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21Octayne rock out 'Into the Open': an interview with the band

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There’s nothing unusual about four guys starting a band. It is kind of rare though that those four guys leave highly-respected groups like the Joe Perry Project and Rhapsody to start out on their own. Even rarer is that the new aggregation comes out swinging hard with an album full of radio-ready gems like the soaring melodic rock of “She’s Killing Me,” the Megadeth-influenced “Dear Friend” and “The Heart (Save Me)” which has been released as a single and video. But this is exactly what’s been accomplished by 21Octayne, a veteran outfit composed of singer Hagen Grohe, guitarist Marco Wriedt, bass man Andrew “The Bullet” Lauer and drummer Alex Landenburg. Their new album for AFM Records is called "Into the Open" and that’s exactly what the release is built for; to get the band out into the open. We spoke with the Germany-based band via email, and here’s what they had to say about everything new that’s happening for them very fast.

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Everyone in 21Octayne is a veteran player but it must be a very special feeling for you to create a new band and the band’s first new music. Can you describe how that feels?

Marco: Personally I´ve wanted to form a band like 21Octayne for years, since I was a teenager really. I always wanted to form a band that embraces a wide range of musical styles and I´m beyond happy that I can finally share my vision with Hagen, Alex and Andrew! Before that I´ve been more or less a musician and songwriter that just played and worked for other artists but to have your own band is a completely different game and situation. Especially writing songs as a team and not writing for somebody is so great and refreshing. On top of that I love playing live with these guys. Our shows are 100% live without any backing tracks and I think that´s very rare these days! One of the reasons why every gig feels exciting and different!

Hagen, what are your favorite memories from working with Joe Perry?

Well, some of my favorite memories would be our trip to Vegas, when we opened for Slash and Friends at the Mirage's anniversary event, or the show at Wembley Arena in London opening for Bad Company. That whole tour in general was great! And of course a lot of great private memories while living with Joe and his family in his house outside Boston and the good times we had there. And of course the opening night of our US tour in New York, when Steven Tyler showed up and we performed “Walk This Way” together on stage. There are just so many great memories! I could go on and on.

Could you name some of the songs that your tribute band Roxxbusters played in a typical set? Will Roxxbusters be an ongoing project? Who are/were the other members of the band?

Yes, RoxxBusters is an ongoing project! I've been part of this band for almost 4 years now and it's so much fun!!! The other members are: Frank Rohles (guitar & lead vocals) - he played the first We Will Rock You musical in Germany, and was cast by Brian May and appointed by him as guitar supervisor for other WWRY-productions all over the world. Tobias Schmitz (keyboards, vocals) – he also plays with two other well-known German artists: Jupiter Jones and Roman Lob. Rainer Peters (bass, vocals) – He also played the WWRY-musical and a lot of other musical productions. He's also the bass player for the big band of the German armed forces, an outstanding ensemble that is touring worldwide, Ralph Winter (drums, vocals) – he also plays for the big band of the armed forces and is one of their lead vocalists. The band concentrates mainly on the great ’70s and ’80s rock classics: quite a lot of Queen songs (of course), Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Foreigner, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Michael Jackson, Toto, U2, Supertramp, Manfred Mann's Earth Band... just to name a few.

Marco, you got to play at the Ronnie James Dio tribute show. Can you tell me about that experience?

It was a very emotional night indeed! A celebration of Dio´s life and I felt honored being asked for this! I played a couple of songs like “Don´t Talk to Strangers,” “We Rock,” “The Last in Line,” “Dream Evil” and “Stars” alongside Doro Pesch, Doogie White (Rainbow) and Axel Rudi Pell. Yes, definitely a special evening I will never forget!

Alex, you’ve conducted drum clinics in China. Was there a language barrier or did you just let the drums do the talking?

There definitely was a language barrier, but as you said, we were able to break through that barrier and let the drumming talk for itself. Drumming anyways is one of the oldest forms of communication, a very old language if you will, that's definitely universally understood. Those times in China were a great experience for me!

Andrew, you were born in the U.S. but moved to Germany as a youth and it seems like that’s right about the time you started developing your musical abilities. Do you remember your first impressions of Germany, and did these in any way influence your desire to be a musician?

Yes, I was born in a place called Yuba City, CA, near Sacramento. My mom is German and she decided
to move back to Germany when I was about 6 or 7 years old. We moved to a small city called Zweibrücken. Maybe a few Americans know it because there used to be a military airbase there. It's close to Ramstein airbase and Landstuhl US military hospital. So I've lived in Germany for 21 years now, that’s a long time, but there's one thing I remember when we were coming over to Germany: the first 2 weeks we stayed at my grandmother's house in a small town called Contwig, which at the time had only about 500 inhabitants. That was really strange for me because Yuba City's got a population of about 70,000 people and Sacramento's got like half a million. Today I'm living in a small town with 500 people with my family, and I love it! It was pretty late in my life that I actually started to think about making music. I started playing the bass at age 19. I think I always had it in me to be a musician but it took me quite a long time to find my calling.

You play a quick, hot solo at the beginning of “Don’t Turn Away” that sounds like you also have jazz inclinations. Is that the case?

Thanks! That´s funny, a lot of people are saying that! I think it has nothing to do with jazz. I would say it's just a different playing technique! A lot of people in the rock and metal scene are not used to a bass player like me. I just see guitar players playing bass (laughs). I wanna change the bass players' scene. I really think, we need more than just playing fast lines and looking good (laughs)! I think the rock/metal bass players need a lot more! I will try to deliver that! Maybe I can make a difference and change the game! We will see…

“Dear Friend” has kind of an amusing opening where Hagen makes a phone call and is hung up on. What inspired that?

Hagen: Yes, we really liked that! But then we decided to spice it up a little and I came up with this idea of a phone call to the “friend,“wanting to talk, but he just hangs up after a few seconds! I just thought it had even more impact that way... when the music kicks in after that telephone beep.

Just going by the song title, people might think that “My Teddy Bear,” a hard rocker, would be a tender, acoustic moment. How did the song get its name?

Alex: Well, like with all the other songs on the album, we wrote the music first and Hagen added lyrics and vocal melodies to the music later.

Hagen: For these lyrics I got inspired by this comic painting that I found on Facebook one day, of a child sleeping peacefully in bed and there's this huge monster leaning over it. Next to the child's head there's a little teddy bear raising a wee wooden sword and shield against the monster, and under the picture it says “Teddy bears – protecting children against monsters under the bed since 1902.“

Marco: We just loved the fact that the lyrics and especially the title sound so contrary to the heavy music!

Andrew: Yeah, it's like Hagen's the teddy bear and the band hits him with these “monster” riffs and grooves! Ha ha!

21Octayne has an upcoming European tour with early classic rock band Uriah Heep. How did you get paired with these guys and have you worked with them before?

Marco: Our record label suggested this and of course we were up for it! I always liked the early ’70s Uriah Heep albums with the big organ sound and stuff so I´m really looking forward to this tour!

Alex: Yes, this is something we are very much looking forward to! Our record label came up with this incredible opportunity for us and we didn't have to think twice about it. Aside from the fact, that it will help us present our music to more people, I guess it will also be a great learning experience for us! The UH guys have been around for so long....one can only learn from guys like that!

Speaking of tours, the music on "Into the Open" seems perfect for American rock radio, and airplay leads to touring. Can we expect to see you soon?

Marco: We will come over as soon as we can! Promised! Right now we´re hoping for a US tour in 2015 with a big band we can open up for! We can´t wait to come over!

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