An Interview with Caliban – the Gatekeepers of Metalcore

We recently had the chance to interview Caliban, one of the longest-lasting and most celebrated bands in metalcore today. Where many bands in the genre have either faltered or outright quit and disbanded, Caliban is not only still around but growing immensely in popularity. Each album charts better, each tour gets bigger – and we recently had a chance to talk with vocalist Andreas Dörner to find out why.

Caliban
Caliban, from left to right:
Marc Görtz, Andreas Dörner, Marco Schaller, Denis Schmidt, Patrick Grün

Metal Blast: Your last album I Am Nemesis was very riff-driven and fast-paced. I’ve been listening to Ghost Empire, and it seems to have a bit of a slower, more “epic” sound. For instance, some of the choruses have sing-along parts and string instruments. Was this a decision you made prior to writing for Ghost Empire, that you would try and go “bigger” than I Am Nemesis, or was it something that just naturally happened while writing?
A: I think that just happened while writing. We don’t say “we need to sound like this, or like that” while writing a new record. We don’t go “This chorus has to be epic!”. Marc was writing and coming up with ideas, and we just come up with them and put it all together. I think it’s just a normal work process music wise. I get into it when they’re almost done with it musically anyway, that’s when I come in with my ideas for vocals and stuff like that.

[quote]We love making music, it’s in our hearts, you know?[/quote]

MB: I noticed that (guitarist) Marc Görtz has produced, or help produce, the last two albums that you guys have released. How is it different to have someone working on the production that is also actually in the band, as opposed to bringing someone in from the outside? Does it make things a little more easier, more natural?
A: Yeah, I think it makes the whole process easier. Marc knows what he wants, and he’s been writing the music for Caliban for a long time now. These past few years, he’s started producing bands other than Caliban also, so he’s a good producer now. He’s worked with Benny Richter producing our album, who’s been a friend even before he started producing music. Caliban was actually the first band he ever produced for, and now he’s producing so many different kinds of bands, different styles of music.

MB: Definitely, I’m surprised because as you say, he’s actually increased the range of artists that he’s worked with tremendously. He’s a great producer.
A: Yeah, he is. He’s a great musician, and I love working with Benny. He knows what we want, and we know what he wants. Personally, he knows what I’m capable of and how far he can push me. Even when we had some arguments or fights in regards to the producing process, it’s never affected our friendship. You can say that Benny is the sixth member of Caliban, the one behind the curtain. He affects our music a lot, because he’s there from the beginning.

MB: You have been together for over 15 years, now. Of course, there have been some lineup changes in the past, although none recently, but the core of the band has been together for some time now. Do you feel that, as time passes, it becomes harder to come up with fresh stuff? Things that are more interesting to your listeners? Or do you think the relationships you’ve built up with each other over the years have made it easier to come up with new things?
A: I would say it’s easier, because you grow together like a family and get to know each other very well. You know what every member in the band is capable of. It’s very important for Marc, for example, that when he’s writing the music he knows how far he can go with the drums, with the guitars. He knows if they can play the parts or not, so I think it’s very important that we know each other so we can write the music. We always try to improve with each record, we set our goals high so that we make sure we always take a step forward.

[quote]Sometimes when we played with a band like In Flames, there were so many people who gave us the finger or turned their backs and everything like that. Now, it’s different.[/quote]

MB: Right, I asked that because… a lot of bands, when they reach the 10 or 15 year mark, they sit back and look at what they’ve done throughout their time together. 2013 saw some relatively popular bands such as God Forbid and Bleeding Through call it quits. Has that ever happened to Caliban? Was there ever a moment where you guys stopped and thought about if you guys should call it quits or not?
A: Not yet, no (laughs). We don’t have any thoughts like that. We love making music, it’s in our hearts, you know? We love making music and being on the road. We don’t see any sense in stopping, because we have the chance to play shows in front of a lot of people, and see the world. It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to us. Over those 15 years, it changed from a hobby to a full-time job, but in our hearts it’s all the same. As long as I’m capable of doing this, I’ll keep doing it. I think it’s the same for the other guys (in the band) as well.

MB: You mentioned playing live, and seeing the world. How important is the live experience with the audience?
A: It’s the most important part for Caliban. Being on the road and playing shows, for me especially, I prefer the road and I don’t really like being in the studio. After awhile, I warm up to the idea of being in a studio – after I see that everything is working fine, and that my voice can do what I want it to do – than i’m fine being the studio. I like seeing the record grow and become what we want it to become. But I prefer being out on the road, being on stage and making that connection with the crowd.

MB: Caliban has been with several different labels; Lifeforce, RoadRunner, and now Century Media. How much influence do labels have over the band in terms of musical output, or is it mostly just ways in which the “administrative” stuff is handled?
A: We always choose what we want to do. I mean, the label could use the power to try and dictate what they want the band to do – but we’ve always said to every label we’ve had that we won’t do it. It’s up to us to decide what we want to do. So far, it’s worked. No label has tried to tell us what we should do with our music, and hopefully it’ll continue to be that way in the future. If anyone ever tried, we wouldn’t do it. We would quit, change labels, whatever. We won’t let them dictate our music for us.

MB: Your new album Ghost Empire, has a good mix of heavy and soft parts. One of my favorites right now is “Good Man”, which has a chorus that starts off as almost a spoken word segment before it turns into something more brutal. Is it hard for you to balance out combinations like that? When you’re in the writing process, do you say “Ok, on this song we’re going to try and mix soft and heavy parts.” or is it something that just sorta happens?
A: It’s something that just sorta happens. When Marc is collecting his ideas, he might start with some chorus lines or a riff. Then he comes up with more ideas to continue, and you just keep filling stuff in. You just keep coming up with stuff and seeing what works together. Sometimes you’ll take things you meant for one song, and stick it in another. Marc and Benny are always coming up with riffs and ideas and stuff like that, we have probably double the amount of songs that wind up on the album. We just pick the best ideas we have and run with it. Sometimes you might go “Ok, I want a nice mid-temp song. Something with a nice melody” and they see what they can do.

[quote]The music is all mixing together, so the scene is mixing together. Before, everything was very separated. Metal kids would go to a metal show, and Hardcore kids would go to a hardcore show. It wasn’t possible that a metal guy could go to a hardcore show because they didn’t like each other. [/quote]

MB: How hard is it to keep everyone happy? You have all these combinations of ideas, songs, and people. Is it hard to keep all the members happy?
A: Yeah, it’s hard to keep everyone happy. Each member has a totally different style of music they like, or that they listen to. Some of us in the band don’t even listen to metalcore anymore. They love to play it, but they don’t listen to other bands (laughs). I think everyone in Caliban are 100% behind the songs they make, though. In the end of the day, everyone is happy with what we’ve done or achieved with a song. Everyone has said that Ghost Empire is the best thing we’ve ever did, all the people we’ve let listen to it and management.

MB: It’s funny that you mention that some of the members don’t really listen to metalcore anymore, because Caliban is actually seen as one of the “gatekeepers” of metalcore. How does it feel to know that you’re so important to a genre, especially a genre that you might not feel a big connection to anymore?
A: Personally I still listen to metalcore, just not as much as I used to. There are so many different kinds now, I’m losing track! There are too many different “metalcore types” I don’t even know if it’s metalcore I’m listening to anymore. Of course, I’m honored that some people would say stuff like that about our band. Some bands have actually come up to us and said “You are the reason we started making music”, and I’ve always been honored to hear that. What can I say? We’re just lucky that we’ve been making music for this long, and that our fans have followed us for such a long time.”

MB: Have you seen that European metalcore has changed since you’ve started playing? Do you see it as different from the type of music you started playing?
A: Very different, I think. Like I said, there are so many different types of metalcore now. It’s not just metalcore, it’s djentcore, techcore, deathcore. I don’t even know all the names. This is a good thing, because the scene changed as well. The music is all mixing together, so the scene is mixing together. Before, everything was very separated. Metal kids would go to a metal show, and Hardcore kids would go to a hardcore show. It wasn’t possible that metal guy could go to a hardcore show because they didn’t like each other. Now, it’s more mixed. More tolerant. I don’t say that everyone is all happy and everyone likes each other; you still have instances where one scene doesn’t like another or whatever.

Caliban2
Caliban has just released their newest album, Ghost Empire.

MB: So you feel that these changes are for the better, or for the worse?
A: I think for the better, because people are more tolerant. Sometimes when we played with a band like In Flames, there were so many people who gave us the finger or turned their backs and everything like that. Now, it’s different. That doesn’t really happen anymore.

MB: Caliban’s popularity has also dramatically increased since the mid to late 2000’s. Your albums have been charting really well, so how do you feel that success has affected the band? How important do you see stuff like that?
A: I’m always very excited and curious to hear about how a new album charts and the position, because if you’re higher up in the rankings you get better positions on tours and stuff like that. That’s important for a band, to be on the road and be seen, and have the opportunity to play good shows. Otherwise, I wouldn’t care, but it turns out where you are on the charts is important, at least to the promoters. Personally, I don’t need the rankings, but they’re important for bands. It’s sad, but also true.

MB: But regardless, you clearly deserve it. Your albums have charted higher and higher. Caliban is doing great. It’s really nice to see that you guys getting the recognition that you deserve.