Embryo interview with Christian Burchard
1. Where did you grow up and what were some of your influences?
My youth I spent in Hof, where my best friend in school since 1956 was Dieter Serfas. We had big fun just playing free music, using jazz, rhythm and blues but also contemporary music as influences. In Hof were a lot of soldiers from USA (because my hometown was close to the Eastgerman and Czechoslovakian border) that time not yet a professional army, so some of them were musicians and ecpecially the black among them were jaming with us. We had for instance a bassplayer from New York who was familiar with improvising and a singer who did all the songs from Chuck Jackson. Also there was a local Jazzgroup that played the modern styles of John Coltrane, Charles Mingus or Yusef Lateef. They gave to me a vibraphone, before that I was exploring mostly the piano.
2. Were you in any bands before forming Embryo? Any releases from then perhaps?
First band was the legendary Contemporary Trio & Dieter Serfas, Edgar Hofmann and me, formed in 1964. No recordings from that unique avantgarde group. 1966 I met and played with Chris Karrer and Peter Leopold who founded in 1968 Amon Düül and I did some vibraphone on their famous “Phallus Dei” album. Since 1967 I was a member of the Mal Waldron quartet. Some of the recordings done were later released as Embryo works (“For Eva” Disconformel).
3. When did you got together and how do you remember those early sessions you had?
Mal Waldron was a big influence for me. I had played his great compositions before I met him and soon I managed that also Dieter Serfas and Lothar Meid were members of his quartet. In 1969 he had to do long tours in USA so we thought about doing something else. With Amon Düül we had already explored the new psychedelic music, but we wanted to do it in a different way, using more the free improvisation and the new rhythmic and harmonic structures we had learned from Mal Waldron. Our early sessions had musicians from different scenes, like Peter Michael Hamel (he later formed Between) who was communicating with John Cage, Steve Reich, and the contemporary musicscene, Edgar Hofman knew all the free jazz or John Kelly, who came from the English rockscene, `cause he had worked with Alvin Lee (Ten years after) in a group called Manchester united. Because Dieter Serfas was an important member of Amon Düül I had to play the drums, all the other drummers we were using were too much into their style they came from. The audience was quite shocked from our new mixture. We had lots of support from the young students who liked our sound and whenever there was a demonstration or a sit in in that revolt against the ruling authorities we were called to play our music. One time when lots of people came to see what was going on, they came with buckets full of water and colour and put that into the audience that could not escape.
1969 – Paranoiacenter Munich & Christian Burchard, Lothar Meid, Edgar Hofmann
4. So in the early 1970’s you started recording debut called Opal. I would like to know how did you get signed up with Ohr and what are some of the strongest memories from producing and recording your LP?
What gear did you guys used? What can you say about the cover artwork? How many copies were made?
Rolf Ulrich Kaiser had heard from our activities and asked us to produce an album for his Ohrlabel. We had not much time for that. The recording was done in 2 days in a studio for filmmusic. Fortunately we had Julius Schittenhelm who was one of the Embryofounders and who had experience how to put new music on tape. He had worked in New York in the Andy Warhol scene but he is better known for his singing and guitarplaying. Everything was done very spontanuous. John Kelly was very proud of his Gretch guitar and amp, Ralf Fischer used a Fender bass and amp and I was drumming on a Ludwig kit. Actually there was another idea of a coverdesign but Ohr had the artist Reinhard Hippen booked for many of their upcoming albums. I dont know how many copies were made.
1970 – Fehmarnlineup Hansi Fischer, Christian Burchard, Al Jones, Edgar Hofmann, Ralph Fischer
5. Your next release is Embryo’s Rache, which is a bit different then your debut. A year later you released two more albums, Father, Son and Holy Ghosts and Steig aus. This releases are really mind blowing and you moved a bit more towards improvisation, right? Can you share a story about this releases?
Embryos Rache showed the fantastic keyboard artistry of Jimmy Jackson, with whom I had played since 1966. He invented some of the funky basslines, many tracks we first recorded just him and me on the drums. Three tracks are in 5/4 a quite unusual beat. In the studio we descovered a melotron and the way Jimmy Jackson was using it was sensationel. Steig Aus was done in the same studio almost same lineup plus the genious of Mal Waldron who had a super communication with J. Jackson. Rocksession was done immediately after Father Son and had Sigi Schwab and Dave King in the lineup, who were with Edgar Hofman and me in our lifeband.
1973 – Studio Dierks Cologne & Charlie Mariano, Roman Bunka, Christian Burchard, Dieter Miekautsch
6. In 1973 Rocksession and We Keep On was released, after that you changed your style a bit, until you released Embryo’s Reise, which is again a very interesting release from 1980. Would you like to talk about it?
1975 – on tour & Maria Archer, Dieter Miekautsch, Christian Burchard, Rolf Sebastian, Roman Bunka
1977 – Tourbus & Christian Burchard, Roman Bunka, Uve Müllrich, Michael Wehmeyer, Trilok Gurtu
Rocksession was a bit like Steig Aus because of the fantastic organplayer J. Jackson and the musical architect on the electric piano Mal Waldron. On Steig aus you can hear the 1. time Roman Bunka who had done some overdubbing guitarwork. He helped me to keep Embryo going, because the others had left. Same with Dieter Miekautsch who became the main man on the keys. His left hand developed some of the ideas of J. Jackson and he went further then anybody else. He could play a complicated bassline while improvising free or giving other rhythm patterns. Roman Bunka started to explore the exotic string instruments like the oriental saz, oud or the Indian veena. We keep on showed that unique trio. Also a hit on We Keep On the work of jazz giant Charlie Mariano who liked our way of improvising and joined us whenever he had time. Embryo live and Bad Heads are other results of this combination. Apocalypso was the debut of the band that travelled to India. This journey had a strong influence on all of us. Almost a year on the road, in Iran and Afghanistan even the war could not stop our caravan. Everywhere we had met great musicians, had done adventurous sessions and had been able to record some of it and documented all that in a film. Embryos Reise is a view on that.
1980 – dancer and painter UFA Berlin & Christian Burchard, Uve Müllrich, Edgar Hofmann, Remigius Drechsler, Michael Wehmeyer
7. If we go back a little bit to the early 70’s. I’m sure you have some crazy stories to tell, that happened while being on tours. Please share a story or two for our readers.
September 6. 1970 we were booked for an open air festival in the north of Germany where also Jimi Hendrix was on the program among other famous groups like Canned Heat, FACES & Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, Ginger Baker`s Airforce, Sly & the Family Stone… When we arrived there in the night before some hells angels were standing at the entrance controlling the tickets. They were beating the people that wanted to get in. About 30 000 were already inside. The organisers had hired the rockers to control and they turned it into a chaos. Thanks we met Alexis Korner who helped us to get a place to sleep. Next day around noon we were told to put our instruments on the stage. When we were about doing that a Mercedes limousine came with Jimi Hendrix. He was supposed to play the night before but he did not like the rain. Now the sun was shining so he decided to play with his trio (Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchel) before us. One of the rockers opened the cardoor for him holding a knife and stayed all the time there till he finished his great long set. We played after him with good vibrations but when we started to move our gear in our tourbus the rocker started to get completely out of control. While Ton Steine Scherben were playing they started to set the stage in fire. Everything turned into a nightmare. We hurried to leave that weird place. The cheque we had received from the organisers was not valid. When we went back to Munich after playing some more concerts on the road we heard in the radio that Jimi Hendrix had died. So that happened to be his last big concert.
8. Well it would took a long time to go thru your whole discography, album per album, but please would you like to share Embryo story of the 80’s and 90’s?
1983 – Live & Michael Wehmeyer, Werner Aldinger, Christian Burchard, Loko Richter, Chris Karrer
1986 – In Nigeria & Fela Kuti, Christian Burchard, Dieter Serfas
The 80 ies brought back Dieter Serfas who shared the tour to Nigeria and stayed since then with Embryo. In black Africa we played with unique drummasters and with Fela Kuti. Beginning of the 90 ies we toured Japan with Chris Karrer who had joined us some years before. Then we started to step into the music of China because a multiinstrumentalist from there had moved in our house and enjoyed our audience with his strange instruments like sheng and erhu, Ni Hau was the introduction of this new step. Also steady members since then with us Lothar Stahl (whom I know since the middle of the 70 ies) playing the microtonal xylophone beside his rhythm work and Jens Pollheide a fantastic bassman beside his mastership on all kind of flutes.
9. You are still releasing some of the most original music after all this years and your latest release is called Freedom in Music. Would you like to present us this album and tell us a bit about its background?
Freedom of Music is a view on our many live activities that seem to be the spring of our art. Like the albums before (Istanbul Casablanca, 2000, 2001, Hallo Mik) it offers tracks of the many live performances that Embryo is doing almost non stop. Many artists you can hear there we have met while being on the road.
10. What are some of your future plans? New album?
The album Hallo Mik was a presentation of our singer Mik Quantius who is now more then a decade with us. Since many years my daughter Marja (26). is playing marimba, trombone and drums & Embryo. It`s about time to present her point of view on an album, we are working on that. Beside that there are projects coming up like the beautiful collaboration with the Mishrafamily from Benares (India) that we are dong succesfully since 4 years. This year was happening the 8 th free flow festival in Kassel. It`s a new movement to bring together free improvising groups of all styles. ( 2009 there was Carangi or Salamandra from Slovenia there). We are part of that and are organising a free flow open air festival in august 012.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
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