Interview with Michael Setzer/Sad Sir and Matthias Siffermann/Lusiffer from End of Green
I am not sure what I expected from meeting the dark rock veterans of End Of Green. What I got is a deep insight into their band dynamics that after 25 years of band history is still based on what it was in the very beginning: Friendship and the urge to do music together – for it has always been this way. They exceed the comparison with the term ‘family’ as at times, I was more reminded of an elderly, yet happily married couple.
The atmosphere is easy and talkative. Although perhaps someone forgot to inform the band that we would meet for an interview. No problem. Not even to do the interview in English when our native language would be German. Everything is easy here. So I ask them to open the big box of memories and dig for the weirdest or craziest fan gift they ever received (on tour)? “I think it was a cake made with lots of chocolate and absinth.” – “OMG”, I say laughing out loudly. “Which is funny”, Sad Sir continues, “but it was quite a good cake and the absinth didn’t work out like when you drink it. It was kind of funny smelling. And it was good, actually.” I am not convinced: “The herbal note and the chocolate worked together?”- “Yeah!” And laughing Michael adds: Everything works with chocolate! Everything gets better if you put chocolate on it. And if it’s not chocolate, you put cheese on it!” He points out. “Yeah, cheese and herbs, this is working”, I say. Then Sad Sir explains: “Cheese and chocolate – that’s the two options in life! With chocolate or cheese you make everything better!”
“Well, that’s definitely true. Your story then hints at a close fan-musician-relationship.” – “Yes!” Michael replies. “We didn’t change that much. We didn’t change that much! We have always been that kind of band that while we’re on stage then we’re on stage. And when we’re finished with the stuff on stage we take a break which is pretty boring thing to do.” I laugh. “Then we go to see the people. We talk to people. Yeah, some loose conversations and you get to know people and we have always been that kind of band that would never who wants to be prisoner in our back stage room. It’s boring in the back stage room”, he adds with a determined voice. Will they come to the merch stall? “We do it after every concert. We dry a little after the concert”, Sad Sir confirms. “Of course you need to calm down first”, Matthias says. “Then when we’re not stinky anymore and we go to the merch booth, we sign stuff, take pictures, and talk to people and …” explains the guitarist and the drummer adds: “… drink beer!” – “Yeah, drink and we have a good time with everybody. At least everybody came here to have a good time that’s also why we’re here. So we’re trying to get the best on stage and off stage!”
I imagine it a tricky situation as you have either too many or none people at the merch quite often. Sad Sir laughs again: “Well if there are not enough people to talk to then don’t talk. We all laugh out loudly. And Sad Sir continues: We’re not shy. There are people a bit rowdy and go like “yeaahhhhhhh” yelling at you then you can be even more crazy than they are. You can move them back a little. So that has never been a problem. And if they are shy and you realize they actually want to talk to you, you just look right into their face and then you talk to them. So they have to talk to you. So that’s no problem. It’s like going to a bar. Sometimes you meet someone, wanna talk to someone and sometimes you’re not confident enough to talk to someone. No problem. Really. It’s like we try to keep it fun to everybody. Them and us. And sometimes we have fun talking to other people and we’re challenging them when we see they’re shy. So that’s basically how we are.”
“I noticed that you all have these stage character names. Are there any funny stories behind them?” – “Oh yah. Plenty”, Sad Sir laughs. And Lusiffer adds: “My name is Siffermann, so Lusiffer is quite natural. But in 2005 I was Cardinal Matzinger. You know back then there was the Papst?” He looks at Michael and me questioningly. “The pope!” Michael says. Matthias is apparently not convinced: “The Pope?” – “The Pope!” Michael repeats. And “Yes, the Pope”, I add to the linguistic discussion. “The pope? Ah. The pope”, Matthias continues his story laughing. Michael takes over: “His name was Matze. So we got the Pope Cardinal Ratzinger, and we turned him into Cardinal Matzinger.” We laugh. “So a couple of years later, he quit church.” I understand: “so he could not be the Pope anymore, true.” – “Yeah and he didn’t pay for the church anymore. So he got himself soccer pay TV for the money and that is evil. So he called himself: Lusiffer.” Little later, Michael sums up: “It’s just running jokes between the five of us. … It’s not about being cool. It’s a little bit cooler than Michael Setzer. Matthias Siffermann.” He pronounces their names in a sharp, Prussian accent to underline the neatness of their proper German names – ironically …
It seems that the band dynamics have not changed much over the 25 years of band history. Asking for it the first thing I hear are numerous stories on meeting other bands who pay more or none attention to their image. “No, we’re not making that much money. So we would do it for the money.” And after a break: “We’re basically five idiots who got together to make music ad the main thing is, we wanna write songs, we wanna have fun, playing these songs live, we wanna put out records, and all those things. And if you’re that close together, when you’re on tour, you’re just sitting together, you’re sleeping together in the bus – you gotta make sure you don’t hate each other!” Sad Sir says with half a dozens of breaks laughing out loudly.
But how could that work out for such a long time? And his reply bears my association with an elderly couple: “Well, if it doesn’t work out then we fight and later it works out again. It is like every normal relationship you have with other people. Sometimes you act like an idiot and people tell you, you act like an idiot – normal things a friend does. Yeah, I’d say we’re painfully normal.” He laughs out loud again.
But to me that’s the point, being honest with each other and get things sorted out so that after four weeks fenced in a tour bus they still like each other. And Michael comments, “Yeah, they don’t kill each other.” He speaks of many other bands he has met over the years – mostly on the big festivals some are even back stage in their image mode. EOG got along best with those who were just themselves no matter their popularity. “And the coolest bands we have met, they have no different personality, they were fun guys. It was fun to hang out with them. It was fun to talk with them about music and we’d like to be the same in this band.” Michael and Matthias have fun in commenting them with like “’Ohhh, I am a bass player with the smell of death everywhere.’ No, we’re not like that!” He points out that bands with a long history and even those who might sell a strict stage image might just be normal guys backstage: “They don’t carry swords when they go to breakfast they don’t drink blood. They’re just nice folks.”
Somehow we drift into speaking of writing lyrics and drift into composing. “The main point if it comes to art is that you can express what is in your head in some words or in a picture or in a song. And sometimes you’re just not able to do it. Then you don’t do it. You wait till you might find the right melody or the right words to express yourself.” Michael goes on: “That’s the cool thing about music, if the melody gets you and the vibe of the music gets you, language isn’t important anymore.” A pause. “Maybe the greatest moment in arts is when you manage to bring your thoughts into a song, into verse, and then everything is ok. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen. So it doesn’t have to happen.” And then “… maybe later you’ll be blessed by something. And if not, then not.“
What would be the perfect setting to compose? Michael illustrates that he is not the one taking a guitar while having friends around, trying to show off how much of an artist he was. “Usually the time when music happens is when you’re alone I think. You’re on your own, you’re watching television, you’re playing guitar and you start to come up with something. Like ‘Oh wow.’ And maybe you have a good idea and you play it to the other guys and they go like ‘näääh, bull shit!’ Then your not an artist anymore.” He is laughing. Matthias and me, too. “You get the inspiration when you’re outside but the melody or the chord stages come when you’re alone. …It’s not like I am intending to write a song now. I heard from a lot of people, writers, musicians, they start at 9:00 o’clock in the morning, and they work and for some people it might be the best way to do it. But I can’t do it. If I am not blessed by a muse then I don’t do anything.”
Starting a family has changed many band dynamics but in which way would it affect EOG? Matthias says immediately: “In every!” Michael confirms: “In everything. Two members of the band have kids and obviously everything changes. … I think that probably we are more responsible persons than we were ten years ago. We’re together for such a long time. Each of us had his own problems. So you’re matured and sometimes you’re still a little idiot but our music is always reflecting our lives: what we see, what we’ve gone through, what friends of us have gone through. And that was the main motor for our music. It’s our lives and what happens around us. And he is a father now and that obviously changes everything. It’s like ‘Yeah, he’s a father now!’ And I think it is a good thing if you’re not like you were 20 years ago. Because it would be strange if I’d still behave like a 24 year old stupid boy.” Michael utters his words slowly leaving Matthias and Rainer (Sicones di Hampez) who joined us in the meantime to laugh out loudly on the images his words illustrate in our minds.
The view back into the early band history might come with some funny memories Is there anything embarrassing? – “I think nothing is embarrassing. Even if you did like 20 years ago it might have had a reason.” We’re laughing yet again. “Probably not the best reason, but I think it’s natural if you look at old pictures of yourself, you’re like ‘Ooooooh, I look like an idiot!’ But back then you thought: ‘I am the hottest guy in the world!’ I think that’s normal”, but still a good reason to laugh – obviously we all have plenty of these pictures in mind to laugh heavily on the slightest memory on them. “It’s ok to look at the past and now that looks funny. But we are a little older now so we changed. Hopefully everybody changes a little bit over the years.”
Speaking of those memories raises the question – unspoken though – what would be without. “We’re making music for 25 years now. We have spent more time with the band than without. That would be strange. It’s always been there.”
EOG has become far more than just a band to its members. Is it providing hold in crisis? “Of course there have been many crises”, Michael explains. (22:28) “What better way to feel better than to make music? It is a good luxury, we have that we have the chance to when we feel good, when we feel bad, when we feel angry, just don’t wanna be wherever you are, make music. And still there is the band and still the band provides something that nothing else provides for us because we have the band. That’s great. So it is like some people go boxing or stuff like that and we make music and I think it is better for each one of us to have this one place to go when we’re not feeling that good.”
We speak a bit of the old times and how things have changed from the very first gig until today. There are many changes, naturally and too many stories to be told in one interview or evening. But the bottom line for EOG is the band had time to develop on its own pace. “It was great for us. Everything that happened in this band it happened slowly. So we played all the drunk shows, where everybody is drunk, and then gigs grew a bit bigger, and so we got used to everything. … And it still happens and that is pretty good for us.” We dig a little more into history and come to the moment: “The first time we had a crew, I was like, ‘fuck, where is my guitar?’ I was just not used to it. We were used to like the first concerts, we play, there’s like two or three cars.” – “15 years”, Matthias adds. “… we got ourselves into the cars and prayed, they don’t break down. And then we’d drive to a concert, and then all the busses, and now there is crew!!!!”
“Not the end of the road it seems”, I say – a bit lost in somewhat melancholic memories “When we started, we didn’t think like where do you see yourself I 5 years?” – “Don’t you?” I ask ironically “Noohoo! One or two years perhaps and all of a sudden it is like 25 years! I am still not able to tell we will be around in 2 years, 5 years or 10 years. I think the best thing for a band and for us is to check if you have something to say, like some good melodies, some good grooves, and if this is the case you gotta write songs. You gotta keep moving. But if you’re not having fun with it, stop immediately. I don’t consider this is a problem. There is a lot of bands who break up because they don’t have anything to say anymore. And I think it’s ok to break up when you don’t have to say anything.”
There is a sharp contrast from the fun we have to all the sad and melancholic music. “That’s our lives”, Matthias says quietly and somewhat determined. Michael says: “That’s the normal. First of all it’s us. And the other side it’s perhaps a cliché but you can’t really laugh from your heart if you don’t know the exact opposite. You gotta know both. … Sometimes I think we’re the funniest people on planet Earth. Sometimes we’re talking melo people. Everything is better when you’re hanging together with your friends. So each one of us knows like the really dark side and the great sides of life.” – “And the dark sides go into the music”, Matthias explains. “It’s not that we try to separate it in a way but the funny thing is here and the dark sides are in the music.”
“Is it some kind of channel for the dark side?” – “Yeah. A channel to deal with life”, Matthias agrees. “And afterwards you feel better”, Michael says. “When you channel these emotions you feel better. And that leaves a lot of room for being happy at most times. And that’s the fun. So the dark energy goes directly into the music.”
Finally I want to know about their superheroes. Who would they be if they could?
Matthias: “He-Man. … He was my favourite superhero in the past.” Did you have the figurines? “I have everything!” – “Did you give it to your child already?” – “No, I gave it to another child.” – “And you can see someone else play with it?” – “No!” I frown. And nod.
Michael: “I used to read a lot of comics. And I always liked the superheroes that were kind of human. Batman. Batman, he is a totally normal guy. And Peter Parker, Spiderman, he was a boy bitten by a spider and then he turned into some superhuman kind of thing. … Like Superman, nobody knows where he comes from. He might be a liar. And Batman, he is no liar. He is from planet Earth, and we all know he is real.” ‘Adorable’, I think. “And Spiderman, good guy, I like those. But if I have to choose one superhero I want to be Wonder Woman. She kicks so much ass, really.” No need to mention but: we are laughing out loudly.
I have been laughing since the first name was uttered as I heard all three names in former interviews I really enjoyed. And speaking of Batman and Spiderman I desperately need Michael’s statement on a most essential question. Bob Malmström had proposed that Spiderman would not last minute in a fight against Batman. What does he think? “I think they would have no reason to fight each other! Batman and Spiderman – they would never fight. They would be really buddies for life because they both come from human base they’re both human and they have the heart in the right place. They would never fight with each other! They would never waist their energy, and their genius to fight each other. They fight bad guys! They’re cool. They’re not idiots!”
So what have I found? A gem! A bunch of honest and adorable guys making great music. These men dare to leave the real world for their imagination and creativity as well as they manage to make the real world the playground of living their ideals. Thank you so much for granting us these insights!
(photos: Ms Cesar Little)