Demetris "All Around" Katsikis
JustIn Case Radio (Greece) and Progarchives joined forces to interrogate CUEROCK whose "Tales of future passed" has placed itself among the most interesting releases of the year. Demetris "All Around" Katsikis (Founder and Progducer of JICR) and myself fired questions relentlessly to the German quintet and, in fairness, they stood up to the task!!! Let's see what they have to say about tales of past, present and future...
Larry Lee Lehmann / Vocals
Achim Harhoff / Guitar
Klaus Hogrebe / Bass
Andreas Blechmann / Keyboards
M.B. Forrester / Drums
Section 1 – Tales of past
Your biography is already in Progarchives.com but we would like to know a bit more about the history of the band. What did CUE stand for in the 70’s and were there ever any releases from this early version of the band?
Achim: We cannot tell you much about the early years, for none of us was part of the band at that time. I saw the band three times on stage: first time when I was twelve, next time when I was fifteen, last time when I was seventeen years old. They were the flagship of our local music scene, playing Genesis- and Yes-styled music and touring the whole German Republic. I always dreamt of being part of such a great band, though my musical roots were much heavier. Aged nineteen I came in contact with the bass player and we had a side-project. When the band needed a new drummer, I suggested to take M.B. who played with us. M.B. then introduced Axel to CUE, and the former bass player became the vocalist (Freddy Mercury – style!!!). And only a few months later they asked me to join them as the guitar-player. This was in February 1985.
It seems that both Achim and M. B. became members of CUE soon before you change your name to CUEROCK. Were there significant differences between CUE as it was and the newly-formed band, both in personnel and the sound that you wanted to achieve?
Achim: Don't forget our dear Axel! After CUE had tried to be successful playing New German Wave mixed with SAGA (they had an acclaimed TV – performance in an early German casting show), the band lost direction because success was missing. With this new line-up CUE became a mixture of TOTO, DEEP PURPLE and 80’s Pop. It was not what I personally really wanted to do, but we had such a deep friendship...
If we accept 1986 as the ‘official’ starting point of what CUEROCK represents now, this makes it 26 years of history, impressive! Why only three releases in this period? Were there periods of inactivity?
Achim: First I must say that CUEROCK started with Andreas Blechmann 1998! His arrival marks a real turning-point!
CUE went through many difficulties. In 1988 our singer went to Turkey for occupational reasons. It is very hard to replace a singer whose vocal range spans almost 4 octaves. In 1992 we got contact to a singer who was pretty good, and he propelled us to produce a CD (‘I’). But the chemistry wasn't right, so we broke up with him. And in 1994 our keyboardist had to leave for health reasons. He was almost a concert pianist, and the three of us remaining were looking for new members for years. But we didn't find the quality we needed. Until Andreas Blechmann came! There is little information about your ‘I’ (1991) and ‘Physically’ (2004) albums. Could you give us a bit of insight as to who was involved in these albums and if/how the sound is different to 2012’s CUEROCK?
Andreas: ‘I’ is CUE, sounding more Pop-oriented. ‘Physically’ is pure CUEROCK.
Achim: Looking back on ‘I’ I would say that it is a kind of swan song for CUE. But we did an EP 1998/99 (‘The Inner Eye of CUE’) - we called it a ‘tryout’ - with 4 instrumentals including early versions of ‘For Sabine’, ‘Journey to the Centre’ and ‘A Farewell to the Falcon’.
Andreas: The Falcon...
Achim: Yes, your Atari Falcon. We did the recording with an 8-track Atari Falcon. But a new PC and sound card were already ordered, and so we named one of the instrumentals ‘A Farewell to the Falcon’.
Andreas: We achieved unexpected success with this EP. We sent it to German magazines like ‘Gitarre&Bass’ and ‘RockHard’ and received great reviews. We even got nominated for the German rock award 1999. But we had no chance to get it with our non-commercial project...
Achim: And this was the birth of CUEROCK. It was an important impulse. We began to develop our style. Andreas wanted us to become heavier with fat guitars left and right. On the other hand we wanted to put in classical structures such as variation, polyphony... but unfortunately ‘Physically’ remained unfinished due to Axel's death in 2004 – this was a shock...
Andreas: With the re-launch of CUEROCK 2009 we felt that we need vocals as a carrier for our music.
Achim: And Larry-Lee was the first singer after decades who was able to sing what we had in mind... Now we are able to add a touch of ‘sing-along’ to our music, so that listeners can join in... You called it ‘catchy’ in your review – a big thank you for that! But we still place on variation and polyphony as important musical structures.
If someone wants to explore your past, are these albums still available?
Achim: They were just demos, never released officially. We still have about 100 items of ‘I’ at home, but the sound quality is bad. Thousands of German Marks for a poor production...
Section 2 – Tales of present
Let’s get closer to what CUEROCK represents now. The addition of Larry Lee in 2010 seems to have added that extra bit of power, enthusiasm and motivation to get things going again. Is this the case?
Larry-Lee: I´d say on my entering the Band CUEROCK, that the personal CUEROCK band members views, if they were to voice their opinions, then they would probably answer: yes, Larry-Lee´s joining the band brought huge motivation amongst its founder members. His vocal versatility/musical vocal ability/power/emotion and expressions, for all his ray of sunshine when singing, and bringing Achim’s music ideas in composing into reality, then yes. It has brought life into its music by putting the hard composed work into reality. CUEROCK where not seeking the 1980´s styling from rock music from vocalists, in back then meant high pitch, high octave screams. It's also not really fitting for CUEROCK material. Our bands intentions are more for the melodic rock groove with a large element of theatrical feeling within its music compositions. In this way the guys probably recognised me as a huge asset to their music, being able to bring into realisation their - also future coming - material.
Achim: Yes, he is a real sunshine... ;-)
Andreas: But don't offer him expensive wines...
How did you find Larry (or how did he find you!)?
Larry-Lee: It was simply by chance. I simply landed on their doorstep, having heard they needed a vocalist, but was somewhat held back. However, I'd worked all my life in the music branch and have been a pure full blooded musician, almost as long turning pro in 1977, I had sung virtually every styling of the modern day music scenes, be it rock/swing/Tamla-Motown, or many of the dozen other styles, due to having been in many also cover bands, as well as bringing over years of original material... I'd mastered almost all, but I thought the metric structure of CUEROCK's music would be well above my capabilities. However, on visiting the band I was in as a full time member without even having taken an AUDITION! I personally gave my entry into the band via the words ‘I’m coming to you as an apprentice’, as they had not found any other vocalist with the ability to put their compositions into reality. But felt with patience that I could make them proud of me. I've never looked back since that day, and feel from that day on as if I've been with them from foundation day.--------------- They are simply great guys to work with.
Achim: I guess Larry read an online ad or I read his one – I don't know. The first time only Larry and I had a meeting in our little studio. I had already heard some of his former songs online and was sure that his voice had the needed range! And when he told me he'd come as an apprentice I had the feeling that he is the right member for us! We had tried out some very young singers before, talented and well-sounding, but with weakly-skilled singing-technique. Whenever they couldn't hit a high note they wanted us to pitch down the song instead of training their voice... Larry – despite of his long lasting career – said: I am willing to learn. No egomania, but professional attitude!
And what about the writing process: who is/are the main composer(s) or are all members contributing equally?
Larry-Lee: Within my past in the music branch, bands have mostly always been mine, but for the very first time in years this was not to be. And also for the very first time in my life I've decided to take a complete backseat in my music life, and I don’t regret a thing! I've also never, ever been in any type of band or music project where I have not had disagreements/arguments. However, in this band I've not witnessed one day of such! Approximately 28 months since my entry, argument free, just good warm hearted togetherness.
The song-writing process musically is done mostly between Achim+Andreas (Andy); Lyrically it's our Achim at work, with his - in my mind - genius works. I’m a U.K. Subject, and English is my native tongue, and he writes it as a German better than I'll ever be able to do (I take my hat off to You, Achim). Better said: musically+lyrically one could say 89% of the works come from his geniality+wondering adventures mind,----- it's what makes CUEROCK what it is.
Achim: (Blush...) I have to point out that one of the biggest inspirations for me is the aggregation of musical skills in this band! I have such a huge respect for all my band mates. One of the biggest impulses is to let all of them glare – I love vocals, bass, drums and keys, and – of course – electric guitars. Pathetically spoken: Every note is filled with love for these musicians – alive or passed away!
Andy and I have meetings with intense working on structures, arranging and/or voicing, and he gives very important inputs that help me develop the ‘songs’. But it is the agreement of ALL members that make the song finished!
Are lyrics a big part of your writing process now? Who writes the lyrics and what are the themes you deal with?
Larry-Lee: I occasionally contribute just a little to Achim´s ideas, but tend to keep my nose out of this region of work. I used my full musical know-hows in the first period of my successful ventures in the music branch and made my own success during the periods 1977 to 1983, so I do know my real capabilities. But it was a different music scene for me back then. If I was asked directly now how to valuate Achim's / CUEROCK's music and lyrics, well, it's an easy answer for me: composition and content extremely meaningful and full of inner feelings. It's music content one could class as a typical bombastic Hollywood Motion Picture music, which can be seen by us as a huge compliment.
Achim: The lyrics... They are mostly the attempt to describe the visions I have in mind. I am a very visual thinking person; the music I have in mind yields pictures and film-sequences that I try to explain. And I always look for strong words and precise terms. Larry is an important help, for he's a native speaker. Let me try to illustrate it with an example:
Kaleidoscope pt.I: ‘...but in the night her memories pull her retrograde through time’; Larry: ‘No common British person will understand this’, but we discussed what I had in mind: A term that gives a precise description of the wrong direction of thinking and living. After a while he said: Yes – let's do it this way...
I am a teacher for music and biology; as a scientist, I always take in the observer's view; as a music teacher, I always try to expose the beauty of what I see.
Could you tell us a few words about the music composition process? How do you write music? Does music come first, do lyrics come first, or, is it a simultaneous flowing process?
Achim: The first ideas are often simultaneous; there is a riff or a chorus in my mind – words and music. When I begin to work it out I focus on music – and later I try to fill my visions with words. But the phonetic structure of the lyrics (the ‘sounding’ part) is quite clear right from the beginning.
How would you characterise the CUEROCK sound? You are listed under progressive metal in ProgArchives, but there is more to it…
Larry-Lee: Well, as CUEROCK's front man I'd have to give the substantial answer, if asked in private the answer would be: an intellectual/technical/melodic/poetical and meaningful form of Power Rock/Metal with strong grooves, simply modern, tight and refreshing.
Achim: Having dealt with TOTO in the 80’s has formed us in the way we groove, I guess. Especially M.B. is more a gentleman-drummer than a rock-animal, playing more restrained, but always exactly figuring out the musical structures of our songs. It is great to see how clearly everything sounds when he's playing! And Andreas often adds a touch of Jazz/Fusion-feeling. Some Vai and Lukather aspects may appear... But I also try to add – maybe not quite obvious – I touch of ‘Bon Jovi’ to our music (oh – my – god...).
Following from the above, does the term progressive rock mean something special to you or is it just another means of categorising the music? What are your predictions about the future of prog rock?
Andreas: Indeed we called our music ‘progressive rock’ to give people a rough idea of what they could expect. We hate thinking in categories, but people need this kind of aid to orientation. All WE want to put in our music is polyphonic structures, variation, development...
Achim: You will never hear a verse simply repeated with new words. I hate simple encores apart from choruses. Life is not a flat-line – you've got ups and downs, changes, you should develop. If you try to create music that's vivid you have to transfer these aspects to it! It's like one of my favorite TNG-episodes ‘Déja Vu’: each encore is a little bit changed – and these variations carry the story up to the end.
But categorizing is a very dangerous thing. Some people think we're not proggy enough, others are deterred by suggesting we are playing boringly endless songs...
Future of prog rock? No idea. I don't count on categories; I just look for individual artworks. There are so many impressive songs in this genre today...
What’s your personal philosophy or/and mottos of your life?
Larry-Lee: Mine has always been from day one of music path as follows: Sex, no drugs but Rock´n´Roll...
Achim: Never stop learning!
Klaus: Always try to give your best!
M.B.: Let's play, until the geriatric nurses get us from the stage!
What would you advice someone who is currently aspiring to sink her/his band in the prog world?
Andreas:My personal opinion: There are too many bands outside that rely on solemn and dramatic exaggeration. A sip of ‘big ease’ and musical flow is needed more than another deeply grieving world-ache-epos...
Achim: On the other hand WE love this kind of neo-romanticism, don't we? I guess the most important tip is that they should try to tell their own musical stories. But I guess that young musicians who decide to dip in progressive have the right skills and talents to do it well! Imagine all those young talents of jazz you showed me, Andy!
NEW ALBUM! – 2012 marks the world-wide release of ‘Tales of Future Passed’. Please tell us about the recording process and how you ended up collaborating with 7Hard.
Achim: Well, after getting a complete line-up we started to put together new vocal material for live-eventers and so on. Larry confirmed us to put in some of our physically – instrumentals, for they were – to his opinion – too precious to be buried in the past. So we finished with a small edition mostly for promotional use. After having tuned our web presence (by the way: many, many thanks to our supporters Marco Witte, Ingo Holzhauer for designing & supervising it, Ingo also for his live-mixing, Julia Jork for dealing the lighting and Jens Herken for sound-supporting our rehearsals) Larry came in contact to Hans Derer (Owner of 7Hard). Hans wanted to re-release our CD under his label. But we decided to take in a new song (‘Days Of Future Passed), for it was always in my mind that ‘Kaleidoscope’ had to get this second part (the musical storyline was not completed; there was still more to this main theme!). But we had a strict deadline for the CD. I put together the song at record speed (The best way to turn your hair totally white...).
One word that could describe your latest album is ‘dynamic’? What are your influences as musicians (e.g. other musicians, bands, styles) and how do these blend together to the final result?
Achim: At present it is firstly my job to compose or at least work out the ideas. I do this by midi-programming bass, drums and keys (whenever Andy is not available). I love the elegant and musical drumming of M.B. and I love the virtuosity of Klaus and Andy. So I always imagine how they would like to play it. Maybe this is the reason why it appears dynamic: I always try to work the songs out in a way that brings out every facet of their musical sense.
Three tracks from ‘Physically’ appear to be in the new album as well. Are the new versions significantly different and/or have they been re-recorded? Is this the link between the old and the new material?
Andreas: We only did some re-recordings with Klaus. But we didn't delete all of Axel's parts! Klaus really admires Axel's work, and so it was to honor him by putting his work on this CD. The strangest thing is about ‘For Sabine’: you can hear Axel playing the whole first movement. The bass-heartbeats in the break leading to the second movement weren't played by him any more – he died shortly before this recording-session...
Achim: It wasn't easy to integrate the sounding of the new takes in the original ones, but I guess you will hardly hear it now... So you can say ‘Tales of Future Passed’ is the link between CUEROCK 2004 and our future. It is a turning-point, a thank you to our dear friend Axel. I personally found peace with his death by doing this CD.
We presume that the story of ‘Dream on in Neverland’ is a special one. Are you happy to give the details of this track?
Achim: It was early in 2005 when I told Andy that I had an idea for a three-parted-musical suite for our Axel. Dream On... was planned to be part two. I had this idea of a bass-riff, the 6/8 – groove was one of Axel's favorites, and I wanted to hold on to what this really great little man was for us. So I outlined the first movement and a first verse. We did a draft recording to fix the idea. We always dreamt of completing this song for him. We played it to Klaus and Larry and they were eager to have this song completed, too. So I finished it. It may be unbelievable, but Klaus and Larry, the two who never knew Axel, became his friend by carrying out this song! Friendship beyond death...
But there a still two parts missing... we plan to do 3 CDs for 7Hard...
Do you have any side projects/musical collaborations beyond CUEROCK?
Achim: M.B. and Klaus play with other local bands. M.B. supports friends of him who need a skilled drummer; Klaus is really quite successful with a top class cover-band. Larry tries to put together a show band. But CUEROCK is their top priority, of course.
Andy organizes and conducts Concertos such as Requiem by Mozart, St. James-Passion by Bach... it is part of his profession, but these concerts go far beyond what he has to do for his job! It is pure passion for church music.
Oh, I am the poor guy who has no time for side-projects. Composing and producing CUEROCK takes most of my time beside my job and my family (without their patience and understanding it wouldn't be possible)!
How are the live experiences of CUEROCK? What are the reactions of the people who come to your live shows?
Larry-Lee: We only had a few smaller venues till now because we focused on recording. But one reviewer on Amazon.de pointed out the friendly manner of the band. We are who we are, in real life the same as on stage. We like to talk with the audience after the show...
Achim: …and even in-between, when there a longer instrumental passages, right, Larry?
What is most important for me is that we seem to reach younger people as well as people in our age. Even Metal-headbangers enjoyed our music. But they shouldn't get too drunken – then our music might cause a brain-overkill...
Section 3 – Tales of future
What are the immediate future plans/goals for CUEROCK?
Achim: I am working out new songs for expanding our live-performance; Songs that will fill our second CD hopefully coming in 2013! And Larry will manage live-contacts; we want to play as much as possible. But our kind of music is not German mainstream at the moment, so it's not easy to get attractive live-jobs. Imagine we are newcomers (smile...)
Is there any possibility to see CUEROCK playing live in Greece (home of JustIn Case Prog Radio) or UK? Friends of Larry must be waiting for his return! What are the challenges in playing lives shows abroad?
Larry-Lee: Yes and no... better said if you have better contact than us, with Greek festival/concert organizers liking our style of music then maybe. However our Greek contact possibilities are sadly low. But naturally it would be great to appear somewhere within your country, as also others. However good our music, it’s still an up-hill climb even for us to be heard live. This music style is limited for new on the scene progressive bands. Now, being Dream Theater/Porcupine Tree/Spock's Beard/Steve Vai/Toto/Haggard/Tankard and a small number of others, for such established names... we've been in the business just as long, but without such a name much patience is needed! But we will get there, maybe to Greece also, with help from your side of the water.
Concerning my friends in the UK: Yes there still are a few out there (most probably dead by now – ha ha...). And yes, I've had many personal compliments from many of my past band/s following, who have discovered our CUEROCK CD, recognized my voice and made contact. It is firstly a great inner feeling, and it would be a moral boost for any musician. Yes, GLASTONBURY 2013: here we come...
Achim: Our chances playing abroad are limited by the fact, that we all have our main professions. So it is a question of money, but to get enough money depends on popularity, which we try to increase.
A message from your part for the listeners of JustIn Case Prog Radio, Greece is…
Achim: ...the cradle of our European culture; many thanks for that! And for Gyros, Samos and Metaxa... I am almost addicted...
Andreas: Nothing more to say...
A message from your part for the collaborators and members of ProgArchives is…
Achim: First I must point put that we are very, very proud of having become part of your collection and receiving this fine review of our album! It really is an honor!
Larry-Lee: I say the same to all YOU prog-collaborators out there! But it would simply be good for us as a band if more of you, who have listened to our CD, would send in some of your up-front open personal true opinions as to CUEROCK’s music pro or con on our guest-book on www.CUEROCK.com. It is critique that helps a band most!
Anything that you might want to add?
Larry-Lee: For those evermore visitors browsing into CUEROCK information and news: please, just remember that I, Larry-Lee, as a member of the Band state as follows:
Please do not await from me any overall form of seriousness. Most bands are maybe serious, and the original CUEROCK guys also, but I myself am a mad character who loves and does his job in the band. However it's not possible for me to stay serious long! As a person I'm just full of fun and cannot survive without doing something silly and stupid. It's my Lancashire UK humor, ok?
Achim: So you think that all of us other guys completely lack any sense of humor? I guess I will do remixes of our songs chosing the … the ‘best’ takes of Larry-Lee... grin...
Klaus: There are some interesting live-takes from our rehearsals... grin...
JustIn Case Radio Progducer & Progressive Metal Collaborator in www.progarchives.com
Demetris “All Around” Katsikis
JustIn Case Radio Founder & Progducer