Harald Grosskopf interview

December 28, 2013

Harald Grosskopf interview

Harald Grosskopf worked with Klaus Schulze, Ash Ra Tempel,
Cosmic Jokers and was also a member of Wallenstein. In the late ’70s he began
working on his solo project – Synthesist, which remained very influential
album. Here’s an interview we made with Harald about his past and current
You were part of many bands back in the ’70s, but the very
first recordings you made were with the band called Wallenstein. You played
drums and the band produced mixture of space rock with prog elements. You were part of this band for a few years, recording their debut called “Blitzkrieg”
and “Mother Universe” and later two more albums. How did you join them and
what can you say about this group?

Kindergarten, 1952

As so many things in life happen by accident, so this time
in mine. It was way back in early 1971. Just had finished my community service
I had to do it instead of getting drafted by German military, because I was a
conscentious objector. I was living in a commune near Hannover. We four
people shared a little house. Two of
them; my old “Stuntmen” buddies. The Stuntmen where a beat music band. The other
band in town where “The Scorpions”. I went to kindergarden and school with
Rudolf Schenker, head of “The Scorpions”. A few times I joined in that band,
when their drummer was ill, or for other reasons not able to perform. I was
interested in joining the Scorpions, after my community service, but after they
did not appear three times in their rehearsal room, where we had an
appointment so I gave up the idea.
Stuntmen, 1966
One day two young dudes from the area near Cologne appeared
in our house. A friend had met them in Hannover and had brought them in. They
had a casting date in Hannover. They where looking for a drummer, but the dude
did not show up. My buddy told those two dudes that he knew a drummer, which
was me. So he brought them over to our little house on the countryside. The
next day I was on my way to become a member of “Blitzkrieg”, the former name of “Wallenstein”. 
We worked very very hard. The bandleader, keyboarder Juergen
Dollase set up rehearsals every day for at least five hours and more. That made
us able to soon perform live before rehearsing became boring. We were quite successful and recorded four albums
before I quit.
Wallenstein, 1972
Jürgen Dollase, Jerry Berkers, Harald Grosskopf, Bill Barone
 Jerry Berkers
Wallenstein and Gille Lettmann, 1972
In the meantime you appeared on many other albums; for
instance you played with acid folk duo Witthüser & Westrupp then with Walter
Wegmüller, Cosmic Jokers, Ash Ra Tempel… It seems that all of you were friends
in one way or another and that’s why also members of Wallenstein, Bernd
Witthüser, Ash Ra Tempel’s Manuel Göttsching and Hartmut Enke, both on guitars,
Klaus Schulze (electronics) appear on Wegm
üller’s Tarot. This particular album
was really special especially due Wegmüller’s talents as an artist. There are many inserts and extras,
which include a set of 22 hand painted tarot cards, one for each musical piece
on the recording, and 12 smaller inserts in card format: eight with Wegmüller’s
portraits of the musicians and four describing the album concept, the line-up,
the music and a few words on tarot philosophy. The album was released on
Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser’s Kosmische Musik in 1973 and out of this project another
one was born – The Cosmic Jokers, which was more of a jam. Would you like to
tell us what are some of the strongest memories from recording and producing “Tarot” LP? Perhaps if you can explain the concept behind the album?

One of the youths reaction against the still remaining Nazi culture in Germanies Sixties, was either strong political, culminating in
student riots, mainly in Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich, or a retreat into the
realms of the esoteric, combined with individual quest and the use of all kinds
of available drugs. I and many of the involved musicians where among the last
mentioned group. So were the two heads of our record company “Ohr Music” (Ear
Music), later changed into “Pilz Music” (Mushroom Music). 
A secret reference
that drugs were involved. I and I guess also many of my music colleagues where
pretty stoned on LSD, hash and marijuana when we prepared the Tarot album in
the farmhouse of farmer Plath in the tiny village of Dill, the rural place where
Bernd Witthüser and Walter Westrup had rented a generous flat to spent their lives for a bunch of years. My most impressive experience was the Discovery of
Manuel Göttsching`s Gibson guitar, his WEM copycat tape delay and
corresponding WEM loudspeaker cabinet. I played guitar for hours, thrilled and fascinated by the repeating echo, until my fingertips started bleeding, because
I wasn’t guitar player. Another strong impression was the encounter with
Sergius Golowin. 

He was a former member of the Swiss parliament and author, was
such a humble, wise and smart man. Universes different from my experiences with
the elder German generation and their Nazi mentality, including my own parents.
Later in the Dierks Studios we improvised those 21 Tarot music pieces. Again
under the influence of certain illegal substances.

Walter Wegmüller

What gear and in what studio did you record the album?

Moog 3P
Schulze just had bought his MOOG 3P model from Florian
Fricke I guess. I played the studio drum kit. Hartmut Enke (R.I.P.) electric
bass, Juergen Dollase grand piano and Hammond B3. All recorded on Studer
24-Track tape recorder. Manuel Göttsching played his Gibson axe via the WEM copycat tape delay. That was it I guess.  
Manuel Göttsching
How about The Cosmic Jokers? You appeared on their second LP
titled “Galactic Supermarket”.
That’s the only Cosmic Courier title I like. Not because I´m
involved, but because it is the only serious piece of music. All other stuff
from this series, out of my sight is pretty much crap and I never understood
this choice, because in my memories there was much better material on hours of
tape which must be dormant in the Dierks Studios or where ever.
Later you were part of Kosmische Kuriere and after that you
appeared on three albums by Klaus Schulze, then Ashra and many others. What can
you say about your collaboration with Schulze and joining Ashra?

“Irrlicht” (twilight), Klaus Schulzes first album was
unbearable for me. It was pretty intelectual, which in general is no problem,
but I definitely couldn’t share the emotions of that strange electronic album,
if there are such. 
His third album “Blackdance”, which I heard the first time
on radio, while laying in bed, thrilled me. It had strong rhythm patterns and
melodies and it was very original. Something I had never heard before.
immediately wrote Klaus a letter, telling him that I really like these new
tunes. He invited me to visit him in his house in northern Germany. 

Klaus Schulze, 1976

I went
there and a few hours later, after I had drummed on a plastic bucket,
concomittend his sequences, we decided to cooperate on his next album. A few
weeks later the tracks for “Moondawn” were layed. 

From this moment on rock music
started boring me intensely and I decided to split from Wallenstein, not
knowing how my future as a drummer would go on. On his way back from Paris,
Manuel Göttsching visited me by accident. He just had finished a France tour
with Lutz Ulbrich. He asked me if I would like to join in with Ashra. I moved to
Berlin in 1976 and we toured France, Switzerland, England, many years later also Japan and recorded several albums until these days. 
Manuel Göttsching, 1977
Ashra, 1997

May I ask if you (or others) were using any hallucinogens at the time of “Tarot”and “The Cosmic Jokers” and in what sense
do you think hallucinogens managed to inspire and influence you to play?
Drugs definitely change ones perceptions. Especial LSD does.
It changes perception in such a fundamental way that You never experienced
before. Reality become relative. It can be scary like hell or heavenly
exhilarating. I am quite sure that drugs influenced me and the other musician
involved in those albums. But I’ve seen Hartmut Enke, the ingenious bass player
of Ashra mentally and socially being ruined by these drugs. He died in 2006.
I’ve seen Jerry Berkers, the Dutch bass player and singer of Wallenstein
being also ruined mentally and social by these drugs. He died around fifteen years
ago in a park, after he had injected an overdose of Heroin. I’ve seen other
friends and acquaintance being destroyed by drugs. The price You pay for
taking drugs can be high. I was more than lucky that such a fate was not mine.
I do not take such drugs any more since many, many years. Music is my drug and
continuing making music saved me from such unfortunate fates. Taking drugs was
an important experience in my past, but I recommend to anyone not taking it. It
might kill You or can at least irreparably destroy You psyche. 

 Timothy Leary 

In 1980 you managed to record your first solo album, which
is these days well known and very influential album. What’s the story behind
making this album and what can you say about recording it? It was mostly done
in your apartment at the times, right?

Until 1979 I never had the slightest idea to record a solo
album until a musician asked me why I`m not recording a solo album. I felt
being a drummer and needed a band. Ashra was not very active in that year and
I was hot to make music. My decision to record “Synthesist” was born sort out
of an emergency situation. None was there to make music with me. In the
beginning it was so frustrating that I was close to give up. Controlling a
synthesizer is one thing. The other thing is, how to handle recording
equipment. I expected Udo Hanten (YOU) to act as sound engineer. He was the
musician who inspired me to record a solo album and who had invited me to
record it in his flat with his equipment. He helped me to set up and than left
me alone with millions of problems. The Mini Moog had the typical problem all
Moog’s had in these days. Changes in room temperature dropped or lifted the
tuning. Midi was not invented and I had to think about it how to synchronize
different sequences on parallel tracks. There was this electronic freak, who
lived in the same house. He manged to build a cable that had a few electronic
components, which made it possible to record a trigger signal track, that vice
versa could be converted with the same cable back to a signal the sequencer
could read. Sometimes after a second sequence was recorded, I found out that it
was going to slowly changed its tuning. I more than once had to start from
scratch, because the first sequence at the end had a different scale that in
the beginning. We put a light bulb near the Moog`s transformer to receive a
constant temperature. That helped most of the time. After one week I slowly got
into the technique and was able to concentrate myself on music. It needed a lot
of smoking illegal substances and gallons
of black coffee to keep my motivation alive. At the end I managed to get it all
laid and was very happy with the result. By the same time happy to be liberated
from all technical hassles. All music was spontaneous improvisation.

What can you say about the cover artwork?
My idea was to create a chromium like silver mask of my face
that was folded open and shows my human face behind. But that would have been
too much work for the specialists and therefore too expensive. So I put silver
colour in my face and top chest part and we started the photo session. The paint
was very itchy and I was happy to be able to take a shower after five hours of
shootings. Most of the photos were extremely horrible. But the one we used was

What would you say influenced you back then when you started
making your own solo album?
My own intention to do something unique. I was fascinated by
Minimal Music (Steve Reich, Philippe Glass, Terry Riley). On the other hand by pop music too, but I did not want to create anything out of the boring retro
There was an amazing scene going on in Germany, especially
in a field of experimental and electronic music. How do you see it now if you
look back to the 70s. You and a few others were really creative and managed to
produce some of the most unique records…
Without internet in those days you did not get the
spontaneous worldwide response like today. For years I was not aware that
outside France and maybe England anybody was interested in our music. Germany
media ignored it completely and spread negative opinions. Apart from Kraftwerk
no one had not even one hits. Tangerine Dream had a few golden records but the
media from Germany did not mention it. So my bank account did not tell me how
famous I was. With the amount of sales we had in the Seventies and Eighties
today we all would have appeared in the Pop-Charts. 
What are you currently up to and what are some future plans?
I am cooperating via internet with the italian DJ Crono and
with Standart Planets, a british electronic band. I made a documentary film
about my father and the father of Hollywood director Philippe Mora, who has
German, French and Jewish roots (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_Mora).
My father was a Wehrmacht soldier and Nazi party member. His father escaped
Germany and fought the Nazis as a member of the French Resistance. The family
later immigrated to Australia. The film is named “German Sons” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K87YxRN5JaQ). Apart from that I work on Live
performances in Italy and England for next year. Also very relaxed on a new album.
Do you prefer vinyl or CD’s? Anyway I want to ask you what
are you listening to and what are you reading lately?
Apart from my own creations during recording I rarely listen
to music. Vinyl is on the rise. It will not be the mass product that it once
was. I re-released my “Synthesist” album on vinyl in New York two years ago. Vinyl
definitely is the better product. But as soon as we are able to put 64 bit
music material on a storing media with a sampling rate of 96 Khz, which is
already possible with actual recording technique, the dynamic of analog and
digital will be equal. But as long as MP3 quality is mainstream I don’t think
there will be need for better quality sound performance.
I`m reading Simon Reynold`s “Retromania”. A great inspiring
book. It criticizes the boring snatch of actual music into the past with great
density of expert information. It seems, that after Punk and Techno, there is
no creative music view into future since two decades.

Many thanks for taking your time. Would you like to share
anything else? Perhaps a message to It’s Psychedelic Baby readers and to your
fans across the world?
Dear Psychedelic Baby reader, while listening to and
reading about traditional stuff, always keep Your mind and heart open to the
visionary new. For artists that take the risk being ignored by their
contemporaries. Thank You!

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2013
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2013
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