Illuminata

Illuminata made it in the end. They had been planning to release such a grandiose work with a real orchestra for some time and with a little help of their fans that dream came true. The band’s producer, guitarist & songwriter Lukas Knoebl talked extensively to Grande Rock about the new album and music in general among other stuff…
Illuminata band pic

Hi Lukas… first of all, I’d like you to accept my compliments on your new brilliant album “Where Stories Unfold”…
 
L: Much appreciated! I am glad you enjoy it.
 
 
Tell us… why did it take you almost 5 years to release a new album? What happened in the meantime?
 
L: Actually, it started out as a moderately sized project. When “A World so Cold” was released in 2011 we were already working on songs that ended up on the new album. Recording with a real orchestra had always been a distant dream of ours. It was nothing more because it seemed so impossible for a relatively small band. However, we started to look into it, just out of curiosity, and suddenly it did not seem so impossible after all. Expensive, yes. Tons of work, yes. But feasible. My challenges as the songwriter were of course the orchestrations. This is where most of these years went. It took months to write the songs that would do the idea justice and then it took me another year to arrange the songs for orchestra and write the score-book. I ended up with 350 pages and more than 100000 notes. Add to that all the actual recordings, the artworks, the promotion, the printing etc. etc. You’d be surprised how fast five years go by with a project such as this.
 
 
This time you decided to release the album with the help of your fans. The campaign was successful since it exceeded its goal. Didn’t you have in mind to cooperate with any label at some point?
 
L: We did get some offers after we released “A World so Cold” in 2011. However, none of them turned out to be all that desirable. Either the labels were too small to really benefit us much or the contract was some “milk-them-for-all-they’re-worth” bullshit. We did not abandon the possibility of signing to a label with a sensible proposition. To be honest, we sent “Where Stories Unfold” to some labels again but none of them even listened to it so there’s that for the time being.
 
 
Did you have some other plan in case the crowd funding campaign wasn’t successful?
 
L: Well, we would have had to make do. Throw out the live-choirs and chamber strings and use samples instead. Work on a much tighter budget for the artworks and photographs (who knows how that would have turned out) and cut back massively on the merchandise. The listening experience might have been tolerably good but the project as a whole would have been a lot rougher around the edges. Imagine, you have bought an immensely expensive ingredient but the finished meal tastes only average and does not look particularly appetising because everything else was as cheap as possible. You’d feel disappointed. Fortunately, it all worked out! We cannot thank our contributors enough! (i.n.: True. No loyal fans – no party at all…)
 
 
Is it better to do all the work by yourself and have total control of things instead of being part of a label’s roster and do things that you may not wanna do sometimes? Is this thing with the crowd-funding platforms gonna work even more in the future or it’s a double edge sword – when a band doesn’t reach its goal?
 
L: I really cannot say which one I would prefer. Everything has its ups and downs. “Where Stories Unfold” took an immense effort on everybody’s part and often felt overbearing but all things considered I am glad how the whole process of writing and production turned out. We never did anything like it before and I did not write anything like it before. With a label being involved we perhaps wouldn’t have learned as much. Concerning the crowd-funding it really depends on the effort you put into the campaign and the project as such. I would say we had a fairly interesting project that stood out in many ways from ‘just’ making a new album and we definitely benefited from that. We tried to make the campaign as appealing as possible and, again, put a lot of work in. Furthermore, we did our best to get the word out to as many people as possible. And even then, we barely reached our goal. We wouldn’t recommend it as a definite strategy for success. It could have gone horribly wrong and in fact it often does. The most important thing is to assess and choose the goal of your campaign sensibly.
 
 
Did you decide to work with the Czech Film Orchestra due to the fact that they have done the soundtrack for the second season of “Game of Thrones”?
 
L: It was not the main reason we ended up working with them. They are simply amazing musicians, they were really responsive towards the whole idea and, surprisingly, they were (almost) within our budget. However, credentials like these are an amazing bonus for sure!
 
 
And how was the experience recording/working with a 60-piece orchestra?
 
L: It was just a tremendous experience. Not one of them had seen the music beforehand and they sight-read everything. Although we had the impression that many of them felt surprised by the complexity of the material we only got positive feedback. They saw it as a challenge. To listen to such passionate and skilful artists performing music that is very dear to oneself is something that is hard to put into words.
 
 
I bet you and the other members are really happy with the final outcome. It’s grand, epic and imposing… is this what you had in mind in the first place or it exceeded your expectations?
 
L: It is everything we hoped it would be! After all these years working on it we would struggle to find anything to improve the album. This is our status quo. But who knows what the future has in store for us.
 
 
Which were your main influences in order to write the music on “Where Stories Unfold”?
 
L: Personally, I listen to a lot of soundtrack and production music. So a lot of what I write uses that vocabulary if you will. Beyond that my sources of inspiration vary a lot and I never know what might start me off next. It can be books, films, conversations and even dreams I had. Anything that I respond to emotionally.
 
 
And how did you come up with the title “Where Stories Unfold”?
 
L: In many respects the album is both complimentary and a counterpart to our last album “A World ao Cold”. While the last one had a darker and pensive beauty the new album, to us, is much more positive overall. The title results in a sort of reconciliation between the two. Although the world may seem bleak and cold at times it is the source of so many beautiful and diverse stories. A world so cold where stories unfold. We like to think that we tell a few of these stories over the course of the new album.
 
 
What are the connections between the album title and the cover art? Mario Nevado did an excellent job once again.
 
L: We tried to extend this motive of duality to the artwork as well. However, we only insisted on the hourglass as a central element. The rest is the amazing work of the brilliant Mario Nevado who often knew better than ourselves what we actually wanted. He had such a tremendous understanding for the whole concept and was a pleasure to work with. Throughout the artwork there are numerous details that play with duality and subtle transitions. As a whole the vivid colours of the artwork form another contrast to the design of “A World so Cold”.
 
 
Do give us a hint about each track…
 
L: “A Story Unfolds”: A very upbeat instrumental that introduces you to the album and also our live shows.
 
“Eternity of Today”: A very accessible track that is a balanced mix of metal and orchestra. It gives you a taste of what you can expect. Lyrically it deals with the flow of time and relies on the works of Samuel Beckett.
 
“Violet’s Compass”: A song about the search for perfect moments and the long journey of goals that lead to them.
 
“Arbitrary Asylum”: A creepy and twisted horror story with a very ambiguous ending.
 
“White Heart”: A sad, yet hopeful goodbye to a loved one.
 
“Phoenix”: Our motivational song for dealing with difficult times in the band.
 
“The Brass Ring”: Life as a wild ride on the merry-go-round. A captivating and exhilarating experience. Perhaps our most complex song yet, musically and lyrically.
 
“Entwined”: A beautiful duet of Katarzyna and Mario that is purely orchestral.
 
“Danse Macabre”: Death’s vengeful monologue. Musically, we transcend many boundaries with this song. Even our own.
 
“The Phantom Rickshaw”: More reliant on our metal side this is a cruncher dealing with the ever problematic tensions between the ‘west’ and the ‘orient’. Hence it was named after a short story by Kipling.
 
“The World Constructor”: This song is basically the artistic manifest of Illuminata. We strive to make the world more bearable and beautiful for some precious minutes.
 
 
The last part of “Violet’s Compass” is the main theme from “Game of Thrones” season 2. How did that come about?
 
L: I have to strongly disagree with you. The orchestral passage of “Violet’s Compass” is not the main theme of “Game of Thrones”. It is based on a different rhythm and measure, the melodic line is different, the key is different and it was played by different instruments (e.g. you are hearing an upright-bass, not a cello). However, we also get a similar vibe from it that is difficult to explain. It is curious and exciting how two passages that have, musically speaking, nothing much in common manage to have the same emotional impact. (i.n.: I thought it was done intentionally – nonetheless it does have a similar melodic line with the GOT theme…)
 
 
There’s also an instrumental version of the tracks. You told me that they’re only available digitally at the moment but there are thoughts of being released on CD and be given as a bundle along with the first CD, right?
 
L: It would be great to have it in physical form as well but we will have to see if there is enough demand. During our crowd-funding campaign people were actually not too keen on the instrumental version and so far it has sold moderately. If people want it we will do our best to make it happen. If not, there are better uses for our scarce budget.
 
 
Having heard the instrumental tracks too – I must say that they are also very captivating. It’s not that the singer and the choirs are not overwhelming but those who are fond of instrumental symphonic themes will be enchanted for sure!
 
L: What I like about the instrumental version is that you are able to notice new details and nuances that might escape you in the regular version. It is not easy to blend detailed orchestration with traditional metal instruments and have both make a meaningful contribution. In the case of “Where Stories Unfold” we like to believe we did it. But it becomes a completely different experience as the prominence of certain instruments changes and I quite enjoy that.
 
 
You did the orchestra mixing and again Jan Vacik (Dreamscape, Evenoire, Serenity, Visions Of Atlantis) mixed and mastered the album. I guess there’s a great chemistry between Jan and the band and that’s obvious judging from the album’s production. Do you feel sure and safe working with Jan?
 
L: He has just a huge amount of experience with this type of music and knows all the little tricks to make it sound great. Many a thing on the album would have been different without his valuable suggestions. Additionally, he is in possession of an impeccable pair of ears and discovers little details or slight mistakes that we would never have noticed. We just feel that he cares about his projects and that he does his best to make them as good as possible.
 
Illuminata band pic

How did the cooperation with vocalist Mario Plank (Visions of Atlantis) occur?
 
L: We have known him for many years now since we did a couple of gigs with VOA in the past. He is an amazing guy and his voice harmonises so well with Katarzyna that we just had to ask him back after his work for “A World so Cold”. After his departure from VOA he has kind of secluded himself from the whole industry but working with us always creates a very familiar and laid-back atmosphere which I think he enjoys very much every now and then.
 
 
What’s that little story which is unknown to the fans and needs to be told for people to know… I mean from the days you had been recording with the orchestra. Since it was the first time you did such a thing there had to be various “weird and funny” stuff to tell, huh?
 
L: Well, a couple of violinists jokingly volunteered to murder me personally during the recording session. The music was much more difficult than they had anticipated and proved to be a real challenge. However, they did an amazing job and my prosecutors turned out to be the ones who liked it the most. We also discovered a ringing cellphone in one of the recordings and to this day we do not know who that bastard was! (i.n.: Hehehe… a ringtone among the orchestras- cool!)
 
 
There’s a lyric video for “Phoenix” already out. Do you plan to release a full video at some point?
 
L: In addition to “Phoenix” we have also released a full animated video for our song “Arbitrary Asylum” which is a brilliant piece of work by a very talented friend and integral part of our live show. At the moment we are also looking into doing another video but we do not know what it will be and when it will be ready. You can always check our homepage and other social media for updates though.
 
 
What are your touring plans for the near future? I guess the orchestral/choir parts will be recorded in the shows right?
 
L: Since the last album we bring a little magic box that plays the orchestra for us. It has just gotten to a point where our keyboard player is a couple of hundred hands short. And of course we also want people to experience our orchestral might live! At the moment we try to get our booking back on track to play some more gigs. The next is on the 7th of March in our hometown Graz. We hope to be able to announce further dates soon.
 
 
What are the expectations from “Where Stories Unfold”? Is signing with a major label among your future plans or you prefer to have your musical independence and do things on your own?
 
L: Of course we would like it to do better than our last album but then again who wouldn’t? As I’ve said before we are not zealously partial to either of these options. Should someone offer us a deal that is beneficial to us and supports us and our music we will of course consider it. If not, we will do our best to continue without. It’s as simple as that.
 
 
Time for our “weird questions”!!! How did you come up with the name Illuminata initially?
 
L: Good question actually. We are not quite sure anymore, we had it for so long. Perhaps we always wanted to illuminate people’s lives with our art and we chose the female form to underline the huge role that female musicians have always played in the band. Perhaps it is something entirely different altogether and we thought it just sounded cool as hell... I couldn’t tell you.
 
 
Best 3 symphonic metal albums of all time?
 
L: That’s a tough one. In fact, since I am working in the music production industry as composer, orchestrator and audio engineer, it has become very hard for me to find enough time to listen to any music other than what I am currently working on. Also, at the end of a working day I would rather hear something more relaxing, like a movie soundtrack. Therefore it has been a while since I listened through a whole symphonic metal album (except our own). The last ones I can remember are probably “Design Your Universe” by Epica and “Abrahadabra” by Dimmu Borgir, which I both enjoyed.
 
 
Which are the top 3 epic movies according to you?
 
L: Avatar, Inception, Lord Of The Rings…
 
 
Which is the TV series you would fancy to write the music for?
 
L: I am pretty open-minded in that respect so the genre does not really matter. As a composer one of the big challenges is to be versatile, so anything from comedy to epic battles scenes is conceivable.
 
 
Beloved TV series at the moment?
 
L: Big Bang Theory, Game Of Thrones, Two And A Half Men… (i.n.: Two and a Half Men with Charlie – the best comedy show ever!)
 
 
What do you think about this “Views, tweets & Likes” mania of our time?
 
L: For us as musicians it is a good thing as it can help artists to promote themselves and their works. You can stay connected with your fans and friends but you should never forget to go outside and meet them in ‘real life’!
 
 
What’s the worst thing you can say right after sex?
 
L: Probably the name of your ex-girlfriend.
 
 
Which character from the “Game of Thrones” would you be if you lived in the Seven Kingdoms?
 
L: Jon Snow (who else?) J I also liked Eddard Stark, but we all know what happened…
 
 
Which of the Seven Deadly Sins do you reckon is the one, that’s more likely to send you straight to Hell, in the afterlife?
 
L: Greed…
 
 
Imagine that your girlfriend/wife is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react?
 
L: Everything is backed up digitally, so that wouldn’t be much of a problem. I’d be happy to get rid of some of the youthful follies anyway…
 
 
Thx for talking to Grande Rock Lukas. Thx for the music as well…. Add anything you like before we close… take care!
 
L: Keep your eyes and ears open for local music and local venues and support them whenever you can. You may be surprised how many hidden gems you can find. And please, in the name of everything that’s decent and honest, try not to torrent stuff from small bands. Most of them are struggling as is; they don’t need another kick in the balls. Thanks for the interview and for enjoying our music, Thanos!

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