The power metal crazed among you will recognise the name, the keen eared amongst you will recognise the voice, and all of you will know Stefan Schmidt as the mastermind behind epic power metal group Van Canto. Now the maestro has a new project that draws it’s influence from the very best classical composers and we caught up with the man himself for a listen and a chat, and you know what, there wasn’t a riddly diddly dum dum in sight.
The album itself, Opus 1 – All My Kingdoms, is one of those that will divide listeners, steering away from Van Canto but not quite hitting regular power metal territory there will be those that criticise Schmidt’s direction and those people are of course morons. The world needs a few more people who go out on a limb and try something new, Van Canto shouldn’t have worked but it did and we all love it, I’m sure Heavatar will attract the same cult following of open minded metallers. The album chugs along nicely with a great collection of tunes that rip open the stereo and drill down to your very beating heart, I’m not going to pretend I’m clever enough to see the classical influence, but I can see a quality of music put together by a man that loves his trade and oozes talent. Love this album for it’s raw energy and endless passion buy it because it is a classic in the making.
We caught up with the man himself to see what the evolution of this album was;
TBF: Hello Stefan Thank You for talking to me, can you tell us about your relationship with music growing up?
SS: I started playing piano at the age of 6. In the same year I bought my first single – “Europe’s The Final Countdown”. With 13 I started playing guitar and founded my first hardrock band. My first real band was Jester’s Funeral (Powermetal from 1996 to 2006) and after the split of that band I founded Van Canto and in 2012 Heavatar.
TBF: What music, genres or performers did you admire the most?
SS: Hard Rock and melodic metal. If you take a look at the Van Canto covers
you get an idea which bands are my favourites: Blind Guardian,
Metallica, Manowar, Iron Maiden, Nightwish and Europe.
TBF: Is your music a personal thing or do you feel a need to send a message to the audience?
SS: I don’t have a political or any critical messages, but of course it feels good to get feedback from the audience. But in the end it’s all about writing songs and I’m quite sure that I always will continue
writing songs and recording them, no matter if I find a record label to release it or not.
TBF: Can you tell me more about Van Canto? Where did the idea come from?
SS: It was started as a fun project among friends and became a successful band among friends. I’m really happy with it. First, I just wanted to do something vocal oriented. That it turned out to be a complete acappella act was not planned but just happened, now it’s our own trademark, haha.
TBF: How did you feel when you listened to your first recording together?
SS: I thought, “Ok this is completely insane but nevertheless it sounds cool”. I would never have expected it to become that succesful, though.
TBF: Was there a message in Van Canto?
SS: Our goal was to let the listener feel like a hero himself. Our lyrics are very positive and are focusing on inner strength. Apart from that our message can be concluded in two words. Rakkatakka
TBF: How does Heavatar differ to Van Canto?
SS: Well, it’s another band but with the same composer, haha. No, of course it’s hard to compare any band to Van Canto, because of the special approach. Hevatar is much more “normal” and is definitely
influenced by my Jester’s Funeral area, where I have been a guitar player and lead singer as well.
TBF: Where did the influence for this project come from?
SS: It is european powermetal, with rough vocals, inspired by classical compositions. I always like if a band or project has a certain idea. I think it’s not a bad thing if somebody tells you that your band sounds like this band or that band, as long as you are able to put something special on top. Of course we are not the first one to include classical parts into metal compositions, but the way we did it is something special, I think. I really tried to imagine what it would be like, sitting together with Bach or Beethoven and writing METAL songs. It just felt like Bach said “Hey I have this cool part here, let’s try to include it in the chorus” and I answered “ok, but let’s transform the chords a little bit and perhaps take a variation of it for the bridge”. Of course I know that I am not such a great composer like Bach or Beethoven, but I ignored that fact and tried to write songs together with them. This and the fact that the singing style is heavier than in other classical inspired metal bands makes it special, at least I hope so.
TBF: Who are the other people in the group?
SS: Jörg Michael on drums, I guess he is well known for playing in every
metal band on this planet, haha. Sebastian Scharf is the lead guitar
player, he is a friend of mine since 2000 and David Vogt on bass, who is
also a friend of mine.
TBF: Was it hard finding people who had the same ethos as you?
SS: No, all the members where friends first, and became members afterwards.
TBF: Can you describe the process of writing songs for the first album?
It was quite easy, I started songwriting by the End of 2011, and we finished recordings in July 2012. Apart from the drums I recorded everything in my own studio and also did the mix and mastering.
We put a lot of work into big background choirs, performed by my friends of Van Canto and by members of the Blind Guardian choir crew that I got to know during the last Guardian recordings, where I was part of the choir.
TBF: What do you want people to feel when they hear it?
SS: They should feel empowered and better than before listening to the album.
TBF: When you heard it for the first time in full, was it how you imagined it would be?
SS: That is a great question. As a producer you always wait for this moment to come, to listen to you finished creation. But as you have been involved in the complete production it is quite hard to find that “one moment”. In fact it’s easier to answer this question when you listen to an album a year after it’s released, because then you have the necessary distance to it. So, please ask me again in a few months, haha. Until now, I really love it. I’m happy as it is.
TBF: Can we see Heavatar live in the UK any time soon?
SS: We’ll see. That’s just our debut, and we definitley want to bring it to the stage, but there is no schedule yet.
TBF: What does the rest of 2013 hold for you?
SS: Playing live with Van Canto, releasing a new Van Canto album at the end
of the year and hopefully some Heavatar gigs.
So there you have it, Stefan Schmidt, probably one of the most interesting people to grace the decks of the Flag. You can catch up with all things Heavatar on their website or through FaceBook. For now here is Replica;