Fast, loud, furious with more intensity, more abandon, more danger – these are the elements of hardcore. Imagine that in the context of the most likeable people in the world, who, when they‘re on stage, will break your skull with their brutal hardcore sound, turn your stomach upside down, rip out your heart, play football with it while making jokes about themselves and afterwards go having a beer with you. That’s how Kolari are!
We met up with the band at their rehearsal room to talk their latest EP, shooting videos and songwriting but mostly about the current state of the Hamburg music scene.
Hamburg: The city of fine arts, not hardcore
Kolari are often labeled as hardcore and I guess you come from that background. Was there any band that inspired you to start making hardcore music from the beginning?
Tim: It happened rather late that I started listen to hardcore. I actually come from an indie background, but I slowly started to listen to metalcore and similar stuff.
Tim: Killswitch (Engage) definitely were one of the first I listened to, but later when I listened to The Chariot I knew I want to do something like that.
Robert: For me it’s really a childhood-adult thing. I came to Bremen when I was thirteen, in 1993. Bremen always has had a rather huge hardcore scene, and also covered the experimental side of it with bands like Acme, Systral and Mörser.
When I was ten I started to listen through classic metal, from AC/DC and Guns’n’Roses to Metallica. When I turned thirteen crossover was very big so I listened to Biohazard and Rage Against The Machine. That was about the time I started going to concerts.
To me, as a small big boy who wasn’t feeling that happy in my adolescence, the hardcore scene really helped me out.
Tim: Now you’re a tall big boy.
Robert: Now I’m a tall big boy who doesn’t need the scene that much anymore because now I‘ve come to terms with life on my own, pretty well actually (laughs). Looking back at concert experiences, there’s too many to reduce it to one specific moment where you can say “That was the moment“.
Since we meet up in your rehearsal room, a hot topic in Hamburg and an ongoing topic, is that many rehearsal spaces are threatened, although the city promised to keep Otzenbunker where many bands reside. Have you heard anything from friends in bands there? Does it affect you in any way?
Tim: Yes, of course. We know people that rehearse there and now they‘re desperately looking for a new place to stay.
Robert: Since we‘re in this bunker we‘re not affected. Luckily this one was connected very well to the infrastructure already from the beginning that there’s no problem using it. Also, here you don’t have to worry about volume quarrels with the neighbours.
But yeah, we definitely have noted it’s a hot topic on the Hamburg scene at the moment, and the anger that comes with it. It’s true that the city of Hamburg has no concerns handing out 800 million Euro for building Elbphilharmonie and at the same time takes every opportunity to present itself as the place to be for musicians and creative people. But in the case of Otzenbunker the city isn’t even capable and can promise people in a critical situation like that and say “Hey, we will take care of maintaining the thing“.
It’s crystal clear that it won’t work out for every band to find a place. Or they’ll find themselves in a really crappy position because every real estate owner will probably say “There’s a huge need for rehearsal rooms, let’s raise the rent“.
What do you require from a good rehearsal room except for the basic things that comes with?
Tim: You have to be allowed to rehearse around the clock. There are lots of rehearsal rooms in Hamburg that have a curfew at ten in the evening because of the neighbours. That’s not very practical because normally that’s the time when you just have started to play when you rehearse after work, and then you have to quit already at ten.
A good rehearsal room should also be dry, which is a huge problem very often because instruments will go out of shape. Everything is swelling, mold will spread, it smells terrible and you can’t really be in there.
Robert: We are quite spoiled having had our old rehearsal space, because it actually had daylight, which is amazing. We got used to our bunker now, but it’s rather nice if you can have a look what is going on outside, instead of just having nasty neon light. But that’s luxury.
Did you have to wait long to get this room?
Tim: We found it rather quick but by chance because we know other bands and musicians. We had to leave our former rehearsal room, and it just happened that a band who we‘re friends with left this room at the same time, and we were able to have a smooth transition.
Robert: It was also a bit of luck because we have the “problem“ that there’s always two bands that need to move at the same time. Tim is also in a second band [Average Engines] and it doesn’t come in handy at all to have two different rehearsal spaces considering that you need to put your gear somewhere. Already from the beginning it was clear that we need to have a place that we can use together. Luckily we found this space quickly, and a place where it’s enough space.
And today rehearsal rooms can be as expensive as renting a flat. With that in mind it’s not unusual that bands share their spaces.
Tim: We couldn’t afford it if it would have been us only, but luckily we‘re two bands. With Average Engines we‘re four more people meaning that it’s eight people sharing the rent, so we can shoulder the financial weight rather easily. We also share lots of gear like drums and PA.
I read today that the Senator for Culture said that Hamburg is “the most relevant city for music“ in Germany. Elbphilharmonie has been very succesful and had almost hundred percent sold-out shows. On the other side of it, politicians fail to save a bunker for culture.
Tim: Here’s the thing; they support it if it‘s profitable. But music, if you make independent music or something aside the mainstream, won’t be profitable for a long time or maybe never. The city isn’t even able to maintain status quo as would’ve been the case with Otzenbunker. It wasn’t their responsibility but it would have cost them nothing to say “No, this shouldn’t be about making profit, we won’t allow that“.
Robert: Just to add to that; talking about being profitable, the Elbphilharmonie isn’t profitable at all. The earnings it generates won’t compensate for the costs.
Tim: It’s all about prestige.
Robert: Exactly! Prestige plays an important role, but that’s precisely what different music initiatives and club owners were pointing out; “Dear city of Hamburg. How about some cultural aid, for instance facilitate bureaucratic regulations or funding to, for example, noise insulation“ or something like that.
You can see it everywhere, more and more clubs and bars close down. They cannot earn any money because they have to comply with lots of rules and bureaucratic terms, they have to use limiters and other things. If Hamburg is such a great city for music and culture in Germany, then it would be great if someone would start taking care of these issues.
Does it affect you in any way by venues closing down in Hamburg?
Robert: Getting booked in general is difficult. I don’t think we‘re affected by clubs and venues disappearing, but over-offering is actually a huge problem.
A friend of mine, Simon, who runs shows for Bar 227 and handling building services at Fundbureau, noted last year “just for fun“ how many shows there were on the stoner/doom/sludge scenes, the scenes of his primary interest. From October to December there was something like 150 shows in Hamburg. Now, try to understand that based on the fact that people have less money.
The habits of how people listen to music have changed because of streaming and people aren’t that willing to come out for shows anymore. As a consequence there‘s less in the audience at smaller shows. People won’t say like they did in the ‘90s or 2000s, “Hey, there’s a widely known band playing and they have three local bands as support, I heard they rock. I’m gonna go there, it’s only eight or ten Euro“. At the same time people are willing to pay for big acts. If Metallica or Slayer play a show for 120 Euro or festival tickets cost 250 Euro, people will buy it. But small shows are difficult.
In our scene it’s a bit more relaxed because there‘s still a lot of DIY collectives, leftist venues and youth centres so there are possibilities to play shows. But because of all this it’s becoming more difficult economically because a lot of shows are run by donations at the entrance. On this scene you cannot make plans saying “We need 150 Euro per show to pay for the bus, gas and whatever“ because the organizers can‘t guarantee that.
“Kolari sound like Kolari“
It takes commitment more than creativity, primarily when you’re working with other people to create something. If you’re a solo artist the creative process is much simpler to manage, as you don’t have to reconcile different personalities. You only have a single person in the group, and their mood only affects their own work, not the work of others.
In a group, everyone has their own perspective on what you’re making, and personalities are most exaggerated under stress. The ability to reconcile and work together is the crucial factor in the Creative Process. The key ingredients to working together? “Mutual trust and respect“ Chris Cornell once said, and for Kolari there’s the goal to reach some sort of consensus.
Hamburg is claimed to be one of the five punk capitals in the world. Has Hamburg had any influence on your sound?
Tim: I don’t think it had at all. Our sound is a mix of what we all listen to and we‘re not huge fans of the Hamburger Schule **. If the same people would meet at any other place, the sound would be exactly the same.
Robert: Right! The most significant thing is that none of us is actually from Hamburg (laughs), we all moved here. Basti and Matze didn’t have to move far, but no one in the band grew up here.
Kolari sound like Kolari because all members have their own musical socialisation (suddenly starts laughing). [The singer almost fell off his chair, after he had slapped himself in the face].
Tim: It’s the third time within half an hour (laughs). That’s not unusual.
Robert: Considering our different preferences and influences, we try to reach some sort of consensus when we make new songs. Sometimes that isn’t easy, but it works.
How does the creative process work out then? Explain to us the Kolari song production process from first idea of a song til you go to the studio?
Robert: What you can say about this band is that music always comes first and then I write the lyrics, and the three of us do this together and Stephan is the poor chap whom I tell “Here! Do this now!“.
Tim: “Scream that!“
Robert: Who also always thinks “Oh my god, what was he even thinking? Why there, in this part of the song? Why doesn’t he care about that I need breaks to breathe?“.
Tim: “And what word is this?“
Robert: (laughs) Exactly! And “How do you spell that?“ (laughs). Basically, the three of us sit together and work on the lyrics. Song writing in this band is by no means that easy because of different influences. Everyone of us has a certain sound in his head and very often it results in a some sort of a conflict.
Tim: We had three rehearsals in a row where we restructured the songs completely, then we have an argue about it, went for a smoke and then came back to do something different. Usually it takes three rehearsals. Very often there‘s a breakthrough during the fourth rehearsal and at least half of a song is finished.
Robert: Talking explicitly about the EP, we actually just had one song finished two weeks before we had booked a slot for drum recordings in the studio, the others were not done. I was like “Alright, that was it“. Again it happened that Tim was trying on his own, we were trying stuff out here, and again it didn’t seem to work out.
What really helped us out was to let our drummer play the guitar and he suddenly came up with a chord to the part where we were stuck, so we started to work there. I tried it out for two nights and then somehow the song was completed.
Tim: I just have to mention that Basti, our drummer, can replace everyone of us easily because he plays every instrument better than anyone of us (laughs). I would have felt constantly threatened if it wasn‘t that he‘s tiny.
You said that sometimes songwriting can result in a “conflict“. Is is true that it took about one and a half year to finish your first album?
Tim: Even longer, wasn’t it?
Robert: I wouldn’t say that, not in terms of writing songs. After the “French Grammar“ EP we were like “We are a band, we need to play.“ By the end of 2015 we said “Let’s go to the studio by the end of 2016“. We had effectively half a year of songwriting.
The process of releasing the album was very long though. Because of our daily jobs we could not simply go “Alright, these three weeks are blocked for going to the studio together“, it had to be split up. In August 2017 it was finally released.
That’s the point I was about to come to, pro or cons. Is it better being twenty years old without any duties where you can be like “Hey, let’s lock ourselves in the studio for three weeks“ or is the situation you are now in maybe more comfortable?
Tim: Time is a key factor. Of course, if you just started studying and go like “There‘s no lecture today or I don‘t want to go university today, so let’s stay in the studio all day“, that would have helped out. On the other hand, you wouldn’t have any money to be in the studio.
The situation today is that the money for studio work is there, only a little bit of time is missing. Neither is really cool. I liked it when I had more time, but I‘m not sure if I would want to have it reversed. Today you can do a lot on your own.
Robert: There are a wide range of components to consider. I’m sure that in my early twenties I couldn’t have done the things that I’m doing with the band today because I wouldn’t have been ready already. Not because I didn’t have the skills, but more about how I want to make music. How am I going to do this?
At this point in life I‘ve always been in bands but in bands that rarely crossed the city limits. We were happy to have ten gigs in the city where we lived. The time factor is essential, or rather duties that come with it when you grow older.
For us it’s difficult to spontaneously say “Hey, we’re gonna play somehow somewhere or just jump on a tour“ because there are two dads in our band with children not even two years old yet. That‘s why we cannot say “I just drop everything and do something“. It would be nice if it was like that but to narrow it down to say that it would be better or not is impossible.
You also toured with the awesome Pagan. How was that?
Robert: Do you want to brag about it or shall I? (laughs)
Tim: Compared to any tour we’ve done before, this one was one of the most amazing tours we’ve done because they are the kindest people in the world! We came in, learned to know each other and from that first moment we were all buddies. There was no distance between us, it was completely open. We even shared backline which is rather uncommon. That was the four most relaxing days ever. Musically it also fitted perfectly. The people who were there had the time of their lives, and for me personally it was one of the best times in the band‘s history.
And you recorded a split EP with Hedger?
Tim: That’s right! Three songs came from them, and two from us, which nobody has heard before. That was something straight from the heart! Now that our full-length record is out there and we have toured with a lot of lovely people; we just decided to do something together.
When I watch you play, or even better watch your videos, I get the feeling there is some kind of serenity but with lots of self-mockery.
Robert: Ok, that’s connected to age because I wouldn’t have found things funny back then (laughs), I didn’t had a relaxed attitude. We, Tim and me, made it very clear from the beginning that we don’t want to have performance videos, which eight out of ten bands have.
It doesn’t matter if you stand in your rehearsal room, a forest, an industrial warehouse, a ruin or a skate park with unplugged instruments, it almost always looks crappy. Obviously you don’t play, you mock to play, especially when there is a microphone and the singer is screaming furiously with arms stretched out [imitates screaming singer]. That‘s rather boring to me, and we said quite early “Let’s do it differently“. Plus, although I grew up with the metal and hardcore scenes, I find a lot of cliches very funny and cannot take them seriously.
Tim: Because it takes itself too serious. It becomes unwillingly funny.
Robert: Talking about the “keep it real“ thought, it’s non-existent in our band. We definitely take our music seriously. It’s also important to me that our lyrics have a message, but we like to combine it with videos making people think “What the fuck is wrong with these dudes?“.
Last question then; who destroyed everything with a baseball bat in “Mainline Your Job“? Or was everyone involved?
Tim: No, that was me. We shot the clip in two days. We shot the slime scene on one day and on the second day we did the smashing scenes. It was only three people there; our camera man, Robert and me. I cannot recall why you didn’t want to.
Robert: I wasn’t sure if I would mess it all up.
Tim: I didn’t care, I was totally into it.
The monitor by the way was the fiercest. I thought it would crack rather easily if you put it wrong somewhere but we hit it five times very hard with the bat before it started to shatter. Our bat got broken during that scene! In the end it had a crack and we had to throw it away. The glass tube won over the baseball bat, that was fucking amazing.
** School of Hamburg, was a loose music movement starting in the eigthies and reaching its peak in the nineties and entailed Hamburgian bands that had German lyrics combined with an intellectual attitude, playing indie pop, punk, grunge and pop music.