Suicide Commando


I catch up with Johan Van Roy the mastermind of Suicide Commando and its beating heart, at INFEST, the UK’s number one EBM/Industrial festival. Johan is in fine spirits; he is busy soaking up the atmosphere of the Friday night, not a care in the world. Tomorrow he will headline the Saturday night, but tonight he is willing to let down his barriers and let us into his darkened world. Past the security into the belly of the university complex, Johan briskly escorts me backstage..Long winding corridors end in an equally challenging spiral staircase up to the Suicide Commando HQ, their home for the night. Sat around the wooden tables laid out with a finger buffet of food and a well-stocked fridge of Beer, we begin our interview..

Photocredits (Roman Kasperski)

J – Johan

CC – You’re one of the only acts from the ‘Off-Beat Brat pack’ [note.. of the first bands found and signed by Stefan Herwig the others were VNV Nation, Covenant and Velvet Acid Christ] to remain at what is now called Dependent, what makes you stay, when everyone else is leaving?
J – I’ve had no reason to leave. I’ve always been happy with the work done by Stefan. He does a very good job. He does very good promotion and distribution, so I had absolutely no reason to go elsewhere.

CC – Following on from that.. Covenant and VNV they’ve all been approached by Majors, have you ever been approached? Are you not tempted to go down that route?
J – NO! (we both laugh at this spontaneous response) To be honest I would never sign to a major because you only have to look at those bands that have signed to a major to see that it is not all it’s cracked up to be. Most of them are coming back now. But actually I am at the end of my contract with Dependent so we’re negotiating with a few different labels right now. Stefan has made me his offer and I have four or five other options too, so we will see..

CC – Axis Of Evil seemed to have a much more simple, stripped down production compared to Mindstrip, was that a deliberate decision to produce an album like that?
J – Not really. I never set up a plan before I start making an album, I just let the creative process go its own way.

CC – I heard that Axis Of Evil was put together over a short period of time, predominantly in the evenings and weekends. It would surprise most people to know that you have a full time job still, how do you juggle the two?
J – To be honest it has been becoming quite a problem and so now actually I’m only working part-time. The combination was getting too hard and out of hand and luckily enough my boss was so understanding that I was able to go part-time. That’s really cool because without the job I wouldn’t survive, I’m no Robby Williams!! (laughter erupts from us both, but it’s a serious point, most bands on our scene don’t make enough money to survive) The scene is so small that it is not possible really to make money enough to live off, so at the moment this is a perfect situation for me because I can work part-time and devote the rest of my time to my music.
This has meant that this year I’ve been able to do way more festivals and concerts. Working five days a week and then spending all your weekends and spare time doing concerts or writing music was just too much, it was ridiculous! You can’t do that for long time.

CC – Talking about touring, you recently did a tour with Interlace and Tactical Sekt. What was it like playing with the next generation of Dark Electro bands?
J –(Johan chuckles to himself)…Well actually Tactical Sekt was my idea, I really wanted Anthony [Mather, Mastermind of Tactical Sekt] to be part of the tour, and Interlace was suggested by Stefan, but it worked out really well. We had Tactical Sekt doing music in a similar vein to us, and then the more atmospheric industrial of Interlace made for a really interesting and complimentary combination. The tour went really well.

CC – Do you enjoy touring?
J – Well, it’s exhausting. But no, it was a great tour actually, in fact it was the best tour we ever did.

CC – You’ve always encouraged new talent from your demo-collecting days [Johan used to collect new bands’ demos] to your up and coming compilation ‘Decoder v.2.0’ . I think a lot of people would be surprised that you support bands that mimic and maybe even copy you.. What drives you to do it?
J – I have no problems with bands that sound like Suicide Commando and in fact I’m really flattered that they’d want to sound like Suicide Commando.
Most of the bands I know myself personally, so I see no reason why I shouldn’t support them. After all this is the kind of music I like otherwise I wouldn’t make it! When I started out I was compared to Klinik and Dive and for me it was an honour to be compared with those people. They were my heroes and so maybe I fill that role now I don’t know.. (he quietly chuckles to himself the last comment is said completely without ego, there is a wonder in his voice, like he can’t quite believe that people could see him that way)

CC – What do you listen to when you’re at home?
J – 99% Pure Electronic Music. I get sent lots of new stuff by new bands and such like, and the other 1% would be what is playing on the radio or whatever. I listen to some more guitar-orientated stuff, like Marilyn Manson or NIN, but yeah, 99% would be the music I like and I play.. Electronic Music.

CC – What inspires your creativity? What inspires your music and lyrics for Suicide Commando?
J – Lyrically I would say just switch on your television, you can see where I get all the topics that I sing about (cue cynical laughter..). Be it in the evening news or CNN or whatever. Musically I just do my thing. No real inspiration behind that. I just get behind my gear and whatever comes, comes. If it’s not coming, then it doesn’t come as well, so.. As long as I enjoy it, that’s the main thing. Of course, it’s nice if you can sell records and get better with every record but the main important thing for me is that I enjoy it, otherwise I would stop.

CC – A lot of bands now are embarking on side-projects now, has the idea of a side-project appealed to you?
J – I had a few side projects back in the old days.. but they kind of petered out.

CC – So we can’t expect a future-pop side project from you then?
J – (long, shocked and pregnant pause..) NO! (his face crack into a maniacal grin) Not really my style.. ha ha ha …The main problem in the past was finding the time to do the side-projects. So maybe now with the extra time I have it’s time to look into the possibility of doing side-projects again.
I would love to actually. On the one side I love working alone on Suicide Commando but on the other hand it’s completely different working with different people, it’s really fun. Actually you know now I think of it, I would love to do a new project, if time allows!
[note: you heard it here first kids,, pitch your ideas for a side-project to Johan now!]

CC – So what can we expect from Suicide Commando in the coming months?
J – Well we have done some festivals this summer and we will be doing a couple more, one in Belgium..

CC – Yes, the Vampire Party Festival, I’ll be playing there too..
J – And then one in Norway and a few in Germany I think also.
Then we will be concentrating on doing some more remix work for bands. And since it is nearly a year since I released Axis Of Evil I really ought to start working on some new material! Ha ha ha!

CC – How long does the Album process take? I mean Axis Of Evil that was done in a three-month period?
J – Well actually its difficult to say, because some songs were older, but the rest were done in the last few months. I set myself a deadline and then I work to that. I was getting closer and closer to the deadline and still no new material, but I got it done.. and it always works like that. It was the same with the Mindstrip album. It takes me about two years between albums, but actually most of the work will be done in the last few months. And now of course nearly a year later I have the new single… [Cause Of Death Suicide – A single of Suicide Commando at its very best, and highly recommended]

CC – Did you have more time to do the single? Only it does sound a little more polished if I may say, and ‘complete’ than the album..
J – Yes, I did try and give the single a little more time, and finish it off with some extra production and final pieces.

CC – On the Cause Of Death Single there’s what I think is a fabulous re-working of Better Off Dead. What makes you revisit a song that you’ve already remixed?
J – It was more of a coincidence. We used to play it in our live sets, and then I didn’t play it for maybe one or two years and for the last Axis Of Evil tour I picked it up again as an encore and the response from the audience was so great that I thought.. yeah, I have to make a new version and release this again.

CC – With an explosion of people and I’m afraid to say even DJ’s in this country are downloading EBM/Industrial music off the Internet.. off Soul-Seek and similar file-share sites. What difference does it make to you as a band and what would you say to people that are doing this?
J – Well it’s a very difficult situation, because you can be against it, but it won’t help much. In a way, up to a certain point I can understand that people in Brazil or whatever, people who can’t get this music in their local music shop have to get their music this way. I can understand that people download if they really have no money. And I can understand people who do it to listen to new music, or new bands before they buy them. But of course it becomes a problem when people download it just because it is free and copy it for their friends for free.

CC – How do you think it affects your sales?
J – Well it’s hard to say but if you see that so many record labels, record shops, distributors are going bust, then that it is probably one of the reasons for that happening. The youth these days are spending their money differently than we used to. They are spending their money on mobile phones, computer games, DVD’s, things that we didn’t have 10-20 years ago.
It’s one of the reasons for the CD sales market’s decline, but I don’t really know what the solution would be.

CC – The thing I’m getting at Johan is that people in the UK have this idealised view of what it is like to be a top EBM/Industrial band. They think that you can live off your CD sales, and that downloading tracks off the Internet and not buying your CD’s doesn’t really make any difference.
J – Of course it is so easy to download to your computer. But please remember that these bands put so much time and effort into the music that you love to listen to, and because you have downloaded their music they get nothing in return. It just doesn’t seem right to me.. The downloader gets the music, but the band that has made that, spent months and maybe years working on it for them, they get nothing. It does not seem right.
So what should we do with them?? Shoot them?? He he he he ha ha!!
[at this point the interview collapses into great laughter, and we end the interview on a high note..]
My time with Johan is up. He’s an intelligent, quiet spoken man, with a big personal presence. He has impressed me today, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Just like most of the other bands I’ve interviewed he is humble and passionate about what he does. He is no superstar with a super-sized ego, he’s just a normal guy, just like you and me. But he cares, cares about his music and cares about the scene. In the coming months Johan will be releasing his new compilation CD – Decoder V2.0, so if you wanna know what’s hot out there in the land of unsigned and signed bands, go get yourself a copy,
The next day he takes INFEST by storm with an incredible voracious assault on our senses in one of the finest live shows I’ve ever seen. So next time you listen to your Suicide Commando CD remember the man behind it all. A quiet, genial genius. His name? Johan Van Roy.