They still exist: the real insider tips, even from Germany! Isaac Vacuum from Krefeld is definitely one of them. The influences of the quartet are manifold, although they all form a splendid symbiosis on the debut album "Lords". The heavily grooving basic structure connects the band with modernjent-, sludge- and even stoner-elements. Various atmospheric parts and soundscapes are borrowed from postrock. In addition there is the partly jazzy floating drumming and the fact that with Stefan Huth's Touch Guitar and various effects (also live) you can bring other highly interesting facets into play. Shortly before her performance on 29.9. at the Euroblast Festival in Cologne we talked to Stefan Huth.
eclipsed: Stefan, with "Lords" you cover a relatively large stylistic range. How would you classify yourself? In the tradition of which bands do you see each other?
Stefan Huth: Of course, you always use something stylistically in the music that you personally like to hear and like. Each of us has different preferences and musical backgrounds. The technically tricky side comes rather from progressive rock, whereby we also like to get out of hand and improvise soundscapes, which can then be assigned more to post rock or sometimes even to drone or ambient music. So we just named the kid Post.Prog.Rock. In the end, I'd call us a rock band - period! We don't have any direct role models, but Mastodon, Opeth or Russian Circles are probably bands where we all really come to a common denominator. But also King Crimson, Tool and the Seattle scene have left their mark on us.
eclipsed: Do you even feel comfortable with the term "progressive"? What does this term mean to you? Is this label perhaps even a stigma, with which one has rather disadvantages?
Huth: "Progressive" for us basically means that we can do musically what we want without using any styles or clichés. In this sense we naturally feel very comfortable with it. However, many people associate progressive music with soulless fiddling and music that is only interesting for musicians. Many organizers then always quickly put something like this into a drawer. But the organizers, who are serious about it, listen carefully. So I wouldn't really call it a stigma.
eclipsed: Which musician brings which influences to the music of Isaac Vacuum?
Huth: A big plus for us is that we have established musicians who each have their own individual sound. Our guitarist and singer Dan comes from the heavy rock corner and is a big fan of the grunge and sludge scene. He is the one who pays attention not to deviate too much from the song service. Philipp (Gitarre/Backings) makes sure that it becomes either spherical or quite the opposite, deeply smacking and pushing properly. Roughly speaking, I'd call him the metal guy in the band. Michel (drums) is totally into Meshuggah, is a jazz student and likes sometimes tricky electronic music. I (Touch Guitars) grew up with King Crimson and a lot of Progmetal and also did Fusion and Jazz. So Michel and I are rather the technical antithesis to Dan and Phil. You might think it's very difficult to reconcile all this. But it's easier than expected, because everyone can bring in their own style. Somehow it just goes together.
eclipsed: How difficult is the live implementation of the different sound layers you bring together?
Huth: Once the sounds have been worked out properly, it's not too difficult. It is important to us that everything we play is live. However, it can take some time to realise this in advance and we are very picky about that. Some people call us absolute "sound and gear nerds" - which we can't deny either. (laughs) We are very fond of detail and make sure that we harmonize well in terms of frequency. It can happen in the song that we change the bass/guitar role or that a guitar is permanently octavated upwards. I've often heard from the audience that it's totally interesting to find out again and again who is playing exactly what.
eclipsed: Sound effects also play a not unimportant role with you. In what tradition do you see yourselves in this regard?
Huth: Actually we like to turn one or the other button. (laughs) With "Off" and "Post Scriptum" we also have some sound collages on "Lords" which were cut together from complete improvisations with a lot of effects. If there really is a tradition I would associate it with Brian Eno or Robert Fripp or maybe with modern film composers.
eclipsed: If you take a closer look at your texts, you will also notice a more intellectual side to them. What's geht´s? Which topics are important to you?
Huth: With "Lords" we created an album that fits frighteningly well into our time. A lot is changing in the world at the moment, a lot is changing, some things are crumbling. Some people are afraid of it, others take advantage of it. These are highly exciting topics, both social and psychological, and offer an infinite amount of material that can be processed in lyrical form. However, we never explicitly write politically or religiously, but like to leave statements in space without dissolving them. Interpretation latitude is important in order to let a song have an individual effect.
eclipsed: Who designed the album cover and how does it relate to the album title or the band name?
Huth: The album cover is based on "Hybris", the work of a friendly artist Gerhard Hahn, which our house and yard photographer Nils Voges captured photographically for us. The work was assembled in filigree work from thousands of small fragments of clay, which together form an almost two-metre-high, mighty and threatening Babeltower. The parallels to us and our music are obvious: big, bulky and somehow difficult to classify. (laughs)
eclipsed: The name Isaac Vacuum means what?
Huth: The idea was to create an artificial figure that would bring together the contrast between human emotions and scientific rationality. That certainly seems to polarize. The name itself is pure onomatopoeia.
eclipsed: How does the songwriting work with you? Rehearsal room or lone fighter?
Huth: Quite simply, off to the rehearsal room, bringing in ideas, jamming and recording the whole thing. This works great for us. After the formation of the band in 2014 we only improvised for a year, then catalogued the ideas (according to mood/tempo etc.) and finally arranged them. As soon as the arrangement is finished, Dan will take care of the lyrics. Almost everything that can be heard on "Lords" comes from these sessions and there is a lot more to it.
eclipsed: You're a typical Do It Yourself band. How exhausting is that when you have a certain claim, but in principle the whole thing turns out to be a "hobby without payment"?
Huth: With "Lords" we have already reached our limits. Since, like most bands, the budget was limited, we had to do as much as possible ourselves. Except for the drum recordings we rented at Le Fink Studio for, I recorded all my instruments in my home studio or in the rehearsal rooms of my friends' bands. With Phil and Dan we have two designers in the band who took care of artwork and CI and organized photo shootings. Since we are all still doing "normal" jobs, it was really very exhausting. If we hadn't set a final date, we'd probably still be there. However, we are extremely satisfied with the result and have also received very positive feedback and support. It's just the fun and passion of the music why we do it at all. At the moment the booking for 2018 is on the agenda, where we are all pulling together. Of course it is still niche music. We would like to play more concerts, but unfortunately we often reach the limits of our capacities and possibilities. We are therefore currently looking for a suitable booker to help us find and fill these niches.
eclipsed: How important is the Internet for a band like Isaac Vacuum?
Huth: Very important. Starting with marketing via Instagram, Facebook and Co., 90% of the bookings are done online. Fortunately, progressive music lovers in particular are still buying CDs. It is really important to support small bands through this. The younger generations hardly know this any more. "It's all online." In my opinion it is therefore important to show a lot of presence. Be it on Youtube with music videos or on streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify. You earn almost nothing, but at least the range increases. Reviews of online magazines are also a good way to do this.
eclipsed: Your main instrument is the Touch Guitar. How did you get into this? Which musicians have influenced you in this respect? What characteristics does this instrument have that you prefer it to a normal electric guitar?
Huth: I started playing tapping-instruments in 1999. Decisive for me as a King Crimson fan were of course Tony Levin and Trey Gunn. I was simply thrilled that, similar to the piano, you can cover the range of bass and guitar. And since you work with all 10 fingers on the fingerboard using only the tapping technique, you can even play both at the same time. After many seminars and concerts I met Markus Reuter of Tony Levin's Stick Men at the 2014 E-Tap Seminar in Belgium and was enthusiastic about the Touch Guitar. You simply notice that the instrument was developed by someone who also plays it live and who also has a head for technology. Meanwhile some years have passed and I work for Markus and Touch Guitars and give workshops and showcases at stick-men-concerts. That's how fast it can go.
*** Mike Borrink
The current playlist of Isaac Vacuum Touch guitarist Stefan Huth:
1st hook - Affinity
2nd Ayreon - The Source
3rd Amplifier - Trippin' With Dr. Faustus
4th Katatonia - The Fall Of Hearts
5th Agent Fresco - Destrier