Interview: MANNTRA
Title: Mastered risk

Tingling new spirit of optimism in the Croatian camp! While Manntra had sung about their first three albums purely in the national language, the new album „Oyka!“ is now released for the first time with English lyrics. Soundwise the adventurous and interested journey of this extraordinary formation continues as before - pithy played, also melodically rich Metal, fervent and passionate, with equally weighted industrial and folklore components.

Where does the deep, spiritual aura of his non-conformist hard music come from? Singer Marko Matijević Sekul has his very own answer to this question. After all, he was already very enthusiastic about music at the age of twelve.

Do you still remember your musical beginnings - when were these and what did you like the most?

„My personal ones where some 15 years ago. I remember I was fascinated by music from when I was 12 years old (when my brother bought me a Depeche Mode ‚Ultra‘ cassette). Before… well not quite. Before there was just football and some video games. When I was 15 I started to play football more professionally (goalkeeper here, hehe) and then by a chance of misfortune or fortune (depends on how you look at things) I broke my leg on a football match (neither an important one but a friendly one… shame) and I had to rest for a month. I was bored and I picked an old friend’s guitar and at that point I started to practice hard and after one month I could play my favourite tunes. Before that I was playing a little bit of bass in a cover band but it was more of just having fun with some friends.“

You have played in several bands - what makes Manntra different from most of them?

„It is the first time we are all playing something that we like and would like to listen. It is that we feel great being members of this band and people like to listen to it… So I guess this is that extra spark Manntra brought in in our life.“

How successful were the previous albums released only in your country?

„We became at first some kind of underground heroes and now almost everyone I think in the country has at least heard the name Manntra. So we could say If we would be that famous in Germany we would be an institution, haha!““

What or who led you to decide to bring an English album now?

„We started to play a lot out of Croatia and that brought an idea which was pretty straightforward. 
How could people start to enjoy Manntra even more? So the answer was - to ease them the understanding of our lyrics. I would love to be able to do it in German language also but sadly I don’t speak it so English should be enough for now. There is something charming in singing in a language no one understands… but in the end it ends like that… no one really gets you.“

What expectations and hopes do you put mainly in the new English language album?

„We would like just that people identify with it if they can find in it something for themselves. For us it is really an important album not only because it is a debut album in English but also because we worked on it as a team, giving in all our energy and heart and I am sure people will feel it.“

Has anything been fulfilled?

„Two singles are out and till now they count almost half a million views together in two months. So for numbers yes. We are very happy about it… and reactions from the people? They where energetic, enthusiast and supportive so till now the new album and the choice of the English language resulted in a big approval. I won’t lie to you… we where stepping out of the comfort zone and we where anxious about it. Now we feel that a burden has been lifted and we are happy.“

The songwriting process itself, what is to tell about in general - any changes to the past albums of Manntra?

„Yes. This time we where doing it old school. Gathering in the studio without any idea and then we started to write music. We had some ideas but we worked like an old school band trying all the live elements before we started tracking the material. We had a mission - 10 days for 10 songs. There is a legend that The Beatles did this for one of their most successful album so we where ‚Let’s do it that way without thinking too much about details‘. So this is why the songs are straightforward but really musical and they rely not on some huge amount of details but on the most important thing which is always a good idea and catch.“

Which noteworthy - small - differences or elements to all so far known music of Manntra are waiting now for the curious listeners?

„Well the first difference between old and new Manntra is the language of course. On the other hand we used some really old folk instruments from the Mediterran (like old the of mandolin from the south of Croatia, a lot of types of pipes and bagpipes customly made by old craftsman etc…) and there is that moment that Maja (our bass player) started to sing in a very folky traditional style which added a great new flavour to the mix.“

Do you have one or more song favorites on the new album?

„When an album is new all the songs are favourite for you. You can’t wait to play them live, when you hear them you don’t skip them still since all is new and smells so fresh. So ask me this question in a year okay, haha!““

What is the most important artistic self-realization for you on „Oyka!“?

„For me it was a big challenge to see if I can get the emotions in another language. I won’t lie to you. It was hard in the beginning. At times I didn’t felt connected to the language or to what I was trying to say in the songs but then in one moment everything changed. Somehow my mind made a click and I changed my perception. I was comfortable to do it and it worked really well. We kept that rough (almost primitive) english that gave us that spark it was left out when you try to sing it in a proper polite English way as an American band would do.“

The world knows many Folk Metal bands, and many are relatively equal - but you guys are different! Wherein do you see the greatest difference?

„Well thanks for that compliment! It really is nice to hear that! I think the main difference is that we come from the Adriatic sea. The Islands here are full of folk stories and songs, usage and instruments and we just used them in our music. So I guess this is the biggest difference… the location you come from. We could never sound like a Folk Metal industrial bend from the Scandinavia as well they would never sound like we do. It is because of what inspires you and with what you grew up.“

Did it take courage to set the history of your own homeland to music?

„We had fun doing it. It is nothing political or something that you need courage. This are just stories, myths, legends and some real historical accounts that inspired us. We really like the medieval part of history of this part of Europe. Castles, wars, queens, witches, magic… all that was part at the time of the folklore but also of the reality of that time. People believed in a lot of things and that made that moment magical in a way… but also dark by other means.“

Which topics would also tempt you to set it to music?

„At the moment we are more than happy with what lyrics we have. Maybe in the future we will start to sing about things that we could never have imagined. But now there is a lot of things going on; love, death, war, sex, legends, myths, witchery…“

Your pretty special outfits look very independent and not less fashionable, what do you want to tell about it?

„They are inspired by the old Mediterranean kings of Dalmatia thousand years old. We have also different colours (as a superhero gang). Every colour represents a character. We are like one big organism. The red is for the fire and for the passion, the white is for the calm and meditation, the black for the dark side of every hearth and so on. We are 5 people but we are also like one you know.“

What meaning has music in general for you?

„Everything. For me it is a way of living but also without it I would be in a really bad shape. I have depression and anxiety and music helped me. When I am in the studio writing for Manntra or producing other artists or when I am on the road with the band I am charging myself and it is a natural anti depressive for me. I went through a lot in my past and music helped me out and saved me from myself. It is like a drug… before was enough to listen to good music… now you need to create to have the same level of happiness and play live. I am afraid when this level won’t be enough…“

What specific part of yourself can you best realize by participating in Manntra?

„They say it is my alter ego on the stage. I say my alter ego is outside the stage and the real Marko is on the stage with the band. I can be the person I really am, sing about the stuff I would never had the courage to speak of. For me it is pure freedom and I really hope Manntra can be a pill for happiness for the listeners.“

Do you think the Rock and Metal fans from your part of the world appreciate the music more than the pretty spoiled people in Germany?

„German people are not spoiled. Not at all! A really great crowd that sent us always love and support. We can talk only great things about your people really. It is not because you are a German magazine, haha! Also the Russian fans are really full of heart. Croatians are well… they are sometime a music police and sometimes are crazy people jumping all over the place. I like the German Metal/Gothic/Industrial community.“

What connects you most to the culture, mindset and mainstream mentality of your compatriots?

„We are for sure black sheep in our country. Croatia is really a ‚schlager' music country. Rock'n'Roll is not famous there so for Manntra it was really hard to come out in the beginning. But we where stubborn. I guess being stubborn is a key characteristic of being Croat. Look at Mandzukic, Modric and the other footballer. The opponent can be 10 times better and more technical but they will fight until it is not over. I think we are the same, but in music.“

What is the best concert you have ever seen?

„Maybe because I was a kid but it was somewhere in 2003. My first time seeing Iron Maiden. Bruce Dickinson just returned and they where ending the ‚Brave New World‘ tour. They played in Zagreb and I traveled 4 hours to see them from my city. It was the first time I’ve been in the middle of 10.000 people. Maybe the gig was nothing special but it was the first time, c’mon!“

What do you appreciate most on live shows with Manntra?

„The reaction of the crowd. I see how the music drives them. They don’t expect anything from us, they possibly never heard of Manntra before but then when you see a totally not focused guy becoming more and more sucked into the show and in the end you see him buying a shirt or CD. That is the best reward. That means that you touched someone’s heart and soul as some music from the past touched my soul and made me a musician. It is all about taking and giving back.“

Which was your best gig ever with the band?

„I am really a fan of our first gig in Russia. We where supposed to headline a theatre house and we didn’t understood a word of what the promoter was saying. He was talking some Russian english and was a nice and fun guy. We couldn’t believe when we saw the place packed and all people there for us. You don’t know what to expect, you travel 3.000 km for a concert and it turns to be unbelievable. It was not the biggest or best show we did but was a surprise we couldn’t have thought of.“

© Markus Eck, 25.07.2019

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