State Of The Union

With their debut album released in both Europe and America, S.O.T.U have achieved unexpected chart acclaim and made themselves a positive hit around the club circuits with their hard hitting electronic dance music and symbolic lyrical themes.
Richard Hobbs discusses with frontman Johann Sebastian about the rise of his L.A. based band and the personal experiences that have led to such meaningful songs.

1. Let’s start with a look at how the project began, I take it the title State Of The Union kind of resulted as a reference to your lyrical messages.
Johann Sebastian:
State of the Union started out as a studio project in 1999 and began to take shape in late fall of 2000 when I had finished a five song demo CD. Soon after finishing it I began passing out copies to DJs in the EBM/synthpop club scene in Los Angeles. It had a very good response so I decided to finish five more songs to complete the album. Juan Koito, a long time friend of mine and I decided to start with another project but at that time I was still busy working on finishing touches for the S.O.T.U. album. I met Juan early on, when I was searching for a record label for this album. I was also looking to develop a live show for S.O.T.U. at that time. That's when he recommended that I get Jimmy to play drums for S.O.T.U, being that Jimmy is one of the best live drummers he had ever seen. We left it at that, remaining good friends, with him keeping me up to date on what was going on. Later, we decided to work on a different project together. I was finishing the album when we started work on what came to be Vicious Sentiment. That’s when I approached him to become part of S.O.T.U.

2. You are signed to Accession Records for European releases, how do you plan to cover US promotion?
We signed with WTIIRecords, which is the resurrection of Wax Trax Records.

3. How well have S.O.T.U adapted to the club scene?
It has been a really good year and I can’t complain, the response the album has had in the club scene is almost unbelievable, being that this is our debut album. I never even expected to be in the top 40 of the charts but the album climbed and has steadily been in the top ten ever since its European release on April 5th 02, almost eight weeks up to this date, so I would say that the club scene has “adapted” to us very well.

4. We can gather where the subjects for your lyrics arise, so who do you admire as being the musical influences of S.O.T.U?
There are an infinite amount of bands that have influenced me musically through the years, some of them were even the so-called one hit wonder bands but the one band that year after year remained as a consistent lyrical influence in me was Depeche Mode, I really admire Mr. Gore’s way of organizing his unique thoughts into songs and Dave Gahan’s way of portraying them lyrically on stage, it seems like they couldn’t do one without the other, they really compliment each other in a very impressive way.

5. How long did the album “Black City Lights” take to record, were you responsible for all the engineering work as well?
It took from twelve to eighteen months to record taking in consideration the writing process, production, mixing and mastering. Of course it could’ve been finished earlier if I would’ve quit my day job! I am also responsible for all the engineering part of it. I did the pre-mastering before it was sent to Germany for final mastering at The White Room, where all mastering for Diary of Dreams takes place.

6. We have to mention your song “World Chaos” which highlights the September 11th tragedy in the US. Where were you when this event happened, and what effects did this have on yourself?
I was in Los Angeles finishing touches on Black City Lights, and as I was driving to work that morning when I heard on the radio that an airplane had crashed against the north tower of the world trade centre, I immediately assumed that it was a terrorist attack but I never would have imagined that the buildings would collapse. I got home afterwards and watched the News for seven hours straight, it was very shocking and unbelievable to see how those airplanes crashed against the buildings, it was almost like watching a Hollywood movie. The lyrics of “world chaos” were definitely inspired by what happened that day.

7. Another track, “Walk In My Shoes” pictures you dreaming of the consequences faced with being famous. How do you feel you would cope being left in this same situation?
I thought about it twice before including this song in the record. This song is actually a dream that I had and everything that takes place in that dream is depicted in this song. In the beginning when I finished the lyrics I thought they were very self-centred so this song almost got the boot if it wasn’t for the people that insisted on me including it in the album.
I don’t know how I would cope being left in the same situation, I really enjoy privacy.
This song could really confuse a lot of people and may seem very contradictive to the career that I chose to take.

8. Was “Enemy Of The State” based around any person in particular?
The song “enemy of the state” was inspired by the movie “The Hurricane” which depicts a real life story about a boxer serving life in prison, all the injustice committed against him, all the trials he went through and nearly spending half his life in prison. My intention with this one is to address all the injustice committed against the people of colour and how we shouldn’t judge other people by the colour of their skin.

9. I do like the cover artwork, was this your own concept?
It was my own concept and it was conceived by Mario Alessi of, my idea was to have artwork that combined both technology and the human side and it was inspired by the cover artwork from Fear Factory’s “soul of a new machine” in which shows a human foetus inside a nuclear reactor, I thought that to be very inspiring and it remains amongst one of my favourite album covers of all times, very conceptual indeed!

10. In the albums sleeve notes you have three email addresses printed and no website. Is a website being planned?
The idea behind having three different email addresses was to have one for each band member which was really unnecessary but I did not think about it until the end. I am a web developer but never took time to work on my own website, I finally took sometime to work on it and we have one now, you can visit it at, it is still in developing stages but it will give you something to look at in the meantime.

11. So, what’s the next stage?
We are currently working on our second album and have five songs finished so far, I think it will be finished by the end of fall of 2002. As far as tours and live shows, we are playing the xtraector festival in Holland the 27th of June and there are some talks about touring the states as the opening act for Das Ich, although this is not yet confirmed. We will play wherever they call us.

12. Being a person with so many views to offer, can you leave us with some thoughts to consider?
There have been many myths and sayings about what State of the Union stands for; I just like to say that State of the Union simply stands for “together we achieve more”.

Thanks so much for your interview; I hope you enjoy the album, looking forward to your next interview.

Best wishes,
Johann Sebastian