By Carl Begai
German a capella metal band Van Canto didn’t do themselves any favours kicking off the release of their fifth album, Dawn Of The Brave, with an oddball-titled single called ‘Badaboom’. Not because it’s a bad song – hell, fans of present day Manowar should be jealous – but because the band’s detractors are always seeking new ammunition for target practice. Van Canto are a thick-skinned sextet, however, and no strangers to people taking potshots at their brand of music. Eight years into their career, it’s fair to say the bitching and moaning from the outside fuels them as much as the accolades from their loyal fans.
“It’s been like that since the beginning of the band,” says vocalist Stefan Schmidt. “The only thing that’s changed is that the people who don’t like us have to admit that we’ve had some kind of success (laughs). The bad thing about it is that people who really don’t like us have gotten more personal in their reviews because they can’t understand how a band like Van Canto can exist for more than a couple years. I don’t think we have to justify ourselves anymore, but sometimes I have the feeling that even though we have a unique approach we often have to excuse ourselves for being unique. When I write songs I notice that I tend to sometimes do things that can cause controversy with certain people. Sometimes I think ‘No, you can’t do that because people will hate you for it…’ and then there’s another voice in my head saying ‘And that’s exactly why you should do it.'”
Which is probably why Van Canto haven’t turned out to be a flash in the pan; commitment coupled with being a healthy kind of stubborn.
“I recently did an interview with a big German magazine and the guy asked me what I say to people now that the joke is over. I asked him why is it that if an artist has a unique sound he or she or they can only make one album. There are so many metal bands that release 10 or 15 albums and they all sound the same, and they sound like other metal bands, but nobody asks them if the joke is over. I don’t know why they do that with Van Canto.”
Maybe that’s the difference between the open-minded professionals out there versus the kiddie journos who get offended by something they can’t wrap their brains around.
“If you put it that way I can live with it (laughs). We’re aware of the fact that a lot of the attraction Van Canto has is because of this gimmick, as some people call it, that we have. We talk to the people that come to our shows and we notice that when we go to the same town a second or third time there are always more and more people. Our music is different, and many people tell us they like us better live than on CD. It’s always great when a musician gets that kind of feedback.”
Admittedly, it’s a bit surprising that nobody in the metal world has attempted to follow in Van Canto’s footsteps and give them a run for their money. Much like Apocalyptica, who have the heavy metal cello business locked up tight – with German string quartet Eklipse being the only blip on the radar – Van Canto remain a stand-alone act.
“That’s interesting to us as well because we thought there might be some copycat bands turning up, or maybe some bands putting more a capella into their songs, but it’s good for us that it hasn’t happened,” says Schmidt. “Doing this is a lot of hard work, though, so I can understand those musicians that might have had the same idea and then discovered just how much time and effort is involved. It’s not for everyone. There aren’t a lot of bands trying to copy Apocalyptica, for example, so perhaps it’s a sign that what we’re doing is also on a very high level.”
Attaching the “metal” label to songs featuring a capella vocals performances backed solely by drums seems like a stretch, but knowing the music is in fact written in a traditional vocals/guitars/bass/drums format makes it easier to swallow somehow. And really, it’s not hard to imagine the songs dressed up as full blown metal tunes. Asked if they always think in terms of metal or incorporate different styles of music, Schmidt chooses the latter.
“I think that most of the really good songs written in pop history can easily be transformed into metal songs. Metal is my favourite kind of music, but that doesn’t mean that some of our songs wouldn’t work in a different shape as well. ‘Fight For Your Life’ on the new album, for example, I can also imagine as an orchestral piece. When I first played the chords for the song I thought of a big orchestra and choir doing it, and I think this is why the cover versions we do work so well. In the end it’s all about the song arrangements.”
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