Interview: Ben Metzner – dArtagnan/Feuerschwanz November 2023

After an enforced period of inactivity thanks to the worldwide lockdown, German folk-rock/folk-metal musician and singer/songwriter Ben Metzner is making up for lost time with both bands that he performs with; Feuerschwanz, and dArtagnan. After a successful summer with Feuerschwanz that saw the band making their US debut (on the 70000 TONS OF METAL Cruise, no less), Ben is ending a busy year with the last few 2023 dates on dArtagnan’s Felsenfest Tour, and we caught up with him before the musketeer folk-rock outfit performed in Linz, Austria. The first topic of discussion was the small matter of dArtagnan’s take on a piece of Scottish folklore…

How does a German rock/folk musician discover a centuries-old Scottish song which was made famous in the ’70s by Scottish folk outfit Silly Wizard, and was also adapted into a poem by Robert Burns?

I discovered it through the Welsh folk band The Trials of Cato, they sang the song [on debut album ‘Hide and Hair’]. My wife and I travel to Cornwall every year and we listen to a lot of British and Irish folk music, and we love the song. So I researched the song and found out that it’s the original tune of the famous Scottish song ‘Ye Jacobites by Name’, so ‘My Love’s in Germany’ is an even older version and I was fascinated by this so I wanted to try a new take and try a modern version of it. We shortened it in places and put a new, quite-poppy chorus on it…and, actually my wife was quite angry at me!

Really?

She loved the original folky version so much! And I told her “I love it too, but I want to make it modern!” because this is our [dArtagnan] approach to the music, we don’t want to repeat the old stuff, we want to make it accessible for modern ears. And modern listeners are used to poppy choruses. It was also quite hard for me to change it and I was like “ Oh no I cannot do that, I love the tune so much…” but I did!

I have a question for you about ‘My Love’s in Germany’…

Fire away…

We thought a lot about the Scottish accent in the song, and we tried not to fake it too much. But, you can’t really sing “Send him home, send him home…” instead of “hame” because that would just sound stupid. We had a lot of people getting confused and asking us what “hame” meant, and I was like “Shit, what do I do, I’m not Scottish, but we need to make it authentic” …so the question is, to you, a Scotsman…did it work well?

Yes, it certainly did. Being familiar with the Silly Wizard version, I was curious if you would stick with “hame”, and when you did I was like…“Yes!”

Okay, cool! Glad to hear! Thank you!

I was pleasantly surprised when you played it live because the song features the amazing Zora Cock from Blackbriar on co-vocals and you didn’t have a female vocalist out on the road with you…

We have Tim! [Tim Bernard, dArtagnan multi-instrumentalist and vocalist]

And he does a fantastic job! Now, the last time we spoke was a few years back and Germany was just coming out of the lockdown and there were still some restrictions on live music, what was your first gig like after restrictions were fully lifted? It must have been quite emotional.

Yes, it was. I can remember it quite well. It was in March 2022, and Germany is quite difficult because it has a federal system and rules are different in each state, so the tour was scheduled through all these different states. We had postponed a lot of shows, today’s show in Austria for instance was originally planned for March 2022, and Austria allowed concerts to go ahead…but with no alcohol! That was super bizarre so we just postponed it…it sounds strange…but you can’t pretend to party! It felt incredible to be back and those first few concerts were like…“Oh my God! That’s what I’m living and craving for!” and after that we all had Covid! So we had to postpone even more shows, it was chaos…but it was worth it.

Personally, you’ve gone from one extreme to the other because, after a lengthy period of inactivity, there’s no stopping you now as both dArtagnan and Feuerschwanz have had such a busy 18 months or so. As well as busy tours, Feuerschwanz has performed at Wacken, and on the world-famous 70000TONS OF METAL cruise that sails from Miami, it’s been hectic, to say the least.

Yes! We have a long period off over Winter, I think that we are planning to take a break from late December right through until April 2024, and that will give us time to recover and vacation, and maybe write some new music.

How was your 70000TONS OF METAL experience?

Crazy! It was my first time over the pond, it was also my first long-distance flight, I felt like Samwise Gamgee out of Lord of the Rings…I’m so far away from home! We stepped out of the plane and I was like “It just looks like in the movies…and it smells like spiced Rum!” And the ship, of course, there were also a few Germans there, some Bavarians and some Franconians from where we live…we made new friends, new experiences. Lots of parties, and the lack of sleep is crazy. It’s Metal 24-7! Our cabin was under the main stage and it was blast beats at 5am! Wow!

Why do you think Feuerschwanz translates so well to a worldwide audience at an event like 70000TONS OF METAL?

That’s a good question. We didn’t know that it would work until we tried it! Our show in Spain last year was our first show outside of German-speaking countries, we had performed in Russia about 15 years ago but our music has changed so much since then. I think that the music translates because the visual elements like our look and our performance don’t need any language, there are a lot of musical elements that work without language because a few years ago I started developing composition techniques that are based on the melody and not on the language. So when you write good songs, it works without needing to understand a word. And that should be the approach. We are concentrating more on the melodies, and I think that’s why Feuerschwanz works outside of Germany. And of course, we have songs like the cover version of ‘Dragostea Din Tei’, I mean, we don’t understand that one ourselves! But it’s about the energy…and the melody.

On the latest dArtagnan album ‘Felsenfest’, not only does Candice Night from Blackmore’s Night appear as a guest vocalist on ‘We’re Gonna be Drinking’, but Ritchie Blackmore puts in a cameo appearance on the video; how did you manage to get The Man In Black in the video?!

[laughs] We sent the demo version of the song to Candice’s Mother who I think is her manager, and she showed it to Candice. We asked politely for her to feature in the song because Blackmore’s Night sang the melody in their song a few years ago called ‘All for One’, and this was based on the same traditional tune [‘Son ar Chistr’], so there is a connection there. She told us that when she received the song by email, it was Ritchie in jogging pants walking through the door hearing it, and being like “Wow, that’s cool, that sounds awesome, what is it?” So Candice told him it was a band out of Germany asking for a “featuring” and he was like “Cool…I love it”.

She said yes, so we started planning the video and she said that they had a tavern in their basement because Ritchie is a huge medieval nerd and is a fan of German stuff, and they have in their tavern bottles of Franconian beer from where we live. And they also have barrels of beer as decorations. So we thought that was crazy and let’s make a video, so we shot our parts in a tavern in Nuremberg, and Candice and Ritchie shot their parts in their tavern in their basement…having Ritchie sitting at the bar like a random dude drinking beer made sense. And he was cool, and we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw our guitar hero Ritchie Fucking Blackmore sitting drinking beer nodding his head to our tune, and then smiling one time at the camera! He never smiles in videos!

Excellent! Now, it would be remiss of me to talk to you and not bring up the brand-new dArtagnan cover of Avicii’s ‘Hey Brother’ – this one works very well, you must have been pleased with how well it turned out.

Actually, our producer convinced us to do it. I was tired of cover versions, to be honest. I had just done so many with Feuerschwanz that I thought “Not another cover!” And he was like“C’mon, listen to the song, it is written for dArtagnan…hey brother…hey sister…friendship…far from home”. There was a certain feelgood level of drama to it, not too much, a bit cheesy, a bit poppy, but very well dosed. Then I actually remembered the first dArtagnan album and when I wrote it, the Avicii song was all over the radio and it was always somewhere in my brain…“I want to create songs like this, this is a perfect dArtagnan song”. 10 years later it was like, “Okay, let’s try not to just copy the original.” We were very passionate about it and it’s a really good bagpipe melody because it has a range of 1 octave, so it is perfect.

The true litmus test is performing it live, and judging by people’s reactions when you perform it, you have nailed it.

It’s a banger!

Being part of 2 very busy bands, how far ahead do you plan? What is 2024 looking like?

It is always a struggle to make both bands happy, but a few weeks ago we locked in the last dates of 2024. It is always cool because I can play with one or the other, but it can be tricky when it comes to festivals and if we play at this festival can we travel overnight from Spain to Lake Constance [which borders Germany, Austria, and Switzerland] like we did this August, which was crazy, but we managed it and with 2024 we have a good plan with days off in between. This year…I reached my limits…a few times! [laughs]

 

Catch Ben and dArtagnan on their last 2 dates of 2024 on the 8th & 9th of December in Dortmund and Bremen respectively, bring your dancing shoes though because you will need them. More information, here.

Interview – Dave

Feuerschwanz photo credit: Nikolaj Georgiew

Live photos – dArtagnan social media – credit to the owner

Felsenfest promo photos courtesy of dArtagnan

 

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