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The launch of the new Czar Shop venture was an ideal moment to talk to Zatokrev frontman Fredy about his long-standing and dedicated support for the Swiss underground scene...

Interview with Czar Of Crickets Productions.
"Without doing too much name-dropping here, I got to meet Zatokrev in Zürich a few years back: Greg Chandler introduced vocalist/guitarist Frederyk Rotter with a grin and: "This is Fredy. He's one of the good guys!" And, indeed, he was, and is! You may not be aware, however, that besides playing in Zatokrev, and with several other bands, Fredy also runs Czar of Crickets Productions, a steadily-expanding organisation that supports the Swiss underground music scene in a number of different ways - with labels for album releases and promotion, with live gig and festival organisation, and, now, by launching the Czar Shop as a central point for purchase of various label- and self-released albums from Switzerland. As usual, he approached people with a courteous self-penned request for coverage of the venture - which seemed like an ideal time to have a proper chat about the whole Czar... set-up and all the dedication and work he puts into it..."

Czar of Crickets supremo: Fredy Rotter.

(1) Hello Fredy, and thanks very much for agreeing to be interviewed for Doom-Metal.com. Could we start with a bit of an introduction of yourself to our readers?

-Hello Mike. Thanks for your time and interest. I live in Basel Switzerland where I run a rock/metal label called Czar Of Crickets Productions, which is connected to various other projects like our online shop “Czar Shop”, our yearly festival “Czar Fest” and a few tour series here in Switzerland. I also play in bands like Zatokrev, Crown, Neo Noire, I got my solo project called The Leaving plus I wanna start to build up a fifth band soon as me and my friends will find the time to do it.


(2) This isn't primarily a band interview, but I guess many people will most likely have heard of you in connection with Zatokrev. It's been a while since last album 'Silk Spiders Underwater...': what's the band up to at the moment?

- We are currently working on a split-LP before we finish the songwriting for the follower album of “Silk Spiders Underwater...”. I say follower album because this one is conceptually linked to “Silk Spiders Underwater...” . As we focus more on songwriting and producing we play only a few shows this year.

(3) On the subject of Zatokrev, how would you describe the band, in terms of influences, style and musical goals?

- We are influenced by many different genres actually. Originally we come from the Sludge and in the past called Post-Hardcore genre. But nowadays I would say that it's a big mix of various extreme metal styles, psychedelic rock and ambient. In our free time we also listen jazz, hip-hop, blues, indie- and alternative rock etc etc. We are intuitive songwriters. Basically we want to evolve as musicians and humans, we'll see to where the journey will lead us. Recently we left Candlelight Records as the cooperation was getting unbearable, so we're looking for a new label currently.

(4) Have you got any other musical projects in the pipeline? For example, a follow-up to The Leaving's 'Faces' album, or any more live/guest appearances with other bands?

- I definitely want to do another The Leaving album again. Just I didn't have a lot of time to work on it this year. My label, Zatokrev and Neo Noire are keeping me busy for the moment. But as soon as one of those projects will calm down, I wanna put focus again on The Leaving. For the moment there is only one more show planned this year. I'm gonna open for Bohren Und Der Club Of Gore in Germany, which is one of my favourite bands.

(5) We're really here to talk a bit about the new Czar Shop venture, but perhaps it's best to have a few words about the whole Czar empire and how it fits together. You started by setting up the Czar of Crickets label, I believe, in 2006. What brought that about?

- That's correct. I started in 2006 out of an impulse I had one morning. I woke up and I knew I had to make a label – bam, haha. There were many great underground artists which were seeking support and absolutely deserved to be heard and seen. By that time I had no idea how a label works. Because of Zatokrev I was already dealing with other labels, but to be honest, I really had no idea what was behind it. So I wanted to find out.

(6) It was obviously successful and varied enough for you to decide to split it into the Czar of Revelations/Czar of Bullets sublabels. When did that happen, and what are the parameters for each of those? Do you still also release anything under the Czar of Crickets label?

- It happened in 2014. Until then I released albums from many different genres and I somehow realised that my roster looked a bit, let's say, stylistically chaotic. Originally Czar Of Crickets was a metal label, but I was always open to any kind of genre. I didn't want to capture myself just by focusing on a few metal styles. I had the idea to split the label in two sublabels to make that diverse company a bit more overseeable. Czar Of Bullets stands for the metal side of the label and Czar Of Revelations for everything else. That covers dark ambient, rock'n'roll, indie-alternative- and psychedelic rock, folk, singer-songwriting and whatever sounds good to me. Everything I release happens under Czar Of Bullets or Czar Of Revelations. Czar Of Crickets Productions does not only stand for a label which releases good underground artists, but also for all our other activities, like our yearly Czar Fest, our new Swiss tour series Road Fest and also the Czar Shop. Basically it's a company which works internationally, but also puts a lot of energy into supporting a very eclectic and living Swiss music scene.

(7) Out of curiosity - although you released a version of Zatokrev's 'Bury The Ashes' through Czar of Crickets, the later albums were on the UK-based Candlelight label. is there some reason why you prefer not to release them yourself?

- I used Bury The Ashes as a guinea pig to start the label. Like I mentioned before, I actually had no idea how to run a label, somehow I didn't have the self-confidence yet to take responsibility for an album of another band. And actually I released Bury The Ashes only in Switzerland as this was assessable. For the rest of the world it was the great Finnish label Firebox that took care. In most cases I prefer it if another label releases bands I play in. Of course it depends what they have to offer. Candlelight Records have a big network and were able to carry financial risks. It's a big label which opened some doors for us. And by that time we were happy that we found a home next to many other bands we liked.

(8) The Czar family isn't predominantly a Doom one - though it is home to bands like Wolf Counsel, Ashtar, Phased and Khaldera - but also deals with all sorts of Post-, Prog- and Alt- influenced bands from various genres. Would you call it a pretty representative sample of the current Swiss musical scene?

- I think that our roster is pretty representative yes. Many bands are playing shows in and outside of Switzerland. Also, most of the bands are from North-West and West-Switzerland where actually in general the Swiss metal scene is living the most. Bands like When Icarus Falls, Wolf Counsel, Phased (who unfortunately are not existing anymore - the singer's new band is called Leaden Fumes), Ashtar, GURD, Palmer, Unhold, The View Electrical, Scratches, Autisti, Sum Of R, The Universe By Ear, Zlang Zlut or Neo Noire are run by people who have been active in the Swiss music scene for a long time.

(9) I first heard Swiss bands like the pure Prog-rock Brainticket and Krokodil, and of course Patrick Moraz, in the early '80s. Later it was the Prog-influenced early Krokus, Celtic Frost (inevitably), Alastis and Excruciation in the '90s, and now it's bands like Phased, Darkspace, Metamorphosis and The Land of the Snow. It's left me with the impression that there's a very strong grounding in Prog elements running through Swiss rock and metal. Is that a fair observation?

- Maybe you are right, I actually never thought about it. I would say that even my own band Zatokrev has prog elements, or also Schammasch, Nostromo, or some unfortunately not active anymore bands like Knut or Kruger. Well observed !

(10) Are there any other common threads that run through the musical scene? Is there anything you'd characterise as a "typically Swiss" sound or attitude?

- I would say that bands like Celtic Frost, Young Gods, Bölzer, Darkspace, and many others have something very cold in their sound, which is hard to describe, they sound all very cold – maybe I would describe somehow like a Swiss coldness. Also all those bands and combos like Schammasch or Zeal & Ardor all have something avantgarde.

Bands in the French part of Switzerland somehow also have their sound which is more punk and hardcore influenced often with high screaming vocals. When somebody from the German part knows the scene and is talking to another one, then they understand each other when one is talking about a West-Switzerland sounding metal band. Bands like Knut, Nostromo, Unfold, Kehlvin, Rorcal, Impure Wilhelmina, Iscariote, Coilguns, Cortez or When Icarus Falls pretty much put their mark on that Swiss part.

(11) I was lucky enough to see Zatokrev at Werk 21, back in 2014, when I was driving for Esoteric on tour. That was a nice venue and a great show - is that fairly typical of the live clubs and gig opportunities you have there?

- There are many very cool venues in Switzerland run by good people. Due to the fact that many of them get subventions they are able to have a nice monthly program and have a great infrastructure. Bands get paid, get good food and accommodation. These are pretty much Swiss standards.

(12) We actually had a pretty difficult time of getting through the border (it was a misunderstanding over the free movement of merchandising goods, that led to a pretty steep on-the-spot import duty charge!). Is that sort of thing a general issue for bands crossing between EU/Swiss territory? Does it lead to a slightly isolated national live scene, or do you still generally have a good integration with acts from, or in, other countries?

- We have really many international acts playing in Switzerland. Yes, you have to tariff the merchandise usually and I guess that bigger bands which carry a lot of merch and travel in a nightliner usually have to do it, but often custom officers let pass through the smaller vans. Maybe you were just a bit unlucky. It depends a bit on the timing. Due to the terrorism that happened in Europe lately they do enforce more controls, but usually they let rock guys in vans pass through as I guess they are not really interesting to be taken out, especially when they are obviously musicians. I already booked numerous international acts and also I was travelling often in vans with an EU car number - never had any issues at the Swiss border.

(13) On the subject of live appearances - you set up the first CzarFest in 2016, and the second was in April of this year. What made you decide to start promoting these two-day events, and are they now established enough to become a permanent annual event?

- The first time we promoted the Czar Fest we were celebrating our 10th anniversary. It wasn't planned to do a yearly festival. But it worked out so well and so many people were excited about it, that we decided to do it every year from then on. Already in 2016 people started to talk about it and we had great support from the press. So when we announced the second one we already started to sell tickets and due to the fact that the 2017 Czar Fest was the first gig ever for the currently very much hyping local band Zeal & Ardor this event is definitely established enough. We're already making plans for 2018.

Czar Fest 2017 - 'Thank You' (Official):

(14) How pleased were you with the results of the first two CzarFests? Is there a key distinction between them and other music festivals - do they demonstrate any unique values, or features you consider particularly important?

- The Czar Fest is a label festival and is basically about the Swiss music scene. Usually we book bands from the Czar Of Crickets label which have new releases out and for each of the days we book one special guest which is not on the label. Last year our special guests were the mighty Bölzer and the already mentioned Zeal & Ardor. Each of the two days represents one of the sublabels, so we have a Revelations Day and a Bullets Day. Also in the bar room we make a rock art exhibition which is connected to the label or to the artists which play or already played the years before.

(15) The newest Czar venture is the Czar Shop: an underground distro featuring releases from a number of different labels, obviously including yours. What was the reason for making it a separate entity - is it a partnership between the labels involved, or something that you're entirely responsible for?

- It started as a cooperation with other labels, but I guess with Czar Of Crickets as the main impulse. Originally I wanted to create a platform for Czar Of Crickets artists where they can sell their products and earn more than through our regular distributors. But we came to the decision to offer this to other bands as well. We started to like the idea of creating a shop with the best Swiss bands as the Swiss music scene is pretty wide.

(16) You mentioned that part of the aim of Czar Shop is to bridge between the French- and German- speaking parts of Switzerland. Is there a big musical divide between the two at the moment?

- There's a language barrier between these two areas. Both parts have a nice scene, but both are somehow cut off from each other. Still bands from the French speaking part have problems to get gigs in the German part and the other way around it's the same. There are some projects to break that invisible border, but it's still there. We from the German part want to offer soundcarriers from bands of West-Switzerland as well, many of them are unknown here, which is actually weird. We're all living in the same little country. From Basel it takes 40 min to reach the closest French part, but to people where I live the scene there is pretty unknown. Czar Of Crickets Productions already has a name in West-Switzerland as well, as we release French speaking artists too. We also have that new touring concept where bands from both parts tour together through the whole of Switzerland. The CzarShop is somehow one more part in the puzzle to get the scenes together.

(17) Czar Shop is just starting out, but do you have any vision for where it might end up? Is it likely to remain primarily a distribution for Swiss bands only, or would you like to forge bonds further afield? And could you see it becoming a physical shop, like Italy's Black Widow Records?

- For the moment we like the idea to work with Swiss bands and Swiss labels only. There's really a lot to discover especially from the real underground. Many very good self-released albums which have never been promoted well, which doesn't mean that they are worse than others. Check out the Czar Shop and you'll probably find a few pearls as such like those from SNARF, ECHOLOT, ORSO, P.NOIR, SOLDAT HANS or KRANE.

SNARF - 'Klabat' (Full album):

(18) Compared to a lot of labels (and organisations) you still have a most welcome old-school approach, sending out personally-written press releases, physical promos and always happy to answer questions or reply to e-mails. That's something we very much appreciate and support, though understand it's not a model for massive commercial success. Do you find, in general, that the integrity of doing things that way benefits your stated aim of 'drawing attention to the underrated Swiss music scene', and that others are equally willing to support that integrity?

- This was always the way I was working. Our promotional network is still growing so I guess it is not a bad thing at all. We are small and we can't pay big agencies to work for us... maybe one day... but honestly I have to say that I pretty much like my work the way it is now. I like to help bands and I like to delight journalists with new music and I like the personal contact. I am a passionate worker and I hope that people out there appreciate this of course. So far I've received many positive reactions from journalists for the way how we communicate and also the way they receive our selfmade and practical prepared press material.

Zatokrev - 'Goddam Lights' (Official):

(19) So, running several labels, bands of your own, the shop, and doing live promotion - does that actually leave you much time for anything else? What do you do if you ever get the opportunity to kick back and relax?!

- ...and the festival and the managing of some Swiss tour series and and and.. Indeed it's a lot to do and sometimes it's even crazy and sometimes I run the risk of losing my private life. The first half of this year I brought myself occasionally to my limits. But as this is my own business I have no regular office times, so more or less I am free to take a break whenever I want. In the big mess I am still flexible. If I need a break I go out for a run, play badminton with one of my friends or go for a swim in the Rhine or a swimming pool. I definitely need to do other things to relax and to keep a balance in life. In 2013 I was close to a burn out already, but I learned to divide in my forces. I'm not doing it enough, but I like to hang out with my good friends and take care of my friendships and especially my relationship. My friends know me well and I have a sympathetic beloved companion by my side, so that helps. I am a very lucky man to have all this. During summer we usually have less releases and play less shows I usually take the time to travel to somewhere and take some holidays with my girlfriend.

The Leaving - 'Hurtmachine' (Official):

(20) One final question I've always been curious about - what made you pick the 'Czar' brand to begin with, and why 'of Crickets' as the first element in the chain?

- When I founded the label I wanted to have somehow a mystical but not too serious title. My parents escaped in 1968 from the Czech Republic after the Prague Spring had been smashed by the Sovjets. My parents came to Switzerland as refugees. Here my father found a gap in the market. So my parents became the first cricket breeders in Europe. Weird but true story.

Shortly before I founded the label I was reading a lot about the history of czars. So somehow I liked to combine that. Czars were mighty emperors but for us crickets are probably the most harmless being ever. So I invented the name Czar Of Crickets with a wink.

(21) To close, I hope we've explored the Czar family pretty thoroughly, and given you the chance to explain how it all works and what it aims for, but if there is anything you'd like to add, the last words are yours.

- As always it is great to talk with you Mike. You always have great questions ready for me. Thank you very much for this. To the readers of Doom-Metal.com I wanna say again: Please check out our great bands on Czar Of Crickets and explore a beautiful and living Swiss rock & metal scene (there's a lot of doomy stuff around too) in our online shop: Czar Shop.

(-) Then it only remains for me to thank you again for your time and participation, and I hope we'll continue to correspond for many years to come!

I guess we will. As always thank you for your support. Be well and talk soon.

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Czar Of Crickets Productions bandpage.

Interviewed on 2017-06-29 by Mike Liassides.
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