CORNERSTONE might be from Austria but they sound nothing like you’d expect a band from there would sound like. Want to know why that is read what Patricia Hillinger and Michael Wachelhofer has to say. Anders Ekdahl ©2012
You sound very American to my ears. How much of a conscious decision was it to play the style of AOR/hardrock you guys play?
Michael: Hm, good question. Originally Cornerstone started as a kind of Alternative-/Indie Band. If you listen to tunes like “Changed” or “Something in the Way” from our first album HEAD OVER HEELS, you can hear this quite clearly. But Steve and me also wrote tunes like “Fade Away” and “Ready To Go” – more for fun, I have to say – and these were the most memorable tunes of the album, so we have decided, to go full hearted into this direction with SOMEWHERE IN AMERICA. AOR is probably a more matured kind of music, so this was an easy choice for us. But no one has said “Oh yeah, let’s write these big tune like ‘Open Arms’” or something like that. All of these songs have happened, appeared…more or less. We love the new album, we principally wrote, what we felt in our hearts… so in case someone says, it’s AOR, I’m quite happy with that.
Patricia: For me it was a clear decision. As I joined the band two and a half years ago, I knew that this is the way I want to go. Usually, people compare us with bands like Fleetwood Mac and Journey, which is a huge honour for us. This kind of music (a mixture of melodic/ classic rock) has always been a part of my life.
What’s fascinating to me is that two acts with the same influences can end up sounding totally different. What would you say has been some of the major factors in the way Cornerstone sound like?
Michael: I always thought about the bands I love… Toto, Queen, or even REM. Queen did tunes like “Hammer to fall”, which is pretty much Hard Rock..but they also did “Love of my life” or similar. In the end it always sounds like Queen because of Freddie, but they always had a wide range of styles and influences, and I defo wanted the same for Cornerstone. “Stay”? Just bang your head and enjoy! “Right Or Wrong”? Of course you probably could hear this on BBC Radio 1, too… but I love both songs, and at the end of the day, you can hear quite clearly, who of the two principially songwriters had more influence on the tune. “Right or Wrong” or “Strut” were almost Solo-works from my side, vice versa “Stay” with Steve. But of course we always work as a team, which isn’t always that easy. But it’s getting better (laughing)
Patricia: Michael and Steve, who wrote the songs together, did a great job. In my opinion, concerning lyrics and melody, they are the perfect creative team. After they provided a basis for the album, we all came together and rehearsed till midnight to make the songs unique. And they are. 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 peculiar and designed after everybody´s fancy.
When you come from Central Europe you are in the middle of it all. Does it make it any easier to be a band when everywhere you turn there’s a potential market?
Michael: I don’t agree. Austria and Germany are very difficult markets for Rockmusic. The UK is different, and we already had disussions, to move there permanently. In Austria we have some silly German-speaking Pop stars, who’ll sing about buying some icecream or holding hands with their boyfriend. We have a kind of Folkmusic scene…the leather pants and the yedels, you know? And of course some VERY heavy bands…Death Metal, Black Metal, etc. But there is nothing in between, so we have decided, to concentrate on markets, where AOR is big. This is the UK, and of course, the states.
Patricia: It does not make things easier. As an Austrian band you have to work very hard and you need luck and the suitable contacts to survive on the musical market. If you don’t produce folk or classic music, it’s nearly impossible to have success as a rock band like we are. But this only concerns our own country. In the States and in the UK things are different. The enthusiasm of the people over there is bigger than somewhere else. They really appreciate our music. That is why we’re even considering to move to England, permanently.
When you are a four piece band and playing the music you do is there something that you can?t do on stage that you can do in the studio?
Patricia: Of course, when we play our songs live we don´t have the possibilities that we have in the studio. Michael plays bass and keyboard. In most of our songs, both instruments are relevant, so the keyboard is missing most of the time. That is why Steve has to do the main part of the work concerning melody.
How hard is it to establish yourself as a band when you don’t come from the more traditional places like the States or the UK? How much more do you have to work to convince people that you too are good?
Patricia: It is very hard. First you need the acceptance of international places (like UK and the States). Only then, people pay attention and believe that you must be good. I personally see ourselves rocking the Madison Square Garden. No, just kidding… it´s necessary to stay down-to-earth. It´s my wish, to play as many concerts as possible in different countries, especially America, because I haven´t been there yet.
Does having an album to show for open more doors than was the case before?
Michael: Definitely. You can’t handle the music press without a professionally produced album. We were at the Start page of Melodicrock.com, and also Mags like POWERPLAY (UK) and CLASSIC ROCK (UK) gave us very good exposure and attention. Not to mention our appearance at BBC RADIO. This couldn’t have happened without an album. And to be honest – I don’t get the point, which sense it would make, to play in an Original-band and not recording an album?
We live in an age where the social media has taken over the way we communicate with each other. How do you from that perspective build a fan base that will last?
Patricia: I think that social networks are very important to build up a fan base. You can reach many people all over the world, which makes the promotion much easier. Platforms like facebook or myspace are very useful and with postings and blogs, you have the possibility to keep your people/ fans up to date all the time. For a band, it is a good way to invite people to your concerts and to call somebody´s attention.
Michael: Of course social media is important, but most important is, to go out and play, doing interviews in radios and mags – the old fashioned way. Many people – especially our targeted audience, people between 30-60, don’t use FB so much, so they wouldn’t have heard from us, if we wouldn’t have played there. But there are bands out there – like Arctic Monkeys – who built a whole career because of MySpace. This was possible 3, 4 years before, but MySpace isn’t that important anymore. As said, before, social Media is an important, good addition, but it’s not the most important thing in a career.
What does it take to be considered a success today? Do record sales still count or has the measure stick changed totally?
Michael: Of course album sales or downloads are important… but, to be honest, the music industry has sold out for too long. Really crappy acts were No.1, because of money or “knowing the right people” (LMFAO or Sunrise Avenue comes to mind…), so people more and more turn away from mainstream. Acts like Serpentine or Tyketto never had any charts-activities, but they are of course great, and in the UK everyone knows them (at least in the AOR scene). I would say, a good measure stick is the amount of concerts…and if the concerts are on the same places over and over. No one would book a band twice or more often, if they’d be a piece of crap.
Patricia: The most relevant thing is that you are unique in what you do. What counts nowadays, is the recognition value. If you stick out of the mass you win.
How easy is it stare blindly at the likes on Facebook and think you’ve made it? How deceptive can the social media be in telling you how popular you are?
Patricia: I think it gives you a good overview concerning your popularity. We are on our way to reach a big crowd one day and with every gig, I can proudly say, that we always bring home a lot of fans. This is it, what makes me really happy, not the numbers and likes on the internet.
Michael: I guess, this is probably a measurement stick for younger acts or Popmusic, because their audience are regular users on Facebook or MySpace. As said before, our audience is between 30-60, so some of these people don’t even own a computer, and of course don’t use FB, so this isn’t necessarily an indicator of the band’s popularity
Where do you intend to take Cornerstone from here?
Patricia: I want to take Cornerstone to worldwide success. It´s our goal to play as many concerts as possible and to be recognized all over.
Michael: next step for us is, to conquer mainstream radio and get more Airplay. As a side effect, we’ll probably play in front of bigger audiences and earn more money (laughing). By the way: in case you like our music, check out amazon and itunes, “Somewhere in America” is available there both as Download and CD.