(In this new interview Comrade Aleks poses questions to Frederyk Rotter, founding vocalist/guitarist of the Swiss band Zatokrev.)
Fourteen years ago Basel-based power-trio Zatokrev recorded their debut self-titled album. Frederyk Rotter (vocals, guitars), Marco Grementieri (bass), and Silvio Spadino (drums) brought forth a tensive, savage, and energetic blend of extreme doom and sludge. Over the years the band went through a series of metamorphoses, developing with each new record and enriching the sound with post- and some avant-garde influences.
Since April 13, a vinyl reissue of Zatokrev has been available for shipment via Plastic Head. It’s a good reason to talk with Frederyk about Zatokrev’s milestones, as he’s the only member left of the original lineup.
Hi Frederyk! How are you? What’s going on in Zatokrev’s camp?
Doing good, thanks. We just released our debut on vinyl, played a 15 years live anniversary show with the original lineup, and we’re working on new stuff with the current lineup.
The band’s latest album Silk Spiders Underwater was released in 2015, and you’ve said that the band are already working over new tunes. What’s your progress? How far along is the next Zatokrev album?
Absolutely. Just before that we’ll have something else I currently can’t tell much about, only that it’s an exciting project we’re gonna tell more about soon. At the same time we are working on Silk Spiders Underwater‘s follower album. The two albums are conceptually linked to each other. We have all the song material together, we are just arranging all the details in music and lyrics, which always takes a lot of time. We are very picky and especially love the little details.
What kind of concept are you talking about? Is it about lyrics or the musical style?
It’s the whole package; visuals, lyrics, and music. Just to explain on the surface: Silk Spiders Underwater… is about a choking fear, the follower is about a breathing fear. The two artworks will have a strong connection to each other and are made by the same artist, Maks Loriot.
How far did you go from Silk Spiders Underwater… with this new material? What can we expect?
Hard to say as we didn’t really record anything so far. Every album we wrote sounded different than the previous, so I guess it’s gonna be the case with this one as well. It would be the only logical result. Every new song we work on, we wanna work out in a way we never did before, and our new guitarist Steffen Kunkel certainly influences the new material strongly with his unique guitar sound and style as well. We evolve a lot in melodic and atmospheric soundscapes, but at the same time we have a few very aggressive and noisy neckbreakers, like we never had before. I guess that there will be even more dynamics on the new album than on Silk Spiders Underwater.
The vinyl edition of Zatokrev’s debut album appeared through Czar Of Bullets just a few days ago, do you feel that this record is still a demanded one?
We feel quite a lot of interest especially from the underground scene. It was the beginning of everything. It’s an album which was horribly bad-produced, because we recorded it by ourselves without having any real sound engineering skills. It was meant to be only a demo, so we were surprised that labels were interested, and even more surprised because they just put out our demo recordings like they were. For sure it was not our best album, but somehow this first record carries a raw and pure energy. Some people still say that this is the best Zatokrev album, which is not a bad thing at all. I am glad about the great reviews we still receive for it.
Zatokrev – Zato Krev
Do you see it as an important album for the scene? By the way, do you mean the vast underground scene or just its doomy / sludgy segment?
Although often our debut was called avant-garde, I don’t think we changed anything in the world of music. Of course we always did our own thing and wrote an album, and we thought it’s something special, but there’s nothing groundbreaking; all the elements we used were used by others a long time before already. At least I feel it like that.
I was talking especially about the post-hardcore (the term post-metal didn’t exist by that time) and doom/sludge scene, but also the general extreme metal scene.
Does the Zatokrev vinyl version include the whole CD material or did you prepare some bonus for your fans?
It includes the whole song material from the CD, just in another order, simply because of the LP running time. Our “ex-bass-player” Marco, who also played on this debut, rearranged the whole layout. It was a logical step to release the debut on vinyl as it was the only album that was only released on CD. We didn’t have any space for a bonus track, but the new layout is really an eyecatcher we’re proud of.
It seems that each album shows the band’s progress, and you’ve naturally developed the sound a little further with each new album. Have you ever felt yourself satisfied with Zatokrev?
Actually, I feel satisfied pretty often. The songwriting process itself has something very contenting, and the final moment when every tone, every word, and every accent is in the right position, and even every single step forward during the songwriting process, makes me feel satisfied. The creativity we share in our rehearsal room for me personally is the most important part; it’s the essence of everything that comes after. I guess if that kind of satisfaction hadn’t happened, I would not have been able to move forward for so many years. I mean I don’t move forward because I’m never satisfied, I see it more like switching from one satisfaction to the next – it’s truly like a drug.
So do you see an album as a complex piece of art built not only of music but also of lyrics and artwork? How much attention do you usually pay to each element? Can you skip something when you hurry?
In a way I’d really say that it’s a complex piece of art, comparable to the complexity of the human mind. At the same time it is something very simple, as it’s all based on impulse and intuition. So the pure creative moment is something very simple from our point of view, but bringing together the collected experiences and getting to the point when we can express the connections between each other is a long process. It’s an inner journey which is simple to live but complicated to explain. The human mind IS as complicated and as simple, and this is pretty much the way I see the whole art package of things needed to create an album.
Skipping something in the music, lyrics, or artwork is not really an option in Zatokrev. Art needs time, it needs to breathe. For example I feel hurrying because of a deadline as a total art killer. For Bury The Ashes we were hurrying with a few things in a way, still that was a wanted experiment. Instead of doing a pre-production and spending a lot of money for a studio, we simply wrote a song and recorded it without losing too much time. We added only a few overdubs and that was it. The idea was to keep everything fresh and raw. That was an interesting try, but later I realised that we would have arranged many parts way better if we’d have taken more time for the songwriting process. Since then we’ve taken way more time for everything. Every element simply takes as much times as it needs.
The band’s sound is sometimes described as death-doom / sludge metal. How much of both components do you see in Zatokrev? Actually I guess that such a description is close to the truth if we speak about your early records, and newer albums are rather more avant-garde or progressive.
We play what feels natural to us and I can’t clearly say how many of which components of which genres really are present in our music. Of course basically we are slow and heavy, but none of us is a real doom or sludge nerd. Through the years the people who played in Zatokrev listened to many different genres from extreme metal, but also hip-hop, country, ambient, blues, psychedelic and progressive stuff, electronic music, jazz, and so on. I’d even say that in the current lineup we are not listening to metal or hardcore stuff so often. For me it’s a pretty big difference between what I play and what I listen to. Nowadays, more than ever before, I really prefer to play heavy music than to listen to it. This is not so bad — that way I am less influenced by the genres which are closer to what we play. Maybe it keeps it all a bit more fresh.
Zatokrev – Bleeding Island
The band’s story is quite long. How do you value Zatokrev’s status today? What makes you proud of the band?
The thing which is great in Zatokrev is that we all reached a certain maturity. We don’t have any big conflicts, we all know ourselves, and we’re able to talk about what we want or don’t want. Everybody in the band has his position and his responsibilities he perceives. Things are usually quite organised and we can focus on our music without losing a lot of time with senseless conflicts. We live and we let each other live. It’s a good working relationship, a circle of people I always like to get back to. This I’d say I’m kind of proud of. How do I value Zatokrev’s status… honestly I don’t know what to say.
Frederyk, you run Czar of Crickets Productions. How would you summarize its occupation?
We reached a point where we had the impression that we had to expand if we wanted to go further. At the same time I realised that it’s simply too much work, especially when we do worldwide releases regularly. Currently I’m looking for a part-time job to not be completely dependent on the label. The idea is to have fewer releases but to work in a more focussed way on particular bands.
What are the label’s current releases? And what are your plans considering the label for 2018?
This year we released new sound-carriers of some fantastic artists like Oregon Trail, Darius, Roamer, and a brand new single of Autisti (a band of Louis Jucker — from Coilguns, Ex-The Ocean — and Emilie Zoé). Also there are more exciting releases in the works. Due to the fact that last year the label was growing pretty quickly, I wanted to spend more time behind the scenes to extend our infrastructure.
Do you have stylistic preferences for Czar Of Crickets?
Not really, but I realised that during the last years we released many “post” termed genres. It’s not that I especially prefer them, but somehow many high quality bands from that genre sent me requests, which led to cooperation. I am pretty open to most genres in extreme metal, but also to various rock genres and experimental music.
CD sales decrease year by year — how do you survive in this business?
To be able to survive I had to be paid general until now. Still I believe it’s possible to survive with physical and digital sales when the bands are very active and play many shows. Unfortunately with many bands on my label that is not the case. The margin on soundcarriers is very low, so you have to sell quite a lot to reach a point when you can really pay the bills. In the future I’d to focus more on cooperation with more active bands.
Frederyk, thank you for your answers. One final question: what’s Zatokrev’s essential message?
Make love not war.