RPWL have in recent years gone from knocking on the door of the room marked Prog big-boys, to basically smashing it down and making themselves right at home. The German outfit's last album Beyond Time And Man was a bold, ambitious statement, however 2014 finds RPWL on the run, being Wanted in a concept album which stretches the band's ambitions ever further. Musically it is another triumph. Sea of Tranquility's bounty hunter Steven Reid cornered RPWL singer Yogi Lang to bring this 'Wanted' man in for some questioning...
I have to start by suggesting that your previous album, 'Beyond Man And Time', which was based round the work of Nietzsche, had been your most ambitious to date. How daunting was it to begin work on a follow up?
It wasn't daunting at all. 'Beyond Man and Time' was very theoretical and so it was right after the tour when we thought about bringing the main idea of 'Beyond Man and Time' into our here and now! The idea that we call the "Freedom of the Spirit" had to be our focus. We had in mind, of course, to make the album somehow different but it was quite clear that a world beyond man and time couldn't sound like the rough world outside. So again the thought and the story pushed us into this new exciting world.
So would it be fair to say that 'Wanted' stretches things even further and is even more ambitious than your previous work...?
Yes, through both the story and the music. All the thoughts of 'Beyond Man and Time', they get really fascinating when you try to put them into practice. For the music, we always try to create a special atmosphere by connecting lyrical depth and music. Together they build one language that is communicating between the world of the story and the world of the listener. That is what we try to make better and better with every album.
So, where did the idea to incorporate the theories of Plato and the interpretations of Garibaldi into the concept of an album come from?
After the 'Beyond Man and Time' tour it became clear that we wanted to bring the story into our modern world. One narrative level is the story that you could call a sci-fi thriller. Let's say it tells our way to put 'Beyond Man and Time' into a possible present time. The other level is 'Beyond Man and Time' itself; the theoretic thoughts about a new way of thinking on the basic of the self dependent human being. Bringing both levels together had a lot of great side effects regarding our self concept of the evolutionary human being that we are. It's a work that could have also been a movie or a book.
Are these concepts and ideas from the likes of Nietzsche, or Plato and the texts from which they come, something which interests the band individually outside of RPWL, or is it a case of hunting for ideas and themes on which to base albums?
It's just that I think that music without words is just music. We feel that we have a story to tell and music is our second language to get deeper into a world we try to create. One of the goals we want to reach is bringing both sides of this language really close together in our studio work but also live on stage.
And with 'Wanted', a fictional element is also added to the mix and the band themselves appear to be at the centre of what transpires...?
I thought it was a good Idea to have the band as a main actor of the story. This point brings words and music even closer together. Now, as we are planning the live shows, it turns out to be really cool for the understanding of the story and of course for the live shows because we are now the main actors in both worlds: music and story.
So, big question I know but, for those who haven't heard it yet, explain how Plato, Garibaldi, the liberation of spirit and RPWL all come together to make 'Wanted'?
In 'Wanted' we try to realise the basic thesis of 'Beyond Man and Time' that we call the "Freedom of the Spirit: What if the allegory of Plato's Cave wasn't only a parable but a description of some kind of a substance - a medicine - that they found at that time! For those who forgot about it, In Plato's Cave we're sitting in a cave, chained in one direction, never seeing the origin of reality but only the shadows on the wall. We have to unchain our mind, turn around and step out of the cave into the light of truth and reality. You can only believe what the shadows may be, but true knowledge will be outside the cave. A great picture with many, many aspects based on this act of liberation.
But back to the story, that starts with this fascinating thought: ultimate liberation from all delusions, all belief, all ghosts of our thoughts... the result will be pure and true reality. The wise men of Ancient Greece, of course, were aware of the fact that people aren't prepared to lose their illusions and invisible helps. All the mythological and religious belief was needed, not only to keep people under control, but also to keep up a social structure that makes social living possible. So the origin of these thoughts - the medicine - were buried in oblivion. It wasn't until the 19th century that Giuseppe Garibaldi was interested in Ancient Greece and found parts of writings that lead him exactly to this lost thought: was Plato's Cave a description or prescription of a medicine? And yes, he found a link to Hippocrates, a great Greek scientist! Being aware what he held in hands, he went to the free masons to ask for help. Again, it was decided that people were not ready for this ultimate liberation, and so again the secret was kept for hundreds of years. Until now! Explorers found the diary of Garibaldi with the secret formula! It was a friend of ours who was decrypting this unbelievable part. In long discussions we decided that now is the time. Not only that we think people are ready, they are in need of new thought, a new age of spiritual liberation. We created a simple pill and this is where the album starts. This pill of course is not in the interest of the ruling elite. They don't want a new age of enlightenment, neither in the secular world, nor in the industry of religions... Here's a simple example for every side: look at people voting 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. In that context manipulation is so easy, isn't it? I think most of these behaviour 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. Of course hand in hand with the other side! If you think about how many people would describe themselves as Catholic 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. I know, belief is very consoling and comfortable, but is it the right instrument to overcome today's problems in a globalized world? Our ability to learn is the main evolutionary revolution that "man" is...
Anyway, the ruling elite begins to act as they always do when there is something that doesn't fit to their 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's 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 the ruling elite that tries to control the people? You see, it's an interesting question.
It is very interesting indeed... However for some the content of the album could be seen as controversial. Is this something which you took into consideration when creating it?
Yes, first of all it is an absurdity of our time that we think everyone has to say yes to everything. What we all have in common is that we are different. This difference is what we have in common. It makes us think, makes everything colourful. I know, especially, the journey 'Beyond Man and Time' as an antithesis to our old religious models is provoking, and you may say no or you may say yes, but… It doesn't matter what you say, you start to think and break through the state that we call the "Deadlock of the Spirit". We want to encourage people to think about the difference between belief and knowledge. That would solve a lot of problems just in one moment.
So, it's more important to you to create something of artistic worth, which you 100% believe in?
We are not authorised to decide what has a certain artistic worth. We simply do what we truly think we have to do. Maybe to say it in lofty words, you should know what you're talking about but the music should be straight from the heart.
To some the whole idea of concept albums is a "forbidden topic", or a thing to be mocked. However over the past few years more and more bands have been writing increasingly complex conceptual pieces. What do you put this resurgence down to?
Hard to say. We never intended to do a concept album. It was the topic or the thoughts of 'Beyond Man and Time' that forced us into this direction for the very first time. It's a good feeling when a work starts to push you and not the other way round. It was quite the same with 'Wanted'. To make a concept album because you want to make a concept album would be the worst reason to do it.
Musically, I feel, that 'Wanted' begins in some untypical ways for an RPWL record. Heavy, gritty, dirty even. Was this an intentional move to knock listeners out of any preconceived "comfort zones"?
Yes! The lyrical content tells from the here and now of a rough world but the music, connected to the words, should be more rough and more direct too. We tried to change the world of allegories in 'Beyond Man and Time' into a tough reality. We focused more on the simplicity of the songs and the production. We're wanted! So it's not important to go to a good restaurant or find nice clothes in a store, we just need some basics to survive.
However as the album evolves, so more RPWL trademarks and ideas come to the fore, the music changing in tone with the concept. How challenging is it to make the album flow while matching the music to such intricate lyrics, and vice versa?
This exactly is the challenge through all the production but the band has its own sound and own certain emotion when playing. That makes it easy somehow… Give us any song you want, we'll play it and it will sound like RPWL.
However I'd suggest in places that 'Wanted', while undoubtedly retaining its RPWL-ness, is in places quite a musical departure, or at least evolution from some of your previous albums. Would you agree?
Yes, I think so. Some say it goes a bit back to our early works. It's hard to say, but the story was different and the music followed. That's the point that will make every album sound different.
Due to RPWL always being "lumped in" with the whole Prog scene, do you sometimes think that the breadth of styles the band employs and the, at times, accessibility of a lot of what you do gets lost on people?
Haha… I remember when we did our first record and after a month or so, we were on the front cover of a German Prog magazine. This was the first time I got in touch with the word "Prog". When I was a kid, we just had Rock music, Jazz, Pop and so on through the bigger categories. I think it's a very modern phenomenon to keep the pieces of a cake very small. So, I still don't know if we are doing Prog music, but I still find the question interesting…
In April you guys begin quite an extensive European tour. Will you be performing 'Wanted' in its entirety?
Absolutely! And of course including the bonus song that is part of the double vinyl release alongside a lot of older songs. I hope that we'll be able to cross the ocean once more to come to the U.S. again. It has always been a great honour and pleasure to play there and to meet all our friends there! I know there is a small chance to do a little tour there… let's keep our fingers crossed!
That'll be the song 'Still Asleep', which sits between 'Perfect Day' and 'The Attack' on the album. How does the story line alter both with and without this track?
The song wasn't really needed for the story, so at first we didn't want to put the track on the album. But to have the chance to add it to the special releases was cool… I mean, it's a nice song, and of course will be played on tour.
Your recent live release, 'A Show Beyond Man And Time' was fantastically well received. Are you planning on doing something similar for 'Wanted'?
Let's see. We had this offer by the guys from Metal-Mind Records in Poland. They're often doing this kind of recording, but within a music festival with a couple of bands. So let's see if there is a chance to do something like that again… I'd love to do it anyway…
You're introducing 'Wanted' at "launch party" where you will play a short acoustic set. How difficult is it to rearrange your music into that stripped down setting?
Every songwriting session starts on a guitar or a piano somehow. So you just have to return to the basic of a song. We did that from time to time on stage with other songs as well. I remember that we played the song "World Through My Eyes" on the album tour in a very early version, which I think you can hear that on the live album 'Start the Fire'.
(Click here to read our reviews of Wanted)