Benni from City Light Thief [May 2013]

By Tom Aylott

Cologne rockers City Light Thief have just released their new album, ‘Vacilando’, and our roving reporter Tom Beck took the opportunity to sit down with vocalist Benni about life, love and music

Congratulations on becoming a father for the first time recently, how have you found it?
Thanks, I appreciate it! Becoming a father was something I was dreaming of for a long time. Everything about it was and is a truly amazing experience. I’m so looking forward to see the little one grow up now.

A new born child and an album release in the same month must be quite something?
It sure is. May 2013 will go down as one of the most exciting months in my life, definitely. When we scheduled the recordings nearly a year back from now, we soon found out that our schedules will only allow us to release the record in April or May, and I knew this would be around the time when the child would be born. Still, since we are not a “full time band” and I’m not touring 7 days a week or have to do countless promo days full of interview, I think having both “releases” as close as three weeks together works out just fine.

Has it changed your focus as a song writer at all?
To be fair, I’m not really one of the “song writers” in our band. On the music-side of songwriting, I’m mostly only contributing in the arrangement of some of the songs, the other guys who can actually play instruments do the real work behind the music. Also, about half of the songs were finished or in the making when I learned I was going to be a father. Still, I had some missing lyrics to deliver, and I really found it hard at times to actually put down some of the lines. Becoming a father, or knowing that I’ll be a father soon, really made me more self-conscious. I want the lyrics in City Light Thief equally enjoyable and as detailed as the music is, so I am making high demands on each word that we sing. I think the fatherhood hasn’t really changed my focus, but it kind of brought me into a new state of mind which opened me up for new emotions and situations that I can put into the lyrics. Still, it has to be said that on ‘Vacilando’, Bringo and Tobi also wrote many of the lyrics, but I really feel that we understand each others style very well to make the lyrics fit together.

So let’s focus on the album itself – Vacilando is released through Mid-Summer Records which has been your home for some years now. Was staying with the same label an easy decision for you?
Absolutely. Tim and the Midsummer Records family have always put a lot of time, passion, effort and also money into our band, and it felt natural to do the second album with them again. Midsummer is a perfect fit for our band at this point, we feel well represented and we can be sure that our music reaches the right people. There was no talk or offers from other labels.

Can you expand on what Vacilando actually means and why you’ve named the album this?
The word is not easily explained, I guess. Even spanish native-speakers often don’t know the word since it is not used very often, or they tell you very different meanings.The spanish word “vacilar” means as much as “deviating” or “faltering”, so it is sometimes used to describe when someone is undecided, constantly changing his mind. Or, and this is why we named the record ‘Vacilando’, it can also describe a wanderer that is solely travelling for the sake of being on the road, who doesn’t have a destination in mind. We felt that this word described the creation of the record very well – we never made any plans on how our record should sound or feel like, we just went with what felt right, and well.. suddenly it was done and right in front of us.

Previously you’ve touched on this material being some of your heaviest yet – was that a conscious decision by the band?
Very good question, I never really thought about that. It is true that parts of ‘Vacilando’ feel way heavier and more chaotic than everything we have done before. But then, if you give it a closer listen, you will soon find out that on this record, the songs are way clearer structured, nearly all of them have a chorus for example – something that we only had two or three times on our first record! I don’t think it was a conscious decision – our band mostly decides by following our guts. So I guess we just felt inside us that we have to make the songs a little rougher. It might sound stupid, but if you dive in the details, ‘Vacilando’ is a poppier record than ‘Laviin’ is.

You’re natively German but have excellent written and spoken English skills, as anyone who listens to City Light Thief can attest to. What made you write and perform in English?
Tobi, Roman and I started the making music together in 2003 – ten years ago, and since then I never once thought that I want to write german lyrics. The good thing about not performing or writing in your mother tongue is, that it allows you to look at your creative output from a spectators perspective. It makes you think about the words you’re saying more as if they just come out of your subconscious. It lets you evaluate the things you do and say for a second, which might safe you from saying something you might later regret. Is this understandable? I do hope so! Also, thanks for the compliment.

I’ve always loved the way City Light Thief seemed to embrace music at face value – enjoying it as an art form rather than worrying about where it could take them. Is that a fair assessment?
It is really awesome that someone outside of the band says something like this about us. Thanks! I think what you are talking about, is what I mean when I say that we are acting on instinct most of the times. We are definitely not one of those bands that acts different or changes their style in music just to sell more records or play bigger venues. Since we started we always kind of did what we felt like, a lot of silly things for sure, but it mostly worked out great and we are very thankful for what we have achieved so far. We are not trying to put ourselves under pressure by working on our “music career”, but we also see more than a “hobby” in City Light Thief. We take music very seriously first of all, it is pretty much all we do outside our jobs or studies, but we would never forget that the joy in making and playing music together is why we are doing what we are doing.

You’ll always have bands who aim for the stars and want to make it big – do you see that in the German music scene as much?
Sure, we had our share of bands that were once our friends and now kind of look down on us since they doubled their Facebook likes. Wow – just read that sentence to realize how silly that is! Still, most of the time it is pretty easy to identify these bands quickly. They start demanding hilarious fees, put exorbitant displays on stage or bring big boxes to the shows just to put their feet on so they look cooler when they sing. These kind of things. Every band has to decide how they can achieve what they want to achieve. I feel that we have surrounded ourselves with bands that understand us and we understand them. I think it’s better this way.

Previously you’ve released an EP called ‘The Music Of Chance’, a take on the novel of the same name by Paul Auster. How did that come about?
I stumbled upon one of Austers’ later novels, ‘Invisible’, by accident. I was instantly amazed by the way he wrote and how he described the most absurd situations as they were perfectly normal. I read all of his books in a row after that, I really was in kind of an “Auster-fever”. So when the band decided to record an EP, it came to me that we could retell the story of “The Music of Chance” in the lyrics of our songs. The EP brought together literature and music, and I’m still very proud of how natural the outcome feels. If possible, I’d like to do something similar sometime again!

You released this EP on vinyl with a number of bonus items for different prices, in a very similar style to a Kickstarter campaign. What was the thinking behind that?
Different from the UK, the format EP is very very unpopular in Germany. The press and music magazines don’t care if a band sends only a handful of tracks and not a full album, it won’t even get reviewed most of the time. So it is very hard to put an EP to use here. Also, pretty much no one wants to buy EPs. So we knew that no label would ever finance us an EP that will a) not sell, b) only very limited and c) be pressed on the most expensive, but most beautiful, format there is: 10 Inch vinyl. So we talked with Midsummer Records and Rookie Records to find a way to make this dream of us come true. Our share of the costs was financed through a “hand-made crowdfunding campaign”. After only 48 hours we had enough money for the pressing – we ended up with twice the money we needed and could afford some ads as well. We were blown away by the support of our listeners!

You’ve become good friends with Oxford’s Gunning For Tamar and London’s Rob Lynch recently and have invited them both to tour Germany in recent years. Are German crowds interested in seeing underground bands from the UK?
Absolutely! We helped Gunning For Tamar getting together their first tour through Germany and I think they are getting really good feedback. The people have seen 500 bands from Berlin already, and they are happy when a band like GFT from Oxford plays in their town and finally tells them something new. I’m very excited that Rob Lynch, who also proofread the lyrics of ‘Vacilando’, will be touring Germany a lot this year!

Are there any German bands who you think can make the step the other way and do well in the UK?
It would be great if someone invited us sometime to play a couple of UK-shows! Haha! No, but really. I think our friends in Ashes Of Pompeii could really be big in the UK. The put out their first record on Lockjaw Records, and also toured the UK a couple of times, but I think they never got the support they deserved and ended up with pretty much no UK fanbase at all. It is a shame. Their shows are raw and full of energy, all three of their records are fantastic. Ah well.. Promoters of the UK, just invite us and them together, okay?

Finally – can you tell us what music you’re currently enjoying?
Just speaking for myself, I’m really enjoying the new Fall Out Boy record way more than I should. It is overproduced as hell, has silly lyrics and metaphors all over it and can’t be called a rock record anymore.. But damn, is this thing catchy. Also, I’m digging ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ by The National a lot, it has a great soothing atmosphere like all of their records. Third, my daughter enjoys “Ramones For Kids” a lot, so I do too. Check it out, great versions of the classic Ramones songs. I’m pretty sure the band doesn’t like or even hate all the records I just mentioned.. Haha, sorry guys! To name something we all enjoy: we are all super-super-super-excited because Brand New finally announced their first clubshows in Germany since 2008. So it’s ‘The Devil And God…’ and ‘Daisy’ on repeat all day and night.


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