Nostalgia: Rockpommel’s Land by Grobschnitt
“Sometimes it seemed that nobody wanted to listen to such complicated stuff”
(July 2010, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)
When the German Kraut rock band Grobschnitt in 1989 decided to call it a day, nobody actually believed that a reunion would be possible. However, after a meeting of several musicians in 2005, the idea was born to do something together again. In May 2007, Grobschnitt entered the stage after 18 years of absence. The band also performed the entire classic album Rockpommel’s Land. Because of the 40th anniversary of this album the band released Grobschnitt Live 2010 (see review) containing the entire album as it is performed today! For me, this is the best album they ever made with many influences of bands as Yes and Genesis. Moreover, this release was a suitable reason to republish the interview with former drummer Eroc about Rockpommel’s Land for our Nostalgia Special.
When did you have a first idea about the concept for the Rockpommel’s Land (RPL) album and how long did it take to compose and rehearse the material?Eroc: “The concept for Rockpommel’s Land took shape after we had recorded the Jumbo-album in 1975 and our new bass player ‘Popo’ Hunter joined the group. The stuff was worked out and rehearsed during 1976 and we also played it several times on stage in late 1976 before we went to record the album at Conny Plank’s Studio.”
Can you tell us something about the concept of RPL? Does it have a deeper meaning or a hidden message?“The story was ‘invented’ by keyboardist Mist. It’s about a little boy starting off on a paper plane into a world of fantastic adventures. The deeper sense only is the wish of everyone to break out of his daily life and making his dream come true. There are no other hidden messages.”
Under what circumstances did you record the album in 1976 and 1977? Was it a difficult job to do?“Yes, it was. The rehearsals and the recording sessions were quite difficult. Each single note, each single beat on each drum and each cymbal was written down in our heads and had to be exactly reproduced. Therefore we rehearsed the music for hours and hours, for days and weeks and months. We were absolutely on top of our skills when we entered the studio.
In the studio everything was played live from start to end several times, with the spotlight on the drums. When we got the best drum version of a song, we kept it and then overdubbed the other instruments. The last things we recorded were the vocal parts.”
Conny Plank produced the album together with you. Did you learn all skills from him to become a producer?“Not quite, although I learned a lot during the sessions for RPL I had already entered the studio with a bunch of skills. As you probably know, Conny and I had already worked together on Grobschnitt in 1971 at the Windrose Studios in Hamburg and on Jumbo in 1975 and 1976 at Conny’s Studio in Neunkirchen. I was also chief engineer in the legendary Menga-Studios in Gelsenkirchen from 1971 until 1975. I even recorded some songs with Lou van Burg there, if we want to speak about Dutch people. So I had quite a lot on my back when we went into the RPL-sessions.”
Did you record or write songs for the album that were never used?“No, we did not! Everything was used.”
On the cover of the album we see a flying marabou with Ernie on top of. Is this covers inspired by Roger Dean who became famous with his designs for Yes?“I don’t know, but it could well be. The Metronome record company gave the job of the cover paintings to a guy called Heinz Dofflein. We never met him and he was not familiar with our music. He just got the topic of the story and probably phoned with keyboardist Mist a few times. The finished front cover painting was sent by the Metronome to Conny’s Studio where we recorded the album. There we saw the cover for the first time and we liked it at once.”
In the booklet I read that you arranged ‘some electronic effects’ and ‘odd device brainwaves’. Would you please explain that?“I was mainly responsible for recording certain things like acoustic guitars. Conny said I had better ears for that and for special designed effects on the guitars and vocals. We used to pre-mix the vocals together with the concerning effects like echo-loops, short delays, plate-revery and inverse effects in order to save some tracks, because we only had 24 of them on the master machine. I already had released my first solo album and since I owned a small electronic studio at that time, I was quite into these things. The ’brainwaves’ for instance are my announcements and some strange ideas about sounds and the ‘whistling Ernie’ in the middle of Anywhere. The others never had cruel ideas like this.”
Did you use a real mellotron with all his problems?“Yes, we did, and indeed the problems were really horrible. It was not only a heavy load to carry for the roadies and for ourselves, but it never was correctly in tune at least not on stage. Later on we got a bigger P.A. and the bass-resonances of the sub-woofers sometimes caused it to sound like a tremolo in some parts. The tape-loops inside were very sensitive as well and got always dirty from the oil-fog and fireworks we used on stage and then it sounded muffy. So we had to clean the heads before each concert. We all hated that thing, but Mist never wanted to get rid of it and so it stayed with us until he left the band in 1983.”
Did you ever play the entire album live as a whole piece of music?“We always did between 1976 and 1981. Later on we played a shortened medley of it.”
Was it difficult to play this high level of progressive rock music on a live stage at that time?“Absolutely. Remember: we came from the late sixties with their great mood of a new departure. We were used to improvisations and all kinds of happenings on stage. Solar Music is the best example for that. In our hearts we wanted to be free and wild and full of unexpected surprises. To play such exactly arranged music with each single note to be reproduced in the same way felt like a ball and chain, at least for me and the bass player. However, we got used to it over the years and in the end every note just flew off our heads and fingers like the parts of Solar Music. You can say it was something like a very intensive rehearsal on stage for years. Finally, we had perfected it so well that you could have waked us in the middle of the night, but we would always have played RPL with the same great quality.”
I believe that you used a sort of dummy marabou when you performed RPL. Is a marabou a real bird and did you use other props to bring the story alive on stage?“Yes, one of our roadies had a costume and a bird’s head on when he acted as Marabou. Look at the pictures in the booklet of GS-6. You can see him there carrying Toni Moff Mollo as Ernie upon his shoulders. Also the Stoney Heads appeared for some time: two roadies with big ugly heads dressed up with a fishing-net covered with artificial rocks. Marabou himself is indeed a real bird in the story. He’s able to speak, he carries a bag with vegetables and sometimes smokes a pipe. It’s up to you how real he was and is...”
Is to your opinion RPL the best album Grobschnitt ever made?“No although it’s one of the most popular albums. Other records like Solar Music Live, Illegal, Jumbo and Razzia are famous as well and have their very own special qualities. I like Razzia and Merry-Go-Round a lot, albums that are somehow underrated.”
How did the fans and the press react after the release of the album in 1977?“They didn’t react. During several gigs we got very weak applause after finishing RPL. The fans wanted to hear the songs from Jumbo and Ballermann and of course waited for Solar Music. Sometimes it seemed that nobody wanted to listen to such complicated stuff. Many old fans were really upset and blamed us for creating such ‘complicated crap’ close to Yes or Genesis. Back then, those groups were ‘head bands’ for many people and we were a typical ‘ass band’. It was a real problem. I can’t remember any reactions from the press. After two years on stage we even discussed to throw RPL out off the show. But later on, at the end of the seventies, more and more people got hooked on RPL. It took such a damn long time and hundreds of concerts. And it still takes such a long time for Grobschnitt to get famous worldwide. I think there are thousands of people out there who would really enjoy RPL or Solar Music if they were only able to listen to it just once. Therefore I released the International Grobschnitt Story recently.”
Why didn’t you release a German version of the album?“Well, because it’s not usual to release an album in different languages. With Jumbo we did it as a kind of experiment and to focus somehow on the German lyrics in the upcoming Krautrock scene. For RPL we thought it to be a more international album and last but not least: it’s much easier to write and sing in English.”
How do you look back at the time when the album was released? Can you tell an anecdote from that period?“As I stated above in many cases the audience didn’t react the way we expected. They were used to listen to songs from Solar Music or Jumbo. From time to time it happened that the audience didn’t applause after finishing RPL. I remember a gig that I couldn’t stand that attitude any longer. I got up from my drummer’s seat, walked slowly to the edge of the stage, grabbed a mike and I said very smoothly to the public: “Okay, it’s over… Now you may applaude...”
Can we expect a live version or a remastered version of RPL with bonus tracks?“I’m working on several things. There will be a new issue of my Grobschnitt-story, but not a special thing concerning RPL. Maybe there will be a live-version of the album, but I don’t know yet.”
Do you still listen to the album nowadays? What do you feel when you hear the music?“I had to listen to it a thousand times during the process of the digital remix. For this, please refer to the translated booklet, too. I was overwhelmed when I got closer into the details of the single tracks. You maybe too, when you listen to the results on Grobschnitt-story 6.”
Can you explain why Grobschnitt never reached the same level of fame and popularity as the English progressive rock bands like Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis?“Well, I think I can. Most writers for magazines hated us back then. Grobschnitt wasn’t polished and conventional enough to fit into any of their drawers. We were wild and unpredictable; we were never like the characters in the story of RPL. We could act like this, if we wanted to, and sometimes we did. In fact, we were the first punk-band with a real circus: an all-time-happening. This was too much for most of the coney heads out there.”
A question of conscience: do you think you wrote the same high level of prog music as Yes or Genesis? Which band inspired you most back in the seventies?“I never cared about Yes, Genesis or Gentle Giant. I even hated those bands at the time. I was very much more into the psychedelic bands from the late sixties and into Frank Zappa. I called this genre ‘college rock’; Conny Plank always called us ‘Kurorchester’ which means an orchestra from a health-resort. Most of the band members played RPL as a necessary duty on stage, because we wanted to present something complicated for the audience between all our other cruel stuff which we actually preferred a lot more. The driving force behind RPL was keyboardist Mist. He was very much into Yes and Genesis at the time, but today with the wisdom of age I changed somewhat myself. Remastering some of the albums of Gentle Giant for Repertoire Records recently was a great pleasure and I recognized how great this band was. I also got deeper into prog music by producing acts like Everon in my studio or by mastering albums for Wolverine or Ancient Rites.
For me, Grobschnitt are the best Krautrock band from Germany ever. Do you agree?“Well, we were for sure the most unique band around. In some cases we were similar to Mani Neumaier’s Guru Guru, which I also remastered recently for InsideOut, but Guru Guru were in general much better on their instruments, especially the musicians from Kraan. I think most Kraut bands should be named for their very special quality and individuality and can hardly be compared to each other. So you can’t say this band was the best and that one the worst.”
The line-up that recorded RPL in 1977 could be seen as the classic Grobschnitt line-up. Can we expect a come-back in the future?“As far as Mist, Wildschwein and I are concerned a reunion seems possible somehow. We join best contacts and also Toni Moff Mollo is around. For Lupo…, well…, read above. And for Popo, who later on played bass for Extrabreit, the story is really sad. I also have good contact with him too, but since a while he’s suffering from cancer and it doesn’t look very well...”
Eroc, thanks for answering my questions and for having a view back in the history of Grobschnitt!“Thank you, you’re welcome.”
Note from the editor:
After this interview was published in Background Magazine in 2006, two musicians who performed on the legendary Rockpommel’s Land-album unfortunately passed away. Bass player Popo, also known as Hunter, (real name Wolfgang Jäger) died May 3, 2007 and keyboard player Mist (real name Volker Kahrs) on July 2, 2008.
More info about Grobschnitt on the Internet:
review 'Grobschnitt 2010 Live'
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