Exclusive Interview with Johan Van Roy of Suicide Commando

I always wanted to have the freedom to do my own thing, do my own sound, so I never would give up on that....

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ΕW: I think there is no doubt that the whole electronic music industry of our times owes a great deal to you for being the inspiration to many artists and their aspects of composing and visually presenting their work.

Thank you very much Johan for taking time to reply to our questions. So let us begin!
So, you first started in 1986 in Belgium. Did you ever think at that time that you would find yourself being the leader (or one of the leading acts) of the EBM Industrial scene?

JOHAN VAN ROY: Oh no, definitely not. Not even in my wildest dreams I could expect to become one of the leading acts in the EBM industrial scene of today. All I wanted to do was to make some music for fun. I never expected my music would spread around the world like a virus. But I guess I was very lucky starting doing music at the right moment and finding the right people who helped making suicide commando that big today. One of those people for sure is Stefan Herwig (now Dependent, but formerly working for Off Beat and Kugelblitz Records) who gave me the chance to sign with a big label (Off Beat) in the early nineties. But of course there are many other people to thank, starting from my own family, friends, fans and labels all around …

EW: Could you please name some of your main music and band influences?

JOHAN VAN ROY: Well, I kind of grew up with the new & cold wave scene and later the electro-industrial scene, so most of my influences you’ll find in these cultures, raging from bands like old Klinik, Front 242, Skinny Puppy over The Cure, Sisters of Mercy …

EW: Your first album ‘Critical Stage’, and the following ‘Stored Images’ created already a strong fan base around your name. Did you at this time (mid 90’s) have the knowledge of how revolutionary the sound you created was to be proved for the scene? Did you expect that “Hellraiser” and “See you in Hell” tracks would become such huge and by now classic club hits?

JOHAN VAN ROY: No, once again it came as a total surprise to me. I never expected these songs would become such big electro anthems in the scene. For example a song like “see you in hell” was written in only a few hours of time and almost accidentally ended up as last song on the “stored images” album. So I never in my wildest dreams expected it to become such a huge clubhit. “hellraiser” was a little different as I already got fabulous feedback on that track before it was released, for example Ronan Harris (VNV Nation) almost begging me to remix that song … so the success of that song was not as surprising as the success of “see you in hell”, but nonetheless I once again didn’t expect it to become such a BIG hit.

EW: Being a solo project (a very successful one) sounds like a lot of responsibility. Do you express yourself better being alone? Did you ever feel the need to expand your band members? I suppose many people would volunteer to assist you 🙂

JOHAN VAN ROY: It sure requires another approach, but I can’t really say if it’s easier or more difficult to be a solo project or a real band. I guess both have their own pro’s and contra’s … But to me suicide commando was, is and will always stay a solo project as I consider suicide commando as my own baby, suicide commando is me, I could never let anyone enter that world. Suicide commando became a big part of myself, I could never share that with anyone else. So if I want to work with other musicians, I do it outside of suicide commando and create side projects, like I did in the past with Lescure 13, my old school EBM project, or more recently Kombat Unit, my project together with Jan from Noisuf-x.

EW: Furthermore, there are a lot of important Suicide Commando collaborations with EBM and Industrial bands to be mentioned: Could you please name some bands that you have worked with and appreciate in the scene and tell us also some things about your Kombat Unit project with Jan from Noisuf X and X Fusion? Shall we expect more collaborations from you in the near future?

JOHAN VAN ROY: Well, like I just said I’ve been doing some side projects over the years, Lescure 13 and Kombat Unit for sure being the most important ones, but there also was Toxic Shock Syndrome which I did together with the Nebula H singer Deranged Psyche.
But both Lescure 13 and Toxic Shock Syndrome are kind of death at the moment, due to a lack of time. So the only side project that still is active is Kombat Unit, the project I started with Jan from Noisuf-x few years ago. But since we’re both that busy with our own respective projects, we also hardly find any time to work on material, but plan still is to release an album some day … We’re currently working on new material, so wait and see.

EW: In the beginning of the 00’s the band was well established as one of the world’s industrial acts. Looking back to that time, was your fame strong enough to pay for your living or was the whole scene an underground phenomenon that concerned very few people?

JOHAN VAN ROY: Over the years only a very few bunch of artists in this scene were able to make a living from their music, after all this scene is still pretty small if you compare it with other scenes like the metal scene or the hip hop scene … so only the very top of this scene is able to make a living from their music. And even inside this electro-industrial scene my music probably only appeals a certain part of the scene, as my music probably is too hard and aggressive for some, so that limits my audience even more. Considering all that it’s not that easy to make a living from the music I do, but not impossible.
If only the decline of the cd market wouldn’t be that big, because of the illegal downloading, I meanwhile probably would have made the step to professional artist, but the enormous drop of CD sales because of the illegal downloading kind of ruined my dreams and somehow stole my job. It would have been possible to live from my music in the early 00’s, but today ? I don’t think so … unless I would sacrifice a lot of things and go more mainstream, but that is something I never wanted. I always wanted to have the freedom to do my own thing, do my own sound, so I never would give up on that.

EW: Some years ago you visited Athens for a festival along with a project that no longer exists (Neuroticfish) and a couple of other bands. Do you have any recollection of that performance and your time here? For what it counts I remember a band constituted by professional, decent musicians.

JOHAN VAN ROY: I do remember pretty well our 2 visits to Greece so far, first time in Athens indeed, and last time in Thessaloniki. If I remember well our first visit and show in Athens was also together with Deine Lakaien. Well any way, both shows were fun to do and I really hope we can return really soon to Greece.

EW: You are one of the most important projects in the scene, affecting a whole army of followers to my personal judgment, does it bother you at some point that some bands try to imitate or copy the sound of the leading acts? Things are much easier now for new band projects with the Social Media, but don’t last long unfortunately! Where do you stand with all this?

JOHAN VAN ROY: No, it doesn’t really bother me. In fact I rather feel honoured to be an inspiration for so many new bands. It remembers me a bit of my early days when I was heavily inspired by bands like old Klinik, so I was in the same situation myself.
What bothers me more is the fact that some people now kind of blame me (suicide commando) for all the copycats around. Well, I found out that with success also comes the haters, so the more success you get, the more haters you get as well, so some people (luckily only a minority) grab every opportunity to bash on me or my music, but that’s another story.
What does bother me a bit though is the fact that many of these new bands lack an own identity. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with trying to sound like band X or Y, but when you also start to copy all the rest (identity, imagery …) everything starts to sound and look the same, and that can get pretty boring after a while.
You indeed get a lot of quantity these days as it became so easy to do and spread your music through the social media etc … but unfortunately quantity doesn’t always mean quality. But I always believed that quality will conquer and that the high quality bands will survive.

EW: You sometimes seem to be inspired by the work and the life of serial killers and mass murderers. That is not very unusual, some film makers and writers are also attracted by these personalities …. Does the music you compose lead you to the use of specific topics or is it the other way around?

JOHAN VAN ROY: I guess it’s a bit of both ways, sure my kind of music fits very well with these topics, but on the other hand topics like serial killers or mass murderers also fit very well to this kind of music … being dark & aggressive. I always try to create a certain atmosphere with my music and lyrics, so things like serial killings and murder almost automatically recall a cold and dark aggressive atmosphere, fitting perfectly to the kind of music I like and do.

EW: At this point, I would like to first congratulate you on the “Implements of Hell” album and ask you some things about it: The new album refers again, after the exquisite “Bind – Torture – Kill” album, to a serial killer, Albert Fish. Could you please tell us in what way this specific serial killer case inspired you? Is there a particular connection between the mentioned albums or the “Implements of Hell” tracks that we should know of?

JOHAN VAN ROY: While “bind torture kill” was a real concept album about serial killers, “implements of hell” isn’t just another concept album, only the title and a very few songs refer to serial killings, but this time the album deals about a lot more issues, ranging from religion, war, sexual perversion, over to hate and envy, murder … It would have been real easy to do another concept album about serial killers because frankly, the list of inspiration and serial killer cases is almost endless, but I didn’t want to take the easy road and repeat myself.
The title “implements of hell” actually refers to the notorious serial killer Albert Fish who used to call his tools/instruments he used to brutally kill his victims his “implements of hell”.

EW: The official album release party, organized by the EW Team, here in Athens was a big success and thank you again publicly for all your support!

On another matter, did you ever receive any weird messages from fans or any kind of negative reaction from circles like the church with regard to your work referring to serial killers or perhaps other messages from your songs?

JOHAN VAN ROY: Well, I learned from experience that you can’t please everyone, so you’ll always have some haters and people bashing on you, it’s inevitable. And like I said, the more success you get, the more haters you get as well. So it isn’t that exceptional that I get some hate mails or messages from time to time, for whatever reasons actually, but usually simply because of envy and jealousy. And the internet of course is an easy tool to spread hate messages anonimously. I actually still need to meet the first person in reality who tells me straight in the face my music sucks, but on the internet it’s oh so easy to do so anonimously or even under false ID’s …
But of course we also get some negative reactions from other sources, for example last year a mother sued us because we showed too shocking live images during our live show at a festival. She apparently was there with her own little child and sued us because we showed too violent images. I do understand her concern, but frankly, just switch on your TV and you get to see such images every day …

EW: You told me some months ago that you became a father! Congratulations on your new role! Has this experience affected the way you create your music or attitude in any way?

JOHAN VAN ROY: Thanks. Well, I hardly did any new music since the birth of our son as my album basically was already finished by the time Liam was born. So it’s still difficult to say if being a father now will affect my music, but frankly I don’t think so … However it certainly changes your life, at the moment there’s hardly any time to do any new music, so in that way it certainly has an effect, but of course there are also positive sides of being a father.

EW: Do you have any other gigs scheduled for spring and summer ? we all hope to see you again live in Athens very soon…

JOHAN VAN ROY: Of course, we actually have plenty of new shows scheduled for the rest of the year, and we’re already even booking shows as we speak.We’ll do plenty more shows, mainly festival shows in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Switzerlan, Italy … and yeah, hopefully I can add Greece to that list as well. Would be great to come back !

EW: Do you have a special electronic message for your EW fans and users of magazine?

JOHAN VAN ROY: Well, I usually just grab the opportunity to thank all my fans in my interviews, so I won’t do otherwise this time, so I hereby would like to thank all my greek fans for their neverending support over the years. I know there are quite a few suicide commando fans in Greece, so thank you all. I hope you’ll enjoy the new album and I certainly hope to do more shows in Greece soon. See you in hell !

EW: Thank you very much Johan for having the kindness to reply to our questions here at Electrowelt.com !