Brücken/Froese

Prog - - Contents - Words: Dave Ever­ley Images: Will ire­land

One part Pro­pa­ganda and one part Tan­ger­ine Dream: the two Ger­man mu­si­cians make sweet mu­sic.

Clau­dia Brücken was in her teens when she first heard Tan­ger­ine Dream. Grow­ing up in Ger­many in the 70s, they were hard to avoid – not so much a main­stream pres­ence as part of the mu­si­cal fab­ric at a time when the coun­try was lead­ing the way in for­ward-look­ing ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic.

“When you were ex­plor­ing new elec­tronic mu­sic, Tan­ger­ine Dream were just there,” says Brücken, who, as a former mem­ber of early-80s art pop group Pro­pa­ganda, knows a thing or two about the sub­ject. “They were part of this whole wave of artists who were cre­at­ing new sounds, which was re­ally ex­cit­ing to be in the mid­dle of.”

Next to her, Jerome Froese smiles. He’s the son of vi­sion­ary Tan­ger­ine Dream founder Edgar Froese, and he was a mem­ber of that band be­tween 1990 and 2006. “It was hard for me to mea­sure their im­por­tance back then be­cause I was around them since I was a young child,” he says. “But I know how much my father and his mu­sic were re­spected.”

The two of them are sit­ting at­ten­tively at a ta­ble in the restau­rant of an unas­sum­ing Cen­tral Lon­don ho­tel. Froese ar­rived from his home in Ber­lin yes­ter­day, land­ing in the mid­dle of one of the most fe­ro­cious thun­der­storms of re­cent mem­ory.

“We cir­cled around for about an hour,” he says, pulling up a photo on his phone of a bi­b­li­cal del­uge taken from the plane’s win­dow. “We didn’t even know if we could land.”

Brücken has made the short jour­ney from her flat in north Lon­don. She has called the cap­i­tal home since mov­ing here in the early 80s, when Pro­pa­ganda be­came the first band to sign to Bug­gles/Yes pro­ducer Trevor Horn’s record la­bel/art pop col­lec­tive, ZTT.

The pair have united for a new col­lab­o­ra­tive al­bum, Beginn, which mar­ries Froese’s ex­ploratory mu­sic to Brücken’s emo­tive voice. The Ger­man­lan­guage ti­tle is just a con­so­nant away from its British equiv­a­lent, though the mean­ing is clear any­way. “This is the start of it,” says Brücken of their mu­si­cal union. “It’s our be­gin­ning.”

Aptly enough given their re­spec­tive pedi­grees, Brücken and Froese met elec­tron­i­cally be­fore they came to­gether in the flesh. In 2014, he was look­ing for some­one to sing on some new songs he was writ­ing. A mu­tual friend sug­gested Brücken, whom Froese knew of via her work with Pro­pa­ganda, as well as her lat­ter-day solo ca­reer.

“I dis­cov­ered [Pro­pa­ganda’s land­mark 1985 de­but al­bum] A Se­cret Wish when I was a teenager,” he says. “It’s not a ques­tion of whether you know it or not – if Trevor Horn is in­volved and you’re a mu­si­cian, you have to know it.”

The two of them spoke via Skype – “For two and a half hours,” says Froese – and they found out they had more in com­mon than just a shared na­tion­al­ity and an in­volve­ment in mu­sic that pushes at the bound­aries.

“We told each other our hor­ror sto­ries about busi­ness, about what hap­pened,” says Brücken. “And we were both like, ‘You’re not telling me any­thing new.’”

On pa­per, the pair are a slightly odd match. Froese is the baby-faced son of Ger­man prog roy­alty, Brücken is the el­e­gant art stu­dent turned synth-pop star. But the par­al­lels be­tween them aren’t hard to draw, not least the fact that they both started out in mu­sic when they were in their teens.

Beginn is aptly ti­tled: the al­bum sees Tan­ger­ine Dream’s Jerome Froese and Pro­pa­ganda’s Clau­dia Brücken mak­ing a fresh start, free to do the un­ex­pected. The pair tell Prog about their pro­gres­sive ideals, their former bands, and how they came to team up for their avant-pop project. “I dis­cov­ered Pro­pa­ganda’s

A Se­cret Wish when I was a teenager. It’s not a ques­tion of whether you know it or not – if trevor horn is in­volved and you’re a mu­si­cian, you have to know it.”

Jerome Froese

Clau­dia Brücken

Brücken grew up in Düs­sel­dorf, the in­dus­trial city lo­cated on the Rhine in the north-west of Ger­many. Kraftwerk and Neu! had emerged from the city’s ex­per­i­men­tal un­der­ground a few years ear­lier, and Brücken threw her­self into the lo­cal mu­sic and art scene.

“We didn’t have com­put­ers or iPhones, and for us, mak­ing mu­sic was our way to communicate,” she says. “It’s what we would do on a Satur­day. We’d go in a re­hearsal room and make mu­sic, make sounds, cre­ate. That was our way of en­ter­tain­ing our­selves.”

Brücken was in her last year of school when she was in­vited to join Pro­pa­ganda. The band were al­ready ne­go­ti­at­ing a deal with the newly launched ZTT when she came on board. Their first two sin­gles – the icy, in­dus­trial-tinged Dr Mabuse and the classy synth-pop of Duel – were both hits at home and in the UK.

“We were quite arty and ex­per­i­men­tal, but we had been given this chance to work with Trevor, so we were be­ing treated like, I don’t know… Seal!” she says with a laugh. “I re­mem­ber at the time, all the artists and mu­si­cians in Düs­sel­dorf couldn’t be­lieve it – ev­ery­one wanted to work with Trevor Horn. A lot of peo­ple were like, ‘Why them and not us?’”

De­spite Horn’s as­so­ci­a­tion with Yes, ZTT was geared to­wards cut­ting-edge pop rather than prog rock. But it was in­fused with the same for­ward-look­ing spirit, as well as an elec­tri­fy­ing sense of com­mu­nity: the stu­dio was a mag­net for pass­ing mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing Pro­pa­ganda’s early la­bel­mates Frankie Goes To Hol­ly­wood and Art Of Noise.

“There was def­i­nitely a pro­gres­sive spirit to it,” Brücken says. “It was just this ex­plo­sion of cre­ativ­ity. You’d run into the dif­fer­ent stu­dios and they would be full of mu­si­cians us­ing the lat­est gear that Trevor had bought. Paul Mor­ley [jour­nal­ist and ZTT pro­pa­ganda min­is­ter, and Brücken’s ex-hus­band] was from Manch­ester and he knew the peo­ple who had set up Fac­tory Records. They shared an ide­ol­ogy.”

This air of con­trolled chaos was what drew Steve Howe into Pro­pa­ganda’s or­bit. He played a solo on The Mur­der Of Love, a track on the Ger­man band’s de­but al­bum, A Se­cret Wish.

“It was ex­actly that – con­trolled chaos,” says Brücken. “[Pro­ducer] Stephen Lip­son had no idea what to do in that sec­tion of the song. He said, ‘It needs some jazzy solo.’ He walked out of the stu­dio and there was Steve Howe. He was work­ing with Trevor on some­thing. Stephen said, ‘Do you fancy pop­ping in and do­ing a bit of noodling?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ You couldn’t have planned it.”

When Pro­pa­ganda be­came em­broiled in con­trac­tual and le­gal is­sues with ZTT in 1986, Brücken left the band.

Her sub­se­quent ca­reer saw var­i­ous col­lab­o­ra­tions and solo projects, though her most re­cent al­bum, 2014’s Where Else… found her blend­ing elec­tron­ics with washes of evoca­tive gui­tar. The cover even fea­tured her with an in­stru­ment slung over her shoul­der like a clas­sic rock trou­ba­dour.

“It was su­per dif­fer­ent for me and I re­ally liked mak­ing it, but I was very happy when Jerome con­tacted me,” she says. “I wanted to make elec­tronic mu­sic again.”

The ironic thing is that Jerome Froese isn’t an elec­tronic mu­si­cian. Or at least, he isn’t just an elec­tronic mu­si­cian. He writes mostly on the gui­tar, then pro­ceeds to feed it through all man­ner off ef­fects pedals and com­puter soft­ware. He calls the re­sults ‘Guitartron­ica’.

“Most gui­tar play­ers only play in a rock’n’roll way,” he says. “My in­ten­tion was to let the gui­tar sound like a key­board, like a se­quencer. There are so many sounds and so many pos­si­bil­i­ties to ex­plore. I did many gui­tars on this al­bum as well, but mainly they don’t sound like a gui­tar.”

Froese lit­er­ally grew up in a cre­atively fer­tile en­vi­ron­ment. He was born in 1970, the same year his father’s band re­leased their de­but al­bum, Elec­tronic Med­i­ta­tion. At two, he ap­peared on the cover of Tan­ger­ine Dream’s Atem al­bum. He was al­ways des­tined to join the fam­ily busi­ness, though he re­sisted un­til he was 19.

He had been writ­ing and play­ing mu­sic on the key­boards and com­put­ers his father would cast off ev­ery time he got new equip­ment. Then, in 1990, Tan­ger­ine Dream were booked to

“Stephen Lip­son had no idea what to do in that sec­tion of the song. he walked out of the stu­dio and there was Steve howe. Steven said, ‘Do you fancy pop­ping in and do­ing a bit of noodling?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ You couldn’t have planned it.”

play a gig in the former East Ber­lin to mark the fall of the Ber­lin Wall the pre­vi­ous year.

“I said to Edgar, ‘Hey, the high­light of ev­ery con­cert is your gui­tar solo – how about I join you for that? I walk on­stage, play the gui­tar solo, walk off, end.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’ Then he came back and said, ‘There’s a slight change – you play the gui­tar solo, but you’re on­stage the whole time.’ And then I was in the band.”

Jerome re­mained a mem­ber of the group for the next 16 years. He says it was “a spe­cial af­fair” work­ing with his father. But around the turn of the mil­len­nium, his mother died and things be­gan to change.

“My father got into an­other re­la­tion­ship and mar­ried again,” he says. “My mother al­ways kept Edgar grounded – she was the lev­eller. My step­mother was a whole other way: ‘Hey, you are so good.’ My father’s char­ac­ter changed. It was dif­fi­cult to work with him be­cause my step­mother was also try­ing to move the band in sev­eral di­rec­tions. I thought, ‘That’s not my thing.’ So I told Edgar, ‘I think we have to part ways.’ But it was not a de­ci­sion he wanted. He al­ways wanted to keep the fam­ily busi­ness in­tact.”

Froese be­gan jug­gling new projects – his solo work; a record la­bel, Moon­pop; the elec­tronic band Loom, formed with fel­low ex-TD refugee Jo­hannes Sch­moelling; and now the al­bum he’s made with Clau­dia Brücken. This lat­est col­lab­o­ra­tion started out with a song they worked on to­gether for Loom.

“We did that one song to­gether, which hasn’t ac­tu­ally been re­leased yet,” says Brücken. “And Jerome had this idea: ‘Let’s do more to­gether.’”

The new union was tem­po­rar­ily put on hold in early 2015 when Edgar Froese died. But the two re­con­vened later that year, with Brücken fly­ing to Ber­lin so the two could be­gin work in earnest. Given their re­spec­tive

CVs, it wouldn’t have been a sur­prise if Beginn sounded like Pro­pa­ganda meet­ing Tan­ger­ine Dream in an Ap­ple shop. But that was some­thing both were keen to avoid.

“I’m aware that peo­ple will go,

‘Well, why doesn’t it sound like Pro­pa­ganda? Why doesn’t it sound like Tan­ger­ine Dream?’” says Brücken, try­ing and fail­ing not to roll her eyes. “But we wanted to make mu­sic that didn’t sound like what we’d done be­fore.”

Re­fus­ing to ex­plic­itly trade on their past bands’ achieve­ments is a brave move. Brücken ac­knowl­edges that her days of pop star­dom are a thing of the past – “Ev­ery­thing apart from Top 40 mu­sic is niche now” – but what she’s lost in fame, she’s gained in other things.

“In­stead of start­ing small and grow­ing big­ger, I’ve had the op­po­site path,” she says. “For the first Pro­pa­ganda al­bum, we had an ab­surd bud­get. But work­ing with Jerome is dif­fer­ent – it’s lib­er­at­ing. In the past, I’ve al­ways been aware that peo­ple will go, ‘Well, why doesn’t it sound like Pro­pa­ganda?’ But with this one, it was, ‘Let’s just make some mu­sic and be free about it.’”

The pair say they in­tend to work to­gether again on a fol­low-up al­bum: “It will be called End,” Froese laughs.

There are no plans for gigs, though that’s more a case of wait­ing for the right of­fer than a lack of de­sire to recre­ate the new songs live.

“We didn’t have to sat­isfy any­one with this al­bum,” says Froese. “We did it for our­selves. Not ev­ery­one is in that po­si­tion, de­spite what they say. And it’s a great po­si­tion to be in.”

Beginn is out now on Es­o­teric. For more in­for­ma­tion, see www.jerome­froese.com and www.clau­dia­brucken.co.uk.

PRO­PA­GANDA, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLAU­DIA BRÜCKEN, SUZANNE FREYTAG, RALF DORPER, MICHAEL MERTENS.

DREAM TEAM: JEROME FROESE AND CLAU­DIA BRÜCKEN, JUNE 2018.

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