Donots: The 1,000 Gig Wonders
German punk rock big leaguers, Donots, are currently doing the festival circuit in their native mutterland, and lead singer Ingo Knollman tells us the typical weather for the festival season is “grey, grey, rain, rain, and more rain!” We speak to the singer about the punk scene in Germany and their upcoming 1,000th gig; and also to keyboardist and live engineer, Robin Volkert, about the band getting the most out of the latest audio technology in the studio and on the road.
As we speak, the band are on their tour bus in the centrally located town Eschwege, where they’ll later be playing at the huge rock festival, Open Flair.
“Tonight is very special because we’re doing the opening slot,” Knollman tells me. “Last year we co-headlined the festival, and nobody knew we were on the schedule until yesterday when they told everybody we’re on the bill. And we’re going to get to play with Black Flag, which has been on my bucket list for a long time!”
Donots are quite easily the biggest punk band in Germany, but beyond that have done the impossible, breaking out of Europe. For two decades, they’ve been constantly part of huge punk tours in the States and in the UK. In fact, when Knollman asks me to 'name another German band apart from Rammstein', I admittedly can’t. They’ve been going since 1993, and after supporting the likes of Blink-182 and Anti-Flag, the quintet were signed with Sony BMG – although they’ve since had even bigger success since going independent. They’re currently based in the beautiful city of Münster, not far from their home town of Ibbenbüren.
Part of their palatability for the English speaking world is their decision to release music in English, however in 2014 they marked their 20th anniversary with their first ever single in German: Das Neue bleibt beim Alten (The New Stays Old). They followed the success of the track up with a full length album sung in German, Karacho. But like most international acts, they’ve had to sing in English to reach their broader audience, and Knollman says singing in German has only worked for Rammstein because “they’re like cartoon characters, like the bad guy Germans in an Indiana Jones movie! They’re great guys by the way, but unlike us, they fool around with being very Germany, which has obviously been a huge success for them.”
So I wonder what prompted them to suddenly release music in German, despite their international reach, and not wanting to be stereotypical Germans?
“Well when you’re in a band for decades,” Knollman says, “and if you’re not someone like AC-DC or The Ramones, who invented a style, then to me it’s sort of obligatory to keep moving on and trying out new stuff. So one day we were like, ‘hey, why didn’t we ever record songs in German?’ For the anniversary single, we invited Tim McIlrath from Rise Against to join us on the first ever German Donots song. I basically transcribed the lyrics into English gibberish so he could imitate the German language!”
Given they’ve been around so long, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this December, Donots will play their 1,000th show as a band. Nonetheless, it’s a great milestone for them to reach to attest to their longevity.
“Yeah, well, sort of,” Knollman says, with a smile. “Our drummer keeps a list of all the shows we’ve played, but at least 10 or 20 have fallen through, so it’s hard to say exactly. But you have to do an official show, so it will be the circa 1,000th show! It’s cool, because the place we're holding it at, we play around every two years, and the shows normally sell out at 6,500 people, which is a very big deal for us. And of course this time it will be even more special.”
Donots' engineer and touring instrumentalist, Robin Volkert, has helped enhance the band’s sound using RME’s audio interfaces, both in the studio and in concert.
“Last year when we built our studio,” Volkert tells me, “we acquired three Octamic XTCs, eight channel preamps with MADI connection, and the new MADIface. We use 24 channels when we rehearse, with drums, samplers, guitars, keyboards, and vocals, so we need the RME software to monitor everything for us. It does the job great.
“I once tried it with a Lemur interface to control the mix, but it just didn’t work right out of the box – it was a little complicated to set up. Now we do all our recording using only RME equipment, and we’re totally happy with it."
It's a similar story out on the road, Volkert reveals:
“When the band is playing live, we use an iBook with a Fireface 800, which I also really like; then we use Ableton for the MIDI controlling. And wherever we are, the RME software is always in play; it has made everything so much smoother for us in terms of workflow, and the audio quality is always fantastic, of course."
So what's next for Donots then, Ingo?
“Well it’s been two decades already, but because we just switched to German lyrics, everything feels so brand new," he says. "For me personally? I could go on for another 20 years, for another 1,000 shows! But only if we’re staying creative and remain friendly with each other. I don’t take it for granted that I get to pay the bills using money from the band. I’d just hate to ever feel like I’m on tour because I have to be. I hope we’ll make, say, five to 10 more records, and see what happens. We’re not the type of band that has any five-year plans!”
And for some reason, Knollman tells ms, the UK market has always been the toughest market to break for the band. So if you’re one of our UK readers, make sure you listen to Donots and then show them some love afterwards. Headliner certainly wishes them well in getting to 1,000 shows, and hopefully many more.