Van Canto's Stefan Schmidt on a capella metal, Wacken, Nightwish, piracy & more
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
"Five singers, one drummer. No guitars, no bass, no keyboards but nevertheless an unbelievable melodic metal experience."
The band released their debut, A Storm to Come, in December 2006. Exactly a year later, van Canto announced a global signing to Gun Records/Sony BMG, and their debut was released worldwide on December 14.
Van Canto are now experiencing considerable success. They recently provided support for Finnish symphonic power metal band Nightwish, as well as receiving a slot at the internationally famous Wacken Open Air festival in Germany. The prestigious event sees them sharing the bill with acts such as Hatebreed, Sonata Arctica, As I Lay Dying, Soilwork, Children of Bodom, Nightwish, Lordi and headline act Iron Maiden.
Van Canto's second album will be recorded across this month and next, with famed producer Charlie Bauerfeind, although no release date has yet been confirmed.
In light of recent events, van Canto member and founder Stefan Schmidt has given the band's first interview in English, all previous interviews being in German or Italian. Wikinews now exclusively brings you that interview below.
On the early days 
- How did you decide on the concept for the band?
After the split of my former band Jester’s Funeral I wanted to do something vocal oriented with a heroic attitude. It wasn’t planned to leave out all instruments in the beginning, it was an idea developed in the studio turning out to work great.
- Are there any similar bands you could say inspired you, or was it an original idea?
We are playing melodic metal, so my inspiration as a composer can be found in Blind Guardian and Nightwish. Metallica has always been a great influence for me, too. I don’t listen to many a capella bands, though. There’s a German a capella band called the Wise Guys which I like, but it’s pop and doesn’t have to do much with our style of singing or performing. Combining the metal style with the performing style a capella is the original part of the idea.
- In the music world, as with all aspects of life, new or rare ideas often meet with difficulties. How hard was it to get people to take you seriously at first?
It wasn’t that hard because we did not do much for it. We just presented our idea and many people liked it, some others didn’t. We don’t put much time in convincing people starting their argumentation with “you don’t use guitars, this is no metal”. I think everyone who takes the time to listen to our songs or to visit us performing live can see that we really love metal music and love to sing.
- Before you got your world signing, you changed drummers. Is the previous drummer still involved in any way with the band?
Yes, Strilli is still a friend of the band. Van canto first was planned as a studio project among friends. We didn’t expect it to turn out that successful. So Strilli joined the band for recordings and the video shoot although he had I think 4 or 5 bands at that time. When van canto seemed to demand more time, he decided to focus on other projects. It was not a problem for us, because he told us early and still managed to play all shows with us until we had our new drummer
- How did you select his replacement?
Bastian is my long time band mate since 12 years now. We played together in all our bands, only interrupted by the first van canto year, when he lived in China for one year. After he returned he was the first and only choice to follow up Strilli.
- When A Storm to Come was first released, did you expect the rapid success you subsequently received?
To be honest, from time to time we hoped it, but didn’t expect it. If you put that much time in a personal hobby and you notice that the result, the first songs, sound really great, of course you hope that other people like it as well. But the fact that we receive that much positive feedback in shortest time, without any support from a company or management makes us very happy. It shows that metal still works, there are thousands of people out there waiting for new music, fanzine authors working hours and hours on reviews and interviews without getting any money for it. It’s unbelievably great.
- How did you come to be selected for the Nightwish tour at such an early stage in the band's career? How did they discover you?
We got in touch with our current record company in April 2007. They managed to get in contact with the booking company of the “on a dark winter’s night”-performances. So we weren’t actually chosen by Nightwish themselves, and it was only for two shows, but nevertheless this was great.
- Do you feel being associated with them has given or will give your popularity a boost?
Of course! We played in front of 15.000 People within 24 hours and every magazine was there to see the first show of the new Nightwish singer in Germany. This was a great experience for us and the audience welcomed us very kindly.
- How easy or hard was it to get your world record deal? Did you see a lot of rejection beforehand, or was it fairly straightforward having by then shown the industry you were serious?
Unlike the approach we chose with our former bands, we didn’t contact any record company with our self-produced debut, but managed everything on our own. So this time the record companies contacted us after van Canto was recognized in the internet.
- What about your first video, for The Mission. How has that gone down with the industry?
We did this on our own as well. A friend of ours did all the writing, cutting and effects. We only had to pay a cameraman, a lighting technican and a make-up artist for 13 hours. It was great to see how many professional people have fun doing their work and not demand thousands of euros of a new formed band.
On the new album 
- Are things on track for the recording of the new album?
Yes, everything works fine. We recorded drums in November and January and will record all voices in March.
- When do you expect it to be released?
That’s up to the record company, I think it will be released in summer, so that the Wacken crowd can sing out the new songs.
- Can you give us an idea of what to expect from the new material?
If you do something new, you don’t have any references on how to sound. We noticed many things in the year after the recording of “a storm to come”. We now better know which words and syllables sound good in which context of the song. So I think our bass voice will be “more bass” our guitar voices will be “more guitar” and so on. From the songwriting point of view we are still in the melodic metal genre, what we call hero metal. We will also do some covers.
- What's it like working with Charlie Bauerfeind?
Great. He’s a great guy with a very high musical understanding. Having worked with Blind Guardian he definitely knows how to push voices, and many of them, in the right direction.
- Do you expect to release any singles this time round? Will there be another music video?
It’s too early to tell, we will first finish the recordings and then see what we can do around the songs.
- Do you anticipate comparable success with this album?
We wait for nothing but are thankful for everything happened so far and everything that is about to happen. Let’s see.
On Wacken Open Air 
- There are a lot of very big names announced for Wacken, as usual. Do you feel daunted by this?
Not daunted, but really exited. If we can really manage to shake hand with Iron Maiden I’m sure not being able to speak one comprehensible word, haha. But I guess every band playing on this year’s Wacken will try to shake hands with them so I better not too disappointed if it doesn’t work out.
- What about in terms of style? Wacken is known for the variety, but your music is the most unusual and amongst the lightest at the festival. Is that a worry for you? What sort of reaction do you expect?
On every festival we played so far, people were first irritated, then a little bit amused and not later than the third song we played most of the people were enthusiastic about our songs. I hope this will be the way it turns out to be in Wacken.
- What are your opinions on the other acts there? Are there any you want to see yourselves?
Iron Maiden of course, Nightwish are there and I’m also looking forward to the Avantasia show.
- Have any of you ever been to Wacken before as a fan or fans?
Of course. I have been there 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2005.
- Do you expect Wacken to open up new opertunities for you? Can we expect van Canto at, say, festivals in the US, UK or Japan?
Hmm – we hope so. We also have a great fan base in Brazil and try to get over there in the summer to do some shows.
- How long is your slot at Wacken?
We don’t know yet.
- Will we see more new material than anything, or will you perform a mix?
This depends on how long our slot is, but I think the focus will be on the second album then.
On the future of metal 
- Do you expect a capella metal to become a more common genre?
I don’t know. I think it would be great if other bands tried out so we can share our experience and do not have to find out everything on our own, haha.
- Do you expect other bands to be influenced and encouraged by your success?
I hope so. When we get mails from musicians or metalbands influenced by our style of songwriting our by the courage for doing something new we feel really great. I only started playing music because I was inspired by other bands as a teenager, it would be great if we could inspire other musicians, too.
- Do you think the industry should be more accepting of fresh or unusual ideas?
I think the term “the industry” is too general for that kind of question. I think that today the chances to get heard are better than 10 years ago. Everybody can produce an “ok-sounding” album and put up a video in youtube. And if it’s done well and the idea sticks out, the industry will contact the band, which is their job, actually.
- One subject that's been in the news a lot recently is bands complaining they feel exploited and/or by their record labels. Have you found this yourself?
We all had bad experiences with former bands and former record labels, but most of these labels have been one- or two-man-companies that didn’t have much money to invest. That’s why we decided to do everything on our own until we get a partner that is able to do all the things we do, only better.
- Another common complaint is about illegal downloading "killing" the indutry. What's your opinion on that?
Illegal downloading is not only killing the industry but also the bands behind. You can’t earn much money with music today, so of course I’m not happy when I read a comment under our youtube video saying “who can rip me the record? Where can I download it?”. I think we offer many possibilities for people who just want to check out one song: We have the youtube video, we have a stream player on our website and you can find lots of live bootlegs in the web. So if you really like the music you should buy a CD to give us the possibility to continue. But I think in metal most people act this way, they really buy CDs because they like to own the cover, the booklet and everything. It’s ok for us.
- What trends do you think we will see in metal over the next decade?
I don’t know and that’s the interesting part of it. Metal has been declared being dead about 1000 times and every year there are new bands with new ideas, great musicians and lots of people listening. I think there is much more to come.
- What advice do you have for artists of any genre strugling to find acceptance from the industry?
I don’t feel I am in the position of giving advice. We had a good idea, worked hard on it and were a little bit lucky finally. Perhaps it’s the most important thing to make music because you like it, not because you are expecting something. All van canto members have been playing in metal bands for about 10 or 12 years and now it seems as if people start to recognize us. Even if they hadn’t, I’m sure that I would have continued playing metal, because I like it. It’s a very important part of myself, so I don’t waste a thought on leaving that part away.