Interview Ryszard Kramarski (Millenium)
"In October this year we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Vocanda-album"
(May 2010, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures provided by Ryszard Kramarski)
Recently the Polish progressive rock band Millenium released with Back After Years, Live In Krakow 2009 a great live album and a DVD. After their milestone Exist (see review), it was a great comeback in the world of progressive rock. Therefore, this is the right moment to introduce the band to a larger audience outside Poland. BM did an interview with keyboard player and founder member Ryszard Kramarski to find out a bit more about Millenium and his record label Lynx Music.
Let me first congratulate you with the release of Back After Years. You succeeded in making a great document.Ryshard Kramarski: “Well, thank you. And also thanks in advance from the band and all the people who worked on this DVD.”
I read that Millenium only performed live in the nineties and then became a studio project. Due to the success of Exist you decided to perform as a live band again. Can you tell me why you stopped performing and is it difficult to get back on stage after such a long period?“In the nineties, Polish radio stations broadcasted mainly commercial music. Just a few people listened to progressive rock. I focused my energy on recording new albums and selling them worldwide in the US, Japan and Europe. The decision to come back was difficult, but the success of Exist and the suggestions of many fans quickened this process.”
Were all band members available to go on tour after such a long period? Was it difficult to choose material from your large back catalogue?“No, fortunately there were no problems at all. I asked all band members if they were willing to rehearse for concerts and they were all very eager to do so. It gave me a lot of positive energy for all the hard work. Choosing a set list of our songs wasn’t a problem either. I just chose the best songs we’ve recorded.”
Being a bandleader means that you make all the decisions I suppose. What about the voice of the other members?“Well, they have always been a big influence to me, because they are all very talented musicians. I’m only pointing out the direction I want to go and they just do the rest. Sometimes they have more artistic freedom like on Reincarnations, Déjà Vu and Interdead, sometimes less as on Vocanda, Numbers and Exist. I think this strategy works.”
Are you satisfied with Back After Years? Did you think about the idea to release the double CD and DVD as one package?“This is our first DVD and probably not the last. The recordings are based on the budget I had then. I already know what we have to do differently on the next DVD. So far, Millenium hasn’t released a live album, thus I decided to publish it separately. I think about editing it all in a box-de-luxe one day.”
How long did it take to realize this live document and what did you experience to be the most difficult thing before the album entered the shops?“From the concert to the DVD took about two months. I had most problems with the mixes, all other things went smoothly.”
How many rehearsals and concerts did you have before you actually recorded the Krakow show? Did things go wrong during this performance?“Once a week we rehearsed in the studio for about half a year. As a warming-up we also performed a big concert in Krakow with a live audience a month before the recordings. While recording the DVD everything went smoothly. There were no changes or breaks during the concert nor went anything wrong.”
The only negative remark I can make about the DVD is that the band performs rather static. Maybe you should have added more theatrical elements like the one with the straitjacket in Madmen.
Do you agree?“Yes, despite the full audience from Poland and even abroad, the people didn’t really know how to react. Indeed, we ourselves are not really spontaneous, but a month later we played in Poznan and there the audience was great! It’s a pity they weren’t in Krakow. The band was also kind of ‘stiff’, maybe because of all the cameras. We’re now working on a better presentation.”
The bonus videos 7 Years and Millenium, About Myself give a fine inside look of rehearsals and studio activities. Was it difficult just being yourself while a camera recorded everything you did?“It was a problem for a short while, but after the second song I forgot about it.”
Let’s get in the time machine and have a look at the back catalogue of Millenium. You actually started as Framauro and recorded a demo in your bedroom in 1996. How did you come up with that name? Was it difficult to use songs from that recording for the first album Vocanda in 2000?“Framauro was an amateur band created by three cousins. My friend, a great astronomy fan, came up with this name. It was easy to re-arrange the songs from the demo to Vocanda, mostly because I already worked with Lukasz Gall and Piotr Płonka, who significantly increased the level of music.”
I believe Lukasz Gall was the second choice to become the singer of the band. Where did you meet him and did you ever expect he would become such a talented singer working for Moonrise and recording a solo album?“Lukasz was a friend of drummer Tomasz Paśko. Despite the fact that our first album, recorded as Framauro in 1999, was weak I always believed in Lukasz being a very good singer, which he proved on the Vocanda -album. In the course of time he became even better. Thanks to his work with Millenium, his guest performance in Moonrise and his solo album Anonym (see review) he is well known by many people in the progressive rock scene. I think we can expect more good albums from Lukasz in the near future.”
On the first album some fine female backing vocals can be heard and some saxophone playing as well. Why didn’t you use those musical elements more often on the Millenium-albums to come? I think they suited the music very well.“I was still looking for a proper sound for Millenium. I was satisfied with it on the Numbers And The Big Dream Of Mr. Sunders. Female vocals and saxophone may appear again on the next albums.”
On Numbers… you started with the Three Brothers Trilogy. Can you explain the background of this story?“I came up with the idea no sooner than during the recordings for the Interdead-album and I realized it on Numbers. It reminded me of Framauro when we were just three cousins playing in a band. I changed cousins into brothers and created a trilogy.”
The album Vocanda starts with part 2 of Back To Myself and ends with part 1. Why?“This is some kind of a frame. It may be reality or fiction; you cannot exactly see the divide. Sometimes we see something in films and learn in real life what had happened.”
After Vocanda, Millenium released Reincarnations in 2002. On this album I hear for the first time influences of Pink Floyd. Even the song title of the great tune Light Your Cigar resembles the Floyd-title Have A Cigar. Do you agree?
“Yes, this album consisting of many nice melodies sounds like Pink Floyd. It was the first time Lukasz Gall wrote all the lyrics. He’s no a fan of Pink Floyd, so the titles are coincidental. By the way, I’m going to re-edit Reincarnations soon with many musical changes.”
That’s great news! I also heard some Mellotron-sounds on Reincarnations. Are they real or sampled?“They’re sampled. Therefore I used the Korg Triton classic. I’m still a fan of the Korg, but for my solos I use my favourite Yamaha AN1X. It’s an old one, but still good.”
Can you explain the album title and does the album have a general theme?“Yes, it’s about twelve different theories of reincarnation. Besides, this album suited the new, more melodic style of Millenium.”
During the same period (2002) you started the Lynx Music Studio.
Why?“I always dreamed about having my own studio since I was thirteen. That was always what I wanted to do for a living. So, this a dream fulfilled.”
You also own a record company named Lynx Music. How did this happen and can you make a living with it?“I created Lynx Music because of my sympathy for progressive rock music. First I started to release albums next I had the studio and then the internet shop. Yes, I make a living from it and I’m happy, because I do what I always wanted to do.”
Some members left and new people joined. What was the main reason they left. Musical differences?“No, both Piotr Płonka and Piotr Mazurkiewicz wanted to play concerts and joined the band Kulturka, the ex-band of bassist Pawel Maciwoda from The Scorpions. Przemek Drużkowski replaced Płonka on guitar and Mazurkiewicz was replaced by the great Krzysztof Wyrwa on the bass, but Piotr Płonka returned on the following album.”
You told me you were satisfied with the next album Déjà Vu for 99 percent. What’s was wrong with the one percent?“Déjà Vu was recorded with new musicians. It was the first album of Millenium recorded in the Lynx Music Studio. There are too many experiments on the album mainly caused by Tomasz Paśko who mixed the album. He is too much drum-oriented.”
According to the sound, you must be very much inspired by Peter Gabriel.“Whilst producing this album, I was indeed under a big influence of Peter Gabriel’s UP-album.”
Has the Indian sound on Greasy Mud something to do with the album title and has the album a concept?“No, Déjà Vu is not a concept album, but all songs were re-recorded songs from Framauro’s Etermedia and from the first Millenium-album from 1999. That’s the only explanation for the title.”
Did you use a real vocoder on the dance mix of Ecosong 2004?“Yes, it’s a Korg Trioton Studio vocoder.”
The next album Interdead returns to the roots of Millenium by creating another concept album. It’s about a man who becomes addicted to the internet. Why did you choose this subject?“I saw a film on BBC about teenagers being addicted to the Internet. It was shocking! Then I thought that this could be a great idea for an album, because it’s still present today.”
I consider Interdead as one of the best albums of Millenium. Very strong songs, but nevertheless it’s easy to sing along. Good examples are Light, Insomnia and Gambler. Is that the reason these songs also appeared on the live release?“I also like this album. Despite the melodies you can feel the strength of the music and the chosen subject. We like performing the songs from Interdead and apparently the audience likes listening to them too.”
To what extend was the return of guitarist Piotr Plonka responsible for this stronger sound in the tradition of the early Marillion albums?“Piotr’s guitar sound is almost similar to the sound of David Gilmour and that sound I always wanted for Millenium. I like the sound a bit harder edged, but without becoming prog-metal. That is a bridge too far for me.”
Numbers And The Big Dream Of Mr. Sunders
is the last album in the Three Brothers-trilogy. This time our hero has to deal with strange numbers and dreams. This sounds familiar to the TV-series Lost. A man named Hurley also has something with numbers and wins the lottery. Did you know that? I think you came first with this idea, right? How did you get the idea about this story yourself?“Yes, I’m a fan of Lost, but I came earlier with this idea (laughs). In the winter of 2005 I was lying in bed with the flu and I had a dream about winning a lot of money in a lottery. That was the beginning of the idea for Mr. Sunders, next I created the rest.”
Can you tell me more about the Estrada I Studio contest?“Estrada I Studio is the biggest magazine in Poland dealing with the technical aspects of music, stage equipment, instruments, etc. They asked me to give some tracks from the session for Numbers … in order to make a contest for the best mix of the song Alone In Fame made by the readers. I agreed and the best results were presented on 7 Years.”
The latest studio album Exist is generally considered to be the most progressive and mature album of Millenium. Did you intentionally write four long epic pieces for this album, because most progheads like that, or was it just a coincidence?“I always wanted to make an album with only a few tracks, like Yes. The tracks turned out to be long, but were easy to listen to and that was my aim. I’m pleased with the effect, but I don’t think I’ll do it again.”
deals about life in many ways. How did you come up with this serious theme?“I wanted this topic to be divided into four parts. Vivaldi created the four seasons of the year, so I wanted to create the four stages of life. I’m on the third stage myself, the rat race. I have already some experience in life, so I knew how it has to be done.”
Did you use a child on the album cover as a metaphor for life? Is the sandy beach a metaphor for what we just are: grains of sand in the universe?“Ha, ha, I like this interpretation, sure! However, it has a different meaning. When I was with my family in Egypt in August, it was damn hot and being in the water was the only thing you could do to cool down. That was the idea.”
On the inside of the album we see a hand coming out of the sand reaching out for some help. Don’t we all need a helping hand in this stressed world nowadays?“Exactly, I just meant to help somebody coming through life in happiness and dignity, if he really wants this.”
On the album your bassist Krzysztof Wyrwa plays on a Warr-guitar. Can you tell me more about this instrument?“The Warr-guitar is a devilish instrument! Only few people can play on it, in Poland only three musicians. Krzysztof plays it with a tapping technique, very complicated but it sounds great! Tony Levin used this guitar for the recordings of Peter Gabriel.”
You played some acoustic guitar and vocals on Ratrace. How did this happen?“While mixing I recorded simple chords, no need to trouble our guitarist for that. Well, you can hardly call it vocals! I just needed another voice for the fragment of a game show.”
What kind of musical style can we expect on the next studio album? Are you already working on it?“The new album will be in the style of Vocanda and Numbers. I already have the first songs ready and also a general idea, but I’m not in a hurry, because it will not be released until somewhere in 2011. Before that time something else will appear by Millenium.”
Is it possible that you make a solo album yourself one day? How did it come that Lukasz made a solo album that you not only produced, but you played on it and wrote songs for it as well?“No, no, I only produced it, otherwise it would have become another Millenium-album. That was not the aim here. After so many albums with the band, Lukasz deserved something labeled with his own name. Maybe I’ll make a solo album someday. Numbers… was intended to be my first solo album, but I have to wait a bit longer now!”
Why did you re-release some of the albums with extra bonus tracks and why did you include English lyrics as well?“Millenium became popular no sooner than 2006 after the Numbers… album. The first editions of former albums ran out and there were some elements on those albums that could have been done better. Digipack versions are selling-friendly and the bilingual lyrics help people to understand the story, which especially applies for concept albums.”
Is it possible that we can see Millenium perform on a live stage outside Poland?“Sure. There are already offers from The Netherlands, Germany, France and Hungary. The usual problem is money and transport costs.”
What are the future plans for the band and for yourself?“We have a lot of work to do in the studio for the new releases and for preparing Millenium-concerts in Poland and maybe abroad in autumn. In October this year we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Vocanda -album. We’re going to play all the material from this album during a special concert and I’m going to release a unique live album, a limited edition for fans. Moreover, we intend the re-release of Reincarnations and a new album in 2011!”
Thanks for answering my questions and good luck with the band and the label!”Thanks and greetings from Millenium!”
Review Millenium album "Exist"
Review Millenium album "Back After Years, Live In Krakow 2009"
Review Millenium DVD "Back After Years, Live In Krakow 2009"
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