After 8 long years, the technical progressive metal legends known as Sieges Even are back with a new line-up and a new album on InsideOut America called 'The Art Of Navigating By The Stars. Surprisingly, this new release is less of a brutally technical & heavy album, and in reality a much more polished, cohesive, melodic, and progressive affair than much of their back catalog. Sea of Tranquility's Murat Batmaz spoke with Sieges Even guitarist Markus Steffen regarding their return to the music scene.
It'a an interview you don't want to miss!
SoT:Sieges Even is back after 8 long years. Even though you'd left the band a lot earlier. What were your motives for your departure?
Markus Steffan: Mainly personal reasons. Apart from that I wasn't happy with the support from our record company. Another reason was that I wanted to explore new horizons with my instrument, so I focussed mainly on the classical guitar and on learning other instruments during these years.
SoT: Did you hear those albums recorded without you on guitars? What was your impression of them?
Markus: Of course, I heard the albums. Technically, both CDs are on a very high standard - the musicianship is fantastic. I mean, what else could you expect with Alex and Oliver in the band? As for composing, this kind of music wasn't really my cup of tea. But I really appreciate the work they put into Sophisticated and Uneven, and I know there are many people out there who really like these albums.
SoT: What kind of musical projects were you involved in after you left Sieges Even?
Markus: As I mentioned before, I played a lot of guitar on my own. Then I wrote a book on the guitar, composed the score for an american short-movie called 'Turnaround' which never made its way to the theatres unfortunately. Ah, and I recorded a solo CD entitled Unsheltered Places which has almost nothing to do with the stuff we are doing with Sieges Even. But this little album was very important and personal to me. I founded a small record label (www.calamusrecords.de), to publish the CD through the internet. And yes, and I produced some local artists from the Munich area for that label, too.
SoT: I know that you reunited with the Sieges Even guys and even formed a band called Val'Paraiso which never took off the ground. Can you elaborate on it a little?
Markus: Val'Paraiso was Sieges Even under a different name. One of the first tracks we wrote under that name was 'The Lonely Views Of Condors' which is also a sequence on 'The Art Of Navigating By The Stars'. Finally, we decided to go back to our roots by using the old name again because the material we had written wasn't really that far away from Sieges Even. And this decision made things much easier for us as far as the business stuff is concerned. You know, it's hard to get in touch with labels when you're starting from zero and with a band name nobody has ever heard of.
SoT: You even recorded a demo with former Angra vocalist Andre Matos which later appeared on the new Sieges Even. Did Matos write the vocal melodies for songs like "Stigmata" or did you re-write them for Sieges Even?
Markus: Well, Andre was somehow involved in the songwriting process, but I wouldn't go so far to say that he wrote the lines. He had a lot of different projects beside LGS, so he just stopped by for 2 days and recorded the vocals. That was it. Even though he is a great musician and a really nice guy, we always sought for a singer who was really into our band, a fan of ours, if you know. And then came ArnoMenses.... And by the way, the version of 'Stigmata' that you can hear on 'Navigating' is very different to the one on the demo with André.
SoT:How did the idea to reform the band after all these years come up?
Markus: After Alex and Oliver had stopped Sieges Even, Alex called me and asked if was interested in collaborating with them again. And I was hungry to play with the guys again - I really missed that band feeling, the chemistry during the songwriting process. You know, playing classical guitar can be a very lonely business. So, we met in the rehearsing room and started writing. The first song we wrote was entitled 'Equinox' and released on the Looking-Glass-Self demo. Parts of that song are now integrated in 'Unbreakable'.
SoT: You also have a new singer now. How did you hook up with Arno and is he going to be in the permanently since he's Dutch and you guys live in Germany?
Markus: When Andre left, we placed an ad on our website a couple of years ago. Arno was the first to send in a demotape (with two Kansas cover tunes). We were overwhelmed by his voice and creativity. And Arno was a real Sieges Even-maniac knowing every record the band has ever recorded. So we invited him to Munich and we recorded our first demo together. As for Arno living in Rotterdam, it's no big problem at all. We send him the new stuff along with the lyrics and he is writing his own melodies and harmonies. And man, he is fast!!! Before concerts we meet in Germany or even in Holland to rehearse together. It really works well that way.
SoT: The Art of Navigating by the Stars is a long-form composition divided into several tracks? Why didn't you record the whole piece as a single track?
Markus: It was our intention to write an album that works as one whole song. But at the same time each sequence should work as an individual track as well. That was the challenge. I think it would have been too big a a strain to release an album of 63 minutes length without giving the listener the opportunity to jump between the sequences.
SoT: What does the repeated "The view from here is frightening" line in several tracks signify?
Markus: Well, a great deal of the lyrics have to do with fear and overcoming fear. This line is so to speak the starting point of it all. Fear can be a determinant factor in life - the challenge is to deal with it and to turn it into something positive, if possible. The sequences tell stories of succeeding and of failing in trying to overcome your fears.
SoT: Compared to the previous Sieges Even album, your new one sounds a bit softer with more emphasis on melody and various acoustic passages. Was this pre-planned or did it come about in the writing process?
Markus: You can hardly plan the process of songwriting. It has dynamics of its own. But it's obvious that today we are very focused on melodies, harmonies and the arrangement of a song. I think it's a quite natural process. I know there are some people out there who expect something different from us but we don't wanna be predictable.
The New CD - The Art of Navigating by the Stars
SoT: You've finally signed a deal with Inside Out. Were you contracted just for one release or are you going to put out other albums on the same label?
Markus: We have a deal for three CDs with Inside Out. I think Inside Out is the best label for progressive music in the whole world. You can imagine that we are extremely proud to have a deal with them. And it would be fantastic if this turned out into a long-term collaboration.
SoT: You also released a solo album a few years ago. Is it true that you have carried over some of your classical influences into the new songs?
Markus: Some of the song on 'Navigating' were entirely written on the acoustic guitar, e.g. 'Lighthouse', 'Blue Wide Open' of course. My way of playing is certainly influenced by the classical guitar - it has opened new dimensions for me, especially concerning melodies. But Sieges Even is still a rock band and I really need the power and the energy as well.
SoT: Are there any tours in the plans? If yes, any idea as to where you'll be playing?
Markus: Yes, we'll definately hit the road. We'll be starting in Greece on December 3rd (in Larissa, followed by Athens). After that we'll have another headliner show in Moscow. The tour will continue in late December with another Inside Out band. But those dates are not yet fixed, so I cannot tell you exactly where you will see us.
(Click here to read our reviews of The Art of Navigating by the Stars)