Serious Black have begun the recording of their fifth studio album. PowerMetal.no caught up with vocalist Urban Breed to hear what we can expect this time around from the supergroup and to find out more what happened when the band was created.
As always I want to dig into the history of the bands I’m interviewing. So, let’s go back to the beginning, if that’s okay! In 2013 Serious Black was founded after an idea to create a supergroup of «6 musical masterminds». Could you elaborate some about the idea behind Serious Black?
Urban Breed: That was the precise concept in mind. On top of that, the thought, as Mario [Lochert] explained it to me, was that he wanted to form a band that worked like bands used to do. Everybody in the same place and working together. This didn’t exactly turn out that way. Not only because of logistics, but also because of how we, as individuals, prefer to work.
Roland Grapow joined early, and I believe he was very involved in the creative process even before the band was founded. Is that true? And how was Grapow «persuaded» to join?
Urban Breed: Mario, as he is wont to do, essentially wore Roland down. He pitched the idea a few times and eventually found Roland receptive to the idea. Unfortunately, the picture hadn’t been quite as accurately painted as it ought to have been. When it was clear to Roland that he would be required to spend much more time on the road than he’d been told initially he, rightfully, bowed out. This was when I suggested we give Bob [Katsionis] a call. And, yes, it is correct that Roland wrote material for the first demos.
At that time, was the music of Serious Black thought out, and was that something that was discussed with Grapow?
Urban Breed: Mario wanted to form a power metal band. The songs written during those first sessions were almost exclusively not, so the freedom to create whatever comes to mind has been there from the start.
Then, Thomen Stauch, Jan Vacik and Dominik Sebastian agreed to join the band. I know that one of the concerns about creating this kind of band was about igniting various conflicts. Was that something Mario thought of when contacting musicians to join? And can you tell me how each member was picked; was everyone the first choice?
Urban Breed: Of course! The thought was that picking, not only, top musicians but friends, it would be a far smoother process with fewer surprises. Roland was right there as the idea was formed and he’s a truly talented, rock solid guitar player. Thomen’s not only a great drummer but also an excellent song-writer, Dominik’s skills are undisputed, and Jan Vacik is not only an excellent keyboard player but also a great singer. The odd man out was me.
Yes, about that. During the first songwriting session back in 2014 the band didn’t have a vocalist. Why was that?
Urban Breed: Because Roland is also a pretty good singer. But, eventually they threw some names around but none would stick, until Thomen’s drum Tech Michael Müller [Michael Bormann’s Jaded Hard] suggested me.
And that was after the first songwriting session. And after a few emails with song samples you agreed to join the band. Do you remember what your first reaction to the songs were?
Urban Breed: Oh, absolutely. My first thought was, «I can work some of these ideas into music I enjoy.» I also remember thinking that they were all over the place. If you think the first album had a lot of variety, well, *those songs* were all over the map.
Did you have to think about it for a long time before deciding to join the band?
Urban Breed: A couple of days to a week. There were a few things I wanted to make sure they understood about me before they and I made a commitment.
Did Mario explain to you what kind of band he wanted to create, or what type of band/music this was? Or, is it as a vocalist enough to hear the music?
Urban Breed: Sure, Mario said he wanted to form a power metal band. I didn’t, and still don’t, care much for any such distinction. I saw potential in the talent and knew we could shape things into something good.
What was your thoughts about the band at that time? I mean, it was quite a strong lineup with Grapow, Thomen, Jan Vacik, Dominik Sebastian, and of course Mario.
Urban Breed: The only name I knew anything about when Mario first reached out was Roland’s, and to be fair, I didn’t really know all that much about him either. I later realized I had seen Jan Vacik play in Atlanta once, but that’s pretty much it. It turns out we were a pretty strong team when put together.
The debut album, As Daylight Breaks, was released in 2015. How involved were you in that album? As I mentioned some songs were already written before you were asked to join.
Urban Breed: There were indeed songs written before I joined. What isn’t well known is that not that much of that material made it to the album. I was allowed to cherry pick from what was there and add songs of my own.
Thomen had written a beautiful song that I was allowed to expound upon and we turned that into the title track. Jan submitted the basic track for «High And Low», I didn’t have to do too much to that one, I just cleaned it up, basically just gave the vocal melody a more defined structure, and added a few twists to the melody and added vocal harmonies that better fit my temperament.
«Akhenaton» was a song I had written for a solo album that will never happen as I’ve cannibalized it into near oblivion by now. Jan and Roland brought out the scissors and made it the more concise piece that it is today. Other songs from that never-to-be solo album were «I Seek No Other Life», «Trail Of Murder» where Roland came up with a wonderful alternative for the second verse and bridge, «Fly On» and «I Show You My Heart». I was never happy with the chorus to the latter and so I asked Jan to come up with a fresh idea that I could stick some vocals on.
«Older And Wiser» started as a song I wrote with Daniel Olsson [ex-Tad Morose]. He wasn’t happy with what I was singing, he wanted something else out of it entirely, so that song was just collecting dust. I lifted the vocal melodies out and sent them to Dominik for completion. Dominik, in turn, sent me a demo that just needed structuring and a new chorus, so I returned the favor and got on it right away. I based it on a part Dominik had stuck in an early part of the song. I just needed to move it and write the words and the melody. That was «Listen To The Storm», by the way. For the rest of the album I wrote vocal melodies, harmonies and took part in the endless discussions about song structure.
Did the work on the album result in a lot of discussions about the songs?
Urban Breed: Nah, it wasn’t that bad. Pretty much any time we had a fight over anything the end result came out alle the better for it. That’s my opinion at least.
Speaking of opinions, «My Mystic Mind», that whirlwind of a song from Thomen that I gave a «Tabula Rasa» flavor with my vocal melodies and delivery was my least favorite for the longest time. In more recent days I see it in a different light and maybe we ought to bring it out live at some point.
What are your thoughts on the album today?
Urban breed: I’m rather proud of it. Especially given that we completed it in such a short time. Maybe, just maybe, that is the way to do it. Perhaps what we as artists consider not fully realized ideas are what the audience consider strokes of genius? What we did in that short time was give ourselves the gift of good music that translates well live. Also, one thing that points to this album being really strong is that pretty much any song on there is someone’s favorite. That’s a good sign if you ask me.
And now, four years later Serious Black is about to release its fourth album. Four albums in five years is quite an achievement; how do you guys find the time and the energy to keep on releasing albums?
Urban Breed: If I had my way we would have made four albums in four years. I never stop writing these days so there’s never a shortage of ideas and I’m not the only one in the band, you know. There is something to be said for not stopping. It takes less energy to continue running at a certain pace than accelerating up to it.
How would you describe the development of Serious Black during those years, both musically and as a band. Because, despite numerous lineup changes you have kept releasing albums. Have the changes affected the songwriting and the music of Serious Black?
Urban Breed: Everything affects everything. Take out one songwriter and bring in another and you get a slightly different flavor. But the important thing to remember in situations like these, your identity as a collective won’t change nearly as much as one would think. The trick is to not worry about it but rather embrace what difference a new change brings. Use what you have to your advantage.
Speaking more directly about the development of the band; I have the benefit of coming in as the outsider. The one that didn’t know any of the guys beforehand. This means I came in without any preconceived notions about what the others would be like or what they would bring. Less baggage is better in circumstances like these. The first release and the first tour were quite an experience. I got to know these people really well in a short amount of time. You learn who you’re going to butt heads with and come out best friends and who you’re better off avoiding having heated arguments with and find other ways to sort out differences of opinion instead.
After making the first album a cavalcade of variety we streamlined the second a bit [Mirrorworld, 2016]. Not an awful lot, mind you. Not as far as the songwriting goes but more in terms of instrumentation and arrangements. This might, perhaps, be something that could be attributed to Bob. Good or bad? That all depends on your perspective. Personally, I’m really grateful to Bob for his contribution here. If you ask me it’s a really good album with lots and lots of good songs. It was also the first album with Alex [Holzwarth] on drums. The difference in philosophy in that departement is obvious. I really like what Alex brought there. Moving on to Magic  we moved for more guitars in the mix and a completely different one at that. We were tired of the style of production currently in favor complete with grid-perfect quantization, sample replacements, and pitch correction and wanted to take things closer to how they were done 20-30 years ago but with the benefit of current technology. I’m still very, very happy with what we did. In the end, this direction caused a bit of a schism in the band. You can’t keep everybody happy. That’s just the way it is.
You have now begun recording your fifth studio album. So far there hasn’t been reveled much about the album. So, is there anything you could tell me?
Urban Breed: I have already set the title. Well, to be honest, there are three options. One that I strongly favor and that’s been the guiding star when writing the lyrics overall, and two alternatives. Just in case the guys or AFM, for some reason, won’t accept my first choice. The number of songs will be determined right before, during or after mixing. We don’t want to have to include a song we find we’d like to re-work to better get the point across. The main theme of the artwork has been determined and also the special packaging for the more exclusive versions. I’m producing artwork guides as we speak. Well, almost; I interrupted that work to give this interview.
And I thank you for that! What about the music; what can we expect?
Urban Breed: Oh, such a difficult question. There’s a bit more darkness to some songs. Perhaps a bit more despair. That doesn’t mean that we won’t include a couple of up-tempo, lighter, songs or catchy choruses. We’re bringing a lot of variety this time around. Some songs, currently in the running, have a bit of a cold-streak to them. We’ll see. There’s one song that I really hope the guys will take a liking to. It’s a longer number running close to the 12-minute mark. We’ll see.
How has the songwriting process been for this album? How much are you involved this time?
Urban Breed: I’m always very much involved. I think my influence should be obvious by now [laughs]. I don’t think the process has been very different this time around. We all have our preferred methods. For the very foundation I really like to write on my own or on location with an outside song-writer. Dominik writes on his own and Ramy likes a bit of collaboration. I’m, typically, 100% in charge of lyrics, vocal melodies, and vocal arrangements.
What are the plans after the album is released, will there be a tour?
Urban Breed: The release date will be set to coincide with our next tour, so yes. I don’t want to say much about it as what I have dreamt up for it might not come to fruition.
You have been involved in many great bands, such as Bloodbound, Pyramaze, Tad Morose and many more. What are your status now; are you 100% focused on Serious Black, or do you have other projects in mind?
Urban Breed: Serious Black is the one thing I focus on now. I do want to make a progressive rock album at some point but that’s not for now and neither here nor there.