The deep-dive interview with Formalin

Formalin Press Photo 2021

Formalin on coffee, art, love and nihilism

While writing my review on ‘Love And Nihilism‘, the latest record by Formalin, there were so many questions in my head I just needed to ask. What became of it is probably the most in-depth interview in the history of Electrozombies! Tom, Gabor and Cosmo really took a lot of time to allow us all a real and very personal insight not only on their creative process but also on their relationship inside the band and what core values it stands for. Grab a good cup of coffee (of tea), sit down in your favourite easy-chair and enjoy a little time with our friends from Formalin!

1. You just released your 4th album and it is quite different to the ones before and I really enjoyed that change. You’re turning to a more metal-oriented target group. How and why did this happen?

Tom: Formalin has always been a very personal way to express ourselves since the very beginnings. And stylistically, we never made sure to fit into any genre or didn’t care to please a special audience. Rather, we always did what triggered us musically – ultimately the music that we ourselves would have liked to hear from other bands or that we would have danced to in the clubs or wanted to hear at maximum volume in the car.

Quite often I say to Gabor that I would be angry if we hadn’t made this or that song ourselves, because I’ve never heard it in this form anywhere else. The addition of guitars was therefore not really new to us, just in this consistency and clarity. One can say that Formalin has always been very crossover and has brought together a wide variety of styles. But we don’t force that, it comes from our broad listening habits and preferences, which of course flow into our sound.

Gabor: We’re happy to hear that you like the sound of our new album. We’re not creating music for a specific target group. We just write music in the way we would like to hear music from other bands. We’re not only listening to electronic music, we also love a lot of metal music ranging from black metal, doom and newer stuff like djent. I’ve startet playing guitar when I was a kid, at the same time I started working with samples and electronic music production on an Amiga 500. So both worlds are connected and sometimes I’m a bit confused when people need a decision if the music has synths or guitars. I say it’s nice to have both.

2. Tom and Gabor, you acquired a new band member, Cosmo, your new drummer. Tell us the story behind this and how did this change your band aside from the obvious already discussed?

Gabor: Back in the years 2009 to 2011 I’ve played some live drums. But with ‘Wasteland Manifesto’ our music started to get more complex in terms of harmonies and rhythms. So I switched from drums to keyboards on stage. And over the last years our music developed even more towards more natural based rhythms – almost like you know it from rock songs. We always wanted to have a drummer who plays with us on live concerts, but it wasn’t easy to find the right one. In 2019 everything went very fast. We rehearsed the first time together with Cosmo one week before our show on Mera Luna Festival 2019. Time was short but we knew that he was a genius on drums so one week after that rehearsal we had a great first show with him.

Tom: Of course communication has become more complex now. Gabor and I are best friends. We understand each other blindly, so to speak. You notice that when working together in the studio. I think at the beginning it wasn’t easy for our new drummer to get used to our very well-rehearsed duo structure, but he made it very fast.

3. Cosmo, you’re the „new kid in town“. Tell us a bit about joining Formalin from your point of view. What did you do before and what is it like to work with the guys?

Formalin - Cosmo
Cosmo (Formalin) – © Christoph Köstlin

Cosmo: We got in contact through a common friend who, knowing that Formalin were looking for a drummer, introduced me to them. And coincidentally at that time, 2019 bc (before Corona), after having parted ways with my previous band, it was the right time. It happened kind of fast indeed: we met, we talked, we clicked and soon enough I was rehearsing the songs for a Mera Luna we played shortly after!

Unfortunately we haven’t had much time to play more live gigs because well… Corona! The new album was already written prior to my arrival but it was the same excitement nonetheless to venture into new and unexplored territories for me. I find the ethics and professionalism of Tom & Gabor inspiring to keep learning about the band and the genre; and looking forward to the live shows again!

4. Let’s get back to your newest release ‘Love And Nihilism’: how long did you work on it and in how far did working on the songs change compared to the albums before?

Gabor: We’ve never worked that long on an album. After our third album ‘Supercluster’ we had to find a way how to go the next step. ‘Supercluster’ was a big milestone for us and it wasn’t easy to move on after such a release. With ‘Love and Nihilism’ we wanted to give the songs the time they need to grow and to develop. There are other bands who are going into a ‘songwriting camp’ for two weeks with the clear goal to write 12 songs for an album. We always hated the idea of institutionalising creative processes.

In the time after ‘Supercluster’ we wrote about 30 songs, and just a few of them grew to be on the album. Some of them landed as B-Sides on our four singles ‘Tear Down My Prison’, ‘Faded’, ‘Devil’ and ‘Warzone Music Video‘. And some of the songs will never reach the ear of someone outside the band. This kind of production takes more time, but it guarantees that every song, every note and every sound came from our heart in exact that way we wanted it to be.

Tom: From a songwriter perspective we didn’t change anything compared to the previous albums. There is an idea and then we start working or shaping it with sounds and lyrics. We always do it that way. The instruments are initially secondary. We always focus on the idea or the feeling first. As Gabor rightly said, we are always looking for a sound identity or a sound that is usually typical for the respective album. But that always needs some time and needs to evolve. The music grows and changes with us.

In the end we always create kind of concept albums and after the monster called ‘Supercluster’ we literally had to ground ourselves first to find out that the next album might be much closer, less future, but more grippier.

5. What is the focus of your creative process: Music or lyrics first?

Formalin - Gabor
Gabor (Formalin) – © Christoph Köstlin

Gabor: Both can happen. Sometimes I have a musical idea that inspires Tom to write lyrics, sometimes Tom writes some lyrical ideas were I have sounds coming to my mind. The most exciting part is not from where a song starts, but how the songs develop. It’s fascinating how simple ideas behind complex songs are. For ‘Love and Nihilism’ we worked parallel on different songs. Whenever someone felt something for a song, he added it to the actual state of production. We both have our own music studio were we can record vocals, synths and other stuff. So the album grew bit by bit.

Tom: Intuitive work is very important for our creative process. When we have an idea, it is crucial to be able to capture it in an uncomplicated way. Sometimes it is this one night in which you have a very specific feeling. If you don’t take advantage of this moment and fix this idea, then it will fly by very quickly and you will no longer be able to reproduce this magic moment.

I always have to remember that you don’t actually do anything else with organic structures and Formalin. So the band name is always the program. In everyday life this means that I write down every song or lyric idea immediately or when I’m in studio, sketch it and record it. The production then follows in the next steps where we make it sound fat and typically Formalin. But the initial idea is a fragile thing and can happen anywhere.

6. Tell us a bit about the artwork you created for this album and the accompanying singles. I already spoke my mind from the professional point of view in my review, but what does it mean to you personally? Was it a thing that was right inside your head or did it evolve strongly during the process of creation?

Tom: Firstly, thanks for the nice words about the design in your album review. We were pleased to read that this context was discussed in such detail in a review. I’m a big fan of catchy and overarching concepts that make you feel the music when you look at the artwork without having heard anything. When design and music are intertwined, a powerful audio-visual work of art is created. For me it was always inseparable.

Music creates pictures in your head and pictures can create music. Due to my work as creative director, it was always only logical that we also do all the artwork and typedesign ourselves. We see this as the extended form of expression to music, so to speak, which also makes every album 100% our own creation. The actual cover artwork for ‘Love and Nihilism’ came about very naturally. We have always found the idea of ​​a collection interesting, in which a single can be assigned very clearly to the big album and the whole thing functions consistently in itself as a series. After the album title was buried in our head, we searched for the one symbol that could embody it. It was the skull that best reflected the two aspects of being human – Love and Nihilism. But we didn’t want to depict the skull in a morbid way, rather like a work of art, a sculpture.

We also liked the idea of ​​old memento mori still lifes and the self-reflection of human beings when looking at their own mortality. All of these aspects flowed into the cover design and the outcome is what we now see in front of us. The rest is the finest craft ;) By the way, the skulls are not renderings, I photographed them myself.

7. The lyrics on the album are actually quite dark and seem very personal in many places. Would you like to tell us something about how they came to life like they did? Did the pandemic take influence on the lyrics in any way?

Formalin - Tom
Tom (Formalin) – © Christoph Köstlin

Tom: The pandemic had little influence on the lyrics. The behaviour of most humans as seen during the pandemic actually rather confirmed my words and thoughts in the songs and underlined the social criticism and nihilism that I feel. To be honest and this is not a secret, my view of humankind is not a very positive one. That is the reason why our lyrics are usually very dark and dystopian, (e.g. ‘Faded‘).

On the last album we dealt a lot with the questions of the future, transhumanism and self-optimization. The new album was shaped a lot more by my personal experiences during the creation phase. Separation, the end and decay of relationships, looking inwards and outwards… How does my daily world work? What drives humanity today and why do we feel so disconnected from ourselves?

I wanted to write all this down very openly because that’s what concerns me every day. One look at Instagram is enough and you know what I’m describing in ‘Psychocandy’. Much of it is not a general criticism, it is rather my observation of our exhausted selves, the state of modern man. I am curious how we will look at what is important to us now in a few decades.

8. How did you come up with the quite contradictory title? It depicts the concept of the whole album pretty well.

Tom: We are always fans of simple ideas that have a clear core, but then also leave room for interpretation. This title clearly fulfilled exactly that for us. We came up with the idea very naturally parallel to the album with the title track. And we quickly noticed that there are not just two poles that are being described, much more you could even assign each song on the album either to the side of love, the side of nihilism or even both.

We have already explained that we regard both as connected. Ultimately, it’s like anything you name. You just know in that moment that that is the name. I think when you listen to the album, you get exactly what the title gives you. Even the color of the cover somehow resonates. We love these psychoacoustic connections. In its simplicity, it is the perfect title for us. And let’s be honest: who wouldn’t want to read a book with that title?

9. What’s your personal creative hotspot or the place that offers you the most ideas?

Gabor: I watch a lot of movies and somehow these are very inspiring. There’s not a special physical place which gives me inspiration. But often when I shower musical visions a coming into my head and then I have to produce them as fast as possible.

Tom: Gabor is right. It’s 80 percent the shower. Quite often in the morning, when you’re half asleep in the shower and don’t force anything, then the creative or the stupid ideas happen. Actually, whenever you don’t expect it. Another reason why we don’t believe in pushing this process. I would definitely mention films and dark clubs as an absolute source of inspiration.

10. What are your personal favourite tracks each on this album and why?

Tom: This is difficult. But the title track ‘Love and Nihilism Lyric Video‘ with its pulsating build-up of an emotional wave, that being very close to my singing and the subsequent release through the guitars – that is so intense for me that it is definitely one of my favourites. This song also has such an attitude towards life, melancholy and hope that I really love it. You can say it’s unusual for us, but hey let’s get out of the comfort zone. Another favourite is ‘Rush’ because it just delivers rough and destroys everything.

Gabor: My vote is for ‘Devil’. A: I always wanted to make a song with a ‘Mick Jagger’-style cowbell. B: I always wanted to make a song with a guitar solo.

Cosmo: ‘Love and Nihilism’ for its cinematic beginning and the progression/evolution it gets towards the end. It’s just a very well written song. Every time I listen to it I close my eyes and imagine what an impact this track could have as an intro track for our future shows. Also due to my metal background, Faded is something I resonated to immediately, mid tempo, heavy guitar riffs, love it.

11. Please tell our readers in short why they should definitely get ‘Love And Nihilism’?

Tom: Because in my opinion it is one of the rare albums that combines synthesisers and guitars equally on such a high level and thus brings together two genres that do not necessarily have to exist separately or side by side. Sure, it is a total crossover and requires getting out of any pigeonhole thinking, but what more can music do than bring people and minds together. Besides, it’s a bunch of just damn good songs ;)

Gabor: It’s maybe one of the most personal and most emotional industrial rock albums they’ve ever listened to. At least it’s our most emotional work.

12. What can we expect from Formalin in the near and also far future? Will you be sticking to the heavier tones (please say yes :) ) or do you plan to experiment in different musical fields? Is there a tour in planning when the Big C is over?

Gabor: We will definitely produce heavy tones. I think we’re trying to make it heavier than everyone expects. We will squeeze out the most extreme sounds out of synths, drums and guitars and we will try to generate something new again.

Tom: Gabor and I agreed that in the future we will be a lot more badass again and the timbre will be a lot harder. Not that we have never been uncompromising, but the new songs will punch you in the face I’m sure ;)

13. What is an average Formalin day like? When does it actually start and how do you structure your day when you’re working on songs? What do you do when you don’t work on songs?

Gabor: We try to work on music as often we can. There’s no real structure. Of course there are days when nothing seems to work, and then there are days everything just flows. As an electronic music producer you have to know yourself very good when it’s the best time to start working on songs and, even more important, when to stop working on it. With synthesisers, samplers and drum machines you have the possibility to build every sound you can imagine.

But that also means that you can fuck up everything in a glimpse of a second. Before that happens you have to stop, or show the song to a band member to get a different point of view. If we’re not doing music we go out to parties, concerts doing barbecue or we play co-op games on the Playstation. So on top of our project „Formalin“ we are our best friends talking about everything important and everything irrelevant.

Tom: We don’t have a straight plan how we write the songs. As already said, a lot arises from an inspiration and a mood. However, if we do structured studio sessions in production phases, then coffee has to be made first. Without coffee, nothing works and no day starts in the studio. And we usually already know in the morning whether it is a day for creative work or a day on which we tend to do more finalising productions. Even if it is a day when nothing works, we have learned to stop at the right moment. Because we’ve often broken songs too. But over the years, as a producer, you learn to recognise these moments and then get to work on a better day with fresh ears.

14. What are your favourite, latest band/artist discoveries that you also would recommend to Electrozombies and our readers?

Gabor: If not already happened, you should give Carpenter Brut a try. It’s basically the aesthetics of early 80s John Carpenter horror movie music put through a distortion with faster tempo and very heavy drums. I love the energy and the humor and winks behind it. I totally understand his satisfied smile on stage, when he was behind some nice analog synths and in front of him hundreds of black metal guys are singing along ‘She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor…’ – it’s so funny and so good.

Tom: They are anything but an insider tip, but perhaps not so well known to many in this country: HEALTH. I like the really great mix of melodies and heavy noises with lofi synths that come together here. The latest collaborations with Perturbator and Nine Inch Nails show that HEALTH is at the forefront and that industrial music can sound completely different.

15. We know you worked with Lord Of The Lost on ‘Raining Stars’ which is one of my absolute favourite tracks of all times by the way (sends goosebumps all over my skin everytime I hear it). With which artist/musician would you like to work together one day?

Gabor: I would like to work with Hans Zimmer, but I fear that I would be intimidated by his genius. And I would have loved to work with Jóhann Jóhannsson but sadly he’s not with us anymore.

Tom: I think a collaboration with a game studio like Naughty Dog or Bethesda would be super interesting for us. As far as artists are concerned, I would like to accompany an exhibition by Gottfried Helnwein with music or even perform for a label like Alexander McQueen at a fashion show.

16. What important life wisdom would you have given yourself 20 years ago?

Gabor: Try to be satisfied with 99%.

Tom: Same! Perfection is the killer.

17. Now let’s do the quick island scenario: You plan a vacation on an island – would it be a tropical or a northern island?

Gabor: Normally I’m more the northern guy – I do like winter more than summer. But I fear a tropcial island is the better choice here?!

Tom: I would always choose the Nordic Islands because I am a Northman who comes from the rough Baltic Sea and prefers rough weather. ;)

Cosmo: I’d choose tropical here, I can’t stand the cold for too long.

On the way your ship is destroyed by a storm and you get stranded on a deserted little island. Not much is left, but your music player survives. Which tracks are definitely on it? Please name 10 each one of you.

Gabor:

  • Strapping Young Lad – Detox
  • Fields of the Nephilim – Last Exit for the Lost
  • Mick Gordon – BFG Division (DOOM Soundtrack)
  • Hecq – Shutter
  • Public Image Ltd. – The Order Of Death
  • Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch – Sea Wall
  • Pink Floyd – Welcome to the Machine
  • Devin Townsend – Regulator
  • Wumpscut – Die in Winter
  • Turbonegro – Fuck the World

Tom:

  • Ghostemane – Lazaretto
  • Kanye West – I’m In It
  • Marilyn Manson – Don’t Chase The Dead
  • Satyricon – The Wolfpack
  • Immortal – Tyrants
  • Lorn – Anvil
  • Nils Frahm – Says
  • Alva Noto – Uni Blue
  • Nero – Dreams
  • Ben Frost – Theory Of Machines

Cosmo:

  • Meshuggah – Bleed
  • Pantera – I’m broken
  • Deftones – Digital Bath
  • Sepultura – Roots Bloody Roots
  • Death – Suicide Machine
  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Bring it on
  • Architects – Black Lungs
  • Periphery – Blood Eagle
  • Bring me the Horizon – Can you feel my Heart
  • Gojira – Stranded

What’s the food you’d be missing most?

Gabor: Salmon Inside Outs with a lot of wasabi

Tom: The good old potatoes, eggs and spinach.

Cosmo: Peruvian fish ceviche

Hey – you got rescued! Who’s the first person you’d call and what would you tell him/her?

Gabor: I think I would call my mother and say ‘Well, the vacation was okay, but I think next year I will go to Mecklenburger Seenplatte’

Tom: I call my mom and tell her that for my returnal she can prepare potatoes, eggs and spinach.

Cosmo: I’d call my brother most probably and tell him not to tell anything to my parents cause would stress out too much :)

18. Do you have some kind words to Electrozombies for our testimonials section ‘People who spread love’?

Gabor: Electrozombies really understand music. Their reviews are in their own class.

Tom: There is seldom an editorial team that deals with an album as intensively as the people from Electrozombies. From an artists perspective, we feel very understood.

19. Your last words to our audience?

Tom: Listen to our last album or buy it at our Bandcamp. If you leave all listening habits aside and free yourself from genre thinking, you might experience that synths and guitars make up a very tasty mixture.

Very big thanks to Formalin for being so open on all our questions and for giving us the opportunity to learn much more on your work, your views and yourselves! I really enjoyed this and I’m already looking forward to your future records as well as your next concerts – I’ll definitely join and rock the moshpit!

X