RPWL: Being Wanted

RPWL 2014

German art rock act RPWL have produced some of the finest progressive music over the years. Their brand new record named Wanted sees the band galloping towards yet undiscovered territories. After the Nietzsche-themed Beyond Man and Time, RPWL takes a large bite by exploring even more huge theme – the ultimate liberation of the spirit.

We talked with the band about this and many other things. It’s desirable to have the album played while reading the words. So make sure to check it on iTunes.

Have you managed to make any new discoveries in terms of songwriting on the new album?

“Wanted” is like a follow-up on our last album “Beyond Man and Time”. A lot of people had the feeling that this previous one was too theoretical without any practical use in our life. But they can’t be more wrong! It’s a story full of allegories about our role as individuals thrown into this world. Anyway, both albums have a clear story as a basic structure, so the writing process was quite the same: After we talked about the story, we listened to music ideas that we already had and may fit to the story. Then in a second step we worked on new ideas. We wrote new tunes and the whole thing began to grow. This is a very exciting moment, because if the writing process won’t grow in this time, there simply wouldn’t be a new album.

What evolution do you feel Wanted represents comparing with your previous albums?

“Beyond Man and Time” was full of pictures and allegories. It was right after the tour when I thought about bringing the main idea of “Beyond Man and Time” into our here and now!

I knew that this was a challenge! And during the writing process it came clear that the music had to be in our real world, too! It had to sound more direct, rough, with a certain simplicity. It was important to get music and lyrics together to get a common emotional language. I think with every album we make, we’re getting closer to create such a unique language.

How did the creative process of the album go? Tell me about your songwriting methods.

There is always a basic story or basic idea before we start the songwriting process of an album. So when the story is clear, we start to bring music to the lyrical content. It’s always good to have a couple of basic ideas to get the whole thing started. Like every musician our life is a constant process of writing: little tunes or melodies or just ideas while you’re living your life. Then, after getting more into the whole album, we start to write songs especially for the album. That is the moment when the idea should start to push the work, or in other words, if the idea doesn’t touch you, there will be no development.

RPWL

Give me a snapshot of the topics you explore on the album.

The main idea of “Beyond Man and Time” that we call the “Freedom of the Spirit” is again part of “Wanted”. You can describe the basic of the story with the allegory of Plato’s cave: we’re sitting in a cave, chained to one direction and facing a blank wall. Our reality existing outside the cave will only be seen as shadows on this wall. We have to unchain our mind, turn around and step out of the cave into the light of reality! You can only believe what the shadows could be, but true knowledge will be outside the cave. So in fact, belief and knowledge can be seen as real opposites. I know this may be a bit provoking, but if you think about how many people would describe themselves as Catholics without knowing who wrote their bible and how the writers manipulated the content all through the years. I mean, they could have the knowledge if they wanted to, but who cares when your source of knowledge is belief. Or take other subjects like politics: people that vote without knowing any manifesto of the parties. I mean, they could read it, but who cares when the pictures are nice or the promises are sweet. I think most of these behavior patterns are still from former times when a king ruled the land and the only expectation was that you should do what you’re told to do. But this is not the way of life to overcome today’s problems in a globalized world! Our ability to learn is the main evolutionary revolution that “man” is. So the assumption of the “Freedom of the Sprit” in “Beyond Man and Time” is our antithesis to old religious models, a way to overcome the actual “Deadlock of the Spirit”. To make this story more understandable we made an audio book, talking about the travel through the world “Beyond Man and Time”.

But there is another interesting narrative level because we wanted to put these thoughts into a story in our here and now! So in “Wanted” we find the substance for this ultimate liberation of the spirit!  Imagine, the way out of Plato’s cave within our reach! What a fantastic vision! The ruling elite acts as they always do when there is something that doesn’t fit to the system: they try to criminalize us in order to get rid of us. So we take our last option: becoming illegal and going underground! Now your duty to act in your ethical understanding in combination with running out of legal options is on the table! It is the decision between leaving the path of being human or leaving the path of our social concept of power relations. In our story we are convinced of the need to overcome restorations of old concepts, repainted versions of old failed models in order to get closer to a new idea of what human being could be in the future. Is that already terror? Or is it just against the interests of a ruling elite that tries to control the people? You see, it’s a really interesting question.

Did your writing approach for Wanted change comparing with 2012′s Beyond Man and Time? 

We really wanted to bring the ideas of “Beyond Man and Time” into our here and now! Though the stories are so different, the main approach was quite the same: bringing words and music together as close as possible. The provoking content should make people think about it, even more than in the previous one. In “Wanted” there is nearly no chance to listen to the songs without saying: I agree or I disagree.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when making Wanted? Tell me about the technical side of the album.

We love playing live on stage but we also love to work in the studio. We normally take our time to play around with ideas and sounds like we did on all the other albums before. This time, we wanted to focus on the feeling of being chased or being wanted in a life that is getting more and more illegal. So we wanted to have clear ideas and more simplicity in the songs. The whole album sounds more rough and direct. Maybe it sounds more like a band playing, a bit of a return to the early years of the band. So you had to work on especially this one guitar, this one chord or this one word. Sounds funny, but to keep music and production simple is a really tough work. To bring in the thought of a special surround edition, we recorded everything with reflections or quadraphonic. This is one of the main reasons the album sounds the way it does.

RPWL - WantedYou grab inspiration from many distinctive aspects of music. How do you go about channeling this inspiration into writing?

We always try to concentrate on the story and forget about anything else. We never think about other styles or bands or anything like that. In my opinion the strongest influence is the music you grew up with. I think this is a special connection every musician has. We never payed too much attention what others do. When you’re in the studio you should just do what you feel, straight from the heart without using your brain as a filter.

Provide some insight into the band’s chemistry that leads to what is to be a final product – an album.

It is a lot of hard work to do an album, I think a challenge for every band and every member of a band. You can even write hours of music without the feeling of having a finished work. But at some point there is this one moment when you think: OK, we’re done. One of those key moments was when I went to the studio to meet Kalle. I wanted to talk about a song that should represent the bloody and cruel side of religion. A song about the crusades that I wanted to call “Swords and Guns” So while I was talking myself into rage about the horrible mass killings commanded by the church, like I always do, Kalle was playing a demo he did the day before. We both saw the crusaders walking through the desert in a religious delusion like they were right in the studio. You need those moments when everything fits together like a glove. By the way, I don’t think this is a sign of being heavenly encouraged, but rather the fruits of a long time working together.

What kind of gear you used for recording Wanted?

Though I’m really a fan of analog recording, “Wanted” is a typical digital recording. You record digital using analog outboard equipment to get a typical analog sound. This way of recording makes it easy to exchange data between different recording sessions and studios. You always have to choose a way that makes it easy to focus on the music! The creative development shouldn’t be controlled by technique. During the recording sessions we only used our own gear in order to get the typical RPWL sound. Marc, our drummer, plays a DW drum and Werner, our bass player, plays a music man 4 or 5 string, depends on the song. Nearly every guitar was recorded with boogie amps. I love this sound and somehow it’s part of Kalle’s typical sound. I normaly use computer plug ins to make the demo keyboard sounds. During the production I replace most of them with outboard equipment, especially my Moog synthesizers, with a couple of Roland and Korg synths. Depends on how I feel, this time my Moog memorymoog was in the focus. One of the best synths in my opinion. The organ is a sampled and played through a Leslie 760 that sounds quite OK if you turn the volume to 11. It’s also used for guitars from time to time. Through the years we designed our studio to satisfy our demands. If you listen to the record you will hear pretty much of the recording room. We did this to let it sound more rough and like a band.

With a band like RPWL, are there any limitations to how far your sound can stray from the sound you are known for?

I think every band has the same kind of limitation. When we play something, whatever it is, it will always sound like RPWL.

How do you know when a piece is complete?

Technically it’s very easy: when you reach the deadline. But anyway, you have to feel it! There is no rational reason for an album being finished. It’s just that you think the music and the lyrics, or simply what you have to say, will be understood. I think that is the most important thing.

What non-musical entities and ideas have an impact on your music?

When you’re doing music it is always like a chapter in your diary. Since we’re doing albums, I can tell you how I felt in a particular period of time. A funny thing, isn’t it? Music has always kind of a global zeitgeist, or in other words: without a world getting more and more complicated with all its problems we would never had the idea of a concept like the “Freedom of the Spirit”!

Though it’s early to talk about the future, how do you see your music evolving?

First we have the upcoming European tour with a show that will be full of surprises! We also hope to continue the show in autumn before we focus again on new ideas. At the moment we feel very comfortable with the way it goes, but of course, the future is wide open. We have a lot of good bands on our label “Gentle Art of Music”. But I think it could also be a good year for some solo works in the band.

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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