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THE METAL OBSERVER - Interview - VANILLA REX - Online Jan 2006

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Vanilla Rex - High quality music at dumping prices (Klaus Schwenzner) - Online Jan 2006

Hello Klaus! With your new album "Parallel Worlds" you've improved quite notably and delivered a quality Prog Metal CD. On that, I'd like to congratulate you!

Many thanks. We really seem to have struck the right spot, as the reviews of the album happily all are very positive.


Last year, you already released an appetizer in the shape of "Shadows Of Insanity", that left us with both quite high expectations and a hunger for more. Were the other songs, which can now be found on "Parallel Worlds", already done by that point or have you been writing in the meantime?

Part yes and part no. We're more or less always working on some song fragment or another. We rarely work out entire songs in one piece, but rather give the separate parts time to "grow"; that is, we first take our ideas and fragments and turn them into the finished songs later. Usually it's better to let ideas "sleep" and not use them, so you can recognize the strengths and weaknesses of every part. There are songs you might have been very enthusiastic about on Monday, but by Thursday you already don't really like them anymore, so you completely take them apart and rework them. This happened with some of the songs on the album. "Five Senses" for example used to be called "Thy Will Be Done". After the song had been recorded I suddenly really didn't like it anymore, and I can't even really say why -- it was this gut feeling kind of thing. So we totally reworked it, during the process of which the old title also was dropped and it became "Five Senses". During the actual recording sessions in the studio, still more things change. It happens that a whole part of a song is removed or changed altogether because someone thought of something better. Our songs are finished only when the master is created, which doesn't mean we won't dig them out at some point to work on them further -- see "Tears Of A Gargoyle".


By looking into the booklet one will notice that you work on all songs as a team. How exactly does that work? Do you simply hit the rehearsal room and work the songs out together, or is there one of you who joins the others in the studio with already finished lyrics and song ideas?

Usually our teamwork takes place in the rehearsal room. Daniel, Carsten or I have a song fragment or just a riff or a melody line and cast it before the feet of the others, in the vein of "there, have fun with that!" :) With that, the seed is sown and the song continually grows over time, until at last its basic structure is complete. At that point we do the fine tuning such as arranging it, vocal lines, choirs, special breaks and fills, and all the bells up to the solos. The song then is initially finished -- until we start recording in the studio. That usually results in another load of changes.


In my review I criticized the sound on "Parallel Worlds". It's not that it's bad, but I particularly found the volume level of the vocals, compared to the other instruments, relatively high. Was that intentional and what do you think of the production yourselves?

The sound topic always is an ambivalent one. Every person has different preferences and listening habits as well as a completely different way of listening, physically and technically. It's always a rather subjective thing, which was illustrated fairly well by "Shadows...": one guy says "great differentiated sound!" and another says "weak - undifferentiated!" So who's right? The volume level of the vocals is a matter of personal preference. One person may think the keyboards are too loud or too quiet, another doesn't like the volume level of the vocals or the guitars or the bass sound isn't each his own. As we know, you can't please everybody anyway, and if you adjust your work after such complaints you'll never get it done and/or will never be happy with what you did. As long as people complain about some aspect of our records we know they at least went to the effort of listening closely. That way, we've already achieved something: someone has absorbed our music in depth.

Sound-wise, we definitely took a step in the right direction with "Parallel Worlds". And - yes - you can say we all were satisfied with the sound in the end. It always get a little better once some time has passed! It was only the second production in our own studio, and we keep learning as well after all and the equipment gets improved, so that you can expect an once again improved sound from our next production job. We needn't meet any studio deadlines, are under no pressure of time when recording and can do what we want to, without an unasked for producer's or engineer's opinion. Additionally, 80% of so-called "self-productions" don't really deserve that name because they're being recorded in paid studios just as much as label recordings. The bigger your wallet, the more conformable your sound becomes. To me that has nothing to do with "producing something yourself" anymore.


Your sound as a whole is a little reminiscent of DREAM THEATER, "When Dream And Day Unite" era. Can you live with that comparison?

Only a year ago I would've had severe problems with that. We generally aren't too fond of these comparisons. Of course you have to categorize the music somehow, so that "novices" have an idea of what to expect. However, there's always the risk that you will be judged by these comparisons as long as you live, and at some it will limit your freedom of choice. Since this comparison keeps popping up and it really isn't a shame to be compared to the luminaries of Prog Metal, I've come to be able to live with it by now. The question is: can DREAM THEATER live with it? *ggg*


Let's talk about the lyrics. Is there a concept on the album, or does each song speak for itself? Perhaps you could give us a brief overview of the theme of each song.

The album does not contain a concept, but is a typical "album" - a collection of separate songs. The only songs which do tell  a coherent story are "Wasted Life" and "Losing", which is why they are found back to back on the Maxi. These two songs have very depressing lyrics, which talk about being left alone, of yearning and finally suicide.

But let's start at the beginning:

"Prelude (Welcome The Newborn Child)" is a short neo-classical intro. The title can be interpreted two ways. On the one hand, it describes the album as the band's "child". On the other hand, I wrote the intro for my son, who was born on October 28th 2005. I've been thinking about taking it a bit further and musically accompanying his stages of development, i.e. writing a song about every important moment in his life. Let's see if anything ever becomes of that.

"Awaken The Sphinx" deals with Egypt and the buried culture of this land.

"Losing" see above

The lyrics of "Gone With The Tide" were written based on a fairytale by Hans-Christian Andersen -- the "Little Mermaid".

"Five Senses" is a piece that has our five senses and the sensual impressions resulting from them in certain situations of our lives as its focus. All in all it's a love song.

"The Winged Serpent" is a pure fantasy song. We borrowed it from True Metal! *ggg* The winged snake, swords, prophets, the king, vengeance and the sexy female lead character.

"Wasted Life" see above

"Tears Of A Gargoyle" had originally been written after the war in former Yugoslavia. When the attack on the WTC occurred on September 11th we noticed that the lyrics about the "crying stone figures" that cannot bear the sight of the misery, the violence and the injustice in this world, fit this incident as well; hence the reworked intro with the radio messages from the United Airlines plane.


Your music is fairly progressive. How'd you come to play this style and are there any bands you count among your influences?

It developed over the years. I in particular have played with all sorts of people during the years with VANILLA REX. Every band member always influences the overall sound and the songs of a band. Because of this there has never been the decision "well! we're gonna play Prog now!" It was a systematic development. It also has to do with testing your musical limits; you begin to do things you wouldn't have thought to be possible before. When the right musicians are along for the ride, you suddenly face possibilities that were not thinkable before.

As far as the influences are concerned, you can pretty much count anything we listen to in our private lives, as good music will invariably influence musicians. Apart from DREAM THEATER, there are the solo CDs and projects of the single and former members of DT, FATES WARNING, SYMPHONY X, Prog Rock/Metal in general, DIE ÄRZTE, from METALLICA to NEVERMORE, IRON MAIDEN and so basically everything that's melodic and has something to do with Metal. Additionally, at least two of us are big fans of classical music.

What we don't really like is that sort of "almost there music" like Death, Black and other Grunting/Stringraping Metal. For me at least it's got more to do with a difficult childhood or a farm than with music. And if Mr Villain feels the need to paint his visage you can count me out entirely -- back to the asylum with you! :-P


Anyone who looks around on your homepage a little will quickly find out that you've been active since the end of the Eighties. Please give us a quick overview of the band history and tell us what you've done all these years and how you as a band have developed!

Originally we were more like a Party Metal act, like VICTORY or STEELER (D) at the time. Our first demo was received fairly well right away, and young and inexperienced as we were we signed the first contract we were offered. Lo, we had a record deal and...nothing happened. The label more or less abandoned us. After pre-production, photo sessions and a bunch of gigs the dream was over and we terminated the contract after 15 months, bringing about the first internal breach and leading to members leaving, joining etc. - the entire merry-go-round deal. Afterwards, we once again had a stable lineup in the mid to late Nineties, released new demos and played gigs. The style had mutated to a more US Metal deal à la VICIOUS RUMOURS,  RACER X etc. in the meantime, but didn't result in any lasting success. The merry-go-round continued to turn.

In early/mid 2000 Andi (vocals) joined and, a little later, Dirk (drums), and thus we finally had a stable lineup again in 2001. Technically one would have to say the band was founded in 2001, since the band as it is today has nothing to do with the pre-2001 lineups other than the name and the guitarist.

While "Genius Diary" (2000) had been recorded as a pure eight track production using a drum computer in a dirty little hole in the wall, we were able to record "Shadows..." in the new studio. With "Parallel Worlds", we have now released an album by a complete VANILLA REX lineup, which frankly we're a little proud of.


As a band, you get to experience many things together and ideally go through the best and worst of times together. Tell me, what was the nicest experience you've had as a band and what was the most negative one?

Hmmm...I think the nicest experience was seeing the appraisal "Shadows..." received in general. In half a year we essentially went from square one right into the underground, made a name for ourselves in whole Europe and established a lot of contacts. To achieve that, other bands tour their asses off every year, play at every bus stop and pay a lot of money on top of it. We have to thank everybody who goes to the trouble of spending time listening to VANILLA REX and writing something about it or recommending us to to other, i.e. you, the interviewer as well!

The most negative thing in a long while definitely was parting ways with Andi. (Note -- VANILLA REX vocalist Andi, who can be heard on "Parallel Worlds", has quit the band in the meantime.)


Are you currently looking for a record deal, or have  any such offers been extended to you?

No, we aren't. We've a few contacts here and there, but nothing definite. The problem is simple: we are looking for a label that can support us completely (i.e. financially as well) and also offers tour support. Only then will we sign a contract and enter a lasting "relationship". However, since labels today aren't interested in building up bands and working with them over longer spans of time anymore, it probably won't happen. Everything is not up for discussion, owing to the family- and job-related situation of the band members. We can produce and sell CDs on our own. Not on as large a scale maybe, but on the other hand we don't get anyone helping themselves to part of the profits and putting in their two cents on the tiniest of issues.


How are you doing in terms of playing live? Are there any gigs or perhaps a small tour planned for the new album?

We are currently planning gigs and have also received a number of inquiries concerning festivals. A tour is not an option at the moment due to our jobs and the costs involved. Andi having quit makes this more difficult too of course, but we promise that we'll take to the stage as soon as a new vocalist is found and offer you an interesting and formidable Prog Metal show!


If you could play one of the big German or international Metal festivals, which one would you choose?

Hmm...only one? That's a tough one!

Prog Power in the USA would be a dream for me.

In Germany, Bang Your Head or the Rock Hard Festival...hmmm...that's two, but we'd be so awesome during the Rock Hard Festival, Bang Your Head would book us too! *ggg*


With which band would you go on tour without hesitating?

With a worse one than us! :-P

Naah...pretty much with any band! Names like DT, SYMPHONY X or FATES WARNING would be like a dream, of course, compared to the skill and routine of which we'd probably be absolutely and totally inferior! ;-)


Which five Metal albums do, in your opinion, belong in the collection of every Metal fan?

AC/DC - Highway To Hell

METALLICA - Kill 'Em All and the Black Album


DREAM THEATER - Images And Words


If you had the chance, who would you like to have a nice little chat with the most: with the DREAM THEATER guys, Gina Wild (former porn star) or the Pope? And what would you absolutely like to ask them?

Hmmmm tough choice...DT or Gina...

I think I'd pick DT. TALKING to Gina seems silly and to be honest, the Pope does little to nothing for me. Hehehe!


Do you believe that Metal music will always continue to exist like e.g. classical music?

Yes I do think so. Musically, Metal is not far removed from Classical. Bach, Beethoven and the boys were the first Metal freaks. Just look at their hairstyles! :)

Most importantly, Metal's got a true and loyal following, which distinguishes this circle of fans from the general Top 10 charts consumer. The latter would like a new, different favourite boy band every day. It's not about the music as much (how it could be?) as it's about consumption, mass compatibility, style and trends.


Speaking of which, do you all exclusively listen to Metal or do you privately listen to other styles of music as well?

Nah, you can't eat nothing but steak. We do listen to other stuff.

I, for example, like Peter Green, Pink Floyd, various classical composers, Hendrix, some Jazz and Blues stuff and so on. As a music student and teacher, Daniel plays all day anyway. I don't think he has any time left to listen to music?! ;-)

Carsten will listen to anything that contains good keyboards and sounds. Dirk, on the other hand, is more like the typical Metalhead. He listens to stuff like LABYRINTH and bands that are part of the NWOBHM.

All of us, however, are big RAGE fans.


Is there any musical style you don't like at all?

Everything that has to do with folk music from every country of every variant. The people should listen -- not make music! They should leave that to those who know how it's done!

Folk music, country, Irish folk and similar cruelties only leaves me with two options: Seek and Destroy or Run and Hide! HEHEHEHEHE!


The Metal scene in the Middle Rhine area has been blooming again these last years. Do you keep in touch with bands like METAL INQUISITOR, RA'S DAWN or DESASTER?

Blumi of METAL INQUISTOR managed to extract my old Marshall top from me only last year. They released a pretty nice CD via Hellion recently, by the way. I once visited RA'S DAWN in their rehearsal room. Nice guys. I don't really know what these fellows do, but they seem to be a bit peculiar. We run into each other during concerts and festivals, but apart from that there's no kind of contact. And to be honest, I've never heard of DESASTER! This whole "big friendship and brotherhood of/between bands" is a fairytale anyway. When it comes to success, nobody is going to cut the others any slack and envy is the number one emotion.


We are an internet zine after all. Do you keep tabs on everything Metal via the WWW as well or do you prefer classical print magazines such as Rock Hard?

Both! I read webzines and forums just as much as I buy the Heavy Magazine and Rock Hard more or less regularly.


Let's get back to VANILLA REX. What are your plans for the near future?

Our first priority is to find a new vocalist (of either gender). After all, we want to play as many gigs and festivals as possible in order to promote "Parallel Worlds" sufficiently. Then we will continue to write new songs and prepare for a new album, which is very roughly planned for 2007.


Finally, you now have the opportunity to whet the appetite of all the Metalheads out there for your music and to praise "Parallel Worlds". Why should everybody have heard your music?

Many reviews say that it's difficult to compare our music to the bands that have already been named, as there are facets to ourselves these bands do not possess. I think we've found a good way of making playful and deep Prog Metal that still has the songs as its top priority and remains comprehensible, and also offers a healthy helping of heaviness in addition to expressive melodies.

Besides, on our homepage the CD is a mere 11,99 € including S&H! That's high quality music at dumping prices! ;-)

Consumers should get used to the fact anyway that not everything is free and, thanks to the Internet, for download, and that musicians like to be able to feed themselves. They also unfortunately have expenses they need to pay.


Thanks for answering my questions. “The Metal Observer” and I wish you all the best for your future, we're hoping for another awesome album from the VANILLA REX camp!

I thank you and everybody at “The Metal Observer” for the great work you're doing for bands and fans!


1988: Hydrophobia (Demo)

1989: Kick Ass City (Demo)

1993: Before You Die (Demo)

1994: Shit Happens! (Demo)

1999: Requiem In Red (EP, Self-production)

2000: Genius Diary (CD, Self-production)

2004: Shadows Of Insanity (EP, Self-production)

2005: Parallel Worlds (CD, Self-production)

Patrick Weiler

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