In the summer of 1995, Stephan Kleinert (then keyboardist and producer of the Karlsruhe based experimental pop group Ubik Paint) felt that he needed more space to realize his own musical ideas. Since Stephan’s visions of intelligent pop songs didn’t integrate too well with the Ubik Paint context – after all, Ubik Paint was primarily based on improvisation and experimentation –, Botany Bay was founded as a side project.
In those early days, the band consisted of Stephan (playing almost all instruments) and Ina Blum* (who did the lead vocals).
Ina was an old acquaintance, who had done sessions together with Stephan since 1992. They had recorded four songs when Stephan began to notice irritating changes in Ina. Sometimes she would stare into the void for minutes without blinking, or talk like she wasn’t herself, at all. When Stephan discovered the reason this strange behaviour it was already too late: Ina had joined Scientology during her first term of studying economics in Berlin. She had been alone and unoriented in Berlin and so had become an easy prey for a criminal psycho-cult. Her drastic changes were the result of so-called “auditing” sessions (Scientology-speak for brainwashing), pseudo-withdrawal treatments and other Scientology malpractice.
Stephan was devestated, but the damage was already done and there was no way of bringing Ina back to the real world. His attempts to do so eventually led to Ina abandoning all contact with him (a well known Scientology strategy: Isolate the victims from everyone trying to help them).
*name changed for obvious reasons
In 1996, a replacement for Ina was found via an advertisement in a local newspaper: Katrin Schmidt, the new Botany Bay lead vocalist, had no previous band experience, but mastered the task of re-recording Ina’s vocal parts with excellence, as well as adding her own interpretation to the already recorded four songs.
What’s more, Stephan (who had by then become an active member of Germany’s anti-Scientology movement) and Katrin slowly transformed what started out as a loose collection of songs into a concept album, dealing with psychological dependence, religion, sects and the human need to believe and to be believed in.
In the summer of 1997, “Tales Of The Bitter Seed” was, at last, released on the Ubisonic label. The album had been recorded at The Workshop in Karlsruhe (an idyllic ivy-covered barn which housed a small recording studio and admittedly the occasional rat) with the help of Stephan’s colleagues from Ubik Paint, yet sounded totally different from Ubik Paint’s offerings.
“Tales Of The Bitter Seed” was a mix of deep pop songs, fragile classical arrangements and elements borrowed from dark wave and electronic music, all interconnected thematically and musically… and it was a flaming manifesto against Scientology. By use of “unusual” instruments like harmonium and melodica, “Tales Of The Bitter Seed” defined a rather unique sound without being inaccessable.
Unfortunately, three factors kept Botany Bay’s debut album from achieving more success than getting some praise from the local newspapers. #1, Ubik Paint were recording their second album “Love Bank”, which kept Stephan quite occupied. #2, Stephan had begun studying computational linguistics in Heidelberg, which kept him even more occupied, and #3, Katrin had gotten pregnant, so plans to do live performances and other promotion had to be cancelled.
1998 – 2002
Dissatisfied with the meager success of “Tales…”, Stephan spent the following years recording music with Ubik Paint. In 1998, Stephan’s then girlfriend introduced him to vocalist Laura Dietrich. Stephan recorded three promising demos with her, keeping the posibilty of a second Botany Bay album in the back of his head. But as Ubik Paint still was Stephan’s primary project, there was no time to follow up on the idea.
In 2001, Ubik Paint self-destructed with the release of their 3rd album “Waiting For The Rain”; a short time later, Stephan relocated to Heidelberg (a move he says he’ll regret till the end of his days) to further his studies. The loss of friends and musicians (Ubik Paint had been both and were all going into different directions after the split), the loss of familiar surroundings plus increasing personal problems reduced Stephan’s musical output to zero for the next two years.
Still there was the problem of a proper recording studio: No longer having the luxury of an ivy-covered barn in the backyard, Stephan was forced to look for a new location to set up his gear.
The first of several attempts to set up something at least resembling a studio was made at the storehouse adjacent to the “halle_02” (a then reasonably hip storehouse-turned-nightclub in Heidelberg). But although the landlords of the “halle_02” used to stylize themselves as Heidelberg’s generous grand patrons of new art, they had no qualms exchanging the cylinder lock when Botany Bay and the other bands made it clear that were not prepared to pay the whopping 400€ a month they suddenly wanted – for a cramped, filthy little room without any sanitation or heating.
Locking out Botany Bay (and locking in their instruments) threw the project back several months, as did the ensuing search for a new home. How beautiful and easy it all had been in Karlsruhe was to become a recurring theme of the new album – and, incidentally, of Stephan’s conversation.
The bohémian atmosphere of Dilsberg in general and the Café Pippifax in particular suited Botany Bay perfectly well. Although the jam sessions themselves had little to do with Botany Bay, they became a rich source of inspiration, with many of the new songs having their roots in a particular lick developed on one of those sessions.
Another big difference to the situation in Karlsruhe soon became apparent: When working with Ubik Paint in Karlsruhe, everyone involved had been completely devoted to making the project happen. In Heidelberg, Stephan had to literally beg his guest musicians to at least show up at the studio, which was a far cry from realizing themselves in the project.
Laura quickly became an invaluable and integral part of Botany Bay, bringing in her own vocal arrangements for lead and background vocals, as well as playing additional keyboards and conducting choir passages.
Since Laura was living in Berlin at the time while Stephan was still in Heidelberg, there was limited time for recording sessions. By using the internet to send pieces of recordings back and forth, Botany Bay managed to bridge the gap to some extent, although it was clear that much more came out of the infrequent “real world” sessions.
Around this time, Botany Bay started to publish some of their new songs on the now defunct web portal garageband.com. Although never charting very high in the mainstream, Botany Bay earned numerous “Reviewer’s Picks Awards” in the categories Best Production, Best Female Vocals, Best Programming and Best Mood, as well as two Track Of The Day awards.
The project really took off when Laura moved from Berlin to Aachen to accept a teaching post. This move brought along the benefits of some 300 kilometers less distance between the two, as well as a children’s choir at Botany Bay’s disposal.
By September 2006, Stephan’s studies of computational linguistics were finally finished. Writing his thesis and preparing for his final exams again had taken some speed out of Botany Bay and, as it soon turned out, looking for a job in Heidelberg was an equally unpleasant experience as trying to find musicians or a studio.
In November 2006, Botany Bay released their first video clip, “Feel” on the internet. The movie featured Laura and Stephan performing the song over a suitably edited version of Ub Iwerks’ 1938 animation classic “The Brave Tin Soldier”.