Vindex – Ronnie König
Interview by EvilG
All pics courtesy www.vindex.sk
One of the great things about being a reviewer for Metal-Rules.com is exposure to new bands that would otherwise slip under the radar. Thus we have an obligation to bring the same to our readers with new bands that are not on a big label, not getting big push from some PR company etc. Such is the case with this nice surprise from Slovakia in the form of Vindex. The band has been around for almost 7 years now and NO MIDDLE GROUND is their first for the Slovakian label Street Production. Their previous release, POWER FORGE, was from 2005. The style of metal found on NO MIDDLE GROUND is something fans of Grave Digger and Accept will love right away, especially for the vocal style. In this interview we speak to band leader / bassist Ronnie König about the band, what it’s like playing metal and trying to break out of Slovakia, and lots of other interesting stuff.
Ronnie, you are the bass player, the band leader/representative, and you write all the music. How does the rest of Vindex feel about that? Are the rest of the band members not songwriters?
Actually, sometimes it might look more like my solo project than a band, but it is not like that. I wrote like 7 of 10 songs. Ludek (the vocalist), Ado (guitarist) and our new guitarist Filip are songwriters too, but they don’t write that much as I do. I have dozens of songs in my PC and I still write new ones.
What is your vision for Vindex and the band’s sound and future? Do you ever have to compromise on that or is everyone in the band on the same wavelength?
There is one important thing going on. I am planning to do a solo record. The reason why I am doing it is that when I write so much music, not everything fits for one album. Also in our previous releases, fans could hear that there were different styles of music mixed together. On one hand it is nice to have a various album, but on the other hand that is not exactly what the labels want. For example, we were too heavy for a melodic metal band (a representative from one German label asked us to re-record all the vocals in the Kiske-style, because bands with this kind of drive vocals don’t sell so much) and we were too melodic for a heavy/thrash metal band. I believe this was the main reason, why we didn’t get a worldwide record deal for “No Middle Ground”.
I want VINDEX to be even heavier than it was. Lots of guitar riffs, heavy songs in the Megadeth, DIO, Accept or Grave Digger direction and drive vocals.
The other project is supposed to be epic, melodic and neoclassic influenced. I am currently looking a singer. If anybody was interested in this project, please send me some music including your vocals to email@example.com. There will be really high expectations from the new singer. I have chosen really good songs and I believe it might be successful. The rest of the line up is complete. The interesting thing about it, that it will feature Ludek (the VINDEX vocalist) playing drums! He has been a pro drummer for 20 years, so he will do a killer job while recording drum tracks (as always).
How has the band’s sound evolved from the 2003 RISE UP demo to 2006’s NO MIDDLE GROUND?
Rise Up! Was recorded with a drum machine and it was really the very first recording we did with VINDEX. We gained some experience with that, which we used in recording of “Power Forge”. This album was done with live drums. Again we got some new experience there and that’s how it goes.
What does the title NO MIDDLE GROUND refer to?
Actually, there are two ways how you could look upon that title. The original one, the one that was referring to the lyrics of that particular track, describes the situation the mankind happened to run into. The morals, ethics and also the environment, all that is threatened and these situation require a definite attitude, not compromise anymore. However, as an album title I would say it refers more to the decision of the band to record this CD just the way it is, no matter what anyone would say. We are here to play metal for those who like it, we are not here to please everyone!
What are some of your memories of writing NO MIDDLE GROUND? How was it done and where?
I don’t write the way that “Now I’m writing a record.” I compose all the time and I have like 30 songs and choose some for this record and some for that. Some songs on NMG are older than on the very first demo, so it’s hard to say that writing NMG was something else.
How can people pick up your CD? Is the best place through your website and if so is it also available in many stores?
At the moment we are trying to contact some online shops to place the album to their catalogues, but the best place where to buy it is really our website. We don’t have the distribution in other countries than Czech and Slovak Republic…
What does the name Vindex mean to you? Coming from North American the word is pretty close to “Windex” (a glass cleaning product – see www.windex.com). Haha! Perhaps the name is a historical reference to Roman governor Gaius Iulius Vindex – noted as being the first to rebel against Emperor Nero in AD 67. So if that’s the case, what is it about him and the history that intrigued you to the point of naming your band after him?
Haha, that’s funny, actually! Well, coming from the Europe I have never heard of this product and the band’s name has nothing to do with it, accordingly. Vindex is foremost a common Latin word with several meanings, like a protector, a defender, punisher or an avenger. We liked the way it sounded, looked when written and also fact that it’s a one with a positive meaning. It was only later that we learned of the historical figure of the governor Gaius, Iulius also called Vindex, so it was definitely not from where the inspiration for the name came.
Lyrically, do you often reference that period of history, or any other, and if so what are some examples of the research and readings you’ve done for lyrics?
No, we haven´t been dealing with the history of ancient Rome or any other so far. Not yet. The lyrics did not deal with any certain point of the history, they rather only described feelings. This would most likely change in the future, though. History and fantasy themes have always been a part of the heavy metal heritage and they really fit to the whole picture of it. Speaking of my solo album, it seems probable that it would be a concept album lyrically placed in the medieval times, not excluding some fantasy imagery as well.
Tell me about the artwork used for the album NO MIDDLE GROUND, the artwork in the CD, and that which currently graces you band’s website. Is some of it old paintings or were they all new creations for this album?
The artwork was done according to the medieval book of chronicles, an incunabulum from the late 15th century (Nuremberg Chronicle), using the original images and colours. The same goes for the images adorning our website, they are all original, coming from that book.
The song “The Crossroads” really stands out for me with its classical melodies. Were these melodies from a specific piece of music, or are they just inspired by certain classical music?
Although I sometimes get inspired by some classical music, “Crossroads” is an original. Maybe it is similar to something, but I really don’t know about it. I wrote it two or three years ago. Originally I wrote it in G-minor, but then we transposed it to D-minor so that the vocals weren’t so extremely high. And it is also a bit heavier when it’s play from D.
“Gloria” is another of the album’s strong points and even though I don’t speak or understand Latin, the chorus which is in Latin is quite memorable. I don’t understand the full meaning of the lines: “Memoria milia annos tenebimus Gloria cantabimus in excelsis Deo” but I do know that “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” is Latin for “Glory to God in the highest”. So that leads to the question, is Vindex Christian metal and if so is this the only song with such lyrics?
Although I am Christian, we are not a Christian band. Me and my brother Tommy who writes the lyrics are the only religious people in the band so we are definitely not a Christian metal band. It is not the only song with such lyrics. For example the lyrics for the song “Brighter Than Stars” feat. Guitar solo by Viktor Smolski were inspired by the “David’s poems”.
Christian metal gets a bad rap in heavy metal circles and many will not listen to a band that preaches. I don’t detect much preaching going on in your lyrics aside from “Gloria”…what are your thoughts on the subject overall?
One of the reason why we don’t want to be considered as Christian metal band is that we don’t want to preach to anyone. I don’t believe that preaching is the best way for us to change things to better. The better way is to bring some happiness and positive energy to the listeners. I believe, in this way, we are similar to Chris Impellitteri, Rob Rock or Dave Mustaine, who all are Christians, but they don’t try to tell people what to do or not. I am very self critical. If I am not without fault, I cannot tell anyone to be without fault, because he would not take it from me.
What was it like working with Victor Smolski? Are there any plans to collaborate with him in the future?
Viktor is a very busy man. Not only with the music, but he is also doing car racing on a very high level. It was a little miracle, that he did the solo for us. He is a nice person with a respect to other people so it was really nice to had this little cooperation with him, but I am not sure if he would find some time later to do something for us again. You know, he is making his living out of music, so he has to earn something from the music and if he was helping young bands all the time for nothing, he would probably die starving :). But never say never. Maybe one day when we get a good record deal, it would be fantastic to have the album co-produced by him.
The songs have a classic metal vibe along with (Grave Digger) Boltendahl-esque vocals. Where do you draw inspiration from for such a sound?
Since my childhood, I have always been into drive vocals. I am still a huge fan of John Fogerty. His voice rocked my cradle heavily. I also do like Yngwie and the classical music, so the sound we had on our first 2 albums was a natural thing.
Have you sent your CD to the Grave Digger camp or have you done any marketing of the band on any Grave Digger forums/websites? If so what were the reactions?
This is an interesting question. We had the album mastered by Vince Sorg, who did all the Grave Digger albums and Vince gave me the email address to Chris Boltendahl, because currently he is working as a PR manager for Locomotive Records. I sent one MP3 to Chris, to check it out and let me know, if he would like to release it at Locomotive Rec. I sent him the song “No Middle Ground”, but I believe I didn’t choose the right song, because he didn’t like it that much. Later we had the offer from Streetproduction and we finished the booklet and all the stuff and released it there. The artwork was done, like I already said, according to the medieval book of chronicles and we really liked it. The problem came out when one fan pointed the exact the same cover had Grave Digger on an album. No way I said. I have all the albums by Grave Digger and I haven’t seen those ancient skeletons anywhere. But he was right… Grave Digger had a best of album from the “G.U.N” era, where their label chose the same ancient book as we did. In the music way, being quite similar to Grave Digger, that was a very embarrassing discovery and last month when I met Chris on a Grave Digger / Therion show in Vienna, I just could not give him the CD with that artwork. Till now, 1000 CDs were pressed and if Streetproduction or other label would manufacture more copies, we intend to change the artwork to something else.
In general, what kind of reaction have you been getting from the release of NO MIDDLE GROUND both from the press and from metal fans?
I read about 20 reviews of the “No Middle Ground” album and all of them were positive. That makes us happy. Fans who liked our début album “Power Forge” are satisfied with NMG.
In just the past couple of days it was announced that guitarist Maros Micek has left the band for business reasons. Does that mean he’s moving on to a new band, or that his “day job” no longer allows him the time to commit to a band?
He has been doing the “Joe Satriani Revival” band all the time along VINDEX, but it is more of a hobby band and doesn’t take so much time as VINDEX. He is married, he has a son, who is 3 now and he wants to spend more time with his family. He is also working hard in his civil job so his choice was quite understandable. If we could earn some money with the band, he wouldn’t probably have to work so hard in his job, but that’s another question.
You’ve already announced his replacement, the very young guitarist Filip Kolus (19). With him being the youngest in the band, do you expect there is a potential for any age problems or misunderstandings about the band’s goals?
I am sure that there won’t be any age problems or anything like that. First of all he looks older than he is, secondly he plays well and lastly he likes the music more than the former guitarist so it is definitely a step forward, not backwards. I knew him before. He has the same feelings about the music as I do. He has been playing some Yngwie and stuff like that so he will definitely fit to our band. All in the band are into metal. The only one who had a bit different feeling was Maros and now when he’s gone, we are completely metal. Filip is now the hardest working man for VINDEX and my solo record. Every weekend we record 2 new songs for the demos and he is doing a killer job.
Do the rest of you find it hard to manage work, family and finding the time for Vindex?
Yes, sometimes it’s very hard, for all of us. The better you want to do the music, the more time you have to spend for it. I envy all the musicians who can make their livings out of doing the music. That is my dream, to be a pro.
Tell me about the Vindex studio (firstname.lastname@example.org) – does the band only use this for its own purposes or have you worked with any other bands? If so, what kinds of music and how often are you working in the studio?
It was built for the purposes of VINDEX, but now, when some friends know that I own a small studio, they sometimes ask me, if I could record something with them and I did. Till now, it was not something special, just some demos and single songs. I had some rock bands, I had some country music and even some ethno stuff ! But I don’t do this kind of things very often, because I am married, I work for Siemens as developer and I just don’t have enough time for that.
Outside of Vindex, what do most of the members do both in general terms (work etc.) and more specifically what interests/hobbies do some of you have outside of the band life?
As I said, I am a developer, Ado is a geodetist, Ludek is currently doing bath components, but he is also a pro drummer and the singer in an Accept Rev. band, Filip is a student, Jano is working in an advertisement agency and Lubo is working with some chemicals. Besides that, me and Ludek play ice-hockey a little bit.
How well does Vindex do in Slovakia? Would you say that your local metal community has embraced your band with open arms?
I believe we are doing quite good in comparison to other bands here, because we have a label, we have a video, 2 albums and so on, but the main problem is that the metal scene in Slovakia is miserable. We don’t have big festivals, professional rock radios and stuff like that. We are pioneers in some way here.
Why do you suppose there has never been a “breakout” band from Slovakia?
Slovakia is a country with 5 mil. inhabitants and that is very little. This is the reason no.1, the reason no.2 is that here has always been a shitty taste for music in general. Reason no.3 is that there has been zero support for the heavy metal music.
You don’t hear of many bands coming out of Slovakia. What is the scene like there?
There are many death, black and grind metal bands as everywhere in the world. There are some local progressive metal bands, and there are also some heavy metal bands, but none of them is on an international level. (again, I haven’t heard every band, so maybe there is one on such a high level, but I don’t know it). There are some good musicians here, but there always some problem with their bands. Usually they don’t have a good singer, sometimes, they are all good players but they are not good composers, there are even some good bands with good songs, but they cannot afford a good production for their albums and so on. We are doing our best to be the best here.
Being Slovakian, do you ever write lyrics in your mother tongue or is everything done in English?
We do everything in English, because it’s international and because our mother tongue is not so good for singing.
What is it like for a Slovakian metal band to get gigs outside of Slovakia?
It’s complicated and we are running in circles. People don’t know about our band because we don’t have much chance to play there and we don’t have offers to play abroad, because nobody knows us. We have definitely not found the right way to break this circle, but 2 weeks ago we started a cooperation with a German booking agency, so let’s see what comes out of that.
Are there any plans to attempt a tour outside of the area you have been playing so far?
This agency is doing some tours in Europe so maybe the next year; we will have a chance to do a short tour around some European countries.
What are some of the coolest places you have played thus far, and what internationally known bands you shared stage(s) with?
We played on an festival called Masters Of Rock in our home town in 2004. There were bands like Helloween, Stratovarius, Pink Cream 69 and Europe. It’s a big pity that the next year organizer couldn’t find a big sponsor, so the festival doesn’t exist in our location anymore.
What are your plans for 2007? I understand many new songs are already in development! How are they sounding and will there be any changes or surprises?
At this moment we have 4 songs recorded and all of them are up-tempo songs, fresh sounding, metal and riffy. I like each of them. I believe 1 of them could be a highlight not only for our album, but also for famous bands. It’s just awesome.
Do you have a tentative release date for the new album?
No, not yet, but I think it could be in 1 year from now.
Will the next album be released by Street Production (label for Czech and Slovak territories) and have you had any offers from labels around the world or any interest from large distributors for the next album?
We have the contract with Streetproduction for next 2 albums, but we don’t have any offers from other labels for the other territories till now. We will record the new songs first and then send it to the labels. I hope we will have a good offer this time.