Seven years after "A Closer Inspection" Mrs. Kite now releases her third album "Flickering Lights". It was worth the wait: The album presents a modern progressive rock that doesn't need to hide from the big names of the scene. Florian Schuch (vocals, keyboards), his brother Ferdinand (guitar), Philipp Verenkotte (bass) and Lukas Preußer (drums) have now released three albums - the first in 2006 still under the old band name It's Us.
Like its two predecessors, Flickering Lights" won the German Rock and Pop Award in the category "Best Progressive Band". But the prize didn't bring Mrs. Kite much luck, as the band remained rather an unknown quantity in the local prog scene despite their undeniable great qualities. That should and can now change with the new album that eclipsed talked about with the Cologne quartet.
eclipsed: For three years you worked on the album. Why did it take so long?
Lukas Preußer: To produce such a multilayered and complex album like "Flickering Lights" is just a lot of work! Seriously: There are several reasons for that. We are all working and at the same time we have high expectations of ourselves and our music. Unfortunately you can't produce a complete CD in a few months. We also wanted to record most of the music together, so that we could get direct feedback on the track and make the songs even more complete. To make this possible, a lot of arrangements were necessary. We had the mix (as well as the drum recordings) done by Dirk Brouns at Maasland Studio in Sittard in the Netherlands, who did a great job. However, we weren't on location in Holland for the mixing and got the different versions via internet, had to get an impression, get feedback and then report our requests for the next mix. That took a lot of time.
eclipsed: It says in the booklet "Music by Ferdinand Schuch. Lyrics by Florian Schuch/Philipp Verenkotte". How do your songs originate? How do you turn Ferdinand's originals into the finished song?
Philipp Verenkotte: It is the case that Ferdi already provides us with relatively "finished", through-composed and very high-quality demos, which are then the basis for the joint rehearsal work. Depending on the ideas of the other three of us, the arrangement - sometimes more, sometimes less - is still being worked on. This can be illustrated quite vividly with me on the drums: Sometimes the drumlines and licks designed by Ferdi are so strong that I actually listen to them one to one and take them over, but sometimes I change a lot. But since the demos are sung exclusively with "nonsense lyrics", Flo and I take care of the lyrics afterwards. We are already a well-rehearsed team, in the end we wrote all lyrics of our songs in co-production.
eclipsed: You are often compared to Porcupine Tree. I did that in my review as well. How do you rate these comparisons? Do they annoy you? Or do you take them as a compliment?
Ferdinand Schuch: This is certainly a double-edged sword: On the one hand, for us, as a relatively unknown band, it is of course a compliment to be compared with absolute protagonists and icons of the scene. It can be very helpful to get a kind of "labeling" because a certain audience feels directly addressed. On the other hand, we are a bit surprised that we are said to be so close to Porcupine Tree of all places. Sure, we all like the band and the music very much - but when we talk about musical influences, we immediately come up with completely different names. Our weakness for polyphonic vocals, for example, can probably be traced back to the Beatles, who are among our very first and most formative musical influences. We first came to "Prog" in the classical sense via the old Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd and Supertramp, before a whole new world opened up for us around the year 2000 with Dream Theater. In this context, we have to mention bands like Spock's Beard, Enchant, Devin Townsend or Pain Of Salvation, who have certainly influenced us as well and who - just like the first mentioned bands from the 70s - we would at least not ascribe any less influence on our musical development than Porcupine Tree
eclipsed: You only release an album about every six years. The new album "Flickering Lights" was surely created under completely different conditions than the album before. Which further development has there been in your band? As a band? Personally? What is the difference between "Flickering Lights" and its predecessor "A Closer Inspection"?
Ferdinand Schuch: Of course there have been a lot of changes in the time. Starting with the fact that a lot has happened personally - Lukas, for example, became a father of two -, that each individual has developed further on the instrument and that his personal musical horizon has also become wider. As a result the band as a whole has grown musically. That then also has an effect on such a production process. While "A Closer Inspection" is perhaps a bit darker and more difficult to access in terms of the songs, we also made sure that the song selection for "Flickering Lights" is a bit more open and catchy. I think that you can simply listen to the songs faster. Our goal with "Flickering Lights" was to create a round album sound and at the same time to let all facets of our music sound through
Florian Schuch: If you look at the result alone and look for changes and further developments in this respect, an important point is certainly the development of the recording technology. Not only did we ourselves become much more familiar with the whole subject of recording, but we also had professional support with drum recordings and mixing. That helps the accessibility of the album again.
eclipsed: For the third time you have won the German Rock and Pop Award in the category "Best Progressive Band". So with every album. A proud series. What do you think about it? How do you even take part in this competition?
Lukas Preußer: One can and must apply for participation in one of several, very differentiated categories. We always did that when we had a new album at the start. And, yes of course, the series is already a nice thing.
eclipsed: Yet you have remained relatively unknown even in the progressive rock scene. How do you explain that?
Florian Schuch: We don't know exactly either. However, there were already some unfavorable circumstances. Right after our first CD (still released as It's Us) our bass player at that time left the band. The release of the second album coincided with the start of the professional life of most of us - so it was difficult in both cases to promote the album really well or to play more concerts. And of course, we could have done a bit more PR back then. But in addition to that: The German Rock and Pop Award may have a good reputation with radio stations and local newspapers, but nothing more. Its sphere of action is very limited. And last but not least, as a "smaller" band, we had a hard time finding gigs outside of our hometown that would allow us to reach a genre-interested audience.
eclipsed: On your website you refer to yourselves as "persuaders". A nice word. What are you convinced of?
Philipp Verenkotte: The kind of music we make. It may sound a bit banal, but for us it contains two very decisive aspects: On the one hand, it would certainly be easier, less complex and possibly also more promising if we simply played simpler songs, less complex, simpler harmonies, more suitable for the masses - only: Then we wouldn't stand behind our own music anymore. We consciously accept the fact that we have to invest more rehearsal work, more own preparation, more time for a CD production and at the same time we have to expect less performance possibilities, less listeners and a certain niche existence. We don't do this because we are work-hungry and shy of audiences, but because it is simply the music that gives us all pleasure. On the other hand, we are also convinced that "progressive" music in the literal sense of the word means that you are striving to constantly develop yourself stylistically and musically as a band: From our point of view, music is not "prog" just because it contains more than three harmonies and the metre changes frequently. In our opinion, progressive music does not have to be an arithmetical exercise, but the emotional approach is the first and most important one. Hopefully you can convince yourself of this when listening to our music.
eclipsed: In my opinion your music is complex but not complicated. Or in other words: Your music is demanding but not exhausting. How do you manage that?
Ferdinand Schuch: That's a nice compliment - in the end that's exactly where we want to go. The fact that our music is rather unobtrusively demanding is due to a very intuitive compositional process. When I'm composing, I've never set myself the goal of writing something complicated. Playing with listening expectations is of course important for an interesting composition, but at the same time I try not to artificially break these expectations just so that it sounds complicated in the end. When I compose, I prefer to sit somewhere with my guitar or piano, but never at my computer, hoping that I can think of something in a crooked time signature. I could never write music in such an imbecile way. Only later, when the basic compositional idea is finished, I go to my PC and produce a demo version. If it should sound a bit more complicated, it's a natural compositional process, without being an end in itself. Our drummer explains to me about crooked time signatures in our songs while rehearsing.
eclipsed: You guys renamed yourselves Mrs. Kite after the first It's Us album. Why?
Philipp Verenkotte: The name "It's Us" was already created in 1996 - when we were a young school band covering Beatles songs. With time we had the feeling that we had "outgrown" the name a little bit. In 2013 then, at the end of the work on "A Closer Inspection", we decided to change it. Florian
Schuch: The choice of the new name was actually a little bit due to the Beatles: "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite" from the "Sgt. Pepper" record inspired us - fittingly so, because both the song and the record itself are decisive for the musical development of the Beatles - i.e. quasi progressive music in its purest form. And last but not least we found and still find the name "Mrs. Kite" simply strong and catchy.
eclipsed: Please tell us about the origins of the band. Where do you come from? How did you meet? How do you keep your motivation high through the big gaps between the albums?
Florian Schuch: Ferdi is my little brother and I have been going to school together with Philipp in the Cologne area since the 7th school year - so the three of us have known each other for quite a long time. We've also developed very similarly musically, because we've been listening to music together very early on - roughly since we were eleven years old - and in this way we've always experienced musical "discoveries" relatively simultaneously. In 1996 we already founded It's Us. Lukas, on the other hand, is our "Nordlicht", comes from Bremerhaven and joined the band already in 2007 during a "bassist casting", after we needed a new bassist after our first album. We were very lucky that his studies attracted him to the beautiful Rhineland. Keeping his motivation high was actually a big challenge at times. But also here it helped a lot that we are - as Philipp described it - people of conviction. As hackneyed as it sounds: it is the joy of music that has helped us over many a length of time. And right now it is of course very motivating to see how well our new album is being recorded - hopefully we can "follow up" a bit faster this time.
*** Interview: Bernd Sievers