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If you're curious as to why a band labelling itself 'Underdog Pop for the faint of heart' should appear on these pages, the answers are in this interview with band founder and doom-metal.com staffer Dominik.

Interview with Sidetrack Walker.
"Many of the contributors, past and present, to this site have been musicians and band members, most frequently - obviously - Doom outfits of some sort. Sidetrack Walker isn't necessarily in that bracket, though its long evolution from solo beginnings under the name Unmasqueraded has certainly had its Doom moments, as have some of the side-projects associated with it, and band founder Dominik Sonders has certainly had his as a long-standing staff reviewer and interviewer here. Which is why, to mark the occasion of the recent CD releases of Sidetrack Walker albums 'Mirrors and Mirages' and 'Come What May', I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to have this extended conversation with Dominik about all things musical..."

Sidetrack Walker founder, Dominik Sonders.

Hi Dominik, and thanks for talking to us! Regular site visitors should recognise your name, but let's start off with a bit of a formal introduction, anyway.

Hi Mike! Thanks a lot for this opportunity. I'm Dominik Sonders, a singer/songwriter/musician and writer currently residing in the Baltic port city of Kiel, Germany. As you say, Doom-metal readers might recognise my name: I first started following the site and posting on the forums around 2003–2004 and became part of the staff in 2011, writing reviews and interviews and participating in some internal decision-making. I've since stepped down from active duty for the most part in order to focus on my projects in music and writing, though. Some may also know me from the 2017 MDB tribute 'A Lake of Ghosts: The Long Shadow of My Dying Bride', where I contributed tracks with Memoirs and Vita Dolorosa.

We're going to be talking about your current project Sidetrack Walker, but let's put that in some context, first. What was your musical background, both in terms of education and training, and in your most formative influences?

Leaving aside the less-than-glorious chapter of playing snare drum in a marching band as a kid (which offered some initial rhythmic orientation at least), it all started when I witnessed a classmate in primary school play her keyboard at some celebration. The instrument fascinated me and I needed one for myself. Even at this early age I soon became bored with playing whatever the lessons called for. Instead, I preferred experimenting with ideas of my own or trying to cover songs I liked. As a teenager I got a much more powerful keyboard, allowing me to program my own backing tracks with a multi-track step sequencer of sorts.

Around the same time, I started taking private piano lessons, mostly playing classical sonatas and the like. This helped form a better understanding of musical structures, harmonies and techniques, and opened up a new perspective on songwriting. Again, I soon started employing my newly acquired skills to develop my own songs; learning to play pieces already written never held much interest to me in the long run. While I hardly ever play or listen to classical music these days, classical training has certainly had a profound impact on my songwriting.

I grew up in a fairly conservative town with little in the way of a music scene, so for fairly long I lived under the misconception that there wasn't much more to Pop and Rock than whatever MTV or the local radio stations had to offer. My father mostly listened to Mozart and Rock'n'Roll evergreens, which were both fine, but never really sparked any deeper interest. Consequently I lost interest in listening to music as a teenager, instead resolving to create the music I wanted to hear myself and leave out the aspects of mainstream music I disliked. Programming everything on my keyboard, I came up with strange combinations of musical elements, often using both heavy guitars and Eurotrance-influenced electronics within a more straight-forward Rock/Pop structure. All this is relevant because I've maintained some of that wanton disregard for genre boundaries to this day, and it's probably one of the defining elements of Sidetrack Walker.

Only when we got our first internet access in 2001 did I begin to discover new music. The single most formative musical discovery of that time must have been Opeth: their music is so full of diverse ideas and influences that it really opened my eyes to the wealth of non-mainstream music I had missed out on. I soon moved on to purely acoustic music on the one hand, and more extreme forms of Metal on the other, especially Doom.

So, around 2003 was when you first started having an active interest in the Doom scene...which were the bands that first really caught your interest, and why? How much did they influence the music you were making for yourself at the time?

The Peaceville sound is what first got me hooked on Doom – mostly My Dying Bride, but also Anathema. Typically, among influential 'trinities' of bands, there's always one that doesn't click with me, which is why Paradise Lost are not on this list. I think that the strong use of twin-guitar harmonies and the overall melodic approach is what made this particular sound immediately appealing, considering the proximity to classical composition. In general, Doom felt like exactly the type of music I'd always been looking for without even knowing it: the sense of existential darkness and heart-wrenching atmosphere resonated with me, and the slow tempos allowed for a degree of immersion I hadn't experienced before. I explored the genre systematically and soon moved on to more extreme bands. 'Tragedies' by Funeral left a particularly lasting impression, but also bands like Disembowelment, Evoken and especially Esoteric.

That said, it took a while until these discoveries manifested themselves as influences. At first, Opeth and the mid-era Rock albums by Anathema and Katatonia had a much greater impact on my music. Here, too, it was the deep atmosphere and honest songwriting that drew me to those bands. I still remember when I first read the lyrics to Katatonia's 'Tonight's Music', amazed at the apparent honesty. Still unfamiliar with earlier forms of dark music such as Post-Punk, I had never heard anything this bitter and fragile before. This sense of honesty is what inspired the title of the first Unmasqueraded demo, 'Confess Weakness', where the impact of those bands is most obvious.

Dominik, 2005.

That must also have been about the time you started your solo project Unmasqueraded, would that be correct? It would continue until the release of 'Somewhere Far From You' in 2012, though it took another three years to be pronounced officially dead, so I guess it's best considered as part of a continuum rather than in isolation. But, specifically, at the beginning how did it change things to have decided to create a band, rather than just music? And with the benefit of hindsight, what were the good and bad points of its earliest history?

I officially started Unmasqueraded in 2005, but most of the songs on 'Confess Weakness' had actually been written a few years earlier, so in that sense you're right! I had always wanted to pursue a more serious career in music, release albums, play live and all that, but of course I realised that this wouldn't happen with my keyboard-only approach, especially with my focus shifting towards guitar-driven music. So I started playing the guitar and considered working with other musicians. Since I didn't know how to growl at the time, I invited a friend to record guest vocals for 'Confess Weakness'. After that, I wanted to move on to more complex Metal, which called for a full band.

Without a doubt, the low point of the early years was to realise that I wouldn't find any suitable musicians to form a Doom Metal band in the area where I lived. Unmasqueraded remained a solo project by necessity rather than choice, severely limiting my options. Monetary and health constraints added to the stagnation. At the very least, though, these difficult conditions gave me lots of time to hone my songwriting skills, so when I was finally in a position to play live and create decent-quality recordings, I didn't have to waste any more time trying to find my musical voice.

As for a high point, in late 2005 I performed one of my early piano-based singer-songwriter pieces in front of a fairly unusual crowd. Aside from playing at my sisters' weddings, my live experience until that point had been extremely limited, so I was unprepared for the reaction: half the room was crying halfway through the song, which was an almost surreal experience. This instilled some new confidence in my songwriting, suggesting that I may be on to something and should keep pursuing my goal regardless of the odds. As an aside, the song I played was 'Sonnensturm', which was finally released last year on 'Mirrors and Mirages', thirteen years after its conception.

So, how far would you say Unmasqueraded took you, in the end? You put out some digital and CD releases, had some other tracks in progress...and then rather pulled the plug on it all. Do you regret that decision at all, or do you still feel you'd accomplished all you could with the band? What would you consider its main achievements, in terms of your own learning and development?

No, I don't regret the decision at all. To be honest, pulling the plug didn't really change much, other than getting rid of an all-too-contrived band name I felt increasingly uncomfortable with. Unmasqueraded was sort of an 'anything goes' project from the get-go. It was meant as a vessel for everything authentic and honest (hence the name), regardless of where it might take me stylistically. To a lesser extent, the same is now true for Sidetrack Walker. My point is that I have merely shed an old skin, but still pursue the exact same artistic ideal of uncompromising authenticity.

For the second part of your question, I have to take a little detour: most of Unmasqueraded's Doom Metal material was written between 2006 and 2008. In 2007 I spent months on the demo recording of a somewhat overambitious twenty-minute Prog Doom opus called 'Serum'. It was a time-consuming and exhausting process but still led to little more than a below-par recording of interesting ideas, so at some point I realised that I just couldn't work like that anymore – not on my own, at any rate.

In late 2008, without any conscious decision, I started focusing on music that worked much better in a solo context. This felt so much more rewarding right away. I could just sit down with my acoustic guitar and start singing, and the songs didn't need a full band to work. Within a short period of time, I came up with enough material for a double album, 'Behind the Scenes', which was heavily influenced by bands like the Red House Painters as well as Singer-Songwriter and Dark Folk music, mixed with some heavy guitars and retaining a Doom influence mostly in its atmosphere. This was when I really found my niche, paving the way for the sound I'd later develop with Memoirs and Sidetrack Walker, so that's probably the main achievement of those long years under the Unmasqueraded moniker.

Unmasqueraded, 2006.

Speaking of paving the way, one of your consistent hallmarks has been meticulous attention to lyrics, for which you use several different languages. What shapes your interest in, and attachment to, that degree of linguistic precision? And how do you bring them into the compositional process – with non-instrumentals, do you start with the words, or develop them along the way?

Music and lyrics, to me, are two sides of the same coin – they're inseparable and equally important. I usually compose them together. Most of my musical ideas pop up while improvising, and I'll often have a few vocal and lyrical lines to go along with a piano or guitar pattern right off the bat. Hence, the theme and general mood of a new song develops naturally and there's rarely any conscious decision involved. That said, once I have some lines as a starting point, I do put a lot of effort into composing the lyrics in unison with the musical structure. I'm not content until I feel I've distilled the emotional essence of the initial idea to the best of my abilities, with as few redundancies or imprecisions as possible.

Writing has always been an important part of my life. Even as a child I wrote stories, kept diaries and the like. Around the same time my music became more serious during my teens, I also started to pursue my interest in writing with more dedication. Of course, this had an impact on my song lyrics, too.

Diving into linguistic academia during my studies of English and Scandinavian language and literature, I also developed a keen interest in the deeper structural workings of language. If I had more time and energy to spare, I'd try to learn as many foreign languages as possible since every language has its own peculiarities, offering a unique perspective on the world. The more I know about different languages, the more they fascinate me for their often unexpected relationships to one another.

All that said, all the lyrics on my current album are in English. This, too, was the result of a natural process rather than a conscious decision, and I'm sure that there'll be something in German or Norwegian again someday. I think that there's the right language for every song, and usually it'll present itself during the composition process.

Do you feel that your narratives have changed significantly over the years: they've always been quite personal and detailed, albeit often presented with different layers and slants, but are they still coming from the same places in terms of inspiration? Do you have any intent, or desire, for listeners to understand or appreciate your lyrics in particular ways?

Yes, my sources of inspiration have remained fairly constant, and I don't expect that to change. Again, the main goal is authenticity: writing about things that matter to me – and often weigh upon me – could be described as a cathartic or even therapeutic process. But as personal as the lyrical themes are, I always hope to capture something fundamentally human that most people should be able to relate to on some level. I know this approach of 'confessing weakness' is not for everyone: many people, albeit familiar with the emotions and states of mind captured in my music and lyrics, find them too intense or dark to face. Hopefully, this shouldn't be a problem for a Doom audience, though!

While still coming from the same place, my lyrics have certainly evolved alongside my personality. They used to be pretty negative throughout, and often focused on introspection, but these days you'll find more shades of grey and observations about people other than the lyrical persona. There's an unprecedented degree of hope on 'Come What May' that still surprises me, though it does end on a very dark note. Since all art, to me, is first and foremost a form of communication, of course it'd be nice if people 'decoded' the message I originally intended. But that is any author's naïve ideal: everybody will read lyrics on the basis of their own unique set of experiences and draw conclusions that depend more on their own situation than whatever the author may have intended. In this sense, I have to agree with Roland Barthes' arguments from 'The Death of the Author' to some extent: a while ago I presented a brand-new track to five different people, believing the lyrics to be as obvious as they come. I ended up with five different interpretations, none of which had an awful lot to do with my own. While this was surprising and somewhat disappointing at first, it turned out to be rewarding above all, offering fresh perspectives on my work. So I've come to embrace this diversity rather than resent it, and I even believe that it's a good sign if a text can be read in several ways and still work. Nevertheless, dead author or not, I'm only human and hence delighted if someone does understand my intention on occasion.

Although there was a real chronological overlap between Unmasqueraded and Sidetrack Walker, as an observer of the later stages, the transition years – I guess probably around 2011–2015, or thereabouts – seemed a little chaotic, producing such extremes as the heavily Death/Doom '12:18', the rappy Real Redeemer solo work, and the more acoustic and reflective cooperation of Memoirs. Looking back, how would you see them: was it a period where you felt you were finding a direction and consolidating your existing ideas, or more being blown on the tides of exploring what might be possible in the future?

Closer to the latter, but in all truth, it may seem more chaotic from the outside than it actually was. I had long since pursued several stylistic directions simultaneously, and both Extreme Doom and semi-acoustic outlets had been part of Unmasqueraded's musical identity for a while. '12:18' was originally written in 2006 and part of a full album called 'Under the Sunmask'. It's the only track off that album I ever made a demo version of. Frankly I don't even remember how and why I decided to do so in 2012 even though I had already moved on for the most part.

As for The Real Redeemer, branching off into (semi-)electronic territory had been a long-standing goal for me, too. Back then I rediscovered some ideas from my keyboard-only years and recorded them more for the sake of nostalgia than anything else. I've always liked trying unexpected things to see where they'd take me, and while the MC D. rap experiment may be the most extreme example of this yet, it basically drew from the same source of inspiration and artistic curiosity as everything else. So far I haven't had the time to pursue The Real Redeemer more seriously, but it's still there as a potential outlet, biding its time. I've been developing a few Drum'n'Bass ideas for the project lately, so there's some tentative development on the horizon.

The chronological overlap was mostly due to my procrastinating the official announcement about the end of Unmasqueraded, by the way, whilst in terms of musical activities, there was no actual overlap.

So, why did you adopt Sidetrack Walker as a name, and what does it mean to you?

'Sidetrack Walkers' (note the plural) was one of my early band-name suggestions for Memoirs. Since it didn't find much favour with the others, it was dropped at the time. But being a favourite of mine, it was an obvious choice when I started the new project. Between the 'Underdog Pop' label and my remarks on authenticity, I guess the meaning can be inferred fairly well, so I won't bore anyone with a long explanation. An added bonus of the name, for me, is that it feels quite genre-neutral, so it shouldn't become obsolete anytime soon regardless of the stylistic adventures I may yet embark on.

Memoirs, 2015: Dominik (vocals, instruments), Vivien Lange (vocals), Marcel Gülzow (vocals, instruments).

Would I be correct in saying Memoirs was your only long-standing band, rather than solo project? What would you say are the good and bad points of working in those two different spheres? And does it require a very different mindset to work collaboratively, rather than independently?

Memoirs certainly was the only band I've ever played live with, though my Prog/Doom combo has been around for over two years now, too. The reason why we haven't gigged yet is that it's hard to establish a stable line-up if you're playing Metal of a darker and less straight-forward kind. There isn't much of a Doom scene to speak of in Germany, though getting something started would certainly be easier in larger cities like Hamburg.

I'll be honest with you: as was the case with Unmasqueraded, I'm working alone out of necessity rather than by choice. But in the long run, it's too much work and decision-making for one person alone, especially since I do want to reach a wider audience. In my experience it's naïve to assume that any one person can do all the jobs equally well, and the variety of abilities you'll need can be overwhelming.

I do appreciate the liberties of a solo project, though, especially considering my ideal of uncompromising authenticity. Some of my songs for Memoirs ended up never being used because my band mate Marcel didn't like them enough (which was his prerogative, of course), which is why I started another solo project to begin with – to me, all songs are equally important, after all. But this was a trade-off I gladly made, for the wealth of creative input from a highly talented and inspired musician really lifted the songs to a level I couldn't have attained on my own. And then there's the fact that a band can distribute responsibilities and decisions across several people, allowing everyone to focus a little more on what they do best rather than being the proverbial jack of all trades and master of none.

Looking back on Memoirs, I count myself extremely lucky to have worked with such reliable and talented people. We did a lot of creative arrangement work in the rehearsal room, which was a very rewarding way to work. A line-up like this is extremely hard to find, but in an ideal world, I'd much prefer Sidetrack Walker evolving into a full band at some point where creative collaborations of this kind are possible, even at the cost of sacrificing some of the liberties. So far I've gathered some lovely people for a live line-up, but since most of them will be leaving the area in the foreseeable future, it's difficult to take the band to the next level.

Memoirs - 'Without You My House Is Haunted' (Live, 2015):

You contributed to the doom-metal.com 2017 My Dying Bride tribute, both with Memoirs and as the international collaboration Vita Dolorosa. How different was it to take on somebody else's composition and meld that with your own musical influences, compared to writing your own material? What did you take away from the experience, good or bad?

The tribute was a great experience throughout. I've always enjoyed covering artists I love on occasion, especially those that have influenced me, and My Dying Bride have certainly had a huge impact. These two covers were an interesting challenge due to the radical change of style. The Memoirs track in particular can be said to be an inversion of my predominant modus operandi in that I've re-arranged a Doom Metal song into an acoustic, piano-based framework: many of my darker songs could well work as Doom compositions if played with distorted guitars rather than piano. The fact that MDB (and many other melodic Doom bands, for that matter) work so well on the piano, to me, is compelling proof of the style's kinship with classical composition.

Contributing to the tribute album was also special in that it provided my first-ever opportunity to participate in a pro-quality CD release. After the years of struggle preceding it, this felt like a great accomplishment. Thanks to the Vita Dolorosa collaboration, I also made new friends (one of whom, JS of ESTRANGEMENT, contributed a guitar solo for 'Come What May') and launched yet another creative outlet that marks my return to Extreme Doom. I have since written the better part of an album for the project…

To pick up on the first paragraph, since we are a Doom site: what do you consider to be the essential elements of Doom? To what extent do you consciously, or subconsciously use them in your own compositions? Equally, would you describe any or all of your projects as warranting some kind of Doom label, even if prefixed by a more dominant genre?

The essential elements of Doom, to me, are slow tempos, a certain degree of minimalism and a focus on atmosphere – specifically, an atmosphere of inconsolable sorrow and regret or even of existential darkness, depending on the band and subgenre. You'll find all of these elements in my music, aside from the heaviness that usually accompanies them: much of it is fairly slow by standards of genres like Singer-Songwriter and Prog/Art Rock, and the odd uplifting number aside, you'll find that same kind of atmosphere, as demonstrated by tracks like 'Ghost Stories' or 'The Closing of May'. I've even re-arranged 'Utopian Poetry' off 'Mirrors and Mirages' for a Funeral Doom context and it works surprisingly well.

It was never a conscious choice to include these elements. Rather, my style of songwriting evolved organically, and since Doom is one of the genres I've enjoyed most consistently over the years, it only seems natural that it would impact my work. And then there's my appreciation of other forms of music which share similar trademarks, such as 'Slowcore' (a minimalist and melancholic style of Alternative Rock which evolved in the US in the nineties) or Dark Ambient which, to varying degrees, are to their superordinate genres what Doom is to Heavy Metal. I've always been drawn to this kind of artistic expression, also in other media like film, probably because I am an introspective and pensive person by nature and find a lot of solace or even catharsis in dark-themed works of art.

As for a Doom label, before I came up with the somewhat tongue-in-cheek term 'Underdog Pop', I did consider 'Doom Pop', which might have worked equally well, but would have put all those at a disadvantage who are unfamiliar with the characteristics of Doom. Especially these days where more and more people associate Doom with weed-smoking Retro Rock bands and noisy Sludge/Crust escapades rather than the above-mentioned elements, 'Underdog Pop' seemed the wiser choice. With the stylistic gap between Sidetrack Walker and Memoirs being relatively small, the latter project struck a similarly doomy note most of the time.

And, getting to the reason behind this interview: you've just self-released a couple of Sidetrack Walker CDs – one new and one of older material. Of the older works comprising 'Mirrors and Mirages': how do you see them now? They were composed while you were still primarily working as Unmasqueraded, the liner notes make it clear you have a certain ambivalency as to how you identify with them now: so, do you still feel they have some relevance and context for Sidetrack Walker, or is it more of a cathartic exercise in figuratively 'clearing the decks' so you can move on with newer material?

While 'Mirrors and Mirages' isn't particularly representative of Sidetrack Walker's current or future direction, the songs laid the foundation for the quieter side of my musical development. The first ones were written before I even came up with the name Unmasqueraded, so they've been with me for a very long time. Looking back, this is where the sound of Sidetrack Walker, my own Memoirs compositions as well as much of the later Unmasqueraded material first started to form. The 2012 Unmasqueraded album 'Somewhere Far From You' was pretty much a return to these roots and a direct successor to 'Mirrors and Mirages', and I am planning to re-record it in a similar fashion.

While it's true that I find the lyrics a little naïve from today's perspective, they are still authentic for documenting the period of my life in which they were written. Musically, I still like the album – to my own surprise, I sometimes find myself enjoying it more than 'Come What May' these days, and among all the songs I've written over the years, 'Of Landscapes Unchanged' is still one of my favourites. That said, I do realise that the album's stylistic fragility and minimalist instrumentation are not for everyone and certainly much harder to get into than the far more colourful style on 'Come What May'.

Okay – so 'Come What May' is the new Sidetrack Walker album, written and recorded from 2015 onwards. You say it's a "far more colourful style" – how would you quantify that? And what do you feel is your most significant accomplishment with this album, compared to your previous works?

It's more colourful on several levels. Firstly and most obviously, I've never used such a wide selection of instruments before: while 'Mirrors and Mirages' consists only of piano, vocals and sampled strings, the new album also features acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums (for the first time ever, apart from the Memoirs track on the tribute album), electronic flourishes and so on. I started playing drums and bass specifically for these recordings. Stylistically, it also offers a few surprises along the way. Aside from making an actual CD, I'd count this development as the most significant accomplishment, even if it meant a much higher workload in terms of recording and mixing.

Whilst most of my previous material was fairly consistent in terms of atmosphere, 'Come What May' is more colourful in this respect, too, with almost optimistic pieces like 'No Expert' or 'Savour' appearing side by side with the melancholy and fatalism that has been typical of my songwriting for many years. It goes without saying that you'll see this mirrored in the lyrics: while they largely cover the same themes as before, the perspective is more flexible and allows for a little more light-heartedness and humour than usual.

In all likelihood, all of this will make the album more easily accessible, though for better or worse, I've since returned to a more consistently dark style of songwriting.

How much of the technical side of 'Mirrors and Mirages' and 'Come What May' was your work, in terms of the engineering, recording, mixing and mastering, and how much did you outsource? What did you learn from the experience?

My knowledge about mastering is very limited, so I outsourced that job in both cases, and I was fortunate enough to recruit Jacob Holm-Lupo of Norwegian Retro Prog band White Willow for the mastering of 'Come What May'. Since 'Mirrors and Mirages' is very consistent sonically and only features a very limited number of audio tracks, I was able to mix that myself, though with some help and advice from my friend Andre Jonas who did the far more challenging mix for 'Come What May'.

One thing I learned is that you can never fully outsource anything if you have a fairly clear and inflexible artistic vision: you have to supervise the process every step of the way, double-check every new version and give appropriate feedback in order to steer the project to where you want it to be. The same goes for the visual aspects of a release. While this demanded a lot of perfectionism and patience from all involved, it was really educational in the end.

During the mixing process for 'Come What May', I spent many afternoons at Andre's home studio looking over his shoulder and ironing out the sonic details. This taught me a lot about mixing – practical experience which I later supplemented by reading mixing handbooks and tutorials. I have since started to mix everything myself again, which is a lot of extra work (especially for someone not especially tech-savvy by nature), but gives me free rein throughout the entire process and opens up new creative avenues. With the material I've been working on lately, outsourcing the mix wouldn't be feasible anyway since there's a lot of sequencing and sound design involved, making it hard to separate the stages of arranging and mixing. For the time being, I am not planning to get into mastering myself, though.

A mildly leading question – I have some idea of the joys of this already! – but you were also responsible for organising the physical side of the releases. How difficult was that process? Any sage advice you'd want to pass on to anyone else considering doing their own manufacture?

Don't get me started, haha! There's no reason to lie: it was truly painstaking. I'm sure it will be much easier next time around because I've already cleared up most of the uncertainties involved. When it comes to advice, I am not exaggerating when I say that I could write a book on the subject, or at least a very extensive article, and I might do just that at some point! Going into specifics would take us too far afield, but I have two general pieces of advice.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, if you really want to get your music out there, spare yourself the frustration of wasting precious time searching for a record label. If I hadn't done this, 'Come What May' could have been released about half a year sooner. I know this sounds harsh, but if you don't already have a solid following, labels most likely won't listen to your music regardless of how good it may be and how much work you may have put into it.

Here's the second thing to consider, assuming that you are going to give it a go independently: ask yourself how much you really want to release your music in physical format. Preparing a CD is a lot of work, especially if you don't have a full band where everyone contributes their manpower and finances, and if you're an aspiring artist or band with little publicity under your belt, chances are you'll be sitting on a lot of CDs (or whatever format you prefer) that will be very hard to sell. That said, if you are going to play live and your music is any good, people are going to ask for CDs after gigs, so it is very wise to have some for sale. For me, the decision was clear: a digital-only release wouldn't feel like a proper release at all. I've always wanted to hold a professional physical product in my hands, complete with suitable artwork and a booklet with lyrics. Of course I'd like as many people as possible to hear the music and buy the CDs, but it was mostly my own old-fashioned adherence to the format that dictated my decision. If you're not quite as inflexible and idealistic, you should weigh the costs and benefits very carefully, because it's a huge investment of time and money.

Hard work, but how rewarding was it to finally unbox your own pro-pressed albums and see the final results?

It was surreal, and my above remarks notwithstanding, I guess that every self-respecting artist should experience this at least once. For me it was a particularly emotional moment because I had been working towards this goal for such a ridiculously long time and against very unfavourable odds. It's still strange to see the boxes of CDs standing around, or to think that some copies are already sitting on people's shelves. It was just about the most gratifying experience I can think of to witness someone's eyes light up when I hand them a signed copy of my CD as if it were the most precious gift ever, and such a moment alone makes up for all the hard work. The personal significance and emotional impact may be similar to what the birth of a child means to other people, and while I realise that parents may find this comparison somewhat inappropriate, it's the best one I've been able to come up with.

Out of curiosity - I notice 'Mirrors and Mirages' and 'Come What May' are numbered SWCD002 and 003 respectively: what happened to 001?

I reserved that first catalogue number for a possible future CD pressing of 'Confessions in Silence'. Technically this was the first release for Sidetrack Walker. I chose not to have it pressed for the time being, mostly out of financial considerations, since it is a collection of piano improvisations and hence not too representative of the project at large. But it'd still be nice to give it a proper physical release someday.

So, who would you see as the target audience for 'Come What May'? Is there a section of the Doom community you could see it appealing to – fans of any particular style or band, for example – or is it really for those who also have musical interests completely outside the genre?

I'm not sure if you can actually separate the two. In my experience, many Doom fans are open-minded and appreciate a vast selection of musical styles, often of a darker nature, much like myself. For instance, not everybody turned their backs on bands like Anathema and Katatonia after their radical change of style, for at heart, those bands often maintained some of their atmosphere and emotional intensity even after reinventing their sound. Katatonia in particular have lots of doomy moments to this day, even in their faster Rock numbers, and there are somewhat comparable bands like Antimatter who don't actually play Doom Metal, but are well received within the scene and even appear at Doom festivals. This is the kind of open-minded target audience I am hoping will enjoy Sidetrack Walker: people with a more generalised interest in dark, emotional music, regardless of genre. If we wanted to remain strictly within the confines of Doom, however, I'd say that fans of the more melodic side of things are most likely to connect to my music: bands like The Prophecy, Hanging Garden, Kauan, Akelei and, of course, My Dying Bride come to mind.

I gather the initial launch party went well: have you had any other feedback on the album as yet?

Strictly speaking, it hardly qualified as a launch party since it was more of a small get-together, but yes, the fond memories of that evening will be with me for a long time. Feedback so far has been scarce, but singularly warm, and it's incredibly rewarding to see that the music seems to be speaking to some listeners on a deep level. This week I received a review request from a French Prog webzine, stating that they liked what they had heard so far; I have no idea how they even came across the album, but it seems like a good sign. Let's see how that pans out.

And you've also put together a live line-up, right? How's that progressing? Does it involve a lot of extra work on your part, as – presumably – the band leader, or does everyone pitch in with contributions?

Since all the songs are mine, I ended up being the band leader by necessity. This is a position I am still somewhat uncomfortable with, mostly because I am not an 'authoritarian' person by nature, so finding a healthy way to deal with this role is a bigger challenge than any additional workload. Aside from actually attending rehearsals, there is very little extra work involved, and it feels good (and overdue) to be playing Sidetrack Walker material backed by a band. While I can hardly listen to the recordings anymore for the time being, the music still works in the rehearsal room.

We were lucky enough to be joined by a talented violinist just a few weeks ago, so that's a really promising addition bringing so much more depth and emotional relevance to the sonic picture. Given my classical influences and soft spot for heart-wrenching atmospheres, working with live strings has been a goal for many years. The drummer and bass player, too, are great musicians whose talent and dedication I respect deeply. While I still supervise the arrangements quite closely, I've come to trust everyone's judgement bringing their own playing style and arrangement ideas to the table.

As mentioned above, in the long run I would love to turn the project into a full-fledged band with shared responsibilities and a stronger spirit of collaboration on the creative front. Sadly, our drummer will be leaving the area soon, though, so at this point it's unclear how exactly the line-up may evolve.

Sidetrack Walker, live in 2019: Tilla (violin), Jan (drums) Dominik, Paul (bass).

While the line-up for the future may be uncertain, you still put on your first proper gig this week. How did that go? Did you enjoy it?

I just came in through the door after the gig, in fact, so the impressions are still fresh. I did enjoy it and it was a pleasure sharing the stage with these talented people for the first time. It was also great that a lot of friends and acquaintances showed up to support us. On the logistical side, there's still some room for improvement, though, so I'm returning with a few valuable lessons learnt.

Now for the next step: let's hope we'll get the chance to play again soon in a larger setting that allows for more songs and especially for the inclusion of my stage piano. Since this was just a brief three-track set at an open-stage event, I only played guitar to keep the hassle at a minimum. While I've really grown to enjoy the role of guitarist/frontman, leaving the piano out entirely just doesn't feel representative of Sidetrack Walker. And oddly enough, when I played the exact same venue and event with Memoirs a few years ago, reactions were much more enthusiastic despite the darker and more minimalist nature of our set. I'm guessing this had a lot to do with the piano, which is simply more unusual and intimate in such a setting. As an amusing aside, the host of tonight's event mistakenly announced us as 'Sidekick Walker', so I had to correct him. It was an interesting ice breaker before the actual set started.

So, you hinted earlier that you're returning to a 'consistently dark style of songwriting' – how much additional material do you have prepared, and do you have any plans to release it in the near future? Or, I guess, to put it more broadly – do you have any immediate plans for Sidetrack Walker?

My immediate plan right now is to give 'Come What May' its deserved 'five minutes of fame', promote it as best I can, and try to get some gigs booked. But due to the long delays, I have already moved on creatively. Last year I composed and recorded another full-length that is now biding its time on my hard-drive. A surprisingly large portion of it is instrumental, roughly in a Modern Classical vein, but with lots of twists and fresh stylistic elements, including a stronger use of electronica. It is mostly finished, mix included, apart from a few acoustic guitars and a possible guest appearance from a female singer. Since the last album just came out, I am in no particular rush to get the new one mastered, but nothing should keep me from releasing it towards the end of this year at the latest. To bridge the gap, I am planning to release one of the new songs, 'The Host', as a digital single in the foreseeable future. Like most of the other tracks, it is really dark and quite different from 'Come What May'. Listeners are in for a few stylistic surprises again!

In addition, there's the aforementioned idea of re-recording 'Somewhere Far From You', and I also have lots of unused songs lying around, most of them leftovers from Memoirs and the transitional period to Sidetrack Walker. I've even had an album title in mind for those pieces since the Memoirs days, but since it'll be a while until this material will come out, I will not reveal it just yet. Suffice it to say that in terms of style and feel, this album project will be more of a successor to 'Come What May' than the new material I recorded last year.

You interviewed a number of bands for us in the past...what's it like being on the receiving end for a change?

That's a good question. A few times I did ask myself what kind of question I would have come up with next, had our roles been reversed. After all the years of not being able to release and promote my material properly for a variety of reasons, the sudden publicity certainly is an unfamiliar experience. But I'm enjoying it and it's liberating to finally discuss my music after sitting on it for so long. Additionally, revisiting my musical background in such a systematic way has helped put my current release into perspective, because once you pursue any such project single-mindedly, you tend to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Managing promotion and publicity is, of course, yet another thing that a DIY project has to handle itself. How have you been getting on with that, in general? Any progress, beyond the review offer you mentioned?

Truth be told, trying to increase the project's visibility is one of the less enjoyable tasks for me. It's cool to give interviews and (hopefully) read reviews, of course, but in order to do that, I have to get there first: taking the initiative, finding suitable media and contacting them, layouting and distributing flyers or even finding a good way to represent the project on stage – all this can be quite challenging since I am not an extrovert by nature. But without challenge there's no personal growth!

I gave my first face-to-face interview this week for the biggest local newspaper. It went pretty well and the article should appear in print soon. As an optional service, a promotional agent from the pressing plant has sent 40 copies of 'Come What May' to suitable magazines, radio stations etc., so hopefully this will garner some additional coverage. I am planning to contact more media myself, but haven't gotten round to more than a handful of e-mails yet: between band rehearsals, a lasting exhaustion from preparing the CD pressing, and trying to maintain a life through all of this, my resources have been stretched somewhat thin and I've decided not to push myself too hard.

Though you've had to do a lot of solo decision-making and work along the way, I guess there must also have been a certain amount of influence, support and help, too? Aside from the musical collaborations mentioned earlier, what's your view of that side of things? Are there any other people you'd particularly like to thank or mention for their presence on your journey?

Well, we've already discussed Andre's role, and naturally I am also very grateful to the guest musicians who contributed to Come What May, JS (guitar solo) and Ben (bass). At present the live band deserves my deepest gratitude for putting a lot of time and effort into this project. There are other people who have supported me over the years, of course, be it with feedback, equipment etc. But I have either listed them in the album booklets or thanked them in person, or both, so I wouldn't want to make anyone uncomfortable by mentioning their names again here. At least, though, let's not forget Doom-metal.com's very own Bertrand Marchal who was incredibly helpful and patient putting together the CD layouts with a friend.

A doom-metal.com moment: Dominik and myself, Hamburg, April 2014.

Well, I think that more or less brings us up to date, and hopefully put together a comprehensive picture of what you're all about, musically. Are there any corners of history that we've missed along the way?

You've been pretty thorough indeed! I've been considering whether to give some more details on my Funeral Doom plans for Vita Dolorosa, but on second thought, I'll leave it as it is for now: we can always chat again when the time comes for that project!

So, in closing...thanks again for your time, Dominik. It's been a lot of fun to do this interview. Any final words you'd like to add to complete it?

It's been a great experience for me, too, so thanks for coming up with all those interesting in-depth questions! Beyond what's already been said, I'd like to let the music and lyrics speak for themselves and hope they will resonate with some of our readers. Thanks to anyone who took the time to read this!

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Visit the Sidetrack Walker bandpage.

Interviewed on 2019-02-16 by Mike Liassides.
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