Interview with Urban Breed & Pictures by Adrian Hextall / MindHex Media
Serious Black, Urban Breed on vocals. A great vocalist, his time with Bloodbound and Tad Morose cemented his reputation and back to back albums from Serious Black in the last three years have done nothing more than prove we were right to soak up everything he’s worked on.
Magic, the latest album from Serious Black is a concept piece and the story and lyrics are conceived and written by Urban. Instead of going for a dystopian wasteland storyline or one involving mythical dragons, elves and warlocks, Urban has looked back in time and focused on a period when villages were full of deeply religious people, scared of anything science based that could be construed as magic. Without giving the story away we sat down with Urban before the band’s show in London.
AH: This is your album, isn’t it?
UB: Well the story is, as far as the music goes, I think we are all involved in. It’s really something that’s close to our hearts.
AH: For me, it’s the telling of an end-to-end story. It has a start, a middle, and an end. And it really paints a great picture.
UB: I hope so. But I think actually it’s almost a necessity to have the listeners’ guide [Packaged with the CD the document breaks each track down and adds the story element], because the songs themselves can’t quite cover all of it. If you have a listener’s guide, [SEE SHOTS BELOW] it’s easier. Especially given the way I write my lyrics, I am not always very, let’s say I can be opaque. [laugh]. So, not very transparent at times. So, then this way, that actually helps you that you can sort of figure out, “Oh, so this is what this line means” and this is what this cover. And so if you have that available to you. So this is also why in the book that I included an abbreviated version of the listener’s companion. So there are at least, if you brief note, say if you just buy the jewel case version, you still have something to help you, guide you a little bit through it.
AH: With the listener’s companion, you get, almost all the cut scenes don’t you. It’s the element that keeps you hooked in, takes you into the next one, and then you appreciate what the next one is?
UB: That’s sort of how I drew up the story before I started with the songs. I made it like cut scenes, that’s how it’s done. And I think, one thing, since you’re talking about the story, one criticism in my part is that people go like “Why? Why, why why?” our witch is powerful. But then they can throw this powerful curse. But then they can’t stop the simple fire. Well here’s the thing, the witch isn’t that powerful. This curse takes a long time. The reason this curse works is because she throws it and she casts the curse. And then she hangs around in this kind of not quite death or life state. And she enforces it, and as it grows in time. So the first people that are affected is just the Mayor’s children. And then his children’s children, just like in the curse. So it takes time. So when she casts the curse, she is not as powerful to do pretty much anything. Basically what she is she is a witch in a traditional sense, no, but herbalist. Who knows lots about stuff and helps people. That’s the kind of witch she is.
AH: Whereas where you end up with is a man who runs the town who has got his own ambitions; wants to be seen as the really big man in the town; and he’s using her to get to the top.
UB: Yes, of course, he picks his scapegoat. Which is typical. You always pick someone. You always aim for that. I think it’s universal. You look at society at large, it happens all the time. It happens today, it happened yesterday, it happened in World War II, it happened before then, always, always the same thing. It’s a very simple trick.
AH: No, I can believe that. The way you’ve got things playing out after they killed her. She’s still there….in this sort of this almost a neverworld. The story switches very much to Mr. Nightmist, the main character.
UB: Because we only have one hour [on the album] to play with, this is also why a listener’s companion came in handy for me as a little tool to sort of fill in a little bit of the blanks that I couldn’t cover. And yes, there are jumps. First of all you jump in time anyway because you start off with Binary Magic where he [Mr Nightmist] receives a letter. And then you jump back in time with Burn! Witches Burn! which is very much happening right then and she burns. That’s the back in his past. But with the listener’s companion, it kind of makes sense because you have it all sorted out. And the reason I allowed us to do this chronology mix-up was because we wanted the flow with the album the way it is. And since I wrote the lyrics to Binary Magic the way I did, it sort of looks back anyway and so you start looking back and he has this letter and he just remembers all these things that he had forgotten because he’s on this big quest to get powerful [through his own magic] and stop this from ever happening again. And while he’s doing this, he forgets the reason. And he just does this until his past catches up with him in the form of this letter. And then he remembers everything and that’s why you get to throw back to Burn! Witches Burn! and you move back up from there until the end.
AH: And that what draws him back to Caldwell [the fictional town where the events of the story take place].
UB: Yeah, so that’s how that happens. And I would say, you know people say, “Oh it’s magic; and it’s witches; and it’s all that stuff”. But it’s really, the story is really about people and you know, it’s really about having things unresolved in your life. And how easy it is to forget that you started on something and maybe if you’d never touch it again, you will always drag this along with you, whether you are aware of it or not. And so, this is really what it is about. So when he finally lifts this curse and just lets go over that past and says that this is a love that can never happen, I just have to let go of it. And resort to save the town instead. That’s why we have new found freedom. And it’s like a fresh breath of air for him– and you can start that. Of course in the end it’s not super bright because life is life and there’s always going to be new things. And this is why we have the one final song that brings it back a little bit and so on. He is a really powerful magician at this point. Really powerful. So he is almost immortal. So he lived through generations. And so he is basically reliving this thing and encountering it again and again. And he has resolved to basically help other people and maybe suffer through it a little bit.
AH: And a whole piece around him collecting lost souls [again look to the guide below for the content and story line].
AH: Give me a little bit more about that?
UB: Well that part about him collecting lost souls it’s a little bit -that’s one way that he grew powerful. So he’s not that nice a guy either. In order to become this powerful man, he has this ambition to gain this power that he can stop anything bad from happening to him ever again. And people sometimes do this. And it is not by collecting lost souls obviously, but you see this over and over again. You’ve been hurt by something. And then you will be damned if you let this happen to you again. It grows hard and you think that makes you strong. You do bad things sometimes just to make sure that you can’t be hurt. You push people away. In this case, he just basically steal souls. And he grows powerful in order to do this. So it’s maybe a bit more wicked than if you and I do something to stop ourselves from feeling the hurt. We do not want to be hurt again. But this is really what the whole story is about. It is about real life. Really. At the core of it. And this is why I find it interesting to write it. But you dress it up in this colors. Because it’s colorful. It is a little bit like religion. I am not very religious myself but I find it very interesting. It adds color to life. And it also, if you study it a little bit, it gives you very, very much of an insight into how people work. How humanity works as a whole.
AH: At its most basic, you could almost class this as a love story as well.
UB: It’s essentially it is.
AH: That is what sticks out the most it is his love for her. That point where he’s almost swayed into staying [in the plane of neither living or dead], isn’t?
UB: Well that’s a tricky fit. Fortunately for him, I’d say, he realises that she is not really who she was back then. Because hanging around in the not quite alive and not dead states and basically enforcing this curse. That does not make you a very nice person in the end. Because that is resentment and that is just carrying a grudge and that affects people that had nothing to do with it. You look at this, the Mayor was a bad person. He did a really bad thing. But his children were not really guilty. But in order to get this guy, she knew where it would hurt him. Get his children. But that still not right. In the end, you do the children’s children. And every child in the town. Then with people that had nothing to do with it at all. Maybe of course, their parents were involved in this witch hunt but the children were not. And they get to suffer anyway. And doing that, that makes her not a very nice person. So she has changed. So he realizes this and that is why he resolves to actually say “I am going to banish you from here and save the town.”
AH: These elements within the story, if you do read sort of between the lines, you have still got her [the witch’s] Mother for example that convinces him to leave town so he did not get caught up in it.
UB: It’s because we need a network to stop us from doing stupid stuff.
AH: But also you have got these peripheral characters that potentially suggest you can do more with this story line as a follow-up as well.
UB: I have been asked if I plan [laughing] to do something like that or even write a book and the plan is no. This is it. This is the work. It is not going to be expanded upon. I do not want to do that.
AH: Yes. This is essentially a screenplay already.
UB: Yes. But that was only because it was necessary to do it.
AH: Yes. You storyboarded the entire piece so it’s ready to use.
UB: I had to do that. You should see my back wall in the studio [laughter] it is like a conspiracy board. With threads and stuff and pictures and notes. It was funny. I think I took a picture once. I am not sure I have it. I should have made it public. It looked crazy. But this is because I was not going to do that. But the guys started asking me “can we move this song to here? Because we like the flow better?” and I go like, “I don’t know. This could wreck the whole thing.” So I started making the connections and checking out the– we manage to move one song. [laughter] That was it.
AH: But the flow [through the album] is there though, isn’t it?
UB: Their suggestion to move this one song was brilliant because it really helped it. It has been moved now you will never know, one small step. And it made really, really a lot better.
AH: And in terms of the tracks, I imagine we get a lot of them tonight. Because it would be criminal not to play a big slice of the album.
UB: Yes. We are doing a lot of them. I cannot remember how many. Maybe six. Something like that. We wanted to do more but we only have so much playing time and we also brought in Chris [Munzner] to play guitar instead of Bob [Katsionis]. So we only have limited time — we basically rehearsed twice. So we could not bring in too many songs either even if we wanted to. Poor Chris had to learn a large number of songs but he is a really good musician and you will see it tonight. He plays it wonderfully.
AH: There’s got to be a decision presumably to play the album in full?
UB: There is. And we talked about it and I said, that’s what really made me say, “No, we are not doing it now.” Because I want to be able to get actresses and actors along. Have the full lights and everything else to bring the full story to make it really an impressive tale. It is still a bit like sort of putting the listener’s companion on stage. And then I think it would be worthwhile. At this point in time we do not have the money. So when we have the money, I am pretty sure we can do it.
AH: The critical reviews, though, for the album have been pretty positive.
UB: I would say it is about 50/50 actually to be honest people love it or they hate it. And I am very glad. I’m very glad about that. I am sad to see people that do not like it because I think they are looking at it from the wrong perspective. I do not think they quite understand what the album is trying to be. And that is okay. It is okay. You do not have to like it. But this is important I think. I like it. The album is polarising. This means that it would resonate with you or it will not. And if it resonates with you, it will stay with you and you will love it. And I would rather have that than everybody saying “Yeah, it is an okay album. I do not mind if you play in the background.”
AH: Which as an artist has to be the worst thing you can hear isn’t? It’s okay? When you put all that time and energy into it?
UB: I guess it is one of the worst things, yes. The worst thing would of course be if everybody hates it. Because nobody wants to listen to it. But this does not normally happen. You either get like it is a polarising thing or you get this someone the lukewarm, it’s kind of okay. And I think personally I am so happy with this album. I have never been so happy with anything before. I am happy the mix. Even I am happy with the songs, the flow, the concept, everything.
AH: To me, having really enjoyed the previous releases too, this feels to me like the album I have been waiting for from you guys.
UB: Yes. I think so.
AH: And it really does feel like all of a sudden everything has just come together. It’s the perfect combination of what Mario and the guys have done musically. Clearly what you have done with the lyrics as well. Is it the first time you have had full control on the lyrical side?
UB: No. Not really. I have had all the control on the lyric side from the beginning. However, this is the first time where I have written everything myself. I was in full control because I was free to change all the lyrics, rewrite them completely. It is just that I did not have to do that. On the first album for instance, Thomen [Stauch ] had written a few beautiful lines for the title track. And I just had to put that, what he wrote into perspective that worked for me personally. I have made a very personal song about it. It is actually sung directed to my daughter. So that is how I did that. So I changed it.
But there were so many lines in there that were from Thomen. He had a completely different vision for it. But I found a way to make those lines mine and so they are not all mine. And that was fine. I think for Mirrorwall, I think I wrote everything except for the songs obviously that Jan [Vacik] sang. And then I did not touch those at all. Because he felt the song, I did not. And this is how we chose it. If the singer, if the vocalist can’t feel the song, then it is going to come across as a bad song in the end even though the song is good. And the songs were good and so we said “Why don’t you sing them?” and he sang them beautifully. So, those songs I had nothing to do with. But other than that, I’ve had full control of the lyrics. And it is just that, before this time I have not really felt like I had it. Because I have been tinkering with this sort of concept in my head for several years actually. It’s just that I have not been quite ready to do it. And now, when it really started, when we came up with the title for the album, just calling Magic. So we have Serious Black Magic and I said we are going to do Serious Black Magic as a song. And then I realized, this is it. This is the time when I can use the concept. And that’s when we put it together. So, we brought in early on. Already after just two songs for the lyrics and song that we brought it to FM and asked them if we could get the clearance to do it, concept down. Because it could be tricky to market or easy. Depending on where they are. And they gave us the green light. So, I was very happy and then i got back home to start working on and I’m going like “Oh no! This is a lot of work.” [laughter] Because it is a lot more work to try to balance and to create everything as a one piece instead of just writing one song here, then this is just what I feel right now. Then do the next song and this is what I feel right now. That is different.
AH: Serious Black Magic, the mid point track, that is the repeat play song. That is the one that I cannot get pass without listening to it four, maybe five times, and then I let the story continue. It is going to surely become one of the main tracks that you play live going forward.
UB: I’ll tell you this. This is what I told them. I woke up one morning in the tour bus and I had the chorus in my head. And I was going, “This is good stuff.” And I walked over to the guys and they were doing the soundchecks. And I told them “hey, I’ve got this idea” and they, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” They were busy. They were not listening. So it did not work out. Nothing happened. I decided a little bit later, I think it was like maybe a week later, we played in Munich and backstage, I decided let’s be clever about this. So we played the show and we get backstage. So we were backstage and I say “I’ve got this chorus.” And I sing the lines and Bob picks up his guitar and then we play, this is it. And that is how the magic started. It is just like, perfect.
And we have the whole song. And I said “this Bob, this right here is gonna be our ‘The Number of the Beast’. It’s gonna be our ‘Balls to the Wall’. This is what this is gonna be. We’re gonna play this all the time.” Unfortunately, Bob is not with us now. But you are right. I am pretty sure we will always going to play this song. And I am happy about it. Because we played it every night now and I get goosebumps when we are playing it together with the crowd. Because we are not playing this alone. This song is a song you play with the crowd. Really. I am not kidding. I have goosebumps the first night in Nuremberg already. And it is like whoah!!.
AH: Just as an aside, a little bit of delving into your career if you don’t mind. For me, [Bloodbound’s] Nosferatu, what an album [laughter]. This is my first opportunity to say thank you.
UB: Well, I’m glad you liked it. I’m a little torn about it myself because for that album I was a bit of a hired hand. I only co-wrote three songs. And as far as the music goes, I liked it. And the vocal performance, I liked it. As far as the lyrics go, I am a little embarrassed [laughter]
AH: It is a little bit out there, I will give you that. But you have done more with them since though.
UB: Of course. But you take that first one and it is fun. Some of the songs are brilliant. But some of the lyrics just makes me cringe.
AH: It was an interesting look for the band at that time as well. Because you were all in corpse paint weren’t you? [laughter].
UB: Yeah. There’s a funny story about that though. Because the guys said “We’re gonna do this” and I said “No, no. We’re not.” So they showed up at the photo session and they were all dressed up and make up and everything. And I was like “No I am not doing that. You guys can do that and I can be the guy in the middle without that.” And so the photo session was without anything. So they photo-shopped it on later and didn’t tell me about it. So I looked at the cover and I was really angry for seven seconds and then I decided, no it’s funny. Let’s laugh about it. And that’s been fun.
AH: You’ve dropped in and out with Bloodbound. You’ve done the Tad Morose album as well. But this [Serious Black] is the band that seems to keep you coming back year after year after year. Is this your main focus these days?
UB: We have a completely different drive in this band. There’s a bit more of an urgency as far as the creative process goes. And we want to do this. We want to put something up. We want to go out on tour. We want to go on tour then. And if we are go out on tour then, we have to an album out. And luckily for us, we have songwriters. Not just one guy. So we don’t have to have one person writing everything and having him stressed out. So at this point in time, if we only had no time other than, we just go into the studio and we can have an album out in two months. No problem. At this point, this next album is going to come a little bit later because we have touring plans. I cannot tell you when. So obviously that is going to be announced later. But that is how it works for this band. And I do liked that a lot. It makes a lot easier. Because all of the sudden you know when you have to have things ready. And you also have a good reason to have it ready. You don’t ever feel like “Oh man! I’m just working and nothing is happening.” You are working and something is happening. You see the result of what you are doing and you see it fast. You work on this album, you work hard, and you get the result within a couple of months. It’s a very good reward system. So you feel like “Yes. We’re done.” So already after the first album since we started that in September and had it out in January and we were out on tour; so already then on tour, you are motivated. So you already write songs for the next album because you felt like when I write things, things happen. So we were writing songs already. And on Mirrorworld when we had that out, already then on that tour, I wrote three and a half songs on tour. And the tour was not very long. Because we have this momentum going on. It feels good to work with this band. I am not saying that it never felt good to work with Tad Morose, Bloodbound or anything else. That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is just that you have a different motivation.
AH: I am hoping that is the tour you are talking about when you say “We hope to be able to the show of the full album” and that is going to be something worth waiting for.
UB: Yeah. When this tour happens, then we know we have the album out. And that is a really good feeling to know that we do this work and you get the reward. In this band, it feels so good to work hard. It’s really tough to step into the studio. I do everything at home, my own studio. So I’m the only one there. But it is still, I think I am my harshest judge ever. You cannot find anybody out there that judging me as I do. Even when in a day when I am just waking up in the morning thinking, I should record this song, I’m like, “Hmmm maybe I don’t feel so good today.” [laughter]. Maybe I can’t quite reach my goals. My standard song cannot be met. It’s difficult sometimes. But with this band, there is this extra motivation that I know that when I do get it done and when it is done well, it’s going to come out there and we are going to see the fruits of our work. The fruit of our labour. Sounds good.
The European Tour continues with details below. Our review of the London show can be found HERE as well: