Hello Ralf. It has been a few years since we last spoke. What has Mekong Delta been doing those years?
Workout a hopefully stable line up and composing and experimentating a lot.
There was a European Tour in the works, but unfortunately disaster struck when the entire line up from your last album 'Lurking Fear' had to be replaced. Why did Peter, Uli en Leo decide to leave Mekong Delta and how hard was it to replace them?
Ralf: It's the old problem of time. For this tour we engaged a sideman on guitar who had an accident several weeks before the first show. As it was impossible to get another one in that short time the standard domino effect starts. On the first other offered dates Peter did have no time, the alternative dates Uli had no time and so on, what remembers me fatal on the old days was we all the time had these problems. So what to do? It was clear that this situation would not lead into a good future for playing live. After some discussions it was clear to me that I have to make a dramatical cut if I would like to fullfill the wishes of the fans - to see us live – on one hand and on the other to build up a lineup which could spent some more time working on future compostions of Mekong. At that point one thing was obvious, the new musicians should all be resident in Germany. After a discussion with Uli ( who knows really hundreds of muiscians ) he told me that he met a young german drummer on his last tour, who was interested to play Mekong stuff. Uli gave him my mailadress and two days later he contacted me. The good thing on that was – aside from that his playing is on a really high level – that he got a lot of good musicians hanging around in his rehearsal room, all out of germany. So it came to a jam with Benedikt on guitar which was quite satisfying. Short before that I contacted Erik, as he already played some Mekong stuff. He agreed immediately so the guitar situation was finally solved. Again it was Alex who came up with several singers and after I heard Martins interpretation of some of our songs I asked him to join. The result is that Mekong has musicians now, which should make it easier to realize future live plans.
The tour turned out to be a few shows over Europe. Was it so hard to get on a tour with some other bands on the AFM roster?
Ralf: No, that wasn't the problem. Fact is that we got a fully booked tour and I had to cancel it for the reasons mentioned above. After such a thing bookers are mostly very critical concerning live shows. So it will take a while to get them back into the boat. The other thing was that you can not build up a whole Mekong live set in one or two weeks, that needs a bit of time.
On this tour you presented a new line up: guitarists Eric Adam H. and Benedikt Zimniak, drummer Alex Landenburg and vocalist Martin LeMar. How did you get these people to play in Mekong Delta and have you never considered to ask one of the ex members back into the band? Let's say Peter Haas, Uwe Baltrusch or Doug Lee?
Ralf: See above for the first part. That's very simple. Let's take Peter for example. He haven't played the kind of Mekong stuff since years, he is deeply into bigband jazz – you should visit his site, interesting videos there. On the phone he told me that it would cost him several weeks to prepare himself to get back into this material – if he will find the time (the time curse – remembers me of the Twilight Zone). So, this was not an option also. On the other hand let's take Doug. He is back in the USA, and this could cause the same time-trouble we had in the past. Besides that you have to take care of the flight costs all the time. No, it is much easier to have a singer you can call and ask whether he got the time for a session next evening.
The Mekong Delta website gave the fans a chance to decide what the band had to do next, and there were some great projects mentioned there. The choice was made for the concept cd, but are those other options like the DVD and the live album still something that will be planned?
Ralf: Yeah, this is still planned. The driving force behind it is Alex – for what ever reason. On every second phone call he mentions after a while, that it would be time to record a live DVD / CD. At the moment it may be possible that we will use one of our live shows this year to do a CD and / or a video.
Martin: But we shouldn't make such a thing in a hurry. A DVD should be worth the money you spend and be something special.
Like mentioned in the previous question, the new album is a concept album called 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time' and it's a story about a time travel to a world that is destroyed by the ignorance of man and his institutions and about the hope that lies in apparently small things. Musically it is a totally different approach compared to 'Lurking Fear'. Could you tell us something more about the writing process of these songs?
Ralf: Since years I got the idea to continue the story of the Violinist. What happened beyond the gates? For me it is all the time the same. If I work concentrated on an album – like I did with 'Lurking' there are millions of ideas. Unfortunately not all work with the basic musical concept, but I write them down. After the songs for 'Lurking' had been finished I liked to start with 'Into The Heart Of Darkness', but noticed that the stuff is pretty complicated to realize musically. The themes I got at that moment where cool, but did not fit the story. While playing around I noticed that I found at least one really good main theme and a lot of stuff in totally different moods – different moods, that brought me to the point that this could be a good idea to continue the story of the violin player, different places – different stories – different emotions. After the formal factor was clear to me – Rondo again – it was the time to work out what he could see or visit. I wrote down a basic story for myself and then I started to figure out which of the riffs could fit the line. After some days the basics had been chosen and only the flesh have to be filled (that's what I thought). Working more and more with the material it became clear that this could musically be a step into another direction, away from only using expressionistic harmonies up to combine this with all the other kind of music I like. After some weeks it was clear how to go into the (for me) right direction. Using the extreme harmonies on the instrumental parts and to cover and combine them with (for Mekong) new harmonies during the songs with vocals. If I listen to the result now, several weeks after finishing the album, it was the right decision for me. On the album you can find the extreme stuff as a lot new things as well.
Martin: I was really happy that Ralph involved me in the writing process for the vocal lines. Despite that he already had some lines in his mind, he left it to me to bring my own ideas, what may be different from the vocal-line approaches of the past. Through the rehearsals and live-shows I had already a feeling for the composing style of Ralph and knew in some way how the lines would fit perfectly in a 'Mekong way'. I admit that there are also some parts that are totally different from Mekong before, but some of them convinced Ralph, whilst some of them didn't. But even if that album differs from the vocal point of view, it remains pure Mekong Delta.
The album breathes an atmosphere of seventies progressive rock, I get a very strong King Crimson vibe in some songs, but also Yes, Genesis and Emerson Lake and Palmer are names that spring to mind to describe the new album. Did you get fed up with the thrashy style of 'Lurking Fear', or was it just a progression from your previous album?
Ralf: No, why should I? You have to see it in a different way. First thing is that it depends on the fact how the album is composed. In my case: which instrument is the one used most, bass or classical guitar and piano. The main lines for 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time' were composed on guitar, 'Lurking' is a 100% bass creation – this could also be seen if you take a look at the older albums. 'Dances..' was bass while 'Kaleidoscope' is guitar and 'Zann' is a mixture of both. The second – and main reason – is that the expressionistic harmonies are not eternal, so the risk to repeat oneself grows with each album. As 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time' offers a bright spectrum of emotions that our protagonist went through, it offers the possibility to use a lot of different composing techniques. I was willing to take this risk for that reason that – if accepted – you can draw on unlimited resources concerning the way of composing.
'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time' is not to be seen as fifteen compositions, but as a single musical piece of about fifty minutes. You also call the summary Martin has written a 'libretto' and the piece is divided into movements. Was it your intention to write an opera-like album?
Ralph: No, I am not good enough to create such a composition which would stand my own critical ears at the moment. Indeed it is more like a Rondo. The separation into movements was done to better clearify the different parts.
Martin: When I heard Ralphs composition without the vocals it filled my head with pictures. That is a normal process for me, when I try to get into the feeling of the song. It's a bit of method acting without camera. Ralph and I discussed often what the album is about in general and I knew about the Tarot-card idea. The „libretto“ I wrote was meant for Eliran Kantor, to give him an impression of the pictures in my head while I sing these songs.
What stands out in the libretto is this high degree of symbolism that is combined with touches of 'reality'. Like in the Third Movement 'The Apocalypt//World In Shards', the protagonist tries to piece together what happened in the apocalyptic world he awoke in, and there we see certain things like global warming, terrorism and war that certainly refer to our world, but also a magician who plays with the elements in 'The Fifth Element'. Have you tried to catch current events into a fairy tale?
Ralf: I think it's much better to choose actual events as a basis for the lyrics. That gives you a lot room to play around with words, I love that. A lot of people like to go deep into that what is written down and make up their mind what its all about, so I think its more interesting to read something that refers to actual events instead describing killing someone or something like that again and again. If you remember, this was first done on the album 'E.Zann' where it was done vice versa, the old story was projected into actual time.
Love is also a prominent theme on the album. In 'Affection' the tale is told of a meeting between the protagonist and an old man who is waiting for his loved one to return, and his devotion to that loved one has given him unnatural long life. Is this a way to say that love is undying?
Ralf : If you find love in its pure condition it is undying. Unfortunately nowadays love did not mean the spiritual side, most of the time only the side of flesh is meant.
Martin: But even from that point of view love has two sides. In a way love can make people do astonishing things. It can enlighten you and it's able to drive you into madness in the same moment, what is the core statement of that song. Love can turn a king into a fool and a fool to a king and in the wrong hands love can be one of the most devastating forces and if it is only for your own mind.
Finally the protagonist finds out that religious groups have initiated the final war by making religion about politics. Such a situation is current in The Netherlands with two pro-christian parties in the government (this interview was held before the Dutch government fell). Do you agree that religious beliefs are bad advice when it comes down to political decision making?
Ralf: I think first one have to define: what is religion? If it is moral and ethics it could be worth listen to. But what has been made out of all this classical religions – which at least are only a kind of social codex for the people (just take the Ten Commandments – do not kill, a giant step forward from the barbaric behaviour at that time) which have to learn to live together in bigger “cities” at that time – is a mess. It starts with the point that there are some people who think that they are the only ones who are able to interpret the different books right, what a bullshit. If there is a god I do not believe that he would look for interpreters of his words. You know, nowadays the word god is replaced through money and we all pray to the big market. I believe that we lost spiritual beliefs in general, whether it is god, nature or what ever you like to call it. Instead the great TV God is telling most of the people what to do. It is strange that humans lost the feeling to exist if they aren't mirrored in TV or on - for example - MySpace. All this wasting of our own personality, this feeling to be lost or alone is for sure a big brick in the social problems we got today. So from that point of view today's religion for sure is not a good advice to follow.
Musically 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time' is exploring new ground for Mekong Delta, and in particular I would like to point out the music for 'A Certain Fool' and 'Affection'. Those parts could easily make it into a top 40 single. Was that your intention, to make Mekong Delta a bit more accessible?
Ralf: The reason is that I got a lot of compositions in my book which needed the right singer to take the risk of recording them, one of those is 'A Certain Fool'. After Martin first time taped my basic vocal ideas I was willing to try it with this one. Indeed the song is very special, something I all the time liked to do, classical guitar ( which, if you listen carefully, picks the strange harmonies which are normally used in hard Mekong group songs ) in combination with orchestra, interconnected by Martin, I love the result, sounds fantastic. 'Affection' is a totally different story. After Martin listened to the basic shape of this song, he decided – I did not noticed that first – that this will become “his” song on the album. If I remember right than the time between mailing the shape and getting the first vocal lines was less the five hours. It is at least – lets say a “vocal feature song”, kind like 'Epilogue' on 'Zann'.
Martin: I loved that song from the first second. I would never imagined Ralph to come up with such a song, so I was surprised, stunned and however I nailed down the vocal lines for it in a very short time and didn't changed anything since then. And the song is somewhat special to me because it hit me at a very special time and the song become somehow personal. Even if I know that this song will be discussed by some Mekong Delta fans.
Currently it is uncertain when 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time' will be released. Is the album still coming out on AFM Records, or are you going to release it on your own Zardoz Label?
Ralf: After I got several discussions with labels which made an offer to release the new album I recognized pretty fast that to agree to one of these offers would be the wrong way. All of those let me feel their fear concerning the future of music looking on internet etc. So, what was easier to contact different distributors and get it out on my old Aaarrg label. After some discussions with the other members they stated that they'd also prefer that. Ok, here we go.
After the release we are expecting a tour. When can we finally see Mekong Delta in The Netherlands again?
Ralf: Hopefully this year. Lets wait and see.
Final question. A lot of people with religious views see these times as the prelude to 'The End of Days'. There is a multitude of documentaries about this subject on channels like History, Discovery and National Geographic and it seems that the famous poems by Nostradamus are in highest demand. Do you also think that the End of Days has begun, according to the themes of 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time', or do you see other forces at work?
Ralf: Yeah, every day Doomsday news. No, I do not believe that the end is near, that would be too simple. Think that it is mankind's curse to stay here to live with this bullshit we had done and are still doing. But what I strongly believe is that the social situation will get much harder as we are still not willing to name the people who are responsible for this shit – eg. those cowards in government who lie so much that they can no longer see the difference between truth and wishful thinking. Or the media, the word of the year is crisis - if you talk long enough about crises, they will come for sure - in people's heads. Nostradamus on the other hand is something totally different. Over the years I read three translations, all different. And, to tell the truth, I do not believe that there is one linguist who is able to translate 500 year old coded French. So if you search long enough, you will find something he wrote what will fit to actual catastrophes all the time. The same with the hype concerning the Maya. If there would be a planet which should hit us in 2012 – especially as big as it is described – you would already see it. Ahhh, that's all money making and setting traces to not let you see what's really going on.
Martin: Take a look at the past of the world. There been much darker days. But when you keep the lambs in constant fear of wolves, they will follow the orders of the dogs with more pleasure. We have to keep our eyes open and to be doubtful sometimes.