interview - Alien Hand Syndrome

Vox Empirea is pleased to interview Clemens Engert, the leader of the Austrian band called Alien Hand Syndrome. It's really a pleasure to converse with you and, therefore, to have the opportunity to learn more about the project and the music you create.

Thanx, Maxymox, the pleasure is mine.

We could define your sound as an obscure module mainly gothic/indie-rock adorned by electro/industrial elements: have you some peculiar artists to which you are inspired or you think that your is an inedited music style ?

Of course there are many different kinds of musical styles and artists that influence me, from the Beatles to Nirvana and Marilyn Manson. On “Slumber” there are less electro/industrial elements than on the first album and it has a very dark, calm and warm atmosphere. I think it´s a very, very intimate album. I actually don´t know if I could possibly create anything more intimate than that. So, If you really want to label our music style, you could call it “Existentialist Rock”!

The line-up of Alien Hand Syndrome is rather complex and variable: could you list us the current band's members and their respective roles?

Well, I guess I have two different line-ups: one was for the studio recordings and one is for the live concerts. During the production of “Slumber” I had the opportunity to work with such great musicians as vocalist Marilies Jagsch, who is featured on three tracks, the producer of the album Stefan Deisenberger, who also provided a lot of instrumental stuff, Rene Mühlberger on guitar, Emanuel Rudas on bass, Alex Schuster on drums and Lucy Cotten and Anna Starzinger, both on cello and piano. Anna is the only one, who is also a member of the current live line-up along with the pianist Puneh Ansari, the guitarist Andreas Födinger, the drummer David Halasz, and the bassist Philipp Prückl. Since I´m not particularly the best instrumentalist in the world, I´m really glad to have such talented musicians in my band.

The discography of the project was opened in 2008 by the EP "The Evil and the Lovelorn", the same title contained later as a track into the debut-album of 2011 "The Sincere And The Crpytic". Which sound improvements have you made from that year to nowadays?

Well, I think the sound is much warmer now. That was my main goal actually. To me “Slumber” means to hide somewhere in a safe place where no one can touch or harm you and I wanted the album to sound exactly like this picture that I had in my head. And I think I am getting better and better with composing and arranging the songs. In the beginning I wasn´t really able to write songs, I was just experimenting and trying to create weird stuff, which was also something cool, but now I think I am ready to combine good songwriting with weird, innovative sounds.

Clemens, the music of Alien Hand Syndrome incorporates the conflicts and the intense sensations that resides in your mind: which are the torments that don't give peace to your emotions? Are you therefore the main songwriter or the lyric's creation process is shared with the other band's members ?

First of all: Thanx, that´s a very nice and accurate description of what I´m trying to express through my music! Yes, I write all the lyrics on my own, because the stuff I write about is just so fucking personal that I couldn´t imagine sharing it with anyone else. Sometimes it even seems too personal for myself. I wish there was a little more space between me, my music and my lyrics, but I guess I just can´t work that way it wouldn´t feel right. I think that the music helps me cope with all my demons and has a kind of a self-healing power and therefore I really have to confront myself with my innermost emotions. Before I started this project in 2007, I went through almost every kind of “torment” you could imagine: alcoholism, severe panic attacks, social phobia, depression, borderline disorder…I think I am a happier man today because music somehow became my personal psycho therapy.
The name of the ensemble is explicitly associated with a neurological human pathology known just as the "Alien Hand Syndrome". Would you explain better what is the connection between this dysfunction and your project?

“Alien Hand Syndrome” is a neurological disorder, often a result of a stroke, where a person loses the ability to control one or even both hands. For my project I wanted to use it in a rather psychological context. Everybody knows the feeling that there is something in your mind that you just can´t control. This could be some kind of fear or desire or what Freud would call “Superego” or something like that. The music of “Alien Hand Syndrome” could be seen as an attempt to face and explore those parts of yourself.
You're a self-produced band: in addition to an obvious saving of economic resources, what other benefits you got self-publishing your release?

Well, the biggest benefit is that you have the opportunity to establish a direct connection to the fans. You create the music and publish it however and wherever you want and people all around the world can listen to it. I think that´s a wonderful thing. I just don´t understand why some bands, especially well established, are complaining about not being paid enough for their music. I mean, we´ve spent the last 50 years condemning the whole music industry and talking about how greedy and bad record companies are and how they destroy "real art" and so on, and now we finally got the chance to submit the music directly to fans all around the world without the need of a label and everybody´s complaining again. I don´t get that.
Speaking about the new full-length "Slumber", I would ask you what impressions you want to evoke starting by its sleeve artwork. It's very artistic: the white dressed female figure crouched in a fetal position in the briers, recalls decadent emotions and a deep suffering. In addition, the black & white photographic technique amplifies exponentially these perceptions. Do you agree ?

Yes, I think it´s the perfect illustration of what the album is all about, as I said above: it´s about being in a safe, warm and dark place where nobody can touch or harm you. It´s like hiding away from the world and crawling back into your mother´s womb, where “everything is tired and fine”, as the lyrics go. The fetal position is also a perfect illustration of that idea. I really have to thank ingenious Australian photographer Jessica Tremp for providing this great piece of art.
Now, after analyzing the "visual" aspect of the album, it's time to describe its musicality. You have here the opportunity to present directly to the Vox Empirea's readers the features contained in the tracklist: which are the strength points of this work ?

I think a big strength of the album is its homogeneity. If you listen through it from track 1 to track 12 it makes perfect sense. You really have to sit down and devote yourself to the atmosphere to get the whole idea. I think that especially my songwriting and also my vocal performance have improved compared to the first album. All in all it´s simply more intimate and emotional and the result comes quite close to the ideas I had in my head before we entered the studio.
Do you think that "Slumber" may be defined as a kind of transition towards future sound innovations, or it confirms your intention to remain faithful to your traditional methods of composition ?

Well, actually, I think it´s quite the other way round. I see “Slumber” more or less as a Singer-/Songwriter album, on which I tried to build songs mainly around classical Piano-/String arrangements and not too many futuristic or innovative sounds (maybe with the exception of “Zampano” or “Nihilstic Itching”. I simply challenged myself to write the best songs I could at that stage of my life. But I definitely plan to create something much more innovative and futuristic on my next recording. So be aware, it might get very chaotic and weird!
Which kind of listener will understand fully the significance of your new album?

A 55-year old unmarried alcoholic, drunk enough not to notice the album´s weak points but still capable of catching the emotions.
The supporting tour of "Slumber" took place in September 2013 in Vienna. Are you planning other dates and other locations for this year ?

Yes, we´re currently in contact with a lot of bookers in Austria and the rest of Europe. Hopefully we´ll also get to play in Italy soon. I´ve been on holidays in the Toscana since I was a young boy so that would be really something special. I´ll keep you updated about new dates on www.alien-hand-syndrome.com and www.facebook.com/alienhandsyndrome.
Which is the most ardent desire that Alien Hand Syndrome would like to realize ?

I wanna progress with every recording, every concert, every tour. Not just one step at a time but two or three steps until I reach my absolute limit. Then I´ll retire, buy a big nice house somewhere in the South, marry actress Keira Knightley and work as a professional writer until I drown in a giant glass of Gin.
Here's the greetings: Clemens, Vox Empirea thanks you a lot for your will to illustrate the band in its true spirit, giving to the readers the opportunity of taking interesting informations about your project. Before finish this interview, would you say us something special to remember?

Thank you for the opportunity and the nice interview, Maxymox. And please, remember that good old Robert Altman quote: “To play it safe is not to play”

By Maxymox 2013 - photo on presentation page by Joanna Babicka