Interview with Eloy’s Frank Bornemann
by Menno von Brucken Fock
Undoubtedly one of Germany’s most successful prog-acts in history is Eloy. The band managed to get a record deal with EMI (Harvest) in the early seventies, which made them label mates with acts such as Pink Floyd. After 15 years, multiple changes in line ups and many tours Eloy seemed to be finished in 1985 but made a triumphant return as a duo in 1988. Founding member Frank Bornemann, in fact the only remaining founding member till this day and Michael Gerlach released the album Ra. Fortunately for the fans bass player Klaus Peter Matziol joined again on the successor to Ra, Destination and the two Chronicles albums. Remasters from all the older albums and even some new ones saw the light of day but in 1998 the curtain fell. Rather unexpectedly Eloy came back to life, releasing the album Visionary at the end of 2009, while – at the time- on the official website Bornemann stated Eloy were working on a DVD as well. In his Horus Studio in Hannover, Frank Bornemann looks back at the beginnings of Eloy, explains how the album Visionary came to be, speaks about The Legacy DVD and the upcoming gigs in the Loreley and Herzberg.
Menno: Hello Frank, before we are going to talk about the latest developments, I’d like to go over Eloy’s history first. I believe you were born in 1945, probably during the last days of World War II. How was your youth during the restructuring and rebuilding of Germany?
Frank: I postponed my birth until the war had ended (smiling). I was raised by my mother, because my father, originating from France, was killed by a bomb that landed on our house in Hanover. Of course it was difficult; Germany was exhausted, all the people were poor and as German people we had a lot to make up to our fellow Europeans and we suffered from the intolerance by most if not all foreign countries. My mom did a fine job. I wasn’t exactly an eager student, so I found myself making music at a fairly young age. I did have an education to work as an employee at a bank and in fact I even got a job in some bank in the late sixties.
Menno: So, like most teenagers in those days you started to play the guitar?
Frank: I learned to play the guitar at an institution where a lot of jazz music was taught, but also music by the Shadows! I learned to play with four fingers, while most modern guitarists play with just three and this has proven to be an advantage. Soon I started playing in a band covering Shadows-songs and then of course Beatles-covers. I used to sing the McCartney songs and my band mate those originally sung by Lennon. With that band we soon made more money than the average bank employee did, so in 1969 I decided to quit my job and to devote my life to music, because I didn’t want to play covers for the rest of my life.
Menno: Were you supported by your mother to play an instrument and also when you chose to become a musician for your profession?
Frank: My mother provided me with a decent guitar and amplifier and I was fortunate to have had such a ‘sponsor’. When we were a cover band we made good money but when we started to play our own compositions things changed. Those were the years of poverty; my wife, who had a job at the city council, became the breadwinner and my mum used to fill our fridge every now and then (smiles). It seemed the people in Germany weren’t interested in a German band singing in English and making our kind of music. My wife and I agreed that she would support me for five years. Should I not have been successful after those five years, I would go back to earning a living with a steady job. At some point we found ourselves an agent who managed to link us to some of the well known bands from the UK, like Deep Purple, East Of Eden, Beggar’s Opera and the jazz-rock outfit IF, who were already working with lasers in their shows. We did festivals with Alexis Korner and among others also with Golden Earring, in those days the designated headliner. We built up a certain routine and were very pleased with the responses of the crowds, buying our records. Fortunately the success for Eloy came within the time frame of five years (laughter).
Menno: Your birth place is Hanover and you still reside in Hanover.. Do you have a special affection for this city?
Frank: Oh yes, I’m a genuine “Hannoveraner” and I’m really proud of ‘my’ city. The beautiful lake in the central part of the city, a giant centre, a magnificent statue and the Renaissance gardens: if you get out of the train station in Hanover it is a most spectacular site! For ages Hanover has been a cultural centre as well with many clubs, a healthy musical culture and several big stages. Not only Eloy comes from Hanover, also world class acts like The Scorpions or from a very different genre, Scooter.
Menno: With the first line up you got a record deal with Philips and the album ELOY was released in 1971. Subsequently Eloy got a record deal with EMI and what happened next?
Frank: The expectations between all the members of the band were very diverse. Erich Schriever, in my opinion a very good vocalist, had no intention of becoming a rock-singer and our drummer Helmut Draht, was involved in a very nasty accident that made it impossible for him to play the drums any longer. He had to be replaced by Fritz Randow. Based on our contract with EMI we had to come up with a successor to “Eloy”, an album that hadn’t done so well. So there we were without a singer! Then I said: well, I will give it a try. We had to meet a certain deadline so we had little time left. I was very nervous back then and when I was recording vocals, everyone had to leave the recording room (laughs). Inside was the result of our efforts as a quartet and the amazing thing was, while Erich was the better vocalist, we seemed to be more successful with me as a singing guitarist!
Menno: Why did you choose to sing in English and where did you pick up enough English to write all those lyrics?
Frank: The only international language in rock music at the time was English and we were trying to build a reputation for ourselves outside of Germany too. The knowledge of the English language I picked up from school wasn’t good enough to write all the lyrics myself. At first I got some help from Erich Schriever, then from Spencer Davis who used to play in this area a lot. He used to be a teacher in the German language, you know. Alexis Korner also helped out in those days. With Floating, I collaborated with EMI’s tour manager at the time, Richard W. Smith, with whom I wrote the lyrics for Power And The Passion.
After each album Eloy’s success in our homeland grew but tensions grew stronger within the band too because of the manager at the time, Jay Partridge. It came to an outburst in 1975 and suddenly I was all alone. I remember there were some shows without me, but that didn’t work so everything fell apart. I believe that’s when Fritz Randow joined Epitaph. Anyway one of the managers with EMI Germany stood by me and wanted to help me reform the band and made arrangements with the company that Eloy could still count on their contract. The first new member was Detlev Schmidtchen, a guitarist from Hanover but just like Manfred Wieczorke before him, he switched to keyboards. Through my contacts with the Scorpions – I was involved with the production of their 1974 album – I found Jürgen Rosenthal who seemed far more interested in progressive rock like Genesis for example than in hard rock. Since we’d met, he’d made a huge progression as a drummer and that was necessary because a great drummer like Randow was not that easy to replace! I’m eternally grateful to him for bringing bass player Klaus Peter Matziol to my attention, as a replacement for Luitjen Jansen. As you know Matze is still on board till this very day!
The ultimate satisfaction for both the EMI management as well as for me was that the new line up proved to be even more successful than the former one! For the next three albums, Dawn, Ocean and Silent Cries Mighty Echoes, all of the lyrics were written by Jürgen Rosenthal: from a literary point of view fantastic but extremely difficult for me to sing. Through my visits to the UK and with a little help from outside I found out that I was able to write lyrics by myself. When Jürgen and Detlev decided to leave (they were NOT fired by me!) we did the album Colours with Hannes Folberth on the keys and Jim McGillivray on drums, who also wrote the lyrics. But then I was on my own so there was no one else left to write lyrics but me…..
Menno: What’s the story about you producing the Scorpions and how did you learn to be a producer?
Frank: In those days there were no ‘producers’ around who knew how to deal with our genre of music, only people who knew how to produce “Schlagers”, so we had to do it ourselves. During the first 5 years of Eloy’s existence I learned how to be a producer and I have been the band’s producer since the mid seventies. With The Scorpions things went a similar way as with Eloy: the first album flopped; the new record company wanted to assign a “Schlager” producer to work with The Scorpions on their next album. I got a phone call from a desperate Rudolf Schenker, who went nuts having to work with this guy; they were planning to ‘escape’ to Hamburg but I managed to change their minds about that and I volunteered to help. Unfortunately the record company and me didn’t see eye to eye because I used ‘state of the art’ 6 and 8 track recorders instead of the older 2 track recorders. The record company was very pissed off because of the higher costs for the studio. Eventually it came to a lawsuit, which I won in the end but I couldn’t work with The Scorpions anymore. The recordings however have been used properly by their new producer and led to the first success of the band. My friendship with Rudolf stood the test of time and we are still in contact with each other.
Menno: What is there to say about the evolution of Eloy’s style?
Frank: On our first album we hadn’t planned to use any keyboards, but Erich Schriever plays the piano and in the studio there happened to be a piano and a Hammond organ, so that’s how two of the songs ended up with a bit of keyboards. When we started working on the Inside album, Manfred Wieczorke, who was a mediocre guitar player expressed his interest in playing the organ. He was a huge fan of Pink Floyd and wanted to add a touch of their music to ours and we were quite okay with that idea. So, it started with the Hammond and subsequently the addition of the Moogs and (ARP) synthesizer followed, at a later stage the polyphonic synths, the Oberheim and the String ensemble. The atmospheric sound became Eloy’s trademark from the mid seventies onwards.
Menno: For a long time the making of an Eloy album has been a joined effort by all members of the band. Especially after 1985 things changed and it was more or less up to you alone. Didn’t you miss the interaction with other members of the band?
Frank: It’s true that we started as a band and we all contributed to the music although the vast majority of the songs have always been mine. Because of that fact I subsequently became guitarist, singer and guitarist and then also the producer of the band. I grew more and more into the role of director eventually. Yet I have always tried to have all the musicians use their creativity and help arrange the songs. I have never forced anything on them or told them what notes to play! Mostly the songs were demo’s with me playing an acoustic guitar and singing; usually I suggested a certain meter as well. The most extreme example is Klaus Peter: since he joined the band I have never written a single bass line: he always writes/plays his own bass lines because he can do a much better job than I could ever possibly do!
Menno: What’s the story behind the transition from Harvest (EMI) to SPV at the end of the eighties?
Frank: I guess that’s a bit of an odd story. We found out EMI wanted to get rid of us but we never knew until we played a show in the Marquee (UK). Fish, who happened to be a fan (something we never knew) came to us after the show and suggested enthusiastically to plan a tour with both Marillion and Eloy on the bill. Obviously we liked the idea very much. It happened that on that night all big shots of both the press and the record company were present and although the gig had been successful, Fish was offended publicly: how he could he have gotten it in his head to propose a tour with Eloy? Was he out of his mind? The management of EMI discarded the idea by stating it was a ‘preposterous idea’. It appeared EMI had invested half a million pounds in Marillion to get a break through for them. Since money can be spent only once, we had to go, in spite of the success Eloy had brought EMI. What seemed to be a magnificent opportunity for the band in the UK, became our ultimate nightmare and that’s when the band started to fall apart, again…
Menno: By the way, I believe these shows Eloy did in the Marquee were videotaped by the BBC. Is that true and will you be able to get hold of these tapes?
Frank: I’m trying my best to get my hands on these recordings but firstly I don’t know if I can regain the rights to do with them as I please and secondly, I don’t know anything about the quality of those tapes, but I will keep on trying.
Menno: How did the resurrection of Eloy with RA on the SPV label come to be?
Frank: Michael Gerlach and I met in Berlin one day and we decided to write music together. At some point he said to me: Frank, I don’t know what your feelings are, but this sounds like Eloy to me, so why don’t we make it an Eloy album? SPV showed sincere interest and that’s how Ra was released on SPV. Strangely enough this album proved to be more successful than Metromania! This was something both Michael nor I had anticipated and because we both had loads of other obligations, it took us four years to come up with a successor: Destination. This album wasn’t very successful and looking back I think I made a lot of mistakes, for instance the four-part vocals: I shouldn’t have done that. Michael too wasn’t at his best on this album. If I get around to do the remastering of Destination everything will sound a lot different and also better!
Anyway, then we started working on the Chronicles albums which enabled me to get in touch with several former band-mates. Working together again, the right spirit came back and it became clear to me what the next step should: be a band album! That’s how The Tides Return Forever came to be. In 1994 I had already started a project I had been hoping to finish around 2010/2011: the rock-opera Jeanne D’Arc. In 1995 I wanted to give my full attention to this project but then BMG (Sony) offered me a very attractive deal to make another album: Ocean 2, a sequel to Ocean. This was to be a concept album and to tell you the truth, at the time I really wasn’t in the mood to create an album like that: personally I wanted an album with a positive philosophy, a more cheerful theme and lyrics. So I’d been struggling for four months, but I ultimately got the job done and in 17 years it would become the first album – though as an export album – to be released in the USA.
America has a solid prog-scene and in those days the internet became quite popular. People chose Ocean 2 to as the ‘album of the year’, beating Pink Floyd (grinning)! Fully astounded and thinking Tides was the better album, I concluded, “I cannot possibly surpass this success” so I quit’! Truth is I wanted to give my attention to the Jeanne D’Arc project (still or again!) but then the music industry got into rough weather and I had to give my full attention and energy to the studio. I had to put all my plans on the shelf and I worked very hard in those days to make sure that Horus Studio survive the depression.
Menno: You already mentioned his name once: what did you think of the Serene album with Jim McGillivray (1979)?
Frank: Serene was my first job as a producer in the newly built Horus Studio. Serene was more like a hobby band and their budget was very limited. Because it was a bit of a try out for us, the band could record their album in our studio very cheaply. The only professional in the band happened to be McGillivray, an Englishman who just left Epitaph. He was able to write strong, poetical lyrics and we welcomed him as the successor to Rosenthal.
Menno: Undoubtedly you are familiar with the EGO album Acid In Wounderland (1981) by Schmidtchen and Rosenthal. What did you think of it back then?
Frank: (tittering) Nothing really. Well, I think the album is okay but I honestly haven’t got a clue why these two decided to quit Eloy. I remember they had just built their own studio but they could have recorded this album without leaving Eloy in my opinion. Of course there were slight differences of opinion, but nothing spectacular and certainly from my point of view no reason to quit the band. Looking back it might have been better for all of us if they had decided to put their creativity in a new Eloy album!
Menno: A bit of an oddity in the Eloy discography is the album Codename Wildgeese (1985), the only album not that easy to come by, recorded by Arkona, Folberth and Matziol. Furthermore we have the album Rarities? What can you tell us about these albums?
Frank: Rarities was an initiative by EMI, we had nothing to do with that album. The rights for Codename Wildgeese are with the producer of the film. I wasn’t involved at all, because I was working on the Metromania album at the time. The guys were offered a choice between Codename Wildgeese, a European movie and Dune-Wüstenplanet with Sting. We were told the latter movie was to be a science fiction movie, shot in a Mexican desert. Looking back the lads made the wrong choice but none of us had any idea what a terrific movie Dune would be!
Menno: What did you think of the Shade album Faust (1990)?
Frank: (grinning) This was more or less a sort of revolt. I wasn’t too happy with the album Performance for which I contributed ‘only’ three songs. I wanted the music to go into another direction (Metromania) and they didn’t agree. They decided to record an album themselves with a good vocalist; McGillivray behind the drum kit and Rosenthal would write the lyrics. They thought all Eloy fans would be interested in this album but it didn’t turn out that way. They couldn’t get a record deal and while I was successful with Ra, that band didn’t have their own style. When we were working on the Chronicles albums, we set aside our differences, but Fritz couldn’t join us because he was drumming in a heavy metal band called Victory. We looked for another drummer and we found Bodo Schopf : he managed to combine the power of Randow with the subtlety of Rosenthal.
Menno: Which of all the line ups is your favourite?
Frank: That’s a difficult question to answer because we’re talking about different times and circumstances. In the line up from Inside to Power And The Passion we became professional musicians, that was the most adventurous time for us all. During those years we learned how to play our instruments properly, we got in touch with many bands from the UK and we improved our stage performance. Looking back those years were the most exciting and interesting ones. Then there was the line up with Matziol, Rosenthal and Schmidtchen: we became the most successful band in all of Germany! A great time and no worries about money! With Hannes Arkona, Hannes Folberth and Fritz Randow we made several superb albums and we did some of the greatest live performances ever. The tour after the release of Tides, with Steve Mann in the line up as guitarist was a real joy for me and very relaxed, while the tour after Ocean 2 was very stressful because of all the technical problems we experienced, working with a inferior mixing desk and things like that.
Menno: 17 studio albums and only one live album: isn’t that a bit minimal?
Frank: Yes, that’s true. I would have loved to have done a live album after Time To Turn, but the record company wasn’t interested, it was impossible for us to do such a thing on our own, and contractually we weren’t allowed to. If there ever were any professional recordings made, they would still have been owned by the record company, not by us! Back then there was a shift in interest from LP’s towards singles and there was a demand to give the radio stations a single: in 5 minutes I wrote Time To Turn and to my utmost surprise – while Die Deutsche Welle was reaching its summit in popularity- the single hit the charts successfully!
Menno: Because of the bankruptcy of Chess & Janus (USA), a breakthrough of Eloy in the USA failed and because of the tensions within the band and the attitude of EMI the breakthrough in the UK in the mid-eighties didn’t happen as well. How do you look back on those events?
Frank: Well our first option in the US would have been Capitol Records, but EMI America would have to give us their consent, because they had the right of first refusal. Only if they weren’t interested, would we be allowed to find ourselves another label. In fact that is exactly what happened so we found the company Chess & Janus Records who offered their services and had a deal with Capitol. This label released Future City (from the album Inside) and then the unforeseen happened: the single entered the charts. Both the albums Inside as well as its successor Floating did quite well but then all of a sudden the Chess & Janus company vanished from the face of the earth: bankrupt. In spite of the interest of people like Miles Copeland, the message that came through to us was very clear: in the US people didn’t want to support a band from Germany, because of the historical events that had happened. If we had had another manager or better knowledge of how to do business the American way, we might have been able to avoid this catastrophe, but looking back, the only way to be successful in the States back then probably would have been to conduct our business through Jewish legal contacts or with the Mafia, as I believe Shocking Blue did. This way of doing business like the record industry did in the eighties has destroyed many artists and convinced many potential buyers not to spend their money on that kind of rubbish. Then the companies wanted to increase their profits and an album cost around 50 DM, utterly insane. In my opinion this kind of behavior is the root of the whole culture to start downloading all kinds of music. I think people are still prepared to spend money on real artists, making real ‘art’. For example Loreena McKennit: record sales of 6 digits and you don’t hear her music on the radio and she doesn’t appear on TV and isn’t a guest in radio shows! Or the album by Cat Stevens, who calls himself Yusuf Islam nowadays: wonderful songs. Herbert Grönemeyer is also a perfect example of an artist making original music, but in the genre of pop.
Menno: Have you ever played live in the Netherlands or in other European countries?
Frank: Yeah sure! However mostly in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and also in the UK and in Greece, where we performed live in front of a crowd of 10.000. Unfortunately we haven’t made it to Scandinavia, Italy or Spain yet.
Menno: About the Legacy Box DVD: the first Eloy album dates from 1971, almost 40 years later the first DVD. Is this supposed to be an Anniversary DVD?
Frank: Well, actually the whole idea of coming up with a DVD was not mine at all. In 2008 or so a friend of mine offered to produce a DVD. He said to me: Frank, do you have any idea how Eloy’s back catalogue has been selling? To be honest with you I didn’t, also because at the time I didn’t have a computer. I started to make some inquiries and I was blown away because the grand total was 6 figures and that was something I’d never expected. The next thing that happened was, while I was working as the producer for a young band, that I saw them watching You Tube films on their lap tops with recordings of Eloy from the Dawn and Ocean era; filmed by fans! So this is when the idea came to do a retrospective documentary on Eloy, with all kinds of interviews and to add some TV shows, clips and some live recordings. By the way, that same friend came up with the cover for Visionary, inspired by a Venetian Mask I bought in Paris from a reliable Italian dealer.
Menno: So why a full length album all of a sudden?
Frank: All of this would never have happened if all the Eloy fans throughout the world hadn’t been as loyal as they have been and still are! You wouldn’t believe all the letters and mails I’ve received over the years, begging me to bring Eloy back to life once more, asking me if there would be a new album at some point. … The original plan I had in mind for the DVD, was to bring something new for the fans; maybe one or two brand new songs. But I began to feel like I owed all those fans for their loyalty so I contacted Michael, KP and Bodo and I asked them how they felt and they fully agreed. So for a week I locked myself up and started to compose and before I knew it I had over 40 minutes of new material; that’s when we decided there should be a new album and a DVD.
Menno: 11 years with no Eloy, wasn’t it hard to get a band back together?
Frank: Indeed it wasn’t easy: Bodo Schopf (drums) lives in Stuttgart, KPM (Klaus Peter Matziol) is one of the managers at Peter Rieger Konzertagentur. Those guys have artists like U2, Tina Turner, Paul McCartney and Peter Gabriel as their clients! So what happened was, he used to stop by between concerts and record the track he had been practicing the night before in some hotel! Michael Gerlach lives in Berlin and he was overwhelmed with work for his own company, a company outside of the music business mind you! He was facing numerous deadlines and it came to a point that I decided to try to contact an old friend: Hannes Folberth, keyboardist between ’80 and ’84. He helped out with a few solos but he said he’d like to be part of things in the future as well. If I’d known earlier I would have asked him to participate in the composing and arranging too. But I think this is really great because in my opinion he is the best keyboardist Eloy ever had. Detlev Schmidtchen taught him how to play in an atmospheric way but technically he is superb. He also knows how to play the grand piano extremely well and but since all of the music for Visionary was almost finished at the time, we couldn’t use hism on all of the tracks. Maybe something for the future! Anyway that’s how Visionary was recorded, a record especially for the fans and you know what: the sales have been amazing!
Menno: You just mentioned KPM. I’m so glad he worked with you on the Visionary album! For me, probably for many fans as well, the sound of his bass and particularly the way he plays it, means a major contribution to the Eloy sound. Do you agree?
Frank: Oh absolutely, no question about that! For me he is one of the greatest bass players around, a man with his own distinctive style. If you ask me, the only other bass player on his level are Geddy Lee (Rush) but Matze plays with a pick, Geddy Lee with his fingers, so obviously another style. I solemnly swore there wouldn’t be an Eloy again without Matze.
Menno: On the Visonary album the atmosphere reminds of the period between ’75 and ’85. How come the reference to Time To Turn?
Frank: Most of the fans have been asking for a successor to Time To Turn so I decided to try composing in that same style and that’s why I integrated this reference to Time To Turn. My method of composing hasn’t changed a bit. Mostly I use the guitar and vocal, but I hear the imaginary keyboards instantly: there’s no way I could write a song without using choirs, orchestration, strings and so on. Even if I’m making a demo I’d rather use people than machines: it just feels more natural and alive if you catch my drift. The first song on Visionary called The Refuge I used different rhythm patterns and Bodo had some trouble finding out how to play those correctly. At first you have 3/4, then 6/8 and then 4/4 (smiling) so I made it a little tougher for him than usual. In my experience you can have breaks, different meters and everything else as long as the music flows, they are irrelevant, although they do contribute to the quality of a song.
Menno: On Visionary there’s the old familiar Eloy logo. Can you remember who came up with the original design (from Power And The Passion onwards)?
Frank: You know, I don’t really know. Someone from the label (EMI) came up with this logo and until Metromania we used that one. On Ra we used a design from someone from SPV and on the successor to Ra yet another logo. All the other, newer albums released after Destination have the old logo because it seemed appropriate. I’m hoping to do a remaster of Ra, which will be quite different from the original album, and we’ll probably use the ‘old ‘logo on this remastered edition as well.
Menno: The logo and artwork for Metromania were done by British fantasy artist Rodney Matthews, who designed the covers for the UK releases of Planets and Time To Turn. How did you get in touch with Matthews?
Frank: Via Heavy Metal Records, at the time our record label in England, because in the UK, EMI didn’t want us! I was in contact with Rodney Matthews a lot at the time and he certainly did a good job for us in the UK with his designs on picture discs and so on, he really helped us gain popularity. The album Performance wasn’t received too well and there were tensions within the band; the different members of the band weren’t eye to eye musically anymore, so I was contemplating making a solo album in the vein of Time To Turn. Matthews had agreed to paint a cover for that album but in the end there was a consensus that Eloy needed a new album, so that’s why Metromania became an Eloy album after all! After that album, the contract with Heavy Metal Records expired and the band fell apart. I didn’t stay in touch with Matthews after his work on those three albums.
Menno: You became a producer rather quickly, even when you were still a member of Eloy?
Frank: Yes, that’s correct. The Horus Sound Studio has been active since 1980 and I’m still the owner. The Studio has been refurbished and expanded several times since its foundation. Before the Horus era I worked with the Scorpions in 1974 and after that a few albums as ‘executive producer’ for a record company. Our first break through in The Horus Sound Studio were the “Keeper” albums by Helloween: there were quite a success. Subsequently there were a lot of heavy metal bands that wanted to record in the Horus Studio all of sudden, such as Heaven’s Gate (with Sascha Paeth – MvBF), Celtic Frost, Gamma Ray etcetera. Other artists too, like for example ELLI, an idol here in Germany, recorded their first successful albums in this studio. Our clientele is very diverse but as a company that renders services, everyone is welcome to our studio. Our most challenging job however was the Rolling Stones. You know, back in 1996 The Beatles had their Anthology albums, but the Stones had nothing. While the Beatles had a lot of tapes from the Abbey Road studio, The Stones had little to no original recordings in their possession, until someone came up with tapes from 1979 that were bought at an auction due to a bankruptcy of a radio station. The intention was to release a boxset with tapes from the “Stripped” tour (the tour after Voodoo Lounge, I think those were recorded in Paradiso – Amsterdam). To preserve the quality of the sound, people were looking for a studio with hi end equipment, a computerized wheel mechanism in order to minimize the damage to these tapes: The Horus Studio had this kind of equipment. Funny story by the way was that one of the producers from the label told us anxiously there was something wrong with the recordings because he didn’t hear the hi-hat properly, or rather he didn’t hear it at all. At the end of the day I was called upon and my conclusion was it wasn’t a technical malfunction but it was just the way Charlie Watts plays drums! Probably the only rock-drummer around who skips the hi-hat every second and fourth note! Actually we never got any complimentary copies so I honestly cannot tell you what they did with those recordings. Guano Apes guitarist Henning Ruemenapp joined Horus Sound studios and became my business associate in 1999.
Menno: You’ve also started your own record label?
Frank: Yes; for a few years now, Martin Kleemann and I started the label Artist Station. We are working purely on a commission basis: we charge the artists for marketing their product. We use the Soulfood company from Hamburg for the distribution. All profits go directly to the artists and the artists keep control over their music. I have found out how good this concept works with Visonary: the album has been released European-wide on the same day and that is something many of the major companies have never been able to accomplish!
Menno: You’re 65 years of age now, still having fun in the music business?
Frank: Well, it’s a challenging and pretty difficult time right now; look at all the bankruptcies among record companies. Even the major labels are experiencing lots of troubles and have to watch their steps. On the other side, creatively, there’s a lot going around. You see loads of young bands evolving, mostly without a record deal. Personally I think this kind of vision will lead to interesting developments and new genres of music; bands who begin to play in clubs and starting to build their own fan base from scratch.
Menno: Do you attend concerts yourself and what kind of hobbies do you have outside of the music?
Frank: Well, I do sports to keep myself in shape; I jog, work out in a fitness studio and so on. My wife and I have a beautiful apartment here in Hanover, looking out over the lake, a spectacular view. It’s also a superb place to do some running. Part of our time we spend in Paris, where we have an apartment too. I go to concerts regularly: either to performances of legends like Paul McCartney – that was really awesome! – or Sting who I saw in Paris. I also go to unknown acts just to check them out or to bands who recorded in our studio like Noch Ne Band. In Paris I’ve enjoyed seeing shows from Alain Sochon and Gérald De Palmas.
Menno: The Band name ELOY is named after the Eloi, from the famous book Time Machine by H.G. Wells…do you read a lot?
Frank: Yes and although Science Fiction is not my favorite genre, this book grabbed me by the throat and the story touched me deeply. How these people, the Eloi, had to build everything up from scratch and created a new culture reminded me of what we were trying to do as a band. Because the ‘y’ looked much nicer on the cover than the ‘i’, we chose ELOY for our band name. I read a lot; nothing has changed in the last thirty years in that perspective. You can make me very happy when you give me time to read books like The Illuminati, Pillars Of The Earth or World Without End by Ken Follett or historical novels.
Menno: As a producer you work with artists but you usually don’t play an instrument anymore. Have you been playing your guitars in the past decade, I believe they were Gibson’s?
Frank: Honestly, not too much, so I will have to practice and get my skills back up. I have been playing the acoustic guitar fairly regularly but I haven’t spent any time on an electric. On the last few albums I’ve used Gibson guitars but also one other guitar, built by an English manufacturer named Patrick Eggle. You can also hear a Stratocaster as well.
Menno: Considering your decision to make an album in the style of Time To Turn, is it fair to say your favorite kind of music is progressive rock from 1975-1985?
Frank: I think those were the days when there was a continuous and endless flow of creativity and in my opinion many artists were consciously or even subconsciously influenced by each other. I’m referring to bands like Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Genesis and of course Pink Floyd. It was also a time in which the technology made giant steps: both instruments and equipment were getting better and better and of course all the new keyboards that came out on to the market. The description ‘progressive music’ seems a bit odd to me. Nice for the retail to be able to put a name on a genre of music: for instance bands like IQ, Marillion, Porcupine Tree, also very popular in Germany, or Arena. There’s another description that is far more suitable in my view: art-rock. I consider the way artists like us compose and make music an art, certainly not to be compared with all the commercial pop with their verse-chorus-verse characteristics. A musical format in which there are no limitations neither in the use of different instruments or in the length of a song.
Menno: The Legacy Boxset gives a nice overview of Eloy’s music throughout the years. Did you conduct any of the interviews on the DVD? It struck me Detlev Schmidtchen wasn’t among the former band members, who had been interviewed.
Frank: Michael Narten was in charge all the way. He did all the interviews and he was the one who chose who to talk to. I had nothing to do with his line of questioning or to whom he wanted to talk to, except for his interview with me of course. My contribution has been to collect all those old recordings, clips and TV performances and I spend a lot of time chasing after them! I agree it would have been nice to have Detlev on the DVD too, but as I said, it was Narten’s choice. I do know however, Detlev seems to hold a grudge towards me particularly, why I don’t know: he quit, I didn’t fire him! He has tried to prevent the DVD from being released, in vein obviously but it’s a pity he chose to do things this way. Schriever, Wieczorke or Jim McGillivray weren’t interviewed either but again, it was Narten’s decision.
Frank: Yes, it confirms what I have told you before: I didn’t force him to leave the band and in some way I regret it too because we did have huge successes with that line up. I’m glad he admits his lyrics – how brilliant they might have been – were sometimes very hard for me to sing.
Menno: The only live album so far is Eloy Live: aren’t there any video recordings of these shows or from any other show between 1969 and 1998?
Frank: As for Eloy Live: unfortunately not. The budget didn’t allow us to have the show videoed so the only recordings we have is from fans and most of them are not suitable for a DVD release. There may be some decent recording from other shows but none of those have been recorded professionally as far as I know. Recently I got a call from someone from the southern Germany, stating he has some high quality recordings in his possession he was willing to give me, so I certainly want to check those out.
Menno: You told me you were working on remasters for Ra and Destination as well as your Jeanne D’Arc project. What’s the status?
Frank: (sighs) If only I had time! Last year I made plans to release a new album called “The Vision, The Sword And The Pyre” about Jeanne D’Arc. My intention originally was to release the album this year or maybe in 2012 and perform the entire opera during the Jeanne D’Arc festivities in Orléans in the month of May, live with choir and orchestra. I wanted to use big choirs like I also did on Jeanne D’Arc (from the Destination album) and Company Of Angels from the Tides album). I really wanted to have each and every listener understand every word, sung by the choir and in order to achieve that, I’ve already recorded 60 tracks of vocals. The final recording would have been over-dubbed so in fact you would have heard a choir of 120 people! I had plans to use the Prague Symphony Orchestra, 30 men and 30 woman, also recorded twice. You will appreciate the complexity of this endeavor but I’m convinced all Eloy fans would have been thrilled. There have been some changes however and therefore it is possible that this album will never see the light of day because I might use some of the songs for a successor to Visionary instead of finishing this rock-opera as a solo project. Eloy is my primary concern now. The release of Visionary and The Legacy Box consumed a lot of my time and now we have to prepare for the upcoming shows!
Menno: Yes that surely was breaking news for all Eloy fans! You will be headlining both the Night of The Prog festival in the Loreley (July 9) and the Herzberg festival (July 17). Why these festivals and not a tour?
Frank: I got an offer I just couldn’t resist. I’ve already told you how hard it is to get the band together again and it’s impossible to go on a tour. Michael and Matze are overloaded with work, Bodo might have a bit more time but then again Hannes Folberth has a physiotherapy practice he runs with his wife and he can’t just leave his practice for three weeks or more. The financial compensation we have been offered, allows us to prepare for these two shows properly and to rehearse to an extent that we all feel comfortable with going to do these shows. I really want everything to be perfect because these shows will be recorded professionally and there will be a DVD!
Menno: It appears Hannes Arkona is interested in playing in Eloy again?
Frank: Oh I believe he is and as a musician I wouldn’t hesitate to have him back in the band. However I’ve chosen not to invite him and instead I ‘ve asked Steve Mann (just like Bodo Schopf ex-McAuley Schenker Group) again, who played with us on the Tides tour. He’s an Englishman married to a German woman. He’s a very nice guy, an extremely versatile guitar (and keyboard!) player and what’s most important perhaps: when he’s not residing in London, he lives here in Hanover, which makes it very easy for me to have him stop by and practice some of the stuff we will be playing in July. I’m also trying to get hold of Susanne Schätzle and Tina Lux as background vocalists. They probably have grown older too just like me and I guess they’ll probably be mothers by now.
Menno: It seems Hannes Folberth is joining the band too?
Frank: Correct and I’m so happy he’s available. On the last tour Michael used plug-ins and I just hate those. I’d rather use the original instruments and Hannes knows how to master all of those. We recently had the original ARP repaired and it’s right here and working (shows me the ARP synthesizer, standing in the next room). With him in the band we will really be able to put on a show, maybe even better than before! I’m thinking of Child Migration for the opening song, but I won’t tell you more!
Interview & Photos by Menno von Brucken Fock