Apoptygma Berzerk - Maybe I actually scare away a lot of people as well
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As a long time pioneer on the Electronic scene, Apoptygma Berzerk's mastermind Stephan Groth has always had fans primed to dance and sing along, but with Apop's latest release "Rocket Science", Groth is out to open eyes as well as move bodies, and the words his audience echo back ring with a deeper, more ominous tone. Already a controversial figure for the shifts in Apop's style he's made throughout the years, Groth has now added more reasons for people to talk with an album steeped in conspiracy theories, reactionary political and social commentary, and even biblically influenced visions of a not-so-bright future. The day after APB's Austin SXSW appearance this past March, the outspoken Groth sat down in Dallas for an in-depth interview with Margie Jessica Patton, offering his opinions on the music business, greed, sin, government control, God, and even the end of the world itself. (By Margie Jessica Patton)
SL: So how did South By Southwest go last night?
STP: It was fun. It was extremely stressful. We played this showcase with seven other bands. We all shared the same stage. We could only play 40 minutes each. Austin was just a mess. There were people everywhere in the streets. It was impossible to get a parking space there. It was impossible to get our stuff loaded into the club. So everything just took forever and on top of that we could only do a 40 minute show. But a lot of people were there. It was full so it was definitely worth it. Am I ever going to do it again, I'm not sure, but it was good. I'm glad that we did it. Of course yesterday probably 200 bands played, so I'm not really sure all the bands got all the attention they deserved, but hopefully somebody picked it up down there, and at least we've been in the press. Because of playing the SXSW festival you end up on posters and flyers and mentioned on radio shows. A lot of exposure that we wouldn't have had if we didn't go there. So I'm hoping someone's going to pick it up and something's going to happen.
SL: You deserve all the success, and the world needs you because you are different. You make people think, and that's very special and very rare.
STP: Yeah, I'm trying to do my job. It's definitely been going in the right direction the last year. Ever since we did the tour in September a lot of stuff has happened, especially online. I can tell from the messages we receive on MySpace and Facebook and personal E-mails that I get...of course a lot of people are telling me that they like the music, and that's great, I'm very happy for that. But also more and more E-mails are coming in from people who are interested in the deeper stuff. Both religious stuff and the whole conspiracy thing.
People are asking my opinions about things. I have people who are already familiar with all the conspiracy stuff who are asking me questions and also tons of people who have no clue. But they may do some Google searches and check stuff out after listening to the album or reading interviews that I've done and they've come back to me like, "wow, this is crazy!" So that's good and that's what makes it all worthwhile. It's not as many people as I would like it to be of course, but it's definitely more people than before the September tour, meaning that the September tour was mission accomplished.
SL: "Rocket Science" motivates people to think. So is it about people processing the information then using it in their own lives?
STP: Yeah, for those that are interested in that. Because most people aren't interested. And a lot of people are scared. They enjoy being in their own little world, their own comfort zone, doing their thing and living the pleasant life. Maybe I actually scare away a lot of people as well who are just not up for it. So I guess it goes both ways.
SL: We had a discussion about greed, and you had an interesting perspective that people are greedy because they're afraid, and they're trying to fill that empty space inside, and those in power are using that greed to manipulate us. So could you talk some more about that?
STP: Yeah, the whole greed part. I experience so much greed in the music industry. Not only with other musicians but also record companies, people in the business. Just "what can we get", the grabbing hands like Depeche Mode sings about.
SL: And it seems these days, nobody cares about the long term, the big picture, for an artist. Every artist has to produce right away and they won't invest in the long term.
STP: And that's a huge problem. Because that's not the way you build careers. And it's all about having that one hit single. This whole "quick fix" thing that is so annoying because it has nothing to do with art, it has nothing to do with anything that is worthwhile or has any substance at all. It's just taking advantage of this quick fix thing. So they're doing to the music industry what McDonald's is doing to the restaurant industry. Fill me up and that's it and I don't have to pay much for it. And if it was like 50/50 I could live with it, but when they are so obviously squeezing all their competitors out of the market... Like now, for most bands, at least in Europe, most bands can't live from making music. Of course there always going to be big acts who have their income from selling records and publishing, touring, selling merchandise, but most bands mid-size and down, they can't live from this anymore. So if you're a three, four, five piece band and you have to share the income the band can generate, then you have to live in the street. And when I look at it from the conspiracy angle...
The thing is when you're an artist, and you don't have a regular day job, one side effect of it is that you have way too much time to think. And even people who are not that... I mean I'm not looking at myself as an intellectual in any way, but when I have so much time on my hands where I can deal with art and really think about what's going on in my head and my heart and about what's going on in the world, that makes me go really deep into these things, and I come up with some quite alternative results now and then. Over the years, think what happened in the '60's with Bob Dylan and those guys. They changed the world through their lyrics and music. And that's what artists are here for. If it's through movies or paintings or music or lyrics or whatever it is. I think the establishment, the whole New World Order and whoever is behind the scenes running the world, I think they're afraid of artists because we have way too much time on our hands to deal with all these things. Music has always been my main interest and my main hobby and it's also been my main source of income.
It's been my job and hobby at the same time. And then I got myself this other hobby which is the whole conspiracy stuff and religion, especially Christianity, and Bible prophecy, and I started to integrate this into music. It was my job, so I spent my whole working day on it, then when my working day was over and I had my spare time, I continued to deal with it. So it's a lot of hours being put into this. And I think if other bands had the same amount of time to study up on these things... I think they have ruined this business because they want people to have their day jobs so they can't be doing artistic stuff full time. It probably sounds a bit paranoid and I haven't been going much into the details, but it makes total sense, and it also goes along with how they fill our heads with crap. You see whatever is in the charts always and has been for years, which is that quick fix thing which has nothing to it.
SL: It's like economics is the new method of control. It used to be with totalitarian governments if there was an artist you just take them out...
STP: They're still taking us out, they're just not killing us. They just make it impossible to make a living. So you have to have a day job so you can survive, so you can only be an artist part-time.
SL: Or the pressure is on to make something disposable.
STP: Yeah, make something that they like or else you go out of the business. Because there's no demand for anything that has any value.
That's why I'm so extremely happy when a band like Muse is having the success that they have now. And it looks like it's going good for them in America as well because they're way bigger in Europe than they are in the U.S. So seeing that a band like Muse who has great lyrics, great melodies, great musicians and concepts, great everything - when someone like that climbs the charts that makes me really, really happy and makes me say, "OK, maybe it's not that bad after all." But there's not that many of those bands.
SL: But, if you take the conspiracy theory level higher, though, why are they successful?
STP: That's the next step. It could be that they're having that success because some of the information that they're putting out is what the New World Order wants us to know about. That's one take on it. Another take on it, that I'd rather think, is that it's just too good to be ignored. You just can't hold it back because it's so great.
I really, really enjoy them. It's amazing. Also on their last album especially, with all the 1984 things going on. When I heard the new album and I read some interviews with Matt Bellamy and he was talking constantly about the whole Orwell thing. I was thinking, "OK, welcome to the club!" It was very nice. It made me feel like, "OK, I've been on to something here and maybe everything I do isn't that wrong after all!"
SL: We covered greed, so I thought we'd go through all the seven deadly sins, and not only the seven deadly sins as sins, moral liabilities, but the same thing, how they can be used to control us.
STP: Anger... I was never an angry person. I've felt anger and I know how anger can take control of you. How it can totally make you blind.
I can relate to most of the other ones [laughs], but...
SL: Well, that's why I believe in you, because you're not angry. People like Alex Jones... I don't like people screaming at me.
STP: Most of us don't like that!
SL: But that's his thing. I can understand his mission, but I don't like his delivery. Sometimes on his show he'll actually be shouting down people who agree with him! He'll just want to step over them, and I guess that goes to pride, egomania, that it's all about him. And this guy Daniel Estulin, the one who wrote the Bilderberg book...
STP: Yeah, I don't know him.
SL: I'd be interested in it, but I'd never read his book because he's such a dick. He acts very condescending and insulting, like a big shot, "well, I've sold 2 1/2 million books..." And I'm thinking to myself, aren't you acting just like the people you're criticizing?
STP: Exactly. You have to put your message out there... or at least what I choose to do, do it in a humble way and in a loving way. The whole yelling thing and the anger thing. I feel that that's what they want you to do.
SL: And anger is so prevalent in the world in general, in all the little parties and sub-parties. The left wing and the right wing and the teabaggers...
STP: And that's how they play us. They play us against each other and it's been like that forever. Fear and anger go hand in hand. If you're afraid of the unknown or other people's skin colour or religion or whatever. You get this anger tension going on, and that's also a form of control. You have two groups fighting - one here and one here - they're occupied doing that, and they don't see what you're doing over here!
SL: So gluttony...
STP: That's almost the same as greed, isn't it?
SL: I'd say gluttony is not only hedonism, but also consumerism.
STP: Well, we're in America right now!
SL: Another method of control, like after 9/11 Bush was saying, "keep shopping", "keep spending"...
STP: That's back to the whole quick fix thing we talked about. People, they're not happy and they think, "OK, I feel sad now so I'm going to go out and eat way too much to make myself feel good right then." Or they go out and shop. The quick fix of just buying stuff. It's all connected. I was in Africa about 12, 13 years ago working on a project there. We went to Tanzania, on the east coast of Africa, to help out some musicians down there to start an organization that dealt with copyright issues. The problem was that all the bands had a band owner.
In the western world, a band would have a manager, they had a band owner. So say I was the keyboard player and I wrote a song, the song would automatically belong to the band owner. And that was whatever Tanzanian tradition that they had. So we went down there to explain to them that that's not exactly how copyright laws work! So we helped them to set up an organization so that when they wrote the songs, the songs actually belonged to them. And the band owner or the radio station or whoever used the songs had to pay them. So anyway that was really cool. But going to Africa I saw the conditions that they lived under. I was out visiting some families who lived in the worst area in Tanzania, out in the slum. It was ridiculous. I've never seen anything like it. Like three families living in a little hut. No electricity of course, no nothing. And one thing that struck me a hundred times every day was that everybody was smiling. They lived under the craziest conditions, all the kids were sick all the time, died all the time...
That's why they have so many kids because they're calculating that "x" amount, a certain percentage are going to die. There's no welfare stuff down there so they have to have many children to take care of them when they get older. So they lived under the most horrible conditions, but everybody was happy and smiling. And when I came down there I was a little bit afraid that because of my skin colour, they would hate me for some reason. I was afraid down there until I found out that I was totally accepted. And when I went down there and I saw what the white man has done to that continent, I got back to Norway and I was almost turning racist the other way around! I was mad at the white man when I arrived at the airport in Oslo! I'll never forget it.
It took me days to get back to normal. It totally changed my life. I cut down on everything. I started to be way more smart with money. I tried to buy just the amount of food I needed. I tried not to buy too much and not buy stuff that I didn't really need. For a long time, and even today when we're out on the road all the time, we see big, huge expensive cars every day. Every time I see expensive cars I know they're able to drive that car because somebody down there is not. All the wealth is in the Western world. We're extremely greedy and we over-consume.
SL: And it's not just one expensive car, why do they have to have 5 or 10 or 15?
STP: I think everybody should have as many cars as they want if that's what they choose to spend their money on. But it's important to think about other people, and if you buy that extra car or buy that extra thing that you don't really need, keep in mind that most of the people on this planet don't have those options, and maybe that will change something. It changed me, and it made me realize that money is never going to buy you happiness. All the people I met in Africa who, to our standards, were broke, were totally happy. They love their children, they love their families, they were living good lives. I'm not trying to glorify the whole poverty situation, but they have so many things that we don't have because it's so much more important to us to have that extra car than to take care of your family.
SL: And envy, I know people are envious of you because you're successful, talented, creative, and smart. And envy is not only that you're jealous of their success, but you also want to take that away from someone.
STP: Yeah, that's another story. If I want something that's totally fine, but if it's to the point where I don't want you to be successful, then it's not very healthy at all!
SL: So why do you think people are like that?
STP: I don't know. I have those feelings myself. Being in the music industry, you're constantly competing with other bands. I feel it now and then. When I see other bands are having success maybe in a territory where I'm not having success, I feel this feeling like, "F..., I wish that were me."
SL: Is it because those bands suck?
STP: No, it's because I want it and they have it! And I constantly have to stop myself there and look myself in the mirror and say, "is that the kind of person you want to be?" and then I let go of it, and I realize how stupid and self-centered that is, and how carrying those feelings will make me into a crappy person. So I deliberately remove those thoughts. So I'm not like that anymore but I have been like that over the years. I've gotten better and better at dealing with it. One way to deal with it, a few times I actually called those people up and congratulated them and in an instant that [envy] was gone. I didn't feel that "oh I want it!" So that worked for me, I don't know if it would work for everybody. But that's something I've been looking very much into because the envy thing, it's not going to do you anything good and it's going to totally tear you apart.
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SL: Pride, there's good pride and bad pride. Good pride is if you've had success and you're proud of that, but I guess bad pride is when you think that only what you do matters and only your opinion matters? And I guess that goes along with egomania, and a lot of people accuse you of being an egomaniac, so I guess that goes back to envy!
STP: Yeah, this is all tangled up. It's all connected.
SL: I think people misinterpret lust as just sexual desire, but it might be more, what it really means, maybe dehumanizing people, objectifying them?
STP: Yeah, and it probably goes along with greed as well. Isn't that almost the same? Isn't lust kind of a mix of gluttony and greed?
SL: I guess maybe greed is things and lust is people? And you're treating people like property?
STP: That makes sense. And that's what the government wants you to do.
That's what we've been brainwashed into doing. And of course when you learn in school that we're nothing but a chemical reaction happening billions of years ago that turns into whatever dirt, cell, and we slowly evolved into what we are today, meaning that we're nothing but dirt... the whole Evolution thing is closely tied into this stuff. If there's no God behind all this, if there's no creator, if there's not a God who loves you, then what are we worth? If we're just a biologic accident that happened. If you and I are nothing more than an accident, why should you care about other people? Then it's survival of the fittest and some races are superior to others and Hitler was right. So why should you care? Why shouldn't I get whatever I want and live a happy life and not give a shit about anybody else.
SL: That is where we do disagree. Because I do believe in Evolution, but Evolution as a tool of God's design. Because you say we're just dirt...
STP: Well, we are actually! Also from the Biblical view.
SL: But if you look into science, we're also made of the same stuff stars are, and that's pretty incredible.
STP: Yeah. So should we go deeper into the whole Evolution thing?
SL: Well, let's not get into an argument.
STP: [Laughs] OK, we won't get into an argument.
SL: Well, I guess you could say the answer to all of these [the seven deadly sins] is love?
STP: Absolutely. And in my...call it a religion or whatever you want to... God is love and God is the answer to all this because God is love.
SL: Probably the most famous sample you've ever used is, "What do you fear the most? The possibility that love is not enough." So in a real, practical day-to-day sense, is love enough?
STP: I believe it is. But when I first watched "Twin Peaks" and I heard that sample I freaked out, because it's actually saying the possibility that there's no God, that we're totally alone here. The whole "Welcome To Earth" album is ten songs about "are we alone here?"
And that goes both for the spiritual world and other planets, aliens and all. But later on in my life I discovered this is the same thing, the whole alien thing is a spiritual thing. It took me some years to figure that out.
SL: Another big "love" title for you is "Love Never Dies". So do you think that human relationships can exist in the afterlife? Especially if you believe in one thing and the person you love believes in another, what happens to that relationship afterward?
STP: I have no idea. I would hope that when I die I'm going to meet all my loved ones, but there's no guarantee. And this is one of the things that I really haven't studied that much up on because I'm actually a little bit afraid of what I'm going to find out.
SL: Don't you think that would be cruel of God, though, to separate people?
STP: It depends, because we don't know what the afterlife is about. I guess in the afterlife there's going to be no man/woman scenario.
SL: I guess that would mean you've transcended those emotions to a purer spiritual plane?
STP: I just think that for the next life everything is going to be so much different. We're going to laugh and look back and just be "what were we doing? We were so limited, our brain capacities were so small.
We were so stupid. We didn't have a clue." I think it's going to be amazing. And from what you read in The Bible where it says that Jesus left after he resurrected to go to Heaven and prepare the next life, the next level, for His followers. So if you take The Bible literally and look at the world and how beautiful and how fantastic it is...
He's been in another dimension, wherever Heaven is, spending 2,000 years on the next thing. It's going to be fantastic! And I'm actually really looking forward to it without being suicidal or anything!
SL: Well, no pun intended, but to play Devil's advocate on that note, wouldn't that mean He got it wrong the first time?
STP: No, He didn't get anything wrong. It says that God looked at the world and everything was good. So it was all good for maybe a few hundred years. I don't quite know when evil entered in, when the Devil introduced all this stuff to Adam and Eve. That's when everything went down the drain and the whole creation started to go in the wrong direction. That's when death entered the world, when sickness, when all the other negative stuff we were talking about, when that entered.
Before that, everything was good. So that's what's going to be restored.
SL: Well, another famous song title - "Until The End Of The World" - so I guess you believe that the end of the world will come. Is it going to come soon? And what is it going to be like?
STP: Coming soon to a city near you! I don't know... that's another thing that's very unpleasant to think about, but I'm sure that it's coming up shortly. Like it says in the Bible for 2,000 years people have been talking about it, and we're not supposed to know the day or the hour, but I'm sure that we're getting there.
SL: My problem is that sometimes prophecy becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. Like fanatical Muslims and Christians believe in something so much that they're subconsciously acting to make it happen, and that is extremely dangerous.
STP: Absolutely. And that's another control thing. Bible prophecy has also been used to keep us under control. So I totally agree with you.
SL: And also doesn't prophecy run counter to free will? If it's prophesied that it's going to happen, then you don't have the power to change it?
STP: In a way, yes, but I don't know. I don't have the answers for that, but I know the kind of problems you're talking about. The thing is that... the whole prophecy stuff... God is outside of time. He's looking in from the outside. He sees everything. Like if you have a tunnel going through a mountain and you have cars going in on one side and coming out on the other side. Say that mountain was made of glass.
If you were on top of it looking down you could see the beginning and the end, all that's going on at the same time. The cars going into the tunnel can only see what's going on right there, the cars going out of the tunnel will only see what's going on there. God is above that.
He's not attached to time like we are. He's not a slave to time like we are. He's having a full view over it all. So that way he can see the beginning and the end and everything that's going on inbetween all at the same time. Something we can't. So I know exactly what you mean but I don't have an answer for you. But you have to admit that there is a lot of stuff that has been written in...let's say Nostradamus also made a few quite impressive prophecies over the years, but still though, even the Nostradamus experts admit that most of it just doesn't work and you have to translate it very "out there" to make it fit. While the Biblical prophecies are very, very straight. They even mention names and places that are very, very...it's not like...there's no "fluffy talk." The only thing regarding the end times where it does say in The Bible about what day or what time it is...it's giving a lot of signs, these things have to happen...and the one very important sign that is talked about being the start of the end times is the rebirth of Israel or that the Jews finally get their country back, and that happened in 1948. So 1948, as far as I understand it, is when the end time started. So we're living in the end times now. And I also know that people also said this 500 years ago so of course I could be wrong so I don't know. I'm not an expert on this, but for people who are interested there are some extremely good documentaries on the topics we're talking about now. There's a guy called Chuck Missler who is amazing. Google Chuck Missler on Google movies or YouTube or whatever.
SL: I don't see you as a spokesperson for Christianity or whatnot, but what about the Christian point of view that Christianity is the only way to salvation? If God made the world so diverse, so beautiful, with different languages and different cultures, why would He only make one way to worship Him? Why can't there be different paths to the same goal?
STP: I would love it to be so. And it's one of the things that gets on my nerves the most, and I don't have a good answer for you. But that's what the Bible teaches. And you have all these...whatever...new school Christians... I don't know about America, but in Norway there's so much fluffy Christianity where everything's OK and blah, blah, blah...there's no backbone left...there's no...it's really terrible.
But it is like you just said. It says that "I am the truth and the way" and the only way to The Father is through Him. And I'm very sorry that it is like that but that's what The Bible says. I wish it was different...
SL: But isn't that egomania? If you think that "my way is the only way." I can understand that my way is the right way for me, but how can you make that judgement on someone else? How can you tell somebody who's never heard of Jesus before...
STP: I don't know... well, for those people who have not heard about Him there are other rules that apply to that. But for people who have heard Him... I don't know, I'm sorry, but I don't have a really good explanation for it. But I would say like in my house...say if God created the world... I have my house in Norway where I live...everybody's who's in my house - God, the world, me, my house - it's my way or you have to leave. If I own this house that I live in and I invite people, they're gonna do what I say and if they start to do stuff that I don't want then I'm gonna throw them out.
SL: Isn't that an asshole God then?
STP: I don't know, am I an asshole if I throw people out of my house if they do what I don't like them to do or if they start to destroy my house or destroy my property...
SL: Well, we're not talking about destroying things, we're just talking about wanting to do something different.
STP: Yeah, but I think He's a very loving God who's actually giving you the option to choose to do His will or not.
SL: So do you think people who don't believe in Christianity are going to Hell? Will they be punished?
STP: If you are searching with an open heart, it says very clearly in The Bible that whoever knocks on the door will be let in. And if God is who He claims to be then He has promised that whoever is knocking at the door is going to be let in. So that's my answer. If you're searching with an open heart then He's going to let you in.
SL: So if you're searching but in the end, you still haven't found, then that's enough?
STP: I think if you're searching...God is obviously not stupid. He created this whole thing. He wants to love us and He wants us all to do the right thing. I have a daughter and I love her so much, the biggest love of my life. I love her, I would die for her in a split second. And I know that God loves us all way more than how much I love my daughter. He wants us to be with Him. He wants us to do the right thing. He's not going to force Himself on us. He's waiting there for us and when we knock on the door we're going to be let in. I'm also told in The Bible that I'm not to judge anybody because only God can see what's in your heart and what's in my heart. So that's why I don't think Christianity is a religion, it's a relationship. A personal relationship to the creator of the universe. I'm a Christian, but a lot of Christians would think that it's a very strange Christianity, and also the other way around. We all have to find our own way. It's a very, very personal thing. But the way... my way, I had to do all this crazy stuff. I had to go through a divorce, I had to go through lots of stuff I don't want to talk about right now in order to get to where I am now. And I know for sure that God has a plan for [our] lives.
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