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With the band celebrating their fifteen-year anniversary, and the remaster of their original demo/debut now launched on vinyl, it seemed like a great moment to talk about all that with Zatokrev founder Fredy Rotter.

Interview with Zatokrev.
"It's always a pleasure to chat with Fredy Rotter, main man of the Swiss-based Czar Of Crickets label and, of course, founder member of avantgarde Death/Doom band Zatokrev. Today, following the vinyl re-release of their self-titled 2003 debut, we're here to talk about the fifteen year history that has led to this point, and find out what's next for the band..."

Answering questions for us today: Fredy Rotter (vocals, guitars) of Zatokrev.

Hello Fredy - welcome back to doom-metal.com. We had a chat last year just about all of your Czar ventures, but today I'd just like to concentrate on your work with your band Zatokrev. Is there a simple introduction to the band that you could give us?

We're a 16 year-old band based in Basel, Switzerland playing their own form of heavy psychedelic metal.

You've always had an interesting mix of different genres running through your music. What were your actual influences when starting out? Did you consciously combine them to arrive at Zatokrev's sound, or were they a part of some already complete picture of how you wanted the band to be?

Thank you Mike. We were musicially always an open band and in fact in the very beginning we didn't have any clear vision in which direction we wanted to go. We wrote pretty many songs - slow, fast, melodic, brutal, progressive, posty and also I was singing in different languages. We were listening to Doom, Sludge, Black, Death, Hardcore, Rock but also Hip-Hop, Country and experimental stuff. We just knew that we wanted to create loud and heavy music, but we had to figure out what kind of stuff we were able to play best, or maybe just what gave us most pleasure. So we stuck at the slow and heavy side of our ideas.

You said before that your parents were Czech refugees: I guess you must have born in Switzerland if they arrived there in '68. How strongly do you feel a personal connection to that part of your family history - is that why you chose a Czech name for the band?

Correct. I still have a pretty strong connection to Czech Republic, this week I'll go over to Czech Republic because my niece is getting married. But it's somehow weird as I have a connection and a disconnection to both countries at the same time. As I'm born in Switzerland with Czech parents I am the Swiss in Czech Republic and Czech in Switzerland and even today I can't really decide to which of the two countries I feel closer. We chose a Czech name because it has its origin from one of our Czech songs. We liked the passage where we sang "...Za To Krev" and after reflecting on a deeper meaning on these words it became our name.

Zatokrev discography: 'Zatokrev' (2004, Code:Breaker/Earache/Division), 'Bury The Ashes' (2006, Czar Of Crickets/Firebox), 'Vancouver/Zatokrev' (Split EP, 2008, Get A Life!), 'The Bat, The Wheel And A Long Road To Nowhere' (2012, Candlelight), 'Silk Spiders Underwater...' (2015, Candlelight), 'Zatokrev' (Remaster, 2018, Czar Of Bullets).

It was 2003 when you first launched your self-titled demo. What was the intention behind self-producing and releasing it - I mean, was it something for your fan base, or to sell at gigs, or did you mainly aim to circulate it as a promo to labels?

Basically we did it to get shows, to have something to sell and in general to spread the word. But we didn't use this demo to find a label, especially because the drums were programmed. We recorded another demo in our rehearsal space with a simple fostex hard disc recorder, where we used real drums. With this we hoped to find a nice label who would be willing to advance the costs for a better production.

By all accounts, it did actually generate a lot of interest - as I understand it both Earache and other labels such as Code:Breaker chased you to sign up for an 'official' release. How did that work out in practice, and what did you get out of accepting those deals?

Also for the Swiss release we worked with Division Records. All of them did a great job. Division Records is a label based in the French part of Switzerland. For bands from the German part it was always hard to get shows (and connections in general) in the French part as we have these silly language barriers here, so these two areas, the German and the French part, have their own scenes which are pretty disconnected to each other. Division Records made it possible that our first release was embraced in West-Switzerland, so we had the chance to play at great venues over there after our debut release.

Code:Breaker did the international release and also came up with a licensing deal with Earache. Thanks to them we had truly an amazing promotion, especially when you consider that they used the original demo recordings. Pretty weird to read the word "Avant-Garde" in UK's Metal Hammer for that crappy demo, haha. Of course it was brilliant to start the first official release this way. It gave us the possibility to play nice shows across Europe and climb up in the music industry.

Original line-up reunited for the 'Zatokrev' launch show: Fredy with Marco Grementieri (bass, vocals, samples) and Silvio Spadino (drums).

So, to celebrate its 15-year anniversary, you've re-released 'Zatokrev' as a heavyweight gatefold vinyl edition, associated with the Czar Of Bullets label. Was that "just because you could", or was there any deeper motive behind doing it now?

A good friend of us came up with the idea of organising an anniversary show with the original lineup 15 years after we played our first gig at the Hirscheneck here in Basel. We liked the idea and as until then our debut was the only album that has never been released on vinyl, we took the logical step to combine all these ideas. We didn't really have enough time to search for a label, without thinking too much about different possibilities, we took the intuitive decision to release it on my own label.

Well, we gave it an airing and a write-up. How close and accurate would you say that comes? Any comments you'd care to add?

As always it is a great written review from you Mike. You are one of the few writers who's doing great researches and who's writing nice texts with a strong and reflecting passion. Maybe one thing I could add. You said:
"The only misstep, in my opinion, is the four-odd minutes of aimlessly invariant feedback which close 'Fourem' - I really didn't see the value of that back in the day, and I still don't see it now."

I can totally understand this, just I wanted to explain you the deeper meaning of this noisy part, or even in general our noise/drone parts on this record. They are connected with the lyrics and let stand words and sentences in a way that the listeners might find some kind of meditation over it. In Fourem the last sentences are "We're gonna make it go away" and "Reveal the inside" which we repeat pretty many times. This was a very strong and meaningful text for me personally. I felt the words resonating in my head during this feedback. The idea was to enrich the words with a deeply interiorizing, reflecting and meditative afterglow with this ambient noise part.

Zatokrev - 'Fourem' (2004):

I hadn’t really thought about the end of ‘Fourem’ in that way, but now you’ve explained it, it does make perfect sense even if it didn’t quite work for me there! So, can I ask - have you consciously used this creation of meditative space as part of your songwriting on later albums: is that the intention on the closing sections of, for example, ‘Angels Of Cross’ or ‘They Stay In Mirrors’? And is that almost spiritual side of the experience something you want people to find in your music?

Challenging question. I'll try to answer this as well as I can, but I feel it hard as to me this is a pretty unseizable theme. When it comes up to drone, ambient or feedback parts it's sometimes connected to the lyrics, but that's the case for other parts in our songs as well. Usually the more forlorn the topics are the heavier are the endings of the songs. Some topics are so hopeless, that the most positive way to deal with them is to accept and some songs evolved during such a process of accepting. Angels Of Cross & They Stay In Mirrors are certainly such, but I don't see any, let's call it lyrical afterglow there. So it's not comparable to the ending of Fourem at all. I'd say that all songs I do with Zatokrev contain some kind of spirituality already, because the way we develop songs is always coming from the guts - that's where the spirituality begins for us. Every song idea we bring to an end including the ending itself is unique for us, we want to handle every current evolving material like we never did before. Fourem and its ending and especially the imagination of the lyrics afterglow in the ambient noise part stands alone for itself and was at first something which was created in our heads for our own pleasure, however our songs arise somehow all from an almost meditative feeling and every single one gets a special treatment.

To me a fast riff with a blastbeat with well hearable lyrics can feel as spiritual and meditative like a feedback with an imagination of words over it. However, it's not important for me that people find, like you said, an almost spiritual side of the experience in our music, I am simply just happy when people enjoy our music the way they do. I even don't believe that outstanding people are able to catch our so called "spirituality", more I guess that we are maybe able to build a basket where listeners can put their own spirituality in. Maybe the kind of music we do generally invites already to seek for deeper meanings, it's certainly no party music. So the sound could have already a spiritual sounding effect to some people, but already on that point it's the listeners spirituality that makes it even possible.

Music has its own language. When we make a song it can be interprated by ten different people in 10 different ways. Sometimes it's truly inspiring to hear what people see our lyrics. I have heard amazing thoughts from careful listeners about our songs - which I've even wished that I'd had them when I wrote the associated lyrics. Fact is how we feel and see our music is often a bit different than how our listeners see and feel it, which doesen't mean that we can't feel connected. There might still be reasons why both sides enjoy the music, but we can't explain why. However some themes should stay unexplainable to keep a natural tension and relief.

How are you publicising 'Zatokrev'? Any launch shows or touring? And how's it doing so far, commercially?

We only did the anniversary show and that was it. I was talking to the guys to do more shows to promote the debut LP reissue, but they are too busy with their works and other projects. We currently don't play any shows at all so we didn't have many possibilities to sell them directly. This LP-reissue is a pretty little project, compared to a regular release of a new album. It was surprising how good journalists still write about these old recordings. Of course we'll have the LPs to sell on our next tour with the current lineup. We'll tour Europe in autumn as there's already something else in the works which we want to promote as well. More news about that soon.

Zatokrev - 'Zato Krev' (Official):

So, looking back, you followed that up with 'Bury The Ashes', in 2006. You told me that partly ended up being the vehicle for launching the original Czar label, but what else did it signify, musically? What would you say were the main steps forward from 'Zatokrev'?

Bury The Ashes is the rawest and maybe angriest of all our records. We wanted a cold and icy sound and to keep everything as simple as possible. We didn't do any preproduction, we recorded and mixed every new song immediately, without putting tuns of overdubs. Bury The Ashes carries way more screams, anger, noise etc etc than the debut.

How big a difference did it make to the way you compose - or record - by shifting from a trio to having a second guitar? What are the benefits and disadvantages between the two formats?

It didn't make a huge difference in songwriting, because when we were a trio I already composed all guitarlines for minimum 2 guitar-players. As a trio we often had to rearrange songs to be able to play them live, some parts on the recorded songs really worked out only with 2 guitars, so we had to find other solutions. When we found a fourth member we were finally able to play the songs like they were on the records. The good thing with playing as a trio were basically practical reasons like we had less equipment to carry, had more space especially on really small stages and there was less to organise. However power trios are charming.

Current line-up: Steffen Kunkel (guitars), Frédéric Hug (drums), Fredy, and Lucas Löw (bass, backing vocals).

It was quite a long gap between that and 2012's 'The Bat, The Wheel, And A Long Road To Nowhere', and during that time there were quite a number of personnel changes. What happened there, and when did you actually begin working on the album?

Marco and Silvio decided to leave Zatokrev during the same half a year, after we already worked on new songs since quite a while. I was not sure if I wanted to stop the project completely. I gave it a break for some time to concentrate more on a dark folk solo project called "Fredy Rotten". I recorded an album, released it on my own label and toured a lot in Europe. After a while I decided to go on with Zatokrev again. Fredo, Zatokrev's sound guy back then, became the new drummer and we spent a lot of time in summer 2010 to write "The Bat, The Wheel And A Long Road To Nowhere" together. Lucas, the bass-player, joined us during this time.

For some reason, that album seems to have been treated pretty harshly by critics, ours amongst them. Were there any difficulties or dissatisfactions you had with creating it, or did the write-ups come as a surprisingly negative response?

Definitely our music is not everybodies' thing, but anyway I felt the reactions for our third long-player differently. The Bat, The Wheel And A Long Road To Nowhere actually had great press and I could maybe even call it our most successful record so far. As far as I remember the main point of critism was the running time. But for logical reasons it had to be like that. It's a long and heavy record coming from a long hard period and often it seems that listeners feel this record similar to how I felt the period when the record was written and the time before. It took so much time until the record got released, to me this record carries all those heavy stones of the conflicts from this period. What do you expect from a heavy awkward band after a long hard period for the new record to be like? I guess it has to be a really long, heavy and awkward record, haha. Back then for us this was the best record we ever did and still we like it.

Zatokrev - 'Goddamn Lights' (Official):

On the face of it, 2015 follow-up 'Silk Spiders Underwater' was essentially a refinement of 'The Bat...', including all those facets people complained about: the long tracks, the lengthy album run-time, a similar Post-Death/Doom combination. Yet that received extremely favourable press. Did you make any conscious changes between the two, or does it just go to show opinions about art can be extremely fickle?

Silk Spiders Underwater... definitely had the best critics so far, but due to some issues with our ex-label it didn't get the attention we hoped for. I felt forced to do a pretty big part of the promotion by myself, so the press was actually really good, but with a better support from the label I'm sure it could have worked out way better and due to some serious health issues within the band we were not able to play as many shows as we wanted. However we are proud to say it's the best record we've ever done. And talking about changes; Every song we work on has to be done different than everything we did before and of course our sensitivities for our sounds and the skills on our instruments are growing, it's only logical that every record of ours sounds different than the others.

Looking at the comments on our own Zatokrev forum threads, I'd probably sum it up as being a band that isn't perhaps at the top of people's awareness, but nonetheless generally gets favourable comment when mentioned. Is that a fair observation, and - if so - is that a degree of recognition and reputation you find acceptable?

True. We feel truly blessed that there are people out there who appreciate what we do. Maybe we don't have as many followers like AC/DC, but we have the impression that those who enjoy our music are deeply connected to it. We never cared about how many people we could reach when we'd focus on musicial elements which are more trendy, we just do 100% our thing. Definitely I'd take the chance and do music in a professional way, but not for any price. I never want to reach the point where I have to force my creation for financial success. At first music is my therapy, I remember countless moments when music was my livesaver. It became my island when I was 18. I would not force this island for commercial goals. But if we grow into it in a natural way and start to earn money with the music that comes a 100% from or hearts I'm all in. Currently we do have plans for the future as we'd like to be more active, so we hope to reach a few more people in future.

Live, December 2017.

I presume you're a lot better known locally from live performances and via Czar events...is that actually the case? Do you have a strong live following?

Yes, I guess so too. But even here the crowd is quite small. We're based in a pretty small city with a lot of free culture. So it's always hard to make people pay for concerts. It sucks, but that's the case. When we play with Zatokrev we could get a maximum of 200+ people in our hometown.

On stage versus in the studio: which do you prefer, and why?!

None of them. The best is to write songs in the rehearsal room with my bandmates. The most important and most creative moments are happenig there. Everything starts there, all that happens in that room has an impact on everything that follows.

After that studio work and live shows feel kind of equal to me, both is fun and self-actualising in different ways. Playing live is a very alive part where we put all our energy in a short time period. Studio work takes more time, but it's great to observe how a production is growing.

Do you think we might see Zatokrev tour more widely in the future. Are there any places you'd particularly like to put on a show, or any bands you'd especially like to share a stage with?

Of course, there are many. Still I'd love to tour across other continents one day or play in the Baltic states after the Scandinavia circle. I guess we pretty much shared the stage with most of our favourite bands already, but sharing the stage with Voivod, Godflesh, Young Gods, Melvins or Blut Aus Nord would be still pretty mindblowing.

Zatokrev - 'Swallow The Teeth' (Official):

So, fifteen years on - do you have any regrets, or best lessons learned? If you had the time again, would you like to do any of it differently?

No regrets Mike. I made mistakes which I probably would do again if I'd go back in time. It doesn't matter as long as I learned from them. I learned to look forward, which pretty much means that I gotta learn my lessons especially in the here and now to be a better human being and of course also to be a better musician and band mate. Got to be thankful for what I have, accept what I am, take life like it is and do the best I can out of it.

And, looking forward: any plans? Last year you said you were working towards a split release: is that still underway, and is there anything else in the pipeline?

Yes, that is still on. More news about that to come very soon ! I promise ;-)

As ever, a pleasure talking to you, Fredy. Hope you'll have a great summer! Are there any last words you'd like to add to finish this interview off?

Thank you Mike. It's always an honor to chat with you. I'm deeply thankful that passionate platforms like Doom-Metal.com exist and truly support. Keep this good thing going and I'm already looking forward to our next chat. Be well.

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Visit the Zatokrev bandpage.

Interviewed on 2018-07-02 by Mike Liassides.
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