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I've always been a die-hard fan of Winos work and it turned out to be my biggest honour to work for him and his band

Interview with Shepherd.
Germany’s Shepherd is a brand-new doom outfit on the Exile on Mainstream label. Mixing up traditional and sludge elements, the group has come a long way toward developing their own unique sound; not an easy task to accomplish on a first album. Recently Shepherd vocalist Andreas Kohl, who also runs the Exile label, took some time out to talk with us.

First, thanks for taking time out to do the interview. Shepherd is a brand new trad doom band. Can you tell us how the group came together? What other groups did you play in before Shepherd?

"It's a pleasure for me to answer your questionnaire - so thank you too. Shepherd was founded sometimes in the cold winter of 2001/2002 when Nico, our bass player and me decided to form that band. It really was that simple. We've been very good friends for a long time and he was playing in bands like The Sissies and Payola and has always been a great fan of traditional Doom as I did too. We just wanted to play this music for ourselves exactly the way we like it. I used to play in a damn bad Punk band back in the days and he knew my voice and decided that I should sing. We've been searching for other members around the Berlin area who maybe would share our vision and we ended up with three other people: Oli, Milan and Tobi who are more than what we've been looking for. Soon we had enough songs written and have become really close friends with each other. Shepherd turned out as kind of an individual of its own keeping the egos outside and acting like one character. It feels really good and a lot different from what I've noticed in bands before."

Tell us about your 3-song demo.

"The demo was recorded for our first show on last year's Stoned From The Underground festival, a really cool Open Air in the southeast of Germany (greets to Fred, Manser and Ralph...). We jumped in a studio for a few hours and recorded it straight and very fast. That's the story. The recording turned out really good so that we decided to record the full length right after it. We had enough songs and have been ready to go. Also the demo was sold out pretty fast as it was limited to only 100 copies completely self-made burned on my computer while watching TV. We used black CD-Rs and black Jewel Cases to make it a little more worth buying. It's not a big deal, just a demo. I said this before: we are not the biggest fans of computers and while other bands put some mp3s on their sites we made this demo just to let people know how we sound like. All three songs got remixed and mastered and appear on "Laments" in better versions."

You’ve got a killer endorsement from Wino on Shepherd’s promo information sheet. How did you get to know him? Have you heard his new music with Hidden Hand?

"I'm working also as a freelance publicist in Germany representing a few American labels such as Dischord, Touch And Go, Tolotta, Southern Lord among others. I've always been a die-hard fan of Winos work and it turned out to be my biggest honour to work for him and his band Spirit Caravan. That's how I met him. We stayed in touch and over the years and established a strong friendship with each other. But I was very impressed and again very honoured when he told me that he really likes our music. I didn't expect that as I think we didn't record our best album yet. So I simply had to share this honour and printed the quote on the info sheet. Another reason why it's there is that I didn't feel that well to write such a sheet about my own band. I mean I do that every day for other bands 'cause it's my job but it felt kinda weird to me to do that with my own band as it got released on my own label and I'm doing all the promotions by myself.

Yesss, I've heard the new stuff he's playing with The Hidden Hand. If you really want me to be honest I have to admit that it's nothing else than the best work he has done ever. Wino's guitar never ever sounded that hungry. The stuff is pretty modern in some ways. Of course there is this strong Doom influence, I mean, it is still Wino playing, but he made a step forward and opened his door to let influences in such as Prog and Noise and ... I don't know. It's killer! The two guys he's playing with are also fuckin' excellent musicians. I heard the stuff for the first time last year when I was at his place for a couple of days and a short vacation. He asked if I would be up for releasing it and I offered him a deal. And so the Hidden Hand's debut album "Divine Propaganda" will see Europe's light under the Exile On Mainstream Records banner. The friendly folks at MeteorCity are releasing it in the US."

Andreas, you’ve been quoted as saying you couldn’t sing in years past. Are you happy with the vocals on ’Laments’?

"Uhhh, hard question. I would say yes, I'm satisfied with the vocals. I still think that I'm everything but a good singer but I definitely gave my best on this record. And I do it live as well. We've been told from friends and other people several times that they like us because of the intensity I try to express with these vocals. I've never been a big fan of vocalists like Messiah from Candlemass although I think they are a great band but as I'm coming from a Noise/Punk/Hardcore background intensity and honesty and freaking out always counted more to me. That's why I dig Elecric Wizard or Sons Of Otis that much - these bands don't have good singers in a technical way but they squeal the depression out of their throats and present honesty. It's very close to blues I guess. And I'm a big Blues addict too.

The more recently written music on ‘Laments’ seems to be heading in a sludgier direction, more like Sons of Otis or Electric Wizard than, say, Maryland school doom. Is this the direction Shepherd is going in the future?

"You think so? I always thought we still sound quite "marylandish". But yes, it could be as we are experimenting a little bit with different sounds. As I said I'm a big fan of Sons Of Otis and Wizard and so this is no problem for me. But to be honest I really can't say in which direction we'll go. We definitely will stay true to traditional Doom structures but we all have also wide ranged influences mainly from the Seventies and bands like Buffalo, Gov't Mule, Utopia and Zeppelin. I guess we'll take some more influences of these classics into our sound. When we are touring we are always hardly banging our heads to The Want. So this says everything I guess. We definitely will not become a Sludge band sounding like Grief or Sour Vein. I love these bands but I really like to keep it cleaner...As you see I really don't know what the future will bring...But there is one thing: Rex Ritter from Sunn0))) said to us on one of these shows we played with them: 'you guys are in the neighbourhood of Stoner.' And I can definitely promise, if we really are, we're gonna leave this hood! We definitely will become a little slower!"

You’ve spoken about your lyrics as metaphors for the depressive bottom of the soul, and that they are about soul healing. Can you tell us more about that?

"Talking about lyrics is definitely the hardest thing I know beside cleaning toilettes from vomit and finding a parking spot in Berlin. But I'll try: I would say it's all about the blues. This is simply the basis of them all. If I didn't have these depressive layers on the bottom of my soul that rise up from time to time and treat me to express 'em I would play in Green Day or Sum 41 I guess. No, seriously: it really is like that and I'm sure everybody knows these feelings where you get a little pathetic and ask yourself what it's good for and if you’re worth this life or how you can make it worth something. You look around and see people beaten up, threatened or bound in the name of religion or by force. You see yourself doing the same shit from time to time and this really hurts the other day. I tried to find metaphors for these feelings through my lyrics. While having in mind that you got strong limitations by using words I must say that it worked out pretty well. It's all about certain pictures and short sequences to lighten up my psychology a little bit. The interesting thing about it is that the lyrics still say something to me when they are finished. So these metaphors seem to fit in some way. I f.i. like to use wood and trees as a picture as the wood could be so much to a human being: life, green and honesty but also fear, darkness and death. It's all in there. That's why the booklet has so many trees in it. Also I tried to open it a little bit and printed short sequences of the lyrics in the booklet of the CD to which people could maybe relate. I didn't want to print the full lyrics as this limits the reception of the song sometimes. If you ask for soul healing I'd say writing and singing this stuff is the healing in it. It's like a prayer, which gives you the absolution while praying."

What about the acoustic bluesy passages on your album? What was the inspiration for those?

"One of the acoustic parts, the first one, right after 'Black Faced Witch' was played by Oli, our guitar player. Nico, Oli and a percussionist, also called Oli, played the second one. These parts where recorded completely without me. That's why I can't say anything profound about it, but they fit perfectly. They give the record some time to breathe and calm everything down a bit after all this moaning and riffing and put some light on the basics. I always liked this when Only Living Witness or Down did that on their albums."

Andreas, you also run Exile on Mainstream Records in addition to playing in Shepherd. What’s it like running a label while being in a band at the same time? What releases do you have planned in the near future?

"Running a label is exactly like vector calculation in school or cleaning your windows: you're working your ass off day by day and night by night and you really need a strong obsession for doing this because you have a hard time making a living through it. And once your windows are clean and bright there will be a hell of a thunderstorm and rain over you. And sometimes I really ask if it is worth it leaving my family not for a normal 9 to 5 job but for a 17 hours working day. But as long as people buy the records and as long as people are satisfied with my work I simply can't stop it. And it makes some things easier: we didn't need to go out with a demo finding a record label. We could do everything by ourselves. This record is a total D.I.Y. product: recorded, produced and released by our own. I like that. Maybe it's why I'm a control freak. I always have a hard time leaving something in someone else's hand. So to answer your question: playing in a band and running that label as well as all promotions by myself is nothing but perfect. And at the moment it looks like if the label gets more and more interest and grows bigger. People from outside Germany take notice of it and it's starting over a bit now. I've released 12 records so far and there will definitely be more in the future. Next release will be EOM 13, released at Friday, the 13th of June by a band whose name consists of 13 letters: The Hidden Hand. After this one I'm gonna put out the result of 3 years hard work: a compilation called 'trane into extremes: a tribute to John Coltrane' which features exclusive songs by bands like Clutch, Yakuza, Sigh, Engine Kid, Rotor as well as one-off projects by members of Fugazi, Karate, Discharge, Payola and of course Wino. This release is kinda symptomatic for Exile On Mainstream. This label is not based on one typical sound, it is not a Doom label, not a rock label not even a guitar-based label. As my personal influences and favourites are also extremely wide-ranged this label follows my personal taste. I've put out so far such different bands as the Urge Overkill-sounding Payola, asskick-rockers Scissorfight, Sludge/Groove kings Good Witch Of The South, instrumental Indie rockers Diario, Garagebluesers Tigerbeat and Electrosurfclash one-man-army Mikrowelle."

You’ve said that you are heavily influenced by the classic German doom label Hellhound, arguably the best doom label ever. Can you describe how the Hellhound bands have influenced you? Do you have any other favorite labels?

"Yeah, that's true. My influence through Hellhound started with Saint Vitus but with their SST releases. Once I bought my first Vitus record the needle was set and I couldn't get rid of it. It's just an addict thing which most of the people reading this interview would know: you get into a band and soon you're finding yourself looking around for similar stuff. With Hellhound this worked extremely well. Most of their signings are related to trad Doom and once you got one of their releases you just need to have 'em all.

Of course I got other favourite labels: I dig SST very much because of their approach to music in general: they never put themselves under any restriction and released such different stuff as Minutemen, Vitus, Saccharine Trust, Black Flag and Negativland. It was all about approach, about a certain way of thinking. If you ask me what my favourite record labels are, I would also answer that a favourite label to me always has to come up with a new way of thinking art-wise, business-wise or music wise. That's why my favourite labels might sound kinda strange to people who expect Doom only stickers on my prefers, but it's more than that: I love labels like the San Franciscan Vaccination Records (R.I.P.), Skin Graft, Dischord, Hydrahead, Ipecac, Relapse, Release, Rage Of Achilles and of course Southern Lord. Especially Hydrahead might be my favourite label at the moment because of their mixture between ultra-brutal noise attacks and pure intensity. And their artworks (hail Aaron Turner!!!) are so fuckin' brilliant! This shouldn't mean that I'm not into the music on labels such as Game Two, Beard Of Stars, MeteorCity or Underdogma just to name a few, but these are pure releasers of great music without a concept that involves more than music in a theoretical way. So on this side I dig the music and on the other side the message that is spread with a certain work. I hope this is understandable."

I understand that you are in contact with one of the guys who ran Hellhound, Michi Bohl. What’s he up to these days?

"Yeah, I know him a little bit. It is just a question of time to run into him if you're living in Berlin. He's not into Doom anymore but still extremely active in the music business. He runs a club in Berlin, called The 1234. It's more based on electronic music, Minimal Techno stuff and experimental. Tom the other Hellhound guy runs his own publishing agency, called La Chunga and he's also not into Doom anymore. Once I met them I told 'em that there is still a strong fan base around the world and that people consider Hellhound as a legendary label they felt very impressed and honoured. They had a bunch of overstocks rotting in a garage somwhere in the suburbs of Berlin and couldn't really believe that there are still fans ready to sell their asses to get it. So I took it and helped them out selling it to the fans. Most people on doom-metal.com noticed that I guess. Most of the stuff got sold out within days but there is still something left. When I told Michi and Tom how the people got into this idea and how many orders we had they totally freaked out. I think it's really cool for them as they went totally bankrupt those days with Hellhound and it's great for them that they recouped a little bit of their work in former days now through these sales and he interest."

You recently played with Sun O))) in Finland. Tell us about the gig. Are you a Sun O))) fan now?

"We played three shows in Germany with these guys, not Finland. It was nothing but awesome. I was a Sunn0)) fan before but now I'm an addict. This is nothing but the last word in intensity. Sunn0)) on stage - the true meaning of deep. It was so great! Everybody who missed it should start moaning till Judgement Day! Also for Thrones. Joe Preston so damn rules! I really can't say so much about it as talking about Sunn0)) live is nearly impossible - two guys in the middle of an amp Stonehenge creating the deepest and most intense music I've ever heard. At the beginning it is kinda hard to get into it but if you stay there for 15 minutes you get into it, feel the warm sounds and totally fall into it. You reckon the structures behind it and find a melody, which is one of the strongest feelings I ever head."

What music have you been listening to recently? Do you have any recommendations?

"In the last days I've been listening to The Hidden Hand over and over again, 500 times while doing the artwork for their debut "Divine Propaganda". This album is a fuckin' classic, let me tell you this. But there are some other bands I could highly recommend: the new Lotus Eaters record on Neurot is awesome, Isis are still my heroes for rainy days, Voodooshocks debut album is to me the best Doom record of the last year. Orodruin and Reverend Bizarre are great. Thee Plague Of Gentleman too. And I also could recommend two new German bands: Spancer who should be checked out by fans of Sludge and bands like Warhorse. And L.Minygwal, who create a deep intense atmosphere which could be compared to Dystopia or Skepticism. They just released their debut on the German label Virusworx. I could mention a million other bands here as I'm listening to so much at the moment."

If you could put Shepherd on a dream bill with any other bands, past or present, who would they be?

"Uuuh, this would be hard, but it would definitely include Saint Vitus, Black Widow, Pentagram, disembowelment and Groundhogs. This bill would include simply the essentials, the ultimate beginning of what I'm into and what is responsible for my passion. If it would be a two days festival I would also like to have Blue Cheer, Buffalo, The Obsessed, Gov't Mule, Frank Zappa, Atomic Rooster and Big Black."

Thanks again for doing the interview, Andreas. Any last words?

"Thank you again too! Come to our shows, buy the record, it's made for you! Shepherd will tour Europe from July, 17th to July 27th with The Hidden Hand. The dates will follow soon. Just check the tour dates section on doom-metal.com or www.mainstreamrecords.de (soon online...)."

Visit the Shepherd bandpage.

Interviewed on 2003-06-06 by Kevin.
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