Thank you to Patricia Hillinger, Michael Wachelhofer and Steve Wachelhofer from Cornerstone for taking the time to fill in this email interview for Planetmosh.
What does Cornerstone stand for?
Steve: We have found the name in 1998, before this time the band’s name was “Faith”, but this sounded a bit boring to us, so we’ve decided, that each band member should find 10 band-names, and the plan was, to choose the best out of these 40 names.
Michael brought 10 names, I have brought 5 names, and the singer has brought one name – all of this names were really, really ugly (*laughs*). So Michael has checked out his CD-collection, and found STYX’ ’79-Album “Cornerstone”…this was the name. “Cornerstone” sounds like something solid, something you can remember easily and it also sounds like good Rock-Music, so we kept that name.
How would you describe the band?
Patricia: I’d describe our style of music as a mixture of classic and melodic rock. (Michael prefers the expression AOR.)
Michael: Yeah…fine AOR with a good dose of modern Alternative Rock. But I was very surprised, that on our latest UK-tour people described our tunes as a mixture out of Journey and Fleetwood Mac…there are worse things, than to get compared with such fantastic bands, I guess…(*laughs*)
You guys formed back in 1998 how did it all come about?
Steve: we have begun to perform cover-Versions of REM, SOUL ASYLUM and THE CURE in the livingroom of Mike’s former girlfriend in 1997 (*laughs*) …that was it. After a time a friend of Mike – Markus Bousska – joined the group, he has played drums, so the band was born, we have started, to write own songs. At the beginning Mike was the leadsinger, but – let me say it this way – there are some things in the band, he can do better than singing…(*laughs*).
Michael: yeah, so a singer joined the band, we have changed the name to “Cornerstone” in 1999, and started to perform. After four years – members came and gone – I haven’t seen a sense anymore, to be in a band…but we had good luck, and the “reborn” Cornerstone has started their work in 2004 – and now we have an interview for an English mag, that’s really great! 2007 was a great year, 2008 and 2009 even better: we have signed a contract with an American label, we were on tour trough U.S.A., UK and Austria, and got some really positive response from the international press. This year we did another tour trough UK to promote our new album “Somewhere in America”, we did some gigs with NEW MODEL ARMY, DENNIS STRATTON (Iron Maiden) and others, so that’s cool (*haha, haha* -> should be a Beavis & Butthead laughing ;-)
What has changed since you first started out?
Michael: it hurts to mention this, but I guess the music scene has changed rapidely! I’m a CD-collector by myself, I have some really rare albums at home…but today it isn’t cool anymore, to buy CD’s…ok, so I’m pretty much uncool, ok, but people out there are also not interested to buy CD’s anymore, sadly. Everyone is using Internet for marketing, so people are simply over-saturated. And to be honest…there are some pretty good bands out there, but much more very crappy and horrible bands…it’s difficult for people, to pick out the great tunes. Today it’s easy for us, to get Live-Gigs, which was horrible in the early days. But as I always say: Booking a concert is like cleaning the toilet. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it (*laughs*)
What are your musical influences?
Patricia: Since childhood, I listen to the leading female artists like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Beyoncé, who are, in my opinion, the best singers in the world. They influenced me a lot. I try to learn from every artist, bring out the best of him/her or rather introduce it into my work.
Michael: hm, are we really in the same band? (*laughs*). I’d say, REM, Toto, Asia, Survivor, Alan Parsons Project, Journey. I definitely come from the AOR-side of the street.
Steve: Metallica, Guns’ Roses, Queen, Foo Fighters
What equipment do you do use? – Any endorsements?
Steve: yeah, at the moment we have an endorsement with Pyramid-Strings…this company from Germany has some pretty cool endorsers: Saxon, Roger McGuinn (Byrds), etc. Mike uses his Fender Jazz for years, and I use a Fender Strat and a Epiphone Goldtop, plus a Rickenbaecker 360/12…yes, one of our influences is definitely REM, I have to say this… Ampwise I use my Marshall stack for the bigger events and a limited edition of an Epiphone combo, 30 Watts for the Club gigs. This amp looks like 50 years old, but it sounds like a Million dollars! Yes, I’m an Epiphone-Fan. Our drummer Mike uses a Sonor custom set, and Sabian Cymbals.
Michael: let me add, that I also use two Yamaha-Synthesizers, but just for the studio, live I only play the bass.
How do you feel now looking back at how far you have come since you first started out?
Steve: hm, we did two very cool gigs this weekend, and after I looked into my wallet, I have to say: I’m quite satisfied (*laughs*)
Patricia: I am very satisfied and proud of what we achieved with our music. So far, people` s reactions to the new songs were always positive. I guess that’s because of the different styles of music we experimented with (Ska, Punk, Pop, etc.). The songs are all very catchy, peculiar and designed after everybody´ s fancy. We work very hard to bring our music and the name Cornerstone out to the people and try to play as many concerts as possible.
Michael: the secret is, that I wanted to quit the band in 2004, but then we have decided to go forward. From this on, everything was an upwards move. It’s a hard business, but meanwhile we are quite well-etablished, I guess. The name “Cornerstone” isn’t completely unknown out there.
If you could go back and change anything about it, what would it be?
Patricia: I would not change a thing. I joined the band in September 2009. If I had not read an announcement on the internet, which said that “Cornerstone” is looking for a female singer, or went to the audition, it would have not became possible to live my dream. To get the part as a lead singer was the best thing that could ever happen to me.
Michael: we have struggled around for a while with our Managers…there are many weirdos out there… (*laughs*). Ah, and not to forget, we have probably produced the most expensive Demos of all times: the tonmeister was an idiot, so we’ve recorded and mixed, mixed, mixed for five months (!)…and at the end we have changed the sudio, and they have remixed the stuff, but as Eddie Van Halen always said: “You can’t polish a heap of dog-shit”. At the end we have paid 12.000 Euros (approx.. 11.000 Pounds) for a demo, which has sounded terrible and weak. So we’ve decided: once again, please. The result was “Head Over Heels”, which is a great album now, but an expensive experience. Ah, and to let our short-time drummer Martin Key join the band, he did the US-Tour with us, was a big mistake from my side. Some people are not very team-orientated, and their only priority in life is “money”. But probably you have to make all this experiences in life in general, because now everything is fine. I’m satisfied. But it was a hard way (*laughs*)
Where do you see yourself/band in 5 years time?
Patricia: I see ourselves rocking the Madison Square Garden J No, just kidding… it´ s necessary to stay down-to-earth. It´ s my wish to play many concerts in different countries, to have fun and if we´ re lucky, we will get a star on the walk of fame one day.
Is there any tour dates planned?
Patricia: I´ m looking forward to another England tour next year, but we´ ll also plan some gigs in Austria and Germany as well.
Michael: We’ll definitely come back to UK next year, principally we could repeat the whole 2011- Tour 1:1, because every venue wanted us again. We’ll do a lot of concerts in Austria, too, in the next weeks, and after that we’ll take two months off, to care a bit about our personal life’s, before we’ll forward touring in February.
Then: let’s see. Offers for concerts and Festivals are always welcome, as long it will fit into our time-schedule.
Do you have a particular favourite gig that you have done?
Patricia: My personnel favourite gig was in Kastoria (Greece). It was a very big open-air stage and behind us there was sunset. It was a great atmosphere and we brought home a lot of fans.
Steve: playing the BH2 in London is always a pleasure for us! We have performed there three times meanwhile, two times together with Dennis Stratton (Iron Maiden)…a great venue, maybe the best venue in the world
Michael: I agree with Steve. But the Rock and Bike Festival in Loughborough this year was also a highlight! And certainly our gig in New York 2009: we have played in a club, where a quite unknown artist called “Bruce Springsteen” did his very first New York-Gig in the Seventies. This was a kind of holy place, I wanted to kiss the earth (*laughs*)
Steve: Michael often kisses the earth…like the pope…(*laughs*)
What kind of responses do you usually get from the crowd at your gigs?
Patricia: We always have a lot of fun on stage together and somehow we pass it on to the audience. It´ s nice to see the people, who are downstage clapping, screaming and dancing to our songs.
Michael: Live our sound is much more Rock than on CD, so people always loved it. It’s very seldom, that we have got negative Feedback, altough from time to time we did some – let me say – “not so great” gigs (*laughs*). But I’d say 90% of the Feedback is very positive.
Any particular gig story or memorable experience you would like to share?
Patricia: Just a few days ago, we played a concert with a few other bands. At the end of the show everybody was on the stage playing well known songs, from ACDC etc., together. It was a lot of energy, because of the many different instruments and voices that were playing. That was a great feeling and a lot of fun.
Michael: I always laugh about “Spirit of Woodstock” Festival in Italy in 2007. Beside the fact, that the whole Festival was kind of obscure, the “mainact” was…I can’t remember the name…ah, “Michael Montecrossa and the choosen few”. The band performed full-playback, the singer (who couldn’t really sing, by the way) was dressed like a cowboy, while the rest of the band was dressed like indians. Like carnival, quite embarassing… another funny story was in London 2008…we took our breakfast, and than we wanted to go to our car, but there was no car anymore. They have took it away, because we haven’t cared about parking tickets. So it was quite funny, to find out, WHERE the have brought it to in an 8 million inhabitans-city….(*laughs*)
Can you give us a quick track by track overview of the album ‘Somewhere In America’?
Steve: This is my favourite track on the album. I love the guitarwork on it, and I’d say, I wrote around 65% of it. Great song! Lyrically this was more a constructed experience, as far I know, but we’d better ask Michael, he wrote the lyrics
Michael: Lyrically this has something to do with our US-Tour. But I’ll not go any further into this now…thoughts are free, always…(*laughs*)
02. Rise And Shine
Michael: Ahhh, the lost song from the Rocky-soundtracks (*laughs*). I wanted to write something positive. This song is definitely about our US-Tour, lines like “…then they’ll stab you in your back” has something to do with this, I guess…(*laughs*). Musically I love the Keyboard-work on this, the riff at the Chorus is kick-ass! Arrangement is nearly perfect at this song, in my opinion.
03. Breathing For You
Steve: This is actually an album outtake from “Head Over Heels”. We reworked it, and beside the fact, that the arrangement is perfect, the song is a quintesence of what Cornerstone is. A mixture out of upbeat and slow motion, sweetness and aggression. Listen to the E-Bow at the second half of the verses, this is great stuff!
04. Right Or Wrong
Michael: Ahh, the “Alien”. Let me tell you, that this tune is more a kind of a solo-track from me… Last week I’ve listened the original demo of “Right Or Wrong”, me singing and playing the piano…I can’t believe, what has happened to this song, in a positive way. When I first came up with this, I thought, the others will kill me…I thought I have to die in our Rehearsal room…(*laughs*). Originally the song was concipated as a duet, but you need a strong-voiced Duet-partner for this, and neither me or Steve were able to deliver suitable vocal-tracks, so we let Patricia do this as a solo-singer.
05. Like A Stranger
Michael: For me this is the best song on the album. This is pure AOR, I love the big vocals at the Chorus, and I love the tapped guitar-solo in the middle. In fact I always looking forward to the Solo, when I listen to this song. This is our first single in the UK, by the way
06. Follow You, Follow Me
Steve: I guess, we wrote this song in 2004 or so. I love the Rickenbaecker sound of the guitars, we wanted to do a kind of “hommage” to The Smiths, another favourite band of ours. Lyrically this is mabye Michael’s best effort, it’s about taking wrong advices in a life without any perspectives.
07. Being Unaware
Steve: Also a reworked old track. This song has nothing to do with the concept of the album, but its sounds great…imagine you’e driving a cabrio at the summer-sun, and listen to this song, volume full-way….Lyrically this is also a very strong effort.
Michael: This is maybe the most obscure song on the album. We weren’t sure, if we’d put it on the album, but than we have decided to do it. Ironically many, many people told us, that this is the most catchy and memorable song….life ist strange sometimes…(*laughs*)
09. High And Low
Michael: To be honest, in my opinion the lyrics to this song are very silly, some kind of Teenager-dreams. But the vocal-harmonies at the end of the song are fantastic! This is the second highlight for me on the album (beside “Stranger”). This song always works great live.
Michael: this song has probably the most obscure story: when we started to record the album, some songs weren’t ready 100% lyrically or musically, but this song didn’t exist when we’ve started the recording sessions!! Our producer asked me about the name of the song, and after think about it – there were just a few chords and a vocal-harmony existing in my head! – I told him: “What’s about ‘Strut’”? Then he made a short break, and we worked out the song in two hours! I sang a Demo-track bymyself, because there were no lyrics at this point, and then we’ve finished the song with some Keyboard-Work, etc. Funny story behind this is, that this tune is the very best effort from Cornerstone for many people, and actually people told us, to use this as a single…life is strange sometimes, as I said before (*laughs*)
Do you have a particular writing process for songs or is it different for each song that you come up with?
Michael: Most of the time I came up with the lyrics and the chords, and then Steve and me worked on the song-details…Arrangements, Solos, etc. At the next step the rest of the gang joined, and we’ve worked out the tunes and finalized them. But let me tell you, that we have wrote some tunes as a group in the past…”Regret”, “Stefania” or “Better Than You”, which you can find on the “Head Over Heels” album. But to be honest, this was very hard work to do, and I really didn’t enjoyed it much. Beside the fact, that these efforts are very different from the rest of the album or from the Cornerstone-style in general.
What/who were the main influences for it?
Michael: this depends from song to song. Lyrically always Morrissey is a big influence for me. For “Somewhere in America” we’ve got our inspirations in particular from our 2009-USA Tour. Musically it went very, very well, no question, and we are looking forward to do another tour either in 2012 or in 2013, because people simply loved what we did. But behind the scenes…well, this was more a bit of a backstage-drama, but I’ll not go any further into this at that point. But it definitely gaves me material and stories for new songs – songs, which you may find on our new album “Somewhere in America” now. So you also found out now, how our new baby found his name J
What is your favourite song from the album and why?
Patricia: Strut, because we finished it spontaneously in the studio, as we were recording our album “Somewhere in America”. It’s a slow number and arranged very musically. I also like Steve’s guitar solo in the middle of the song and the harmony of the voices. In short words, simple and unique to listen to.
Michael: haha, as I said before, this little bitch “Strut” is the most memorable song for many people. Beside this, “Like A Stranger” and “Right Or Wrong” are the best songs on the album for me. Perfectly arranged, very memorable, and musically we gave our very best on this.
What plans do you have for 2012?
Steve: we will take two months off, and from February on we’ll play a few concerts…another UK-Tour either in July or in May, and some Gigs in Germany as well. Let’s see.
Are there any messages that you would like to pass on to the readers?
Patricia: We hope you enjoyed, thanks for having us and greetings from all members of Cornerstone J!!!
Michael: …and don’t forget to check out our new album “Somewhere in America”…it is available at amazon.co.uk, iTunes, HMV, etc.
Simon’s review of ‘Somewhere In America’