Thanks so much to all Michael and Ralph for this fantastic interview down memory lane. The Pariahs are one of German’s best jangle pop secrets. I wrote a bit about them not so long ago, and now at last we get to know their story. And what a story! Interesting that they are back, and also here at the end of the interview you can listen to an exclusive demo of Offer Me. On top of that, they have just added new stuff to their ReverbNation page. Don’t miss it!
++ Hi Michael & Ralph! Thanks so much for being up for this interview! How are you doing? Are you still based in Berlin and are you still making music these days?
Michael: Yes, we still live in Berlin and we’re still (or should I say: again) making music together. Three years ago, I took our old 4-track-demos and remixed it again. Then after I sent him the results Ralph and me met, took our instruments and played together for the first time after a 16-year-break. We found out that we still like what we’re doing and so we startet making music together regularly with Thomas Bleskin (Ex-Decades), who established a littler recording studio in his sleeping room. Then Silke Nauschütz joined the band. Only a few month later – in December 2010 – we decided to record two songs in a professional sound studio, engineered by Hardy Fieting (Scream Silence). We recorded “Rock’n’Roll Has Saved My Life” and “Winter’s Finally Gone” – both songs were written by Ralph. On drums: again Ralf Kündgen! That was real fun!
Since then we did a couple of home-made-demos at Thomas’ flat. He’s a composer, too. When Silke left, we started working on German lyrics for our songs – and eventually we found a young strong female singer and founded a new project with our German songs together with her. We just recorded four songs with the help of Marcellus Puhlemann (Nina Hagen) on drums. Producer was our old friend Thommy Hein (Tightrope Walk). We hope to do some more recordings this year and are planning to publish an album in the near future.
++ Let’s start to a time before Pariahs. When was the first time you picked up a bass? And were you involved with bands before Pariahs?
Michael: That was in autumn 1988, when me and Ralph started making music for a “pop session” in our school, one year after we finished our school-education. Before that none of us played in an a band. We only did music on our own; we had started writing songs when we were still kids (12/15)- and in summer 1988 we began to record them on a four-track-recorder – the good old Fostex X-15.
++ How did Pariahs start? Did you know Ralph, Thomas, Ralf and Silke already? How had you all met?
Michael: When we did that gig in the aula of our ex-school on Nov. 8, 1988 we recognized how much the audience liked us. It really had been an incredible reaction. So we decided to build a band. We searched for a drummer in a City-Magazine (“tip”) – we wrote: “Drummer needed for studio and live-performances” and so some called us. Ralf Kündgen was the one we liked most, musically and personally. Then, in the spring of 1989, we rented a rehearsal room in Berlin Neukölln and met two or three times a week. Our first gig was in London, at the “Amersham Arms” pub in Deptford, were the Cutting Crew played a few days before we did. Back in Berlin we supported Edwyn Collins at the “LOFT”.
++ Where did the name of the band come from?
Ralph: I had the idea, though all the time we pronounced it wrong… It was those days with the Smiths and be loners that nobody would touch – “Pariahs” meaning “untouchables”. Sounds rather gloomy now, I suppose, but back then it seemed a good idea…
++ And what kind of bass did you play in Pariahs? Do you still have it?
Michael: I started with a Yamaha then switched to a Warwick Corvette 5-String which I still own and play.
++ Why did you choose to sing in English and not in German like most bands do in Germany?
Ralph: Back in 1987, except for Neue Deutsche Welle (new German wave- but that the beginning of the eighties) I didn’t really care much for German bands singing German. All the music I loved came from Britain, and I wanted to communicate with them. Again, maybe not the best of ideas, looking back.
++ You started as a band in 1989 and released your album in 1992. Why did it take that long for Tightrope Walk to be released?
Ralph: If I remember correctly, Michael and I met at school in 1986 and found out that we were both huge Beatles fans. We both played guitar, sang and wrote songs. So we teamed up and had that little two-guys-gig at a school party – I simply refused to switch to the bass, so Mike did. He also played the piano. We had a six-song-gig which was quite a success. Then we looked for a drummer and found Ralf, who was amazing and so much better than we were. That must have been in 1989. We played some small concerts and developed our material, but the industry never took notice, I think we were not the best live band around. So we took our money (and went to the bank) and financed our album recording Dec 1991 and
released. And again, nobody noticed.
Michael: We booked the studio for 22 days in December 1990 and did “Tightrope Walk”. About 14 days recording, one week mixing. One of the last songs that has been sorted out was “Offer Me”. Before – in 1990 – we had made a 16-track-demo (with Thommy) with four songs on it and tried to get a contract with the record-industry; when we failed we decided to do the album.
++ And why didn’t you release any other records in your career?
Michael: I wish we would. In 1994 we made another 3-track-demo with Thommy and a fourth man, Chris DeVine, on E-Guitar – as a last try – but we didn’t had the money to release it on our own.
++ Do you happen to have many more songs recorded, still unreleased?
Ralph: We do have a few, seven songs were recorded as demos. And we have lots of recordings from the rehearsing room which can never be published. And then there’s countless home recordings, mostly mine.
++ Why the name “Tightrope Walk” for the album?
Ralph: It was the name of Michael’s song, so he can tell you. When we sat down at a pub in Neukölln, I suggested “Friendly and Courageous” as album title – it was song that didn’t make it on the album, so I thought maybe we honour it. But Michael and Ralf weren’t intrigued, so I suggested “Tightrope Walk” and they immediately agreed. My thought was that this recoding for us was some kind of tightrope walk anyway, so it fit.
++ How was the experience recording with Thomas Hein at Tonstudio?
Ralph: It was wonderful. Thommy is incredible to work with, and he has become very successful since then (I think Tightrope Walk was his first independent production), and now works i.e. with Jens Heppner, Nena and Bushido. The only thing was we didn’t have enough time, but Thommy is a huge part in making that album as good as it is. And I think it is, even after all these years.
++ If you were to choose a favourite song of the album, which one would it be and why?
Ralph: My personal favourite song is I Run Away. The best performance is Hey, Turnkey!, and our choice for the single that never happened was Going Down Niagara Falls, so if it is your favourite, we had that right.
Michael: The same goes for me. But iI also like That’s A Bargain, specially the last minute of it, also Rattle My Cage and STP. And some parts of Roots.
++ Mine is “Going Down Niagara Falls”, if it’s not much to ask, what’s the story behind this song?
Ralph: Sorry, no story, just me being artsy, using fancy words over horribly difficult rhythms. But I like the hookline… 🙂
++ And who were the label Civic Dust?
Ralph: Ralf, Micha and me. For the name of the label we were using a line from the lyrics of Niagara Falls. Just a joke.
++ Something that always struck me was that not many bands in Germany, very few really, were doing the sort of jangly pop you were doing. So of course I have to ask what music were you listening then, who would you say influenced you?
Ralph: I could name a few, but let’s just say: Prefab Sprout. And they have a new album out these days, it’s incredible and lights my life…
Michael: ..no to forget Elvis (Costello), R.E.M., Paul Weller, The Go Betweens and Deacon Blue… and Joe Jackson!!
++ And do tell, how was Berlin back in those days? Were there any other bands in town that you enjoyed? And were would you usually hang out?
Ralph: We played support on a small tour of East Germany in 1990 with a band named Big Savod. And there was a band called Club Savage we played with; they a song called “Dance on the Graveyard” which was fantastic, and we dreamed we would produce them once we became stars. 😉
We hang out in a very cheap place next to our rehearsal room in Neukölln. But we would sit in the rehearsal room or in one of our homes, because there we could make or listen to music.
++ What about gigs? Did you play many? Which were your favourites?
Michael: Not too much. We played only a bit more than 30 gigs from 1989 to 1994. We had fun on tour with Big Savod; it felt like beeing a “real musician”. And we did the support for The Immaculate Fools in Berlin in Oct. 1992 again in the famous LOFT on Nollendorfplatz. At Quasimodo (a jazz club) we celebrated the record release.
++ And if you had to choose a highlight for the band, what was it?
Michael: Definetely the first two gigs in London (the Mixer said, he toured with McCartney and the Wings through the US in 1976) and with Edwyn Collins.
++ These days you have quite a bit of presence on the web, I’ve found your songs on Myspace, Soundclick, Soundcloud and ReverbNation. Do you feel the internet has changed way too much how a band can make themselves known? Would you prefer this decade or when you were around to have a band?
Ralph: Hard to say. Back then we were either too early or too late. 1991 was Grunge. Britpop came later. Humph.
++ When and why did you split?
Ralph: It was 1994. We were unsuccessful as a band, but getting busy with our “real” jobs. It seemed natural, though a bit sad. But we went in peace…
Michael: Esp. Ralf was building up his music-career which he did, and he didn’t want to spend so much time in the rehearsing-room without playing gigs. Now he is the drummer in the Udo-Lindenberg-Musical “Hinter’m Horizont” on Potsdamer Platz.
++ And this is what I always wondered, what happened to you after? I can’t believe you would stop making music, am I wrong?
Ralph: Aaaaaaah…..now it’s getting interesting! As he told you, Michael and I reunited a few years ago with our friend Thomas Bleskin and re-started The Pariahs. Thomas’ and my colleague (we’re all radio journalists) Silke joined as backing vocalist and flutist. We recorded to more demo songs. Again, who would want to buy that? Nobody. So Thomas had the idea of casting, producing and promoting a girl band with German lyrics. Well. There’s no girl group, but we found an amazing young female singer and founded a band, and we went back to the studio (Thommy Hein, we’re faithful) back in April this year and did your new songs. We think they’re best thing we’ve ever done. We’re trying to sell this, but as always this seems to be tough. It’s really good material, though. I’m still optimistic…
++ I love Berlin, and I like Germany a lot. And as I always have great meals there, and great beers, I must ask, what are your favourite German beers, and German dishes?
Ralph: My favourite beer is Paulaner Hefeweizen. Goes well with Wiener Schnitzel – sorry, Austrians!
Michael: I prefer czech beer – esp. Pilsner Urquell. And i adore the gulash of my mom.
++ And do you support any Bundesliga teams?
Ralph: Three. Hertha BSC (I’m from Berlin, for God’s sake!), Werder Bremen and Borussia Dortmund.
Michael: Hertha, of course. And Ralf was a fan of VfB Stuttgart, wasn’t he?
++ And aside from music, do you happen to have any other fun interests or hobbies?
Ralph: I love good films and good television. Also I’m gaming quite a lot. And I enjoy reading.
Michael: I love to go to live concerts, big ones and small ones. This weekend I will see Blur for the first time (yeah, I’m still the old school-type;)