Hamburg Crib Sessions #9: Kalzifer interviewed

Eloise Bossen October 6, 2019

Hamburg may have a great reputation as one of the five capitals of punk music in the world but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for other genres.

Our star photographer Ms Sis met up with Radiohead-sounding Hamburg three-piece Kalzifer and a few days later Ms Elo followed-through and sat down with the lads, an interview focused on their mysterious lyrics entailing lots of hidden details, their arty designs and a debut EP that may come out during 2019.

From KunZt to Kalzifer and a three-piece band

Thanks for having us! Kalzifer, that’s Max guitar/vocals, Robert bass and Janni on drums?
Janni: Right.

If I did some proper research, you haven’t done any interview before this one? Or maybe you did but the interview wasn’t published?
Janni: No, that’s right. First run for us! (laugh)

Kalzifer was formed in 2017, and before that you performed as KunZt. Would you say that Kalzifer is the band now?
Janni: Most definitely. We thought about getting a second guitarist in but it just didn’t happen, and there’s still the question if a fourth permanent member makes sense. But it’s all in the stars; Kalzifer is a three-piece today.

What is it that makes Kalzifer a three-piece, entailing only you three guys?
Janni: Good question! Why us three? Well, all the others left (laugh), that was the original reason.

Robert: We started together from that base. Max came over with songs, mainly “Paranoid Android” and one more he had written, already when we acted as KunZt. Then he brought us all together. I just joined because someone else left.

Everyone was excited after listening to those songs and afterwards Janni said “Let’s start a band!”, and it has worked out very well. Some previous band members left but we three still get along fine. We’re very different but in the core our music taste is very similar, and we often like the same kind of stuff. At Lollapalooza all of us watched Radiohead, we had much fun at James Blake and Lion Sphere and many other bands that we share. On top of that we get along very well. Have we ever really had a fight?

Max & Janni: No. (laugh)

Robert: We almost always agree on things and if not we always find a compromise. In the end there’s a lot of mutual respect between us.

Max: For sure! We all studied at the school [professional school for popular music] and we have experienced band problems like people leaving and new members coming in just to leave a bit later as well. At the end of the day, the three of us are still here because we believe in the songs and the band, and just wanted to go on.

I think what Robert meant as well was that we like to listen to music and share it with each other, and do music together. And that’s not difficult when you share the same interest in music.

Where does Kalzifer comes from? Before it was KunZt with some kind of arty design with its big Z. But why change to Kalzifer?
Max: I think my intention to name the band KunZt was because of how we wrote the song “Kalzifer”. I remember when we wrote “Kalzifer” we used the whiteboard and kind a designed it out of ideas we wanted to have in a song. One sevens beat, one sixes, and also a 3/4 beat, really like a “What should happen next” concept on the whiteboard. The whole design thing was art for me.

Now, the band has gone through a lot together and changed a lot. Our songs are more “open” now. Not really pop, more like “let it happen” and not planned in advance.

Robert: Let’s say the whole process became more organic.

Max: Exactly! We also looked for a new name and then we had this song “Kalzifer”, and Janni just said “Why don’t name the band Kalzifer?”.

Originally, the name comes from a character out of a Studio Ghibli movie named “Howl’s Moving Castle”. It is the tiny fire demon Calcifer who has stolen the heart of the wizard and that has a contract with him. Maybe it also fits with our lyrics of the mystic and the magic.

Robert: Besides, Janni likes the name quite much (laugh).

That was the main reason, Janni said it’s cool.
Janni: It was just an idea because I always liked that song name more than our pervious band name (laugh). It was a just a teensy-weensy suggestion to name the band Kalzifer (laugh).

The hidden secrets of lyrics

There’s two types of music listeners: those that are more interested in the sound of songs – the melodies and the harmonies – and those scrutinizing their favourite band’s lyrics to find hidden messages. For the latter the meaning of lyrics is often idiosyncratically created from words and phrases that are vague enough to allow listeners to construct the message from their own physical and metaphysical experience. And Kalzifer love to leave it open for interpretation.

Max, you pointed out the mysticism in your lyrics. I find it quite interesting that you sing in German but music-wise it would perfectly fit for English lyrics; your music reminds me of Radiohead in German. Why are you singing in German?
Max: I remember I asked my former guitar teacher why he wrote lyrics in German. His answer was because it is his mother tongue and therefore it’s easier for him to express himself. I was something like twelve years old and said to him that it was easier for me to write in English because everything sounded better. For me English required less of me than German. Lyrics in English feels more like “What an interesting story!”.

I think I started to write in German just for myself. I tried to write lyrics about what I think about things without telling what I really think. You should leave space for the listener to interpret the lyrics. Maybe that’s what makes our lyrics mystical, they’re not that clear.

That is exactly what I wrote down here as well; you understand what every word says but still have to read between the lines. Everything remains in the dark.
Max: Yes.

So it’s the listeners who interpret the story themselves?

Max: I think we’re all huge fans of details which you don’t fully understand directly, at least not initially. The details are there but you won’t get it until you’re really into it.

Janni: Especially German music often leaves me speechless every other sentence a singer writes and I’m like “Did she or he really said that?”.

I like the way Max writes lyrics. I have to admit that sometimes even I don’t know what he’s talking about, but that’s just cool. It’s up for your own interpretation, you won’t get everything served on a silver tray.

It’s interesting that you talk about hidden details. It reminds me of Tool because they also have small gimmicks and details in their music that you don’t get at a first listening. Sometimes you even need years to get it. But a nice gimmick because it kind of captivates the fans.
Max: There is more in there than you can hear.

Your first song officially released was “Sonst”, and it sounds a bit like Käptn Peng.

Janni: Yes.

Max: Sounds a bit like Heisskalt as well.

Robert: Indeed, Heisskalt had a big influence on that song.

The structure of the song definitely reminds me of Heisskalt to.
Max: Again, here we have what we already mentioned. “Sonst” is more or less divided into two and three parts. Verse, refrain followed by a loud part in between that ends in a weird electronic-spherical way. We recorded some subways at Feldstraße station and just put them in, a tiny detail you don’t get at first.

I already heard about it. In your studio session you tried some weird stuff with pedals and synths. I also found a live recording from an open stage session where you did some tricks with your pedal board. That’s kind a your thing, right?

Janni & Robert: Definitely!

Max: Noise!

Debut EP and gigs – in 2019?

The rumor is that the band have a debut EP in the works although it’s not set specifically in time when or how it’s going to be released. There’s a few questions left unanswered even for the band, but they all agree on that the EP has to be released this year. But it’s not only about the EP, it’s also about the art that surround the whole process and how it should be designed.

What about your upcoming EP? Do you already have a date for the release?
Janni: Yes we do! It will happen in the beginning of October. 

You kind of talk a lot about the EP, and at the same time not at all. We don’t know how many songs are included; we don’t know the name of the EP; if there’s going to be lots of weird experiments on the EP or not. Do you want to tell us something about it?
Janni: There is a lot that is still secret, even the number of songs. You have to wait and see!

We just heard the songs with vocals on five minutes ago, for the first time, because Sebastian Gimm sent it to us. Song titles and everything has been open for discussion. Maybe we want to find a label for the release later. 

Max: We want to make everything right with the EP, that’s why we let it take some time and not just release it. We want to cause a change with it.

Everything is self-produced, kind a DIY style?
Janni: Songwriting yes, but the recording was done by Sebastian Gimm.

Max: With whom we also recorded our last three songs.

Janni: He also contributed with a lot of ideas, a great creator. He joins us with his weird small devices, send guitar signals through it and it just sounds very cool.

Robert: He’s that kind of guy we would let do whatever he wants with our music.

Max: And he likes the same stuff as us.

Robert: He could be our second guitar player if he had time (laugh). It would be awesome to have it with us, insane guy.

That means you that you don’t know if there’s going to be a release show for the EP?
Robert: We have thought about something but we don’t promise something (laugh).

Means everything as always. It remains in the dark and we have to wait.
Robert: It is a secret thing.

Janni: But is the concert fixed and we can talk about that? Or better not?

Max: It is very likely we’re playing there, but it won’t probably it an EP release show. There’s time to make everything right.

Talking about print; you started with some very nice designs online. For me it was a strong impression on social media. Did you already think about combining these spherical designs with your live shows?
Janni: Not yet but it’s a great idea. We already thought about a stage set from Ebay for twenty Euros, something like a constellation.

Max: It was a small star-projector and a very stupid idea (laugh).

Janni: We thought about putting it on stage but it does look a bit fancy (laugh). But the idea to make something with designs, projections and light to get it visual already is there. However, to translate that into reality doesn’t work yet.

Max: Above all, we are going to make music first. Of course the thought is there to do something with designs that will boost our music visually with arty stuff, but it’s not one of our priorities at the moment.

Meaning we can expect something special when you’re back on stage. I read something about a live shot. What about that?
Janni: We shot a live session with three songs in the Boogie Park with help of Marvin Heine and Robin Helm. Wait, how many did we shot? More than three, right?

Max: We shot half an hour in one take and played five songs but we’re not sure if we’re going to release them separately or as one entire shot. At this point it’s being mastered and we will probably release it together with our EP.

Janni: Maybe one or two months before our EP release just like a teaser. Unfortunately we don’t have a release date for that one either.

Meaning we have to wait like three months or something.

Max: But definitely this year!

In 2019 then; the plan is to release your EP, support it with the live shot and play some live shows for your fans?
Janni: First we need to have something, everything is really a bit uncertain at the moment. We haven’t booked that many live shows because we don’t have anything to show. First we want to get everything done in the right way, that’s better than working with just one or three songs. It’s better to have an EP and work with that, but if a big festival wants to have us, here we are! (laugh)

Any wishes to your fans or something they could help you with? A general question, what is a favour for the music scene?
Janni: Go to concerts. Buying records.

Robert: The standard stuff.

Max: Because we didn’t have that much to present it would be great if our fans would talk about us a little bit, about what we actually have, not just listen to it once like it is today. Show it and share it with others, listen to it often, talk about it. Sharing is caring.

Photographer: ©Julia Schwendner
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About The Author

The multilingual dudette of Messed!Up that often confuses herself and us by mixing German and Danish with bits and pieces of English at times. Also confusing music taste and likes crossovers between Madonna, Toto and Nine Inch Nails (yeah, that’s the band everyone wants to start). Loves the local Hamburg scene in general and She-Ra in particular (has the DVD collection).