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So You Want To Be An… A Capella Metal Band

Ever wanted to hear an a capella metal version of “The Final Countdown”? Van Canto are the heroes of the European festival circuit and this weekend they’re playing a one-off headline show at Festival Of Voices in Hobart. Founding member Stefan Schmidt talks us through life in the world’s first metal a cappella band.

Van Canto

How did Van Canto get their start in the music industry?
We all played in regular metal bands before. After the split of my former band, I wanted to do something vocal-oriented. I asked some friends and singers I had met years before, and we started trying out some recordings in my studio. It was started as a project and turned out to be the world’s first metal a cappella band. And as we saw that things are way easier for a band if you have a unique idea and sound, we stuck to it and we love it.

Talk us through your songwriting process. How long does it take to come up with a vocal arrangement?
As we are all based in the metal and hard rock scene the initial songwriting is not that different from a regular band. We start with a melody and some chords on piano or a guitar riff, as our rhythm singers are all “real” guitar players as well. After the main melody, the harmonies and the song structure are fixed, we “translate” it into a metal a cappella arrangement, which feels quite natural for us after nearly 10 years of Van Canto now.

What have been the highlights of your time in Van Canto?
Ask me again in four weeks, and I will name our trip to Tasmania, hopefully [laughs]. We have had so many highlights: playing our first European headline tour, working together with our idols Blind Guardian and Tarja, and of course our Wacken Open Air show in 2014 in front of 30,000 people.

What have been the lowlights?
Of course we have had some shows where we haven’t been that satisfied with our performance, but in nearly 10 years this was the case in perhaps three or four occasions. Apart from that we can’t tell real lowlights. We are friends and love what we are doing, so it is much easier to deal with some disappointments (for example in business matters) and focus on the next highlight instead.

As an a capella group, who do you look to for inspiration?
Every band member would name different inspirations, but personally you can guess my inspiration quite well from the bands we are covering. I am a true power metal guy and still mostly listen to the same bands I did when I was 17 [laughs].

Were your parents supportive of your career choice?
Yes. I learned piano and electric guitar as a child and they never pushed me into doing things but they supported me when I wanted to do them. I guess this is the best thing parents can do, and I am very thankful for that.

Tell BLUNT one thing about the band that most people would never guess.
Bastian [Emig, drums] and I once played in a ‘60s-oriented surf rock instrumental band called The Razorblades as a side project to our former metal band. No vocals at all – can you imagine? I guess this was another reason to found a vocal metal band [laughs].

Has there ever been a metal song that was just too tricky to cover?
We need a song that’s based on a great hookline or a great guitar riff. Some modern metal bands create their sound more with production skills than with songwriting skills, which might work great for them, don’t get me wrong, but these songs would not work well in a different arrangement, because the heart of the song is nothing you can transfer to a different sound.

If you could add one singer from any band to your group, who would it be?
To be honest, we are very happy with our singers [laughs]. Perhaps you could think about some bands that would benefit from having one of our singers instead? 😉

Van Canto – Australian Exclusive

Sat Jul 11th – MAC2 @ Festival Of Voices, Hobart
Tix: festivalofvoices.com

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