Germany's long-running Donots are back with a new album, Coma Chameleon, which they have released on their own label, Solitary Man Records. Punknewser xcarlupanddiex recently spoke with Donots vocalist Ingo Knollmann regarding the album and the band's career thus far.
Hello there Ingo! How are you doing and how are the Donots guys doing in 2008?
Hi there, Carlo! Thanks for asking, we‚??re doing pretty good! Actually we‚??re the happiest people in the world at present since our headlining club tours in Europe and Japan were amazing and we‚??re more than proud about our new album Coma Chameleon which we have released through our own label Solitary Man Records. Things couldn‚??t be better, apart from the fact that we don‚??t get to sleep a lot recently.
Your new album Coma Chameleon has just come out. How do you feel about it and how do you consider it in the Donots history? Like, your best one, your more experimental one?
I guess everybody says their new album is the best achievement ever so I‚??ll have to go with that answer as well. But it is seriously the most important album of our career because all the changes that we have made, the re-invention of the Donots Sound and the decision to release it on our own. The album sort of marks a second spring for our band and paves the way for another 15 years of Donots, I‚??d say. We managed to surprise ourselves again and playing the new stuff live feels even better than playing the old stuff. We experimented a lot but I‚??d say the album is still very focused. Probably our most focused material ever.
The new songs -- to me -- sound a lot darker than your previous works. I remember on Pocket Rock I felt a lot of pop vibrations, on Amplify The Good Times a lot of pop sensibility, on Got The Noise a lot of rock anthems. Your evolution does not seem to stop. What‚??s up with Coma Chameleon
I agree with you. The new stuff sounds a bit more melancholic or perhaps more stripped down and rough. I think it‚??s most important for a band to evolve and re-invent themselves all the time. Stagnation was never our thing and the new album sort of sounds a lot more different than the old stuff. It‚??s still Donots but with a much more mature edge to it. We won‚??t be losing our pop roots, though. The pop melodies are still there but we have wrapped ‚??em up in a different packaging.
You recorded the new album in two different studios, at the Tonstudio 45 and at the Principal Studios, where you recorded Got The Noise. How was the recording experience? Did you go to the studio with the songs done and ready to be recorded or did you spend some time to write new material in the studio?
The approach was completely different this time around. We went into the studio after throwing away some 50 demo songs we had recorded. We only used them as our daily inspiration and that was that. We have basically written every song on the album in the studio on the very day we have recorded them. Thus we maintained a lot of freshness and drive in the songs. In the morning we didn‚??t know what we would have taped in the evening which was a very exciting yet risky experience. But: Mission accomplished, band happy!
It‚??s the first time you have not worked with Fabio Trentini for you album: how did you decide to change producer and on a side note, is H-Blockx still around?
When we parted ways with Gun Records (our old label which is a division of BMG/Sony) we felt it was time for a complete change. We could have easily recorded "just another" Donots Album and Fabio was up to doing it but we agreed on looking for somebody else in order to re-invent our style a bit and get a different view on our music. Thus we hired Kurt Ebelh√§user and Vincent Sorg for the job. Kurt is the guitarist for German alternative rock icons Blackmail. He‚??s a good friend of our band but he always hated our albums. He thinks we‚??re a great band but he was very critical of the recorded songs. It was sort of seductive for us to get somebody involved who thinks our trademarks need another perspective. Together with Kurt we took a step back from our usual writing process and the things that Fabio had told us. This was the perfect moment to get Kurt for the job and reinvent the Donots. Vincent on the other hand is an old friend of the band who we wanted to get involved again. He recorded our second DIY record Tonight‚??s Karaoke-Contest Winners in the middle of the ‚??90s so we wanted him with us in order to sort of re-live the careless feeling of the early days of our band. Fabio is still one of our best friends and he was completely supportive of the idea to get another production team this time around. He doesn‚??t play in the H-Blockx anymore, though. Actually he will move back to lovely Italy this month and do some more production there. Oh, and just for the record: The H-Blockx are still around indeed.
For your new work, you left the major label that released most of your previous albums in Germany, Supersonic/BMG and released the new material on your very own record label Solitary Man Records. What‚??s up with the do-it-yourself ethics versus the major label industry?
Basically speaking we were just discontent with the way that Gun Records represented us in the last couple of years. We weren‚??t on the same page anymore and I guess we never were completely. Thus we had our lawyer get us out of the deal which cost us some two years of legal issues that needed to be sorted out. When we were free people again in 2006 it felt really good to not be signed to a label at all and take on the new record all by ourselves. We got lots of offers from small to big labels but in the course of time it became more and more evident that at least for Coma Chameleon the best thing would be to release the record on our own label Solitary Man Records. We wanted complete control this time around, hired external people (good friends and family) for various jobs and took a chance on releasing the album DIY again, just like we did in the old days. I‚??m not dooming major companies here. It‚??s just that they‚??re having their common structures which make them less flexible when working bands. They make the same mistakes over and over again and are not really open to new approaches and platforms. With Solitary Man Records we‚??re capable of putting our own ideas into action straight away. We know how we want our band to be represented and since the label foundation in Japan 2005 we know a lot more about release structures. One can say we have made really good experiences with my label Solitary Man Records over there by releasing bands such as Dropkick Murphys, Beatsteaks, Boy Sets Fire, Toy Dolls, Dover and more.
Lately a lot of major bands started going DIY or at least releasing stuff by themselves with the help of the internet, as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and also Coldplay and The Offspring, who made their new single available for free. Is this the future of the music world? That the bands produce and release their stuff by themselves and the big labels are cut out?
I guess in the long run the music industry needs to open up to new ways of promoting the bands. At present everybody‚??s just desperate what with the illegal download rates and the ever shrinking market. The Radiohead model might not be the smartest move for smaller bands but it‚??s true - what the industry needs right now is movement. I‚??m sure that a lot of bigger bands will follow and separate themselves from those obsolete structures. It‚??s only just the beginning and I‚??m happy to see somebody makes a first move. If the bigger companies don‚??t follow and find new approaches of marketing then they‚??ll be facing problems. We felt that for a long time when being signed to Gun Records so we are truly glad we have made the indie decision and are now our own bosses and completely open to a brand new perspective on marketing.
I saw you did an amazing promotional job via your website, Myspace and Youtube: you did contests, added free streaming of your album, videos, podcasts and more. Was this a hard work and did you get some help from friends?
Thank you, Carlo! You have no idea how much we work at present. We are busy 24/7 but that‚??s something which we really enjoy doing since we do it for our own benefit and for the benefit of our fans. We have a couple of friends who help us out and do a great job on the internet and promo front but in the end it‚??s all us deciding and making up our minds. That‚??s exactly what I was talking about earlier - we are willing to try new structures even if that means working overtime and not knowing what might work and what not. It‚??s trial and error these days but we‚??re getting massive positive response on our work. I think it‚??s really important to offer the fans of our band something special. In the end it‚??s them who have supported us all along and we‚??re very grateful for that. And isn‚??t that the very point where to start your promotion?
I remember you guys put your song "Time‚??s Up" on the American compilation "Rock Against Bush Vol.2". Did it help you in any way to reach new fans in the US? Did you get some love mails from some kids over there? Because I see on such sites as Last.fm you‚??re very played by non German people too.
We got a lot of feedback on the Rock Against Bush contribution which made us really happy. People all over the world seem to agree when it comes to the Bush adminstration and all the mistakes they have made. Actually I think it‚??s so weird that Bush got re-elected anyway since it feels like there‚??s not a single person on the planet who likes him. We got a lot of attention for "Time‚??s Up" from outside of our usual touring territories which is a nice side effect. But in this case that wasn‚??t our primary goal. We felt the need to contribute to the compilation because of the political background.
Speaking of your new songs, I see you used a lot of non conventional instruments as banjo, accordion and a brass section. How did you decide to experiment this and was it difficult to arrange those instruments for your rock anthems?
What we wanted this time around was to focus a lot more on the songs themselves and not the overall feel of the album. There was no such thing as a sound guideline for the album so we decided from song to song what we needed when it came to choosing the instruments. It was very interesting to experiment and get people involved who were capable of playing accordion, pedal steel guitar, banjo and the like. I think the additional instruments add a lot to the freshness and diversity of our new material. People seem to be really surprised to hear all the tiny experiments going on in the songs. And I personally think it was about time we got new instruments involved in the studio process. I can‚??t wait to start working on the next album already.
Some fans consider "Stop The Clocks" the best song you ever wrote. Do you agree with that? If not, which is your favourite Donots song to play live?
It‚??s really crazy. We never got that much feedback for a single song in our career before. "Stop The Clocks" seems to be the essence of our band although it‚??s very different from the old stuff. People from various scenes and musical backgrounds can all agree on the song and we‚??re getting massive radio airplay for the song already. Even MTV seems to be completely blown away. I love performing the song since it‚??s a lot more laid back and singer/songwriter based than our previous stuff. Funny enough it was the hardest and fastest demo we have recorded in the last couple of years. My favourite Donots track at the moment is "Somewhere Someday", though. Gotta love the country touch to it, y‚??all.
You released your record in Japan even before than in Germany and I saw you already toured Japan with a lot of sold out shows. This is not your first time in Japan but did your fans react to the new songs? Are your more popular in Japan than in Germany ?
I‚??d say you could compare our status in Japan and over here. The difference is that Japanese kids are paying much more attention to the bands they like and really go out and buy the records straight away (even if that means buying crazily expensive imports). That‚??s why we released the album in Japan officially first. We were really curious how the kids would like the new stuff and a lot of Japanese Fans think that we are sort of a brand new band by now but they‚??re liking the album a lot obviously. Actually the reactions for tracks like "Pick Up The Pieces", "Stop The Clocks" and "New Hope For The Dead" are really overwhelming.
I am aware of at least three b-sides for your album: "Second Best", "City Lights" and "Your Life Without You". Are you ever going to release some CD-singles for the singles "Break My Stride" and "Stop The Clocks" with these b-sides as you did for your previous albums?
We might be putting out an EP to "Stop The Clocks" later this year. I guess we have recorded some six more tracks that haven‚??t found their way onto the album so please keep your eyes open for a possible release with those tracks. We haven‚??t decided when and how to do it but I really like those songs just as much so I‚??m dying to get them released somehow.
The video for your second single "Stop The Clocks" was just released, I saw it and it‚??s very nice with those puppy dogs. I have not understood the whole meaning anyway, so, is there one behind it? I think it‚??s your first video where you don‚??t see the band playing, except you and Guido.
Thanks! There‚??s no such thing as a real meaning to the video. We wanted something different this time around. Not the typical band performance video and a different look as well. So the video director Magnus from Sweden who already did "Break My Stride" came up with the crazy idea of having us be prison escapees carrying puppy dogs through the woods being chased by police dogs. Yup, it‚??s only Guido and me and a bunch of hired actors this time around. It was freezing cold when we shot the video in Stockholm but a big deal of fun. I‚??m crazy in love with dogs so this has been my favourite video shoot ever.
I saw you are touring a lot in the countries where you released Coma Chameleon: Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Will you release the album in the rest of Europe and will you tour in other places too? What are your future plans?
We have already made the album available digitally for the rest of the world but we are working on physical releases in other territories as well. And we will most definitely go out for a lot more of international touring later this year. Please hang in there, folks - the Donots are on the way! Oh, and just so you know, we are already very keen on going back into the studio and start working on the next record in the not so distant future. Next year we will celebrate our 15th band anniversary and that would be a great date for a new record. We shall see what happens.
Thanks so much for answering my questions. Good luck and keep on rocking!
Thank you so much for the interview, Carlo! You rule, mate. And everybody reading the interview - thank you for your attention and interest! We hope to see you on one of the upcoming shows and please do check out Coma Chameleon. You can get an impression and all the latest news on Donuts.com, Solitary Man Records and Myspace. See you soon!