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June 20, 2011

Bring Out Your Dead: The Coroner Interview

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Coroner's Ron Royce (left) and Marky Edelmann. Photo: Etan Rosenbloom

It's been three weeks since I caught Coroner's set at the 2011 Maryland Death Fest, and I still can't quite believe that I was actually there. To the underground metal community, this Swiss trio was one of those bands that the old guard would forever hold up as paragons of what can be done in the genre, and the recent converts could feel cool just knowing about. Coroner's transition on 1989's No More Color from progressive thrash to idiosyncratic death-groove remains one of metal's most successful about-faces. Most of us who discovered Coroner after their 1996 breakup were resigned to knowing them through their five studio albums. Which is why there was no way I was missing this MDF set, the first time they'd played on U.S. soil in nearly 20 years. I was lucky enough to score an interview with Coroner's drummer Markus "Marquis Marky" Edelmann and bassist Ron "Ron Royce" Broder. They're both GEMA members that license through ASCAP in the U.S. Also, they're frickin' CORONER!!!!

 

Etan: The little I know about Swiss metal is that Celtic Frost, Coroner and Knut all come from there. What was the metal scene like in Zurich in the early days of the band?

Marky Edelmann: I have to tell you there was a Coroner line up before the actual Coroner, so that was around ‘81, ‘82 maybe. There was suddenly a whole underground movement that came. Until the early 80’s there were just big bands around, and then suddenly there was the whole underground, a possibility to produce records also for smaller bands, which opened a totally new field. With that it came that there were these so-called “heavy discos.” When there was metal played you would just headbang there...play air guitar. Now I just remembered that! It was funny.

So we went there every weekend, so more and more you met up with people and they started to form bands. One of them was Hellhammer at that time. They made really fast progress. I remember hearing Tom [G. Warrior, Hellhammer frontman] saying, “Yeah, now we got signed with Noise Records.” And that was like, wow! Now it’s even possible in Switzerland for a band coming from Nürensdorf! I mean, Zurich is already a small town compared to other cities in the world, but Nürensdorf is really a village in the countryside. For me, living in Zurich, it was like, “Even these guys can make it. They have an international record deal now.” So that gave a lot of power for everybody.

Were the bands you were listening to at these heavy metal discos from all over the world, or mostly local bands?

Marky: They were [from] all over the world, of course. Like Exciter was one of the first bands we were listening to, and German bands.

Ron Royce: I couldn’t remember, but there were no local bands that were playing there.

Marky: Then of course all these bands who had started everything. Like Metallica, of course Venom was the big thing. So yeah, that’s how it all started. But I don’t really remember, besides Hellhammer, which [Swiss] bands were around at this time. Messiah was also quite early.

I think it’s kind of died out, this “heavy disco” thing; I don’t think it’s anymore…but its was funny for a while, a pretty good place to be. Maybe it still exists and I just don’t know.

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Coroner: the early days

Do you have memories of any of your favorite bands coming through Switzerland to tour, or did you mostly hear heavy music through tape trading?

Marky: No, no. There was one band, they were a German band called Trance [now known as Trancemission]. And they played in small, small venues, 200 people, 300 people, but they were really good! And I remember their drummer was playing double kick. I think the first time I saw someone playing double kick was “Philthy Animal” Taylor from Motörhead, I think I saw it on TV and was like, “Wow man, this is amazing! Look, he has two kick drums!” And he plays the [mimics double bass noise]. Then there was this guy, [from Trance], there was the first time I saw someone playing on stage live, there playing the double kicks, and that was for me amazing. I think they played twice or three times. They came quite often. Trance disappeared completely.

Ron: It was also the first time I saw a drummer with double kick.

Marky, I’ve noticed that you don’t really play any blast beats in Coroner songs. Is that just something you’re not fond of? Or do they not really work with Coroner songs?

Marky: I personally like the heavier stuff more… John Bonham, for instance, is one of my favorite drummers.

Of course! He never played blast beats.

Marky: [laughs] No. And I think it just doesn’t fit the music, and I think there are many bands who do it better. In this genre, there are enough bands doing this, enough drummers playing this style, so there is no need really for me to also do this. It just fits better, I think.

Do you each write your own parts for Coroner songs?

Marky: Yes. I mean, writing…it’s hard to say, it’s more like jamming. Someone comes up with the first idea and we just jam until the actual song comes out.

Then none of you had ideas for songs that you brought into rehearsal? They all arose out of jams?

Marky: There are certain basic ideas someone brings in, absolutely.

Ron: Because the ideas that come into a rehearsal room…maybe when you sleep you get an idea, or if you cook you get an idea, and then if you write it down and bring it to the rehearsal room, and try to figure out what can we do with this idea, most of the time.

So you get a little seed of an idea at any point during the day, and then the rest of the band waters it in rehearsal?

Ron: Yeah, we go “I like that riff” and “Oh, I like this.”

Around the time of No More Color, Coroner transitioned from a more technical thrash style, into the slower, groovier, but still really rhythmically intense style. Was that something you all arrived at sort of at the same time?

Marky: Yeah, totally. I think it had a lot to do with playing live shows for us. We more and more found out what is fun for us to play live, and what is satisfying you know. We found that much of the very early stuff…it was possible to do that in the studio when you can add another rhythm guitar, and so on. But to play that live, sometimes it just did not work. It was just not satisfying. Also for the people watching and listening, it was just like they were most standing there, watching you almost dying playing your instrument. But that was not what we wanted. We wanted to have an interaction, and that was much more possible with more heaviness.

Ron: And as you get older, you also try to make it more groovy, and not that complicated anymore.

Marky: Yeah, you’re also more tired! [laughs]

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No More Color (1989), the album that signaled a change in Coroner's sound

The newer songs are groovy, yeah, but they’re still pretty complex rhythmically. You’re working in a lot of 7/8 and 5/4 time signatures with all these rhythms… and they may be more repetitive than your earlier songs, but they’re still unique. Did you always have that idea of just taking the complexity of your earlier stuff, and maybe just slowing it down, and still having some interesting ideas?

Marky: Yeah, the thing was that in the early times we had probably…how do you say…200 little things pressed into a short time, and now we started to take certain parts and stretch it, and drop away everything that’s not important or seems for us not important. And make it more clear, to get the essence, if you will. Also the lyrics are the same, actually. That being said, it’s not easy to do that. I think it’s a hard part. What we have in the first records, it was kind of like not finished. If you go further, you would probably reach that point that we reached many years later. You have to work more, and in the early stages, there are too many things. You have to get rid of the unimportant stuff.

Did you find that your audiences grew, or seemed to enjoy the shows more once you simplified the sound a bit?

Marky: I definitely think so, yeah.

Ron: Yeah, yeah.

Could you tell by the comments you got, or how they reacted?

Ron: I don’t think so… to me it doesn’t makes any difference. I didn’t recognize that.

Marky: I think so. I think there is more movement in the audience than there was before, yeah definitely.

And it probably makes it easier for you to move around, since you’re not just concentrating on picking and stuff. Except for you Marky, since you’re pretty much tied to your spot behind the drum kit.

Ron: Exactly.

Marky: Mmhmm. I mean there’s also two groups. There’s one group that like Coroner until the second or third record, and from then on they don’t like it anymore… it becomes for them, too…it went in too much a different direction from when we started off. And then there is another group, they know they were ready for this change, because they knew that Coroner are doing what they want, you know? And we always did what we wanted, what we felt was the right thing at this moment. So, if you can accept this, you don’t have to, but maybe you can and then it’s cool.

So there’s these two groups. And I think it’s also gonna be like that tonight, you know? I’m sure there’s gonna be a part of the crowd, and they, you know, think we suck because we don’t play all of the songs from R.I.P. or something. But that’s okay, I can understand. I remember as KISS came back on tour with their original lineup. I was a major KISS fan in the 70’s and early 80’s, and as I went to their show, I was hoping they would play only early songs from ’74 to ‘78 or something…and I was not interested at all in any of the later stuff. So I can understand that, you know.

For a band like yours, your average fan is just interested in the idea that you’re progressing beyond the boundaries of thrash or metal in general. And so if you’re applying that lesson to your own music, it seems to make sense. Like, why would Coroner, one of the most out there bands from that time, stay exactly the same over the course of six albums?

Marky: Yeah.

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Coroner: the surly days 

I wanted to ask you about Tom G. Warrior and Celtic Frost. I’m sure you get tons of questions about your relationship with them.

Marky: [laughs] Yeah!

So, as I understand, the legend about Coroner forming because you were all Celtic Frost roadies is exaggerated…

Marky: No, that’s not true…no, no.

Tell me what you’ve learned from the time you spent with Celtic Frost, and in the other band you had with Tom, Apollyon Sun.

Marky: I learned that basically Tom was the driving, pushing part of Celtic Frost, the mastermind. And just to see the possibility, if you want to get out of Switzerland, then it’s possible. That was the first step, and to actually work very professionally —to take it really seriously. There is nothing like “My girlfriend doesn’t want… blah blah blah, so I can’t come [to rehearsal] tonight.” Many bands, they actually fail because they always have an excuse to not go to rehearsal. They just don’t rehearse, they’re together forever, and they have no record deal or nothing. They have two years to finish one song, and it’s just because they’re not really behind it. And that was like, Tom was really not like that.

Was there anything musical you learned from Celtic Frost?

Ron: I don’t know, because I didn’t know them, Celtic Frost. I know them from when we went to the studio for the demo tape, and Marky knew them before, but he was the only guy I guess. And, I hadn’t heard music like this before. I hadn’t heard a singer like Tom before. It was totally new for me. It was one of the reasons I started to try to sing. Yeah, I got influenced by singing from him.

So in some ways, you were emulating Tom’s voice - or the way he used his voice?

Ron: Yeah, they way he used it.

Marky: As we started, we actually were looking for a singer, and also a second guitar player. So Tom did the vocals on the Death Cult tape. That was mainly because we didn’t have a singer…then later, actually, Ron just started to sing, because we couldn’t find anyone, and we just kept it because we thought it was cool. But I think yeah, of course it’s a similar way that Tom is doing it, definitely.

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The 1986 demo tape that started it all

So why did you decide not to keep a second guitarist or look for another singer?

Marky: Mostly, we couldn’t find one! [laughs]

Ron: Yeah and Tommy [Vetterli, Coroner guitarist], he was so weird to us on his guitar. He doesn’t need a second guitar, I guess.

So were there ever times where he’s doing a solo, and you wish you had someone doing rhythm?

Marky: Yeah. I mean especially, you had the solo parts…it’s one thing, you know. It always felt very empty.

Marky, you wrote most of Coroner’s lyrics yourself. Did those come in fully formed, or did you usually wait until after the music was together and try to match something to it?

Marky: Yes, yes, absolutely. I had to wait. I always did the lyrics to the music. As far as I know there was never an opposite thing. We did the music first, and then to that atmosphere I was listening to, I had the idea.

So do you find you had to write a little bit more rhythmically?

Marky: Yes. It’s where it fits in, you know? It’s actually really hard. In the beginning I thought “It’s not possible, I can’t do that.” Also my English skills were really, really bad in the beginning, and so it was really tough. And that’s also like Tom; he was very brilliant in English already.

Ron, you have to sing Marky’s lyrics. How are they to sing? Do they lay naturally? Are they things you would actually say?

Marky: Don’t say yes! [Laughs]

Say it kindly!

Ron: I don’t know. Its difficult, because it’s not my mother language, and Marky he all the time changed something, ‘til the end. He wanted to make it better and best, and so it’s hard to learn it. But it works well all the time with the songs, and that’s the important thing, I guess.

Is it important to you that you agree with the viewpoints Marky has, or that you really feel whatever sentiment he's trying to get across?

Ron: I mean, he wrote it. It’s maybe his feel…he makes his part, and that’s another part for me, to sing the lyrics. He wrote it and I sing it, so we never discussed about it.

Marky: So it’s okay for you to sing the weird shit I’m doing? [laughs]

Ron: No, no, no, it’s great! I like the lyrics.

What if we found out in this interview that he’s always hated your lyrics.

Marky: “Now it’s the time to tell you! All my life…” [laughs]

You’re gonna get on stage tonight and be like, “Screw these guys! I’m smashing all the instruments!”

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Ron Royce, lovin' those lyrics in Lausanne, Switzerland - 4/23/11. Photo by www.phoenixphoto.ch

I love it that you guys always looked far outside the metal realm for your choice in cover tunes, at least the two I can think of, “Purple Haze” and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” How did you decide which ones to record?

Marky: “Purple Haze” was just…we played that for fun when we were rehearsing all the time, to warm up. And “I Want You,” actually Tom Morris [ed. note: Tom Morris recorded/mixed several Coroner albums] came up with the idea. He’s a huge Beatles fan and he was like, “Hey, I always wanted a band playing this song.” And so we tried it out, and I found actually the drumming is not that easy. I always thought Ringo was a fantastic drummer. I like his character and how he looks, the way he plays drums. But I never thought it’s really something hard, to play what he plays. But I found it’s quite strange, his drumming. It’s not that easy.

Ron: Yeah, also with the singing. The Beatles were great musicians.

There’s this one thing I’ve always wondered… Why include that siren loop in the song “Internal Conflicts?” What was that all about?

Marky: It just was an idea… I thought it sounded great! [chuckles]. It reminded me of Public Enemy. They always used kind of the same sounds in the music. I always liked that.

Were you listening to a lot of hip-hop back then?

Marky: Yeah! I don’t know about….

Ron: Eh, not anymore. A few years ago I was listening to a few bands, but it’s not my style anymore.

So, what are you listening to now?

Ron: I listen more to folk, country…all that stuff. I tried out a lot of new stuff. I hated it in the beginning when we started, but now I want to try out every kind of music to listen to, get influenced by, maybe.

Are you still writing songs now, in other styles?

Ron: I just did it for myself when we split up. But nothing came out, just were writing for me the songs. They’re not finished. They’re not ready.

Are you planning on releasing them at some point?

Ron: I don’t know. No.

You should keep something for yourself, definitely.

Ron: Yeah, it’s… I will keep it.

And, what about you Marky? I mean you had, Apollyon Sun. What’s happening with that band, and what else musically did you do after Coroner split?

Marky: Well Apollyon Sun disappeared, as you know. So afterwards, the next thing I did was a project with three other guys doing music just with their PlayStation consoles. It was called SPU [Supreme Psychedelic Underground]. There was a program called Music. And with this you could kind of like…it was like a children’s sequence program. So it was just good enough for me, because I’m not really good, technically, with these things. But that was very easy to understand, and you could really f**k up the sounds completely. And so, all three of us created songs with this, and then we did live shows and put it together. But after a while, we split up.

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Marky's post-Coroner record: Knallkids' Baked Boy Scouts

Then I did another project called Knallkids with a friend of mine. That was real techno music, and we released one record called Baked Boy Scouts. And that was really cool. It’s just like a single, a thousand pieces, and they were gone. And we did a lot of live shows and parties in Zurich, so I was in a completely different scene for about ten years. I was completely off any metal or anything. So for me it’s, no problem actually, as long as it’s an honest thing. And I found that also in the underground techno scene, there were very, very cool people I met there. And kind of a similar scene [to the underground metal scene] you know? Different music, but somehow for me it was easy to fit in there.

But then after a while, it was okay for me, so now it’s really cool to be back in the handmade music. Because I felt like an idiot later, when we did this laptop thing…you’re a live act, and you come there, put in some filter, take it out, and you just stand there with your laptop, and that just made me feel more and more like totally stupid. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I mean it’s okay if you have synthesizers and you really modulating the music, but this sequencer…you just let the sequencer run, and then do a little bit of filtering. It’s not acceptable anymore for me. It’s an audience music, really. They’re the ones that get to dance around and have a wonderful time.

I’m interested in that idea, though, that the scenes were similar. Did you feel like you got a similar thrill out of making that music to when you were in Coroner?

Marky: For me, it was the first time I was able to create the whole song myself. I was able to also do a melody, a bass line, and so on…and being a drummer, you have to love to actually create good beats. You find many, many techno or house productions…you can feel like this guy or girl who did the music has no talent, or doesn’t know anything about beats, you know? It’s just something they do in the beginning. [Mimics a techno beat]. “That’s okay, that’s the beat, and now I do the melody.” And so they don’t really care about this, but it’s the total essence of dance music, to have a good rhythm line and a good bass line combined. 80% don’t understand that, I have the feeling [laughs].

Did you ever meet anyone in your travels as an electronic musician that knew you as the drummer for Coroner?

Marky: Funny enough, yes, I did.

Did it feel like you had been discovered? Like someone recognized you and you were like, “No! I’m a different person now!”

Marky: Oh no no, it was more like other producers I met, they knew it. Do you mean like people who knew Coroner in the crowd or something?

Mmhmm.

Marky: Not really, no. Because there were more young people anyways. Our generation was not really going to these parties anymore. So I was more like one of the older people there.

There are plenty of young metal kids that don’t know about Coroner. Is that one of the exciting things about playing these four reunion shows? Are you looking forward to bringing your music to new people that haven’t heard it before?

Ron: That was not the purpose. It was just great to play more shows. But, if it works and the young people likes it, it’s great! Yeah. We had that experience on our first reunion show in Switzerland, in Lausanne. We played, and there were a lot of young people and they liked it. That didn’t know us before. That’s great to know that, yeah! But that wasn’t the purpose.

So what do you think was the purpose of getting back together?

Ron: There was such a demand from people all the time…maybe to make them happy? To make us happy?

Marky: [laughing] He’s just a good person…

We just wanna make the world happy.

Ron: To make them quiet? [Laughs] No, we just tried out, if it works again. Tommy came up, “Let’s try again, maybe we should play more shows.” And we tried it out, and it works, and we had fun, so yeah! We did it.

But you must have been asked to reunite before last year.

Marky: Yeah, yeah. Actually many years before, they would call us every time they would plan these festivals for summer. And then there was always Tommy calling me, and saying, “Hey man, they called again! You should really think about it…” And for me there was no way to go, and anyways I was totally in the techno scene at the time. And somehow it was completely impossible for me to think about… I didn’t even know where my drums were. I didn’t play one time in fifteen years. I could play like in a blues band or something, but to play these Coroner songs… to go back to that and rehearse all that, that was for me such a nightmare, just thinking on it. And then also, I feared that it’s not gonna be on the same level as when we stopped, you know? It’s gonna come back, but it sounds s***ty. So that was also a big fear for me. That kept us saying no for many years. I think for you [Ron] it was kind of the same thing.

Ron: Yeah, exactly.

Marky: With the internet, you see all these little YouTube movies, and you see people commenting on it, you see young people covering Coroner songs. I mean it’s not thousands of them, but it’s already okay for me if I see five or six. It’s really touching for me. Someone sits there and tries to play our music – it’s amazing, it’s amazing. And also on the other side, it was cool, like I said before, to go back to the handmade music. Playing drums I really missed at the time, so…

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Coroner at the 2011 Maryland Death Fest, 5/29/11. Photo: Tom Coutoure

What was it like that first time you got back together to start practicing?

Ron: It was like we never stopped.

Really?

Ron: Yeah! It was a kind of like that.

Marky: Let’s say it was less of the catastrophe I imagined it was gonna be, yeah. Of course we started with more songs that are not so heavy to play, but pretty soon, yeah, it was like there was something stored in your brain, and you just wake it up, you unlock it. And once it’s done, it’s easier and easier to get back to the old songs. Somehow suddenly you remember things, your arms go to the ride [cymbal] and you don’t even know why, and you’re like, “Oh yeah, because I played it on the ride and not on the hi-hat,” for instance.

And you just feel it in your muscles.

Marky: Yeah, it’s a really funny feeling.

Ron: It’s in it, still.

Now you’ve got just four international festivals lined up. Are you considering doing a full-scale reunion tour after these are done?

Marky: No.

Ron: Not at all, but were playing two more shows now, in Italy and in Switzerland, another show.

Marky: Yes and maybe, I’m not sure if were really gonna do that or not, it’s this 70,000 Tons of Metal thing [ed. note: this is a summer metal festival held on a cruise ship]. But we definitely don’t wanna play when there is daylight, or anything on deck or anything, We’re not gonna do that. I don’t know if you have to play up there, because they said we’re gonna have to play twice. And they were like, “Hey, you guys are gonna miss something that’s always the best. You’re in between two Jacuzzis, and blah blah blah. It’s like, no, no, no.

They should just like put you on an island while the boat is going past…

Marky: [laughter] By night! Absolutely. Yeah, so we have to be careful that we’re not going too much into things like that. And I’m sure it’s gonna be great fun. I talked to many people. I now found out there were many people that went there, or they planned on going there. And everybody is very excited about this. “It’s the best time I ever had, and it’s fantastic,” blah blah blah. So it must be okay, but as long as we don’t have to play daylight on deck. So we’re probably gonna do that. That’s the last thing I think we’re gonna do.

Have you talked anymore about writing some new material?

Marky & Ron: No.

I’d love to hear more, but I would never want to think that this legendary band is getting back together, restarting its engines, if the fire isn’t there.

Marky: Absolutely. You know Celtic Frost tried this and I think that they did actually a very good job.

Yeah, their post-reunion record Monotheist was incredible.

Marky: But somehow it also, it was not really working somehow I think.

Atheist released a reunion record recently, too.

Marky: Yeah I know, they toured. I actually talked to the guys…I couldn’t see their show because I went to see Voivod the same night; they played the same night in Zurich. But, I saw they were back on tour, and it’s like “Wow,” you know?

It’s amazing to me that Coroner never once changed its lineup once you had the three of you. How have you stayed so stable throughout your entire working career?

Marky: Maybe because of Ron [laughter], because Ron is there. Because Tommy and me, sometimes there were moments where we almost went physical, maybe, after one show once, or in the studio. And Ron is very, you know…Ron, you’re really a more quiet guy. He’s the part that keeps us from getting too nervous.

Ron: Yeah, I like the silence.

Ron, did you ever have to break the two of them apart?

Ron: Yeah, there were a few times, two times I guess. It was after the Motörhead show, when we were talking. Because Marky couldn’t hear anything.

Marky: I had no monitors.

Ron: So he had to stop the show, and Tommy didn’t like that. And after the show… [makes tussling sounds] “Hey stop, stop, stop it!” Some other people came: “Oh stop!” Because they took Tom away. Two, three times.

Marky: It’s also a respect thing, you know? We never went to a point where we lost the respect for each other. And also, I experienced this in other bands, this intrigue thing, you know? Where you think like, “Fuckin’ asshole…” but then [you say] “Hey, how you doing!” and stuff like that. Or when he plays wrong again, then blah blah blah. So this is really like a poison atmosphere, and it should never happen, and it never happened.

Ron: Ah no. It was all the time fair, and direct, and good.

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Visit Coroner on the web: www.coroner-reunion.com