’. Me: ‘Thank you’. Mr. Hussey: ‘You’re welcome’. Nice man, that Mr. Hussey. You don’t learn these words from any dictionary and I really didn’t know that word before. Related: while I was on tour with my band ‘Fallen Apart’, supporting our Australian friends ‘Ikon’ I learned that the word used by those guys Down Under for the toilet is actually ‘crapper’. I laughed so hard I almost spoiled my pants. It didn’t help much that those Aussies tried to tell me all calm that it’s actually named after ‘Thomas Crapper’, who was a London based entrepreneur who made several inventions concerning sanitary things … After laughing for several minutes, I was totally finished and exhausted and glad that happened after the show. It’s those little things that make being in a band and travelling the continent with your best mates and meeting other strange people so much fun. It would take a very long night around the camp fire to tell all these stories you encounter when you’re in a band on the road. These people you’re travelling with become your second family and the ‘adventures’ you go through become the kind of stuff you’re going to tell your grandchildren. As soon as they turn 16 or older 😄.
Georg: This cannot be specified at all. For me, it is usually the case that I no longer remember performances that have gone well. Gigs where something goes wrong, that’s what sticks. For example, at a concert in Bochum in 2011, when our drummer’s stool broke and he fell off the stage. The special thing about it was that the fall happened right on time with a break in the middle of a song. We only registered this accident when the drums stopped after the break ended. This was a sensation for us as well as for the audience.
Markus: My most memorable concert was not so long ago. We played at ‘WGT’ at ‘Felsenkeller’ and we were planned to play after ‘James Ray’ which we thought was a joke. Well, I can’t remember that we ever got so much applause. You cannot describe this feeling to be on stage and play a great show with words!
Tzina: Do you have any plans for any upcoming shows once the world finally re-opens and allows venues to come back to life and bands to walk on stage once again?
Georg: We have a request to play at a little festival in Oberhausen in July this year. But I fear that this might be cancelled. Everything is so uncertain right now and therefore making plans is futile.
Jörg: It is a pity because I think that ‘Holyghost’ is a perfect album to be presented live. Starting with ‘Lights Go Out’ we would hit the ground running with ‘Let It All Be Mine’, going on with the fantastic ‘Summer Rain’ … and so on. We hope that the situation will allow us to play soon. We don’t have high expectations regarding fees … as long as we can cover our costs we’d be glad to be on stage again.
Tzina: The year that we just left behind us has been a difficult time for us all especially musicians and artists. How much do you think this pandemic will affect the music and live industry around the world?
Ralf: First of all, I haven’t found my crystal ball yet 😄 but if I have to make an educated guess I’m afraid that some of the smaller live venues won’t make it. Live clubs have always been the nucleus of any music scene worldwide so it will be a great loss if even more will have to close down. Being a live sound engineer for more than half of my life, I know about the financial difficulties of that size of a venue, even without some friggin pandemic.
Georg: I agree with Ralf. My scenario looks very gloomy and torn. The first thing people will find is a cultural desert landscape in which nothing exists any more. In this situation they will be thirsty for culture and, like a junkie, take advantage of every opportunity and location that presents itself in order to be able to enjoy culture again. This will then be the time when many ‘Wannabees’ will come up because the professionals are all bankrupt and push the level of culture down. Content and skill won’t count and only the event in and out of itself will. If you can only fart the national anthem you can be sure that you will get a lot of attention. It will take years, like after a forest fire, until the structures and conditions are back to where they were before the pandemic.
Tzina: Having been on the goth/dark scene for over thirty years now how much do you think it has changed over these three decades? How do you view the scene in your home country today?
Ralf: Things have changed very much. Yeah, sure we tried to look and dress cool and different back then, but due to the lack of suitable online stores to satisfy little gothics needs things were limited and it was like 50% looks and 50% music. Going to ‘WGT’ nowadays it’s more like a carnival or a bizarre fashion show. Take ‘Whitby Gothic Weekend’ for example. At my first festival in Whitby there were loads of record booths and only some fashion booths. People were drinking and dancing in front of the stage. On my last visit to ‘WGW’, there was not a single record booth but sh*tloads of clothes, accessories, make-up and stuff like that. People were not dancing in front of the stage anymore but filming and holding up smartphones. It felt like for most of the audience the show was not the main thing but just an excuse to dress up and go out to show off. It has all become very much about being seen. Of course, they still were drinking. This is England after all. The Gothic scene in Germany? Is there still a scene? I don’t know… I mean I stopped clubbing years ago, but if I go to a concert or club by chance, there are always the same old people that you met 30 years ago, only older and bolder and with less hair. Looks like a dark 50+ party, ‘Goth-to-the-Grave’. Same with music. If somebody releases something ‘new’ most times it’s like I have heard it a million times before. It can be good or bad in quality but mostly I’ve heard it all before. Same with me. I’ve copied myself (and other much better bass players…) so much during the last years that I’m really looking forward to getting Alzheimer’s so that I may forget the bass riffs which I have played the last 30 years and play something ‘new’ or ‘different’… 😂 Apart from that they call us the ‘dinosaurs of german goth’. Enough said?
Tzina: There has been a surge of bands emerge on the dark scene over the last few years. From new acts to older acts making a comeback from all over the globe. Do you believe there is some sort of goth revival happening at the moment? Do you follow the scene?
Ralf: I don’t follow the scene much and maybe for that reason I can see no ‘revival’. Though there are always a couple of new good bands that appear out of nowhere but from anywhere but the Goth scene. Bands that appeal to me but that don’t look goth and don’t regard themselves as goth, just some kind of ‘alternative music’. The last time that a band blew away my mind right away from the first song was ‘Cold Showers’ at ‘WGT’ 2019. These things still happen and I’m glad they do.
Georg: Unfortunately not. Concerning the older acts that’s just some kind of nostalgia for old goth farts like us. While listening live to the songs of our heroes of the past, we turn 18 again. This has happened to me, for example, at concerts of ‘Gary Numan’ (great performance), ‘Gang of Four’ years ago (magical performance) and the German proto-industrial band ‘Kowalski’. But there are no young people there. Where would they get to know these bands? Twenty years ago at a Stranglers concert, I saw a grey-haired (grand)father with his maybe 10-year-old son or grandson showing him what he used to listen to. But unfortunately these are only exceptions.
Markus: With age you change, you become calmer and more thoughtful and live partly in your own little world. And this world then becomes music at some point. Like Ralf said, we usually only see concerts with people our age. Teenagers are rather rare. So, I don’t see any revival of the Gothic Scene, not only because some elder gods do a single show because they need some money.
Tzina: What does ‘goth’ mean to you?
Markus: It is this feeling in my heart that will accompany me til the end of life …
Ralf: For me as a now 50 year old man it means much. From 15 years old I always kind of felt like a ‘misfit’ (among others, of course), looking different, seeing things differently and speaking different. Never took shit from no-one and still not interested in mainstream society and any bad and inferior form of art, be it music, movies, performances… Though I had to make peace with the ‘normal’ people around me there are just too many to kill or ignore. Most of the time they don’t bother me and I don’t bother them. Even nowadays most of the people I deal with are some kind of grown up old Punks or Goths or Alternatives. I never found my way into many of those things ‘normal’ people do. Comes with a price as you won’t get elected for Bundeskanzler or you won’t be the CEO of your local bank branch if you live and look a little like an outsider… Always had to pick my niche when I took a job and I didn’t get rich so far…
Georg: Goth always was, is and will be subversive. We’re not mainstream. We are part of a subculture. And always keep in mind subversion comes from your mind, not from your clothes.
Tzina: Anything else you would like to share with your fans? What can they expect from The House of Usher in the near future?
Ralf: If this pandemic ever ends and you’ve survived it go out to see concerts, meet your friends and get pissed so badly that when you wake up you can’t remember anything but the fun you’ve had the day before. Life’s too short to just waste it with Netflix!