We talked to guitarist and vocalist Christian Petersen about Samsara Blues Experiment's new album "Waiting for the Flood" and some other issues. Read on.
Let's start from Black Sabbath and krautrock. I've read somewhere, on your fan page I guess, that this is one of your favorite issues to talk about in the interviews, is that correct? (laughs)
Absolutely. I also can't hear enough of both these topics... not anymore! Sorry but I am totally fed with the 70s Trend but not only because it seems to be everywhere in the upper- and underground, it's just so unbelievably superficial. I mean what do you really hear about Krautrock and the 70s except for the endless namedropping of five or six bands that do not at all sum up the 70s as a great period for music. So please don't get me wrong I love that era, but I can't even hear anymore those names like Can, Amon Düül, Black Sabbath, Captain Beyond and so on.
OK, and now more seriously. Samsara's music is a bit different from what Terraplane used to play. Did you create this band because you felt a need to make some ideas come true and they could not be done in your before-Samsara project?
I founded SBE because Terraplane broke up and I then moved away to Berlin for personal reasons. The ideas behind both bands were pretty much the same, but you always grow, develop different tastes and you're whole life may change in between as well, which might make two similar bands appear very different. The main idea behind both bands was the same: to have fun, creating music and art. As long as I am involved the overall vibe will always be very similar I guess. I am not much a traditional musician, I have had some classical schooling but then rather soon developed my own style and approach to things. But of course also the other people in the bands make some significant difference. I didn´t even sing a word in Terraplane. Times were completely different, we had way less experience and partially much worse equipment.
Your brand new album titled "Waiting for the Flood" was released few months ago. Did you make any specific presumptions while working on this material or you just let your creativity flow?
It all relates to intuition and not too much thinking in terms of writing music for instance. I don't write music. I only play.
I'm asking because - in my opinion - new album clearly differs from previous one "Revelation & Mystery". "Waiting" is not a hit nor is it that varied; it's more pithy and psychedelic instead. Was it all intended?
Probably. Well initially I wanted to do only two songs on an album for quite a while, but this didn't work out and also seems that too many other bands did that in between ;-). Also we just can't do these long longtracks anymore, as it seems to me. Those songs that fill one LP side can become very boring too soon, at least if they aren't rendered out very well. I think that the new album still has a lot of variety but maybe in different terms. Of course we can not always come up with something completely new. Also we are only (sometimes very) limited human beings.
My favorite Samsara's album is still "Revelation & Mystery". Main reasons are: tracks like "Into the Black" or spacerockin' "Hangin' on the Wire", but also "Zwei Schatten im Schatten" and amazing folk song "Thirsty Moon". New album is less atmospheric; it's not diversified like the one before. Any idea why is that?
Well actually also for me "Revelation & Mystery" remains the favorite SBE-album, also production-wise, though much different from everything else we did. It didn't sound like the random Stoner-album. More like a classic Rock or Metal album.
One factor that may have had some impact on the new stuff could be the fans. It's a bit confusing I have to agree and of course we do not primarily play for somebody else but for ourselves. I mostly blame that to the on-going success of "Long Distance Trip". I do not really get "the craze" for it. In my opinion "Revelation & Mystery" had moments far beyond anything on the debut and still it's considered our "worst album" by way too many fans. A bit sad and weird actually.
So for the new album and somehow unconsciously – at least that's how I see it now – we probably came up with this sort of compromise. "Waiting For The Flood" may very well be something in between the two earlier albums. Let's say it was also an experiment ;-). I still find it worth while to listen to, but yes also the second album remains my distinct favorite, especially for "Thirsty Moon". I see this one among the five best songs of my "career".
You know it was and still is a bit "intimidating" to know that so many people liked our first album so much while I or we as a band as well can not always repeat one album, or the feelings we shared with "Long Distance Trip". Life has so much more to offer. I recently sort of medidate on the position that I have in my life as a musician. A bit tricky. Making so many people happy with one album, disappointing them with the next, maybe making them happy again, disappointing them, a vicious circle haha...
At first blush, especially taking into consideration tracks lengths, "Waiting for the Flood" reminds me a bit of your debut. You sound way better of course & much more mature now. What's your point of view? How would you describe your music trip from the beginnings to the point you are at today?
Our musical trip starting from being sort of a more traditional and heavily USA band-influenced Stonerrock band to being more progressive, much more European-influenced and acting and maybe today there is much more thinking involved in our music than i firstly wanted to admit. We can not play anymore those two chord songs. That's boring when you do it over a period of several years.
Speaking for myself, I of course grew a bit older and maybe even one inch wiser since the debut, which is now five years ago. As I said some things changed in elementary ways. One thing for instance is my musical taste, the other one may be a change of surrounding, the different settings for creating a piece as life affects me directly. And also I think much more about what I play and sing. This made a it really hard for me this time, actually I never had experienced so many troubles and uncertainties with any recording I did in the last 14 years of my career as a producing musician. Somehow I am still not sure if I am really completely satisfied with the final result. But I am also a "natural worrier" ;-).
Why did you choose Beksinski's art for album cover?
Our drummer Thomas came up with the image after "the usual quarrels" on art issues. Initially I only wanted the whole LP-album to look (and feel!) like a piece of crackled dry soil, while the others disagreed on this because they found it too boring without a real decorative image on the cover. I sort of wanted to let the music speak for itself without much other distraction.
You make posters and artwork under the name of Sunart Works, also for Samsara releases. Which artists influenced you (or still do) the most?
Dave Kinsey, Andy Howell and Frank Kozik ...but also Phil Frost had some impact on me back in the 90s. I like dripping paint, even though I mostly work with computers. Wish I could draw better or at least bring up some more patience for that matter.
You put up few rarities on your site. I want to mention a track called "Back To Life". You called that song "the first track of Samsara Blues Experiment". I like it a lot; this is probably the most powerful Samsara's track ever. Why did you decide not to release it as a bonus track for example?
It was released on two samplers before. It's sort of a lost track, also because it has a whole different feeling to the stuff on our albums. I really don't like the idea of putting bonus tracks on an album CD. It's sort of unnatural and mostly doesn't fit the context. An album is an own piece of art. At least should be in my opinion. No bonus tracks, no gimmicks needed at all. And then what would we have to tell LP buyers? Sorry but please get the CD as well? "Back To Life" was downloadable for free for each and everyone who was interested. That's enough I guess.
Some time ago you did a show playing the soundtrack to the movie "Metropolis" live. Did you play any regular Samsara tracks? How do you recall this experience?
It certainly was an experience. We played this in two evenings for two and a half hours and mostly ended up noodling and tootling in D or G, but people liked it – probably because of the atmosphere that we and the pictures created - and I have to agree that the first evening was pretty cool because we didn't even properly rehearse and so expected close to nothing except for hoping not to mess it all up. We also included three tracks and shamelessly extended them, but you see it's not really my cup to play long tracks like this anymore. Still for some sort of nostalgia one year later we tried another silent movie, called "Nosferatu", but now ended that chapter because it's just too hard to really improvise with four guys on a higher level. It's hard to communicate and all may get too messy too soon. All is noise then.
At the beginning of 2013 you brought to light a CD titled "Live at Rockpalast". This show may also be viewed on YT, why did you decide not to release it on DVD?
I am really happy that this one german guy (sort of illegally) uploaded the TV transmission (one track was missing) on YouTube! Otherwise hardly any far-away foreigner (our fans in Indonesia or something) would ever witness a sort of SBE gig except for most of these bad camera sound uploads. But then Rockpalast is extremely commercial, as I see it. They asked a very high price for putting their name on the CD release and still weren't too much cooperative at all. At one point I was really getting angry on the behaviour of their intendant who treated us just like an unwelcome guest or something. I mean thanks for having had us there and sorry for any bother. Won't call again.
Samsara is an amazing live band. While watching you several times I got the impression that Samsara as a band feels better when there are no time frames you'd need to obey. I mean something like the last show at Roadburn in 2011. How do you recall your gig played in Warsaw last year at Days of the Ceremony? You had to be brief there!
Thank you! I remember it was extremely hot there and at one point I felt like running out of air, so it was probably okay to make a "quick shot" after 45 minutes, which is still sort of average for most other bands. But I can not recall that evening so well, sorry. But I also seem to like smaller concerts better than bigger events. The favorite concert duration for us would be around one and a half hour, preferably for not more than 250 people close to the stage, banging and/or dancing. Perfect :-).
Is there any chance for Samsara gig played with your full instrumentarium? Something like Colour Haze who plays gigs using sitar for example?
We did this in our very first concerts but had to end it because of mostly too small stages and especially bad sound conditions. I never heard the Sitar when the Distortion and Drums set in. And then there's the problem that I can only play one instrument a time. Most of the "weird sounds" come from my hands you know. I also play solo guitar. I can not do all of this at the same time. It's totally different for CH. Stefan Koglek only plays guitar and occasionally sings. So it's hard to realize this for us.
How did you start to play the sitar?
Yet I am still undecided if I should really start playing and therefor study or just keep on fooling around with it. I bought the instrument in 2006 I think.
And why did the guitar become your main instrument? And who is your main guitar paragon, if any?
When I was ten years old my father told me I had to learn a musical instrument. At that time I only knew about two or three different instruments, so I chose guitar also because my mother played the instrument and also sang - as much as I can remember of her. Later with the age of 16 my life had changed quite dramatically. After the early death of my mother, we moved to a small village in the middle of nowhere where my father decided to live with a new wife. I became more and more introverted and from being a sports guy turned into the "long hair-weirdo" that i am today ;-). I asked for an electric guitar for Xmass and when I got it my father played a Rory Gallagher album, saying something like: "This was a real guitar player! Play like this boy!" Well, that's how I slowly got into it. Today I like many instruments. Guitar is only one of them. A dream would be to really being able to play piano.
I saw you on stage playing Gibson SG and Fender Stratocaster. Some time ago you also played Les Paul. Please tell us few words about your guitars and, of course, disclose what do you prefer: Gibson or Fender?
Thing is I can't decide what I like best. That's why you see me play a SG, a Strat, a Les Paul. Those three classic guitars are the ones I love. I tried others, but these are the three remaining instruments of choice. I don't have any other close connection to instruments as for being tools of expression. The guitar I like best though is my acoustic guitar by a brand called "Brightway". The one that you never saw on stage or on pictures, like we never performed "Thirsty Moon" on stage.
I would also like to know more about the other gear ? amps & effects. What kind of gear did you use while working on "Waiting for the Flood"? Are they the same you play live gigs with?
Most of that yes. I also used a Talk Box for the first time which was fun. My regular set is the Orange Rockerverb 100 with a 4x12 Orange Cab. I use a Dunlop Wah, Swollen Pickle Distortion, Maxon Tube Screamer, Fulltone Deja Vibe, Electric Mistress Flanger and a Boss Giga Delay. I have some other effects, but try to stick to the aforementioned, because in the end you won't need much more than that and your fingers. I also play Synthesizers and other keyboards to create atmosphere or noise.
Samsara's bass player Richard Behrens produced the album once again. Have you ever considered any changes? Would you like to try to work with anybody else?
Richard's doing a very good job with recording. I think that doesn't have to be changed at all. The mixing, well we sort of do it together and I think that's also okay as it is, because we really have our own heads and already here have had to discuss from time to time ;-). Only the mastering doesn't make me completely happy this time, but that was another guys job and is always quite stressing because you spend all the time in the studio, recording and especially mixing, and never think of this to be done and then time flies and sometimes you have to finish to another compromise.
Your long and extended compositions may suggest they are improvised. Is improvisation important to you? How does Samsara create new songs?
Mostly I, or sometimes also somebody else, starts on a initial riff or melodic idea, someone else may add a part and I usually decide if it's cool or not. It´s all based on intuition and agreements.
What are the band?s plans for the nearest future?
Resting a bit. I think that's okay after five years of putting out as much as we did. I also have some complications with jobs and stuff to solve right now. So my head's full of things. Anyway thanks for your interest!