Never a band to shy away from the complicated in either their songs or music, German Melodic Prog act RPWL have just released their most ambitious album to date in the shape of the excellent Beyond Man And Time. An intricate concept piece about man's journey towards inner peace and self realisation, the band's sixth full studio album is a beguiling mix of seductive music and thought provoking lyrics. RPWL's longest serving members - singer and keyboard player Yogi Lang and guitarist Kalle Wallner met up with Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid to take a journey Beyond Man And Time...
Hi guys! I have to start by being honest and saying that even after reading the press release for your new album Beyond Man And Time and reviewing the album, I'm not sure if I really understand what the concept behind it is. Could you possibly explain it for us?
Yogi: The story is about the start of man's journey in a new kind of self-responsibility, a plea for new original thinking. The story begins with the main character leaving Plato's cave, a picture for the impotence of a clear recognition of truth. Like in Nietzsche's Zarathustra the protagonist meets several figures that help him to reach a higher level of thinking. Some of the figures are taken from Zarathustra's "Honey Sacrifice". Every song on the album is such a figure, full of approaches and free thoughts. To give a clearer picture, here is a description of the characters encountered...
"The Keeper" who is on the edge between the two worlds,
"The Voluntarily Blind", who can only see a world illuminated by truth,
"The Scientist", a soldier at the frontier between knowledge and wisdom,
"The Creator", the free spirit with the will to create on his own,
"The Ugliest Man", who accepted every single aspect of his existence,
"The Shadow", his other side but beloved companion,
"The Wise In The Desert", who found a place that is still thirsty for his wisdom,
and "The Fisherman", who searches for truth deep inside man.
They all help him to overcome old failed models and find a new self acceptance. The journey ends in the great noon, an allegory for his moment of clarity.
The story has no real end, no conclusion. It is a plea for a new thinking, a thinking that questions everything, so any conclusion would lead to a circle anyway.
Where did the inspiration come from to take this story and write an album round it?
Yogi: I feel the increasing "Loss of Values" in our world and a situation that I call "The Deadlock Of The Mind". I wanted to create an alternative draft to this situation, that is what Beyond Man And Time is all about - The Freedom Of The Spirit. It gets clearer by listening to the audio book that goes with the limited edition.
How much does the concept relate to modern life, as the lyrics seem to have a real relevance to a lot of situations in the world right now?
Yogi: It definitely is a gift to everyone that feels this "Loss of Values". We are used to pushing our thinking into a university discipline. But the evolutionary experiment is that man's being is based on our thinking! However today's thinking is more based on quiz games on TV than on our self doubtable being.
How challenging is it to write music with the intention of fitting it within the framework and mood of a concept album? Do you have to write songs to convey the mood and vibe of the story and does that make for a less organic process than "just writing" songs that come to you?
Kalle: Both was happening. On The RPWL Experience we all wrote almost completed songs and then we chose the best ones to work on and re-arrange them in the "RPWL way". But for Beyond Man And Time we only had the lyrics and some melodies or riffs or themes - but no finished songs. So it was perfect to find the best lyrics for the music and vice versa. For some songs we composed the music to the lyrics which was very exciting and often surprising. All in all we worked much closer together in this early stage of creating music than on the last records. So the interaction was much more intense and we were able to combine our ideas much earlier. So this might be the reason why the album sounds so strongly cohesive. Our music often comes from pictures. With such strong pictures in mind - like the figures on this album - the musical inspiration came naturally.
Yogi, you mentioned a limited version of the album that comes with an audio-book disc that tells the story behind the album. How did that idea come about?
Yogi: Well as I touched on before, it is to dig deeper into the story. I'm quite aware that it is not the easiest stuff we have written about, but we definitely didn't want to write the next silly story about some fantasy dreams.
Who is it that does the narration on the spoken word disc?
Kalle: We were glad that our friends Ian Salmon and Andi Koenigsmann did narrations in both German and English. On the one hand we wanted to help to understand what the story is about and what the characters in each song refer to. Of course the lyrics in the songs are dealing about this but sometimes in a too much of a philosophical way. So we'd like to explain some words and some idioms. On the other hand we wanted to show people that it's not only the music we did on the album. We really want everyone to listen to the words as well. Really listen. And I'm sure that everybody who listens to the audio-book will have thoughts about the story, the characters and the ideas behind all of these things.
RPWL have always shied away from genre tags and especially the term "Progressive", however is there anything more "Prog" than recording a lengthy concept album based on a classic piece of literature??
Yogi: That Steven is exactly the reason why we never wanted to do a concept album. But this time it was a bit different. This album wasn't really intended to be a concept piece. I mean, every RPWL album has a main subject, and so, when I wrote the first words towards this project in early 2010, we started off doing the album as we always do. But then something strange happened - the story pushed us into a concept album. When we brought together the first pieces of words and music it became very clear that there was something higher taking control, and it led us into something more than just another piece of music.
Beyond... still feels like the RPWL that we know and love. However there are a few new and different elements added to the mix as well. Is continuing to grow musically as individuals and together something that keeps you as active as you are as a band?
Kalle: How boring would it be to always record the same album?! I think that standing still is the death of any artist. So I'm happy that there still are new elements in every RPWL album. Sure we have our style but there are some new elements on every record which show that we are still alive and moving on. It's not only the new members who joined the band and bring new ideas but it's also the personal development which is unavoidable in your songs. And especially the topic of Beyond Man And Time as a concept album was responsible for new elements as well. Lyrics force music and music forces lyrics.
Having said that, I think that the new album has a stronger and more singular musical theme and slightly less eclecticism than your previous albums. You touched on this before, but I wondered if it is down to the conceptual nature of the album and songs?
Yogi: We thought that it would be essential for the understanding of the whole concept that we have to use clear and easy melodies for transporting the message. The rest of the travel through our world is of course colourful, as a world of recognition should be. So I think the charm of this album lies in the change between those two styles of music.
When I last interviewed the two of you, the hope was to have this album released as early as Spring 2011. What caused the delay in getting it finished?
Kalle: To be honest we've been very busy with other projects. Yogi for example did his solo album and toured in Europe. And we all have been very busy with our label Gentle Art Of Music. We did a couple of releases last year, not only Yogi's but also ones by bands called Simeon Soul Charger and Schizofrantik. Simeon Soul Charger, who are from Ohio and are a brilliant band, especially needed lots of support. So we had to find the right moment and finally the muse to work on our songs, which then needed lots of time before we could start recording in autumn. But finally we got there!
The band's last release The Gentle Art Of Music was a retrospective, looking back over RPWL's first decade together. Does Beyond Man And Time feel like the beginning of the second chapter for the band?
Kalle: Yes, it has this kind of feeling. We did lots of records in the last twelve years. When you count the solo works as well, we released 14 albums which is a lot! So, the Gentle Art Of Music is both the end of the first chapter and start of the second chapter. And that's very nice! We are very happy with all of our albums and what we have achieved after all these years. And now having our own label was another good and important step in RPWL's future!
Since then, bassist Chris Postl has left the band. How did that come about?
Yogi: It was becoming more and more difficult to work with Chris and so maybe our time was just over. We just didn't want to wait until he left the band again like he did back in 2002.
However you have now welcomed Werner Taus into the band as Chris's replacement. How did you guys team up with him?
Kalle: I knew Werner already from other projects. He is a great bass player and singer and an extremely nice, friendly and uncomplicated guy. So he joined RPWL in 2010, then we played a couple of shows in Europe and Los Angeles and we all had a really great time. So he was more than welcome to join RPWL as a fixed member. It was awesome to record this album with him!
The members of RPWL have become known not only for this band, but also, as you've mentioned, for having vibrant and eclectic separate band or solo projects. How does this affect the music of RPWL?
Kalle: It's very nice to have both working alone and working in a team, which are totally different as you can imagine. Working in a band means lots of compromises and not all of them are ok for everyone. So my other band Blind Ego helped me to become much more relaxed with a new RPWL album, because I have may own project where I can feed my own Ego! [laughs!] So I enjoyed the creative stage of doing Beyond Man And Time a lot and the creative energy which surrounded us while we wrote the songs and worked on the sounds or lyrics.
So once you guys start to move on from Beyond Man And Time, are there more solo plans in the pipeline?
Kalle: Yes of course. I already wrote a couple of new Blind Ego songs so I'm very motivated to be starting the production on that in the autumn. Our last record Numb was out in 2009 so it's high time for another one. But first the focus is on RPWL and on our tour.
At the time of the Gentle Art Of Music album you also started up the record label of the same name. You've both spoken about it already, but how do you guys feel that has been progressing and is it something you see yourself bringing more focus to?
Kalle: We are very happy with our own label. For many years we already did lots of managing, promotional work and booking as well, so it was only this last step to make us responsible for everything all around RPWL. That was why we started our own label. We really like the idea of naming it after our anniversary album because all of this happened so close together. But not it is not only just about RPWL albums anymore - more and more artist have signed and will sign to the Gentle Art Of Music.
So you've both also mention touring plans for RPWL, so to finish, can you let us know what you have planned tour wise to support the new album?
Kalle: We will start our European tour on 14th of April in Boerderij and there will be around 25 further shows until the end of May. After touring and playing almost exactly the same material during the last four years we're really looking forward to getting out and playing our new album!!
(Click here to read our reviews of Beyond Man And Time)