Interview with Mario Hirzinger, Serenity, London October 2011

Ant May and Rowena Lamb for Planetmosh spoke to Mario Hirzinger, keyboard player with Serenity before they played Islington Academy in London as part of the “Out of the dark” tour featuring Amberian Dawn, Serenity, Xandria, Van Canto and Tristania.

Planetmosh: Your last album, Death & Legacy came out earlier this year.Can you tell us a bit about the album?

Mario: Yes of course.  We started songwriting in early 2010 I think, or maybe late 2009 and it was pretty early clear that we would do some kind of concept album, so we talked about it, what would be an interesting concept to write about, and considering the fact that Georg, our singer has studied history and geography, he knows a lot about past centuries and is very interested in reading history books and historical novels but also the other thing for universities.  Then the idea came up of writing about important personalities in the past who were important for Europe’s development in the past seven centuries I guess.  There are people from the 13th century which means Marco Polo up to the 18th century which is Giacomo Casanova, and when we had the first prototypes of the songs we listened to them and discussed which character would fit which song, so it was a step by step development.  One of the first songs finished was The Chevalier, which of course had another title back then and we decided early on to use it for the video single because our view is that it has all the important elements for us, and then we decided to write the track about Giacomo Casanova and because we also needed a female voice for this we recorded this track with Ailyn from Sirenia and also shot the video with her.   What to say about the other songs? The funny thing is “When canvas starts to burn” and “beyond desert sands” were the last songs to be created for the album, and in my opinion they are some of the best songs.  Its funny that we had a kind of creative push at  the vey end of the production process, but thanks to our guitarist Tom who’s a really really enthusiastic and great guitarist, we’re happy to have these great tracks on the album.  That guy is always surprisingly creative, for example if he’s in the writing process, he’ll sit in front of the computer and you get a mail from him at say 2 in the afternoon saying “I’m working on a new song, here’s the first sample” and three hours later you get another mail “the song is finished” and in the meantime he’s written all the parts, it’s incredible.

Planetmosh: Who writes the songs – is it a group effort or are there one or two main songwriters?

Mario:  The fact is we all live apart from each other so it would be very hard for us to meet say twice a week or so in the rehearsal room, so the normal writing process is like that Tom the guitarist has his ideas and collects them together and see’s which part fits to another part and he checks out the tempo of the songs of course, and then when he has these song prototypes finished he meets with Georg and works out the vocal lines.  The next thing is sending these demo tracks to Oliver Phillips our orchestra producer, Oliver is the head of Everon a German melodic rock metal band. Then we receive these reworked versions back from Oliver because he’s the guy that has to be satisfied with the vocal lines, he’s our quality manager, then it’s my part to write the lyrics.  We do it like this… Georg sings rubbish, just English sounding rubbish for the first vocal line and then I sit down with the headphones and listen to his words and I listen very carefully to the amount of syllables he uses and where is stressed, because he already has the perfect vibe to fill the songs with the lyrics and according to this I exactly write my lyrics, which in the beginning was hard times for me but with the past two recordings it seems to be the best way for me writing lyrics, and in the end for me I think its the perfest way of working because you can hear that the words fit perfectly in the rhythm of the song.

Planetmosh: You’ve worked with a number of different female singers on the albums and on tour rather than recruiting a permanent female singer.  Why is this?

Mario: Well we never really talked about recruiting a permanent member because I guess we won’t ever have half the songs on an album with a female guest. It will always remain with guest vocalists, and its also a thing of we are not professional musicians, everyone has a job, so it works much better to just get in contact with a female guest singer for each tour.  The singers all have their own bands and that has to be scheduled so it doesnt cross with other tours, so I guess it’s the best way for us.

Planetmosh: You’re currently touring as part of the Out of the dark festival with Van Canto, Tristania, Xandria and Amberian Dawn.  How are you enjoying the tour?

Mario: A lot, a lot.  I was really afraid of this, what happens when 42 people are on the road together, but it works pretty well, I’m really surprised.  The best thing on this tour is there’s no diva at all, everybody’s down to earth, totally relaxed guys and girls and we have a really good mood inside the tour package, and I really enjoy it a lot.

Planetmosh: After the current tour what next for Serenity?

Mario: Back to work, my boss is waiting.  But I guess you mean about music?  Georg talked about organising a headlining tour in Spring, so nothing is fixed yet but there will be some dates all over Europe.
Planetmosh: Including the UK – a lot of bands announce European tours with no UK dates?
Mario: Of course of course we’ll play the UK.  Today is the fifth time we’ve come to the UK to play a show, we played a couple of shows on the last tours with Delain and with Kamelot and it was always a great experience, so why shouldnt we come back?  Of course its a little bit away from Europe because you have to take the ferry or the train or whatever and it’s a long drive for us, but we definitely will go to the Netherlands and from there its not a long way to the UK so why shouldnt we do it if we know we have a fanbase here, and we definitely have I guess. Fans seem to like our sound here and we like the venues and the fans as well so I guess there will definitely be at least one UK date on this tour.

Planetmosh: What is your favourite type of live show and why – festival, large venue or small venue?

Mario:  It depends.  For me myself, when I go to shows I like the small club shows the best where I can get right in front of the stage and be right at the pulse of the music.  When I’m on stage myself, and I guess I also speak for the other band members, it’s really impressive when you play in front of a crowd of two or three thousand people.  The most we’ve played in front of was 2300 in Tilbug in the Netherlands, with Kamelot and that was really impressive, that was something that made our pulse go up.

Planetmosh: What bands do you think have influenced your music?

Mario:  There are some that I guess are clearly imaginable when you listen to our music – Nightwish, Kamelot, Sonata Arctica, maybe also Evergrey in former times, because Thomas and Georg, our two main songwriters are big fans of these bands, and in the beginning it was a little bit different because we got together from different directions, they were more from the symphonic metal side, and Andy and me were from the prog metal and prog rock side, and we combined this, and if you listen to the first album you get these different influences, but with time we wanted to get a more symphonic sound and we had this image of a powerful melodic metal band with symphonic elements in the vein of Nightwish but with a male voice, and I guess we’ve got pretty close to it.

Planetmosh: What bands do you like to listen to ?

Mario: My favourite at the moment are “Fair to midland” which I appreciate a lot, Fabio our bass player introduced me to them, a great modern metal band from the US, then Dredg, Porcupine tree, Dream Theatre.  Opeth is one of my favourite bands, Evergrey still, although in my opinion they have a little bit lost their special sound, but nevertheless make good music.  Also circus maximus, Pagans mind, Soilwork, Dark Tranquility, but also Rush, Alter Bridge, stuff like that, I’m very open minded.

Planetmosh:  What would you say is the highlight of your career so far?

Mario: Oh there have been a lot of highlights.  The first was in 2004, the second gig with Georg in the lineup as singer, we had the chance to support Ronnie James Dio in the town where we rehearse, so that was an awesome experience.  The next highlight was the show I talked about, 2300 people in a crammed full venue (in Tilburg with Kamelot), awaiting us and celebrating us, that was an awesome experience.  Then all the tours I guess, from the first tour on, because when we got together of course we had a plan to sign a label contract and go on tour, but when it first happened we sort of looked at each other – “see what has happened we’re on the first tour – it really became true”, ad the same with releasing the second album and the third album, reading all the reviews online, receiving letters from fans all over the world, because if you live in Austria its not that normal that you read about Austrian bands having fans in different countries or different continents, so it was not expected that our music would be appreciated all over the world.
Planetmosh: That’s the power of the internet – people can find out about and listen to bands from all over the world.
Mario: Yeah it’s very easy nowadays.

Planetmosh:  What bands that you listen to would you describe as a guilty secret?
Mario: I’m the type of guy who is not embarassed easily so its easy to say that I’m a Manowar fan, but I prefer the early stuff.

Planetmosh:  Thank you very much for your time, we’re looking forwards to the show.

Mario: Thank you.

About Ant May

I spend half my life at gigs or festivals and the other half writing the reviews and editing photos, and somehow find time for a full time job too. Who needs sleep - I've got coffee.