“It’s like you have this idea machine in your head and something turns the cog, but you never know what it might be that pushes this button,” Sonnenberg said.
And, sometimes, you never know when it will push that button either.
The band’s most recent album, “Lemming,” was finally released this summer, the result of years of writing and recording. But that’s not to say that the time from beginning to end was a waste; on the contrary, the album took the band through a series of adventures both at home (building a new studio in Cologne) and abroad (recording in Scotland with Paul Savage and Connecticut with Peter Katis).
Sonnenberg said that recording in a new environment is, at this point, a necessity for the band, likening that time to taking field trips.
“If we record at home…we have the tendency to lose ourselves,” he said, citing how being entrenched in routine and familiarity can be a distraction from the main goal. “It was always very nice for us to go [elsewhere] and be so so far away and so isolated from everything that we have here.”
With “Lemming,” the songs were consciously different in their components and creation than past albums, with a focus on presenting a more straightforward approach.
“I think every album we’ve made so far has been rather specific in what it sets out to be,” Jansen said. “And I think the more albums we make, the more it has turned out to be that way.”
When asked to sum “Lemming” up in exactly five words, Sonnenberg said he thinks of it as “a tough album with melodies.” Stopping to reflect on that, he then shook his head, changing his word quota to “repetitive stoic music with heart.”
“The songs are more, say, riff-based, than on other albums we have…it’s less about verse chorus verse chorus,” Jansen elaborated. “Some songs have set out with this sort of throbbing beat, and a lot of, like, [drone-y] one-chord guitars…so there’s this solid foundation of a certain beat that goes on throughout the song, and a certain guitar that just stays on this one chord, making this really steady backbone for everything.”
In addition to a more deliberately simple approach to melody, Sonnenberg noted that the lyrics were also written with the intention of being as plain and pretenseless as possible.
“If you really have a desire to express yourself and connect with people and exchange ideas, then…the smartest way to achieve that goal is to reach out to people in a way they can relate to and they can understand,” he said.
He made reference to the tendency for some writers to cling to lyrics which are often difficult to parse, something which he admitted even he was guilty of in his younger years.
“They try to cloud very banal things in a shroud of abstraction and subjective stuff,” he said. “[But] we try to create something that can be understood, [and] over the years, I became more and more precise.”
However, the band members also acknowledged that, in spite of a desire to be understood, they are still musicians first and foremost.
“When it comes down to it, we’re not writing essays; we’re playing rock songs,” Jansen said with a laugh.
Sonnenberg agreed, stating that overall, the makeup of the band is more important than what it accomplishes.
“The most important thing for me is not the art, the music, the aesthetics, but the [people],” he said. “I always assume that a band can be something like a way of life, like a family. Something that is much more than just the music that these people create, but a way of connecting, of having this joint mission.”
And it doesn’t hurt that the members already have a common goal and an established flow of interacting, which persists through it all.
“I think one thing that hasn’t changed, is that [since] we first started to play together… there have always been moments where we didn’t have to discuss how we wanted the music to sound and what needed to be played where. And that has always been really really easy, knowing which way the music needs to go without having to discuss it,” Jansen said. “These moments where there is a mutual understanding about the art we’re trying to do…that is something that has always been at the core of the band.”