Many thanks to Stephan Lill, guitarist of Vanden Plas, who opens up more about the group and their musical journey, especially regarding their new album, “Chronicles of the Immortals, Netherworld II,” which released November 6, 2015 on Frontiers srl Records.
Phoenix: Vanden Plas’ collaboration with Wolfgang Hohlbein on his “Chronicles of the Immortals” series led to the creation of a stage play, “Blutnacht,” and the studio albums “Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld Parts I and II.” How did you decide to collaborate together, with this particular story, and how do you view the successful outcomes of both the play and the albums?
Stephan: Our singer Andy came in contact with Wolfgang Hohlbein. Wolfgang was looking for a band who is able to transfer one of his stories on a theatre stage. And we were honored that he could imagine that Vanden Plas is the right band for that. Now, we are happy that the rockopera and the two CD´s are a big success, but for sure you can´t expect that when you start working on a project like this.
Phoenix: Talk about the process of converting “Blutnacht” into the album versions – was it a far stretch to turn the score into studio recordings?
Stephan: Before we started the recordings we were working on the songs again, doing some new arrangements and adding some new parts to them. But on CD the songs are basically in the same version that we played at the theatre. The biggest part was maybe for Andy, as for the CD he had to sing all songs – at the theatre we obviously had different persons for all main characters.
Phoenix: You decided to release “Chronicles of the Immortals” into two separate discs to come out a year or so apart rather than releasing it as a double album with one release. What factors led you to make that decision?
Stephan: Recording and mixing 20 songs at once is a big work – especially when they are with those big arrangements we used for our rockopera. So our idea was to record and release act one of the rockopera on the first CD. That gave us enough space to focus on act 2 for the second CD in the mean time. We are glad that we did it like that.
Phoenix: Many of the themes in your music over the years, including “Chronicles of the Immortals,” are spiritually oriented, especially featuring good vs. evil. Is that a theme that the band as a whole has a shared interest in, being a quintessential archetype, or is it an individual preference that has taken precedence in the music (or both)?
Stephan: Every band has to feel comfortable with the music and the lyrics they present to the people. Both parts have to fit together very well. If you are a party band, than sing about parties. If you are interested in spiritual themes, then sing about that. Both ways are good if they fit to the image of a band. Our singer Andy is responsible for the lyrics, and I’m sure the listener believes that Andy is serious what he is singing about.
Phoenix: Now that the “Chronicles of the Immortals” saga is coming to a close with the release of the second album, have there been any ideas tossed around about what the next project might be?
Stephan: Yes. We already have new ideas for upcoming releases. But it´s too early to talk about that yet.
Phoenix: What brings you the inspirations for albums and plays, thematically and musically?
Stephan: I just can talk for myself. Sometimes I got several ideas at one day, sometimes I have weeks without any new idea. Till now I haven´t found out what is the reason for that.
Phoenix: Can you talk about the process of how, as a group, you bring a new idea to life musically for an album or the theater?
Stephan: Our way of working is more that the songwriters finish their songs before they present them to the other band members. We realised that this is the best way for Vanden Plas. Before we record them we arrange them together again at the rehearsal room. Not really special, but ok for us.
Phoenix: There was talk of “The Seraphic Clockwork” coming to the stage one day. Is that still a possibility to join the stage like its sister albums, or have things moved on from that idea?
Stephan: You´re right, we planned that before. But then we had the chance to work with Wolfgang Hohlbein, so we delayed that. If and when “The Seraphic Clockwork” will come on a theatre stage can´t be answered now. But there is no current plan for that.
Phoenix: During the last 10 years or so, Vanden Plas’ albums have been concept-based, and it obviously works well for your approach as a group (especially in connection with your musical theater involvement) in addition to being popular amongst your fanbase. Are concept albums going to be the status quo for future albums?
Stephan: I think since the beginning it was good for Andy to have a basic theme for his lyrics on our CD´s. Over the years it´s becoming more and more a concept thing, you´re right. Maybe that way Andy can work out his lyrical ideas the best way. If there will be only concept-stories on our CD´s in the future I don´t know. I don´t think there´s a certain need for that. But that also depends on our next projects.
Phoenix: As a band, Vanden Plas has a longevity little seen among bands, along with a musical synergy that continues to improve with each album. Many variables can include personal levels of musicianship, the band members’ chemistry together, and the length of time you have played together in and out of the studio – are there other things that account for the band’s tightness of sound and solidness/consistency as a group?
Stephan: Nothing special. I think to opportunities we have – playing the music we like or the engagements at several theatres – is very important for Vanden Plas. Maybe that is the secret, even it sounds very easy.
Phoenix: If you could collaborate with any guest musician on a future album, who would it be? Why?
Stephan: I´m not a big fan of these collaborations. But if for me, it would be John Sykes. He´s an unbelievable guitar player, and a great singer, too.
Phoenix: What are your current favorite albums of 2015 (or currently on your playlists)?
.5: The Gray Chapter – Slipknot
Bloodstone & Diamonds – Machine Head
Immortalized – Disturbed
Greatest Hits…So Far!!! – Pink
Scream – Ozzy Osbourne
Phoenix: Thank you so much for contributing to our interview at Lady Obscure Music Magazine, Stephan! Wishing you and Vanden Plas all the best with the new album, and in the coming years.