Chris Harms (guitar, vocal, cello) from Lord of the Lost
LORD OF THE LOST is definitely a band that managed to win ears and hearts of the audience worldwide - starting from the scratch they have built a reputation of extremely creative and inspiring artists, also perfectly prepared and detail-oriented ones.
I catch up with Chris Harms, the leader of LOTL, while he is in Bulgaria, doing some new recordings. I have always thought of him as of a multi-dimensional artist and the hell of a hard-worker - he managed to build his success and the team of professional talents around him by means of his passion, love for music and art and his charisma. And I must say I really respect it. Busy as he is, he found a bit of time to answer a few questions - about current situation, the video and music making for LORD OF THE LOST, democracy in the band and how the skipping rope may actually be a useful tool that serves a creative process and if he would ever consider to model naked…
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: How many hours of sleep do you need per day Chris?
Chris: Well, that changed a lot during the last couple of years. Meanwhile I need 8 hours per day to be in a top shape, physically and mentally. I needed much less, and if necessary, I can still go back to “no sleep mode” for a while but then need to sleep for a whole day to after some time to re-create. I might leave the impression that I don’t sleep and that I constantly work. This impression is partially wrong. I don’t really work much more than 40 hours per week, pretty regular. The reason why I’m having such a high output is not the amount of work. The reason is that first I work very efficient, structured and thus fast, and second that I’m working with the best team. I’m not doing a one-man-show; teamwork and delegating work, that’s the key. I’m more like a project manager, the hub, the centre of a much bigger web in a much bigger process. That way I can easily be involved in the production of 10-20 albums a year. Perfect job for me, because I’m not a specialist, I’m a generalist. I’m not perfect in anything, there’s nothing I’m outstandingly good at. But I know how to do many things moderately. And I am able to do high-level multi-tasking. So, it might sound weird, but in a way, mediocrity is my superpower.
The best example is this very moment where I am answering the questions to this interview. I’m sitting in a studio in Bulgaria, recording string instruments for the LOTL album number 7. My job is to sit on the couch, on ear on the production, just screaming “no” if something does not seem to be right. This gives me time to answer these questions. Corvin, one of the wonderful guys from our production team is sitting there with an iPad with the sheet music, controlling what’s being recorded in detail while to guys of the Bulgarian studio are sitting at the console, pressing buttons and communicating with the orchestra musicians.
RoD: I’m asking this, cause calling you a turbo man of renaissance would still be a huge understatement… music, lyrics, production, videos, fanbase and so on so forth… and life in the meantime. You must actually love it… is passion the fuel that drives you through all obstacles and challenges that you obviously come across during your work?
Chris: Yes, I love my job. And when I wake up in the morning I’m looking much forward to my daily duties, I literally can’t wait to get back to the studio or my workplace at home. If I didn’t have breakfast with my son before I bring him to school, I’d forget that I’m hungry and start working right away. I have more ideas for music, bands, projects, songs, videos, art in general, which I could never realize in my lifetime. That’s why I’ve never struggled with any “writer’s block” or such like, because when I don’t have new ideas, I’m starting to realize some of the old ones.
RoD: As stated above - You seem to be involved in so many (all?) things related to LOTL - music, lyrics, merchandise, videos, promotion - do you think it gives artistic freedom to have everything under your supervision or is it rather a sign of being a control freak? Are you? A perfectionist I mean. You form a band as equals, from an outsider such as myself it’s actually hard to see a hierarchy in the band - is the creative process also democratic, a brainstorm thing or you rather have people responsible for their own parts and then someone (you) linking it altogether in one entity or is it rather that you’re controlling the entire concept?
Chris: Yes, I’m involved in everything, to the last detail I know about everything. Because I love what I’m doing. And you’re right, it gives us artistic freedom. We don’t need to rely on someone to create our merch. We just do it ourselves. We don’t need to be dependent on a promotion agency. We do our own stuff and hire an agency to co-operate or work together with our label if needed. If our label comes up with their own promo plan for a record, they also speak to us and we work out a big masterplan together, as they also know that teamwork is the key. DIY and partners, you can trust - perfect. I don’t know if my band mates see me as a control freak. If they did, I’m sure, I hope, they would have told me. Being chief in command is a matter of trust and respect. For all parties involved. And we work very well, as friends and colleagues. I myself don’t see myself as a control freak. But I think a real control freak wouldn’t recognize. Ask Trump if he’s a narcissist - the answer would surely be “no”.
Our hierarchy is simple. Actually, there is no hierarchy because nearly all ideas I or someone else comes up with is welcomed and passionately loved by all the others. But if, in some very rare moments, we can’t seem to decide some things or if I am not happy with the direction something is going to, I have the right to have the final say - period. So, what’s happening is, if I’m having an idea, I’m asking everyone for input, critics, things to add... And then I’m trying to weave in all these ideas without compromising. Because compromises are the number 1 killer of artistic visions. If it’s not possible to realize everyone’s ideas that I have the right to vote out some of them to keep the general thing consistent and stable. For fun we call this concept “democratic dictatorship”.
RoD: You have your own production TV of the Lost - was it an autocreation need or was there another reason for starting it? Did you want to show yourselves from your own perspective, did you need more control over your image without waiting for journalists? Or was there another reason?
Chris: I got the general idea to do something like this “when I’ll be having my own band” while watching Manson’s tour documentary “God Is In The TV” back in 1999. I liked how they combined live footage with funny backstage scenes. I remember Manson throwing cheeseburgers at John 5’s head. And I thought: Yes, this band is making such a show but does not give a fuck showing themselves in the backstage, like silly kids on a class trip. I thought it was so simpatico and nice. And for me, it did not destroy any of the mystery, it actually supported it. Because I realized that all of this was not coming for some mysterious power out of the blue, but was made up by real humans. I could relate to that. A lot. So, I decided to go that way, later, if I’d ever get the chance to become somehow successful myself. In 2011 then we played our first support tour with LOTL, supporting the band Mono Inc. and they were doing their own “Tour TV”. Very short clips, with some live footage and some behind-the-scenes. So later, in summer that year, we said “we need to do this ourselves”. But after just a couple of episodes we realized that the way MONO INC. was doing their episodes was much too boring for us. Too short, too repetitive, too reeled off. So, we decided to really show all the weird stuff, make it real personal, to let go and give the audience our “cheeseburger moments”. And we’re still doing it that way. We tried to check if we’re holding a world record here without amount of self- produced episodes of “Band TV”, but we could not really find out...
RoD: Either I look at the imagery related to your videos or listen to your music I have a feeling your imagination and artistic vision is unlimited, unstrained. Experience, dreams, emotions etc. while translated into the world of sounds and images is really done in bold and style, sometimes overwhelming richness. What is your perception of the world to have such an unbound vision and how would you say your sensitivity was shaped to give such a result?
Chris: I really don’t know. I’m not trying to analyse this. I’ve been asked this a lot but I have no reason to question that. In the end all ideas just come, they are not controllable anyway.
RoD: Do you impose any frames, any aesthetic or musical rules to what you create? I have always had a feeling your approach is more experimental, like a traveller’s one - let’s try a new path this time and see where it takes us rather than keeping yourselves in Goth, Metal, Rock or what not pocket. And no matter if it was PHILIAE, THE PLEASURES, BIG BOY, UNTERART or LORD or LORD OF THE LOST related - it has always been like a shift mask ball - a changing kaleidoscope of colours, tones, emotions and impressions hence my question - is there any leash, an upper concept behind all these elements? Or you just you just let yourself go?
Chris: In general, there are no borders, no frames, no dogma. But within certain projects, of course there’s always a certain horizon of expectations and thus some borders we have to work within. But it’s not different from any other project - If you’re writing a book about some knight’s tale from medieval times you won’t find star ship Enterprise suddenly entering the scene. Same with us. If we’re doing a music video for topic A then we’re not combining it with elements of topic B. Unless a weird crossover would be the concept.
But I really would not call a no-boundaries-mindset “experimental”. Being experimental, to me, means “hey, let’s just go this way and just see what happens”. This is not what we do. But we are embracing most weird ideas, and if we’re getting really hooked on them, we’re trying to find ways to make them fit in our concepts. To directly answer your questions: No, there is no leash and there is no upper concept behind all the named bands / elements. Letting ourselves go? While listening to our subconscious mind, yes, while realizing these ideas, no.
RoD: ‘Swan songs III’ was released in August 2020 - in poetry a swan song is associated with the last, final song before death, like e.g. that last poem the writer releases - in what way is this the case with your album? It features extremely appealing, beautiful content, it left me thoughtful and emotionally satiated and yet longing somehow - what was the concept behind it? Did you reach to your classical roots with it?
Chris: We never meant the term “Swan Songs” to mark any kind of end. We just thought it was a beautiful picture to describe our “soft side”. Because a dying swan, at least in our opinion, would not sing the rock version of ‘La Bomba’ to initiate the end of his earthly existence. And sure, in a way the whole concept of ‘Swan Songs’ is bringing me back to my classical roots, because this is how I started to make music in the first place.
RoD: ‘Schwarz Rot Gold’ is a manifesto. When you look around these days there are a lot of restrictions imposed on people and on the other growing protests against them, a strong social revolt, a refusal. And I’m not saying only political ones like in the US or e.g. Belarus, but also ecological, human rights, minorities and poverty related - to name just a few. What is your own opinion about the world we are living in and how the situation influences you as an artis and a human being? Do you feel it may find a reflection in your art to a wider extent or should art be an escape from reality? Would you call yourself an escapist?
Chris: Well, answering this, to detail, would be a too-long-for-this-interview topic. So, let’s say, the song itself says it all. And although we are clearly connecting this one here to Germany, by using a pun to “Schwarz ROT Gold” which means “black red gold”, the colours of the German flag, this song can be associated to many countries, situations or even personal conflicts, all around the world.
RoD: LORD OF THE LOST stylistics is definitely your musical choice - and obviously it works. Do you think it requires courage to go your own artistic path or rather there is no other choice? That compromises in music are the best way to have everything ruined? In other words - is being true to yourself an act of courage or rather a necessity?
Chris: Luckily, I never had any kind of contract with any label that forced me to give up my musical freedom of choice. It’s always our way or the highway. And as I said before, compromises are the death of art. We don’t do compromises. And it’s always funny when people approach us and congratulate us to, for example, ‘Thornstar’, saying that we did a perfect job analysing the market, finding a sound perfectly aligned to and flavoured for the market, the Metal and Goth scene and blah blah blah... And we’re always like “Well, dude, we just 100% did what we really, really liked, not giving the tiniest fuck about what whoever said...”. I don’t even read album reviews. And to be fair, I did not even read the last Reflections of Darkness review. Because I do not want to have another person’s opinion stuck in my head, with the power to might change some tiny detail in whatever process within any kind of creation. Only if WE are 100% happy with what we are doing because it’s 100% what WE like, what WE want to do, how WE feel LOTL at this very moment, gives us the power to be real and true about what we are. And, believe it or not, even the cheesiest pop ballads by LOTL were written, produced and released because it was US who wanted to write, produce and release them.
RoD: I believe everything happens for a reason, somehow - even though the reason may actually reveal itself in a longer perspective. You had lots of concerts scheduled this autumn and probably even more plans that were cancelled by Covid-19 pandemic. On the other hand, I’m hearing you’re working on the new material - flexibility is probably something you as artists have inscribed in your life, but could you tell me more about how you actually reshaped your agenda in view of tours being cancelled etc., how are you handling?
Chris: We’re not handling anything at all at the moment. Because things change weekly. We have learned that we have to accept that we just don’t know what’s. And to be honest, this is extremely depressing and I am starting to feel really desperate. Because one more year without love shows and the LOTL company will fall into bankruptcy. But, nevertheless, I just had a phone call with our booking agent and our label boss this morning, whatever happens with live shows, we will stick to our release plans of album #7. I was so looking forward to the shows with IRON MAIDEN this summer, which had to be postponed to 2021. Luckily the Maiden guys didn’t cancel this for us and kept us as their support for next year. If these shows have to be postponed again, I just really hope that they will take us with them, still.
RoD: Change of subject now - what is the video process making like in your case? Do you have a concept in your head before you start shooting or it’s more an impromptu, a spontaneous act? Do you get ideas from books, poems, movies or your dreams maybe? Could you please give a hint on what’s in your mind usually before you let people onto the video stage?
Chris: I am not spontaneous. And I’m even less spontaneous with things like video shoots. Producing a video in the quality we have reached meanwhile costs many thousands of Euros. A film studio only plus rental of lights and gear plus manpower can easily cost 4 grands just for a single day. So, in this case a 10-hour-video-shoot would cost € 6.66 per minute! Nothing can be spontaneous here. We are coming up with video ideas, writing treatments and full scripts, detailed shot lists and continuity concepts. Everything super professional. About ideas concepts, some of them are made up by us, some by our video company VDPictures and some by our co-producer Benjamin Lawrenz who is a film-maniac and one of my closest and best friends. Teamwork, again, is the key here. Many ideas in general, during the last couple of months, have been evolved by Pi and me while working out. We are super fit with rope skipping, meanwhile jumping between 60 and 70 minutes, and we are relaxed enough that we’re having long talks. It sounds like a joke, but at least half of all LOTL ideas have come to mind while we were jump roping.
Talking about inspiration, well, everything can be inspiring. Also dreams. But in most cases inspiration comes AFTER doing something in particular, not WHILE I’m doing it. When I’m watching a Marvel movie it’s not like “bang, I’ve just seen Thor killing an alien, now I got an idea”, but it might lead to something, later. Or not. Forgive me if it sounds arrogant, but I really don’t care where the inspiration is coming from. As long as it’s coming. But: If I’m hooked by an idea and if I need more info, than I’m starting to research. Studying books, documentaries, internet sources, whatever I can find. But this is more inspiration for the details of the main idea. The album we are working on right now required a LOT of research. A research that Pi and started on tour in Europe earlier this year, while traveling with the Nightliner, at night-time.
RoD: Is everyday life still an inspiration for you? Obviously, our experience and sensitivity are a filter for reality, always, but I’m wondering if You, as an artist, want to show a particular aspect of reality or do you prefer to focus on your own world that sits in your heart and mind? In other words, are you, as an artist, turned more to your internal world or rather to the external one? Or perhaps you focus on creating the worlds of your own, reflecting your imagination? What do you feel more comfortable to write about?
Chris: Every song gets what it deserves. I do not have, I never have, a general approach. It depends on the artist the song is for, on the concept of the record, on what feeling the song needs to transport... “Schwarz Rot Gold” for instance could have NEVER been on ‘Thornstar’ as it was a mythological concept album. And it could not have been on ‘Swan Songs III’ for the sake alone that “90s crossover with Punk Rap and Goth Metal” could never be part of a symphonic acoustic record. And it could not have been part of our upcoming for reasons that you will see and hear next year. So, you see, the intent could not have been more different. But nevertheless, it’s all LOTL. And it’s all me.
RoD: If you could say how your approach towards music itself and music making have changed through years? Were there any fundamental discoveries or break-throughs?
Chris: I don’t know. The only thing that obviously has changed is, that music production in general is my job now, the thing that feeds my family. So, there is a different level of responsibility. But apart from that, it’s impossible for me to answer. It seems to be one of the things that I am not thinking about. I guess I’m either shallow-minded or I’m more focused on the things that are happening right now, instead of questioning the future or analysing the past.
RoD: Again Chris, change of subject… You are very active in contacting your fans, letting them have a glimpse either into the tour life or recording - do you think it’s important to maintain this sort of relationship with the people who cherish you and your music? Some bands could say it’s depriving them of the mystery - but it’s not so in your case.
Chris: I always try to imagine or ask myself “what would I like to see of my favourite band?”. So, I’m trying to do exactly all of what I’d like to see, within the borders of my privacy. I never liked the imagery of the 100% unapproachable and anonymous artist. It might be fascinating for a while, but on the long run I find it depressing. For the audience and also for the artist - at least from my point of view.
RoD: Chris, your body is like canvas or a walking, breathing tattoo art gallery - I realize every interview is about it, but I’m still kinda curious - when was the last time you got a tattoo? Do you still have a need to mark your body somehow? Do you have one particular image that you especially like or that you add a particular meaning to? Do you think these meanings change as you grow older? You used to be a model - would you do that again, if asked for?
Chris: I think the last one was that weird symbol on the side of my neck. I do have some plans, but I’m not quite sure about the exact motive so far. But I’m pretty sure the next ones will be the entire front neck, maybe the hands and a back piece. I would not say that I feel the need to do it - but I like it. And of course, for me, all tattoos, no matter how ugly they look, mean something special to me as I am using tattoos more like souvenirs to honour certain times, things or people that have crossed my way. So, I can’t just pick only one here. And of course, the meanings change, as well as personal taste. If I’d do a tattoo for the same reason or person NOW instead of 20 years ago, for sure it would look different. I have also worn different clothes 20 years ago - so did you. That’s life.
I get asked these model-questions a lot. I did never see myself as a model. Only because I was photographed for some clothing company here and there, does not mean that I was or am a model. Only because one person can write a concert review on a laptop, does not mean she or he is a journalist. Owning a baseball bat does not make me a baseball player. Or in the words of Tyler Durden from one of my fave movies: “Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken”. If I’m asked again, to stick feathers up my butt for something or someone, it depends who’s asking. Naked pics for an anti-fur campaign? Sure, let’s go. Ads for some human exploiting / child labour fashion discounter chain: Not for a million euros!
RoD: I have a more private question now - feel free to skip it if you don’t feel like answering of course - do you think now as you are a father yourself, you see your own parents in a different perspective? I sense your parents are really special and accepting. Do you, perhaps, appreciate them more or see the work they did with you as your partners in upbringing in a different way? Do you think being a parent is the most difficult task you have ever had - yup, cliché, sorry, but I still ask - perhaps it’s easy peasy for you, who knows. And what is the most important thing you’d like to share with your son?
Chris: Having a child helps you to learn many things: gratitude, respect, modesty, thoughtfulness and you finally understand what unconditional love is. If you think you already knew that before, you’re wrong. And you’re right, it also very much changed my perspective on my own parents. When I was a new-born baby, three days after my birth I caught a very bad bacterial infection and had to go to the intensive care unit for many weeks. I was nigh unto death many times, sometimes for many days. My parents have told me about these times a lot which I will always remember as “the weeks my dad got grey hair”. But I think I never truly understand the amount of grief and desperation my parents had to suffer until I got to be a father myself. Also, I started to feel very sorry for some things that I did in my youth when I was giving them a hard time.
What I’m trying to teach my son are mainly the things that I have learned when I got to be a father. Things that can somehow be broken down to the word “empathy”. It is my purpose and my duty to be the best father to him, the best that is humanly possible, to give him the chance to live a happy life. There’s nothing more important to me than to know him happy and content.
RoD: There are two shows scheduled for Leipzig in November (I’m hoping to meet you there unless the borders are closed) - Gothic Meets Klassik. Could you tell me more about the undertaking, since it’s not the first time you’ll be participating in the formula. Taking your classical music background into consideration - what is your approach to such concerts? What possibilities does the presence of symphony orchestra give that you could not achieve in any other way?
Chris: As a realist, at the moment, I am really afraid that this festival can’t take place after all. Seeing all Covid-19 data exploding, worldwide, day by day, I have doubts about the chance to really be part of this festival that I’m looking forward to so much. So, to not get “into the mood” here too much now, let’s ignore this topic and speak about it another time. When it happened and everyone’s happy.
RoD: Apart from obvious panache of course art - and I say art, not music, because in your case one can speak of the whole range of artistic activities - visual, sonic, promotional - should it provoke, melt hearts, make happy, make dance, make angry and thus reactive, make think? What is the effect you want to achieve with the people who follow you?
Chris: Maybe I’m repeating myself, but every song or every piece of art has its own purpose. You have named some of these purposes above. I could never answer this question detailed, telling people exactly what “my art” is to do. And you know, one of the nicest things is, how art is being received is not only, or maybe even less, the artists part or task, unless the artist is only doing it for himself, not ever showing it to anyone. The other, maybe the more important part, is the receiver of the artwork. And the way art is being received, consumed, could not be more different between all these recipients. ‘Thornstar’ for instance - some fans were really interested in the whole mythological background, some just wanted to bang their heads, some others consumed it in whatever way... All fine!
RoD: Well, minimalism is definitely not your thing. You mentioned you are not Christians, but you definitely make use of the Catholic stylistics a lot. What’s your attitude to religions? You treat it as mythology, a concept, a philosophy (because I know from your interviews - you are not religious sensu stricto) or a source of inspiration? For example, Nergal (from Polish band BEHEMOTH, not sure if you’re familiar with them) said that Bible is actually a big source of inspiration for him, even though he fights against Catholic church actively and he is a declared atheist. What is like in your case?
Chris: Again, I would not say that minimalism isn’t my thing. Sometimes it is. I really don’t have “my thing”. I never had just “my taste” in music, I never had “my type” in women and I never had “my fetish” in sexuality. Everything depends on the situation... Yes, I’m not a Christian, I’m not religious, I’m not a believer. But I’m also not calling myself an atheist. Saying that one KNOWS that God does definitely not exist is even more pretentious than someone who says he BELIVES that God exists. Therefore, I’m somewhere between agnosticism or agnostic atheism. The definition that came the closest to my spiritual, religious or theistic paradigm is the idea of so called ignosticism.
For me, feeling-wise, our world religions, all of them, are more mythological or philosophical food for thought. I might piss people of here, but why is Christianity more “true” or accepted than the northern mythology? Or the ancient Greek and roman Gods? For me, frankly, it’s the same. And inspiring at the same level. Tolerance, in any form, is SUPER important to me. I’m not against any believer as long as he or her meets me with the same tolerance. And if religion, no matter what religion, is helping people to be happy, to find sense in everything, or is making them a better human being, great! As long as they are not violently trying to missionize non-believers or people of different religions, as long as they don’t suppress, force, enslave their people or others.
Or even mutilate little girls’ genitals for just no acceptable or humanly comprehensible reason. And there we are, meeting the institutions behind all these things that are being sold as “good”. And this is the moment where I perfectly understand why Nergal is fighting the catholic church, especially in a traditional catholic country like Poland, but at the same time finding inspiration in the bible. Apart from that, Nergal as a creative maelstrom and person is very inspiring for me as well! The music of BEHEMOTH is too busy for my ears, I have enough after listening to three songs, but I totally respect and adore the whole thing as a piece of art and Nergal as a character and Adam as the person behind it.
RoD: When I think about your, hmm for the lack of a better word, “career”, you seem to me like a totally self-made man - everything you’ve achieved you achieved thanks to your hard work, talent and the people you managed to convince to your vision. Does it give you the sense of confidence, of power? Do you feel making a living of what you do is a success? What is success for you - if you even think in such categories. Or should I ask - does it bring you happiness? Do you feel fulfilled? Or a smile of the loved ones is the direction?
Chris: Yes and no. Sure, I’m a self-made man but I also had partners, like a label or a booking agency, and, I can’t stretch this enough, I always worked with a great team. So, I’m not willing to take all this credit for myself only. This is a team effort. So, I can’t really answer the first question. Making a living of all of this, that means success, yes. Measurable success. But success also means to be happy with what you doing. And on a personal note, this is the biggest achievement. Of course, this achievement is not paying my rent, so on the long run I am dependent on the other kind of success as well...
RoD: Yet another personal question - to be skipped if uncomfortable - many people are interested actually - you have achieved a huge success in what you do - do you feel satisfied as person, was it what you wanted or, perhaps, the price was too high? Or moderate? How do you feel about working for your own success?
Chris: I had to make sacrifices. And some of them I do regret. But I was young and did not know better. I would not call, what I have achieved, a “huge success”. But LOTL is being noticed. And I am very proud of that. And I am happy with it.
RoD: Now, I know you’re back in the studio and it’s a mystery, your management told me to shut up about it but I’ll ask - are you working on something new right now? Can you reveal ANYTHING about the new thing? I know it’s gonna be about July 2021 (and yes, expect me knocking at your doors then), but in the meantime? What can we expect from you?
Chris: Yes, there will be a new album, most likely in July 2021. A double album. I cannot reveal more. Until then nothing big is happening. Just a few little surprises...
RoD: Thank you very much for you time Chris, I really appreciate!
Promo picture by Lee Maas, live pictures by Daniela Vorndran (http://www.vorndranphotography.com / http://www.facebook.com/blackcatnet)