Okta Logue’s Benno Herz: Pieces of 8

By Jeb Wright, October of 2013

The Scorpions may be the most famous German band to make it in America, but they may soon have competition from a group of Pink Floyd loving youngsters with a weird band name. The band is called Okta Logue and they are making interesting music that mixes the best of early Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and other classic bands with today’s modern technologies and sounds.

For fans of classic rock, however, they are leaning heavily on the past and adding just a dash of the present day and a pinch of the future in their psych rock stew.The music of Okta Logue is unique, refreshing and gives hope to this jaded old rock critic that the Next Generation of Musicians may actually come up with something good.

Classic Rock Revisited caught up with the band’s vocalist and bass player Benno Herz to discuss both the formation and inspiration of the band as well as their plan to take over the world of music--and party like hell while they do it!

Jeb: Tales of Transit City is a masterpiece!  I am from America…You just got here! What has been your most memorable experience?  

Benno: Driving up and down the hills of San Francisco in a 1960‘s Volvo watching the fog rolling into the city.

Jeb: Seriously, this band needs to be heard.  Do you know how cool this sounds to old rockers like me?  You have touched a nerve. 

Benno : We‘re always happy when people like our music, no matter what age they are or what genre they prefer, so thank you!

Jeb: Tell me how this band came to be.  I want to know how you formed and decided to go in this musical direction. 

Benno: Robert Herz, our drummer, and I are brothers, so we used to jam out together since we were kids. We had a couple of punk bands together. I, coincidentally, met Philip at a nightclub in our hometown, we talked all night and the next morning we drove to our rehearsal room. By that time, we formed the band Zaphire Oktalogue.

Nicolai Hildebrandt, who played keys, organ and trumpet, was already a good friend of mine who played in a lot of different bands, he is actually a drummer, but we asked him to join the band because he already did some synthesizers on the first demos we were recording. It happened that a friend of ours, who cleaned out a cellar, found this really beautiful Hammond style organ and he brought it to us. This was kind of an initial moment because since then, we are working with the organ as an essential part of Okta Logue. As Nicolai joined the band, we found this new sound and we decided to form a new band and to start all over again, that was the birth of Okta Logue.

Jeb: You HAVE to be fans of Syd Barrett…. Yes? 

Benno: Yes, but to be honest though, we are all great fans of Pink Floyd‘s Meddle period, so mostly the albums Dark Side, Atom Heart Mother, Wish You Were Here and so on. That doesn‘t mean that we don‘t like The Pipers at the Gates...its just that our music is probably more influenced by Echoes and these more epic kind of songs.

Jeb: What is going on in Germany?  Zodiac and you guys are both amazing bands.

Benno: Yeah, it definitely feels like there is something going on in Germany right now. There are many great bands around, not only in Berlin, but all over the place. It‘s not like a certain scene going on, but more like lots of people doing cool things.

In the area we‘re from, Frankfurt/Wiesbaden/Darmstadt/Mainz, there are at least a dozen bands you would probably love. For example, our friends of the psych folk four-piece, Bees Village, are so amazing. We work a lot with them, they did all the choirs on our Tales of Transit City record. The last few months we spent a lot of time in Hamburg and Berlin and there are so many interesting things going on, so many good musicians. Zodiac are great, but it never happened that we met these guys. 

Jeb: This is your second album.  What did you do differently?  What did you learn from doing the first album? 

Benno: We were recording our first album mostly in our rehearsal room. We just recorded the bass and drum tracks in a studio. We basically wrote the album while recording it with plenty of time in our room. That was a really good experience because we learned how to deal with recording equipment, how to manipulate sounds in any way and the possibilities of different arrangements. Also, it helped us to create the sound that is now our Okta Logue sound.

When we started to work on our second album things got more professional; we went to a studio with two producers and tried to focus more on songwriting. After we did a bunch of basic tracks we decided to take the whole process back in our rehearsal room, which was the best decision. We kind of needed that familiar surrounding and the chance to try everything out and take as much time as we want to for a take. Back home, we got back in a flow and wrote five more songs, which are now the essentials on Transit City like “Transit,” “Let Go” and “Dream On.” It was also great to work with professional producers who could give us little hints and advice. Especially the way I used my voice was completely changed after working with Wolfgang Gottlieb, one of the producers. He took my fears and led the way to find my personal voice. I feel much more comfortable now playing live shows or recording vocals. So, both processes were completely different, but it‘s good to have experienced two sides of making records.

Jeb: Okta Logue still wear pants and T-shirts, which are way too tight and too short and their haircuts, are impossible.   This is from your press release.  Where are you getting your fashion tips?

Benno: Well, we‘re all having our own taste, you know. I like to look like a cowboy from the 1960‘s…ha, that‘s a joke .We‘re buying most of our clothes in thrift stores and at Flea Markets, but there is no strategy behind it.

Jeb: What is the ultimate goal of this band?  Commercial success?  Musical artistry?  Wild Party? 

Benno: That‘s a hard one...I think it‘s wrong to talk about an ultimate goal. The way we‘re on right now is actually my goal. All these things are kind of related to each other, you need to have at least some commercial success to be independent and create musical artistry.

I‘m happy that we‘re able to only focus on music right now and, as long as it stays like this, I‘m fine.  If there‘s more to come, that‘s cool too! Wild party is one of our favorite hobbies! It‘s  part of Rock & Roll, the myth, the cliché, no matter which way you put it, we love to party!

Jeb: This is intelligent music.  Are you all smarter than people think people in a band should be? 

Benno: That‘s a funny question! I sometimes wish we we‘re less smart, so the whole process of writing would be much easier and faster!

Jeb: I want both musical and non-musical influences on this band. 

Benno: If we‘d list all the bands and musicians we like, and who we are influenced by, right here, this interview would have the size of a book. But, in short, we made our 1960s and ‘70s homework. We love the classics like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Crosby Stills & Nash and so on. Robert is collecting a lot of early Soul and R&B records. Nicolai is listening to some hardcore and punk bands. I love many contemporary acts like Wilco, Devendra Banhart, Tame Impala, The Allah-Las. Philip is a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and I love Tom Waits. At the moment, I’m getting into Fleetwood Mac.
I wish we had more time though, at the moment, to listen to music. We all love movies by Lynch, Jarmusch, and so many other great directors, especially Western movies. Movies can be really inspiring when you‘re writing music.

We all like the idea of making a film soundtrack one day. Robert is also a beekeeper and makes his own honey.  Although we‘re all living in cities, we‘re really related to nature. There is nothing more inspiring as walking with a friend on a warm summer day.

Jeb: Tell me about the making of your latest video.          

Benno: Our latest video is for the song “Dream On” and it was just released today. It‘s a bad ass dirt bike video with our friend, and tour manager, Malwin in the lead role. Nicolai directed and edited it with the help of some friends. We did almost everything on our own and shot the video in the area we are from. My Dad is really into Motocross and he owns a shop, so it happened that Robert and I were doing this sport in our early childhood. So, doing this video was also some kind of flashback to our early days.

Jeb: Do you feel video is a good way to get people to know that band, or does it take away from the song, or do you feel you find a balance?

Benno: I think it‘s one of the best ways, as video and sound kind of melt together. Just look at our “Bright Lights” video, in a way it was the start of our career.  Music videos are a beautiful form of art.

Jeb: You should be Scorpions fans!

Benno: I‘m whistling a melody in our song “Deal With The Digger,” I think that has to be enough Scorpions reference.

Jeb: Tell me about growing up in Germany with all of the changes that have happened in your lifetimes and your parents…how does that influence you? 

Benno: This is a really interesting question, I‘m sorry that I have to give such a boring answer, though. I was born in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall came down, so I was never really practically affected by anything that happened in the modern German history. It‘s the same with the other guys. We‘re all quite aware of the German history though, and every one of us dealt with all these topics, but, like I said, our childhood, or our education, weren‘t affected by any of these things. We all had a quite peaceful childhood and we‘re all thankful for that since this is not a granted thing when you just look back at the last 80 years. I feel really blessed and I‘m thankful that I could spend all my life dealing with art and music and the beautiful things in life.

Jeb: Are you jealous guys like me got to experience REAL record stores?

Benno: Fuck yes, we are! I just spent one day at Amoeba Music in LA.

Jeb: I want to know your favorite Pink Floyd albums are…and why.

Benno: Meddle, The Dark Side Of The Moon, Atom Heart Mother, Wish You Were Here, Animals…these are the albums that mostly reflect what we like about the Floyd. This really mellow warm sound, the drum sound, the vocal melodies, Gilmour‘s way to play guitar and this epic feel in the songs. And this amazing ability of these guys to write a 20-minute long pop hit! It never get‘s boring, each tone, each note, each word and drum fill is at it‘s place, never too much, never too less, these records really influenced us.

Jeb: Same question one the Grateful Dead.

Benno: Working Man‘s Dead, American Beauty, From The Mars Hotel. Why? These records have this unique West Coast feeling and are just fucking great. I have to say that I never really got into their jam period though.

Jeb: Same question on Nina.  I had never heard the word “Luftballons” before…

Benno: This is kind of a German “Evergreen”...great song, I love it!

Jeb: Seriously, what is important to you in life that you feel needs to be reflected in your music?

Benno: My conscience, doubts and definitely love...everything that a young man has in mind…finding your way without losing yourself…a lot of really personal and melancholic topics.

I don‘t know why we just don‘t write about funny things...but the feeling and the mood of our songs is always a little melancholy and dreamy.

Jeb: What the hell does your band name mean?

Benno: It just came up when we were all hanging out together joking around in search of a cool name for a cool rock band. Okta Logue has this certain flow in it, you know. Once you hear it, it‘s like in your head. It could also mean eight persons talking, or like a drama with eight episodes, but for us, there is no deeper meaning to it, just a cool unique name for a band.

Jeb: Is there hope for real music like this?

Benno: We‘re interested in all kinds of music genres, how they develop and how they influence each other. I actually think that electronic music gave new impulses to rock and created new possibilities for all kinds of music. I actually quite like how non-mainstream rock developed in the last decade. But, to put it in a nutshell, we all love partying to techno music and we all listen to good rap music.

Jeb: What is the most satisfying thing about songwriting and share how that satisfaction showed up on this album…

Benno: It is the way we can express our emotions, feelings and views on all kind of things. There are many satisfying moments in the creative process, too. The moment you‘re humming this melody just on a guitar, the moment you jam a song together with the boys and this feeling like when we all know this is going to be good comes up, or when we played a really good show in front of a cool crowd. Music is actually such a rewarding thing. You have to put lots of effort into it, but you get back so many good moments.

Jeb: Last one: You just played in the USA.  What was it like?

Benno: Right now we are all on the plane from New York to London on our way back home from the States. Touring the States was one of the best experiences in my life so far. We‘re planning to be back in the spring of 2014 to do more shows and maybe play some residence shows in New York. We‘ll see what happens. Playing shows in America is what I always dreamed of and now we had this fantastic tour meeting all these fantastic people.

I kind of had the impression that many kids in the U.S. are interested in what we kids in Germany do. We can‘t wait to come back, but first we still have some shows coming up in Europe.

Jeb: Really last one, your talent seems to be growing.  Good things should happen if you keep it together.  What do you need from each other to “make it”?

Benno: A lot of patience and strong nerves…All four of us really have their own will, so we‘re having a lot of discussions about everything. But, the good thing about it is that it always comes to a good conclusion everyone is happy with. It is also a really productive approach to work on things, because at the end, everyone has to be happy with what we have done, or what we decided. If this culture of discussion keeps it‘s balance, I think, and I hope, we‘ll stay together for the rest of our lives.

Jeb: Really, really, really last one…Is there any new music yet?  Are you ready for a new album yet and if so what musical direction will it take? 

Benno: We already have a couple of songs together. We didn‘t really have the time to focus on writing, since we were touring all the time. We‘re working on a really long and complex song and have been for some time now. As soon as we‘re back home, we‘ll start writing again, as there are tons of ideas in the back of our heads just waiting to be let outside.

Buy the album here: http://www.amazon.com/Okta-Logue/e/B008YI6MD4