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Interviews of Prog

Michael Roessmann
Michael Roessmann

The Interview with one of the masterminds and former members of AMENOPHIS - undoubtedly the best German Progressive Rock band in the first half of the 80's - MICHAEL ROESSMANN on August 30, 2000.

(Questions by Vitaly Menshikov)

VM: The two first questions that I usually put in the interview seem to be practically the same, but I am sure these are necessary questions, anyway. The first one sounds ordinary, generally. What is the story of the band?

MR: The story of AMENOPHIS goes back to 1978 when Wolfgang Vollmuth, Stefan Roessmann and I founded AMENOPHIS. We were strongly influenced by bands like YES, GENESIS, CAMEL etc. all standing for great, high sophisticated music. We built a repertoire consisting of complex progressive rock compositions and did our first gig in October 1979.

We did a lot of concerts between 1979 and 1982 with various temporary members and guest musicians. We bought a comprehensive equipment and ran into huge debts since we all were still students. We strongly believed in our music and song for song the band developed itself further. It was also the time of experiments. We have written songs with English and German lyrics and did experiments with various instruments like transverse flute, violin, carillon etc. We rented a small apartment in an old property. Composing new songs, improving our instrumental skills, doing rehearsals, all was done in that apartment. We had simply a great time together. In the end of 1982 we converted our apartment into a studio. The studio gave us the freedom to realize ideas, and we did a tremendous step forward in our development. But the financial pressure was enormous. It was clear that we had to sell our equipment to pay back our financial debts. This was the time where we decided to record an album to reach a wider, international audience. We finished recording the "Amenophis" album in summer 1983. But the sales figures were low, so we sold our equipment and the band broke up in early 1984.

Early 1987 AMENOPHIS reformed, because we got the offer recording a second album. This project was called 'You and I'. Kurt Poppe on keyboards, René Kius on drums and Elke Moehle on vocals joined the band. In this year we built a completely new repertoire. Early 1988 AMENOPHIS recorded the 'You and I' album and the band toured until summer 1989. After the tour the band broke up. That's actually the story.

VM: I guess, Amenophis is the name of some Egyptian Pharaoh. Can you explain the name of the band?

MR: There were several reasons why this name appeared perfectly to us. We did not want to use an English name as German band. We were hoping for international attention and a German band name seamed to limit us too much. The pharaoh name 'Amenophis' is known in all countries in the world, so its international and independent to a language. The second reason why we have chosen this name was, that 'Amenophis' and the Egyptian culture stands for a high developed civilization, made beautiful and impressive things we can still admire. That matched greatly to our goals we wanted to realize. We wanted to make great music, complex and high developed. It should be timeless music, independently to short-lived fashions. I am very proud to hear that after almost 20 years people still like our music.

VM: I love your debut album very much and consider it one of the top quality progressive rock albums that have ever been created in the 80's. How long you and your colleagues were working on it, and whose are the main compositional and lyrical ideas that layed in the basis of album?

MR: We started recording this album on 4th Feb. 1983 and finished it on 15th August in the same year. It took us a tremendous amount of time to complete this album since Wolfgang and Stefan were in the army. The weekends were almost completely filled with work, discussions, sound creations, recording etc. We worked not seldom during the whole night. It was tough but we had a great time since we were very creative and productive.

All songs except of 'The Flower' were written in the second half of 1982. Even though 'The Flower' was composed in 1980, we decided to consider that piece on our album representing the earlier period of the band. I did 'Venus', Stefan has written 'Suntower' plus the bonus tracks and Wolfgang has written 'The Flower' and 'The Last Requiem'. Once a song was composed, the arrangement was done by the entire band. So the songs became richer and got the finishing touch. I think the preparation for the 'Amenophis' album (composing plus arrangements) took us 6 months. Add the recording time and it was roughly a one year work to realize it.

VM: How did the Amenophis first tour come about?

MR: We did our first tour in October 1979. A famous band in the southern Germany area (TT-ROCK) was looking for a band going on tour with them between October 79 and March 80. I rejected the offer first because I did not feel prepared enough to present our music to a wider audience. But finally my brother Stefan convinced me and we accepted. Good for us, since it was very successful.

VM: "Amenophis", probably the most complex album of 1983, was released at the time of a deep crisis within the Progressive Rock movement, first of all caused by the loss of the interest to profound, detailed musical forms from the direction of the more or less mass audience and, accordingly, from the direction of recording companies. Your debut album looked like (brilliant!) nonsense even in comparison with works by the bands, world-wide recognized as Titans of the genre: Yes ("90125"), Genesis ("Genesis), etc, which decided to "improve" their methods of work in compliance with "demands of the times" to keep commercial success. What thoughts in this aspect did you have when you were working on the "Amenophis" album? And what thoughts do you have of those times now?

MR: We had noticed the less becoming interest in this kind of music. The number of people visiting our concerts also became less and progressive rock disappeared completely from the radio programs in Germany. This development and the financial pressure were our strongest motivation for this album. In case the album had been successful AMENOPHIS had existed further. If not at least we won't have disappeared from the scene without leaving some trace. We stopped giving concerts in late 1982 investing all our energy on realizing this album. We were idealists and never discussed the possibility to adjust our compositions to the more commercial taste or even change our music style. That was absolutely out of question. Our debut album is an uncompromising 100% commitment to progressive rock music and reflects exactly our thinking and doing at this time.

VM: Then how you can explain the fact of that you have betrayed your musical principles preparing your second (and last) "You and I" album in 1987/88?

MR: We have never betrayed our music principles. The circumstances under which the "You and I' album was created were simply different. From the economic perspective the 'Amenophis' album was a disaster. The costs were tremendous and the income was poor. Finally it left a bunch of dept on all of us. We could not afford to do the same again. We were depending on the favor of the radio stations promoting the album and increasing the sales figures. We decided to mix the album up with progressive rock oriented pieces and some more commercial songs. For being played in the radio stations we cut the overall length of songs to a maximum of 6 or 7 minutes. Also we decided to focus more on vocal parts. We hoped with the mix of beautiful prog. rock elements and more commercial oriented songs to reach each a wider audience to ensure the commercial success. Because it was crystal clear, without a commercial success we would not survive.

And indeed the 'You and I' album got much more recognition in Germany as the first one. Radio stations invited us for interviews and more people came to the concerts. I think we went the same way many progressive rock bands went at that time. In the 80's idealistic hardliners played in empty houses.

VM: Please introduce us to the second AMENOPHIS line-up worked on "You and I". Were you touring with the new members?

MR: In the beginning of 1987 I was contacted by a German producer offering us doing a second album. Actually that came completely from the blue. We had sold almost everything except our instruments. The members were scattered to the four winds, we had no room for rehearsals, simply everything was missing. But I concealed all these problems against our producer, because I was afraid he could loose interest when he realizes the bad state we were in. Almost six month Wolfgang and I were busy finding members and organizing equipment. I did tell the producer what great progress we were doing even though we have not played a single note at that time. The first big step was to get Kurt Poppe aboard. To find such a fantastic keyboard player committed to the same music style was really a piece of luck. Unfortunately Stefan had to leave the project because of health problems. It took almost a year until he was fully recovered but we were not able to wait such a long time. So he gave us the ok to continue without him and we found René Kius, a great drummer from the younger musician scene. Kurt brought Elke Moehrle for the vocals aboard. Elke had already some professional experience as background singer for Eric Burdon. Elke wanted to become a temporary member, leaving the band after the recording. We agreed and did finally the first concert with the new repertoire in November 1987. It was a big success and encouraged us being on the right track. The recording of the 'You and I' album was in January 1988. The studio was rented for just 10 days. It was extremely tough but finally we did it. From March 1988 until summer 1989 we toured through Germany introducing the 'You and I' album. As previously announced Elke Moehrle left us and we replaced her by Isolde Reischmann. Isolde was absolutely great. She had much music experience, interest in experiments and had a lot of temperament. A great voice and people liked her very much.

VM: Do you know...(or) Do you see now some objective causes of the AMENOPHIS break-up soon after the "You and I" album was released?

MR: The overall plan with the second album was to get enough recognition putting us into the position to be able to live from making music. As it was clear that this will not happen I personally did the decision to leave AMENOPHIS to finish my studying and start a career outside of the music business. I simply did not want to end up as a studio musician, forced to play what others have written, no matter whether I like it or not. Short after my leave the remaining members did the same.

VM: What are you and other original members of AMENOPHIS presently occupying yourselves with?

MR: We all have jobs in different business now, have families and live a normal life. We still are in contact with each other and music is still a big topic. We are watching the worldwide market, especially the progressive rock market and exchange information. No one of us still makes music actively, except for private pleasure.

VM: Just a thought for the purpose of reincarnation... Is there some chance your excellent band will be reformed one day and make things really big like they were back in 1983? Do you have some other plans for the future?

MR: I have a plan and I hope I can realize it in a few years. There is still a lot of unpublished music material from AMENOPHIS. Some of it is definitely worth being introduced. The plan is to dig out the best pieces, mix it up with some great new ideas and release a third AMENOPHIS album. This third album would be an AMENOPHIS production, like the first one. When we do it, we do it just for fun and it will reflect exactly the music coming directly from our minds.

I do not know whether I will be able to realize this project. I am still in a very early plan phase. It will definitely take some time and there are still a lot of problems to solve. I like to realize this project with the original AMENOPHIS founders, Stefan Roessmann and Wolfgang Vollmuth. And I also like to have Kurt Poppe aboard since he is a fantastic keyboard player, and he shares our minds. First talks did already take place and it looks promising. But again, it will take some time...

VM: Thank you very much, dear Michael. It is sad to know that one of the most significant bands ever existed in the history of Rock is, at the same time, still among the most underrated ones, though Amenophis's debut album is just one of a few truly progressive albums - in all meanings - released in the first half of a 'dark decade' of the 80's. There will be the few newest sections on, Progressor, two of which are dedicated to the most underrated / overrated bands. Heh-heh, see Amenophis among the underrated ones...

MR: Many thanks for your time, Vitaly. I appreciate your work. Also, my best wishes to you and Gene. Kind regards to all the readers - visitors of Progressor.

August 30, 2000

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