Offbeat Interview With Thorsten Harnitz of Counter-World Experience


Offbeat Interview With Thorsten Harnitz of Counter-World Experience
By: Anton Hefele
SDM: Welcome to Sick Drummer Magazine Thorsten.
Thorsten: Thanks a lot. It feels good to be here.
SDM: So you have been playing since you were 4 and have been trained/schooled the whole way, which is very impressive. Do you do anything else musically?
Thorsten: Yes. I am a full time musician, so my job as a drummer/percussionist includes giving concerts, teaching young pupils and educating students at the university of music and drama of Hannover. Because of the fact I’ve studied classical percussion like, Marimbaphon and timpany and so on, but also playing drums, the musical situations can be very different: I might sit in a musical/orchestra pit, explaining odd time signatures to students, running a percussion ensemble with kids and of course playing drums with my own bands. I think that’s why I love my job so much; it’s because of its diversity.
SDM: So how would you describe Counter-World Experience to our readers.
Thorsten: Counter-World Experience is the name of my own band which I founded together with my guitar player and good friend Benjamin Schwenen during our music academic studies. Like me, studying classical percussion by day and playing drums all night, Benjamin took courses in acoustic guitar, but unlike me playing death metal in his free time. It was natural that our dual life led to a band, where we incorporate our technique, musical knowledge and our ardour for so many styles of music. We try to bring Meshuggah-style-grooves together with Pat Metheny-like textures, mix them with electronic sound fragments to create a sound, which is above all, defined by guitar work in the best traditions of Dream Theater. In the end, you may call it “progressive Jazz-Metal”, but I think our songs are just what we want to do musically and reflect our musical inspiration and socialisation.
SDM: What metal Band is your biggest influence as a band, and then the same question as a drummer?
Thorsten: When I was in elementary school, the first metal band I listened to was Iron Maiden. Fascinated by their great songs and of course Eddie, I became impressed by Nicko McBrain in the eighties but I think this happened rather unconsciously. Later I listened to Meshuggah which I love with both, analysing ears and also a banging head. The way they developed polyrhythmic phrasing with a steady pulse and flow is just awesome. Educating students in polyrhythmics, I sometimes let them conduct a 4/4 bar on top of “straws pulled at random” (laugh). As an inspiration I also have to name Metallica, Scarve, Dream Theater and Devin Townsend, whom I admire musically and integrally.
Drumming inspirations are of course Tomas Haake, Mike Portnoy, Marco Minnemann, Gavin Harrison, Dave Weckl and Thomas Lang. The interesting part about it is, all these drummers including me have a more analysing, mathematic approach on their playing, working with systems and scores. I think in my next life I want to be a black gospel drummer, named Chris or Brian, playing everything with just god by my side. I want to know how this might feel, because this is something I couldn’t find access to so far.
SDM: What non-metal bands most influence you and how do you find the reception in the mixing of the two?
Thorsten: I think I have to make a difference between my childhood and my later listening experiences again. I remember my father gave “The seventh one” by TOTO to me when I was eight years old. I think it’s one of those albums I’ve listened to most frequently. I like their multi-vocal concept, they have awesome musicians and just fantastic songs. Some of the best ballads in rock music are written by TOTO.
Later, I studied a lot of classical music like Mahler, Bruckner, Stravinsky which opened new doors to infinite seeming corridors to me. Playing Stravinsky I learned to handle odd time signatures for example. But also a lot of pop music is great. Currently, I try to rummage through the seventies, with bands like camel, Rainbow, ELP and so on.
I think there is no mixing problem because in the end it is all music. I can see something great in so many styles of music, no matter if it’s Beyoncé, Morbid Angel, Allan Holdsworth or Richard Strauss. All music you know will be reflected in your playing and your personality. I think there is hardly anything new I’m telling you, all great drummers are preaching that from Derek Roddy to Vinnie Colaiuta.
SDM: Are you a Jazz drummer playing Metal or a Metal drummer playing Jazz?
Thorsten: Neither nor. I’m a drummer/percussionist playing music. Of course there are styles in music I like best or I feel more comfortable with, but actually it’s my challenge and my job to be able to play music the way it’s requested. I know you cannot become perfect in all styles, actually you can’t even become perfect in a single style, but if you, as a musician, can  develop a feeling for what the music really needs, you’re on a good way.
SDM: Any plans for a US tour? Who would you like to tour with?
Thorsten: Difficult to say, of course my dream would become true in going on a big tour with CWE, but I have  to see that our music is very special and maybe too much “special” for many people. Of course we have a strong fan base and there are people who come to our concerts, regardless where we play and this is great. I want to say “thank you” so much to everybody supporting and appreciating us. But a tour probably would become a financial disaster. (laugh). We have no vocals, and often this is a no-go to metal fans on the one hand. They call us eggheads, but on the other hand we are too heavy for a pure jazz club, so it’s something in between I guess. Festivals and shows we play are advertised as “Freakshows”, “Weird stuff on stage” and so on. So this is where a journey would head to. Definitly, if I had the choice I would like to tour with Metallica, but this will never happen. (laugh). With CWE or Crystal Breed it should fit musically. It would be cool to go on tour with Cynic, Planet X, Porcupine Tree or Frost* to name just a few.
SDM: I notice in some live video clips your set really changes. Do you completely change your set every album?
Thorsten: Not really. Bit by bit I configured my Set for Counter-World Experience but also for other musical tasks. Since our second album “Fraktal” there have been several styles and sounds of music which form the typical CWE-sound. For example: a soft lyrical part requires warmer cymbals; and for a latin inspired song I prefer a high pitched eight inch tom to imitate a timbale. And a Meshuggah-riffing part, of course, needs Chinas, X-Hats and Doublebass. Considering all these aspects had a certain influence on my setup I guess. There’s a good video of a multiple sound concept by Brian Frasier-Moore explaining his Christina Aguilera-Tourkit. But more important than different sounding instruments is the ability to adapt your playing: being dynamically, going along with somebody, being dominant – according to the situation. Unfortunately in a live situation, especially with festivals, it becomes important that I can play each song on other sets also. Sometimes stages are small or time for converting stages is short. Then you have to abstain from sound resources just for logistic reasons.  
SDM: What kind of drumsticks do you use to handle these different styles in your daily routine?
Thorsten: Since a year, I endorse “Los Cabos” drumsticks, which are great. For Counter-World Experience and my other band Crystal Breed I use the 3A model of red hickory which is also brilliant for most musical challenges I’m confronted with. The measures are perfect for me and the wood of red hickory is much resistant. Furthermore, with this company there’s a great team behind me, I think.
SDM: Any plans for some Heavier stuff from CWE? or will you always stay in that "Jazzy' realm? I see you wear Meshuggah Shirts, so maybe you can do a Messhugah cover for us!
Thorsten: I don’t know whether there’s an unsatisfied desire for blasting deep inside of me (laugh). Anyway, I think my personal aims are fullfilled and, unfortunately, I’m over the point where I can invest more time in matters just for fun. Time is rare these days. Maybe one day, or as a sideman, we will see. Actually I’m not really interested in doing cover versions. For practicing and getting inspired by it it’s great to do covers of all your heroes but I think there’s a point, you have to let go. Tomas Haake is the one he is, because he’s the drummer of Meshuggah and not just anybody copying something. I want to do the same – in my personal ways.  
SDM: Any other bands you arer in, or stuff your tracking?
Thorsten: Another band which becomes more and more important for me is “Crystal Breed”. It’s also based in the progressive genre, but more pure rock. It’s a mixture between Pink Floyd, Beatles and Deep Purple with a modern vesture of sound. The debut album will be available in January 2011. We’re in the recording process right now. You can listen to some pre-produced songs on
SDM: Anything else you would like to add?
Thorsten: Thanks a lot for the interview and for your interest in my work…
Jazz Metal par excellence – no holds barred!!! Since their founding in 2001, Counter-World Experience have been raising the bar in the progressive music world. The band brings Meshuggah-style grooves together with Pat-Metheney-like textures, mixes them with electronic sound fragments to create a sound that is, above all, defined by guitar work in the best traditions of Dream Theater.
The musicians Benjamin Schwenen (guitars, guitar-synth), Sebastian Hoffmann (bass) and Thorsten Harnitz (drums) presented their calling card with their debut album, ´Always Home´, and quickyl began garnering recognition in the progressive scene for their sound and creative expressionism. With the following two albums, ´Fraktal´ (2005) and `Leaving Lotus´ (2007), the international press began to take notice, and CWE became regarded as one of the driving points in the Jazz-Metal movement.
After many concerts at such prestigious locations as the Burg Herzburg Festival, the Frankfurt Music Fair, the Freakshow Artrock Festival, or as support for Matthias IA Eklundh, CWE had the backing of a solid and ever-expanding fan-base.

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