Interview with Arno Menses, lead vocals.
by Jo De Boeck for Liveacts Belgium
Originally intended as a side-project, Subsignal was founded back in 2007 by former Sieges Even members Arno Menses (Vocals) and Markus Steffen (Guitars). The first result of this collaboration was a song called ‘A Wallflower On The Day Of Saint Juliana’ which eventually appeared under the title ‘Eyes Wide Open’ on the 2007 Sieges Even output, ‘Paramount’. After Arno and Markus had left the band in the summer of 2008, they immediately started to look for adequate musicians to turn the project into a functional ‘real’ band. Four albums and a live concert (available on DVD) later, Subsignal became one of the leading German symphonic and progressive rock bands and they continue to steal hearts with every new release. Just a few weeks ahead of their first gig in Belgium, Liveacts Belgium was compelled to put this hidden gem in the spotlight. Of course you can expect a full review and photo report of the Subsignal concert on Friday, 13th of Januari 2017. But first things first, here’s our interview with Dutch lead vocalist Arno Menses!
Hello Arno, first of all I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with Liveacts Belgium.
Hi Jo, the pleasure is all mine
Before digging deeper into the Subsignal history, can you tell us a little bit more about your musical path up until now, what bands or artists were the biggest influence for you?
Well my musical past is, like with many others, a trail of amateur bands. Until 2002…
Being a die-hard Sieges Even fan, reading an add on their website asking for a singer. Now, I never took the spot of being a lead singer before (I was a drummer all this time), but if I was gonna go somewhere professionaly, this was a chance to get there. So I sent a demo (of a Kansas-cover) to Markus Steffen…and the rest, as they say…is history.
As I am a child that grew up in the eighties, my roots lie in that period of time. So of course starting out with Kiss, ACDC, Maiden and such, it was the typical 80’s AOR that shaped me (think of Night Ranger, Toto, Journey etc.) In the 90’s I drifted more to the prog thing, discovering Watchtower, Sieges Even, Fates Warning and so on.
But the love for sing-a-long melodies remained. So when I dug deeper into KANSAS, I found both high-class musicianship and and fingerlicking melodies…this changed my life forever!
The first Subsignal song I ever heard was title track of the debut album Beautiful & Monstrous (2009) and I was instantly hooked. I literally spend weeks listening to the entire album over and over and was intrigued by your unique sound. How would you describe Subsignal’s music?
Well, thank you for taking the time to checking us out ☺ It is Markus’ excellent songwriting,… his sense of combining big (monstrous) parts with petite (beautiful) parts, and his way of orchestrating it.
That in combination with my strong AOR roots, looking for sing-along/accessible vocal melodies. That pretty much defines our sound.
Markus Steffen (guitars) and yourself are the main songwriters for Subsignal and it’s clear there’s a special chemistry between the two of you. I was wondering if you could tell me something more about the process of composing material with Subsignal?
Though we live far away from each other we compose on our own. 90% of the songs are complete when we send it over, so each of us composes the whole thing. Then there is that other 10% that is where one of us gets stuck or the other one has a better idea, then we kinda edit each others songs. First we compose the instrumental part, after that I do my vocal bit…and that’s it.
If you had to come up with four Subsignal songs that define the band at it’s best, which would you pick and why?
‘Beautiful & Monstrous’ (Beautiful & Monstrous, 2009 – Markus Steffen) : This song has all those ingredients: small, big, melancholy, hopeful, sadness, anger… And of course some catchy sing-a-long stuff.
‘A New Reliance’ (Paraiso, 2013 – Arno Menses) because of its very positive vibe and use of many different elements/styles within a Kansas/Saga influenced song structure.
‘My Sanctuary’ (Touchstones, 2011 – Markus Steffen) was written while we were on tour. This rather compact and melodic song has highly interesting rhythm patterns, and even though the lyrics are very dramatic, it still has ‘feel good’ melody lines.
‘The Rain Will Wash It All Away’ (The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime, 2015 – Arno Menses) was a song I already wrote before the Paraiso album. It wasn’t finished yet for that album but luckily it made it to our new album. Yeah, what can I say besides…it’s as 80’s as you can get ☺ So that is probably why it’s right up my alley and I especially like the combination of minor/major parts. Let’s call it Depeche Mode meets Night Ranger ☺
Your voice is without a doubt an important aspect of Subsignal’s signature sound. It’s obvious a lot of effort was put into the lead vocals and stunning harmonies. How do you keep those vocal chords in such good shape and what vocalists do you personally admire?
Haha, I smoke, and try not to catch a cold ☺. I really don’t put too much effort in it, and I am probably doing it all wrong…but hey…it works!
My all-time favorite singer is Steve Walsh of Kansas. He always gave 110%, never looking for the easy way out. That in combination with his incredible keyboard playing and his stage performance, to me, is the whole package! Other vocalist I admire: John Farnham, Glenn Hughes, Steve Perry, Lou Gramm, Ronnie James Dio, Bob Carlisle…
The last album ‘The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime’(2015) received raving reviews and it confirmed Subsignal’s steady progression. Released a bit over a year ago now, how do you feel when you look back at this album?
A bit like with any album…Yeah the reviews are great and we have a growing fan-base. But we haven’t made it easy on ourselves with combining Prog with AOR…we are in between 2 seats, so to speak!
We are too complicated for an AOR/Melodic Rock audience and too “accessible” for a prog audience. This bites us in the ass all the time. But fuck it. Take it or leave it, we think it’s a killer combination, so we stick to it.
Will Subsignal mainly focus on the latest album during the upcoming tour or can we expect an overview of all four albums?
Of course we will play songs from all 4 albums. It gets harder with every new output, because we have a great list of songs that we’d like to play. But you have to put it all into a one and a half hour set, so we make a sort of “best of” list, with an acceptable accent on our latest album.
Can you tell us a bit more about the current lineup? Besides yourself, Markus Steffen (guitars) and Ralf Swhager (bass), will Luca di Gennaro (keys) and Dirk Brand (drum) be joining you on stage?
That remains the same, with the exception of Luca, the whole traveling and rehearsing thing with him coming from Italy, is difficult. So we asked our good friend Markus Maichel from the prog band DANTE, to help us out on tour…and also for next album.
In reviewing Subsignal’s discography, and if my calculations are correct, 2017 looks like a perfect year for a new album… Can you reveal any future plans for a new album?
Yes I can,….a new album is planned, we will record it this year. I don’t know what release date will be set yet. Songwriting and demoing is entering the last phase now.
Thank you Arno for this interview, on behalf of Liveacts Belgium I wish you and the band a fantastic tour with Blind Ego on which we will report soon!
Jo, it’s always nice to talk to you. Thanks for the support and the cool questions, I figure we will see us in Verviers soon.
You bet Arno, front row! And I hope we can convince some Liveacts Belgium readers to come and check out Subsignal @ Spirit of 66, Verviers on Friday, 13th of January 2017!
Interview with Arno Menses (Subsignal) by Jo De Boeck for Liveacts Belgium