Companionship plays an important role for Söhne Mannheims. Keyboard player Florian Sitzmann affectionately calls the band a “big, multicultural crowd” – no wonder, since the collective unites a considerable number of band members and befriended guest musicians with a wide variety of musical and personal backgrounds.
“It’s much more than just a professional relationship,” Florian tells us. “That’s also the beauty of a tour. Whenever possible, we also spend time together after the shows.”
Söhne don’t lose any time
So it’s probably no surprise that on the day of their first show after a two-year hiatus from live performances, a monstrous nightliner rolls up in front of Eventarena Saarbrücken, in which the whole band is on tour together.
Everything is already arranged for the band in the backstage area. After a short refreshment, everything is prepared for the soundcheck a few moments later. On stage there’s a lot of hustle and bustle.
Microphones as far as the eye can see
A phalanx of vocal microphones (we count 11 in total) lines the edge of the stage, plus drum and amp miking – certainly not an easy job for the man behind the controls, who needs a considerable amount of time to get everything perfectly attuned to each other and to the sound conditions of the hall.
“Where’s that echo coming from?” someone on stage asks, which Rolf Stahlhofen repeats, laughing and loudly shouting in the direction of the mixer through the still empty – and accordingly echoing – Eventarena: “Yeah, where’s that echo coming from?” After the soundcheck, the band has enough time to warm up for the evening on stage with a few more songs.
As Rolf Stahlhofen announced in a video via the Instagram account of Söhne Mannheims during the trip: “We rehearsed our asses off.” Accordingly, both the instrumentalists and the singers appear to be optimally grooved and visibly enjoying themselves even before the show.
Gear-talk with Söhne Mannheims
A while later, things get quieter for the musicians, who regularly gather in small groups in the backstage area.
We use this opportunity to chat about equipment. With Martin Stumpf, bassist by profession, now with Söhne Mannheims but also on the acoustic guitar, we talk about the advantages of professional in-ear headphones. According to Martin, they’re also fantastic without any music at all when you’re riding the train and you want to have your peace and quiet.
Florian tells us about his version of the König & Meyer Spider Pro keyboard stand, which is still in use on stage today and was once made especially for him. “That was a good 15 years ago,” the keyboard player tells us, pleased that the stand still works perfectly after all this time.
Meanwhile, Karim Amun admits that he hasn’t yet found the right König & Meyer holder for his new iPad, but still uses the older version even though it doesn’t really fit because the dimensions have changed. We’ll find a workaround, I promise.
Then we have the opportunity to talk to Florian Sitzmann and bassist Edward Maclean in detail about the band’s life on tour.
“It’s great to see everybody again”
Backstage PRO: This is the first time in two years you’ve been on the road together. How does it feel for you?
Edward: It’s great to see everybody again and play the songs. Of course it’s also a bit of a challenge. Every now and then you have to rack your brain a bit and wonder: “How did that go again?” But I’m really happy to do it.
Florian: It’s pure fun for me. Feels really great.
Backstage PRO: Do you also feel a bit nervous? Is there still something akin to stage fright in your group?
Florian: I wouldn’t call it stage fright. I’d call it excitement. Positive excitement is always there, and it needs to be there.
“We all like to travel together”
Backstage PRO: Earlier you all arrived together in a huge nightliner. Do you always travel together?
Florian: Not always. We really like riding together in the nightliner, because it reinforces the band spirit and, if the technical crew is there too, the community on stage in general. It’s a blast hanging out with the crew, too. But a lot of us are also enthusiastic drivers. So sometimes there are ten of us driving to a venue in twenty cars (laughs).
Edward: Of course, we can’t leave Deutsche Bahn out either. You travel directly to some gigs if everything’s ready and there’s no rehearsal.
“The band is a great model for an open, intercultural society”
Backstage PRO: Many different personalities inevitably come together in such a large band. Do things always stay peaceful on tour or are there moments when you get on each other’s nerves?
Florian: Well, I don’t remember anything like that at all… (laughs).
Edward: Arguments: Naaah… (laughs). It’s like anything in life: If you hang out a lot, every now and then there’s something you have to work out. We have different views on certain things, which then tend to go in one direction or the other.
Florian: I think you always have a choice. We’re very multicultural and have a lot of different backgrounds. Either you’re stubborn and not interested in how the other person grew up or feels, or you find that especially exciting and, if possible, open yourself up to why someone might have a completely different perception of the same thing.
Then you have good chances of getting along with each other, even in the long run. With Söhne Mannheims, there’s really no other choice. In this respect, I think the band is a great model for an open, intercultural society and I’m proud of every gig we do together in this spirit.
“We sing together just before the show, accompanied only by a guitar”
Backstage PRO: Do you have certain rituals before the show?
Florian Sitzmann: As you can imagine, they’ve changed a bit over the decades, which would need a lot of time to talk about. Sometimes there were some and sometimes others, sometimes none. I always think it’s great when there’s a ritual, but you can’t pin it down to just one… and I’m not going to tell you what kinds of rituals they are at this point (laughs).
Backstage PRO: You did soundcheck and warmed up together earlier. How else do you prepare for the show?
Edward: I am happy if I can lie down in the bunk in the nightliner beforehand and close my eyes for half an hour. Otherwise: sitting together, shooting the breeze…
Florian Sitzmann: Whenever time allows, we meet half an hour before showtime and sing a few of the songs, accompanied only by a guitar. After all the hectic and noise on stage during the soundcheck, it’s nice to sing them again in a quieter version and hear everything really well. Occasionally it’s also possible to find out if someone tends to forget a text passage or if he accidentally swapped his voice with someone else’s.
This gets us into the Söhne Mannheims feeling. We also participate in this as instrumentalists, whether we have anything to do with it or not. It also helps make sure that not everyone’s head is somewhere else until the last minute – on WhatsApp, Instagram, or whatever.
“As far as friends or guests backstage are concerned, we’re relatively restrictive”
Backstage PRO: What is absolutely essential for you backstage?
Florian: Definitely a certain amount of privacy. With so many people in the band it would be overwhelming to have a lot of friends or guests backstage. Families are sacred to us, and they do come backstage from time to time. But otherwise we’re relatively restrictive in that respect. The conditions have to be right, so that we can be a family backstage ourselves.
Otherwise it doesn’t matter if the backstage area is big or small, well equipped or not. Of course there’s a difference between a long tour and a handful of sporadic gigs. On a long tour you want a certain degree of comfort or a few things to hold on to when you play in a different city every day.
“In Milan we couldn’t all fit in the backstage room”
Backstage PRO: Is there a particularly memorable backstage experience that comes to your mind spontaneously?
Florian: I remember the European Tour 2011. As you can imagine, the venues in Italy or Sweden were much smaller than in Germany. We had a club in Milan where the backstage was so tiny that even without clothes we couldn’t have fit in all at once (laughs). It was really amusing to try to change there or prepare something.
I also recall the opposite situation: a really huge, spacious backstage somewhere in East Germany. But I don’t know exactly where it was anymore. Michael Herberger and I were the last to eat. There were still two free plates at a table that seemed like it was 37 meters long. It was freezing cold, and we sat down at the outer ends of the table and had a conversation (laughs). I’ll never forget that. There was something very surreal about it, but it actually fits the style of Söhne Mannheims very well.
“We’re much better behaved on tour than most people expect us to be”
Backstage PRO: When you’re on tour together, are there certain quirks or idiosyncrasies that come to light?
Edward: I suppose at some point you don’t even notice that so much. Or you are accustomed to certain things about people and it’s just a part of them. You then either consciously or unconsciously sidestep these things or you’re happy about it. It’s already become second nature by then, even if outsiders might think: “Is this for real?” (laughs).
Florian: I’d put it in a general way: playing concerts is an unusual situation, emotionally speaking. You can hardly compare it to other things you do in everyday life. The great thing about it is sometimes the most difficult: Everybody has his own way of dealing with it. Some tend to withdraw themselves, others throw themselves in the crowd. Everyone has their own rituals, their own sensitivities, and maybe their own kind of fun in the process. It’s definitely fun to watch how you wind up classifying yourself as well in such a big intercultural crowd.
Söhne Mannheims as a whole are relatively unpopular with the press when it comes to weird eccentricities, scandals or other things in that direction. Devastated backstage rooms, TVs flying out of windows or getting wasted – we’re just not interested in putting on that kind of show. We’re much better behaved on tour than most people expect us to be.
Backstage PRO: Do you spend the evening together after a show or do you tend to retreat and seek out some peace and quiet?
Edward: It’s not like everybody just suddenly takes off. Usually the band sits together in small groups after the show. We review everything a bit or just let it flow and let the adrenalin out. There’s a family vibe, so eventually you just let the show be a show and simply say: “Hey, glad you could make it.”
Intimate backstage performance
Shortly before the show, we are offered a very special, quiet musical treat backstage, when Dominic Sanz and Martin spontaneously grab the acoustic guitar for a sensitive and release-ready performance of Robbie Williams‘ “Angels” and the Kings of Leon song “Use Somebody” before the band hit the stage and the concert kicks off to the deafening cheers of fans.
Special thanks for the intimate glimpses into the daily tour routine – especially considering the group’s much-valued privacy backstage.