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Poverty's No Crime - Prog, not Punk... - November 2001

Ever since their 1995 debut "Symbiosis" POVERTY'S NO CRIME are among the most hopeful and best bands of the German Progressive Metal (even though they do not view themselves as such). But still success has eluded them until now, at least to some extent because of problems with their old label, which apparently didn't understand them as they would have hoped for. "One In A Million" now is their fourth album to date and once more features great Prog Metal, which delivers a finely wrought balance between demand and accessibility. For the first time three bandmembers met with my question...

On "One In A Million" you polished and improved your sound even further and you still set great store by using harmonic and catchy arrangements without getting lost in innumerable breaks or instrumental-parts. Even though it says on the back of the CD "File under Progressive Metal" I wonder if you still fit that category?

Volker: Did we ever fit that category? We never claimed our music to be Progressive Metal. The problem with these attributions is that you don't have a bearing on them. Somewhere down the road someone came up with that stereotype and now we have to live with the fact that we permanently get compared with bands like DREAM THEATER or VANDEN PLAS.
"One In A Million" is definitely our most mature album. This album has a soul and bears some eternal truth in itself. Sure enough there are some parallels with the above mentioned bands, but basically we always wanted to find our own style - and I think we already did get pretty close to it. It is therefore totally absurd to try to stereotype us, because we define ourselves rather as "Melodic Concept Rock" although people have even less a clue what that means.
The fact that we have a contract with a record label which almost exclusively deals with so-called "progressive" bands doesn't automatically make us one, too. But somehow that's what people expect from us. "You sounded more progressive in the past". Should I really excuse myself for advancing further and not tootle around aimlessly anymore like 10 years ago (I never said that ! - Alex).

Musically you are demanding on the one hand and catchy on the other. How important is a balance between those two "extremes" for you?

Volker: I absolutely don't consider catchiness as an extreme unless we're talking about "extreme catchiness". But seriously, no one would pose a question like this to RUSH, right?
I think we don't consider this balance as you describe it, that's pure theory, because it implies that you sense catchiness and demand as extremes. To me catchiness doesn't mean lack of innovation or to be compository simple, it is rather the ability not to block the flow of a song by straining your musical playing skills. In the past we thought you'd just have to add all the good ideas - basically the greater the sum of good fragments the better the song. Recently we have been accused of becoming more mainstream compatible and would try to go after the commercial success. All I can say: this is absurd. Should we ever have had that in mind we would sound totally different. We always only did what we wanted to do.

How would you describe your stile to someone who has absolutely no idea about what POVERTY'S NO CRIME might sound like?

Marco: We set high value on good melodies and atmosphere. If you never ever heard something from P.N.C. before I would recommend listening to "Access Denied" from "Slave To Mind". There are lots of elements of our sound incorporated. Heavy grooves, melodic vocals, catchy refrain and sumptuously arranged parts. It is important to take some time listening to the songs, maybe risk an eye on the lyrics which are also very important. Have fun on your expedition.

Are there any musical boundaries which you would never cross with POVERTY'S NO CRIME?

Marco: In principle we are open for a lot of musical stiles just because of the different musical taste of all the band members. This reaches from Bela Bartok, through Blues/Rock to Death Metal. Everybody contributes his own influences as long as they fit the concept of P.N.C.. You will never find Death Metal-vocals or Punk-songs on a P.N.C.-CD though, it just wouldn't fit.

Something that strikes out as positive every time I listen to your songs is Volker's smooth sounding vocals which definitively leaves it's mark on your compositions….

Volker: What should I say. I'm happy that you like them. The vocals are always formative for a band and should always be recognizable, because it is this part of the music the listener can identify himself with immediately.

As a bonus track you will find the RUSH cover song "Distant Early Warning" on the CD. This has been rarely used as a cover song. Why did you choose RUSH and how did you approach this song?

Andreas: We covered this song already at the beginning of P.N.C., but the old version wasn't that great. In the run-up of the production Inside Out Music asked us if we might have something for a bonus track because they wanted to release the first edition as a limited edition. None of our own song material was left since we had used it all up and so we thought about which song we might cover. Somehow we ended up with "Distant Early Warning", because each one of us knew the song and still knew how to play it.

To what extent is this a bonus track? It is written on the back, but does it have something to do with the cardboard CD box or what's the deal?

Andreas: Only the first limited edition will have the bonus track and the cardboard box.

What are the songs on "One In A Million" about? Could you give us a few words about each song?

Volker: "One In A Million" is about the problem of finding yourself within our society. The album should pose the question on which role each and every individual plays within the society and if you are even able live with this role. All the songs somehow deal with the problems and fears of an average person. In chronological order we follow this person on his search what he already thought of as being lost - the faith in yourself with the first song "The Stolen Eye".
Song by song we see how far he came from his ideals. The points of his self-experience starts with "Ancient Lies" - the doubt on religious dogmas and ancient moral concepts leading to the realisation that individuality and autonomy have been replaced by conformation with the masses in "Incognito". "Just A Dream" is about memories from childhood with all the spontaneity, light-heartedness and curiosity. "The Stranger Within" deals with the experience of being misused by someone who you thought of as a friend. This leads to even more mistrust and the attempt of hiding your weakness and vulnerability behing a "Mask". "Open To Attack" means being vulnerable or assailable.
The change comes with "Point Of View": It turns out that it is actually worth having your own opinion and to show it and stand for it, for example not thinking like everybody else, even if it apparently might lead to more problems.
At the end "Dare To Fly" describes the loss of a loved one and basically shows you how short your own life is and how important to go your own way, independently and with trust in yourself.

Should the title express something special? Do you regard yourselves also as "one in a million"?

Volker: Everybody has to decide over and over again: conformation or individuality - which way should I go?
Do you follow or do you go off the beaten path by setting counterpoints and running the risk of becoming unpopular or even being excluded from the mainstream. Do you want to be authentic or rather go with the flood under the banner "just don't stand out".
Looking at it objectively we're just one in a million bands, but we always tried to sound different and to create our own sound (And you succeeded in it! Alex) By the way, some people totally got the wrong impression as we were trying to say that this album is the best one in a million…

The cover is rather interesting. Should it represent the gray masses where one stands out?

Volker: ...not standing out, but disappearing in the masses. The individual as a recurring part of the sum of people, whose face turns out to be a mask behind which everyone feels, thinks and does the same. The eyes are empty, orientation is performed by something like an "Ueber-Eye" whose meaning isn't defined any further. All go for the same goal without knowing what the goal really is. The individual as cog in the works - whoever won't follow will be excluded.
The cover should hold up a mirror for us, it should make us think - a warning against boredom, indifference and blind followers. It's an invitation fro everybody to scrutinize things and to be ready to go against the flood.

What about live performances. Can we still hope for a tour with the album?

Andreas: Unfortunately we can't live from the music so we all have to do our regular jobs or finish university. Our keyboarder Jörg for example is a teacher and Marco is about to take his final exams. This makes a tour at the moment very unlikely, but should an interesting offer come up we would certainly try to do it. Another problem is that it's very expensive to be on tour with some of the big acts like DREAM THEATER. You have to pay a high share on their costs plus your own expenses. That's something we can't afford given our record sales... We will definitively play some single shows like the Prog Power Festival in Baarlo (NL) on the 10th of October or at the Westfalenfestival in Dortmund on the 7th.

There have been some changes in regard to the band members before "One In A Million". Who, how, why?

Andreas: The bass-player Ian and the keyboarder Marcello left the band. Ian told us already a year after the release of "Slave To The Mind" that he would leave the band no later than the recordings of the next album. The reason was probably the lacking perspective since we still haven't sold as many albums as we would like. In addition, his goal was to be able to live from the music alone and he's trying to get there by playing with a Top 40-Dance-band. Marcello's decision to leave the band also didn't come as a surprise. Within the last 2-3 years he started retracting himself from the band based on his lacking interest in the music and PNC. Fortunately we found a new keyboarder a few weeks before the recording sessions in Jörg Springub. He's rather new to the "scene" and so far has played with Jazz-Rock bands and in musicals. Our new bass player Heiko Spaarmann used to play for the Techno Death-band THORN.

Are there other bands or projects besides POVERTY'S NO CRIME you guys are involved in?

Andreas: I once tried to get my foot into the door of the music scene in Hanover and played with different bands and projects for a short period of time. I had to realize though that this happened on the expenses of PNC and eventually we didn't get anything going with any of the other bands. None of the other guys from PNC works with other projects.

What was the reason back then to play "Progressive Rock/Metal". Could you imagine playing a different stile of music to realize your musical and lyrical ideas?

Volker: The end of the eighties, beginning of the nineties was a strange time. All the cool guys listened to Metal, but at the same time made fun out of the haircuts and posing. We also wanted to play Metal, but different from the others. Fortunately every band member had other musical preferences besides Metal like RUSH or PINK FLOYD which all influenced the song writing.
A different stile for PNC? Difficult - but certainly possible. The thing is that after time you learned certain musical skills and you want to perfect them. Basically every artist is in search for fidelity, for the perfect realisation of his/her idea. But Rock/Metal is a damn great musical language, because it gives you the opportunity to express power and softness in such extremes. I have not found this in any other musical direction.

Your label mates VANDEN PLAS are very successful in France. What about your success outside of Germany?

Marco: I'm unable to give any numbers, but our main territory is probably Germany. Nonetheless we have good responses from other countries judging by the interviews and reviews on the internet. How this will affect sale numbers - we have to wait and see.

After releasing your second album on InsideOut, what has changed compared to T&T?

Marco: A major difference is that Inside Out is a label where people like and understand our music. That was more difficult with Noise. The A&R manager didn't know what to think about our music and no one else really seemed to care. In the meantime we produce all our records so that we save a lot of money and are able to square our accounts. Noise didn't even bother asking if we would like to work with a producer. On the other hand we have to say that we learned a lot from John McGowan (producer).
Unfortunately we don't have a distributor in Japan any more. After all we sold 4000 copies of each of the first two albums.

Finally, my traditional last question: What's your favourite question about POVERTY'S NO CRIME that you've always wanted to be asked but never were?

Marco: Can you tell me a funny PNC story?
When we started out with the band we naturally also did some cover songs. One of them was "Hallowed Be Thy Name" from IRON MAIDEN. Since this song doesn't feature keyboards our old keyboarder Marco took over the vocals. At one show in a tiny town called Twistringen (where we also do our rehearsals) I guess he envisioned himself on the great stages of the world, because at the instrumental middle-part of the song he animated the "masses" with a Dickinson like "Scream for me Long Beach"…Of course the people couldn't really follow him.


1995: Symbiosis (CD, T&T)
1996: The Autumn Years (CD, T&T)
1999: Slave To The Mind (CD, InsideOut)
2001: One In A Million (CD, InsideOut)

Alexander Melzer

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