Described as “…an Intercontinental Synth-Rock outfit consisting of five men from four representative countries (Scotland, US, Germany, Austria),” this entity has released a debut album that is solid from start to finish. It goes by the title of My Only Shelter and delivers a hybrid of synth-driven pop sensibilities with a nod to modern contemporary rock music. If you’re partial to modern production values, a firm grip of hook-laden soaring anthems and a cohesive collection of songs, then it may not be news to you that this album is lurking out there in the universe of rock music already, prowling the shadows looking for more innocent minds to infiltrate.
The line-up in Darkhaus consists of Ken Hanlon owning the role of lung-buster; guitarist and synth player Rupert Keplinger; Marshall Stephens liberally wielding guitars along with fellow member of New York-based hardcore merchants Pro-Pain Gary Meskil handling bass, and responsibilities for tackling drum duties go to Paul Keller.
Screamer Magazine had the chance to catch up with the bass player Meskil to discuss his work with Darkhaus, and to get a few things from the horse’s mouth so to speak regarding his status in Pro-Pain. Taking Meskil back to the initial seed that was sown, how did it start for him back in the day? “Years ago, an old friend of mine from New York bought himself a bass and started learning songs off of some of his favorite albums. I was quite impressed by how quickly he picked it up, and so I decided that I wanted to own a bass guitar. My mother bought me my first bass, which was sort of a Gibson SG knock-off! I think I was around 13 years old at the time, and it only took a couple of years for me to begin writing my own songs. Then, when I was 15 I started my first band Crumbsuckers.”
The band Meskil has become notorious with is Pro-Pain, who from their 1991 incarnation have been brutally releasing and touring ever since. “It’s become a huge part of my life, although ‘back in the day’ I would have never predicted that the band would still be around 22 years later. So it’s quite an accomplishment, and I’m very proud of that. I feel as though we are still representing the band the way it was meant to be represented and that our new music is quite relevant in today’s heavy music scene. We still get excited about the creative process, and that’s one of the main things which keeps the band going.” In 2013, they released their latest studio album loaded full of attitude and assault called The Final Revolution. Critically, the album was received positively. “We wanted to make a strong ‘roots oriented’ album which differed from its predecessor [Straight to the Dome] to a certain degree. Since I wrote the lion share of our older works, we decided that it would be a cool idea for me to take the reins in terms of writing and arranging all of the material. Enough wiggle room was left for the rest of the guys to incorporate their own signature on the recording. In the end, we were all thrilled with the results, and we’re glad that the fans and press overwhelmingly feel the same.”
Noting how the band have such loyal fans and have achieved an amazing amount over the course of their career, would it be too much to expect them to continue for much longer? “It’s hard to say. We still have quite a few goals which we wish to achieve in the not so distant future; for example, playing Japan, South America, Australia, etcetera. We love experiencing new places and seeing new faces, so hopefully the new year will bring about some new opportunities. Other than that, it’s safe to say that most of our goals have been met.”
With the state of Pro-Pain settled and clarified, the conversation moved on to what he really wanted to discuss, Darkhaus. The first thing to establish was whether Darkhaus was for the time being a project or a band. “Darkhaus is a band, 100%. I always wanted to form another band in a different style, but I never had the time. I like to write songs in other genres of music aside from those which I’m best known for. For me it provides a healthy artistic balance of sorts. In April 2011, I finally had some ‘down time’ and I called a songwriter/guitarist friend from Austria (Keplinger) with my idea to start a new band. Since that time, we put the final touches on our line-up and we’ve written and released our debut album called My Only Shelter which has recently been released via SPV Records.
When pushed to elaborate further about how the line-up got together, Meskil replies “Rupert Keplinger and I had initially met in 2008 at a studio in Frankfurt Germany. We were working on a mutual project, which was the debut solo album of Stephan Weidner from the German rock band Die Bohse Onkelz. We had great chemistry in the studio, and the album eventually went gold. When I had the idea to start a new band, Rupert was my first choice with regard to finding the right musicians. Rhythm guitarist Marshall Stephens was added next. Both of us play in Pro-Pain together, so acquiring Marshall in Darkhaus was easy. Then, German drummer Paul Keller joined the group. Paul and Rupert both live in Hamburg and have done many projects together. Paul joined as a result of Rupert’s strong recommendation. Our lead vocalist Kenny Hanlon was the last to join. He’s from Scotland, but he moved to Jacksonville, Florida approximately two years ago. Since Marshall and I both reside in Florida, I strongly suggested to the others that we audition Kenny after hearing his vocal demos. The rest is history!”
Identifying the band name as being a little unusual, Meskil explained how they reached the name they have. “I compiled a list of approximately 100 or so potential band names, and I made notes of my personal favorites. Darkhaus was my number one choice because it’s half English and half Deutsch, and because I felt that it described the vibe and temperament of our music quite well. When I presented the list to Rupert, he looked it over and said ‘I like the name Darkhaus.’ So, it became a no brainer.”
The interview moved on to the recording process of My Only Shelter, and observing the band members had come from different countries, the question was raised how it all came together. “It was recorded, mixed, and mastered over the course of several months in a few different places. Vocals were recorded at my house in Sarasota, Florida, and all of the instrumentation was recorded at Rupert’s studio in Hamburg, Germany. The drums were recorded at Paul Keller’s old studio in Bielefeld, Germany, and the mixing and mastering was done in Hamburg at various studios.” He paused temporarily as he grappled with the duration of the recording process. “The recording, mixing, and mastering took approximately six months or so.”
With the schematics addressed, the acknowledgement to the sound and style that was achieved is the next topic to be pursued. “Actually, we had absolutely no preconceived notions with regard to style or genre. Rupert and I said to each other let’s get together for a week of writing, and we’ll see what happens. We wrote five songs that week which were Break Down The Walls, Son Of A Gun, Hurts Like Hell, Angelina and Breaking The Silence, and we were really excited about the material and our song-writing chemistry.” Speaking of specific songs, would Meskil commit to saying what his favorite tracks were? “Ghost is one of my favorites. I love the vocal melodies, and the lyrics are quite personal and very special to me. Another favorite is Looks like Rain, which is about those little dark clouds which never seem to go away. Grace Divine really does it for me as well. I could literally listen to that chorus all day.”
Ghost was a major promotion song for their debut album and a video was shot for the single. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K45yEkTFwIs “The video was directed by Vicente Cordero from Industrialism films, and we had the help of quite a few other professionals like Fernando Cordero, Kirk Farrington, Georgette Presslar, and many others on the set which made for a smooth shoot. It was like one big family, and we actually shot two videos during our trip to Jacksonville. The next video we plan to release is for the song Life worth Living.”
Was it feasible to ponder over any live shows considering the logistics for each band member? “So far, we’ve played a small handful of gigs in Belgium and Germany. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, so we’re very excited about the future. In April, we will go on tour with Subway To Sally, so that’s a huge opportunity for us to pick up some new Darkhaus fans!” Noting how enthusiastic Meskil was, the subject of more releases was brought up. “Yes, fans can eventually expect another Darkhaus album. We are very passionate about the band, and we are looking forward to writing new songs and to releasing new material.”
It’s another example of an individual musician who is diversifying by continuing to play in his ‘official’ band but also creating new ground by turning his talent to a different sound and dynamic. Whether this move by such artists like Dave Grohl or Corey Taylor could be seen as survival in a constantly changing music industry; or merely pursuing their own guilty pleasures and indulgence is neither here nor there. The music fan is reaping the rewards as more audio goodness is being produced and released to the masses that hunger for new and interesting output. It appears that Meskil is turning his hand to something fresh, and what is more important is he really seems to be enjoying it. For Meskil, it’s a life worth living.