A KEW'S TAG: "When we founded the band, we would have never thought that we would end up making the music we’re playing today"
A few weeks ago, German Progmetal band A KEW'S TAG came to Munich in support of The Hirsch Effekt. While I wasn't familiar with them before, they quickly caught me with their high-energetic stage presence and fantastic music.
Glad about them starting off Prog Around the World in 2024, welcome to learn more about their background, current album and future plans here:
Hey, thanks for making time to answer my questions. Could you please introduce yourself and A kew's tag to our readers?
Hey, my name is Johannes, and I’m a guitarist. Together with Julian (vocals) and Flo (drums) we are A kew’s tag, a progressive rock band from Germany, with a slightly different setup compared to other bands of the genre, as we don’t use any electric guitars, just one acoustic guitar. That is also how we came up with our name: A kew’s tag doesn’t really mean anything, it’s just what you get when playing around with the word „acoustic“ for several hours.😊
Yet very fitting :-) You were touring with The Hirsch Effekt recently, and the show here in Munich was my first contact with your music, which immediately caught me with its incredible dynamics. How was the tour for you?
It was just amazing! It was the second time for us touring with The Hirsch Effekt after 2022, and these guys are so incredibly lovely, not to mention their stunning live performance! We’re getting along so well, sharing a similar humor, which also made the time really funny. And I think the music we’re both playing is of course somewhat different from another, but at the same time we‘re sharing very comparable approaches and energy levels, which is why it’s always so amazing to play in front of their fans, as they really seem to easily get into our music as well.
So being on tour with these guys kinda felt like coming home, but with a huge difference for us: When we got asked to support The Hirsch Effekt again, we first thought we won’t be able to make it happen, because Flo, our drummer (and my brother 😊) already knew that he wouldn’t even be on the same continent, as he was going to be on vacation in Africa. But luckily we’re good friends with the German Prog band Soulsplitter, and their drummer – Fenix – listened a lot to our music and was very familiar with our album already, so we decided to ask him, and yeah, he said yes, so we could play the tour. Fenix did a crazy job, it was just mind-blowing how he was performing our songs every evening!
Oh yes he did, especially considering the complexity of your music :-) Your current album is "Hephioz", which is adorned by a mighty phoenix. What can you tell us about the origins of the cover artwork, and how does it reflect the album thematically?
"Hephioz" is a concept album featuring a continuous story, and one of the main characters is this phoenix-like bird that the album is named after. The whole artwork has been created by Sebastian Jerke, an incredibly talented artist who we are still extremely grateful for having worked with.
However, the original idea for the album cover was different, it was one of the most dramatic scenes of the story brought to life by Sebastian’s amazing skills, and quite a complex picture with a lot of details going on. He also drew covers for the singles we released, and one of those was just showing Hephioz and nothing else, which led us to a perfect decision in my opinion: We made this our album cover, without losing the original draft - When you open up the gatefold, you see this exact picture in an even more appropriate spot because this way it has twice the space as it would have had on the front. And the album cover now is more simple and spot-on, and not too overwhelming at first glance.
Absolutely :-) Could you dive a bit into the record’s story with us, please?
Yes sure, and I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. 😊 The story is divided into the frame - represented by the first two tracks and the final one - and the main plot, narrated on the songs in between. The world on this album has nothing to do with our reality, it only consists of a gigantic tree floating in the sky, inhabited by thousands of birds, and especially by one that is different from every other bird on this tree: the mighty Hephioz, who lives on top of the tree, igniting his feathers every morning while rising up in the air, and extinguishing the flames in the evening. He’s responsible for light and darkness, the one who enables living in this world, yet none of the other birds has ever seen him directly, as it would be much too bright and warm to be this close to him. The tree is an idyllic place full of peace and harmony, there’s basically only one big rule: Don’t ever try to leave it, not even think about it.
In the frame story, a father tells his son the tale (which is then becoming the main plot) about a young bird called Stravoz, who starts to struggle with following this exact rule, leading to dramatic events: Hephioz is as mighty as he is sensitive. He’s not questioning his role in this world, he loves making life possible, the only thing he desperately asks for is the other birds to appreciate this. Anyone daring to explore the world outside (that is told to be non-existing) is causing him the deepest pain. And Stravoz, not knowing that his actions may do so, starts to do exactly that. Eventually Hephioz cannot stand this situation any longer, and although he doesn’t want any of the birds to suffer, he sees no other chance than to burn down the whole tree, as this fire is getting hot enough to burn himself, too.
The final track on this album switches back to the frame story, the son who got this story told by his father, is scared by this tale, but at the same time he discovers some logic errors within. So, what is true, what is not? And if it's not, what’s the point of his father even telling this story? And is Hephioz even existing?
That's a marvelous plot! Music-wise, you set a clear accent with the acoustic guitar, and I am fascinated by what you get out of this instrument. How did you come up with it, and where do you see your biggest influences?
First I have to say that when we founded the band, we would have never thought that we would end up making the music we’re playing today. In the very beginning we were aiming to write ambitious pop music. But from the start on I was the one to mainly write the music, and I guess I could no longer hide my love for prog music, haha 😊
All three of us have a classical music background, and we’re all really into progressive music in general, we listened a lot to bands like Procupine Tree or Dream Theater, TesseracT, Leprous or Periphery (which is for example my most favourite band). But it happened quite often that people after hearing us for the first time told us things like „Oh you must have listened a lot to King Crimson or Rush, right?“, which I believe none of us ever really did :-) Others seem to see some similarity to System Of A Down, who we listened to a lot at least. And of course quite some people see us in the modern Prog Rock / Metal scene, but it appears to be not that easy to really find a certain place for us, and the acoustic guitar might be one reason for this.
After one of the shows on tour with The Hirsch Effekt, someone came to us saying: „Guys, I didn’t know that there even exists a genre called Acoustic Progressive Metal, and even less was I aware of how much I need this kind of music!“
Haha, can totally relate to that :-) Could you briefly describe your writing and recording process, please?
Usually it goes like this: I start writing new music by just playing around on my guitar and singing along, and that way slowly a song is getting its shape. Once there’s a form that I’m happy with for the moment, I record guitar demos, write down the vocal melodies and send both to the other guys. After everyone has worked on it including the lyrics written by our singer Julian, and before we actually start recording, we get together to create the final song and then rehearse it. This is how we’ve done it for "Hephioz", but it was a bit more complex as there’s a whole story that needed to be covered by the songs in a certain way. So that time music and lyrics have been created somewhat simultaneously.
Let’s make a little time trip: When and how did you guys get together?
It was back in 2011, I was studying guitar in Hanover, and together with a fellow student, a drummer, we had the idea of founding a band with acoustic guitar, and maybe even with a double-bass instead of an electrical one (but it has always been electrical). I still remember that very moment, we were attending a lecture in the university and obviously didn’t follow the professor too carefully. I then asked Julian (we were in a band together before) if he’d be interested in joining as the main vocalist, which he was. And we all were so hyped about this new band that we didn’t hesitate at all and recorded our first album only a few months later.
We’ve had several bass players over the time, but the biggest change by far happened in 2015, when our first drummer left the band, and I instantly knew who was the right and probably only person I could imagine joining A kew’s tag: My brother Flo. I’m extremely grateful that he decided to become a part of this band, and that’s where we are today. At the end of 2022 we also decided to continue as a trio, as it turned out to work even better, maybe because we three know each other for so long, the chemistry between us is like family (of course including the same conflicts… 😊)
I see. Let’s talk about A kew's tag live: What was your most memorable show so far?
There are quite a few concerts that are a pleasure to remember, but to select one of the recent ones I would pick our show at the Euroblast Festival in Cologne 2023. It was our second time there, but this time it was crazy. We played on the cellar stage, and already at our soundcheck there were quite a lot of people standing in front of the stage while upstairs there was still another band playing. And when we started our show, the atmosphere was like fire, I don’t know how to describe it more accurately… Everyone in this room seemed to be so much into our music, even during the soft parts it was almost silent, and there were even more people trying to find their way into the audience but the room was full already.
That was just amazing to experience. We played songs from our last album, and it almost felt like Hephioz himself was flying around in this moment! I’m normally far from being esoteric, but this show was somewhat different, and we enjoyed every second!
What are your experiences within today’s music business regarding the biggest chances and challenges?
For me personally both the chances and the challenges come down to streaming. I think it is a good thing when it comes to the possibilities like being able to easily share your creations with anybody. But at the same time this permanent availability of everything is severely changing how we listen to music, and also how we value it in general.
So for me the biggest issue is not how the artists get paid (which is a huge problem). It’s more how they and their work get „treated“. I‘ve often experienced how different I’m listening to an album after I bought it, that’s why I’m not using streaming services at all, I’m a passionate CD collector. 😊 There are lots of albums that I didn’t quite like after first-time listening, and I don’t think I would have given those a second try if I would use music streaming, because buying a CD or a vinyl makes you have a completely different connection to that one album.
Sometimes it almost feels like work when listening to something that didn’t really convince me after one time, but it has paid off so many times, as some of those albums have become some of the most important ones in my whole collection. And it might seem old-fashioned, but sometimes having to wait for an album because maybe you’re on tour and don’t have access to a well-equipped record store can be something truly exciting.
At the same time it has never been as easy as it is today to share your music with your fans directly, so it definitely has its two sides.
What can you tell us about your future plans? Can we possibly already look forward to new music from your feather?
Oh yes! There’s new music to come, we’re currently working on it. And if everything’s going according to plan, it will be released in late 2024. We’re already super excited about it, it has been a long time since we were in the studio to record "Hephioz", we can’t wait to share new music with you! 😊
Awesome! Looking forward to hear what you're working on :-) Before we wrap things up, do you have any further thoughts you’d like to share here?
Thank you for the nice interview, and thanks to everyone who took the time to read through it, we really appreciate anyone having interest in our music!
You're most welcome - Thanks again for your time and these amazing insights into your work :-)