Interview with Alina Peter & Michael Wachelhofer from Cornerstone!

Austria may be known as the classical music center of the world, but make no mistake – Cornerstone is here to rock! The band, composed of Alina Peter (Vocals, Guitars), Michael Wachelhofer (Bass, Keyboard, Vocals), Steve Wachelhofer (Guitar, Vocals) and Christoph Karas (Drums, Percussion), got signed by the US-based label ATOM Records back in 2008 and have done numerous tours through Europe and America.

The press has been extremely favorable to the band’s blend of 80’s rock, mixed with the harder edge of today’s alternative rock sounds. Some of their songs were included in the motion-picture soundtrack for the film “Little Alien”. The band is going to tour through Europe again, including United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and of course Austria.

Today we’d like to bring to your attention this interview with charismatic vocalist Alina Peter and Michael Wachelhofer, the bass player and founder of Cornerstone! The following interview is taken exclusively for Rock Arena. Enjoy it!

INTERVIEW

– Hello, Alina and Michael, and welcome to Rock Arena! Michael, you and your brother Steve formed Cornerstone, but how everything started and how did you meet the other members of the band, tell us more about each of them?

Michael: Steve and I pretty much grow up with MTV, especially in the Nineties there was a ton of great music out there… R.E.M., The Cure, Soul Asylum and so on. One day around 1997, 1998 we’ve decided to start a band – we mainly did covers of those bands in the beginning, but slowly worked some originals into our set. Everything was started as a kind of a fun thing – we’ve played 2, 3 concerts a year in front of friends, and that was it, more or less.

But in 2006 we’ve got an offer from an American label via MySpace, and this started that whole train running: we did an US-Tour, eight UK-Tours and released 3 ½ albums meanwhile – the latest one with Harry Hess, who produced the likes of Muse, Billy Talent, and Simple Plan. Not that bad for a band, who started playing fun concerts in front of friends in the first place!

Alina joined the band three years earlier, she sent a tape, and I thought in the first place: “This isn’t that bad”. Steve and I auditioned some interesting singers… we rehearsed with a RnB-singer, great voice, but it didn’t work. We had an actor, who starred at an ABC-series in American TV and also do singing, who is great as a person, but it didn’t click musically. I was kind of frustrated and went into a Karaoke bar, to audition singers, but all of them were really bad.

So I went home – it was 1:00 am in the morning – and went through Alina’s tape a second time, and listened to the other songs on it. It sounded fantastic, and the next day I called Steve and told him: “That’s the singer”. I dropped her an E-mail, started with the words “I want to cut a long story short: we want you in the band”, and so it finally happened. Very bread and butter.

– Have you had any previous projects, and what was their style? If someone had never heard you before, how would you describe your sound?

Michael: Cornerstone is Steve’s and my first band. Alina used to play – believe it or not! – in a Punk band.

Alina: Our style is called AOR/Melodic Rock like Fleetwood Mac or Journey. While listening to our new album “Reflections” you feel like going on a journey through the Eighties, but with a more modern approach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Your new album, “Reflections” came out in 2016, how did you get Harem Scarem’s Harry Hess involved in the album? What meaning have you coded between the lines and what do you say in this particular album? Who does working for the band?

Alina: There has already been some talking about Harry Hess producing “Somewhere in America” (our last album) but due to time problems it was not possible to collaborate on that one. So now we are more than happy that it finally happened. It was a pleasure to work with such an amazing and experienced producer and musician.

Michael: For me it’s always important, to give the lyrics a “universal” message, so in case someone hear it, could say: “Yes – that’s me, this song is about me”. Of course, I wrote everything out of my personal view, but on “Reflections” the lyrics were more important than on the previous releases: Alina and my relationship with our partners ended up in an unfair and very hurtful way pretty much the same time, and we also had more or less the same experiences.

So it was kinda natural, that we wrote about those things. And this is what “Reflections” is about: looking back, express your feelings and experiences. The whole album is a story: “Nothing To Lose” is a pretty sarcastic introduction, and then the whole story started: Party, fun and dancing at “Last Night”, the emotional crisis at “Heart On Fire”, “Whatever” and “True Confessions” are pretty much two sides of the same medal, one time out of Alina’s, one time out of my sight.

“Northern Light” is about leaving the past behind, “Brother”, “Sooner Or Later” and “Believe in Me” are pretty much positive efforts to concentrate on the people in life, who are standing behind you – always and without any questions. “Once” is the perfect last song for the album: “You once were a friend of mine”. No more word to say. I wanted to create something like “Dust in the Wind” from Kansas, a masterpiece, that has the most profound and emotional meaning with as less lyrics as possible.

– Who writes the music and the lyrics and how do you select the titles of your songs? What are your favorite tracks from the new album? What differed on this release from previous recording sessions?

Alina: The songs are mainly written by Michael and Steve. Michael is very good at writing lyrics and Steve at finding the perfect guitar parts. There is just one song called “Whatever” which is written by Michael and me. About the lyrics and the feeling behind the song, Michael didn’t have to tell me anything, I knew what he was trying to say with the song by reading the lyrics only. There were no words needed.

I love “Northern Light” and “Nothing To Lose”. “Nothing To Lose” is a typical rock song and I love to sing it. The lyric is quite good and it is the best opener for a concert! I can’t really tell you why I love “True Confessions”, I can’t put it in words. I just get a good feeling whenever I listen to it. The title of the album itself was easy to choose because the songs are telling a story, they are reflections of what we have experienced, what we have gone through.

Finding titles for the songs can be an easy thing but also pretty hard. There are songs like “Northern Light”, “Nothing To Lose” or “Believe In Me” where it was quite obvious which titles would fit best, but with the songs “Whatever” or “True Confessions” we struggled. In such cases, we vote.

Michael: My favorites of the album are “Heart On Fire” – I love the harmonies and the guitar solo – “Northern Light”, because the arrangement for this one is nearly perfect, and also “True Confessions”, this is the most personal song I ever wrote. Looking back into the history of the band, the band developed from an Indie-/Alternativeband into an AOR-band. Our first effort, “Head Over Heels” was an Alternative-album with a bit of AOR in it.

At “Somewhere in America” we’ve turned that combination around, and with “Reflections” we’ve done a pure AOR-album. It wasn’t a planned thing, I guess this is quite natural, you’re getting older, and it isn’t that interesting anymore, to play four chords with a kind of “Fuck You!”-attitude, like we did on tunes like “Changed” or “Leave” on our first album. Now we’ve dressed this “Fuck-You!”-attitude into a well produced, keyboard-oriented arrangement.

– Tell us more about the single “Northern Light”, who wrote that song and what’s the story behind the script?

Michael: It has an interesting story: I was in England and drove to Scarborough for a holiday trip – a very beautiful city with an old Harbor. When I drove there on the motorway, I looked into the sunset, and there was a BBC-show at the car radio about Northern Lights. So this pretty much inspired me to write that song, and I guess, “Northern Light” has pretty much a “driving feeling” in it. It’s a pretty straightforward AOR-tune, I’ve read, that is has been compared to the soundtrack of Miami Vice. Not particular a bad thing for an AOR-band, I guess.

– Alina is your third vocalist, and your previous singers being women as well. Tell us more about it… is that just how it has worked out so far?

Michael: Anja Schirmer, who recorded our first album “Head Over Heels” with us, wanted to do music as a hobby… as mentioned before, none of us expected, that Cornerstone developed to something that big, so it was a tough decision, to work with a singer, who wanted to do music as a profession, so we let her go and found Patricia in 2009, who was with the band for 6 years. She involved herself full heartedly for 5 ½ years, but, you know, people change… everybody change.

It was a sad story, we couldn’t be in a room together anymore, and in general, there was a very negative mood in the band, like a funeral party. I don’t want to go into any details, because this is a band-issue, and I would everyone ask to respect that. Instead, I want to quote Brian May: “In case you don’t have to say something positive, it’s probably better, to say nothing – someone could get you wrong or so.”

It was hard to ask someone to leave the band after six years, and I really can’t say that I wish her all the best for the future, but that’s history now, and we are concentrating on upcoming things with the new Line-Up – which isn’t really new anymore, we’re playing together for two years now. But it definitely feels like a band again, which is very positive.

– In 2012, “Right or Wrong” won an award as “Ballad of the year”, chosen by British Rock Realms Magazine… what does it mean to you? What do you think about the state of rock music and the music business?

Michael: The Award was a very surprising thing for us – they even compared us with Dianne Warren, and this is a huge honor in my opinion. Unfortunately, the mag doesn’t exist anymore, but most of the people from music-biz in the UK now it. In general, everything becomes more difficult because of Streaming and Downloading. Older people want to support the bands, so the download their tunes on Itunes, Amazon, etc. or buy the CD. The younger ones pretty much grow up with the attitude, that music is something, they’ll get for free, and that’s a problem.

If I like a song, I might check the artist on Spotify or YouTube – and then buy the album, if it’s any good. If the younger generation like a song, their first thought is, where and how they can get the song for free. I can remember this one joke on Facebook, where people buy a cup of Starbucks-coffee for 4$, worth a few pennies, without thinking about it, but are not willing, to spend 1 or 2$ for a song, that costs thousands of dollars to produce. Maybe the comeback of Vinyl will change the attitude a bit, I hope so.

 

– In 2013 you did a charity single, covering Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy”, what’s the story there… why choose that song to cover? What is the most important thing for you as a musician and performer?

Michael: We knew this guy who had cystic fibrosis. It’s a horrible disease and we saw him at Nottingham City Hospital. We thought we could do something to help, the goal was, to get the song into the UK-charts and make some money for charity: let’s do a cover of something no-one would expect. The UK likes dance music a lot. We thought about Erasure in the first place, but no-one felt really comfortable with that, so we did “Smalltown Boy” because it’s pretty cool.

Ironically, it didn’t chart in the UK but it entered the charts in Austria. But the whole thing wasn’t a great idea. It wasn’t Cornerstone music, Patricia Hillinger and I created it for charity – a good charity – but I’m not proud of it musically. We’re a rock band. Looking back, I wouldn’t do it again, to be honest. I guess, authenticity is the most important thing for a musician, a lesson well thought to us from the “Smalltown Boy”-project.

–  Cornerstone is an Austrian band, what’s the music scene like there at the moment? Would you change your sound as a band in the future and in what direction? Could you like to write music for other artists?

Alina: It’s hard to do our type of music in Austria. There is not really a Melodic Rock, AOR music scene, but we won’t change our music direction just because of that. We are who we are, we make music for ourselves and for our fans, if that’s not enough in Austria, we go to England *laughing* We don’t have plans about changing our sound, but I won’t deny it. We write the songs out of our experiences, out of our heart – you never know what it is going to be in the end.

Michael: Being completely honest, it’s more difficult for an Austrian Band in Austria, then abroad. People here tend to bully their own bands, so we have decided to concentrate on the markets, that are more open-minded, musically. Especially in the UK music is part of the culture, and our tunes were always well received. As an Austrian artist, you have to become successfully abroad first, before you’ll get an acceptance or respect in your own country. Also, Falco and Opus made it in the states first, so I guess this is also our way – building up a fanbase in Europe and the states.

– What more should we expect from the band and when can we hear Cornerstone live in the UK? Where can everyone get your music?

Alina: You can expect AOR and enthusiastic live performances. We always give our best on stage, we just want to have some fun and we try to leave our fans with remarkable memories. There will be a new album in the foreseeing future but not next year, we have to make new memories and experiences at first *laughing* We are on tour in England again next year, summer 2018, the dates will be released soon. We are very looking forward to it!

– Thanks for taking the time out to do this interview! Your final words…?

Alina: Check out our Facebook page HERE and our homepage www.cornerstone.co.at. Thank you!

Michael: In case you want to support Cornerstone, the new album “Reflections” is available on Amazon, iTunes, etc. Well, thank you for the interview, Toni, and all the best to the readers of Rock Arena.

 

Interviewed by Toni Rock