Interview: Oh, Napoleon

Oh, Napoleon - Photo by Gerald von Foris

Oh, Napoleon - Photo by Gerald von Foris

The debut album of Oh, Napoleon has been a long time coming. Although the Krefeld-based five-piece band formed in the mid-2000s, it’s only now that the group finally feels it has something solid to show for the past seven years. That something is “Yearbook,” an appropriately-titled debut full-length that, in a sense, lives up to its name as a piece of music which documents the growth of the band and its individual members.

“It took so much longer than expected,” the band said of the album’s eventual release this past June. “We’re simply relieved…we even feared it might never see the light of day, so right now, we’re just happy.”

With the exception of 2009’s four-song self-titled EP, “Yearbook” really is the band’s tangible entrance into the music community, at least in the sense of having something to show for all the years of hard work. Yet one clear upside to the amount of time it took to put the album out is that the band was able to spend that time fine-tuning the music, the result of which is apparent on listen to the songs, both individually and straight-through. The album’s 13 tracks not only stand apart as perfectly-crafted pop numbers, but when played in succession, they sonorously bleed into one another, as various lines blend and swirl to form a single cohesive unit that, at its height, teeters between melancholic and endearing.

And the dynamic and choral interplay between Maximilian Frieling (guitar), Danny Balzer (bass), Patrick Richardt (drums), Maximilian Johann Landwehr (piano) and Katrin Biniasch (vocals), is the likely result of a band that has played and grown together over the years, working toward a certain kind of exactness in the music.

“With this album, we were definitely eager to make it perfect. We surely had time to do so, since we spent almost two years working on it,” they said. “But the thing is…as an artist, you can’t possibly make an album you will be perfectly pleased with. Sooner or later, even if you like it a lot, you’ll always find little things you’d have done differently.”

In this instance, the members of Oh, Napoleon don’t necessarily have issues with the end result, although in time, they might change their minds. However, they’re already thinking of how they plan to approach the follow-up album and admittedly, they might go for the less-polished approach.

“There are basically two ways to approach a record: you either make it very elaborate, with a lot of overdubbing, or you try to give it a live-feel. For this one, we chose the former…because it’s what suited the songs the best,” the band explained. “But for the next record, we’re going to try something else, simply because we feel we’ve overdone this way of working for now. Of course, you can’t do without overdubbing in the studio, but we definitely want to mix things up a little bit.”

Naturally, the band is now busy with touring and riding out the wave of support for “Yearbook,” so thoughts of a follow-up are of minimal concern to fans. However, although there is no definitive timeline for when a new album is expected, the members admitted they’ve already been crafting new songs.

“Since we spent so much time on the first record, and since we had to wait for its release for such a long time, we’ve been writing a lot of new tunes,” they said. “Some of them have already been included in our live set, some others are just rough ideas, but we’ve definitely got enough material to go back into the studio.”

Oh, Napoleon shared that as a whole, the band tends to prefer recording slightly more than playing live, but hinted at the need for the balance between the two. Particularly, the members love the way the pieces of a song come together into a single and complete entity, but acknowledged that the inspiration for the music can only come from experiencing life outside of the recording process.

“Basically, everything that happens to or around us is inspiring to us,” they said. “It’s hard to make a rule out of it, because when we write a song, it just happens in such a natural way that it’s difficult to indicate what exactly inspired us in that moment. We tend to feel a little more inspired after extensive touring, though. It’s a good way to digest your experiences.”

Yet once those initial experiences are written and recorded and played to crowds of people, the digesting of them isn’t quite over. In fact, sometimes they evolve, or change, based on the circumstances of where and how they are being played, as well as the reaction of the audience.

“Our songs rarely lose their initial meaning,” the band said. “It’s just that with every town and every new year we’re playing…new feelings build up on this initial idea. The level of intensity just varies from show to show, but the basic feeling is never really lost.”

WIth all these things in mind, the band is in a positive place. And while the five are still experiencing the excitement of “Yearbook,” they have been careful to avoid getting caught up in the moment, always taking time to reflect and learn from each step along the way.

“We have got a much clearer idea of the kind of music we want to make. This helps us feel more confident about what we make and stand up for ourselves as musicians,” they said, simultaneously acknowledging this is something that only comes about as the result of time. “The most challenging thing is being patient. We know we’re still young, but with every year that passes, you might become a little edgy if you haven’t yet achieved what you wanted to. The best medicine is to just fling yourself back into work and tell yourself you can do better.”

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