FolkWorld Issue 38 03/2009; Article by Eelco Schilder
Everything Begins With Yearning
Werkraum's Early Love Music
When I visited my favourite record shop in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, the lady in charge there immediately directed me to a recently acquired LP by the German group Werkraum called Early Love Music. This album contains a nice collection of love songs, and Werkraum’s interpretation made me curious about the people and ideas behind this underground folk band. Axel Frank, the initiator of Werkraum, took the time to answer my questions and slowly revealed the band’s history.
Werkraum @ FolkWorld: FW #38
’I grew up in a very religious family and was steeped in sacred music. My mother was an organist, my grandparents and uncles were pianists or soloists in choirs etc. Therefore, I got acquainted with music at an early age, but I never received any professional musical training. However, the familiar tunes and music that were sung and played in my childhood are always at the back of my mind. So maybe it was a natural thing that I became a musician myself.’
What is your history as a musician before the Werkraum project?
‘The name derives from the last (rather electronic old school) project I participated in together with some other musicians back in the nineties. After we had split up, I decided to start using more acoustic instruments. I hoped the "workroom" (Werkraum) would be able to open the doors to a wider range of musical styles. At that moment I was still searching for a new style, but I did not know where to find the material. Apart from this, I think early music as well as Breton and English folk stuff constitute the background to most contemporary music. I doubt, however, whether the latter two were so influential in the end.’
Can you introduce the other musicians who participate in the Werkraum project?
‘First there is Antje, my female co-singer. She is a trained vocalist and I love everything she does for Werkraum. She is a must. My other friends are Nicholas Tesluk and Robert N. Taylor, from the late sixties American folk band Changes, who play several guitars, sing and are responsible for some of the lyrics. And, of course, the brothers Nick and Chris Nedzynski, from the British band Lady Morphia, who also sing and play the drums and bass. Since we are all of different ages, from different countries and social backgrounds and always busy with our own projects all over the world, we are probably a rather strange but definitely multi-cultural collective.’
The first album is called Kristalle. What is the story behind this album and how do you look back on it?
’Kristalle’ was quite important for Werkraum, when it was released towards the end of 2005, as we had used more traditional folk elements than ever before. I had just switched labels and was no longer interested in some aspects of my past, which was riddled with personal and musical disappointments, serious illness, rows and "false" communities. In those days I often travelled to the Austrian Alps and came in contact with new friends and local folk traditions. From this I got the idea for Kristalle: six songs, six "crystals" as symbols of eternal winter in the high mountains. At the same time I was also fascinated by the magical "crystal" dictum from E.T.A Hoffmann's "The Golden Pot". These were my main sources of inspiration.’
Two years later Early Love Music was released. Tell me more about this album.
’In a simple and straightforward way Early Love Music describes what is, in fact, my wandering back to the world of love stories - the "early love" of the couple awakened by the birds’ song in the morning ("Slâfest du vriedel ..."), the sadness of unfulfilled longing (Ein Lied von Lieb und Treu, Der Schmied), unconditional faithfulness (Die rechte Braut), promised lands of hope etc. If what Nelly Sachs used to say is true, namely that "everything begins with yearning …", then Early Love Music reflects this. To me the only truly passionate song has always been the love song. When Werkraum came into being in the "wild" days, it took me a while to realize that my life had always been closely connected with early, traditional and folk music. So, I simply had to follow this path pretty soon. As an autodidact I am far from perfect, but I have become quite good at using a handful of instruments, like guitars and dulcimers etc., for my own interpretations. It is the lack of any conventional restrictions that has always fascinated me.
We received a lot of very positive feedback from all over the world, which really surprised me. The most beautiful reflections came from abroad and it made me wonder why. We had used a selection of traditionals and tunes, but the poem closest to my heart is probably Dietmar's famous Middle High German poem Slâfest du vriedel ziere, which, I guess, we did one of the first ever musical arrangements for. This is Early Love Music in its purest form.’
It must be hard to plan any live concerts with this group of musicians?
’Indeed it is! We used to give concerts in Werkraum's earlier period, but at the moment it is quite complicated to arrange gigs for the current line-up, due to the large geographical distances. However, I am considering several alternatives. A stage performance? A retro-flickering-multi-coloured-psych-acoustic set, with maidens dancing for us in the nude plus free mead for everyone …;-o ... wow!’
What other musical projects are you currently involved in?
’I am also a member of the Austrian folk band Sturmpercht. This is a rather archaic folk and roots band, for whom I play the guitar and some whistles. We have nice shows with wild costumes, fire, accordions and other strange stuff. They are a gang of "Alpine Heathens" and I love them. Furthermore, I did some guest appearances as an instrumentalist for bands like Changes, the Bulgarian ethno-folk experimental ensemble Svarrogh and some other acts.’
Any idea what the future will bring?
’Well, in 2009 Werkraum will celebrate its 10th anniversary and I'm still wondering how to do so adequately. There is work in progress with regard to new material and I am also planning a kind of solo project under the pseudonym ‘Hanns Aufschring’, an Austrian robber who was hanged in the late 14th century. There are several wonderful tales about him and a mysterious Judith. Good stuff to make something new out of. As for the moment, the 2 CD compilation album "A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble" has just been released, collected by Amorphous Androgynous and including a Werkraum re-mix and, amongst others, artists like Donovan, Devendra Banhart and many others.’
(1)-(3) Werkraum / Axel Frank (by website).
To the German FolkWorld
© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 03/2009
All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission. Although any external links from FolkWorld are chosen with greatest care, FolkWorld and its editors do not take any responsibility for the content of the linked external websites.