"Without death, life would make no sense"
Alain Croubalian, the eccentric frontman of the Swiss funeral band Dead Brothers, talks about History, the devil, Germans, the Crisis, Elvis and the Greek music tradition.
Greetings from Greece! This is Katerina Mytilineos and we're having this conversation for Noisefull.com. Where do I find you these days?
Zurich. Preparing the 100 years of DADA at the cabaret Voltaire Zurich. So I'm quite DADA right now.
You have released six studio albums and been a band for quite a long time (since 1989?). What kept you away from meeting your Greek fans for so long?
We thought all those countries like Brazil, Greece or Serbia have great musical Histories, unlike Switzerland. So we thought a long time nobody will want to hear us out there. Who cares about the melodies out of our mountains? Which is basically still true. Nobody believes we come out of this very conservative and boring country.
It's been one year since your first visit in Greece and you're coming back here, for two shows, one in Thessaloniki, (19.02.2016 - Principal Club) and one in Athens, (20.02.2016 - Gagarin Club). What made you return so soon? Was your memories from the first gig so strong? Tell us about your experience.
It must have moved something that was needed to be moved. That's why we got invited back. You know if you would invite us every week, we would come every week... But maybe it's because we play rock 'n' roll, but European centered rock 'n' roll, a rarity, and a sign: things are shifting.
You can certainly been described as a funeral band, but you tend to exaggerate the macabre and folklore element and also lean towards bluegrass and americana. How would you describe yourselves and your music?
Just did! But that is actually your job!
Though you're quite dark as a band, I feel like there is plenty of romance in you. Am I wrong? How do you manage blending love in your songs?
This is just a love song? We are about strong emotions, and actually beauty and love is what is missing in this world (dixit Botho Strauss) and are definitely strong and essential feelings. We want more of it. And Elvis was also a softie with a soft spot for the romancer and ...his mother. Like all bad guys.
Is there any connection between your band's name and the old Greek traditional poem, "The Song Of The Dead Brother" («παραλογή»: epic, traditional poem about the tolls of the human life with lyrical and fictional elements)? It feels so similar to your taste...
We sing that song, yes. But I also was amazed that an old Greek already knew our story. And The story is always the same. I did the music for Sophocles' "Elektra" in Zurich (with Karin Henkel). The theater play was very successful and the title track of the play was the old gospel: 'Oh Mary, don't you weep, don't morn'. We sang of course: 'Oh Elektra don't you weep, don't mourn, Pharao's army been grounded...'. 'The story is always the same, and it's always written, in fever and ashes and blood, and on the bones of another culture...' (lyrics from the song "The Story It's Always The Same").
God or the Devil? What's your relation to religion and death? Do you believe in luck?
The Devil is Mr Normal and God is our dream? Without death, life would make no sense. And without the Devil, God would be nothing. It's just like luck: it's a way of looking at things. A belief.
You can sing in English, in French and in German too. I suppose it's quite natural for you, being Swiss, but is very uncommon for the audience. It's a pleasant surprise, after all these English-speaking rock bands. Do you have in mind to make a francophone record?
No! French is a terrible language to sing. It has no rhythm. No, but I'd like to try Italian (we already did Spanish) and more in German: the same song with the same musicians on the same day sounds like another song if it's sung in another language: Right now the Hymn we wrote for dada is in three languages at the same time!
Having an Armenian origin, in what ways do you sense that your roots affect your music?
I studied History. I see music like an historic event. A conjunction of historic currents and people. Like: I think rock'n'roll is disappearing because there is no more middle class to like it. Or to play it! But my roots aren't only Armenian. They are Swiss, Egyptian, Canadian, Quebecquois... Armenian? That would geographically mean Turkish? But I lived in Los Angeles and played in a band called the Lazy Cowgirls: Does that mean my roots are in California? I played punk rock bass for eighteen years in Les Maniacs: Does that mean I'm a French rock and roller? Don't know...
You've already made some music for the big screen ("Flammend' Herz", 2004). Are you planning anything new in this field?
You've made a concept album that contains your own personal «Θεογονία» ("Theogeny"). What is finally the Black Moose?
He was just in Paris. He'll come back and visit us always like Benjamin Britten says. War Requiem is the black moose's grand oeuvre.
"Black Moose" was widely praised amongst our editors' team. Are you preparing any new stuff?
"Leftovers And Rarities" just came out in France by Future Folk Records, outtakes that never came out from the last fifteen years... Weird compilation...
We certainly enjoy your storytelling. Would you write any stories for a book of yours?
Up to now I only sing the stories. But I also tell a lot of stories on the radio here in Switzerland. I work for the morning news and make features about funny or less funny stories. I never wrote a book. I'm not sure I'll enjoy the process of writing it. And like all first books. the first one will be about my father. So now we made a film about my father and Armenia: maybe now I'm ready to write something new. Do you have a book in writing?
In fact I do! Thank you for asking! I felt you were politically aware of the situation in Greece, last year, saying to the Greek audience 'fear is a German product'. What is your opinion about all those being said considering the European Economic Crisis and the Greek matter? Are you Swiss affected in any way?
Responsible in anyway? Of course. Who isn't? But what is sure, is that the conservative, selfish forces in society are marching on us. In Greece, they were ruling the land with the consent of the rest of the world for the last decades. Now it must be rebuilt. But who will do it? And yes, we have been afraid of the Germans since the 30 years war. And we still are; they have a knack to want to look in the deepest abysses. Do not let them...
What is your favorite instrument to play and what's the one you 'd like to try but haven't yet?
I loved to play all string things from waldzither to punk rock guitar. But I bought a piano last year. And even though I can't really play, I use it on stage and for composing some new stuff. I hope it goes on. It was a life's dream and it took me a year! HAPPY.
Do you have a message for your Greek fans?
Psofos! (Phonetically 'Death!' in Greek) Oh! And 'O Yorgos ine poniross...' (lyrics from an old Greek popular song).
For our special monthly column: Could you name the five albums you’ve been listening to lately?
"The Killer Inside Me" - Green On Red, produced by Jim Dickinson
"Frame By Frame" - Digger Barnes, produced by Friederich Paravicini
"Reeds And Bagpipes From The Islamic World", compilation
"Visons Of The Country" - Robbie Basho (1978)
"Living Eyes" - Radio Birdman
Those were the vinyl albums I listened to yesterday...
Thank you very much for your time! Seeing you soon in Athens!
Thank you for the good questions! Cheers, dead A!