Interview with Trial: ‘Quality Will Stand The Measure Of Time’

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Set up in 1991 by Torsten Schröder (vocals, drums) and Erick Miotke (keyboards), Trial gained instant success in the early 90s with their EP “Blut Und Eisen” and the debut album “Zero Feeling”. The icy EBM/Dark-Electro sound of the German formation became part of the collective EBM memory. A few more albums saw the daylight, but never reached a similar success. The band however remained a true reference even thirty years later. Electro Aggression Records recently released a massive box featuring three CD’s and one DVD as a celebration to Trial’s thirtieth anniversary. “Für Zwei” is a way to rediscover this unique formation, which also had a great live reputation. I got in touch with Erick Miotke and asked him several questions about the great TRIAL adventure, but also about the future…

(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)

Q: You this year celebrate your thirtieth anniversary by the massive release “Für Zwei” featuring 3 CD’s and 1 DVD. This production doesn’t only feel as an anniversary tribute, but still a consecration! What does it mean to you and how did this production saw the daylight?

Erick: Wow, ‘consecration’ is a great word! Thank you very much. For me it is the last chapter of the Trial project. There were too much loose ends I didn’t want to leave behind like they weren’t worth to be tied up.

The first of the three CDs: “Für Zwei” connects the work of the last phase of the band and a solid conclusion to the project. In 2009 we finished the EP “Für Zwei” with four mixes of the title track and a bonus track for a release that unfortunately didn‘t take place anymore.

For the 20th anniversary in 2011 I wanted to release the best-of “Classic Anthology”, which was specially remastered in 2009 at Timetools mastering as a double CD with a collection of all unreleased tracks as well as various contributions to samplers. But like the planned appearance at the Amphi-Festival in 2011, this was rejected by Torsten. Under these circumstances, of course, it made no sense for me to show any further commitment to the project.

With Jens Müller, the follow-up project TRILOGY started in 2012, which can be seen as a direct continuation, both musically and lyrically, I am the author of the very most Trial back-catalogue that has been published up to then.

I looked through all the data from Trial in my archive in 2018 and stumbled upon the preselection of “Für Zwei”. Since over the years I was asked again and again about possible new material or even live shows, I made an overview of all available material for quite some time and derived an extract from it. When the tracks were fixed, I tweaked the ones that had already been completed. The actually time-consuming work then consisted of working out the selected basic demos or improvisations into finished tracks or remixes. These were at least 10 in number, so an album in itself in terms of effort.

The process took months and was associated with many mixed feelings; ups and downs. I couldn‘t always go straight to the tracks. And I was always impressed by the potential of this band -and of course frustrated by the sudden end. Since I don‘t like to give up, of course I went through with it. Because it‘s important to me that Trial ends with a straight standing and doesn‘t just sneak out the back door. A little later, if you like, as you can see now.

Under the given circumstances, I am very satisfied with the result: “Für Zwei” is not just ‘rests’ and offers those interested a full new Trial experience. At this point, it is very important for me to mention our mastering studio Timetools from Hanover with ‘our’ engineer Mo Heidrich, because only there the final full sound is created, which only professionals of this league can forge from the existing material.

I see mastering as an elementary component such as sound design, composition or vocals. So I am very happy with the result and can finally finish with TRIAL in its old form. A lot of shadows and a lot of pain fell from me when I was able to celebrate the final master loudly. Very good. We never give up.

Q: Let’s get back to the origins of the band. How do you look back at the first steps of Trial and how important has been the meeting with Kai Lotze?

Erick: Characterized by Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly and Front 242 ‘sang’, or rather Torsten roared a few improvised lines after a rehearsal of our than actual band The Crybabies with Gunnar Duvenhorst, completely free on my first demo-track. inspired by the vocals of Skinny Puppy and Panthera. Gunnar heard this and said ironically before leaving the practice room after the rehearsal: ‘hard as kruppstahl, or what!?’ For me it was about the fight of the machines against humans; fiction, as thematically edited in some of the films that were current at the time and are to this day.

Torsten and I recorded this track in the session room of the Garbsen music school with my Philips d8134 ghettoblaster. This device recorded an astonishingly good sound. At the time my equipment consisted of an Ensoniq Esq1 and a Roland Boss dr-22a drum computer. Torsten used an Alesis effect rack for the reverb on the voice. So we started absolutely free and as young fans of Dark-Electronic music.

We had our first gig only 6 weeks after starting off.  Immediately after the first gig in the Ujz Langenhagen, Hanover, we were approached by Kai Lotze, who at the time was freshly active as a manager building up Project Pitchfork and its first album. After a short talk and mutual sympathy, we sealed a collaboration for TRIAL that lasted until 2011 with a handshake.

Q: Trial became an instant success; you got directly signed to Hypnobeat; the EP “Blut Und Eisen” and the album “Zero Feeling” became successful productions. What made the success formula of TRIAL and did you handle specific criteria and references in the writing/production of your music?

Erick:I don’t think there was a formula for the success, more a true compassion to what we did. We were young and had a pure and basic feeling to what we did. Probably naive, if I think of what my father always said to our efforts. In his eyes I was crazy. Wasting my time in some music project. Studying was the only ‘religion’ he believed in. He was probably right, of course, but I could solve this problem by finishing my diploma in graphic-design with an outstanding degree.

I believe in true compassion. I like to quote my first band of fandom: Kiss: ‘we are nothing without our fans’. We had the luck to be worshipped by loads of people from the beginning. So as I said, as naive youngsters you believe in your own impact. And you work on.

We were some kind of crazy and ‘tough’ guys, always on the edge, but straight in delivering what was necessary in production and live performance. It was no debt, it was an attitude to us. And we lived it. In full broadness.

Torsten is besides the music the only unique ‘formula’ of Trial’s impact. A simply devastating ego in vocal and on-stage performance. Dark, tough and flawless, even in vomiting on stage and still going on. He is a phenomena. Even Klaus Kinski is a novice in comparison to him in my eyes as a live performer. His and my compassion was always a mix of brotherhood not often to be found. He is the only true ‘Blutsbruder’ I will probably have in my live, cutting our veins, and drinking our blood with southern comfort on ice in 1992 vice versa. Some hit not every band would take. The chemistry was basic and true. No one will be left behind. We lived and delivered this status until early 2011.

The writing and production of all tracks went hand to hand with this attitude. We were brothers, supported us, or kicked us up if necessary. Torsten called me his ‘backbone’, his brother in arms. He always knew, when anybody came to close to him, I would interfere. And I felt the same way. This was a band; a pure team and all people we met could feel it.

Q: How did you manage the early success of the band and how did you see the band evolving from “Zero Feeling” towards “Secret Pain” released in 1994 on Electric Blue?

Erick:I don`t think we ‘managed’ the success. Probably we didn’t even felt it. We had too much to do with our personal lives, not moving into professional music business, but going on in studying in my behalf or getting into working as a barber in Torsten’s life.

The first peak to us was the opportunity in supporting Front Line Assembly in their 1993 German tour. Sadly the tour was shortly cancelled, but left a feeling of thankfulness in us. This was repeated by the possibility to support Front 242 on a short tour in the end of 2010, which couldn`t be affirmed by Torsten. So in my eyes we almost reached our personal peak in credibility as a ‘small’ band. Almost. Anyway, we were at hand.

The evolution was tough for us, keeping up with the ideas we had and true reality. Loads of hard work. But to what price? Believing in what we did was what we did. In some opinion wasting our time, in our view doing what we had to do. Now, almost 20 years later I know what we did: we lived a dream and fulfilled it. This interview shows what I am saying: Some things die, others live on. To a certain extend.

The main difference between “Zero Feeling” and “Secret Pain” is that I used more self-made sounds, besides the great Ensoniq sound library I basically used on the first album.

Q: After “Secret Pain” we’d to wait till 2008 and the self-released album “No Fate”, which didn’t gain that much recognition although revealing an evolution in sound and production. How did it happen you self-released this album and what was your perception/vision upon the scene and music industry at that moment?

Erick:We produced the “No Fate- EP in 1999 with Jan-Heie Erchinger; 9 mixes of the track. In almost all directions possible for the Trial sound in album length. Our music company told us it wouldn´t be commercial enough, and too sophisticated. We should switch our sound to more standard disco-like style. But this was not our opinion of making music. We swallowed this pill and went on.

Supported by a lot of great live-show possibilities we could gain our presence, and worked on the upcoming album against all odds. The concept sadly didn`t work out. What can I say?

We offered a broad and special range of a Trial-credible sound world. In our eyes tight until today. I presume the audience expected the typical sound of the first two albums. We delivered this attitude in 24 tracks with reworks and new material. I didn’t want to push us into the regions oF front 242, but they experienced the same problems with their album in 2003. The audience didn’t want something ‘new’, but asked for pure trademark style. That is why Front 242 and Kraftwerk are touring with their classic hits, masterfully optimized of course. So there is not much space to work on. Trial is in a different league of course, please don`t get me wrong or high-minded. Anyway, we always remained true to our roots, as to be seen in the “Für Zwei” 4-CD box.

Q: The fans never forgot Trial and you were still invited to play live and even at famous festivals. What made you going on without releasing new material and what keep you in mind from the past years?

Erick:As I said, we always went on. There is a strict continuity in the way of Trial. But without bowing to influences in the scene. This is, was and always will be unique. In our eyes it’s the only way to survive in long terms in the music scene. We always were thankful to be booked, and delivered what was expected from us. Our thankfulness to all those who appreciated us is never forgotten. We always delivered new material. Sadly there was no label who wanted our work in the way we thought was fair. It surely can`t be the failure of our management Protain by Kai Lotze, who supported us all the way round. Anyway. No one wanted us, so we had to release “No Fate” on our own behalf. As we can see, they were right. Only a small and committed fan-base wanted the product. That is as it is. But we made it.

Q: I can imagine a lot of things have changed/evolved in music industry since the set up of the band; think about technology & equipment, social media, streaming platforms etc. What are the pros and cons of this evolution and what did you hold on from the early Trial in your music today?

Erick:Well, there are loads of possibilities to bring ‘your’ sound to the people via the new platforms. Right. But, there’re too much mediocre acts, or to be honest, loads of crap are floating all channels. 30 years ago you had to overcome obstacles that are no problem anymore in these days. At first, almost everyone can blast out his stuff all the way. But is it worth it? I don`t think so, but it’s ok to me. On the other hand I see the great acts from about the end of the 80´s and the beginning 90’s, which are still dominating the scene. You ask me why? Because they learned it the hard way, had hostile machines to conquer, and had to bleed for their live performance. It is my personal opinion, but I would stand any discussion on this behalf. For sure.

It’s a new world, and is the way it is. This doesn’t has to be wrong. Quality will stand the measure of time. I am quite pleased, that Trial survived until today, just like all the other memorable acts. Credibility can’t be faked in long time measures, as I suppose. Time moves on, and we will see, when Trial might dissolve into meaningless standards. Time will tell.

Besides this I love the possibilities of making music, videos and spreading the results to loads of people. The feeling of exclusiveness in comparison to past days is a lack, of course. Today you have almost anything at hand with sounds, but the true spirit is a feeling and the true reproduction of it. We have too much messy stuff floating the music scene by the simple possibility of just clipping loops without charisma in it. This doesn’t make it easier for guys like me. So I remain in the ‘independent’ poor area of the music scene.

Q: So the sad news is that Torsten Schröder left Trial while the good news is that you’ve found a new singer (Jens Müller) to move on as Trilogy, right? How did Trilogy saw the daylight?  

Erick: Sadly Trial might be out with this release. Torsten shows no interest in this release and all of my personal uploads before the finalization of this box to him. He said he is finished with this chapter of his life. So let’s be thankful for what he delivered in some pure and unique style and walk on. His ‘secret pain’ with Trial came to an end. So does mine, as disappointing as it may be.

Trilogy picks up where Trial ended. In marketing ways it was a mistake to re-name the project, but I think it is the only fair way to cope with this situation.

Jens delivers the same credible energy as Torsten, but with a more pure and energetic way. Torsten’s demon-style is changed into a kind of athletic-energetic performance. Still dark, but not as self-destructing as before. Toughness may be relative, but it is a tight approach to the project and delivers live what the Trial legacy needs to live on in my eyes. It’s no substitute to Torsten, it’s an evolution. Torsten’s performance remains, also for Jens, who admires his unique style as a fan for more than two decades. As can be seen on the live DVD of the “Für Zwei” live DVD in the “Blut Und Eisen”-track.

Q: Trilogy is active for a few years now and has already released multiple EP’s and even a live album. I get the feeling the band didn’t get that much attention so far so tell us a bit more about the ‘young’ career of the band? What are the main differences in sound and approach with Trial?

Erick:Yes, that’s correct, Trilogy doesn’t catch up with the status of TRIAL until now. We acknowledge this, but won’t back down until we deliver the album “Forced Perspective”. But we may not forget that Trial is and remains as a special band in the shadows of independent music. So is Trilogy. We can only deliver highly inspired tracks. No more. No less. As I ever did.

The quality of production is higher than ever before. The spirit remains all the way. It might be the same phenomena as in times when “Secret Pain” was released. At the time of the release it wasn’t worshipped as it may be today. Time will tell and we’ll see, how the Trilogy debut album will be accepted. Too good, that Jens and I do it for the album in itself and don’t have to make a living from it. We try harder, anyway … 

Q: What brings the future?

Erick: As I said before, “Forced Perspective” will be released in 2022 via Nader`s Electro Aggresion Records as a double CD with 17 tracks and 17 remixes on disc two by great bands around the scene. This will show where we stand. And not fall. For sure.

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Inferno Sound Diaries

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