During Roadburn this year, my girlfriend and I had the pleasure of hosting Leif Jensen of Dew-Scented and his spouse in our apartment, providing them with a place to sleep, eat breakfast, and store their gear. Of course, I wasn’t going to let this opportunity go to waste, so Leif graciously agreed to an interview one early and tipsy Saturday afternoon.
Okay, we’re halfway through Roadburn, which bands did you enjoy the most so far and why?
Well, the thing with Roadburn is, I’ve been coming here for many years, and I don’t really come here for any specific bands. I stroll around the venues, take 5 minutes here and there, sometimes keep watching a show of a band that I don’t know. That’s part of the experience, to discover new bands. Sometimes you’ll have a friend that goes “Hey, I’m gonna see this, wanna join me for a beer and catch a couple of minutes?” Specific bands, I would say Chelsea Wolfe yesterday, and Wolves in the Throne Room were really good. The Oathbreaker show was the first time I saw them live. It was one of my favorite records from last year so it was good to see them perform it that well. I’m looking forward to seeing Disfear tonight.
Yes, I was looking forward to seeing them as well. I got into one D-beat band a while back but they are one of the bands that started that.
Yeah, exactly, they’re one of the classic bands of the second generation and they haven’t played for a while, so that should be good. It’s always the variety and the atmosphere of the shows that I prefer at Roadburn. It’s a relaxed festival, it’s a lot of program. Some of my friends are into checking out 17 bands in a day and running from one venue to another. To be honest, I would rather kick back and see a couple of full sets.
So how did you first get into heavy music?
Wow, that’s a long time ago, and a long story too! I was always listening to music when I was a kid. My parents had a nice diverse taste. I remember specifically getting a Pink Floyd record from my dad, which was The Wall, and I just loved the packaging and the story. Apart from that, it was just radio, taping rock shows. The older brother of one of my school friends listened to heavy metal and he was playing some when we were hanging out. This goes back to me being 11, 12, 13 years old, when I was becoming more aware of music. Then it went really quick. Friends and bands, buying our first records, tape trading, writing for a magazine, starting to work with music at some point, getting into a band…
I was raised in South America, in Colombia, and access to music wasn’t that easy. There were very few records available there, there were almost no shows by international bands back then in the 80s, and there was no internet yet. I was living there until I was 14, and my grandmother used to send me birthday packages. I just asked for metal records so I would have something to tape to my friends. She just sent them with the mail or brought them when she was visiting. That was really the humble beginning. I moved back to Germany in 1990, and then it went really fast. I started the band at ‘92, I was already writing for fanzines around ‘90. It just went from there.
What made you decide to start playing?
The fact that four local dudes who were playing in local bands and that I really looked up to founded a new band and didn’t have a singer, so it was very random. We were in a bar, and a friend of mine was supposed to do the vocals. I said: “I’ll just come to rehearsals and check you guys out.” Then they said that the friend didn’t really come through, “so what about you try”? I’d never had a microphone in my life! They already had three songs in the works that I really liked, so I had to speed up and get some courage to attempt, and they were into it! They just said: “Let’s just grow together and see where we end up.” We did a demo, and we gave the band this name, and it’s still the same band. I started it when I was 15-16 and now I’m 40.
And it’s still Dew-Scented.
I always used to say it’s my first and last band, but I have been in a new band since a year ago, basically just a project with some friends. It’s more of a D-beat/crust/death metal band, so Dew-Scented isn’t my first and last band after all, but it has been the one constant throughout my career.
Dew-Scented is more of a thrash/death metal hybrid, but nowadays there are about a million bands playing this throwback style of thrash. What do you think of the retro-thrash movement and why do you think it’s so big?
It’s a new generation. It’s people who weren’t around when the original wave was happening, so it’s a youth thing. Metal and especially heavier sorts of metal are often about growing up, a bit of rebellion and a little bit of lifestyle. But I think the retro thrash that’s happening at the moment is logical because most of the guys are 18, 19, and they’re into good music. And whether you agree, whether you find it fancy or cool enough, thrash happens to be one of the most educated styles in metal. It requires a lot of attention to perform properly because it’s a lot of work on the instrument. It’s very intense, and ultimately it’s built on riffs. You need to have good riffs to have a thrash metal song.
Obviously, you also have a lot of bands that have shit riffs and also have songs [chuckles], but there’s a lot of styles in metal these days that don’t need a good riff. They just need a poppy hook line or a bunch of noise or a wall of keyboards, but thrash is built on riffs. And that’s the essence of rock, the riff, the guitar riff. That is why these guys are picking this up because they are taking that riff and presenting it in a 2017 context. I find that interesting. Some of these bands, like Warbringer who are good friends of mine and a really good thrash band from America, they sound like Kreator, Slayer, all those sorts of bands, just made by younger people. Or Vektor, also from America.
Vektor is a really interesting one, it doesn’t really sound like retro thrash because they bring so many other influences.
Yes, but in essence, it is still retro thrash, there’s a lot of Voivod in there, a lot of Destruction and Death, just presented in a fresh way, with the spirit of youth. Although we are pushing 25 years with the band, we never considered ourselves a retro/old school band, even though the style is obviously classic. We’ve always tried to play it in a modern way, with modern production. There’s also a lot of death metal brutality in there, so we’re borderline thrash/death metal. Everything is modern for a few years and then comes a new thing. I’m on my third wave of thrash by now, I think. It’s cool. There’s always good bands in every style, in every cycle, because like I said, it has to do with generations. Our next generation will also discover Slayer. They feel old to me now, because I’ve been loving that band for 25, 26 years. They’re gonna be 40 years in the game by then. It’s like Black Sabbath, you know? If they’re 16 now, at some point they will discover Sabbath and they’ll say wow, great riffs, great records!
In the end, all roads lead to Sabbath. But with each generation discovering the same music, don’t you think there’s a threat of stagnation to it? Is every band just recycling the same thing?
Maybe! But there’s always gonna be bands who add something personal, break boundaries and expand the limitations, creating something new and special. But there’s people who say there must be something unique to a band to warrant their existence. I totally disagree. If there is a new band who writes me a killer Metallica song, a new band, I will give them credit for writing a killer Metallica song. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary, it just has to be good. I think a lot of bands try too hard to be something special, and I think it doesn’t have to be. You just have to present your likings for what they are, and eventually, some people will agree and will find it cool for themselves and their tastes.
I don’t believe in the competing element in music. Bands that go: ‘Oh we play a lot better than THOSE guys, we should be bigger!’ I think that’s bullshit, it’s not sports. We’re all creating, and everybody should be happy with themselves, and the place he’s in. I think a lot of people take themselves a little too seriously and start competing and analyzing it. If I think a band really sucks, but they’re having a great time, then more power to them, you know? It’s good to be ambitious because it will turn you into a better musician and may even better your character, but in the end, it’s a scene, it’s a family. It’s people who will get together and enjoy the place and time they’re in.
It’s like the festival. When we go to the festival, we’re going to be enjoying the same bands as other people, complete strangers, even enjoying it for different reasons sometimes. If that is not in the foreground of your reasoning for why you are making music, you may be taking yourself too seriously. But I’ve always been a bit of a hippie about it. If someone says: ‘We’re in the charts, we’re #2 in this magazine,’ I’ll be happy for them, but really it means nothing. Some of the bands I like the most are bands no one has heard of.
I agree! My favorite records of last year were an unsigned debut by King Goat, and Madder Mortem, the biggest underdogs in Norway.
Yes indeed. And as long as that record means a lot to you, I don’t mind being alone in waving that flag. At first it’s a personal thing, then it becomes a group thing if other people agree, but even if they don’t, it’s still important to you, and hopefully to the band as well. Some bands are creating for their peers, for target groups. I find that very difficult. It’s a business to some people, they try to survive and make a career out of it. Most of the really good bands just ended up having a career because they were very honest with themselves and what they do. These days you can study becoming a metal musician. Honestly, it’s good for the skills, but I don’t think it leads to careers [chuckles]. It’s tough, and in the big picture, it’s a small scene.
What do you do to keep Dew-Scented growing and developing?
I think we never lost hunger and interest in the style of music. You don’t get a lot of breaks in a touring and recording band. There’s a lot of things to do: there’s an agenda, there’s a list of wishes by the musicians, by yourself, there’s a lyric to finish, a show to play, and before you know it a lot of time has passed by. We discuss it very little. We may discuss time schedules, like meeting up to rehearse or write a record a certain month to rent a studio, but not much else. The little that we do discuss, we have always tried to take the last record, take the last tour as a starting point, and tried to perform better, with the next tour or the next song or next cover artwork. So I think that’s what kept us going, and not losing the passion for it. Nobody’s perfect, and you always want to do a little bit better than before. That’s the fun of it.
The band is in its third chapter now. The last big change was in 2011 when the line-up completely collapsed and we more or less became a Dutch band. There was four Dutch guys and myself, now there’s three Dutch guys with the new drummer that we added last month, a young German guy. We have good chemistry and we’re looking forward to writing a new record that ups the ante from the last one, and that’s it. It’s all you need, having a good chemistry. And sometimes a schedule of things to do so it doesn’t stagnate.
People’s perceptions are different, though. I’ve talked to people that knew the band in the beginning of the 90s. They have a different understanding and a different outlook on the band that I have, and it’s interesting to hear from other people about how the band feels to them, with a different line-up, a new record. It’s sometimes input as well but it doesn’t pressure and affect me too much in the end.
You’re the sole constant member of Dew-Scented, and as you said, you’ve been through a couple of big line-up changes including the new drummer recently. What are the difficulties when the line-up changes that much?
Well, you start from scratch. We’ve especially had our fair share of drummers, and that’s always difficult because without a drummer you are not a functioning band. It’s difficult to rehearse and write, and you always have to adapt to new styles of drummers, because no two are the same. There’s always learning the back catalog and trying not to lose too much time.
You’re also adapting to a new personality whenever the line-up changes. I think we got lucky with the last big lineup change, starting with the 2012 album Icarus, because everyone is very level-headed and good on their own instruments, and we play well together. That’s the perfect scenario for me because that way I can rely on the fact that those guys are super solid with each other and all I have to do is front the band and do the vocals. In the turn of the years, being the guy that always stuck with the band, I had to keep an eye out for things like ‘is the guitarist going to work out, is his style of writing perfect for what the band stands for,’ so I’ve been orchestrating the band a little bit. I don’t have to do that anymore because these guys know what to do, they know what the band stands for, they know what the band needs, so it’s a really good time and we’re in a good position creatively.
Some people go: ‘Oh…you’re playing with Dutch guys now?!’ and I just say: ‘I’m playing with great guys now!!!’ And in all honesty, it doesn’t matter where a band is based from. The band is now mostly based in The Hague, and I drive there a lot shorter than I drove to the other guys in Germany before. Sometimes we also rehearse in Germany. It really doesn’t matter. Marvin the guitarist, he’s one of my oldest friends in metal. We played our first shows together in about ’94/’95 I think, and the first time he toured with us as a session musician was in 1996 when we supported Edge Of Sanity and then Morbid Angel. He knows exactly what the band stands for, so he carried that torch and he’s doing really well musically. I’m a fan of the music…of our own music, and since I don’t write myself as I don’t play any of the instruments, I have to rely on the fact that I enjoy the new songs as well, and I think they’re doing really good.
You do write all the lyrics, right? Why?
Yeah, I write all the lyrics. I wouldn’t mind if someone else wrote any lyrics, I think most of the other guys might not care so much. I’ve actually had a conversation recently with Joost, the bass player, and he might write one or two lyrics for the new album and I’m like “Sure, man! If you have a good idea, go for it“. I’m not a control freak that way. I think they may have just relied on the fact that since the singer has to express the lyrics, maybe it’s better if he writes it?!
About production. What do you think of the status of production quality in metal? Especially in relation to the loudness war?
It’s a difficult topic. As a fan, I have learned to appreciate more organic production again. When it comes to buying records, CD is the most handy format. I don’t like digital, it loses most of the warmth, it’s too compressed. It might sound cool in a small speaker but that’s a compromise. If the music has more width, it has more atmosphere, why reduce it? But that’s me as a fan. I happen to like music on vinyl.
Each scene has its own approach to production. If you take deathcore or djent, for instance, I wouldn’t even want to know how those guys sound if they try to work without triggers and all that, it’s probably a mess! But for ourselves, we always try to be as modern and powerful as we can with technology, I don’t think we would sound right with a stripped down sound. We tried to have the most extreme sound the music can afford.
In general, I think production these days often hides the fact that a band can’t even play. I mean, there are so many fake drums on records, so much copy-paste by guitarists, and when you see their show they’re not pulling it off. If you play live, it should be like playing on record. I know shit happens, sometimes a venue isn’t perfect for the sound, equipment may be a problem, maybe a guy in the band changed and it changes the balance of how they interact, or the sound guy can have a bad day, venue can have a horrible system… That varies, but I’ve seen bands who simply can not live up to the records and that is a shame, because who are you fooling? Yourself, at the end of the day. Maybe you’re pleasing the purchaser of the record, but then we go back to the point: who are you doing it for? I don’t need drums that sound like nobody could play it, including my own drummer.
I think we’re at the breaking point now. Lots of people are going back to more organic productions because it almost sounded too electro, went too computerized. But to each scene its own. We did our fair amount of experimentation with production throughout the albums and we tried to find what fits best to our band. Let’s go back to Slayer, I’m a huge Slayer fan. But back in the ’80s, I think their records sounded best, even though there wasn’t as much technology as now. They had a very compact vibe. Some of the last records, I didn’t like the guitars or the drum sound…it sounded too modern somehow. But I still like the music, because I don’t make the production the most important part of the record.
The loudness war, the dynamic compression really started to come up around the 90s, so it has been growing and I think that’s why bands have been going back to that 80s sound specifically.
Yes, and it’s a competition as well. “My record shouldn’t sound quieter than the record of this other band!” Or they go to a producer and say: “I want to have the same kind of production that you gave to this other band.” Really? [chuckles] But yeah, it’s an interesting situation right now, the scene is very divisive. There seems to be more commercial, mainstream type of metal, and there seems to be an anti-mainstream type of extreme metal.
Roadburn is a good example. There’s a lot of big names in that scene. I don’t think Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine or Anthrax would play Roadburn, but they share some people in the audience. There’s people here that would also go to Anthrax. But it’s a very different type of thrash than the thrash that would be played here. I think the scenes are dividing as well when it comes to production. Some are going more extreme towards a modern production and others turn away from it, I think that’s very interesting. Some records these days sound heavily underproduced in purpose, but I don’t mind that at all either.
I reviewed a band the other day called Saturn, a Swedish retro-rock band, and one of the big plusses on the record was that they recorded everything in analog so it sounded like a 70s band, it’s a magical sound.
Yes exactly, and it takes a lot of effort to do that. Some bands are recording live again these days, bass drums and guitars all recorded live. I think that’s fantastic because you have to play live together anyway. Many bands write on the computer, so then everything is on the grid, it’s so perfect, pushed to the very limit of playability and sound quality and that makes it difficult to work it. You could lose the organic quality. Some bands have a mix that works out for them, to utilize the technology to do things easier and nicer, but then are still aware of the fact that that is not the end of it, you still have to play it and rehearse it. Some bands probably don’t have finished songs when they go into the studio these days, I find that incredible! “We’ll fix it in the studio!” [laughs]
Technology is great though, we send ideas to each other in mp3, we use skype to conference, it saves so much time. But you shouldn’t forget how to tune your guitar, you shouldn’t forget how to get a good tone out of a real amp, you shouldn’t forget how to play your instrument when on stage and you shouldn’t forget to write good riffs. Some bands really forgot that.
Going back to Dew-Scented, do you have any reason behind the pattern of starting every album name with the letter I? Did that evolve that way or did you plan it out?
There was no plan, and if there had been a plan it would have failed [laughs]. You do a record, then you do a second record, and we just considered it nice if they had a similar title, like if they were glued together. I didn’t think further than that. At some point you do a third record, what do we title that? And you realize it’s becoming a thread. Let’s just stick to it. At first, it was a reaction to how a lot of people thought the band name was awkward and doesn’t fit the style, so we wanted to do something over the top for the titles as well.
The first album was named Immortelle, which was named after a track on the demo that we then renamed. That was a very anti-metal title as well: an immortelle is a paper flower. We just wanted to make people think and go with that enigmatic bullshit. I actually think Dew-Scented is a great band name. Sure it’s hard to remember or pronounce for some people but I think it is special and that’s what I was going for. I didn’t want to call the band Violator or Brutality, although it would have been easier and made us quicker moves.
Now sometimes people will joke about the band name, but they will remember it.
Yeah! And it’s the name for our band and our style, so now people in the scene hopefully go “Oh, that’s that German band.” Eventually we somewhat established it, hopefully, but at first, the titles for the albums were a reaction to that. The second album was called Innoscent, in-no-scent, a play on the band name as well. So we just decided to do a third record and continue with the thread. We were gonna drop it at some point because it was getting silly, and sometimes I even fuck it up myself! I’ll be on stage like: “Here’s one from the sixth record! No wait, it’s not from the sixth record, what was it again? Ehm…” [chuckles] It makes it difficult for myself as well, but it’s who we are.
It gave people something to talk about, and of course, the band started in the days when there was no internet. So a lot of this was, for example, writing to a guy who was selling 5 copies of our demo tape in Scotland. Then he writes me a letter and says: “That’s an interesting band name, what were you thinking?” And I write him a letter saying: “I was reading, I thought it was a great term, I was confused and I wanted to confuse other people.” I send him that letter with the demo tape, and he sends me a letter back three weeks later going: “Hey that’s pretty cool, thanks mate!” These days people just go online and in real time without further thinking and sharing ”their wisdom,” with the whole world: “What a shit band name! It’s gothic metal! Fuck those guys! Bitches!”. I don’t care. Different times, you know?
Never read YouTube comments, that’s the truth.
When I started the new project last year we ran into the same problem, looking for a name that fits. We actually wanted to go with a Schwarzenegger movie: we wanted to call ourselves Phantom Commando, a real fun movie. But then there was an EBM band called like that, so we ended naming ourselves Phantom Corporation. I think it’s cool, it’s a solid name, but it’s getting tough, a lot of names were already taken and you wanna have something unique that sounds cool.
Any plans for Phantom Commando? Corporation! Shit, yes, Phantom Corporation! Now I’m doing it!
We might have to call ourselves Phantom Commando after all! [laughs] It still bugs me that the name was taken, fuck! I’ll give you a CD that we released as a demo last year, it’s self-released because we just want to keep it a small, fun project. But it’s seriously good music at the end of the day. We just recorded 4 more songs I have to do vocals for, but everything else is recorded for split 7 inches with other bands. I think at the end of the summer we might do an album. We do shows every now and then, we have a show in 2 weeks at a festival in Germany. It’s been developing into something. It’s a project with friends of mine that we always kept talking about and at some point we just said: ‘Let’s just fucking do it.’ It’s fun, the guys have great ideas, but I’ll let you hear it and then you can tell me what you think.
Going back to Dew-Scented, what would you call the most unexpected influences to your music?
I think a lot of people don’t realize we have a lot of punk and hardcore influence, in the aesthetic and the approach to how we write the riffs and how we define the songs. You don’t really hear it, obviously, we avoid sounding different to our style. If we had a punk-rock riff, I don’t think we would play it, but we can use it to mold it into something. A lot of the early hardcore, D-beat bands like Discharge, those are some of my personal favorite bands and they do have an influence on how we do things, how we glue the riffs, the vibe of song structuring, that has always been an influence on the band. I don’t think people caught up or noticed that too much, but is part of our musical DNA.
I don’t think people notice this anymore, but when we started out we were also kind of doom-metal influenced, I think 2 out of the first 5 songs we wrote were classic, slow doom/death songs, like early Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, early Anathema for instance. We dropped that because it wasn’t our thing, we couldn’t do both at the same time. We noticed when we were playing live the faster energetic songs fit us better, so we dropped that edge to it. We do have a few down-tempo songs these days, but that’s more of a mid-tempo type of song, not really slow. A lot of people don’t know that when we chose the name and the aesthetics and even the lyrics, some of it was very atmospheric and really wrong for what the band stands for these days. You don’t completely forget about your roots though, in the beginning, it was very important for shaping the band.
Since I don’t write the music, I can’t say what influences the other guys brought that you don’t hear. They’re into non-metal bands too, and it can help them get even more nerdy and harder about our own style. They could listen to Massive Attack and go: “Now I really know how our next song needs to sound.” It makes you draw a line. I think many bands are into a lot of different music, and they may try to write a song that incorporates all of that into a single song, which doesn’t really work. You have to shave off a couple of your interests to focus more. I think we do that pretty well.
You commented before how some album review for us mentioned a lack of progress, but I disagree…to us, it’s not about changing style, it’s about getting better at what you do. And “progress” might then just not be so obvious to others?! I’m super conservative with the band, this band will always stand for death metal influenced thrash. The moment we don’t do that, we split up the band. The only direct influences we’ve had in the last couple of years is the original bands in our style, from when we were kids or our own music. We don’t look for influences from outside our style, we are not interested in having that in our band. If we wanna do something else, we can do side projects.
There’s bands that really change their style a lot throughout their career, like Opeth, but on the other hand, there are bands like Amon Amarth and AC/DC who just stick to the same sound and slightly refine it because that is what they do. I guess Dew-Scented falls in the latter category.
Yes, and with bands like Opeth that keep developing new sounds, it is often a natural progression in order to find what really makes them what they are, to actually achieve a type of result that they may have been looking for since the beginning.
Of course, it’s also possible to change with line-up changes, or the people in the band change as they get older and their own taste changes.
Yeah, but I try to stay away from ‘metal midlife crisis’ [laughs]. There are bands who were like: ‘Oh we did nu-metal when it was cool and now we’re going back to our roots.’ What the fuck? Just do what you want to do in the first place, no need to justify it. Even looking at Metallica right now, they’re ‘going back to their roots.’ No, they’re not! They lost their way a long time ago, now they are just trying to sound like in their early days! But to each band their own. Some bands created some amazing music, developed a scene by changing, by going in different ways. I don’t think that is for everybody though. This sounds pretty cocky, but there’s not a lot of bands doing the style we’re doing for so long. Maybe Malevolent Creation, Sadus or Legion of the Damned, who are somewhat similar, but there is not many. It’s a very acquired mission.
So final question: what’re the plans for the next Dew-Scented album?
We’re actually writing now, since we’ve confirmed the drummer. We’ve had 7 or 8 songs down for a bit, we just had a tour to test the waters with him and it went really well. We’re going into pre-production with the first handful of songs before the summer, and maybe do the rest after the summer. We’ll hopefully have an album ready to record by the end of the year, and hopefully release it next year, then play some shows. We still have some summer festivals as well.
Great to hear! Well, that wraps up the interview. Thank you very much for your time!