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Off The Cross

Eerder dit jaar kreeg ik een EP te horen van een Belgische band die opereert onder de naam ‘Off The Cross’. Hoewel deze naam van de band mij niet bekend voorkwam was het tegenovergestelde het geval wat betreft de mensen die meewerkten aan deze EP. Zo hebben onder anderen Marcela Bovio (Mayan, Ex-Stream Of Pasion), Jonas Renske (Katatonia, Ex-Bloodbath), Joost van den Broek (Ex-After Forever, Ayreon live), en Jens Bogren (Opeth, Haken) meegedaan aan de plaat. Bekende muzikanten staat natuurlijk niet garant voor een goede plaat, toch bleek ‘Era’ een dijk van een album te zijn! Het leek mij dan ook niet minder dan logisch om de band eens aan de tand te voelen over de EP en de interessante gastmuzikanten, gitarist en liedjesschrijver Jens De Vos nam wat tijd om mijn vragen te beantwoorden.

Door: Leon | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

Congratulations with the release of ‘Era’, it’s a great piece of work and I’m sure a lot of work has gone into it. How did you come to the decision to do an EP rather than another full-length album?
The four songs on the EP just really belong together story wise. It felt right to release them on their own. We don’t necessarily want to release album after album. It’s really satisfying to get sidetracked in all kinds of other projects like this EP. OR we just didn’t have the money to record a full album. Who knows!

Obviously you did as much as you could to get the best out of the album, including a number of guest artists (like Jonas Renkse and Marcela Bovio), a great keyboard player (Joost van den Broek), and the renowned mastering wizard Jens Bogren. How did you go about asking them?
During the writing of the songs I always have crazy ideas. That includes things like: ‘a Jonas Renkse vocal line would sound amazing on this part’. So we just went for it. We never expected them to say yes. I was totally blown away by the lines the guest vocalists provided us with. It felt completely surreal and I’m so proud of it. The Organ is a fundamental part of the Off The Cross sound which in the past was recorded digitally. As we wanted to raise the bar on this, we asked Joost van den Broek to work his magic. Besides ripping it up on the Hammond organ Joost also recorded some beautiful piano parts on the grand piano. Jens Bogren also mastered our debut album and did an amazing job. So it was a no-brainer we had to ask him again. This guy worked on 90% of my favorite albums in the world. Always an honor to have him work on my songs.

And you also thought it was a nice touch to add a 35-headed choir, cello, saxophone, and percussion. How did you decide that all of this was needed for the EP?
Again with the crazy ideas. We just discussed every option we had during the writing of the songs and made it come to life instead of going all digital and use midi instruments. We wanted a big and natural sound and are really stoked with the end result. I couldn’t count the amount of times I had goosebumps during these recordings. Writing lyrics behind your desk at home and then hearing them being sung by a thirty-five headed choir in a huge church is one of the strangest feelings I’ve ever had.

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’Era’ is a conceptual EP, taking you through four chapters in a defining era in one’s life, from self-destruction to the search for salvation. Can you tell us how you came up with this concept?
Coming up with the concept wasn’t too difficult since it’s very personal. The four songs describe four chapters in a dark period (an era you could say) I went through:

- ‘The Goddess’ deals with destruction and all things collapsing at the same time.
- ‘The Silence’ is the black hole you’re left in, the losing of purpose and the motivation to continue in life.
- ‘The Mist’ deals with doubts and looking back. The evaluation of decisions made.
- ‘The Saviour’ is about the endless pursuit of happiness. The search for salvation.

Even though your last full-length album ‘Divided Kingdom’ was already pretty good, I feel that musically you have made huge steps with ‘Era’. It feels like a very well-balanced album, with many influences, while keeping your own sound. How do you feel about the difference between the two works?
As a songwriter I’m still learning every day. I learned so much during the making of our debut album and again during the making of this EP. It feels like a very natural evolution and I just can’t wait to hear how the next record is going to sound after the great experiences we had this time.

Is ‘Era’ a sign to what your next full-length album is going to be like? If so, who would like to have as guest vocalists?
This is EP is kind of a concept thing on its own. The next full-length will be more based on the actual band I think. It’s always cool to have some guests - but probably not on every song. Who knows! It’s so hard to choose but the first that come to mind are Maynard James Keenan, Sia and Mikael Åkerfeldt. Singers with unique and characteristic voices. If I could suddenly raise the dead, you can add Chris Cornell, Freddie Mercury and Layne Staley.

You did a video for ‘The Goddess’, which looks awesome and very professional, how did you come to the decision to create this video?
Fire is so beautiful but also so destructive. That just fitted that song perfectly. Shooting the video was an amazing experience. It was so incredibly hot in there our drummer almost died. And fire and metal is just a perfect match, isn’t it?

What’s next in your agenda? Can we expect any gigs here in the Netherlands?
First we’re finishing 2018 with some cool stuff like supporting our friends Diablo Blvd. at their farewell show in AB, Brussels and supporting For I Am King at their album release show in Melkweg, Amsterdam. We have some killer shows planned for 2019 but we can’t give away anything yet!

There is something I ask to everyone I interview. The music industry has drastically changed in the last years. More and more people switch to streaming services, such as Spotify or Deezer, but because most of those people aren't buying albums anymore it means that artists are financially impacted. On the other hand it makes the artist's music more accessible to people worldwide, which can lead to more fans. What is your take on all of this?
I can imagine if you’re an artist that has been around for twenty years it’s hard to deal with these kind of things. Because you feel as something has been taken away. For me, I’ve never known anything else then how it is now. We play music for the love of playing music and hope to grow in doing so. Financially we’d be more than happy if this thing can be self-sustaining. Who needs a big house and a pool if you can see the world and play music every day.

Thank you so much for taking some time to answer my questions, anything you’d like to say to our readers?
Thank you! I love that e-zines like this keep metal alive. Hope to see you at a show soon!

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