Interview with Michael Locher a.k.a. Vorphalack of SAMAEL

Photo by Aline Fournier
Photo by Aline Fournier
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Interview with Michael Locher a.k.a. Vorphalack of SAMAEL

Tuesday 14th May 2019

@ The Underworld Camden, London UK

Interview by Dimitris Karagkounis
Photography by Sabrina Selkis

Photo by Aline Fournier
Photo by Aline Fournier

Hello Vorph and welcome to London. Nice to have you here. 

Thank you, nice to be here especially with this sunny weather. 

Yes, you were quite fortunate. It’s been a sunny week and it’s ideal to enjoy the city. No rain, no grey skies. 

Yes, we were quite lucky. We had a day off yesterday so made the most out of it and enjoyed the city and the weather. 

So, a new tour to support the album Hegemony. Quite a long time after the release of the album?

Haha, yes, almost a couple of years! We did some festivals when it got released and now we decided to do a small European tour. We’re going to play stuff not only from the last album but from most albums of our career. 

What was the writing process that you followed on Hegemony? 

We followed our traditional way of writing a Samael album, Xytras wrote all the music parts and I wrote all the lyrics. 

Brothers in real life, brothers in arms in the band as well. 

It seems that it works perfectly and it makes it way easier for us to divide responsibilities. We found a formula that optimises both of our capabilities. 

How’s your tour so far? 

It’s a small tour, only 12 shows and we’re right in the middle of it. As I said before, we had a day yesterday where we tried to make the most out of it. We try to enjoy ourselves and tired to enjoy every show that we give on this tour. 

This tour consists of smaller venues, which brings me to the question: smaller venues or big festivals? 

Yes, the tour is at smaller venues, we played here before so we know the venue (Underworld). They have upgraded the P.A. and repainted the walls, even backstage it is so clean. It doesn’t matter to us, smaller venues or big festivals. The most important thing is the connection, the people they are attending and us that perform, when the music starts and we get lost in it makes it a special kind of thing. No matter if there are hundreds or thousands of people.  

Do you still enjoy touring with Samael the way you did when you started 30 years ago? 

I would have to say yes. We haven’t been touring to the point of exhaustion. We’ve been doing mostly festivals or now the small European tour, so the most we will do is like 4 gigs in a row, so we don’t come to the point of hating touring.  

Back in the 90’s you were one of the first metal pioneers to introduce electronic elements in your music, up to the point not to even use a drum kit on stage but instead synths and drum machine. Did that turn in your favour? 

When we started as Samael, we were writing the music in a room all together, sometimes it would work and great songs would come out of it and sometimes not. Xytras is responsible for the music part, so the moment he started writing and doing the production on his synths and workstations the whole process of composing became easier. We got some really good material out of that way of composing and it made it easier and more efficient for both of us to focus on our own parts. I would say that the move was in favour of us.  

Nowadays the listener is being bombarded with more choices of bands. The internet and music platforms made it easier for bands to reach out to the listener. Do you think that the listener will lose focus from the vast number of choices and technology? Instead of having a positive impact on music will it have the exact opposite? 

I think it’s good that listeners have more choices now and easier ways of discovering new bands because that means they will find the bands that are the perfect fit for his/her taste. It will also allow more bands to get discovered. 

What do you prefer? Modern metal or old school metal? 

I’m old school, when I listen to metal is going to be the old school classic metal. Things like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, bands that until now they sound great. For example, Iron Maiden, I don’t think they ever did a bad album. Maybe some albums better than others, but never a bad album. They are a great example of a band, they release albums when they have to say something. When you have a back catalogue of many albums you want to release an album when you feel it is worth doing so. For example, we have a back catalogue of 10 albums and we fought really hard to establish and spread our music. We’re going to release an album when we have something worthy of saying and sharing with the world.  

That’s a great assist pass for my next question: which is your favourite Samael album and which is your least favourite one? Meaning if you were satisfied with the outcome, anything you would have done different or simply you were at a bad point in your life.

Well, most of the albums that we release at some point we wish we had done in another way. That’s the driving force that makes us release a new album, to implement new ideas and try different things. If I have to choose an album that is my favourite at the moment, I would say Lux Mundi. Probably it is because we have released a new remixed and remastered version that sounds still fresh in my ears. 

You also released a new remastered version of Solar Soul, right? 

Yes, we have. You can feel the sound as bigger, with more frequencies. But especially the Lux Mundi version that is remixed, it’s way different from the original. Really satisfied with the result. 

You and your brother have worked on other projects as well apart from Samael, i.e. the Era One album, which is more electronic and some other stuff. What is the next project you and Xytras have planned after the end of this tour? 

After the end of this tour we plan to do a gig with another project we have, WAR. With WAR we play the first 2 albums of Samael and Xytras is back on the drums on stage, the lack of keyboards on those albums gives him the chance to do some drumming on stage. This project is a project within Samael, and after the end of this tour we’re going to do a few festivals as well with Samael and probably a bit more touring. 

Is there a plan for a new album or any new releases coming up? 

We haven’t talked about a new album yet, in fact we haven’t even started writing any new material at all. 

Do you come up with new material while touring or do you just focus on the touring part? 

Actually, it’s impossible for me to write while I’m touring. I can’t focus on anything else apart from the gigs and how to be in shape to deliver and enjoy them. Also, we try to find time between the gigs to do normal things as well and enjoy the cities we are visiting. Some bands are able to pull it off, we on the other hand want to have our own time to produce and create new music. 

Where does the inspiration come from when writing lyrics? 

It can be anything, from a conversation with a friend, a movie, an event that is happening at the moment globally, politics, books, usually I get influenced from the things that surround me and draw inspiration from them. It can be anything. 

What are your all-time favourite top 3 metal bands? 

One of them would have to be Iron Maiden, which I think they are my top 1. Another one would be Metallica, I’m not that in touch with their recent stuff, I’m glad they still going and writing new things but for me Master of Puppets is an amazing album. And for the 3rd one I would have to go with Judas Priest, all the classics. 

Have you ever played classic heavy metal? Seeing as Samael started as a black metal band, at any point before starting Samael have you tried to play any of the classics? 

No, never. Even if wanted to, I couldn’t. We didn’t have the intention to have a cover band or anything of this sort. It was mostly some ideas we wanted to express and with the small amount of technique that we had, if we had any at all, we tried to do that. Our music wasn’t even that complex in the beginning; imagine us trying to play Iron Maiden songs, it would be horrible. One of our first songs, Into the Pentagram, it’s so easy you can learn to play it in 5 minutes, even if you haven’t picked up a guitar in your life, next day probably, you’d know how to play it. But for us it wasn’t in the beginning about the technique, it was about how we could realise the music ideas we had. 

With your project WAR are you trying to give a hint that Samael are about to do a full circle and return to their roots? 

We haven’t thought of that, but most likely no. With WAR we are going to focus on only playing the 2 first albums that we are not playing with Samael anymore, and that is the reason we created that project. With Samael live we will go as far back as Ceremony of Opposites, but as a music direction I don’t expect us to go back to our roots and start playing like that again. 

You and Xytras are brothers but do you ever get the need to do your own thing as well, something apart from Samael and the projects you both share? 

Well Xytras, he did and he was really happy about it. He wrote music for the city we live in in Switzerland, and he also did a classical concert in Prague with a full orchestra which was something really special for him.  

So, what are your other interests outside of music, what do you like to do in your spare time? 

I try to meet up with friends, read books, watch movies, go to exhibitions, have stimulation from different experiences that will trigger my creativity. 

You are Swiss so I’m bound to ask, are you a Giger fan? 

Indeed, I am, I first encountered Giger’s art in a magazine and not through the Alien movies (not that I don’t like them, of course I enjoy them a lot). I also liked it when Celtic Frost used an art piece of his as the cover for the album, “To Mega Therion”. I’ve been to his museum countless times.  

What would be the other destination that you would live gladly apart from Switzerland? 

In Switzerland I’m living in a small village outside of the city where everything is calm and quiet. Probably I would like to live in Berlin, which is a very arty city, or maybe London, but London is really expensive. 

It is indeed. Well I hope tonight’s gig is going to be one of the ones that you will remember for a long time. 

Me too. 

Thank you so much Vorph, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. 

You too, hope you’ll enjoy our gig tonight.