Which band did Forever Young sing
Marian Gold on the production of Alphaville - Strange Attractor
Anyone who thinks that Marian Gold and his musical colleagues put their feet on the table after their phenomenal lightning start in '84 has not done their homework. They may have shifted down a gear occasionally, but they were never really gone. The current and seventh studio album Strange Attractor shows how present and timeless Alphaville sound today.
With mega hits like Forever Young, Big In Japan or Sounds Like A Melody, Alphaville have created immortal song icons that have lost none of their intensity even after more than three decades. A lot has happened since then: knowing full well that such a lightning career can mean both a blessing and a curse, mastermind Marian Gold has not even tried to continue the wave of early success as long as possible. Instead, he deliberately allowed himself all artistic freedom, including occasional breaks in creation, in order to surprise the world with new songs whenever the long and carefully prepared material once again seemed to have matured sufficiently. Strange Attractor is the first Alphaville studio album in seven years.
While great melodies and opulent arrangements are reminiscent of Alphaville's classics, the new work surprises with a much more rock sound and plenty of funky-soulful grooves. We talk to Marian Gold and his long-time producer »Blacky« Schwarz-Ruszczynksi about old and new sounds and songs from Alphaville.
Marain, what's new with Strange Attractor?
Marian Gold: I was totally turned on by the funk-inspired music of the late 70s - like the grooves from Saturday Night Fever. I also loved glitter rock bands like The Sweet. These were definitely triggers for songs like Fever! and Heartbreak City. The combination of rock, electronics and those funky grooves was a real revelation for me.
Do you aspire to invent something new?
For us, every album is a step into white territory. But of course there are elements in our style that no longer change. This is how we continue to tell stories, and that imposes certain restrictions on the musical possibilities. Besides, we just love melodies.
Why do you always have to wait so long for new Alphaville albums? Is songwriting hard work for you?
I haven't worked since I started Alphaville in 1982 (laughs). I've never found making music a job - more like a never-ending vacation. When we "work" in the studio, we are in no rush or commitments. We just follow our promptings. The band brings ideas, I collect ideas on the piano, on the computer or spontaneously on my smartphone. Initially, these can be any licks. I think I have a talent for putting pieces of the puzzle together. Over time, these puzzle pieces turn into demos. And from a certain point on, the pieces develop a kind of life of their own and tell you whether this is already a hit or whether something is still missing. This is how Big In Japan came about: I had these descending fifths in my head and Are Friends Electric in my ear (by Gary Numan; editor's note). Add a few biographical snippets and the result was Big In Japan. Other songs, on the other hand, take a lot of time. Sometimes there are countless versions that keep changing. We released some of these early demos on Strange Attractor's vinyl. Ultimately, they have become songs in their own right.
Have you been following this way of working since the early days of Alphaville?
Ultimately, yes. I'm not a "real" musician and I still can't read sheet music. I came to music as a fan - through my record collection and through musicians I adored. At first I never thought that I could become a musician myself. And suddenly there were rhythm machines and sequencers! Well, now I can play ideas on the piano. But basically I'm still the megalomaniac fan from back then ...
How did you approach these "new" instruments back then?
At the beginning of the 80s, electronic instruments became halfway affordable for the first time. We were stranded in Berlin and lived in squats. The money for instruments I worked together on the construction.
What were your first electronic instruments?
I remember a boss Dr. Rhythm and such a plastic sequencer (DR-55 and MFB601; editor's note). It was improvised. Oh yes - we also had a Roland System-100M. I sold most of my record collection for it ... But without this piece, Big In Japan would never have existed like this. We tuned the oscillators to a fifth and then had this bassline. The orchestral hits - samples were added later in the studio - were initially 100M sounds. We also made tape loops. Brian Eno had led the way back then. We then played live with the tape. That all sounded like shit, but for the first time we heard our own ideas outside of our heads! And that's when I realized that we could actually write music - an unearthly realization! And an end to ›No Future‹… (laughs).
Are you currently still using old synths?
In the studio there are still Franks (Mertens - first Alphaville keyboardist; editor's note) old Minimoog, the ARP Odyssey - which incidentally played the Forever Young trumpet - and the Jupiter-8. We had actually wished for a Jupiter-4, but one fine day Frank actually arrived with an 8! We still use these synths occasionally because we think they're beautiful. But that is not dogmatism.
Welcome back to Alphaville ... Just like the music and the band themselves, Alphaville's means of production have changed over the decades - from a hand-played analog synth with tape machine playback to a Logic project with 150 tracks.
Today the technical possibilities are unlimited. Does that make things easier, the music more exciting?
It depends on whether people submit to the aesthetic ideas of their time or not. Back then you had few options and you were forced to improvise. And there was an audience that was very open to new things. Alphaville has and always had its very own sound universe.
Today artists seem to think a lot about which audiences they need to satisfy in order to be successful ... or to remain so. I think that's stupid. What is great about the current technical possibilities is the more spontaneous access: You no longer have to go to a studio to capture an idea. You can sing into your phone along with it.
Where and how was Strange Attractor produced?
A lot has happened in Blacky's studio. Blacky was instrumental in the production and has also played many guitars. Numerous guitars can be heard on the album, but often no longer identifiable as such.
Blacky: Above all, we cut and edited drums and guitars very extensively. Drums are often programmed, pushed to a certain groove and then doubled or replaced with acoustic drums. The guitars are z. T. assembled from many mosaic stones.
Marian: I need drums that sound good as a basis for everything else. The easiest way to do this is to program something first. You then have a reasonably decent sound without much tweaking. It can also produce very interesting results - not necessarily really groovy, but crazy, tricky and twisted.
And the vocals?
Many of the recordings were made quite spontaneously. When Blacky and I were out, it sometimes occurred to us that we should actually record something very quickly now - some spontaneous idea. Then we hissed into his studio, grabbed the first microphone that we came across a bit, and off we went. The next day we realized - oh, great, but recorded a bit of shit. "Marian, can you do that again?" Most of the time the perfectly recorded version wasn't as intense as the broken one from the previous night. The performance is simply the most important thing.
Blacky: With the vocals we also tinkered a lot with the sound. For example, the vocals on Heartbreak City are doubled an octave higher, then I left out the original position - sounds cool. And with Antares Throat we ruined the voice in some of the songs.
Marian: Tinkering is great as long as the flow is maintained.
How did the mix play out?
Blacky and I did premixes in his studio on the computer. Michael Ilbert then completed the actual mixes in the Hansa Studio.
I've known Michael for many years. He's just the mixer I trust, because he understands Alphaville. I really enjoy working with people close to me. A coherent chemistry is more important to me than any so-called cracks that the record company might suggest.
Who did the mastering?
That was Sterling Sound in New York.
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