Im Gruftboten-Interview: VNV-Mastermind Ronan Harris über Gänsehaut-Momente, tiefgründige Songs und darüber, wie er dem Tod entkommen ist

Die Gruftboten mit Ronan Harris vor den VNV Nation Konzert in Berlin, 26. Oktober 2018 / Foto: Dunkelklaus
Die Gruftboten mit Ronan Harris vor den VNV Nation Konzert in Berlin, 26. Oktober 2018 / Foto: Dunkelklaus

Berlin, Columbiahalle, 26. Oktober 2018, zwei Stunden vor Beginn der „Noire“-Show:  VNV-Mastermind Ronan Harris begrüßt die Gruftboten zum Interview im Backstage-Bereich. Harris ist gleichermaßen entspannt wie präsent, bietet Getränke und Ladekabel für die aufnehmenden Handys an. Ronan hat nach jahrelanger Bühnenerfahrung immer massenhaft Ersatzkabel für alle Fälle dabei. „Ich bin Kabelmeister“, sagt er lachend auf deutsch. Im Interview spricht der aus Irland stammende Wahlhamburger aber lieber seine Muttersprache. Also fragt der Gruftbote auf deutsch und Ronan antwortet auf englisch. Und so haben wir das Gespräch auch aufgeschrieben.


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Teil 1: Noire oder das Lob der Dunkelheit

VNV Nation, M'era Luna-Festival 2016 / Fotos: Dunkelklaus
VNV Nation, M'era Luna-Festival 2016 / Fotos: Dunkelklaus

Hallo Ronan, wir treffen Dich hier in Berlin nach den ersten „Noire“-Konzerten. Wie läuft die Tour?


Really amazing.  We all were very nervous at the beginning, as we did not know how it would go with the new songs. Usually it’s difficult to play new songs to people, especially on release day, because nobody knows them yet. But the reaction has been absolutely insane.  Playing the new songs is ... when you see the finally tonight you will understand. That is my “Gänsehaut-Moment”.


[Das Finale des Konzerts ist das Lied “All Our Sins“, es ist auch das letzte Lied auf der „Noire“. Es ist ein dunkler, kraftvoller, sich aufbauender Song mit treibenden Drums und einem Ronan, der mit lauter Stimme singend noch einmal alles gibt. Wenn er „I hope that their cries, haunt you till the end” deklamiert, stellen sich einem die Haare auf. Es fühlt sich an, als ob die Energie des ganzen Konzerts sich in diesem Moment noch einmal verdichtet.]


Also kommt „Noire“ live gut an?


Sorry, I don’t wanna say “everything is incredible”, because every band says that. But the tour is energetic and powerful. The shows are great, the light shows are amazing, I get a thrill out of it. At the first show in cologne I became very emotional. I had tears in my eyes because it was such a beautiful experience.  


Es kommt aber durchaus öfter vor, dass Du auf der Bühne gerührt bist…


Every time I get very emotional at concerts, because they mean a lot to me. My fans, my crew, the people I work with are my family, they mean a lot to me. 


Man könnte ja glauben, dass der VNV-Zauber nach so vielen Jahren verfliegt. Aber bei den „Noire“-Konzerten sind die Zuhörer ja richtig selig… 


I don’t know what happened in the last few years. From the biggest to the smallest shows there is a big change. We always had very energetic crowds. But now it’s just gone one step up. I see many familiar faces on the shows that I’ve seen for years. But I also see a lot of new faces. Cool people, people who are really interested in music. This means a lot to me and i’m very happy about this. When you are a well-known band with a good show or a popular album you often lose people from the beginning: But I don’t wanna lose a lot of people. I don’t want it to change VNV to something superficial or something temporary. 


Also keine Probleme?


We have a replacement in Berlin, because one of the crew [Andrew] injured his foot very badly, so he is off for the rest of the week. But we have a plan b and a plan c, always. You learn that from experience over the years.


Wie die Sache mit den Kabeln?


I was a computer programmer for years. I do a lot of technical things because I love them and don’t wanna loose connection to it. When it comes to the show you will see tonight: I created all of those and worked with the light designer. It is not a control thing. But it is my vision. 


Also ist VNV eine Ein-Mann-Show?


I work with many creative people and I love it. We all build something wonderful together. There is nothing like “You do this!” Everybody brings his part to the show. I love the amazing sound guy Paul (?), he knows what to do. Our light guy Martin is like my younger brother from another mother. I simply love creating things.

VNV Nation, Amphi-Festival 2017 / Foto: Dunkelklaus
VNV Nation, Amphi-Festival 2017 / Foto: Dunkelklaus

Ärgert es Dich dann, wenn Zuschauer in Deutschland nicht alles, was Du mit Deinen Liedern meinst, erfassen?


There are also people in the English-speaking world who buy albums and think: ,Oh, this is quite cool music’, like a handbag or a pair of shoes. To me this is disappointing. I put a lot of effort in this. I think about the words, I think about the music. For example with “All Our Sins”. The music sounds like it does, because I wrote lyrics with a gravitas, a certain depth. So the music cannot sound light and happy. If you want to tell a dark story, you turn the lights down. 


... Also ist „Allauer“ … „oll or“ ... haha ...


Come on, “All Our Sins” is easy to say! I have a lot of friends in Sachsen. My girlfriend is from there and I have a lovely relationship with the people and their accent. I’m irish, and English people make also fun about our accent, so we have a connection. They often ask me to play Honour. Sie sagen dann “Spiel doch mal Oonör“. I love it!! It is not to be funny about it. 

The people in the East of Germany are wonderfully friendly. I don’t want to say anything against western germany where I live. But there is something special about the people in the east.


Warum ist „All Our Sins“ das letzte Lied auf dem  Album?


It has to be! Noire is structured like a journey. Every album I’ve done is constructed in a very special and specific way. The word „Noire“ relates to a concept from the late 18thCentury, when writers, composers and artists used it as a kind of nickname for this kind of mysterious emotion of darkness for inspiration to create night music or night paintings. It is a tempting,  seductive, mysterious darkness, full of instant dark. The night is a mysterious, magical time for many people. And it always has been. 


Also ist „Noire“ eine Reise durch die Nacht?


It is about the resistance against the concept of night and the madness and chaos it can bring. I went to some difficult situations in my life. And then I always found myself sleepless sitting around at night going through this. I couldn’t sleep, and this felt worse. “A Million” is about the psychological journey we go through to find a way through the pain in ourselves to get to the other side. 


Also ist die Schwärze Faszination und Drohung gleichermaßen.


There are some words I love to use in it, like the “night presaged”. “presage” is a warning that something is coming . When the sun dies and the night comes is metaphoricly the time, when we come into our deepest and darkest thoughts. The song is a mini-version of the album. And the last song is the conclusion. That is the way I write albums.


Und warum eigentlich „Noire“ mit „e“ und nicht „Noir“ ohne?


Noire with an e is a feminine principle. In all mysticism the feminine principle is the strongest, it is the source power of the universe. Everyone who plays with tarot cards knows that the universe is a female principle. 


Da schlägst Du ja einen weiten Bogen…


Noire starts with “A Million”, it ends with “Our Sins”, so does the concert. It really forms this perfect roundness to the end. The end leaves you with the open question. You have the choice. As you have the knowledge what to do, what do you do with it? That is the question.

And people think I write sweet happy songs (lacht).


Ist die Reise in die eigene Dunkelheit nicht vor allem gruselig?


The personal journey into yourself is scary. I think it is important to know, who you are, to know yourself. Don’t lock away your demons and your pain, try to face them. Accept your faults,  even get friends with them.  You gain strength from this. It doesn’t make you a happier person, but a more balanced one. You are able to do bigger and better things.

Holygram in Berlin, 26. Oktober 2018 / Foto: Batty Blue
Holygram in Berlin, 26. Oktober 2018 / Foto: Batty Blue

Kurz zur Vorband: Holygram hast Du Dir ja selbst ausdrücklich ausgesucht…


Those guys are the loveliest people  I’ve ever been on tour! When I saw them at the first time I knew: These band has to be on this tour!


Wann war das?


I went to an OMD-concert in Hamburg. When I saw the opening band of the evening and I thought: This is fantastic! I remember the 80ies, when this type of post-punk-music was new. I saw the first tours of The Jesus And Mary Chain, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Cure in 1982 and New Order, when they played “Blue Monday” for the first time. Now Holygram takes the idea of this music and build something new on it.

Teil 2: Über die Unmöglichkeit, einfache Songs zu schreiben

"Resonance"-Konzert von VNV Nation in Leipzig, 20. Dezember 2017 / Foto: Dunkelklaus
"Resonance"-Konzert von VNV Nation in Leipzig, 20. Dezember 2017 / Foto: Dunkelklaus

Wie kommst Du zu Deinen Texten?


I don’t know.  They come, they just happen. I use some words again and again. I have reference words who lead me as motives through the album. Everything has a meaning. When I construct this it is just like a puzzle. Even when almost nobody understands that – I love it. I have an idea what I wanna say. And sometimes I will hit a note on a keyboard, and this unlocks something and all the lyrics come.


Was kommt zuerst? Die Musik oder die Texte?


It depends. First of all you have an idea of what you wanna sing about. And then you write down the music – for example “God of All”… 


…ich liebe diesen Song, er gehört zu meinen Favoriten…


Thank you. As I always say on concerts: A little bit of 80ies never hurt anybody (lacht). When I was playing the melody for “God of All” for the very first time, words started to come. They just appeared. I just knew what I wanted to say, and it just filled the pieces. That is it.


Der Text von „God of All“ ist doch eigentlich sehr traurig, oder?


God of all is actually about an ancient legend. When a man asked the parent god for immortality. And the parent god says: Ok, but take care of what you wish for. So the man gets immortality and is doomed to watch how humanity struggle and suffer and never learned friendship and love. But there is a positive side to it, because through all of this ages we build and tried to make the world a better place. 


Und diese Suche nach Weisheit teilst Du mit dem Mann aus dem Lied?


I seek knowledge, and knowledge is hidden everywhere, in every little hole in the whole world. If you are into a goth thing, you find yourself interested in a thousends subjects, because all of it relates somewhere to this mystery. And it is also a nice dance song.


Ist „God of All“ Dein Lieblingslied auf dem Album? Oder welches sonst?


I just say: the Album. There is no way to say what’s favorite and what not. Everything is a different moment, it is about the different feelings in your live. When people ask me: Why is your music so different? I answer: That is how I am. I have many sides. This is a reflection of me. Of course, I am making it.

VNV Nation in Berlin, 26. Oktober 2018 / Foto: Batty Blue
VNV Nation in Berlin, 26. Oktober 2018 / Foto: Batty Blue

„Noire“ ist ja ziemlich vielseitig. Mit „Nocturne No. 7“ ist sogar eine klassische Nachtmusik drauf.


If you make an album which is inspired of the night, you have to have a nocturne on it. It is a important part of the culture of the veneration of the night. At the beginning of the 18thcentury an irish composer wrote the first nocturne, they hadn’t even a word for it. It was just music designed for the night. Later people like Chopin, Satie, Debussy and Grieg took inspiration of this to write nocturnes. Maybe today many people don’t understand why it is so long. But this pieces of music tell stories, and it takes their time. The song itself is a story within a story.  You are sitting there one night with a glass of wine, or a scotch in my case, and are thinking about a thing back in your life. Maybe about someone who meant a lot to you. In a way every song is a microcosm of the whole thing. 


Das hört sich ziemlich tiefgründig an.


I just can’t write simple things. It is impossible! I am happy that I can write things that hit people at one level. And if they wanna go further, they can find a lot more. That is just how I am. 


Bei vielen Zuhörern malen Deine Lieder sehr genaue Vorstellungen in ihren Köpfen…  


My situation is different:  It is the feeling in that situation that I`m transporting to another person. They are hearing the feeling of that song and it is painting a picture in their head. Their feeling is the same as mine, but their situation is different. So it is like a language in itself. I found it with “Illusion” or “Beloved” a lot. 


Also handeln beide Lieder gar nicht von konkreten Menschen?


People often ask me: What is this song about? Who is this person? But this misses the point. It is a mechanism:  I want to talk about someone that I want to feel for. It is about how I would feel for that person. I use a story to express that feeling. If you feel the song and you say: ,These are the words I want to use. This is the way I want to feel about someone, this is something beyond simple connections or simple love, but a connection over lifetimes‘ - than the song is about you. This really surprises a lot of people.


Insbesondere bei “Illusion” haben viele Zuhörer aber eine konkrete Person vor Augen...


Well, in “Illusion” I’m talking to two people. One I was inspired by a teenage girl who’s going through a lot of problems. She had a point in her life she was feeling a lot of pain and a lot of misunderstanding and frustration. The world was too much for her. And she had two choices: Go to the world and throw herself to the wrong people and live under pain and indulges it to destroy herself. Or rise above it and find the people she wants to be with to be a better person. It is a way to look down to all the other “lost souls” and say: I don’t wanna be like them. I value myself and will be stronger and better. 


Inwieweit denkst Du an die Fans, wenn Du einen Song schreibst?


My main modus operandi is this: I write music that makes me happy. It is inspired by all the things I’m listening to at any time. If I would listen to requests, I would never get anything done. I make what I make, because I enjoy it. It is inspired by the music I listen to and I hope people will like it. I never think, ‘O this one the fans would like’. I already know when I hear it, what kind of people will like it, but that is not the reason I wrote it. 

Teil 3: Ein Licht in der Dunkelheit

VNV Nation beim Miners Rock am Rammelsberg bei Goslar, 17. Dezember 2016 / Foto: Dunkelklaus
VNV Nation beim Miners Rock am Rammelsberg bei Goslar, 17. Dezember 2016 / Foto: Dunkelklaus

Wir gehen seit vielen Jahren zu Deinen Konzerten und haben den Eindruck, dass Deine Stimme viel besser geworden ist.


First thing: We changed stage smoke. For live concerts, I have a very bad allergy to stage smoke.  Second thing: I sing different, since “Automatic” I sing higher and on this Album I sing the highest of all. The “Chorus”-Part of “Wonders” is the highest note I’ve ever hit.  The third thing: If you are alone and sing, maybe in a shower, you might think ‚Wow, my voice sounds great‘. And I wondered why it sounds good in these times, but not in another times. I had a good technician and learned a lot about live concerts, the environment and the acoustics. And it got better and better. Even the singer of the Psychobilly-Band Tiger Army in America helped me a lot. I learned from him, learned from a doctor and learned about the allergy. That helped a lot and I love it. I take care of my voice and drink a lot of room-temperatured water.


Hast Du ein Ritual vor den Konzerten?


Just go out and do it.  That’s it. 


Kein Scotch davor?


A little bit, sure. But that’s just for the feeling. Me and Gregory have a ritual every time before the concert: He comes over with a scotch. (lacht)


Waren nicht einige Fans vor „Noire“ sauer auf Dich? 


Sauer? (runzelt die Stirn)


Es gab fünf Jahre lang kein neues Album mit neuen Liedern…


Hey, I did „Resonance“! I needed this time, because „Resonance“ was the biggest project I’ve  ever worked on. After that I had to move the studio twice. There was really no chance of doing this album. Now the time was right for „Noire“. I already had first ideas for songs in 2016, but the moment when it all came together was in the winter of late 2017.


Also entstand das kühle Nachtalbum mitten im heißen Sommer 2018?


We started production time in may and worked through the whole summer. It was a beautiful dark and small room, and we had airconditioning. I could be in my own space and my own thoughts.  In some cases I wrote the whole songs. In other cases I worked with Andre. He is an underground dance producer and very good in mixing really cool sounds. He has his studio near mine and then he moved into my little studio cocoone and there was always a little lamp burning in the dark. 


Ein Licht in der Dunkelheit?


It is a weird thing with this album and it has to do with lamps. Early in the album Andre was walking away and he has lamps on his speakers. And one of his lamps exploded on the floor. And he said: Your song killed my lamp. The next day the same thing happened...


Zu “When is the Future” gibt es erstmals ein offizielles VNV-Video, in dem Du durch Tokio läufst. Bisher haben Dir die Vorschläge zu Videos oft nicht gefallen. Wieso hast Du dieses Mal zugestimmt?


I used to work for a big company and they send me to a big city in East Asia. I went to the places where the locals went. It was buzzing. Just energy, life and everyone talking, neonsigns everywhere. It was an incredible experience and I just wanted to stand and watch. I was wondering about the world we live in today and we use the new technology for the wrong purpose. I’m hoping that the next generation is building a better future for us. This is my question: When is this great future by technology we were always promised? Then the videoteam came and said: We are going to Tokio! And I had to sit down.

Teil 4: Schicksal, Todesnähe, Weichenstellungen und Zukunft

VNV Nation in Berlin, 26. Oktober 2018 / Foto: Batty Blue
VNV Nation in Berlin, 26. Oktober 2018 / Foto: Batty Blue

Du trägst immer so schöne Hemden auf der Bühne. Lässt Du sie Dir schneidern? 


Yeah. Actually, the ones with the white lines you can buy those from a company in America, where wonderful people work. Anyone can buy them - and no one has ever found out. It is weird. The ones I wear on this tour are made for, because I thought it was about time…


…die alten dürften auch etwas weit sein, oder?  Du scheinst abgenommen zu haben…


I had to make my shirts smaller. I lost a lot of weight this year, because I changed a lot of things,  I changed my diet and I lost 18 kilos. I always stay the same shape, I just get smaller. 


Es ist nicht das erste Mal, dass Du abnimmst. Das letzte Mal war aber nicht unter guten Vorzeichen…


In 2011 I lost over 30 kilos very quick. I didn’t understood it at the time, but I was allergic to a lot of things, my body changed and what happened when I was doing “Transnational”. I almost died on the studio because there was a poisonous mould on the wall. The mycrotoxine-level in my blood was going up and up and up, but no one knew why I was sick. I was loving making the album but I was finding myself getting very tired and cloudy and I couldn’t focus. 


Das hört sich wirklich dramatisch an…


It was getting worse and worse and at the end one doctor said: “Hang on, where do you work?” And I said, “I work in an old building, it’s an old studio.” „What was it before?”. I said, it was a paint factory and before it was something else.  So he made a blood test, and my mycrotoxine-level was extremely high and he said: “You are out of that place now or you gonna die in weeks.“ This was the third time in my life I’ve been told by a doctor: “If you don’t stop this, you will die.” Once I thought a had a bite on my leg, but it was actually Staphylococco. And it took me a huge hole in my leg,  so I don’t wear shorts anymore.


Bei den Konzerten erwartest Du von den Fans, dass sie mitsingen und mitmachen…


I want people to feel alive, that’s it. I want them to feel something at the show. Not everbody can move or wants to dance. All I want to do is to inspire the audience.


Das heißt, man muss mitfühlen bei VNV?


I’m feeling every word of the songs, they feel good to me. When I sing them, there are images in my head. I just love what I do. That is why I don’t sing some songs anymore. I don’t feel them anymore. I dealt with them, I put them in a box and those feelings are gone. I don’t want to be fake. I sing because I feel every bit of the songs. 


Man hat als Zuhörer das Gefühl, dass Du genau siehst, was im Publikum passiert. Ist das so?


Yes, I can’t help it. I’m not like a lot of people, and that is a good thing and a bad thing. In a bad way, I see a lot of things and I can’t do anything against it. My mind is feeding me with information nonstop. Sometimes it is too much, and I need my peace and my quiet. But when I am at a concert and I’m singing my songs I see many things. First of all I see what kind of people are in the front row, for example when there are children or people in wheelchairs. That means a lot to me, because these people make a big effort to come to the show. People who look like they are going through some bad feelings. That is what I see first. I see other things that you don’t wanna know. There a people who do some strange things at concerts sometimes. (lacht). Not always, rarely. But they do.


Manchmal stellen ja auch alle ihre Handytaschenlampen an. Wie ist das Gefühl, wenn man „Nova“ singt und das sieht? Für mich war es der magische Moment beim Amphi 2015 in der Lanxess-Arena. Vorher gab es diese Riesenprobleme wegen des Wetters, und plötzlich war alles weggeblasen. 


That was insane.  First time was in Denver, Colorado, in a place that is called the gothic theatre, when people spontaneously turned the flashlights on. And after that it has to happen everywhere. At the M’era Luna 2016 it was the biggest I’ve ever seen – “ein Himmel voller Sterne”. It is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen. It is just like being a child again. It’s like Christmas. In Barcelona people first started to sing the melody of “Perpetual”. We walked off and they were still singing the melody. We came back and they just started singing it louder. 

VNV Nation in Berlin, 26. Oktober 2018 / Foto: Batty Blue
VNV Nation in Berlin, 26. Oktober 2018 / Foto: Batty Blue

Wie sieht die Zukunft von VNV Nation aus?


The Doors are open. I changed so many things in my life that were bothering me and I made a lot of personal changes at VNV. Many things changed for me since that. I took the stress away and stopped worrying about a lot of things. I found my amazing studio. I’m content in a good way. When I was a seven-year-old-boy, my father asked what I wanna be when I’m older. I said: content. He never stopped to remind me about this.


Aber was genau ist geplant?


Of course I started plans for someting, but I don’t want to talk about it. There are four projects that I’m working on. I’ not abergläubisch, but I also believe that it changes things when you let it out. Keep it in your head, let it work and then let it be a surprise.


Dankeschön, Ronan, für dieses Interview. Viel Spaß gleich auf der Bühne.


Thank you. Euch auch viel Spaß.