Johannes Maria Knoll has recently released his first solo LP after 25 years of working with a long list of artists. ‘Transcended’ is an instrumental concept album inspired by the story of the Bible, written entirely by Knoll and featuring bassist Gerald Schaffhauser and Depeche Mode touring drummer Christian Eigner.
Knoll’s record can be appreciated by music fans regardless of religion or lack thereof. His powerful riffs and explosive solos are likely to appeal to hard rock and metal fans, but anyone should be able to feel the multitude of emotions he channels through his instrument. He uses many different effects to capture certain moods, boosting his repertoire of highly advanced skills. The rhythm section provides a powerful backdrop for Knoll’s talent to shine, and by the time the listener reaches the end of the 17 tracks, they should be convinced that stories can be told without words.
60s Today spoke to him about the new album and his 25 years in music.
What’s the story behind your first solo album ‘Transcended’?
In 2014 my girlfriend died, which was the catalyst that had changed my life. I had always been searching for the meaning of life, but through this event I started looking much deeper into certain things. So I spent months studying quantum physics, free energy, cymatics, the Tora, the Bible, Eastern religions, the Kabbala, the history of mankind, conspiracy theories, politics and the supernatural. I interviewed priests, theologians, clairvoyants, physicists…This was a very intense and frightening journey that led me deep down into the rabbit hole. My whole world was turned upside down. Finally I became a born-again Christian, and in 2015 the idea came to record a soundtrack to the Bible.
I recorded and arranged all the songs between June 2015 to January 2016. I realized that when everything is pre-produced it makes things much easier for the other musicians. I just had to give the songs to Gerald Schaffhauser and Christian Eigner, and they instantly knew what I wanted. I am so thankful and humbled that Gerald and Christian played on my record because they really took the production to a higher level and helped make my dream come true! So thanks once again guys!
How would you describe the record’s mood?
It always depends on the listener because he or she has a different life experience and may feel something different than I do. The most important thing is that the listener is able to feel something because then I must have done something right. For me it’s an emotional journey through a very personal period of my life, packed with love, hate, fear, pain, hope, light an,d darkness.
You have mentioned that all 17 tracks on ‘Transcended’ were inspired by the Bible. Was it a challenge to tell the story you wanted to tell by only using your guitar?
Actually, it was not a challenge at all. I just had to close my eyes and listen to what, for example, “creation” would sound like. Usually I don’t think while writing or recording; I just play. I search for a riff, programme the drums and play the bass until I am satisfied and I can hear a song. There is no right or wrong when doing a soundtrack, so I had a lot of freedom. Maybe one challenge was that I had no lyrics to support the emotions. But there are certain tricks that can help you let the guitar do the talking! For example, when I want to express crying, I use a wah-wah pedal that produces this effect that sounds like weeping. When I want a screaming sound, I use a Whammy pedal, and so on. But in the end, it’s the combination of melody, sound and feeling that makes a great song.
Which are your favourite tracks from the album?
That’s a very difficult question. Actually, I like all of them, otherwise I wouldn’t have released them! Let me pick out three randomly.
I can say that I am very proud of ‘His First Coming’ because it’s kind of out of the box, very quiet and pure. On this track I searched for the child within myself and I think I’d found it. I also like ‘The Fall of Man’ because it always makes me want to bang my head. Last but not least, I choose ‘Resurrection’ because Christian Eigner got goose bumps when he came out of the studio after recording it!
Who are your biggest influences?
As a guitar player I am influenced by Steve Lukather and Jeff Beck because they were the first guitar players whose solos I studied. They were a very good starting point concerning speed, technique, sound and diversity. Later on I listened to Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Eddie van Halen to expand my technical horizon. As a composer or musician in general, I am influenced by every kind of music that touches my soul. This can be an a cappella song, a tango from Finland or a Rammstein song. All music that’s performed by human beings can be influential. So I am not a fan of programmed electronic music!
What’s your songwriting process like?
It depends on who I’m writing for. If it’s for a reggae artist, for example, then I start with an interesting drum loop and a bassline, on which I then start to build a track. If I’m just writing for myself, it can be anything that catches my attention: an interesting keyboard sound, a cool sample… Whatever. Or I just noodle around with my guitar and suddenly a riff appears. In any case I build a track from beginning to end and then hand it over to other musicians to overdub my pre-produced tracks.
You have worked with dozens of bands over the years. How did it all begin?
My first guitar was a gift from my parents. I got it back in 1982 when I was eight years old. I didn’t ask for it so I was kind of thrown into the cold water! Haha!
I first started to take guitar lessons at the age of eight, but my teacher always wanted me to play traditional folk songs. At the time I was listening to Kiss and Iron Maiden, so I lost interest in the classes very soon. But two or three years later I saw a TV series called “The Waltons”. One of the characters, Jason Walton, was a guitar player, and he played this song and I thought: “Well, actually a guitar can sound really cool”. So I started again with another teacher who was really great. He introduced me to the music of Jeff Beck and Steve Lukather, who became my main influence. I was blown away by his speed, his sound and his diverse technique. So I started practicing and practicing. That was a very good starting point.
When I was 16, my teacher said that he couldn’t teach me anything new and he introduced me to a teacher at the University of Vienna. So I went to his place for an audition, and I remember that I was very nervous. I played the ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’ by Johann Sebastian Bach. After I finished he was silent, turned around, went to his computer and started to type. I thought, “Oh my god, I’ve failed”. I asked him what he was typing and he just smiled and said: “I’ve just changed the conditions of admission to the university”.
Although I was admitted, I never started studying there because I was still in school and I was the goalkeeper of Austria’s junior national handball team. So I was very busy and it was simply too much. From then on I educated myself. I played in different bands with different styles from funk to metal, and I listened to all kinds of music that had great guitar parts in it. So I took pieces from every style and introduced them subconsciously into my playing. Nowadays I like every guitar player who’s able to express his feelings through music. So it’s not all about speed and technique anymore.
Which was the first record you played on?
It was an album in 1991 by my guitar teacher’s band Exciting Café, titled ‘Soulflasher’.
Of all the bands you’ve recorded and toured with, who did you enjoy working with the most?
Actually, the records I made with the band The Frisbee Flakes, or later on The Flakes, are very special to me because we were a “real band”: we were friends trying to conquer the world. We rehearsed everyday and just got on the bus and toured through Austria without a single scheduled concert. We just stopped at pubs or venues and asked if we could play there. It was a very close friendship, and the records captured very well the spirit of that time of adventure, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Haha! But we split up. Later on all Lukascher albums became very important because it’s just really cool stuff and I love all the people involved. And last but not least, all my collaborations with House of Riddim were great, because they introduced me to a lot of artists and their productions are state of the art.
60s Today is all about innovation in music. Do you believe that music can still be innovative?
Right now I have the impression that everything has been done before. Maybe if technology changes, something new may emerge, but right now I think, like in so many other fields, mankind has reached zenith.
Do you perform live these days?
In the autumn I’ll be playing some charity shows with different bands. “My” drummer Christian Eigner is currently on a world tour with Depeche Mode, so we have no live gigs scheduled with my ‘Transcended’ project at the moment.
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‘Transcended’ can be purchased at the following online stores: