FELIX MARC, the songwriter, composer and producer for such bands as DIORAMA and FROZEN PLASMA, finally made time for his own solo project again. We took the chance to ask him a few questions - about the new album, production, inspirations and above all the things that matter. About the ‘Substance’.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: First of all congratulations of the new album, it seems to me you’re an extremely busy man these days. I’ve been checking up on what you’ve been up to the past months - with some concerts with DIORAMA at the end of 2018 and the tour coming up with FROZEN PLASMA to promote new material, sounds like a lot. So the first question I wanted to ask is: how do you actually manage to coordinate it all?
Felix: Thank you. I am quite happy to have my fourth solo album finished now and ready to release. I am involved in several projects since a long time, DIORAMA and FROZEN PLASMA plus my own solo project. Add to this that I have a challenging daytime job and also a family with two young kids, I have to carefully manage my time. But so far, album finishing phases have always been very intense and time consuming. I am happy to be still able to keep my life in a balance. Anyway, without the music as a counter-balancing element, it wouldn’t be possible.
RoD: ‘Substance’ release date is scheduled for 15th of March 2019; it’s is a solid piece of work; twelve songs of perfect quality, dancy synth pop with melancholic tint. How do you feel about the new release?
Felix: Looking at the final result, I am quite happy how the album turned out now in the final status. Looking back at the production process and the collection of songs, it perfectly reflects the moments I have encountered during the last two years. In this sense, I can say it is again a very autobiographical compilation. Very personal and profound.
RoD: About the title: ‘Substance’ could suggest something essential, important, vital, the core - what is it that you wanted to say by it? What is your own understanding of “substance”?
Felix: I discovered the real background of my true inheritance when I was twenty years old. Back then my host family disclosed to me the fact that I was adopted by them when I was only some weeks young. All these years I was being raised without knowing where I am really coming from. In an adolescence age this can be really upsetting, so after having suffered from this news in the first place I decided to put this fact about myself away for the next twenty years and hide it in my innermost place. It was only four years ago, during a tough personal crisis when I decided to go into a psychological therapy that helped me to dig up this old history of mine. Actually it helped me to cope with my past and finally ended up in the right moment to write a song or even a whole album about it. Substance to me means to look beyond the superficial way of life. It means to ask somebody “how do you really feel” and “what is the essence of life for you”? What is important and fuels you? Where do you come from? What is your substance?
RoD: I also wanted to ask about the cover for the album - at various promo shots for the release you pose on it with your eyes covered, sealed or restrained with strings. What do want to say by such visual depiction?
Felix: Nice that you relate to the concept. Since I am talking about the substance it means to look inside of yourself and search for it. I had several ideas of how to visually transport this essential message - blindfolded face, black eyes, closed eyes, etc. - before a good friend of mine from Russia came up with the idea of having no eyes and eyelids at all (thanks Agent B.). I am convinced that this is the best solution to get the message across.
RoD: Majority of the lyrics on your albums treat about relationships, emotions - do you think of yourself as of an emotional person or is this only a representation on the album? Something that you find comfortable to write about?
Felix: Ever since I found out that I was adopted I guess I had an issue with relationships; to be able to trust or stay in relationships with good faith. Subconsciously, this is what I have to digest and what my lyrics are about most of the time. It comes out of me naturally. In general, I wouldn’t consider myself as a too emotional person. I am very rational actually, which sometimes is considered to be rather the opposite of emotional.
RoD: When you think of what inspired you when you worked on previous albums and the current one - how would you say your musical inspirations have evolved through the years and how do you feel it’s reflected on ‘Substance’?
Felix: I believe there is a chronological, logical line in my releases when it comes to evolution of sound and music. You learn with every single release about sound shaping and mixing and also the expectation you have on yourself about how you want the songs to sound. The stories behind each song reflected in the lyrics remain essential to form a solid composition together with the music. This will never change for me. So summarizing, I believe ‘Substance’ is by far my best sounding album or put otherwise - this is the best I can do.
RoD: When you work on your own version of another artist’s song - is the case of ‘Substance’ it’s ‘The Promise You Made’ with the original being COOK ROBIN’s song - what determines the choice for the material?
Felix: When it comes to remakes or cover songs, time and opportunity determine the choice. This original song has been accompanying and influencing me since I ever first heard it in the late 80s and I have only decided to lay my own hands on it last year after meeting my musical soul mate Lis after a long time again.
RoD: Tell me more about the cooperation with Lis Van Den Akker that accompanies you at ‘The Promise You Made’ - what inspired you to invite her to cooperate on the album?
Felix: Lis and I met after a DIORAMA show in Oberhausen last year; after haven’t being in contact for a couple of years. Each one running the own lifeline. However, we came to the point where we reminded ourselves that music is the essential part in our lives, and it is a great chance to share this blessing. We made the agreement then to do another song together, after ‘Fields of Grey’ on the ‘Parallel Worlds’ album. Luckily, I had the idea of ‘The Promise You Made’ at this time because I was intensively listening again to COCK ROBIN’s best of album. Besides a musical 100% fit to this song because of her voice, Lis is just a great person to work with, an amazing soul and a long-time friend.
RoD: ‘Our Time’ sounds a bit like a statement – what’s your opinion about the current times?
Felix: True - it is a statement. Anybody with the slightest global mind-set today must be concerned about what is going on. I see the world is drifting apart. It is on the news every day and I have the feeling that the so-called leaders of the world are not able to solve the basic issues. It is just so much out of balance and we are running out of time. War in every corner of the planet, ecological neglecting leads to the destruction of our environment, costs of living become insane, fake news all over the place instead of bringing it down to obvious facts, while all we care about is who will be Germany’s next top model.
RoD: I also wanted to ask about your way of arranging the sounds, like e.g. in ‘Lost in Grace’, ‘New Wave’ or ‘Vertigo’ - these are definitely club, dancy hits - it’s noticeable that they are arranged with almost mathematical precision yet you somehow manage to make them achieve that nice feeling of space the soundtracks sometimes feature. I can also sense that at ‘Totem’ that opens the album in particular - what is the sonic effect that you want to achieve when giving the final cut to your songs in the production process?
Felix: There is no deeper mathematical algorithm in my approach to create new songs. Ambience is extremely important for me in my compositions. Dance tunes normally have a rather direct rhythm backline, broad pads and a catchy lead sound. So after recording the initial idea of a song, in the final production phase I try to bring it back to these essential sound categories. I guess it also has to do with the tools I use. And of course I purchase new tools over time that serve as a source of inspiration as well. For this album I mostly relied on my various Waves plug-ins for sound compression and panoramic sound designing. Secondly, the vocals take up most of the time in my production process. Usually they are layered across various octaves and backings to achieve a nice choral sound. Finally, the rhythm section has to feature enough punch especially in the mid-tempo and up-tempo tracks that you mentioned.
RoD: ‘To the World’ sounds like the calmest, most melancholic song on the album. The lyrics go: “I am the blind man in the corner, watching the beauty on the street, faking a smile within this madness to the world”. What is the song about? Is the blind man also the one from the album cover?
Felix: In the end, it is the visual statement of the album title - and yes, it can be the image from the album cover. You take the moment to step aside into the corner, while the madness of the world continues. You reflect it on yourself, but you are unable to decipher the real beauty or substance anymore, because you are distracted and misled. So it is a truly sad image that I describe here actually.
RoD: You used the monologue from James Foley’s Glengarry Glen Ross in the song closing the album ‘Getout’. The movie is - to put it shortly - about competition and survival in the business world. Why did you choose that particular film to be included in your song? And what is the song about?
Felix: Respect to your research work. This scene is so strong and Alec Baldwin is amazing as the asshole boss. The song ‘Getout’ has several aspects to it. First, I wrote it when I was struggling to find a new job last year and had to stand some nasty moments of taking shit from my bosses. So the sample from that movie fits perfectly to this experience I had to go through. Secondly, that movie was introduced to me in the past by a friend who decided to take her own life in 2017. Also due to a situation she couldn’t get out of. So the song is also a tribute to her and all the people in desperate situations. Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask a friend for help.
RoD: To sum up our discussion on the album - I had a feeling that ‘Substance’ in comparison to ‘Alternative Facts’ or even earlier albums ‘Pathways’ or ‘Parallel worlds’ is a bit more melancholic - even though it contains a lot of dancy, rhythmical pieces it’s still calmer, more thoughtful, reflexive. Not sure it that was your intent - is it a reflection of your musical inspirations at the current point or the point you’re in a person?
Felix: I have the same impression - it is for sure more melancholic than the previous albums. And this is the result of how things went for me the last 2-3 years. I didn’t intend to make a melancholic album but the autobiographical approach in my musical creations led me to this inevitable result. It had to be like this.
RoD: After the ‘Substance’ is released in March - what next? Are you planning any concerts with the project? What are the next things we may expect from you?
Felix: First the celebration of the release of course. Yet a live concept is out of scope for me for my solo project due to the lack of time. However, I will now focus on the other two projects - DIORAMA and FROZEN PLASMA. With both of them, I am working heavily on the next album releases for this year. It will be a very creative and intense year for me with music.
RoD: Thank you very much for your time and see you during the concerts.
Felix: Thank you for your interesting, reflecting questions. What is your substance?
Promo pictures by Thomas Wuhrer (http://wuhrer-fotostylez.de)