APOP are one of the most important EBM(initially), synthpop bands, with almost 20 years of history. They have had great success all over the world. We talked with Stephan Groth, lead singer and composer of the band, willing to answer all our questions in a very friendly atmosphere.You can read below what he has told us.
“Black EP Vol. 2” is out. How was the whole effort till the final result?
We put out “Black EP Vol. 1” a few years ago, that contained remixes from the album “You And Me Against the World” and also some other few cover songs like “Shine On”. It was put out for the American market, so we decided to do the same thing now after the “Rocket Science” album and put out an EP only for the US with few weird remixes and B-sides and different things. And then I had just started to record the cover version of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” a few years ago and I never finished it, so I had it lying around at home and I was checking it out in the studio and all of a sudden sounded really good, so I just recorded it and rather quick actually and put it on the EP. It is a song that everybody seems to love a lot, so I’m very happy that we put it on there. You know, it’s a huge classic, kind of “holy” song to many people; it’s very dangerous to cover songs like that. It’s probably my number one favorite song of all time and I did it with a lot of respect to the original and also because I think there are so many bad versions of it, because there are many cover versions of it, so I think they deserve a good version of it.
How did you choose the ones that would make the remixes?
I can’t remember. Some of them were just friends of mine who asked if they could do a remix, others were friends of mine that I asked to perform a remix and for some of them I have remixed before and they “owed” to do a remix for me. All of them are friends of mine. I’ve done this a lot with bands: a band makes a remix of an APOP song and then on their next album I sing on one of their songs, so we have a cooperation going on. When you do something like that it’s promoting two bands and it’s a good advertising, especially if they do a good job. And also it is instead of being one person promoting, there are two bands promoting for only an album, and in the case of the “Black EP” there are ten artists promoting. So everybody wins.
Let’s go back in time. You started I 1991 as an EBM band. Was this kind of music popular in Norway? Was it difficult to succeed with this sound during those years?
There was hardly any kind of electronic music in Norway back then. Norway always had a lot of underground music, but it was mostly punk rock and metal, and of course all this black metal stuff, that is very typical for Norway. So, it was easier if you were a punk rock or a metal band then. Making electronic music was not very typical, nobody took you serious. They wouldn’t play it on the radio, of course not on the TV, you couldn’t get on, maybe if you get on with some local radio if you were lucky. We didn’t use all our money and time and energy on Norway, because we said right away this is never gonna work, so fuck it. We concentrated on Germany, also Greece for a while actually, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, then later America and Australia. It was very hard at the beginning and it led to an adventure. I don’t regret it, I would much rather had had the success that I had outside Norway than have it in Norway and never been outside. Now at least with the internet the world has become much smaller, it’s easier now, there are hardly any countries any more, everything is online, you reach everyone at the same time, so it’s much easier now to start a band and to do promotion but then again you don’t sell records any more, the record industry has died, so I guess it’s still hard, I don’t know.
In 2000 you started using electric guitars and having the rockiest sound ever. Was it a time you wanted a change for APOP?
Actually, we always used guitars live, also back in the very beginning, so the idea, when we started to use more guitars in the album, was that I wanted the album to sound more like what we do when we play live. When we play live, it’s always a bit more punk rock, a bit more hard and dirty. This was back in the days when people bought CDs and spent money on CDs. My idea was, if you go and buy a CD and then there is a concert of the band next week and you go to the concert and listen to the exact same thing, that’s kind of a rip-off. So, what I always wanted to was to sound very electronic on the CDs and more dirty, rock, punkish when playing live. So, what happened was that I realized myself after a few albums that it was much more interesting listening to APOP live than on CDs. So, I made up my mind thinking OK, maybe I should start to make the CDs sound a bit more like what we do when we play live.
You have made covers of songs by artists such as Velvet Underground, Metallica, U2, House of Love, OMD, Joy Division. How easy or difficult is it to experiment with songs of such great artists?
This is kind of how pop music started. It started with people covering and making versions of other people’s songs. It was first when the Beatles started that the artists also wrote the songs themselves. Before that it was other people writing songs for the artists, and then Beatles started to make albums and write everything themselves. I think even the first Beatles’ album is also only cover songs. So, I feel that with trying to do cover versions I go a little back to the roots of pop music so I don’t have a problem with it. I know a lot of people hate cover versions, others love cover versions. The first thing I always look, if there’s a new album out by a whatever band that I’m interested in, is if there’s a title that I know, if there’s a cover version, because when someone makes a cover version of a band it tells you a lot, it tells you what kind of person this guy is, what kind of music he likes. There’s a saying, “show me your car and I’ll tell you what kind of person you are” and I say the same with “show me your record collection and I’ll tell you what kind of person you are”. So, when you see a cover version, you get a little more info about the one who made it. So, I love covers and I gonna continue doing them and I always like doing them and I’m always successful doing them as well. You know the biggest hit we ever had was “Shine On”.
Personally, I believe that with “You And Me Against the World” started a new period for APOP. Different music, more sophisticated lyrics. Does this connect with any change in your life?
Me getting older, more experienced, better at writing. Remembering, in the very beginning I was only 18 years old, so of course the lyrics are going to be better when you are 30 than when you are 18, and also they are going to be more personal, because over the years your experience mass up and you have more to say, you become smarter. Since “You And Me Against the World” everything kind of changed into a more mature APOP. It was not only the “party” APOP. The first albums were kinda party music. But also at the time we made “You And Me Against the World”, that was the time when I stopped partying all the time. So, it wasn’t interesting for me to make party music. Then again, I got divorced a few years ago and now I party again, so the next album probably is going to be party music.
Some of my favorite lyrics are from “Into the Unknown”: “and by a torch of faith I set myself on fire”. What does this represent for you?
It could mean something for me and it means very different things for other people. I had this question many times because we made a T-shirt once that said “and by a torch of faith I set myself on fire” and people started asking what it is and I never said what it means to me because it’s not important what it means to me, it’s more important what it means for you or anybody else. “Into the Unknown” has a lot of personal things for me but what is typical is that if you have written a very personal song, other people that have been in a very similar situation will kind of understand what I’m talking about in the song. I wrote a lot of stuff when I went through a divorce, not directly singing about that, but put some pieces in there, and people hear it years after and then they’re in the same situation and can get kind of comfort from feeling that they’re not alone, that other people have been through these hard times. So, I write a lot of this personal stuff both to encourage people to go on. It’s not so much about me being “emo” and telling the whole world how sad I am, because I’m not, I’m actually a very happy person, but there are a lot of people out there that are sad and have a time in their lives when they go through whatever it is: a divorce, somebody died or heavy stuff and I try to comfort through my music. And if I can do something good to a person who is having a hard time then I feel great.
Which are your music idols? Which artists and bands do you admire and have been an influence to you?
Many. I could mention a few like my biggest heroes ever. I’m a huge Depeche Mode fan, so Martin Gore from Depeche Mode is like one of my heroes. Julian Casablancas in the Strokes, he is just a genius that I love. Ian Curtis, Jack White from the White Stripes. There are so many of them. Kraftwerk. All these bands that were like pioneers and did stuff years ago that is still popular. There are so many geniuses out there, but you usually don’t see that when they are most active. You see that 20 years later and you see what is still good.
Which are your plans for the future? Do you prepare anything?
I’m working on a new album now. So, I just spent a lot of time making the “Black EP” and also while doing that, I was working in the studio with the new songs that we made during our last tour. When you are touring you get very creative because you are around creative people all the time and you constantly play live and there’s music around you all the time. People are taking care of you all the time, people are cooking the food for you, people are driving you from A to B, so you don’t have to think about normal things, you only think about music. So, when I was on the last tour, when we were touring for 3 months last year and in January this year, during that time I wrote a lot of songs on my laptop and was singing into my phone, making ideas, so when I was back in the studio I put all these ideas together for a new album, but it’s too early to say when it’s going to be released. Early next year I guess or in the summer at least.
When are you going to return to Greece?
When somebody has the money to take me down there. I don’t know. I’ve been to Greece a few times, 3 times I think. I think we’ve only been to Athens. I love Athens, I’ve been there 3 or 4 times, great city, so I would love to go back. I don’t know with the whole economy stuff that is going on, I don’t know if people have the money to go to concerts. Hopefully it is going to work out, and we go on tour next year after the new album and hopefully to Greece as well.
Message from Stephan: Support APOP in any way you can and constantly, especially online, so that the event organizers will take the risk to bring APOP for a concert near you.
I want to thank Stephan Groth for the interview, Stephanie Baudler and Green Entertainment, and Periklis Pitsolantis for his help.