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Claudia Brucken - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 24 / 8 / 2018

Claudia Brucken - Interview


Claudia Brucken, the former singer with Propaganda, talks to John Clarkaon about her new album 'Beginn', which she has collaborated on with electronic composer and ex-Tangerine Dream member Edgar Froese.

Singer-songwriter Claudia Brucken was the front-woman in the 80’s Dussseldorf-formed group Propaganda, whose 1985 debut album ‘A Secret Wish’ is now seen to be one of the seminal electronic releases of the 1980s. Signed to the infamous ZTT act at the same time as the bestselling Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Propaganda combined lavish orchestral studio arrangements, musical theatricalism and lyrics that swung from the tongue-in-cheek to the macabre with striking visual imagery. Brucken and her co-vocalist Susanne Freytag, the former with her beautiful singing voice, and the latter who provided similarly commanding spoken word vocals, were briefly cult figures. Its singles ‘Dr Mabuse’ and ‘Duel’, both entered the lower end of the Top 30, and ‘A Secret Wish’, which reached no. 16 in the UK album chart, won strong reviews. Propaganda’s early small fame was, however, short-lived, and it broke up acrimoniously within six months of the album's release. Brucken then went on to form Act with Scottish-born electronic composer Thomas Leer, who released an album ‘Laughter, Tears and Rage’ in 1988. She has since then gone on to front another duo Onetwo with her then partner, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s Paul Humphreys, who put out both an EP ‘Item’ (2004) and an album ‘Instead’ (2007). She has also released three solo albums, ‘Love: A Million Things’ (1991), ‘The Lost Are Found’ (2012) and ‘Where Else…’ (2014). On ‘The Lost Are Found’, a covers album, Brucken collaborated with producer Stephen Hague, who has worked with New Order and the Pet Shop Boys, and on ‘Where Else…’, her first guitar album, with veteran producer and songwriter John Owen Williams, who has worked with the Housemartins, Petula Clark and Michael Nyman. It is a particularly busy time for Brucken. After several failed attempts at reforming Propaganda, she has recently established xPropaganda with Susanne Freytag, a new live band, who are touring with Heaven 17 in November and will be performing ‘A Secret Wish’. She is also involved in a new collaboration with Jerome Froese. His late father Edgar founded the influential instrumental German electronic group Tangerine Dream, and Jerome spent sixteen years in Tangerine Dream before leaving to start a career as an electronic solo artist. The pair have just released an album ‘Beginn’ on Cherry Red Records, in which Brucken’s evocative vocals merge with Froese’s soundscapes which move from the dreamy to the sinister to the frantic. In our third interview with her, Pennyblackmusic spoke to ClaudIa Brucken about ‘Beginn’ and xPropaganda. PB: You and Jerome first started talking about working together in 2014. How long did it take you to establish a working relationship? CB: It took about a year to set the wheels in motion because, while Jerome and I had this idea of working together, we didn’t actually meet apart from over Skype for a long time. It was very much a long- distance relationship at first (Laughs). PB: That is a total contrast to what happened with ‘Where Else...’ because when you were working on that album you and your co-writer and producer John Owen Williams met up every day. CB: Yes, that is right. It was completely different. John came to my place in London or I went to his every day for four months‘ concentrated work. That album was completely different because it was written on the guitar. On this one I have gone back to my electronic roots, which I really wanted to do. I had this sense of longing of working with someone in electronic music, and then Jerome called up and the call was answered (Laughs). Jerome sent me lots and lots of backing tracks and I tried to get stories for them together. The cover of the album with its dividing line symbolises that separation. It has the neck of a man and the neck of a woman on the sleeve and a line in between them symbolising that. Once I had got a bunch of lyrics together I travelled to Berlin, where Jerome has his studio, at the end of 2015. Jerome had not really worked with a vocalist before, and we did some vocal recordings at his place. We did seven days of intensive work in Berlin where I threw all my ideas down and we recorded about seven songs. Then I came back over to London and I realised that I would like to improve on the vocal quality. So, we went into Paul Humphreys’ studio with a friend of mine called Dave Watson and he did all the vocal production on the album. PB: Why did you decide to record the bulk of the vocals at Paul Humphreys’ studio rather than return to Jerome’s studio? CB: I always like to work with someone who understands a lot about vocals. Stephen Lipson, who produced ‘A Secret Wish’, knew a lot about vocal recordings, and so did Stephen Hague who I did ‘The Lost Are Found’ with. It is such an important, integral part of recording. Jerome did super well. He did brilliantly, but he didn’t have all the gear in Berlin. There is a real art to vocal production and a natural flow. I have worked with Dave Watson before. He does a lot of live work with me, but he has also done a lot of other vocal recordings too. I just really wanted to fine tune it to get it sounding the way I wanted it to sound. PB: ’Beginn’ has defied many people’s expectations as they were expecting some kind of meeting of Propaganda and Tangerine Dream, but it is not that. Was that something from the outset that you set out to get away from? CB: Propaganda was one combination of people, and ‘A Secret Wish’ was obviously recorded on a massive, massive budget with an incredible team of people and musicians. ‘Beginn’ was never going to sound like Propaganda. That is a lot of expectation which I would never be able to fulfil on my own. With Jerome it would have never sounded like Tangerine Dream either because it is a vocal album (Laughs). The Propaganda album comes from 33 years ago, and Jerome also left Tangerine a long, long time in 2006, so we never said to each other, “Let’s make an album that will be Propaganda goes Tangerine Dream or the other way round.” Jerome had a lot of respect for me and for what I had done before musically. He loved my voice and he liked my track record, and for me Tangerine Dream were obviously such an important German band in electronic music, and I was looking for someone who was into electronic music and was from Germany. It was just the perfect match for me. When Jerome called me up and said, “Do you want to do something?” I went, “Yup. Absolutely” (Laughs). It was really a fantastic collaboration. Jerome and I really gel musically, and it was for him it was an experience working with a vocalist and for me it was an experience working with someone who didn’t work within a classic pop song structure. He is not afraid of making a big sound and going into the unexpected. I like that a lot about him. PB: If there is a theme to this album, it is about finding the strength to carry on and to grab what hope that you can in often dire and desperate circumstances. Would you agree with that? CB: Yes, it is about being positive in all life’s challenges that we are confronted with daily. You think that you have become victorious in one thing, and then the next day there is something else. I think that this album is very much about being positive and staying in the moment and accepting the way things are, and also knowing when to let go and maintaining a healthy mind-set. ‘Wounded’, for example, is very, very dark. Obviously the music that Jerome delivered to me was very, very dark with that track, so I was thinking that this has to be dark. It can’t be light, but I do really like working with light and shades and nuances in between and there is a lot of that on this record. PB: You take a lot in your lyrics from the elements - the sky, stars, the oceans, landscapes basically. Was that something which you were conscious of when you were writing it? CB: I realised in the end that there were a lot of skies (Laughs). I think that there were twelve skies (Laughs). I was thinking should I call the album ‘Twelve Skies’, but I wasn’t aware of it until afterwards. I guess that I am very connected to nature. Although I live in the city and in London, I have always been very much in tune with nature and gardens and plants, and when the city becomes too much I escape to London parks or go to the seaside. I don’t want to sound too hippy but it does ground me going out in nature. PB: ‘Sweet Sense of Liberation’ features joint co-vocals from you and Susanne Freytag. Was this the first time you had been in the studio together in many years? CB: No, because we had hooked up with Ralf Dörper (keyboards) and Michael Mertens (percussion) in yet again in another attempt at writing a Propaganda album in 2015 or so, but again sadly it did not come to fruition. My relationship with Susanne is that she is a part of my family. Susanne and I really love the way our voices bond off one each other, and we have been doing these xPropaganda gigs because we just really love performing together. One day Susanne happened to be there. There was a speaking part that was needed and I just said, “Rather than me speaking it why don’t we ask Susanne?” That was how that came about, and for Susanne it was very natural to do. She takes great joy from helping out where she can, and we just thought for this track that it would suit the mood. For the people who were into ‘A Secret Wish’ it just has that connection, but at the same time we weren’t deliberately trying to find a connection to that era.” It just came about very naturally. PB: ‘A Secret Wish’ was reissued again in March. It is an album that has really stood the test of time and has been re-released now on many occasions, but Propaganda never really toured and broke up in difficult circumstances within six months of it coming out. Why do you think it continues to be so highly regarded? CB: I think that it is the strength of the songs and the production. There is a real Germanic-ness and theatricalism to it and also at points an incredible playfulness to it. I think it is its unusualness. There was nothing like it at the time, and there has been nothing since. Susanne and I did our first two shows as xPropaganda at the Garage in March, and there were twenty-year olds and thirty-year olds in the audience. I expected everone to be fifty plus, and we were so pleasantly surprised when we realised that we had young fans too. It didn’t reach the Top Ten then, but it has been discovered since and it is obviously still being discovered by people now. PB: xPropaganda are touring the UK in support of Heaven 17 in November. What is that going to involve? CB: We are going to play ‘A Secret Wish’ from beginning to end, as we did at the Garage. I don’t think we will get Stephen Lipscombe to join us this time as he did then. I would like him to, but he is a very, very busy man. We will give him though the option always. At the Garage gigs he brought along a percussionist, who was fantastic, and we had a trumpet-player as well but with us being the opener for these shows we probably can’t realistically have all the people that we had on stage then.I think that there will just be five of us. If they want us to join us they will be most welcome to. PB: Have you any plans to tour ‘Beginn’? CB: I would absolutely love to and Jerome would absolutely love to as well. We have not been asked to yet by anyone, but Jerome and I have talked about it a lot. It is always a money thing though, isn’t it? To put it all together would be very costly, but if we got some offers from clubs and the opportunities present themselves we would love to. PB: What other plans do you have for the future beyond xPropaganda? CB: I really love the opportunity of playing live, so I would like to get a few more gigs together under my own name. I always have lyrics and little melodies in my head, but I haven’t really settled down and said, “Okay, this is my next project.” All I am doing is quietly working on a set on my next set of songs, but I don’t know who I will be collaborating on them with yet. PB: Thank you.

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Claudia Brucken - Interview

Claudia Brucken - Interview

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Claudia Brucken - Interview
John Clarkson speaks to former Propaganda singer Claudia Brücken about her third solo album ‘Where Else...’, the first which she has written on the guitar
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