When FEARnet last visited the world of enigmatic German artists My Friend Skeleton, they had just released the macabre but melancholy short film Funeral for a Broken Doll, based on the multi-part single and EP by the same name. Nearly a year later, the identities of the group's members remain hidden behind exotic names and macabre masks, but from their cryptic stronghold they've managed to expand their influence beyond their home country – thanks in part to a new contract with prominent gothic label Danse Macabre Records, through which they've just released their first studio album, an elaborate double-disc set entitled Vanitas.
This core troupe of multimedia artists – who adopt mystical names like Amaya, Archimed, Kay Ozz and Serena – are dedicated to a nightmarishly beautiful vision, which draws on storytelling and musical motifs from every era to map a surreal fantasy realm. Even as they tell their own personal stories, they tend to adopt a poetic, symbolic language, which enhances the fantasy even more. Through an ever-expanding web presence, they welcome brave and romantic souls to explore their dark playground, so I decided to take them up on the offer of a little online meet-up. Read on and find out what I learned in their underworld of wonders...
FEARnet: Even as you expand your influence, there's still a cloud of mystery surrounding MFS and its origins. Can you tell us how your tale began?
MFS: If there was a tale written down, the tale would sound like this: “Once upon a time, we knew a creature, bothersome and wretched in its nature. We never really paid regard to it... but then one day, when it died and no one even realized, we started missing it. We want to honor it by naming our group 'My Friend Skeleton,' for a skeleton was all that remained from it...”
Do you see yourselves performing unmasked at some point, or are the masks an integral part of your presentation?
Archimed: At the beginning of each relationship, you can only see the mask of your counterpart. After spending some time together, complete confidence will develop and your own mask will slowly fall apart. We're at the beginning of our own artistic life, too... the assurance of the mask enables us to pass very personal things to the public. And our own masks will eventually fall bit by bit too. We're very curious to see how this will work out.
The more beat-driven tracks on the second half of Vanitas are credited to “My Skeleton Friend.” Since your original identities are still a mystery, Why did you choose to create additional alter-egos?
Kay Ozz: We created our alter-egos to point out the two sides of a mirror that the album describes. Although the two CDs differ from each other, there's a central theme throughout both of them. They also have a common hand, and are the output of the same creative flow. Therefore they definitely belong together and can't be released separate from each other... for example as a side-project, as other bands normally handle this.
You've gathered some big names from the Gothic, industrial and EBM genres to contribute to Vanitas... how did you come to join forces?
Kay Ozz: When the album production was already finished, we sent out our ghosts to spread the news. We got a lot of positive feedback and some artists agreed to contribute to Vanitas. We came together and they showed us their ideas [and] they appealed so much to us that we put them on the bonus CD of the Special Edition. We have remixes from Das Ich, Faith and the Muse, Faderhead, SITD, Kiew and Gothika.
Your music often references the songs of past eras – madrigals, folk music, requiem masses, marches, carnivals and street theater – and blends them with modern synth textures and beats. What led you to create such a diverse palette of sound?
Archimed: It was important for us to build the appropriate stage for our story. We were in the very comfortable position to compose a new orchestra for each scenery, and each sound had its own role inside the stage setting... sometimes because of what the sound itself stands for; sometimes because of its origin in time. You have this freedom to set a course with sounds you normally wouldn't have inside a movie; how else could you create a scenery of a romantic dinner which ends with the death of both? And let a marching band walk right through this image, escorting the human beings over the river Styx?
Roboterblut is one of my favorite pieces... it plays out like a miniature science fiction electro-rock-opera. What was the inspiration for it?
Amaya: One of the main inspirations was clearly the biblical story of Jesus. Time has always been repeating itself, so we imagined a desolate future in which robots are confronted with their own kind of savior. In our version of the messiah, he doesn't bring eternal life to the robots... but instead of that [brings] feelings. But it is more than just a rewritten version of the crucifixion; we tried to answer two really philosophical questions: What is the key to the heart? What is the key to the soul?
One of the most interesting facets of Funeral for a Broken Doll is the short film that accompanies it. Are you planning more visual projects?
Kay Ozz: Yes, we are planing further visual projects... at the moment we're too much occupied with the release of Vanitas to realize them, but as soon as we have the time for it we will return and set to work on them.
I would personally love to see Roboterblut adapted into an animated film...
Kay Ozz: It's not planned so far, but we'll keep that idea in mind. Who knows, maybe there will arise something some day...
Speaking of dark visuals, I'm assuming most of you enjoy horror films and similar media?
Amaya: Of course, we all enjoy horror films and have a huge collection of DVDs... but we also like games of that genre as well.
What are some of your favorites?
The list of names would be too long to write them all down. Just one hint: one of our favorite games turned out to be adapted as a movie some while ago... and it's not Resident Evil! These kinds of films give us a lot of creative inspiration; it's just this kind of feeling that we try to capture in our melodies or lyrics.
You describe those melodies and lyrics as creating the “soundtrack to nightmares.” Do you draw on your own nightmares and personal fears to create your musical worlds?
Archimed: We are all artists who extract their energy from their darker facets. During the work on Vanitas each of us had to face deeply emotional crises – this forced us to set ourself asunder with our own demons. So the soundtrack is just like a mirror of a rather dark time for all of us. And hopefully all our demons and nightmares are locked inside Vanitas well enough.
MFS has a very dynamic web presence. Can you describe the concept of your new interactive site?
Amaya: We want to give the people a chance to become part of our universe. They can obtain their own gravestone and personalize & design it in various ways... they can even upload pictures and write entries. It's like setting yourself a monument. Since it's a community, you can also visit other people's graves and leave them an obituary. But the graveyard is just one part of our interactive web presence; some people might still remember the labyrinth preview where you can move through haunted places and discover even more secrets. We're planning to add the full version to our homepage soon.
Now that you've signed to the Danse Macabre label and released your first full album, what comes next? Will you do a Vanitas tour soon?
Kay Ozz: A concrete promotional tour isn't planned yet... there are some concerts under discussion that are in the stage of organization, but I can't say anything about that at the moment because the contracts aren't signed yet. The only thing I can tell you is: 2010 is the Year of the Skeleton. You will hear a lot of us and we will definitely play live. So stay tuned and keep your eyes open...
We definitely will.
The best way to learn about MFS and their master plan is to become a member of their web community and carve a gravestone of your very own, as the artists devise new spooky surprises on a regular basis. You can also pick up your own copy of Vanitas at the same location; it's available in several different editions, some of which contain a 60-page art book created by the MFS troupe – including the very limited collectible “Skeleton Box,” a cool handmade package individually designed by the band members.