One of the first albums to be released in 2012 ended up being one of my very favorites of the year – The Old Man and the Spirit by German act Beyond the Bridge. I had the pleasure of then seeing the band live at Prog Power USA in Atlanta, GA, later on in the year and meeting the band. Later on, I exchanged emails with Christopher Tarnow, keyboardist for the band, and I had a chance to ask him a few questions about inspiration, the story for their concept album, the writing process, etc. As I found when I met them in person, these are genuinely fun-loving guys, and this shines through in the interview as well, as I'm sure the readers out there will find.
SoT: So I understand your debut album, The Old Man And The Spirit, came a long time after the band first came together. Can you tell our readers a little of that story?
Christopher: It's true, writing the album took quite a while. In the beginning, the band started out as a project of our guitarist Peter Degenfeld, who came up with the concept of the album "The Old Man and the Spirit". Besides inspiration being a bitch, the main reason that kept us from finishing the CD was that we all had our day jobs - and no money. Looking back, it's quite unbelievable we made it to the point where we are now, thanks to Peter's optimism and persistence. He and I spent hours composing the album in our spare free time. Although I was very lucky I got to know producer Simon Oberender during my college years, it still took almost seven years until the album was finally recorded. But in case you were wondering: we still have our day jobs and no money! (laughs)
SoT: The Old Man And The Spirit is a concept album – can you summarize the story for our readers, and tell us if there was any particular inspiration for this story? Or maybe a variety of different things inspired this story? I feel like I could make parallels between the story of this album and some other literary works.
Christopher: The album is about an old man who is seeking for answers to the questions we all have - for a sense, for a coherence, for the meaning of his life. He calls on a Spirit who offers him a deeper insight into the world in exchange for his memories. For anyone who is interested, there is a more detailed summary available here
And yes, you are absolutely right about parallels to literary works. At least to German listeners, it will be quite clear that there are similarities to Goethe's "Faust". However, for Peter, who never really made it past Dr. Seuss, there were mainly personal reasons to write it down. He came to a point in his life where he asked himself whether it was more important to go out and live (which, ironically, for him at that time meant becoming a professional musician) or to work hard and try to perceive "whatever holds the world together in its inmost folds" (which for him, on the other hand, meant becoming a physicist). In the end, he studied physics. I am very happy he never quit making music! Oh, the world would have been so quiet!
SoT: What are some of the bands and artists that have inspired or influenced your band's sound? Are there any particular musical artists who have inspired or influenced you personally that might surprise the fans?
Christopher: I think, for most of us, bands like Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation or Spock's Beard are undoubtedly a big influence. Our drummer Fabian and our vocalist Dilenya both are influenced a lot by Jazz Music. And I know that Peter's all-time favorite guitar player is Paul Gilbert. Personally, I have always been into classical music. But since I am the nerdy keyboardist, I guess that's ok.
SoT: How was the writing of the music and lyrics for this album conducted? Did you collaborate with each other during the writing, or piece things together, or did one person do all of the writing of the music or lyrics?
Christopher: Well, as I said earlier, the story was developed by Peter. Some of the songs (namely "Triumph of Irreality", "World of Wonders", "Where the Earth and Sky Meet" and "All a Man Can Do") were written just by me, partly quite some time ago. For the rest of the album, we sat together and jammed, most of the time in Peter's basement. It's really great to work with him. During a song writing session, a lot of ideas pop up and it's important to always be able to say what you think. Since we respect each other a lot, that's never a problem. Sometimes we cuddle.
SoT: Now your band appeared at Prog Power USA in September of 2012 – has there been a noticeable jump in the number of fans since this appearance? In other words, how has this helped to propel the band forward?
Christopher: Well, I don't know the numbers, but without a doubt, the response in the US has been overwhelming to say the least. And I have to say, the experience we had at Progpower helped us a lot with our decision to continue with the band following Simon's death. Playing at Progpower really felt like a giant leap forward for the entire band.
SoT: Was your appearance at Prog Power USA the first time you had been in the states? What was your favorite thing about your visit to the USA for this show?
Christopher: Most of us had been in the US before. I even spent a year in Lubbock, TX. Therefore, I was happy to stay away from cotton fields this time. After the festival, Peter, Simon and I rented a car for a trip to New Orleans. I will always remember that journey.
SoT: What is your personal favorite track on the album?
Christopher: It's clearly "Triumph of Irreality". Although I have to say I like "The Primal Demand" a lot. Not because of Peter's guitar solo, but because of the chance to grab something to drink while it's on. I hate guitar solos. Oh, did I just say that?!
SoT: Has the band tossed around any ideas for a follow up album? Or are there any ideas for further developing your sound?
Christopher: Yes, there are already a lot of ideas and even some complete songs. There certainly will be a development in our sound. As I said earlier, some of the songs on "The Old Man and the Spirit" are quite old (for instance, I wrote "Word of Wonders" when I was about 17). So at least when it comes to the songwriting, there will be an improvement, I believe. And it's clear that, after Simon's death, we cannot continue as if nothing had happened. But, in case someone should worry, I expect it to become a celebration of life rather than a work of grief.
SoT: Thanks for talking with us! Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
Christopher: Thank you for the interview! Keep on rocking and always go beyond the bridge.
(Click here to read our reviews of The Old Man & The Spirit)