mind.in.a.box interview:

mind.in.a.box - Interview for magazine 'ReGen Magazine', Interviewer:'Joshua Kreger', about: 'mind.in.a.box goes live', Date: 2009-11-18
Link: ReGen Magazine
Out of the Box and onto the Stage

Building a loyal fan base that spread throughout the world, mind.in.a.box have come to represent a unique sound in electronic music. Combining a futuristic, techno-infused industrial dance flavor with a continuing narrative concept that draws on the likes Blade Runner and The Matrix, the band's cyberpunk vision has resulted in three successful albums – Lost Alone, Dreamweb and Crossroads, and the band's compositions have long since become popular past the borders of their hometown of Vienna, Austria. Speaking to ReGen, guitarist Stev Poiss, lyricist Markus Hadwiger, drummer Gerhard Höffler, guitarist Adam Wehsely-Swiczinsky and bassist Roman Stift reveal quite a few subtle surprises shed some light on the men behind the music. The band members were all quite cheerful, and were eager to discuss their recent live shows, and to help provide fans with some behind-the-scenes insight on their work and their future plans. What are your roles in the band?

Poiss: I'm the singer and keyboardist, produce the music and do most of the visual stuff. In general, I would say that I'm the driving force behind mind.in.a.box.”
Hadwiger: I'm writing the lyrics and working on the concepts and story.
Höffler: I'm the drummer and try to support Stev with the visual stuff.
Wehsely-Swiczinsky: I am playing the guitar and try to help with some of the booking.
Stift: I play the bass!
Being that your genre is unique unto itself, perhaps it would be interesting to learn more about your backgrounds. Would you care to share your personal musical influences?
Poiss: I started to make electronic music on the legendary Commodore 64 when I was maybe 11 years old. That was a great and cheap possibility to make electronic music at the time. A real music synthesizer was not affordable for me for a long time, so you have to imagine that I've always been doing music in the past, only with computers, not with keyboards. For me, there is a big difference between this kind of electronic music and other kinds. If you don't need a keyboard, your approach to music is much more that of a composer, where it is more in your head than in your fingers. You set every single note without actually playing it. These are two completely different approaches. My first real synthesizer was a rack synthesizer, which is a synthesizer without a keyboard. Since then, I only buy rack synthesizers. My biggest musical influence in the past was computer demo music – like the one from guys called Skaven or 'Purple Motion' from a group called the Future Crew – or 'computer music' in general. I came really late to the gothic/electro scene with stars like VNV Nation or Covenant. I didn't know their music before. I think that's a major reason why Mind.in.a.Box sounds so different: because I was in my own electronic scene.
Hadwiger: Like Stefan, I was very much influenced by early computer game and demo music, especially on the Commodore 64 in the '80s and also a lot of music on PCs in the early '90s. There was a vibrant scene of musicians that achieved incredible results on this early, very limited sound hardware. Surprisingly, even today there still is an active scene around these devices.
Höffler: I have always been open to all kinds of music, so my influences are widespread, but Stev's music was my first real contact with the electro scene, and I like it!
Wehsely-Swiczinsky: I really try to be an open musician, not judging a music by its genre but by if it has spirit or not. In my personal musical career, I played a lot of different genres, starting at blues rock, to grunge, stopping by at strange stuff like Kurdish folk music and now being involved in electro-pop.
Stift: Please don't ask questions like that. For an answer, I would need at least eight hours, and then I would still not be where I would like to be! Historically, my musical life starts 1986. That was the year I have discovered the underground. My personal dealers for my new and sustained addiction have been Mr. Shorty at my local record shop, 'Rave Up' and Mr. Werner Geier with his radio show, 'Die Musicbox,' one hour per week. I am still beholden to them for their musical passion. Since then, I am listening to all kind of music without borders or pigeonholing anything. I don't like labels. It's like being trapped. The only claim I have is passion. I have seen musicians with almost no skills doing great music, and I have seen too many gifted technicians with no sense of music. There is no 'best' category for me. I live with classical, all kind of rock, metal, electro, dance, hip-hop, soul, funk, punk, blues, folk, jazz...simply anything! I really like the role of Jack Black in 'School of Rock.' His passion for good music hits the nail [on the head]!
Mind.in.a.box has come to captivate the attention and imagination of its fans. Your success has earned a dedicated following across several continents. How did this journey begin? What events led to the formation of mind.in.a.box?
Poiss: The Mind.in.a.Box project became a real goal for me when we found Dependent Records as a record label. Before that, there was no realistic reason for us to focus on an actual music CD project. Before mind.in.a.box, I was mostly working on purely instrumental songs that couldn't have been released on a real CD. In the past, Markus and I were always working on our own little worlds in computer games. Things like these have always fascinated me, and I wanted Mind.in.a.Box to be more than just electronic music, so we started to work on this mixture of music, story lines and our own emotions. Lyrics, story and music became more and more interwoven, and the world of Mind.in.a.Box is growing bigger and bigger all the time. Now, with the live project and the small film team for our visuals, quite a lot of people are involved, and I think all of us are having an awful lot of fun working on this project.
What attracted you to game design, and is this still an active endeavor?
Poiss: Markus and I have known each other since our childhood, and we spent a lot of time developing computer games where he was the programmer and I did the music. Markus also wrote a complete music sequencer software for me which I used for a very long time. Most of the songs on our first album Lost Alone, and some from Dreamweb were originally written using this sequencer.
Hadwiger: I always wanted to work on computer games, and I was working on several projects in this area for quite a long time, but with my day job, I went into another direction, and although I still very closely follow what is going on in the world of computer games, I'm not actively working on games at the moment.
Looking back to before the formation of Mind.in.a.Box, would you have ever imagined that designing interactive games would lead you to international recognition as artists of music?
Hadwiger: No, not at all. I was very much focused on the programming side of things, also with respect to Stefan's music, where I tried to write the software that he needed in order to make his musical visions come to life. But this progression from games to stand-alone professional music is really great, and I am very happy about that.
Poiss: At that time, I never had the ambition to release a real music CD, because I didn't sing back then, nor did I have the right equipment for it. But my small studio would be getting bigger and bigger, and then I produced my first real demo CD with vocals on it. I sent it to some labels, and I got a call back from Dependent Records. Then it took three more years until the first mind.in.a.box release, Lost Alone, because my production skills were not that good yet. Stefan Herwig from Dependent Records sent me to two producers in Germany, where I learned a lot, but I also came to understand that this wouldn't work with my music. I wanted to do all the musical stuff myself, and I began to produce the whole album all over again.
Your sound is arguably unique, even within the highly diverse subgenres that fall under the umbrella of electronic music. How would you classify your music, and why were you drawn to produce music in this style?
Poiss: I think the terms 'futurepop' or 'techno-pop' could fit very well with the music of mind.in.a.box. Sometimes our music is really complex and doesn't follow typical patterns of song structure. Adam told me that a fan describes our music as emotionally driven, instead of following a rhythm line with vocals, and that's the reason why he likes our music so much. I like this statement. We are like we sound. We are minds in a box. Maybe this project shows us the way to getting out of our box. For me, that's not so easy, but the live project is a big step in this direction. Some years ago, I never would have thought that I would be able to perform on stage.
The lyrics of Mind.in.a.box seem to have very profound and reoccurring philosophical themes such as a warning against living in the past, fighting against fear, endorsing change and introspection, warding off feelings of isolation and avoiding psychological numbness. In fact, your Website has an interesting quote to evoke further curiosity, 'In a world where minds live in boxes, every one of them has to make a decision.' Is there an underlying philosophy that guides the music of mind.in.a.box?
Hadwiger: There is not really one underlying philosophy, but I try to integrate themes that I see in the world around us, taking a somewhat dark view in order to make people think. At the same time, I try to weave in these themes with the ongoing background story behind the mind.in.a.box albums. Ideally, our song lyrics stand on their own, especially emotionally, while they can be seen at the same time as story fragments that have a specific purpose and are all connected. Personally, the pure emotional view is more important to me, so I usually try to start from there, but I really like the fact that linking individual songs with the overall storyline provides a larger backdrop for them. Nevertheless, in the end I mostly see the story and characters of Mind.in.a.Box as metaphors for what I want to convey emotionally.
Fans often talk of the unfolding story, which intensifies in each album. Is this progression of events – this struggle in a dark future world – part of a premonition of the future of humanity, a metaphor of the struggle that goes on within the mind, or something altogether different?
Hadwiger: Personally, I don't see it as a premonition of a potential future; I really see it more as a dark take on our current world. But I also like it very much when things are a bit multi-faceted and people can make up their own minds and find their own sometimes very personal interpretations.
Did you chose to write the mind.in.a.box lyrics in English in an attempt to reach out to listeners in a broader range?
Hadwiger: I don't think that we did a conscious decision there. Using English just seemed to be a very natural choice that also fits well with our underlying themes. I'm used to reading and watching science fiction in English. But it is certainly good that we didn't constrain ourselves to German-speaking countries, and I'm very happy that we have a lot of fans all over the world.
When not working on the music, what are some of the activities that you spend your time on. What brings you pleasure and entertainment?
Wehsely-Swiczinsky: I actually spend the rest of the time working as an industrial-designer and with my family. There is not really any spare time left. But I must say working, music and family is all pleasure and entertainment.
Stift: I am working in management at a service provider at the Vienna Airport. Besides work, I am studying for my Masters in management. Sounds terrible boring, but it is learning for life, I hope! In my spare time, I try to kill myself on my bicycles, from BMX to mountain bikes. Yes, and there are the computer games I am addicted to. I would need more time for all my interests.
Hadwiger: I'm reading a lot. I also actually enjoy reading about current computer games, because I don't have the time to play them very often, but I try to keep up to date from the point of view of a game developer, although I'm not actively working on games at the moment.
Poiss: At the moment, I do not have much time for other things, but in the past, Roman and I did a lot of crazy things like beginning to ride BMX bikes, about 27 years or so, or hiking up hills and flying radio-controlled planes at the top. There are some videos of that in the Net. I hope you cannot find them! Snowboarding is also a small hobby for me, as is watching motor sports. I'm a huge fan of Valentino Rossi. He is simply the best!
You just finished a live show in Oslo, Norway. It is true that this is only your third live show? What is it like going from years in the studio to a live stage?
Poiss: Yes, it was only the third real live show from mind.in.a.box. Before those, we only did two earlier gigs in Vienna to prepare ourselves for the bigger stages and for testing our live setup. That was really important, because we were able to fix a lot of basic problems. The step onto the stage was – and is – really hard for me, because I'm not the kind of person who can go out of the box easily, but since our show at Arvika in Sweden, I wanted more. That show was really unbelievable for us, playing for such a huge enthusiastic crowd.
How has performing live impacted upon your approach? Has it been what you expected?
Poiss: I didn't know that we have so many great fans out there, and to get such direct feedback from them is really amazing. In Oslo, we played on October 2, and we were also there on the third to watch the other bands there. We were standing around, and so many people came up to us to say that they really enjoy what we are doing. That really means a lot for us. On Friday, Natalia, a Russian mind.in.a.box fan, gave me flowers as a birthday present. That was really amazing. I couldn't believe it.
Mind.in.a.box is very unique in that you had developed a successful and dedicated following years before your first performance. Why the long wait to get on stage? Were you at all anxious performing in front of an audience for the first time?
Poiss: Yes, of course. You know we already had three albums out there, and the expectations were very, very, high. I didn't want to make a typical electronic live setup that sounds exactly as on the CDs, say with just one keyboardist and me, but I also needed a whole band behind me for two major reasons. With three other people there, you are not so alone on stage, and I also wanted to form an electronic band with a real live flavor with which we can rearrange the music for the live experience. That was not so easy to implement. I started thinking about going live after our second album, Dreamweb, but I couldn't find a way to do this. The real starting shot happened at the release party from our third album, Crossroads. I already knew Roman and Gerhard from before, and they came to me and said, 'It's time to bring mind.in.a.box on stage.' I think one week later we started with the live endeavor, for which we then needed two more years to make it work. Musically, it sometimes was a fight in the rehearsals, how we could go about playing the songs live, and I had to learn to really speak to other musicians. That was completely new for me, but I am very lucky to have these guys around me.
Do you intend on scheduling regular live shows in the future, and if so, will North America be on the tour list?
Poiss: We'll do our best. We spent so much time on the live concept, with all the visuals, for example, so we have to do more. At the moment, we're trying to manage a small German tour, and if it's possible also a small North American tour, but we'll see.
Where would you like to see mind.in.a.mox five years from now?
Poiss: I don't know. I'm happy at the moment.
Hadwiger: It would be great to see tours around all parts of the world, so we can reach all of our fans.
Höffler: Wherever the journey goes, I'll be there.
Wehsely-Swiczinsky: A world on its own, moving way bigger crowds than today, by getting listeners from other genres all around the world.
Stift: I can only speak for Mind.in.a.Box live! For that? Still on stage, full-time, touring the whole world! That would be great! Hopefully more fans, more audience and more attention from the general public.