What does the Bandname 'Changes' mean to you and how did you decide to use it?
We discovered early on that if a title of a song, a poem, book, etc. consists of a single word, it has a heavier and deeper impact than a title made up of multiple words. The name 'Changes' says a lot in one word. To change is to step off the beaten path and move away from the status quo, which was what we were doing when we founded the duo in the late 60s.
For instance, a song such as ďLegendsĒ (case in point as it was originally entitled 'Legends That We Know'), written in 1970 paints a striking visual image to the listener of a gallant time long gone. However on another level, the song is calling to the person to awaken his soul and find the true spirit within himself. Thus, to change from being one of the huddled masses to finding oneís own true calling and rising above the crowd in the heroic fashion of the noble warrior. This awakening can be any natural talent the person may inherently possess (acting, writing, painting, martial arts, etc.) but never realized due to the brain-numbing agents of modern society, such as television and video games that often keep a personís true spirit suppressed.
The way we actually decided on the name is as Robert tells it: 'We were on our way to our first audition for a gig that paid. On the drive there we realized we did not have a formal name for the band. 'Changes' was one of the possibilities that came up and we kept it. It was a good one for the time and place because the type of balladry or folk music we were doing was very different from what was current at the time, both in style and subject matter.'
You started in the late 60s, early 70s. And then the middle of the Nineties. What is the motivation to reboot a musical career after such a long time?
And how did this start, where did the contacts come from?
Honestly, when we parted company in 1975, we didn't think there would ever be a continuance of Changes. Robert and I each moved away from our hometown of Chicago, Illinois; he moved to Wisconsin and I to Colorado. Though our hearts were still in our music and we personally thought we had something special to offer, it seemed that the group had run its course. As has happened to many other groups with dreams and aspirations that falter, we truly thought that our musical lifespan had ended.
I should mention that in the late 60s and early 70s, there were no independent record producers. It was just what was known as the 'Big 5' recording companies (Columbia, Warner Brothers, etc.) that had a monopolistic control on the entire music scene. If someoneís music didnít fit the niche of the general folk or rock sound prevalent at the time there was no way to get that coveted recording contract. Our music certainly wasnít the average 'folk' sound. We had quite a following of people who enjoyed our music but that fact didnít necessarily equate to a connection with the big business of the recording companies.
Then we jump ahead to 1994. Times had changed and there was then an alternative to the big businesses with the emergence of independent record producers. Many of these companies had sprung up in America and Europe. Storm Records in America and Cthulhu Records in Germany were two of them.
Our reincarnation came about from a poetry chapbook Robert shared with Michael Moynihan of Storm Productions. He asked Robert if any of the lyrics had been set to music and if we had made any recordings. We had some demo tapes, so Robert sent them to Michael. He liked what he heard, and before long, our old reel-to-reel tapes were digitalized, and Storm and Cthulhu Records co-produced our first release, Fire of Life.
It should be noted that of the copies of Fire of Life that were produced, half were being marketed in Europe and half in the States. The European portion sold out very quickly, while sales in the States were much slower. After about ten years Changes garnered a good following in our own country, mainly on east and west coasts of the United States and to a lesser degree in mid-America. Originally, however, it was the people of Europe that we must thank for having rediscovered us. After so many years of work on our music and the hopes that all aspiring artists entertain, it seemed as though the harvest of our labors had finally borne fruit.
When you - for example - check the 'favourite Bands' list in the facebook community called 'Neofolk', the name Changes appears in every second list at least. Do you feel that this is the musical genre you belong to?
That is truly a great feeling to be in some way affecting and entertaining several generations of people. When we founded the group in the late 60s, there was no 'counter-folk' movement or certainly wasnít anything of the sort that could have been even given a name. Our music was different than prevailing folk music of the time but we were quite alone in that difference. There may have been other musicians with similar thoughts throughout the world, but I would think that none were aware of each other so there was no joint effort to create a musical genre. In the 70s, when we performed 'Twilight' or 'Fire of Life', there were very few who understood the meaning of the songs. The people who didnít grasp the concept would just blankly stare at us when we performed that part of our repertoire. The love songs and songs of heroic legends, on the other hand, had a more universal appeal.
We have been called the fathers of Apocalyptic Folk, for we were quite possibly the first. There are other performers and musical ensembles who later independently created this type of music (for no one had heard of Changes until our resurgence in the 90s). So the evolution of Neofolk came about, not because of us, but definitely out of a parallel universe similar to the one through which we were trying to direct people with our songs in the early years.
To have appeal to a few different generations of people is quite a reward in itself. So I would think that this is the genre to which we belong. Our sound may evolve in coming years to give it some variety but our basis will still be in Neofolk.
This is a quite European style of music... do you feel more related to this scene or do you feel at home in the modern American folk scene as well?
As I have mentioned, our style of music was recognized and accepted very quickly in Europe when first heard. Each time that we have visited there weíve always felt a very close camaraderie with the European people. This has definitely made us quite at home in the European music scene. But on the other hand, as Iíve also mentioned, there has been a growing acceptance of our music here in the States. And the people that like our music here are as serious about it as our European friends are. I donít think it is necessarily because our music now sounds more like American folk but more likely because Americans now have an increased acceptance of the European style of folk music.
Usually, folk or dark folk bands - even the great ones - tend to incorporate at least a little bit of medieval influences which to me looks and sounds more like a sort of cliche, even if it is - through the atmosphere that this creates - quite tempting. You never did this. Why?
Same question, but exactly the other way around, goes for the industrial sounds. You never used these either....
It seems to be wherever our Muse takes us. Iím not one of those people that say 'I like all kinds of music'. There are a few forms of music that I really donít like. Music that I particularly like is Celtic and British folk, modern and ancient. I like classical symphonic and chamber music. I also like rock music and even metal music if it has a good strong melody line and not just screaming noise.
So I believe that most of my compositions have some influences of the musical styles that I like. Often Iím guided by the lyrics, either my own or Robertís, and if the spirit is there, the music will emphasize and complement the lyrics while still having a good melody unlike anything Iíve created before. This sounds like a rather daunting task, but fortunately, when I feel the spirit of the lyrics correctly, it flows naturally without conscious thought. Thus, there isnít an actual avoidance of a certain style like medieval music, but we donít plan to use or reject a particular style, itís just how it happens.
Our particular musical style doesnít really lend itself to industrial sounds. I enjoy listening to live performances of musicians performing industrial music, and the performers doing it well can get an audience into an almost hypnotic swoon. Though our songs may have rhythmic influences, in most cases the melody, in a bardic or classical sense, is the guiding force of the sound rather than the rhythm, so a strong rhythmic beat with a line of lyrics repeated over and over is just not quite our style.
Is it hard to focus and stay yourselves? Would you say that there are boundaries that if they are crossed would make Changes not be Changes anymore?
Changes, since its inception, has always had the same type of sound. We have had additional members in the group through its different incarnations but the 'constant' of the sound has always consisted of vocals, in either ensemble harmony or solo accompanied by my 12-string guitar. In brief 'moments' on the historical timeline of the group there have been additions of; a second guitar, autoharp, conga drums, recorder flute and silver flute which were used to enhance the sound. But the sound throughout the duoís history has remained quite the same.
We have had remixes like the 'rocking' versions of the three songs used on the Twilight 7 inch. The songs 'Icarus', 'Waiting For the Fall' and 'Twilight' were enhanced by electric guitar deftly added by Robert Ferbrache and percussion on two of the three songs, which gave them quite a different and unique sound, but the instrumentation was a natural outgrowth of the rhythmic nature of those three songs. And on the Lament album, the members of Der Blutharsch added some fine instrumentation and vocal harmonies to their remix of the song 'Mountains of Sorrow', which had originally appeared on the Flammenzauber 4 compilation CD.
Though Changesí identifying sound is normally an acoustic folk sound, when a song can, in fact, be enhanced by extra instrumental production, it has been and will be done without compromising the nature of the our sound. What would make Changes not be Changes anymore was if everything was enhanced, forcing extra instrumentation just for the sake of a something different. Then I believe the songs would lose the personality and intimacy that our music has always had.
Is there a difference in creating the songs you write from the 60s to today?
In our music there are three basic classifications; the love/love lost songs, the songs of heroes/legendary figures and the apocalyptic songs. The love/love lost songs are timeless and the same feelings that generated emotions for us then are there now. The same feelings of loss that I had experienced with my marriage separation in 2003 were similar to feelings Iíve had with previously failed relationships. Conversely, for instance, the feelings of love that I wrote about in the song 'Never So True' from Orphan in the Storm, were similar to good emotions I had experienced previously.
The songs of heroism and legends are, of course, timeless throughout the ages and just as someone reading Homerís Iliad and Odyssey could identify with the heroes as though they walked the earth today, the songs we have written about Pan, Aphrodite or any of the legendary characters and settings in Legends, are as alive in the lyrics as any present day, larger-than-life person. So, since Robert and I have always admired heroic, legendary characters as a guide to the honor, integrity and strength of what could make this world a better and stronger place, the songs could have been written at any time of our lives with the same feeling and meaning.
The apocalyptic songs tell of the decay of civilization and of a bleak and dying world. They are a bit different, since they are more relevant to a particular time. But a song like 'Twilight', based on Spenglerís 'Decline of the West', spoke of the decline of Western civilization and seemed a bit unusual when performed in the late 60s even though the prophecies were already becoming fact. Fast-forward to the 90s when it was released on Fire of Life and the lyrics were extremely relevant since society had eroded that much more in the intervening twenty-five years.
On 'Lament' you finish almost every song with a short recitation of a poem. Where did this idea come from? And whose poems are those? Why using these texts as poems and not as sung lyrics? Do you feel that there is a great difference between the lyrics for a song or for a poem?
Robert has written poetry for most of his life and the images he has created in his poems and lyrics are some of the most vivid imagery in the world of music. Citing a few of my favorite lyrics (one that you mention here), 'Of the silver-sailed galleon that rode forgotten waves, how many lifetimes have we lost, how many countless days' from 'Deja Vu' or 'Cast off the present, let thoughts drift upon, the ancient winds of memoriesí song. Feel the sting of the blizzardís sharp bite, the harsh cold of Russiaís frozen blue nights', from the 'Prince Igor' part of Legends.
During this recent dark period of his life, Robert penned a chapbook of poems entitled Requiem (Thirteen Poems of Lament). Most of the poems following the songs of the Lament album are taken from this chapbook. It was our intention to include these as spoken verse (most with a musical background) as quite often spoken lines can impart forces that are quite different than the same lines being sung. We also thought that each poem would aptly punctuate the song that it followed. Similar to dramatic works, poetry has its best impact when acted and recited rather than silently read, and Robertís recitations drive the subject matter of these powerful poems quite beautifully.
On the surface, there is a difference between the lyrics for a song and a true poem. Though Robert had long written poetry, when we formed Changes, he found that a poem would need a certain structure to conform to the mathematically musical form of a song. So his lyric poetry would take on a style often different than his straight poetic work. Often a poem written as a lyric might be great when set to music, but when spoken as poetry might have the meter and sound of a verse on a greeting card. What set good lyrics apart from more mundane lyrics is the ability to convey, in lyrical verse, the same feelings and imagery that could have been conveyed in a true poem that was written for the spoken word.
It is then up to me as a composer to set the lyrical poetry (be it his or mine) to music that will help to naturally develop the feelings that were intended by the lyric. This is a general statement for though most of our songs consist of Robertís lyrics combined with my music, Robert has written many songs on his own as have I.
There have been times, however, when a poem that Robert hadnít intended to be used as a song worked well with a somewhat less structured musical form woven around it. An example is his lyric to 'Somewhere in the Night' which was never intended as a song, but when I sat with the lyrics one evening, I composed a melody that didn't necessarily hold to the strict form structure of a song and seemed to work very well to flow with the idea that he intended.
To me, Changes is the only band that manages to manouever along the thin line between truly romantic here and cheap kitsch there on the first, the GOOD side. That is what Changes makes so special, you are always 'just right' and you never fall for 'too much' as other bands do. Is that en effort you have to make or does it just comes naturally?
Thank you for the kind words. I would imagine that it comes about that way since our songs are sincere and from our hearts. We donít try to write songs that will be just like someone elseís songs or songs that will even be just like songs we had written in the past that became popular. Weíll never write another 'The Saddest Thing' or 'Song of Pan' again, but we have written newer songs like 'We Went to Find the Sun' (from the 'Men Among the Ruins' split CD) and 'The End of the Road' (from 'Lament') which are quite different than our earlier songs, but seem to have the same sort of universal appeal.
It may seem kind of clich», but when we write a song, if it touches our own hearts, then weíve accomplished what we were trying to say with that particular combination of music and lyrics. We have then achieved satisfaction and fulfillment in the statement we were trying to make. At that point, the song is viable and now quasi-independent of us to sustain itself. Once recorded and published, when other people are exposed to it, if they like it as much as we do, then believe me, that makes it all that much better for we were then able to touch the hearts of others as we did our own.
Is there always a deeper meaning to your lyrics?
Or is it sometimes just plain clear as 'every sign tells me this is the end of the road' (which I hope has nothing to do with you releasing music ;-))?
Many of our songs have a deeper meaning but with 'The End of the Road', rather than having a meaning hidden it the song, it was created as an analogy of the events of my life at the time. Following twenty good years of marriage, I was seeing strong indications that our time together was drawing to an end. These lyrics were written two years before we actually divorced, while my wife was very unhappy and disillusioned with her situation as a wife and mother. This was a dark and difficult time for me. It was then that I realized that our time together was much like being on a trip that I had truly enjoyed, only to find that the glorious holiday would soon be over. The two 'special star shines' on the path were the births of our two children which, of course, were (and still are) the absolute highlights of this journey and of my life.
The lyrics are exclusively about the events of the rise and fall of my twenty plus years of marriage and are definitely not related to our music. For, in fact, the rest of the story unfolds like a motion picture where one scene fades out while another fades in. The year that I divorced was 2003. Though Changes reemerged for its 'Third Incarnation' in 1995, it coincidentally wasnít until the year 2003 that Robert and I were invited to the Wave-Gotik-Treffen in Leipzig to perform together again for the first time in close to thirty years. We already had recorded the songs for Orphan in the Storm which were to be released later that same year.
So from the dismal ashes of a finally failed marriage, emerged a hope and purpose to my life (similarly with Robertís situation as he had separated about two years previous). I was rehearsing hard to get the 'magic' back in my guitar playing which had become a bit 'rusty' in the intervening years of musical inactivity. I was able to immerse myself into my rehearsals, which also included memorizing all of the songs again for a live performance since we perform about twenty to twenty five songs on average. Robert and I, though living thousands of miles apart, were composing new songs and our lives had a new meaning that allowed us to triumph over the loss and desolate sorrow that we both had endured.
Thus, as we both discovered, it is great to have an art form (including anything from music, drama, painting or any creative outlet a person might excel in) to help guide them over the difficult and tragic times in life. The songs and poems on Lament were the outlet by which Robert and I were able to keep our sanity through that dark and troubled time.
So, to further answer your question, we will be around for as long as we can still move, stand and breathe. Our life would be quite incomplete without our art and music.
Are there any songs that mean more to you than others? And if yes, which are they and why?
That is a very difficult question to answer as each song has a certain significance in its own right. 'The Saddest Thing' was one of those songs for which Robert wrote the poignant lyrics very quickly, and when I sat down with those lyrics in the dining room of Robertís house, I immediately composed the music. This doesnít happen often but when it does it is one of those perfect moments, and subsequently it has become one of those perennial favorite songs. 'Song of Pan' and 'Aphrodite' are songs that have a place in our hearts for the depiction of the two archetypes of ancient myth. These are just a few examples, but there are just too many to mention.
The epic song which will be released on an album in 2011, entitled 'The Ballad of Robert de Bruce', is a very special song to both of us. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the best songs weíve written and I look forward to having it finally released as an album. Robert's lyrics tell of the trials and tribulations of Robert Bruce, the king of Scotland who followed William Wallace of Braveheart fame. In fact, Robert Bruce plays a large part in the movie Braveheart and it is he who takes the gauntlet at the end. Our song takes him from his indecision of which side he should be fighting for, through many battles to the classic scene where he is hold up in a cave after fighting and losing six battles. He watches a spider try six times to spin a web, failing each time. He decides that if the spider tries a seventh time and fails, he will give up the fight. But if the spider succeeds, he will go out to fight again. The spider succeeds on the seventh try, Bruce fights a seventh battle and becomes king of Scotland. This song is a major opus for us, and once released, our lives will truly be fulfilled.
We have participation on the album of Blood Axis' Michael Moynihan on bodhran and Annabel Lee on violin. The song takes many musical twists to depict the scenes and emotions of the epic lyric poem. Unlike our Legends song/album, this album will include several traditional Scottish songs performed by Michael and Annabel, which will make it more than just a single-song album.
Will there be any concerts in Europe in 2010?
Iím not sure about 2010, but we would certainly like to return to Europe again soon. Our last visit there was in November of 2005, and there are many countries we weren't able to visit at that time. Plus, we have many songs that havenít been performed at all in Europe that would be good to do in concert. Though songs heard on CD or vinyl can certainly express the feelings that were intended when writing the song, sometimes a live performance can truly demonstrate the emotions of the song.
And a final question...my all time favorite is "Deja Vu" from the Split with Cadaverous Condition. First, how did this quite unusual collaboration happen?
Wolfgang Weiss, the lead singer of Cadaverous Condition, originally contacted Robert about collaborating on a song using Robertís lyrics set to their music. The result is the beautiful song 'Time' that is the first track on the CC side and the title of the 10 inch split.
The split was released just before we arrived in Vienna in 2004 where we performed there at The Monastery. We had just performed at the Flammenzauber 4 festival in Heldrungen, Germany in a beautiful castle setting with several other grand performers. On the following morning we boarded a train to Vienna. The travelers were Robert, his lovely lady and future wife, Christina, and myself. Well, not exactly being familiar with the train system through Germany, we had to change trains a few times, and on the first change, we failed to get up quickly enough when the train in which were riding stopped. We were thinking it was just a stop for passengers and not knowing that we had come to the end of that leg of our trip. We should have noticed that everybody had disembarked from that train but us, but again, we were a bit foreign to the system. By the time we had realized our mistake, we had missed the connecting train.
So what should have been about an eight-hour train trip with about three changes of trains became a twenty-hour ride and something like five or six different trains! We also had trouble with the phone system so we couldnít figure out how to notify anybody in Vienna as to what was happening. To our credit, though we had made that first error in train travel, we somehow used the maps at each train platform very well to decipher the route and decide which trains to catch to navigate our way to Vienna. We arrived there at about 6:00 a.m. (when we should have arrived about 9:00 the previous evening). Though it seems like it would have been quite an ordeal and it surely was a tiring trip, I looked at it as a great adventure in European travel.
Robert had Wolfgang's telephone number and we were finally able to figure out how to maneuver the phone. He was very kind and came to the train station to retrieve us. We became fast friends with this fine gentleman and we have communicated with him ever since.
I have heard many people criticize that split saying that our music and theirs is so incongruous. Though it is quite an unusual collaboration, the songs, both musically and lyrically of Cadaverous Condition are very beautiful and poignant. When they are performing songs like the ones on the split, they are a great folk group who are technically very adept, with that 'slight' twist of death metal (what I term 'gargling Drano') vocals.
And mostly out of sheer personal interest, I would love it if you could tell me what 'Deja Vu' is about and what it means to you?
Here is Robertís description of the foundation of his lyrics for the song: 'Deja Vu' is a romantic theme of reincarnation as well as the phenomenon of deja vu, which most of us have experienced at one time or another. Many of the thoughts and images are perhaps residual ripples of the old Technicolor romance/adventure films like Captain Blood, Sea Hawk, The Mark of Zorro and movies of that basic swashbuckling genre that both Nicholas and I watched and delighted in as children.!
I originally composed a melody to the fine lyrics that Robert penned that didn't properly, in my own opinion, enhance the beauty of the song. The lyrics consist of a powerful set of images, so I felt the song needed a powerful melody to carry it. As Michelangelo said (at least in The Agony and the Ecstasy), 'If the wine is sour, throw it out!' It was to be a few years until I would sit down with the lyrics and the present melody line would evolve.
Thank you very much!