After parting ways with the progressive metal band Dreamscape, few could have imagined how German singer Hubi Meisel would begin his solo career back in 2002. Many fans probably figured he would continue in the same progressive style of his former band, instead Meisel opted to realize a childhood dream of releasing a tribute to some of his favorite music of the 80's. He re-arranged the tracks his way and released the results on a disc called Cut. Some may have questioned such an audacious decision, but for Meisel it was more about following his intuition and doing what he thought was right, and less about doing what was expected. Hubi's 2nd release EmOcean was an all original concept CD that was both bold and innovative, musically and lyrically. Two remarkable things occurred during the production of this CD, first the actual concept of EmOcean was born out of a series of Meisel's dreams and secondly, he met French composer Vivien Lalu via the internet and Lalu began to help Hubi set his ideas to music. Meisel also enlisted some serious musical talent to play on EmOcean in the form of people such as Marcel Coenen from Sun Caged and Daniel Flores from Mind's Eye. Now 2 years later Meisel has done the unthinkable, he's actually found a way to top EmOcean. His third CD Kailash is another majestic, epic piece of work that features some absolutely mind blowing performances from not only the man himself, but from every single musician involved. Hubi retained practically all the musicians who worked on the previous release and as a result Kailash sounds even more cohesive than its predecessor. Read on for Sea of Tranquility Staff Writer Ryan Spark's full interview to find out what drives and inspires him to create the musical magic he does. It is a rare and completely captivating glimpse into the mind of a true artist.
Sea Of Tranquility: The new CD Kailash is fantastic and like its predecessor, EmOcean, it's truly epic in scope.
Hubi Meisel: Thank you.
SOT: The concept for Kailash again came out of a dream or a series of dreams you had, is that correct?
Hubi: Yes that's correct. The inspiration for this album came much like it did for EmOcean, overnight. I was waiting for a kind of sign again and one night shortly before I woke up I had kind of a vision, I saw fiery skies, I saw the colors yellow and red and the shapes of a majestic mountain chain came to my mind. I just knew that this new album was to be connected to the Himalaya region and to Tibet. I also thought it was to be connected to the element of earth, whereas EmOcean was connected to water and air, Kailash would be connected to earth and air. After I woke up I had this motivational vision in my mind and during the following weeks I dove into the material, I found, collected and started reading speeches of his holiness the Dalai Lama. So I had this initial vision and support and the rest just came out of some work.
SOT: What I found interesting is that when we spoke about a year and a half ago, you seemed to already have the concept for Kailash already formulated.
Hubi: Yes this is right.
SOT: In fact you even knew who would be playing on it. Did the whole project take longer than you expected or was it just a case of taking the amount of time necessary to work through the whole concept?
Hubi: This time, my work and the work of the musicians, the whole production was more than 2 and half years. At the time when we spoke, the concept was already written and perhaps the recordings had already started as well. Lion Music released EmOcean in March of 2004 and at that time the album had already been released previously I guess 6 or 7 months prior in Germany. The writing process for EmOcean was done in 2002/ 2003 so this is the explanation why I was already working on Kailash, but Kailash took more than 2 and half years.
SOT: For people who haven't checked out the concept of the CD, which is available by the way on your website, can you explain briefly what Kailash is all about?
Hubi: The problem is this time, if such a question came, I would say its much better that people go to my website and read the whole concept, because it's hard to give a quick summary and put it into words.
SOT: The concept material that you have available on your site is great, it gives a real insight into the meaning of the songs and for people that like to delve into the meanings and the stories behind the whole project, you can follow along and read your annotations and notes and for me it really adds to the whole listening experience.
Hubi: Thanks. I want to offer both. I want to offer a piece of music for people who like to listen to something, who want some kind entertainment, then there are those who want to really dive into a topic and they should have that possibility when they listen to the music. It's never my intention to act as a teacher or to show them a lot of intellectual stuff, it's more that I want to share something and in the end it's your personal decision if you want to just listen to the album or really dive into it.
SOT: What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced in making Kailash?
Hubi: The biggest challenge and to some people it may sound quite ridiculous, but for me the biggest challenge was during my vocal recordings, I sometimes had a really hard time. For example on the song "Kailash-Jewel of Ice", there is the lyrical and conceptual description of a man and a lion that are circumambulating this magical holy mountain for 13 rounds. I guess every 14 years is the year of the horse, when you just have to do one round, but it was not the case for these 2 pilgrims who had to circumambulate the mountain 13 times until they were cleansed enough to enter the inner region of Kailash. When I was recording the vocals for this song or the vocals for the first bonus track "The Gentleman of Great Magic", I was so into the story that I felt like I suffered as well, it was not like singing 1 or 2 takes, it was sometimes really, really hard, I felt like I was doing 13 rounds [laughing]. "Gentleman of Great Magic" is the life story or biography of the Tibetan saint Milarepa, the lyrics express a hard time in his life when he changed from a person who was responsible for the deaths of over 13 people, in the end he became the most revered saint of the country, he was plunged into heavy despair and he had to struggle with all his feelings, which I felt as well when I was recording it [laughing]. I really did my own sort of journey with this album. [laughing]. I was so into it that I sometimes had the feeling that maybe I was too much into it.
SOT: In EmOcean and Kailash both the main characters are aided in their respective quests by animals, is there a meaning behind that or just a coincidence?
Hubi: The funny thing with both of these albums is you can be sure there is no coincidence. The only thing I can tell you is that it was not planned; it came out of my intuition. Its not that I sat down and thought, "Ok on this album there was a dolphin, now for this one I need another animal like an elephant or something" [laughing]. For some people like a Shaman, each animal has certain energy. The dolphin opened the feelings of the man, the trust and faith of the emotional domain, and the lion, apart from the fact that the lion is a very important animal in Tibetan culture, he's a symbol for freedom on their flag and apart from that, the lion stands for courage and strength and he can support the man with his noble appearance. When I was writing the concept it became clear that this man would be supported by a lion.
SOT: The lion is symbolic and represents the courage for the Tibetan people; especially after all they have been through.
Hubi: Yeah and they need it. The Dalai Lama has this strength and courage otherwise he would have given up his non violent fight.
SOT: What do you think has inspired you to create your stories in such exotic locations as the Sargasso Sea and the Himalayas?
Hubi: I don't know exactly. [laughing]
SOT: Have you always had an interest in these other regions of the world?
Hubi: The funny thing is I had no knowledge of Tibet or these things, after this dream I started concentrating on it [laughing]. I'm also no Buddhist, it just came out; I thought it was very interesting and I felt motivated to read about these things and I'm absolutely fascinated by mysteries and these kind of things. I believe in re-incarnation and so perhaps maybe I remembered something from a former life, I don't know exactly.
SOT: These dreams or visions that you've had could be called a gift, have you managed to integrate this into your every day life and not just for creating music?
Hubi: Yes music is a huge part of my life, but I'm of the belief that this thing that you call a gift is something all people have. This is nothing except the ability to access higher regions which are there all the time. If we stop thinking as if we are living in a machine, doing our routine everyday, there are things beyond, then we can access these realms and they can help us. Whenever you listen to music by Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart, Bach or Verdi, you can be quite sure that these people had the ability to access these realms. To other people who are not used to using these abilities that we all have, the people who don't use these abilities; they just consider this as a gift or they could be considered a genius which is not the truth in my opinion. It's there and it helps us, it's up to you if you are willing to receive the information or you can say "No this is not for me".
SOT: So you believe that everyone has this power within, it's just a matter of awakening it and being receptive to it?
Hubi: Sure. You were so much into the EmOcean album and I guess it's in the song "The Souls of Atlantis"; there the man receives his ability back to see with his third eye. We all have this ability and this is not just esoteric 'blah blah', it's the truth but if you don't experience it; most people are afraid of these things because they fear they could lose control over their life but in fact its just something very positive and I strongly believe that we all have access to these things, if we want.
SOT: There is also a message of peace in both of these CD's, are you trying to voice your own personal feelings or is it your intention to try to give the listener a bit of food for thought?
Hubi: Yeah, I guess it can be a motivation. When I listen to music, especially in the metal sector, fortunately not as much in the progressive sector, but in the metal sector I see a lot of darkness and negativity. I feel that if I release an album, I have a kind of responsibility, if a person listens to a Hubi Meisel album; I really hope it's a kind of positive feeling that remains afterwards. A kind of trust, of faith, of love and belief, things like that. It's never my intention to tell people how to think, but I'm not into promoting self destruction and things like that.
SOT: I got that feeling after having listened to both of the CD's, it comes through not only in the message and lyrics of your music but just speaking with you as well you come across as a very positive thinking person.
Hubi: Yes, I'm absolutely a positive thinker because whenever you think the glass is half empty or something, you create your reality with every thought and with every word. When you say the glass is half empty, you will never be able to enjoy this glass; you will never be able to see your future in a positive way. You will always think that you're losing something and I for one am a person who is very positive thinking and I've had many positive effects from it in my life.
SOT: Did you read or study a lot of Philosophy in school at all?
Hubi: Yeah I studied it in University and I read many books about and today I'm at the point where I say it was a huge waste of time.
Hubi: Yeah [laughing], because the books that you find on the market are, all these writers made a lot of effort in their works and they tried to fight with their words, they used their elbows and it was very important to them that they had the real scientific expressions and the definite answers. In fact most of these philosophers at a certain point, most of them don't reach a certain vantage point, they just live with their strict, narrow point of view. Like when I told you when you open yourself to the higher realms, all things which you can't explain, all things which you can't prove, don't exist in their opinion and most of these philosophers, not all of them but most of them are not able to see the world with those eyes. I do now, so I for one and its only my subjective opinion, I'm not really into reading those kinds of books anymore.
SOT: You worked again with pretty much the same musicians on Kailash that were on EmOcean except this time you added another guitarist, Jorge Salàn who split the duties with Marcel Coenen.
Hubi: Yes Jorge, he is from Madrid in Spain. He's a wonderful person and a good friend but also an incredibly gifted guitar player. What was your opinion about his playing?
SOT: I thought the tracks that he played on added a bit of a different flavor, and I was going to ask you if that was your intention to add a little something different to these tracks.
Hubi: Yeah that's right. I've known Jorge for a couple of years and its been a dream of mine to have him on an album with me, but I also love Marcel's playing as well and it was also clear that I wanted to have Joop Wolters for the bonus tracks once again. I was wondering how I could split the songs, when I listen to the album back now I guess it was the right decision to split the songs, the album still has the sound of a band playing but the change of guitarists hopefully added another emotional dimension to it. I love Jorge's unique expressions when he plays a solo for example, but Marcel is also fantastic as well. I guess the more powerful songs are played by Marcel and a song like "Himalayan Sunset" was good to have Jorge on it.
SOT: Did you work with the musicians the same way as EmOcean as well, in the sense that you had no face to face contact with them; you didn't play together in the studio but would e-mail the music back and forth?
Hubi: Yes, this kind of long distance cooperation worked out so well on EmOcean and thought it would be good if we continued in this way. Vivien did such a fantastic job and it worked even better this time because we already knew each other, so we thought we would continue this way. Last year I visited Vivien in Paris, which was very nice to meet face to face in person and not only through the internet. All of these musicians are true professionals and have their own recording possibilities so it's not such a problem like it was maybe ten or fifteen years ago.
SOT: I don't think the average listener would even be able to tell that everyone was not playing together in the same room or same studio.
Hubi: [laughing] I worked very hard on the mix.
SOT: That must be the secret right there, it's all in the mix.
Hubi: I hope so. I do all the vocals and mix everything in my studio. All the tracks are played through my equipment. It's a lot of work but in the end I guess the listener should get the feeling of a band playing there and to me it is a band because you could also say that an album is not an album if you recorded track by track. Some old recordings were done with the band playing live in the studio but I must say that with an album like EmOcean or Kailash where I put so much time into it, to me it's ok if it resembles something like a painting where you don't want to do it in 30 minutes but rather it's something you spend a lot of time on.
SOT: You can keep coming back to it.
Hubi: Sometimes after recording something, I'll listen back to it the next day and think "It was good but it doesn't feel right" and I'll delete everything and start again from scratch. Some people will think this is not cool and figure you have to record a metal album in like 2 days or something, they can do that if they want but I don't want to work that way. If I release an album it will be there as long as I live.
SOT: It's a piece of art that you're putting into the world.
Hubi: Exactly. I also want to mention the work of the great drummer and bass playing of Daniel Flores and Johan Niemann, these guys work so great together in my opinion. Jorge also is so famous in his country. Have you heard his band Mago de Oz?
Hubi: He releases instrumental guitar CD's under his own name, I guess he already has two albums out and he's also the guitarist in this group, they sing in Spanish. They are not that well known in the international market but they sell millions of CD's in Spain and they are the most popular rock band in Spain and South America as well. Jorge is heading to South America for a 2 month tour at the end of February. They play every evening in front of anywhere between 10-50,000 people. He's a real star and his fan club is amazing. I'm so happy that he was willing to play on this CD, I love his playing.
SOT: Something that may be overlooked but I think is worth mentioning considering that you record in your own studio is just how fantastic the production on this CD is. EmOcean was great but it's almost like you took it to another level on Kailash.
Hubi: Thank you very much, this is good.
SOT: Did you make any significant upgrades to your studio equipment or did you do anything different in the actual recording process this time around?
Hubi: One thing that was different in the process was that I had a bit more time for the mixing. For EmOcean I was unfortunately under extreme time pressure, I guess I had only 8 days for the mix, other people may say this is enough. I know progressive albums usually need more time. For Kailash I was able to spend some weeks on the mix, so this was very helpful. I also made a few upgrades to the studio; I bought a top notch pre-amp and a better microphone. It's really a dream combination and I will keep it for awhile. I also rented some very cool stuff this time. I had to upgrade my studio a bit. It's always unpleasant when you have to invest so much money but in the end you can hear it, so it's worth it.
SOT: How many tracks do you have?
Hubi: It's not a matter of tracks anymore. The mixing console I use is completely digital so I have hundreds of tracks. If you have a very old tube mixing console like a Neve or something like that, it's very nice if you can use it but they are so expensive and they take up so much space, they're very heavy.
SOT: So you work with stuff like Pro Tools?
Hubi: Sort of like Pro Tools. I mix in Cubase FX, its something the same. Pro Tools is just known a lot for its converters. I work with Lynx audio converters, they are awesome. I think they're from the States. The only thing where your sound lacks with such digital equipment is the moment when the analogue signal of vocals, guitars or drums are converted to the digital domain but I have really, really good converters so it's no problem. Then you don't care if your song is 60 tracks. On some songs I used I guess more than 20 vocal tracks.
SOT: When you work in the digital realm you don't have to worry about things like 20 vocal tracks.
Hubi: You still have to mix them though [laughing]. The more tracks you have the more stress you have, especially for things like vocals its wonderful because if you do a choir, you can do 5 and in the end make it sound like 2 because you just use what you want.
SOT: Do you sample or use any loops at all?
Hubi: No, the only kind of samples on Kailash and there are very little, are sound effects. They are sometimes sampled, but I don't like to sample stuff that much.
SOT: I found a big part of the sound on Kailash had a very ethnic flavor to it.
Hubi: You mean more of an Eastern element?
SOT: Yeah the Eastern element is evident, but there just seems to be a bit more of a world feeling in the playing.
Hubi: Yeah that's right.
SOT: I also noticed Vivien's playing is more varied this time. I heard some fusion elements and even some organ playing in a few spots.
Hubi: This was in the song "Merdeka", there was this really great solo passage and he was so fascinated about the idea of putting some organ on it, so I said "Hey this is good, why not?" In the song they're celebrating the people and it was a good variation to use it at that point in the album I thought.
SOT: On certain songs, it sounds like he's playing these lines in unison with the guitar, which is fantastic.
Hubi: Yeah. There are some passages where he's playing, I guess for example at the end of the song "Kailash – Jewel of Ice", he's playing a kind of key solo and the guitarist is playing the same, they played in unison and I mixed it in a way that you don't know if it's a programmed key or if it's a guitar, but it was the both of them. On two or three passages on the album it's a combination of both in unison. It's hard to tell sometimes though because you can program keys to sound like a guitar and you get the feeling that it's actually a guitar.
SOT: There's so much you can do.
Hubi: If you're a good keyboardist you can do a lot of stuff [laughing].
SOT: When you listened back to all their tracks, was it exactly what you expected or did their performances exceed your expectations?
Hubi: I must say all of the musicians did a better job than I had hoped. It just confirmed my feeling that it was the right decision to use these guys again. I was really, really happy. They are all outstanding musicians and it was a pleasure to have them join me again for this album.
SOT: The artwork is once again outstanding, we should mention Chris Kallias.
Hubi: Yes, Chris "Saiyan" Kallias from Switzerland.
SOT: How does your relationship with him work, does he create the artwork specifically according to your directions?
Hubi: Yes it's a very special working relationship. I e-mailed Chris the concept of the story, then I would suggest or ask him, "Would it be possible to illustrate this certain passage" or "I would love to have a lion walking in the sunset, could you manage to do that?" I would write him notes with directions and he would begin to work, while he works he sends me his suggestions and we'll discuss it and change things. After a long, long time, it usually takes many months, we're really happy with the results. I feel very blessed to have him, because he's very creative, of course you haven't seen the artwork yet.
SOT: No, only a few pictures from your concept sheet.
Hubi: I guess in the concept there are 3 or 4 pictures, to me it was the perfect illustration of the story and it will be on sixteen pages. It was also very important for me to have Lion release a Digipack again and they immediately agreed. Imagine if this artwork was not included in the album, it would only be half as good I guess. I'm so glad that Chris was available again; I could not imagine someone else doing it.
SOT: How do you begin to write your songs, do you start with the lyrics first and do you write music as well?
Hubi: I first write the concept. This time I made the concept more detailed than it was for EmOcean. I wrote for every song, instructions and thoughts, moods, tempos and how the parts would be arranged. Then I forwarded this to Vivien, he reads it and tries to express what I have in my mind. In my mind it exists yes, but I'm not the one who plays guitar or keys.
SOT: So you don't write the music, do you play any musical instruments at all?
Hubi: When I was younger I played some drums but I soon stopped, I was not very good I guess [laughing]. After Vivien sends me his first ideas according to my directions, we'll discuss it and I'll immediately feel if it's the right direction or not. We'll arrange his ideas together, sometimes it works quickly and sometimes we'll have to work at it a lot until it matches my vision. After the basic instrumental music is composed, I start writing my vocal melodies and at the end I'll write the lyrics. All the musicians involved receive a kind of pre-production where they'll get impressions of the rhythm, there will never be a guitar solo dictated, but they get the basic groove, the moods and keys and then all the musicians get a chance to play their own ideas to express themselves. For example with Marcel it was like that, he got this pre-production and for every song that he plays on the album he would send me a rough recording. Then I could listen to it to see if it feels right or perhaps if it should have some rhythm reduced in this passage or stuff like that. Normally it's not very stressful because these guys are so great. In the end all of them got the chance to express them self. That's how it works.
SOT: Vivien is really an extension of you isn't he? He takes your vision and is able to set it to music.
Hubi: Definitely. It's always important to me that I have the possibility to say "This doesn't feel right yet". I really arrange the material together with him. It's not that I sit down and he does everything. He's an integral part of this process and I really love the end results.
SOT: It's very much collaboration.
Hubi: Yes it is.
SOT: Last time we spoke you mentioned about the possibility of playing live after your 2nd or 3rd CD, is that still something you're interested in doing?
Hubi: I would love to do that. However since the lineup consists of musicians from 5 different countries, it's really not that easy to do it. The costs and risk for such a venture would be extremely high. I would not say it won't happen. I would just say lets see what the future may bring, I don't know. Right now today, I would say it's not very easy to realize.
SOT: Would you ever consider re-creating this music live with if not all at least some of the members?
Hubi: I'm living in Munich so I guess it would be no problem to find musicians who play music like this. We could rehearse and play it live but it would not be the same to me because I think all these musicians are so unique, they are all so special to me. I think if it's meant to be that we play some shows live sooner or later, that may be a possibility, otherwise it would be a shame.
SOT: However the difference between these musicians and yourself is that they all have their own bands and they are able to play live. What about your fans that are hoping one day to see you up onstage playing these great songs live?
Hubi: Yeah. In the past I played a lot of concerts. I must say I enjoy playing live instead of sitting in the studio all day, because onstage you can interact with people, you can look them in the eye and share your emotions with them directly. The problem is that it's such a risk. I recently spoke to Johan and he told me that many bands he knows, who are pretty well known, have gone on tour and played to only 50 or 100 people. If you have all this financial pressures all the time it's not good for the art. If I was a millionaire I would do some shows no problem, but at this time its better if I keep any money and invest it in the next album. The music can still be spread in wonderful way, I always wanted to put an online single on my website, if its promoted a bit many people from all over the world can listen to it. If I play a show, it's very difficult, I cannot do a world tour, so I would play some concerts and only some people would be able to attend these shows. As long as I'm not so famous its better I focus on the studio, keep in mind that it would be wonderful to play these albums live and I guess they would work live. It would be nice.
SOT: Have you ever thought about how it would be great to use multimedia to put across these concepts in a live setting?
Hubi: Oh sure. It would be expensive though. It would be great if someone who would come to the show could have the feeling of being in the ocean one minute and the next walking though the Himalayas. It could be very challenging to put that across. There is a very well known local guy here from the German music federation who always wants me to bring it to the stage, with multimedia support; he always wants to push me in that direction [laughing].
SOT: What about a one off local show and have it filmed for a DVD?
Hubi: I wasn't even thinking that way, but it sounds interesting [laughing].
SOT: If you can't get out to the people, bring it to them you know?
Hubi: Yes it's interesting. I would have to invite the musicians out to rehearse the songs a bit, then do a cool concert and film a DVD. Ok, I will keep that in mind and it was your idea [laughing].
SOT: So where do you go from here now? I know Kailash is not even out yet but I'm sure you've already got the next project in mind haven't you?
Hubi: Right now I will concentrate on the promotion of Kailash; I see it as a kind of reward for the long hard work. I can tell you there will be something after Kailash, something very big but it's far too early to talk about it [laughing]. It's not done yet, but I have something mind which makes me very happy and wont talk to anyone about it, but I'm already curious about your opinion [laughing]. Please don't forget to say hello to everyone over at Sea of Tranquility, it's a great site!
(Click here to read our review of Kailash)
Kailash will be released through Lion Music on Feb 27th, 2006.