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Sunken cities, dodgy internet and Guinness; my interview with Subsignal’s Arno Menses

When you think of progressive rock music, it is very easy to get locked into the stereotype of long straggly hair, interminably long solos of everything that they can get their hands on, concept albums where the whole recording is ‘a track’, rambling conversations about things being  ‘silver’ and ‘gold’, or inventing languages for artistic effect.

It doesn’t work that way with all proponents of this genre.(Personally I could not stand another rendering of ‘Topographic Oceans’ – but I digress…) and it was to Germany I looked for my latest of a series of music interviews.

I discovered Subsignal by accident – it always seems the way with me. I had taken to binge listening during my daily potterings and  my streaming service had reached constant Snow Patrol. I had previously compiled tracks on an MP3 player, but had played Keane so much that the device actually deleted the file itself in protest…

Listening on a long journey, I had got through quite a large amount of the Snow Patrol catalogue, when something different played. The streamer had decided to go off script and play something else. How kind.

It was ‘Bells of Lyonesse’ by Subsignal. A band I vaguely remember had some airtime on BBC radio sometime. I listened, thought. ‘Actually, not bad. Forgiven, oh great Streaming wonder of technology…’ and added it to the playlist. The story of Lyonesse is from Cornish mythology, of a city drowned by a great flood. A bit like the Cantr’e Gwaelod, which is allegedly up the road from me, Borth being its port and the remains of its roads being foolishly called ‘glacial moraines’ by glaciologists, of course…

Then I decided it was better than ‘not bad’ and started looking into the whole album ‘La Muerta’. I slowly built up my listening catalogue to a point where I thought I would like to talk to them and see what they were about.

Arno agreed straight away. His friendly reply was reassuring and we arranged a zoom call. He was concerned about his level of English. I wasn’t, as I pointed out, his diction in singing was excellent. Besides, in my experience, the Dutch command of the English language is normally pretty damn good. They don’t resort to the ‘would of’, ‘should of’, ‘could of’, ‘ought of’, lazy english for starters.

So it was, I got my interview with Arno. The capricious weather of the night seemed to make the internet a bit flakey on fleeting occasions. Bar it dropping once during the chat and the occasional clipping of words, the internet held up and provided a conversation quite easy to listen to and very informative.

Arno comes across as a very relaxed individual. Happy to talk about the band and how it was set up, its direction and their creative influences and style. He is a driven person, who has chased his goal as a musician, but has no need to be overtly arrogant about it. He has confidence and direction, but talked to me as an equal, which i always appreciate. Let the result do the talking – I do get irritated when people tell me how good things are, I can decide for myself. I did. It was.

I still get nervous when talking to professional musicians and sports people. It’s the little boy in me, still looking up and thinking ‘Cor… that’s so-and-so from wherever…!’ Thus, I appreciate Arno’s disarming approach. Despite this, I still managed to mess up references to his ‘partner in crime’, guitarist Markus Steffen, (referring to him as ‘Shteffen’, throughout…) Ah, me…

Subsignal were formed in 2008 as a side project for one half of another band, Sieges Even. As the Sieges dissolved, the new group became the lead project for their musical compositions. Markus also is the lyricist. Arno is keen to pojnt out that he is the ’80s child, grown up with bubble gum and videos’, whereas Markus reads books. (Always music to the ears of novelists)

The band has its own unique style, which is borne from influences of many different bands. Arno freely acknowledges this, but then, as he points out, we all grow up with music and it affects our thinking. Anyone who disagrees is lying. Yes, possibly in denial or insecure would be a better analysis, but a point made that has occasionally been refuted by others. In Arno’s case, his influences were the likes of Kansas, Journey and Rush. They have been on my playlist also over time, so big tick in the box there.

The music style has naturally changed over time. The newer material does not contain the odd six minutes plus epic. There is less emphasis on the industrial heavy guitar chords than on some of the earlier pieces, as the sound has evolved. The riffs are catchy, the music definitely variable and the lyrics engaging. I had done a lot of listening to their albums in preparation for the interview, but now find I am hooked by many of the tracks, and find it hard to move on from them.

The interview itself is just over half an hour. With selected music added, itis an hour long show. The tracks I have chosen, show the band’s style, continuing journey and versatility. Arno’s vocal range allows them a broad spectrum of music to explore. He is easy to talk with and our conversation ranged across a raft of topics. It was an enjoyable evening’s conversation. I hope you find it equally entertaining.

The interview with Arno Menses is on Radio Aber on 4th January 2022 at 20.00 GMT . Access is via www.radioaber.wales . It will be available as a podcast at a later date thereafter.

By Geraint Roberts

Stuck in a limbo and desperate to do something meaningful, what to do? That is where writing began for me. A creative way of expressing myself and a chance to harness my wondering imagination. I close my eyes and I'm there. Wish I'd picked 'there' as a warm sunny day on a sandy beach, with the waves gently lapping on the shore...but I have to let the story load in my mind, then watch it unfold, wherever it may be. Currently I'm on a windy bridge, or a Devon beach, or a Cornish ti mine, or a submarine, or looking towards a Hebridean port...

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