October 4, 2022 Interview – Marian Gold of Alphaville
Formed back in 1982, Germany’s Alphaville became one of the standout bands on the New Wave scene at the time. A combination of powerful vocals and synthesized composition rich in color and deep in texture, the band’s international success thanks to hit singles include “Forever Young,” “Big in Japan,” and “Sounds Like a Melody.”
Led by original Vocalist Marian Gold, Alphaville has been going strong forty plus years now and in 2022 they return with their most ambitious project yet. Possessing a sound that always lent itself to symphonic styling, the band recently released the beautifully executed orchestral album Eternally Yours. An album features a list of well-known Alphaville songs, the band teamed up with an orchestra to re-create them in a way no one has ever heard before. An exciting listen, Marian Gold recently took the time to reflect on the inspiration for the new album, the band’s lengthy history, plans for new original material, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – Your career in music has been rather extensive. Over four decades now, you earned a great deal of success in the ’80s with Alphaville. Tell us, how would you describe your journey in music to this point?
Marian Gold – Journey is a very good word for it. It took me to places I never expected. It’s a fantastic voyage so to speak. When I started in 1984 with Alphaville I did not expect anything, it was just an idea of living a dream. When we started, we weren’t taught musicians, we couldn’t play any instruments; we had these little toy sequencers, drum machines, a monophonic synthesizer and that was that. But these little pieces of equipment made us change our position from being a fan to being an artist, and it was a fulfillment of a dream. I would have never expected to become a musician and a composer of music. When we created music with these little machines, we found out we had so many beautiful ideas in our minds – melodies and words. We put all these things together, and from the very beginning, we created quite interesting songs.
The second song I ever wrote in my life with the others in Alphaville was “Big in Japan.” We had no knowledge; we were just innocent green horns so to speak. That was the start, everything happened so fast, it was like lightning struck, and we had a top ten single all over Europe. We are lucky bastards! (Laughs) Then the voyage started, and when we play concerts now, there are three generations of people in the audience; the fans that grew up with us, the younger ones, and the very young ones. It’s an amazing trip and I am really proud of being still part of this fantastic band.
Cryptic Rock – It is fantastic and it is compelling to hear how it all began for you and Alphaville. It is interesting how you stated you initially were not particularly musically inclined. Synthesizers came into play in the late ’70 and led us into the ’80s. That said, do you feel the synthesizer gave you a tool to be creative when you may have not been able to otherwise because you did not have the musical skills at the time?
Marian Gold – Yes, absolutely right. As I said, at that time when we started, we just had a little monophonic Roland synthesizer, and not even a drum machine (it was a rhythm thing), a sequencer, and a Korg MS-10. What we were working with was very reduced equipment, but this reduction expanded our imagination. That was the main instrument in the beginning. We were so restricted in many aspects, but our imagination was not restricted, it was the opposite, it expanded because of that. We started with synthesizers, and we are still using a lot of synthesizers in our music.
I think the synthesizer is also a tool very similar to an orchestra. I was quite astonished when we started producing our new album, Eternally Years, and how easy it was to transform these songs into symphonic media. I think it was because we composed quite a lot with synthesizers with sounds that there are so many similarities. When you create string-like sounds or flute-like sounds, a synthesized instrument gives you a direction into this. There was always this idea that sooner or later we would make an orchestral album. We had the idea to make an orchestral album since the mid-80s, but we were waiting for thirty years for the golden opportunity to do it. You need an orchestration, a conductor, and someone to write the musical notation.
The whole technology around recording an orchestra is really very different from that of a regular Rock band; you need different studios and different recording rooms. When we started thinking about that, we knew it was impossible at the moment to do so, so we were just waiting. Finally, in mid-2021, we had everything together, we had the record company agree to the project, and we started recording in January of 2022, mixing in the beginning of March, and it was really mind-blowing.
I think everyone in the band has changed by this production. We had so many new experiences and it will have a really great impact on our future productions. Not saying we will from now on only produce orchestral music, but this experience expanded our imagination about the possibility of what music can do.
Cryptic Rock – Very fascinating. Synthesized based music really took over popular music in the late 70s into the 80s… and it has so many layers. You can hear this vividly with Eternally Yours. With the orchestra performing the songs you can hear all the layers come to the surface in new light with so much color.
Marian Gold – Yes, the orchestra is probably the greatest instrument that you can possibly think of. It is a fantastic tool, and in a way, it is a biological, polyphonic synthesizer. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) That is a great way to put it. With the idea of putting together a symphonic album for a while, what made now the right time to do it?
Marian Gold – We had all the different pieces at our hands. We had the orchestra, the equipment, and the place to record. It was not easy to have all these things in place at the same time, but by mid-2021 we had them. I said, “Hey, this is the time now. We have had it hanging over our head like the sword of Damocles for years. So, let’s do it now because we could all get killed by the sword.”
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Also a very good way to visualize it. Well, Eternally Yours is truly a beautiful piece of work. One of the boldest aspects of this album is your voice. After all these years, how do you keep your voice in such great shape?
Marian Gold – I have no explanation for that because I do nothing about it. I think it’s quite remarkable that my voice still works as it does at the moment. I’m almost seventy now. We re-recorded all the vocals for Eternally Yours. Most of the songs I didn’t have any problems producing the vocals for; with exception of “Sounds like a Melody” which is too high for me now. It was already very high for me way back in 1984 when we recorded the first version of it. The demo version was relatively high; I’m not sure what key. Our producer, Wolfgang Loos, even transposed the song three full notes up for me to perform with an even higher voice… to sound like an angel. That improved the commercial success of the song, and it was the right move, but I tried to sing it in the original key for this album, and it wasn’t possible. All the other tracks, as much as I remember, are in the original key.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting to hear. Fans will enjoy this album because, while these songs are ones everyone knows well, they still sound new and fresh. For example, the new version of “Forever Young” is magnificent.
Marian Gold – Yes. For me, the original version of “Forever Young” is just a master stroke and I didn’t have very much to do with the arrangement actually. When we wrote the song way back in 1982, it was an up-tempo song; it had a Rock riff in it. When we finally got a record deal in 1983, we had no problems recording “Big in Japan” and other songs, but we were stuck with “Forever Young.” It was still in an up-tempo mode, then one day our publisher, who is not a producer, came in to see what was going on. He said, “You’ve been working on this song for three days and nothing new happens, what’s going on here?” We said, “Calm down, we will find a solution.” He said, “No, I’m not waiting. Let me sit behind the console.” He sat behind the console, looked at all the faders and asked, “Where is Marian’s voice?” then asked, “Where are the violins?” We showed him, then he put his arm out and drew back all the faders at once… except for the voice and the violins. Then he said to the producer, “Now play the song.” When that happened everybody knew that was the solution. When you listen very carefully to “Forever Young” you might find the vocal on the record is relatively fast, because it was originally an up-tempo song.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, that is unbelievable. Sometimes less is more, right?
Marian Gold – Yes, and sometimes you have the right people around you to make very important decisions. I’m very humble in my own contributions to the band. I know I am very important; I have lots of ideas, and come in with lots of compositions, but when I look back on each and every production, there are so many suggestions and ideas coming in from other people. Without them the songs would have never been what they are.
That is probably the case with “Forever Young” too, and it would never have had the impact it did. It is now in the planetary consciousness of probably a quarter of humanity. I have no explanation for that, it’s just fantastic. It is because of not only me, not only Bernhard (Lloyd), but because a lot of people who added really important ideas to the song. That is why I’m a great believer in teamwork. Even if you are the most gifted musician, team work is really the key to really good and satisfying results. Music is one of the only art forms for this. You cannot gather ten people in front of a canvas and they all paint at the same time; it would be interesting, but it is not a method forever. Music is actually a playground that invites many people, and at the same time they can work on the same project. Music is the perfect place for collaboration and teamwork. It’s all about communication.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and this is why music is so special and powerful. You are set to performing shows with Alphaville in Europe through the end of 2022. That in mind, are there plans for some more international touring?
Marian Gold – Yes. In the first half of 2023 we will tour with the orchestra in Germany, but hopefully also some other big cities in Europe. I hope maybe by the end of 2023 that we come with the orchestra across the Atlantic Ocean and play a couple of shows in the USA. That would be really fantastic and I would appreciate it very much because we always enjoy playing in the US.
Coming out with such a project is quite a challenge. With a band you are 4-5 pieces, a couple of stage hands, lighting engineers, and monitor people, and a manager; so, we are probably fifteen people maybe. However, with an orchestra we are probably eighty people! That is a big logistic and financial problem you have to solve there. I hope we get through all these things and we come to the USA sometime in October of 2023.
Cryptic Rock – That would be fantastic! Have you actually played live with the orchestra yet?
Marian Gold – No, we have not done it yet. We actually recorded the album in pieces and that was because of the pandemic. We had lots of problems because sometimes people became infected with COVID, so they couldn’t come. We tried to record the brass, and then half of the brass was missing because they were all sick with COVID. That was a big problem, so the best thing was to record in parts.
Also, the vocal recording was done, not with the whole orchestra, but with some mediation so I could interact with the music. The first time we heard everything come together was when we were mixing at the end. It was like flying blind through the production, recording it bit by bit, and putting it all together. Then, at the very moment we started mixing it, we found all the pieces fit perfectly together. It was always a wow moment when we heard all the instruments in place together.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it was a great experience and it would be amazing to hear it live together. As the lyricist for Alphaville, you write in English while German is your native language. Have you always written in English, or have you written in German, and translated them into English?
Marian Gold – Most of the lyrics I write in English. Sometimes I also write in German, but the great impact music had on me came from American or English artists. Basically, the first musical group that impressed me deeply were the Beatles. For me Rock music was synonymous with the English language. Sometimes people ask me, “How does it feel you play in Germany? You talk to the audience in German, but sing in English, isn’t that strange?” I say, no it’s not strange, it belongs to the music.
Language is also music. I love the sound of the English language very much. I’m a great fan of William Shakespeare; for instance, his sonnets are not just words, they are melodies. When Richard Burton recites Shakespearean verses, it’s amazing, it is as if he is singing. It is just the melody of words. Shakespeare composed all these words, not only from the meaning, but the sounds. Also, it is actually easier to write singable lyrics in English rather than German. German words are very long, have lots of syllables, and the English language has lots of 1-2-3 syllable words; it makes it much easier to create rhythm with the words.
Cryptic Rock – That is a very interesting point. With Eternally Yours out now, are there plans for another Alphaville album with new material?
Marian Gold – Yes. That is also very strange because we are living in two different worlds at the moment. We are in the middle of promoting Eternally Yours, then we are touring, and at the same time, we are going into the studio and writing new material. The new album is going to probably be out in 2024. The working title of the new album is Thunderbaby. We have already written quite interesting material for it.
As I said before, the production of Eternally Yours will probably have some impact of Thunderbaby. However, not in the terms that you will hear another orchestral album, but there will probably be a lot more unusual instrumentation than is normally on an Alphaville album. We have new songs that go more into a very floating Pink Floyd like area. Then with the up-tempo songs where we go back in time to our beginnings; they are very simple structures, and at the time, have very funny electronic sounds. I am curious how the album will turn out, but it will be like every other Alphaville album… very different from the one before.