Sweet Ermengarde: a blast of fresh air from Germany’s rock underground

Sweet Ermengarde’s LARS KAPPELER & MISCHA KLIEGE talk to Nick Awde

Alhambra Live Magazine #011

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www.sweet-ermengarde.deSweet Ermengarde are Robin Böhm (guitar), Drew Freeman (vocals), Lars Kappeler (bass), Mischa Kliege (drums) & Jacques Moch (guitar).

— Lars & Mischa were interviewed at Alhambra Live’s goth festival Bats in the Attic 2022. Main photo of the band live at Bats in the Attic by Paul Rhodez.

—Alhambra Live’s next goth festival is Bats in the Attic, September 8-9

ALHAMBRA LIVE is one of the biggest grassroots music venues in the North West. Based in Morecambe on the sea Promenade, its adaptable spaces (and unique Lake District views) make it a vibrant hub for all-dayers and weekend festivals (Goth, Mod, Ska, Northern Soul…). It is also a home and hub for gothic music with Corrosion club night and the CorrosionFest & Bats in the Attic festivals. For more info, contact Fiona +44 (0)7771 200 873 / fiona@alhambralive.com

Nick Awde: Germany seems to be a good place to based if you’re a goth band…

Lars Kappeler: We are from the West of Germany. It’s quite good. We have a good scene in the Ruhr area which is where we are based. There was a very famous club here, Zwischenfall in Bochum, where for decades a lot of famous bands played until it burnt down unfortunately. That was around ten years ago but it has still left an imprint on the scene in our region and goth is very strong here. Of course it’s also strong in the East of Germany, like Leipzig because of the WGT there. In fact our guitarist Robin Böhm is now based there. He’s from our area but he moved over there recently. 

Nick: So there’s a significant heritage in terms of the heavier type of music in the Ruhr?

Mischa Kliege: I definitely think so. We have a lot of big clubs here as well as a lot of smaller clubs where you find underground music happening. And that’s very important for a vital scene. 

Nick: What does ‘underground’ mean for you?

Mischa: It means there’s a scene of bands that are not very big yet but still create good output, maybe with a good sound too. It’s important that some kind of quality is there. If you have a lot of bands like that, then you have a vital underground scene. What I also think is important to this whole underground concept is that there’s always fresh air in there, which comes from a lot of creativity and a lot of new vibes in the music brought in by these small bands. They might become bigger later but at some point they are still underground and that creates a lot of live energy. And you’ll usually find avant-garde as part of any good underground scene and it’s encouraging to see that in a lot of bands that have got bigger. They keep it rolling because if you have a brand and a sound that gets known by a lot of people, even if it’s avant-garde, you might not change it that much.

Nick: So what you’re saying is if you have a good underground scene, you have a healthy music ecosystem in general.

Mischa: Of course – the underground is where change happens and where avant-garde starts.

Lars: Although I don’t think like this! I’m just making the music I would like to make and I don’t think, oh this is an interesting development. In fact with this band it’s more like not developing! [laughs] I wanted to make the music that I like. This was around 2012 which was a time when death rock was a big thing again and everything was very punk-like. I like that sort of music but I wanted to do something more challenging in a musical way, with a lot more care in the sound. And Sweet Ermengarde focuses very much on our sound, we’re always looking for good production which is something that’s not so connected to punk. 

I wanted the band to go back to the roots of gothic rock and and find our own statement, and in the process I think we have also created some interesting approaches, for example odd meters which is a bit unusual in gothic rock.

Mischa: And we also always have this connection to HP Lovecraft – the band name is taken from the title of one of his short stories. 

The band with taloned friend

Nick: How does the band dynamic work?

Mischa: When Drew (Freeman) started rehearsing with us as the band’s new singer, he told us later on how impressed he was that we all talked to each other and how everything was clear, everyone knew their part. Music theory is one of the things that we have. Some people say it’s a prison but it helps me if I want to break out and try something new. It’s just a language that you use to talk to each other.

Nick: How have you adjusted to the post-Covid circuit compared to how you were positioned before.

Lars: In 2023, we are playing Dark Skies over Witten, and this year we’ve played at the Solar Launch convention, Castle Party and, of course, Bats in the Attic here in Morecambe. I don’t often organise booking myself, usually we are booked, and if someone books us of course we play. And if we play in Poland, it’s always good to play a day ahead somewhere in Eastern Germany because it’s a ten hour drive from Western Germany.

Nick: Is North America in your sights?

Lars: Not yet. There’s the problem of cost, especially in getting out there and we have to invest a lot of money so let’s see. Maybe we will do it when the next album is out. We’re working on it. 

Nick: Did you come out of Covid with a backlog of gigs, or did you just decide to throw everything away and start all over again?

Mischa: We threw a lot away. [laughs] Next year [2023] we will really start to play live again. 

Lars: That’s the goal. I want to finish all the songwriting this year and then start recording to have the production ready at the beginning of 2023 and release the album as soon as possible.

Nick: After the new album in 2023 comes out, what are the plans? 

Lars: The plans are: make the album, play live shows. [laughs] We don’t have more plans. We don’t think about things like let’s get bigger, our focus is on the music.

Mischa: I enjoy playing live and it always helps if we can make a powerful album in terms of sound and in terms of music. I hope that we can get this album to be a wall of sound and I’ll then try my best to get that power onto the stage. 

Lars: In terms of the physical release it looks like we’re going through Solar Lodge and digitally we’re staying at Trisol. People buy a lot of digital but for me physical is still very important – I never buy digital, I buy everything in physical format. Part of the difference is the artwork, where you’re not just buying the music, you’re buying a complete package with a lot of more things. So I’m thinking about producing the album with great artwork

Mischa: Holistic artwork… [laughs] Everything begins and ends with the artwork.


— www.sweet-ermengarde.de

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