German band Venues has seen its share of adversity since releasing its debut album, “Aspire,” in 2018, losing its singer mid-tour and later a guitarist. Then, after enlisting new singer Lela Gruber (discovered at a Steel Panther show) and guitarist Valentin (the best friend of the former guitarist), the COVID-19 pandemic hit just as work began on album number two. The band soldiered through it, though, emerging stronger, with a heavier, less poppy sound, as heard in the first three singles from its sophomore effort, “Solace” (Aug. 27, 2021, Arising Empire). Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Robin Baumann, who provides Venues’ harsh vocals, to discuss the changes in the band, the new record, an imaginative series of music videos and more.
LIVE METAL: I want to go back to after the first album came out, and you’re on tour, and I’m sure that was something that you had worked really hard on to make happen. Then in the middle of the tour, your singer left the band. How did that go down? Was that something that was brewing for a while, or was it a surprise to you?
ROBIN BAUMANN: Yeah, it was a little bit of a surprise. It hit us hard at this moment. But the other five guys of us, we had some internal talks about this. We talked about maybe quitting the whole band project, but this was during a few seconds. We all said no, we will definitely continue with making music and we want to look for a new singer. But yeah, right in this moment it was kind of a little shock for all of us. But everything went well, and there was no bad blood at all when our old singer left. So it was everything cool.
We were also pretty lucky to find Lela, our new singer, pretty fast. Actually, we could have played that tour with her. That’s what she said and what she wanted. But we were like, we’re not really sure. Maybe it’s a little bit early, and we didn’t feel so safe back then with her. But now, from retrospectives, I would say yeah, we should’ve played that tour, because it was so awesome and I think that Lela gave us a big upgrade music-wise. Also, just chilling around with her, being together with her, it’s always fun times, and she fits perfect to the current band lineup. We’re all having so much fun.
Your guitarist found her at a Steel Panther show. How did that go down, from what you know of it?
That’s a pretty crazy story. Lela used to do some interviews with bands. I think she interviewed Steel Panther backstage, and then they connected really good. So they jammed a few songs backstage with the acoustic guitar together. The singer of Steel Panther (Michael Starr) was super, super surprised by her voice, and then he asked Lela if she would like to come up on stage and play a song with them, sing a song with them live on stage. Then she joined the stage when the time had come for the song, and I think she sang the whole song or a big part of the song.
Our guitarist, Constantin, was in the crowd, and he filmed everything with a smartphone. After the concert, he met Lela in the crowd and told her that he had filmed everything and that he will send it to her, and so they connected. This was the first contact points where we met Lela.
Later on, Lela found our public post that we are looking for a new singer. There was already a connection and she wrote Constantin, and Constantin came to us and told us about Lela and about this crazy story. He said, “Guys, this girl can sing.” And we were like, “Alright, let’s check it out.” And then everything went pretty fast, actually, because we invited her to a rehearsal, and it just meshed perfect and she was so good, and I was very impressed by her vocal performance. We played a few shows with her. I think we had three upcoming shows, and I think these were the best shows we ever did until then. Then we were all like, OK, we definitely need to keep her, include her into the band. And this is how we found her.
So how’s it work for you? Obviously, you’re a vocalist for the band. Was there an adjustment period for you to get used to playing off a new singer, or did it just feel really natural right from the start?
Actually, I think everything works better than ever before. For me, because I connected on a personal level with Lela, so we’re just friends. Everything felt pretty natural, because we are also in a lot of contact when it comes to writing the vocals and writing the lyrics, and we’re talking about the topics, what we want to write about. This all works pretty well. For me, especially, I think it even works better than ever before. So I’m very happy with the current lineup, because, in general we can always relate to each other when it comes to write about some topics that we want to talk about in our songs. So it’s very natural.
You also have a new guitarist in the band. How did that change come about?
Our old guitar player, Toni, is the brother of Constantin. We had brothers as the guitarists. But he decided to leave Germany and go back to Greece, where he originally came from. And he now is making hip hop music. So funny thing, because Valentin, our new guitarist, is the best friend of our old guitarist. So he gave his place to him. Valentin is a great guy. We already know him for years now. We already played a few shows with him, when one of our guitar players wasn’t able to play live on this date. So we already knew each other pretty good.
It’s awesome to have him now because he’s also a very good tech guy. He knows how to work stuff on the guitars and work on stuff on the sound, and it’s something that no one of us ever was able to do. So we are very happy to have our own technician now, finally. He’s a little bit more djenty, progressive guy. Maybe you can hear it here and there on our new record, because when it comes to songwriting, we’re a very democratic band. Everyone can bring in his stuff, and I think this is also where you can hear a lot of elements listening to our songs.
The new album, “Solace,” comes out Aug. 27. New members are in the band, so that made things a little different, I’m sure. But what kind of goals did you have for this album? Was there anything specific you wanted to do with it?
Yeah. In general, definitely drop a better record than the last one. We are very happy with our debut record, “Aspire,” but we all said that we want to become a little bit more heavy, a little bit more metal, maybe, and less poppy. This was a decision that we did together, and everyone was on the same page here that we want to get a little bit heavier with everything. And I think that this worked out pretty good.
When we wrote and when we produced “Aspire,” we didn’t really have much clue how the whole industry and the business works. This time, everything was a little bit easier because we knew, we have to work on the cover really early and book the studio dates and when can we shoot the music videos. There was better planning with everything this time, and we had less pressure because we knew what we all had to do.
When it comes to the heavier side, what are some of your influences?
That’s a good question. I think, as I already said, we are a very democratic band and everyone has his influences. I think we had a lot of different stuff this time. Our both guitarists looked a little bit to the black metal genres, actually, which is kind of crazy, but we have some crazier parts here. I think, in general, we also looked at bands like Polaris or Architects. But it’s a crazy mix, I’d say, because there’s so much random stuff. Also, our drummer, this time he had freehand when it comes to all the drums, and he’s a big fan of bands like Sevendust or Breaking Benjamin. I think he put a lot of his personal stuff in at this time. And we were like, alright, just do it. We’re fine with it.
What about you vocally?
Personally, I listen to a lot of the modern stuff, like Landmvrks, Imminence, also Polaris, Architects, and I think this influenced me a lot. I also changed my vocal technique for this record. Maybe you can hear it if you listen to the new songs. It’s a little bit more technical. On “Aspire,” it was more rough. I didn’t master the technique there, and now I changed completely. But I’m very happy with the new stuff, and it’s way easier for me to do it live and just having so much breath and technique. For me, on a personal level, it’s so cool to finally have this technique in my repertoire.
Yeah, you can really hear it. From what I’ve heard, I do think it’s an improvement. It’s stronger and fuller.
Yeah, thank you. And I think Lela is a little kind of a hippie girl, listening to Janis Joplin and Aerosmith and stuff like this in the early days. But, yeah, when we played our tour with Atreyu and The Amity Affliction and Polaris in 2019, she really got into this modern metalcore stuff. I think she had also some influences by all this modern stuff, like these modern post-hardcore, metalcore bands.
Did the events of the past 15 months influence the writing and the making of this album?
Yeah, totally, because “Solace” was mainly written during the pandemic times. I think the first track that we recorded together was “Uncaged birds,” the single that we released lately. This was the first song, and it got recorded shortly before the pandemic started. But all the other songs had to be written in the pandemic. We were all isolated at home, recording our stuff and trying around. Everyone recorded his parts and was playing around with different ideas, and then we threw it all together and shared it with each other. We were waiting for the feedback, what everyone was thinking. This was kind of crazy because we were not able to meet each other in person and just jam around and get some direct feedback. It was a special experience.
For me, it worked out pretty good, because I was able to just be in my room, alone, and just try around, get focused, take a whole evening only recording ideas and doing it over and over again, without anyone interrupting. This was actually pretty cool, and I think it worked out pretty good for us. But I think we all prefer being together in a room and playing around, because it’s more fun.
You’ve made three videos so far from this album, and I’ve enjoyed them a lot. It’s fun to see a band putting some real thought and time and effort and work into them. There’s been a continuing storyline throughout them, so for people who haven’t seen them yet, can you briefly describe what’s going on in this series of videos?
Yeah, sure. The story, which is told by all our music videos, it’s about a crazy zombie crime story, where you can see all of the band members in different roles and trying to find out what happened to me and why I’m dead and then why I start walking again.
This time, we really wanted to do some crazy, bizarre music videos, something that people talk about and share and send it to their friends. For this project, I spoke with my good friend Marius Milinski. He’s the guy who shot all the Venues videos, also, in the past. He’s becoming, slowly, a big person in the whole video business, and he’s not shooting band music videos anymore, but I convinced him to do this for my band.
He said, “Alright, I will do it, but I want to have freehand, and I want to do whatever I want to do.” I just told him, “OK, but we want something really crazy, something really bizarre.” He was really happy to have freehand here, and when he sent over the first concepts of what will happen and what we will have to do, we were all like, “Wow, OK, sounds pretty crazy but also sounds like fun.” And then we said, “We will definitely do this. Let’s see what the result will be like.” And we are all very happy with the final outcome.
The story’s not finished yet. There are still two or three music videos to come. One is already shot, and we’ll do two more. So we’re looking forward to shoot them and to release them.
What is it like watching the finished product and seeing yourself lying there with your stomach ripped open and your intestines spilling out? That must be kinda strange.
Personally, I have a flashback that it felt so terrible, because when we shot the videos, it was December or January, and in Germany it was so cold. And I had to lie on the ground in this old strip club. It was so cold in there, and all that blood was like cold water. I think I had to lie there for six hours straight or something, until all the scenes got shot. It was pretty hard, because I thought, “Alright, after this weekend, I will be ill, like 100 percent.” But somehow, I didn’t get ill.
The thing is that there’s so much time between shooting the music videos and finally getting to see the final results. It was like two or three months until we saw that. It’s crazy, because you forget about a lot of the scenes, and you don’t really know what the other members shot during this time. So when I first saw the music videos, all three of them, every time was like a total surprise, because it’s so far back that I can’t remember all that stuff. I’m really happy with the outcome, to watch it. It’s such a cinematic feeling, and to see ourselves is kind of crazy.
Are you into that kind of thing, like zombies and horror movies and things like that?
Actually, not really. I love a few of them, like “28 Days Later,” I really love this one. But in general, not really. But it’s cool to shoot one.
There is a record release show that’s been announced coming up at the end of July and a festival on the schedule for next year. Are there touring plans in the works for later this year, if conditions allow it?
Yeah. We will play a streaming festival next week, and we’re really looking forward to this, because it feels kinda like a real show for us because we all have to get together in the van and drive like six hours, and then we will be at the location where there’s a real stage and the big light set-up and everything and a lot of cameras. So it’s kind of professional. Of course, without the crowd. But it’s good for us. It’s called Metal Frenzy Festival (June 11 and 12). We’re really looking forward to do this. It’s a worldwide streaming thing. And on the 30th of July, we will play a distance show with our friends The Disaster Area in Munich. That will be a real crowd. I mean, they are seated and have to check all these distance rules and things, but it’s cool that we have the chance to play a live show during these times. And right now, we are working on a tour. It’s not 100 percent confirmed yet and, of course, not announced. But we will do a small European tour in January and February. So, looking forward to have something to announce here soon.
When was the last real show you played?
Yeah, that’s a good question because lately I thought about it and I didn’t find an answer. Did we play show in 2020? I’m not really sure. But we played a small live show, also with cameras and without an audience, and unfortunately, the quality of all that stuff, like the sound and the footage, wasn’t really good. It wasn’t really nice quality, so we said, “OK, it’s not that cool. We won’t release it.” But it was cool as we had the live experience, at least. I’m really not sure which was the last show, but good question. I will look it up after this interview.
Are you worried that you’re not gonna remember what to do once you get up there on stage?
Oh yeah. This Sunday, we will do a rehearsal, and we will play it like the live show. So it will be interesting to practice our performance again, and it will be strange, because it’s been so long now, and back then, at least every second weekend we had a show, which was pretty cool. Now such a big break. We are all a little bit nervous, and we’re not sure if we are still able to do a proper live show. But I think after the first song, it will be good.
Is there anything else you’d like to say right now?
Yeah, thanks to all our fans around the world, especially also in the U.S., because it seems we have a lot of Spotify listeners from the U.S., which is great. And thanks to everyone who was supporting us and, also, the other smaller bands around the world, because especially during these hard times, it’s very important. It’s great that we also have guys who buy merch from our online store, which helps us a lot to keep going. So yeah, thank you all, and we hope to maybe come to the U.S. soon.