The Dead Brothers or the recipe to a happy funeral- Interview with Dead Alain Croubalian

by Ruxandra Stoian, Bucharest, 2015

The fact that we are dying is something that we are used to ever since we’re born. Still, it scares us. Yet people have always been interested in this process which marks our end. The Dead Brothers brings this point of view that “Death is not the end”. Could it be possible to change the idea that death is not something bad, nor a punishment for our sins through music?

I’ve discovered another point of view, full of philosophical questions in a dark cabaret, by listening to The Dead Brothers, in an intriguing combination of folk, country, blues and punk, rendered in a symphonic orchestra with Balkan influences. It’s a powerful mixture that you can hardly ignore.

Dead Brothers PHoto Matias Corral

Despite its name, The Dead Brothers made me feel alive.

Founded in 1999, the band gathered its members in Geneva with the mystic and theatrical voice of Alain Croubalian, recruiting new members until 2008, like Delaney Davidson with his blues and country rhythm on drums and guitar, Pierre Omer’s french sound of accordion and Christoph Gantert with his tuba that makes this whole scene more dramatic.

Others have joined them, such as Matthias Lincke (violin, mandolin), Stefan Baumann (cello), Patrick Kessler (double bass), Andrew Burri (formerly Patent Ochsner ), calling themselves Dead Brothers Sweet String Orchestra.

The best part of this orchestra is the background they all bring: Alain’s Armenian blood with his nomad feeling; Delaney with his old country and blues vibe; Pierre with his passionate accordion and all the other influences, makes The Dead Brothers a cultural mix.

But what’s more appealing to their music is the fact that all the songs have a “mise en scene”, like a dramatic play, where truth always comes out, there are no complacent words; it’s like being in a yard circus and this circus is our own life. The Dead Brothers are confronting death, futility, the nihilist existence, boredom in their ironic lyrics, where death is just another alter ego.

Their songs are an invitation to psychoanalysis, where everyone is called upon to become introspective, in a trenchant sum-up of their present lives. Reality blends with dreams on melodic waves that make you forget what is actually happening. The emphasis is on melancholy, but not a melancholy that burdens the soul; it’s that poetic mood, where acceptance comes from seeing that degrading is necessary for a spiritual evolution.

It’s as if Baudelaire rose, bringing his lyrics about the beauty of grotesque on Dead Brothers’ fascinating trip.

Sophisticart: – Hi Alain, tell me how did you start this project with the Dead Brothers? What happened that brought you together?

A.C.: I first studied political science, economy and sociology at the University of Geneva. Professor Jean Ziegler gave a seminar about death “les vivants et les morts” and how the living started being afraid of dying around the 17th century…

51N2S77YNYL-horzIn the middle ages, it was a relief to die. But for economical reasons, it was better to scare people: if you accept death with open arms and are conscious about it, why would you want to make and keep big amounts of money? The capitalist system needs us to forget that we can’t take it with us. Bringing death back into everyday consciousness, getting used to it being around, as the other side of life without which being alive would make no sense, takes that fear away. It’s an anti-capitalistic thought.

Then I met Geiser and Fred, who had a tuba duo in Geneva. We founded, with Alain Meyer, Le cirque électrique: no animals, no clowns: just musicians. It was 1997.

Sophisticart: – I know you had an interesting course in life, being forced to run from Armenia and living in different countries, it probably made you feel uprooted. Is this what inspired you in your melancholic lyrics? I guess there are beautiful parts as well in traveling, regardless of what happened.

A.C.: I myself did not have to run from Armenia. My grand-father did, as a small boy. But it is probable that the History of my people, the Armenians has lent a very melancholic touch to my taste. The traveling is now embedded in my genes, and also the sens of homelessness: I was born in Montreal, then moved with my family to Switzerland, passed through Jamaica, Bahrein, moved back to Egypt where my father was born, to Geneva again, the french part of Switzerland (my band Les Maniacs had 18 years of punk rock life), Los Angeles (played in The Lazy Cowgirls), then to Berlin and then back to Geneva. Now I live in Basel, the swiss german part. So tell me: Where am I from? Typical armenian: a diaspora that can only dream it’s motherland and that can never go back home.

arnhem alaij dead 2014

Sophisticart: – In the M.A Littler movie “Death is not the end”, you were speaking about your father’s poem, where he was rhetorically asking “what would you change if you could turn back time?” And he said he’d pick up more daisies. What would you change if it were possible to go in reverse?

A.C.: I don’t know. At one point or another mankind always takes the wrong turn. It’s this capacity that has made us adapt to every situation. It will stay that way.

Sophisticart: – Listening to The Human Fly made me think about Kafka and his Metamorphosis into a giant beetle. This cover is powerful and the way you gave its sound in the orchestra made it more dramatic. Can you mention a few people that inspired in your career as a musician?

A.C.: I have a few favorite singers and bands. In the beginning you try to imitate them, then you make up your own puzzle with those roots: John Lee Hooker, Van Morrison, Chris Bailey of the Saints, The Ramones, Leadbelly, the Fleshtones, Hank Williams, Charles Aznavour, Rob Younger of Radio Birdman, Townes Van Zandt, Franz Schubert and every musician I meet, and like, gives me a great deal of inspiration.

Sophisticart: – You’ve made an interesting affirmation about music being love and its main purpose being to be shared. There’s an amount of feelings bursting from every note you’re playing. Still, do you have a certain public that you prefer singing to? Or a certain context that made you feel this?

A.C.: We are not a party band. We can be funny sometimes but in a dark way. It’s a nightmare for us to play on the countryside on the week-end in front of a drunk male audience, that just wants to dance and shout. We need to be listened to. Otherwise it’s no use: I know this may seem arrogant. It’s not meant like that: You don’t have to have a University degree to like us. But you must be willing to question how you are listening to us and be willing to think by yourself. That’s probably the reason why we are not a popular band. It’s a paradox, like the photographs and films of Paul Strand.

Sophisticart: – Your band has an interesting cultural mixture. You were singing on tours, in different countries. Is there a place that you felt like staying, that felt like home?

A.C.: Yes very many. We could play everywhere: to this very small niche of true people who like our brand of music, with their heart at the right place. It is a blessing that we are liked mostly in places where music is important to people: St Petersbourg, Serbia, Brazil, Argentina, Sicily, Mexico, Vienna, Odessa, Athens… places where irony and humor seem the right answers to the hardships of life. Those are also usually places where the food is good and the women beautiful.

dead in fribourg

Sophisticart: – Your latest album, Black Moose from 2014, is an invocation of this mystical creature, that has been there since the beginning of the world. How come you’ve chosen this animal to represent your feelings and thoughts?

A.C.: This question goes to Marc Littler who’s written all the lyrics of Black Moose. He gave me his poems, that sound like baptist preaching, and we turn them into songs. His answer would probably be: The Black Moose comes by itself: we cannot stop him of appearing in the history of man. He just appeared lately in Crimea and Irak!

Sophisticart:- Can you mention a book that you are fond of? Something that inspired or helped you throughout these years.

A.C.: The human comedy by William Saroyan. The interviews of John Cassavetes, Valis by Phillip K Dick, the biography of Mezz Mezzrow… thank God there are always new ones. Films are a great inspiration too. Every work of art is like a light in the dark that helps us, lost boats, find a harbour for the night and then we go on. But for the Dead Brothers, European History, the History of civilizations and language, all the blood thats been and will be spilled, inspires us. We are romantic in that sense.

Sophisticart: – Are you working on any other projects right now? And not only with the band. I’ve actually seen a trailer about Armenia made by Slowboat Films.

A.C.:- A film that we have been talking about for the last ten years. It’s about to be made.

I also make theater music. Next is Dostoyewski’s Crime and Punishment at the Deutsche Schauspielhaus of Hamburg with Karin Henkel.

We already done Geschichten from the Wienerwald by Ödon von Horvath and Elektra by Sophocles. She’s a great director. One of the best in Germany.

Sophisticart: – Are you preparing a tour in Europe or somewhere else? How about singing in Romania as well?

A.C.: We would love to. Hope poeple don’t mind that we are kinda gypsies… We would like to visit Philou of the Come’n’Go in his bar in Bucharest: please invite us. And make us some great food. We can be very nice then.

Thank you for your words and hope to see you soon in a live concert.dead in fri 2015

In conclusion, The Dead Brothers are like a book that cuts, so the wounds can open in a series of new existential questions. It has to hurt, so the pain can finally lead the spirit to a place where death is just the beginning, where fear is finally conquered.

You can find more info on their official website: and their Facebook Official Page


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