Interview: Daniel Bernath / Syqem


The case of the German band Syqem is an example, which proves that it is worth the toil of exploring the musical land. It is worth digging, rolling and breaking through the piles of, nowadays, such commonly present reproductive bands and tons of similar, ordinary sounds to finally find one precious stone, which glows with originality. We have already appreciated that diamond in our review of Syqem’s latest album (available only in Polish), however to take a closer look at the shapes and colors of it, we decided to interview the band as well. Forming the band’s style, imagination, dreams and a few other things were subjects we talked about with singer and guitarist of the quartet from Hamburg – Daniel Bernath.

Hello Daniel. Let me start with question about your discography. I think it’s quite rare for a band to release as many as 4 EPs before making a full debut. It took you 10 years to put out a full-length album. Was it because you wanted to take the time needed for your style to properly develop and blossom as the complete picture on your debut album?

Absolutely yes ! We started way before Facebook was around, so at that time we could only gain attention on a local level, playing youth centers and small city festivals. We learned a lot from playing live back then. For years we had been writing not too far from the stuff we do today, but it was not as focused and we learned that from the crowd reaction. Certain songs worked, others didn’t. We wrote 10 minute songs, because we thought we were Tool. Live audiences in the area where we live can be quite tough sometimes, especially if they dont know you from the cd. They tend to boo you from the stage, but people’s honest opinions really helped us. I think there are way too many bands out there putting out music without ever taking the time to grow musically. We wanted to make sure, that at least for us this album became a landmark for its genre, whatever genre you’d put us in.

Your second EP ic called “Dzien”, which sounds like a Polish word for “a day”. Coincidence?

No, that was a conscious decision! On this EP we used different languages, like German, some Portuguese, Italian and Polish for songtitles. One of the songs is called “Licht”, which is German word for “light”, but it just feels so different for us comparing to English “light”. Same with „dzien“. Even though it means “a day”, it paints a different image for me when I say it. I love the sound of it. Also my girlfriend was born in Poland, so that definately helped the decision to use a Polish word. The funny thing is some people put us in the “djent” genre, maybe they actually mean “dzient”?

(laughs) I think you have just brought to life a new music style. Let’s talk about your full-length debut now. “Reflections of Elephants” is inspired by art and life of Salvadore Dali. Why Dali?

Dali is for me a prototype for artists of our times, struggling between art and greed. He started out as an innocent genius with a vision and became a rich old man dying lonely. Well this summary doesn’t really do him justice, but I think in short it describes the tragedy of his life. Also his relationship with his muse Gala became another guideline for me lyrically. In 2009 me and the rest of guys in the band went for a trip to Spain, Barcelona and Portlligat, where his house is, which eventually helped me convince guys in the band of his art. Go visit Portlligat, visit Dali‘s house, you’ll know why we felt so deeply inspired.

Syqem (from left): Stefan Kopetsch – drums/ Thomas Bernath – bass, samples / Daniel Bernath – guitar, vocals / Benjamin Shibata – guitar

In my review of the album I wrote, that Syqem and Dali have one thing in common – imagination. Your music is very complex and rich in sounds, yet still very catchy and melodic. The album is also full of original ideas in terms of eg. the structure of the tracks. Of course one can not forget about the whole palette of samples you use, which provides the listener with some amazing electronic sounds. All of that tells me that you must have an impressive imagination. Would you be able to define the imagination itself? What is imagination to you? Is it an important thing in your life?

Sometimes its good not to judge your own thoughts. We’re all inside this little cage which is our head and it holds ideas back, because we think ours are “not good enough” or “not expected”. When I am writing songs, I just let my imagination flow. The effects are various. You wouldn’t ever believe how some vocal parts sounded in the first place, when i just let my imagination flow. Horrible stuff… (laughs). But it’s always a good starting point. After imagination comes hard work, when I polish that turd into a song, that communicates with a listener.

Last one on the man with curled mustache. Dali said once: “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” Can you relate it anyway to the way you create music?

I love creating music without overthinking it. Letting your subconsciousness take over from time to time, especially when coming up with ideas, is the only way to really get to know the artist inside of you. That’s why I come up with the best ideas when I’m alone. I get rid of the shackles limiting my vision – social control. And in my dreams, where no one can ever watch me. I wish I could record my dreams. A lot of great songs come to my mind at night, but in the morning I can’t recall them. But maybe i just DREAM they are great (laughs).

So you remember just the character and vibe of the song in the dream, not the actual chords or riffs? Would you be able to tell what did you actually see or feel in one of those dreams?

It’s always different. I often dream about situations, but it could also be a specific sound or rhythm. I might dream listening to the radio and there might be a drum beat that catches my attention. That relates to the lyrics as well. For example the lyrics for “The artist” came to my mind while I was dreaming of a dead desert in the potential future. In the dream there was a painting in the desert sand, everything was in grey, washed out colors. I couldn’t get that image out of my mind, it made me feel something. That’s when I remember dreams or their fragments. When I wake up and still feel something.

It might be unknown or invisible to somebody, who never had any experience of being in music on the “other side”, meaning actually playing an instrument or being in a band. Long time ago I had a brief taste of what it is like to be in an amateur band and basing things even on that short experience I get the feeling, that all the elements that consist of this professional involvement in music, learning the instrument, practising on your own, practising with the band, learning the equipment, recording, last but not least composing, all of that requires a lot of time, effort and determination. In this question at first I wanted to quote your lyrics from the song “The Artist” and ask “Is it all worth it?”, but then on second thought the question naturally rephrased itself into: Why is it all worth it?

If you are serious about your music, being a musician is one of the most time intense jobs one could ever imagine. Making music at our level cost shitloads of money, so working full time to make a living beside music, makes this whole thing quiet frustrating at times. On the other hand, we love making our music, we love communicating with our fans, we love to share great moments that money could never buy. The reactions for this album have been so overwhelming. Every comment we read on facebook or we get in person tells us „it is all worth it“. Nowadays in TV talent shows you can here: „You can be a star!“ all the time. And people go: „Yes, music is my life!“. However, if you want to see people who are really living music, ask your favorite band. Ask what compromises they have to make to play in your town or even make a record. It’s all worth it, but I hope we and the music industry find out ways to help real artists to at least make a proper living again. We need great music. We need art. We need culture. If you buy CD’s, Mp3’s, FLACs, T-shirts, also go to shows. By doing so you support music, the band and it is worth it!

Interviewer: Chris Bienkiewicz

Banner image courtesy of Vexx Designs


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