Dies Irae was a short-lived band from Saarbrücken, Saarland, Germany. Started as a blues inspired band, soon to become a heavy psych band that was driven by progressive guitar and lots of crazy effects. Their political sharpened lyrics and criticism of the times brought a lot of trouble to the band. Their only release was First. In the following interview we discuss the recording process with Conny Plank, LSD-inspired lyrics, making of “Trip” footage and many more.
Were you involved with music before forming Dies Irae?
Joachim Schiff, the later bass-player of Dies Irae, who played guitar in the early days and me sat in the same class at high school. He had some little song ideas to impress his girlfriend, and since he had no idea for lyrics, I started writing lyrics during the boring school lessons. A bit later another schoolmate who played guitar joined us and we began jamming with different bass-players and drummers.
The first band we called The MMB369, but that day we were about to play our first gig (1965), the guitar-player, who owned ¾ of the equipment, didn’t show up, neither did the drummer: so we had to look for new musicians. Pretty soon Harald Thoma, the later Dies Irae guitar player came along with a bass player, different drummers came and went; we had some gigs as The Orchid, then things started getting better when we called ourselves The Flash (1966/67). First we covered The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Small Faces. But as soon as we discovered all the fantastic British Blues Bands like John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, The Yardbirds, Cream, Taste and started listening to the American Blues Legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Elmore James, B.B King, we knew we wanted to play a kind of progressive music
How did Dies Irae come to life? Where did members meet?
After having tried out about 12 different drummers in the first three or four years, we found Manni von Bohr (until today still one of the finest German professional drummers) and changed our name into Dies Irae; still cover music, but progressive. Jo changed from rhythm to bass guitar, and Harald – already in those early days one of the finest guitar players here around grew better and better day by day!
But Manni failed at school with his examinations and his father locked him away from music (for one year – he failed a second time and decided to become a professional drummer). We had gigs, but our drummer couldn’t come, because he was locked at home! It was a sad goodbye, but we had to look for a new one, because in the meantime we had gathered lots of gigs.
After some rehearsals Andreas “Bonny” Cornelius came along, a really spaced-out high-class free jazz drummer. He said: “I’m gonna join your band, but only if you start writing your own material!” – All of our friends disagreed: “Do you guys think, you can write songs like John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Cream, Taste, Jimi Hendrix and all the other progressive musicians? You megalomaniacs?” Two real good friends that had managed us left us with these words.
Jürgen Schmeisser of Pilz Records signed you up and you released single “Lucifer” / “Tired” and an LP entitled First. How did the label got ahold of you?
After Bonnie had joined the group we build up a new program with own songs and found a manager, who did a good job in getting gigs for us, but he was a real strange person (to put it mildly) 4 blue-eyed musicians signed an exclusive management contract without reading it. (The bill we had to pay later).
But now we played gigs outside of our home country Saarland. One of them was in Lila Eule/Bremen where a goup of people were having a party. We didn’t know them, but after the show Jürgen Schmeisser came up and told us, that they, PILZ-record label people, really enjoyed the show and he asked for our address. Some months later, he asked us to hire a stage and to show him, why PILZ should produce an LP with us. We hired a small location and played the show for one person, him. He liked it.
Where did you record the songs?
It took some months more till we were invited to record an LP in Hamburg. In the mean time, PILZ –records had changed a lot.
BASF (the owner of PILZ) didn’t want to invest too much more money into progressive music, more and more they changed their program to German “Schlager”.
We were quite surprised, as we heard we got only about 20 hours to record an LP plus 2 songs for a X-mas sampler. Can’t remember the name of the studio, only remember it was a small one in a sub-urbian terraced house area; good thing: they had hired Conny Plank to do the recording; bad thing: after some hours of recording he left for a mixing job with Kraftwerk at the Hamburg Markthalle. After a 5 hours break he returned into the studio at about midnight, along with him some Kraftwerk and some The Rattles folks.
We got stoned, forget to record the lyrics to a pretty complicated jazzy “shepherd’s song” for the X-mas sampler Heavy Christmas and returned back home. They dropped the instrumental, all that’s been left is a 20 secs long stoned la-la-la singalong of everybody in the studio at the end of the song.
What kind of audio equipment did you use for the recording?
I can’t remember anymore; maybe because, to say it with Shel Silversteins words: “I was stoned, and I missed it.” (part of the time)
Was there a certain concept behind the album?
Yeah, I was the one with the words; nobody else in the band cared too much about the lyrics.
At that time I was convinced, that left wing movements combined with drug inspired hippies could start a world-wide revolution to build up a world without wars & religions. In my childhood days I had believed in religion and the bible until I started to understand how churches, governments and the big business always work hand in hand together to oppress the people.
I read a lot of philosophy, like Sartre, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and many others. I studied education and wrote my dissertation about the entitlement and the questionability of the antiauthoritarian education.
… and I believed in drugs…(then), which opened more and more strange doors to me, most of them, regarded from my nowadays point of view, better should have stayed closed. I had flirted with black magic and begun slowly to lose control.
Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
I chose Lucifer, the fallen angel, to be my alter ego. He had revolted against God, got thrown out of paradise for bringing the enlightment to mankind. This world is not holy, holy; it’s death, hatred and war, but nevertheless, let’s search for live, love and peace, not to forget – satisfaction, let’s find our real selves without any restrictions!
Looking back, many of my beliefs haven’t changed that much until today.
If my memory serves me well, Conny Plank brought up this silly little Latin sentence. Like Joe and I, he had run through an humanistic education and what the result this was! We had a good time with Conny.
Joe spoke the words and Harald showed the world how it feels like.
I had suffered from a authoritarian education. When my fascist father threw out my girlfriend out my room, I left home and started my new life in the city.
Need to explain acid?
This song live never had a fixed structure. We always let it flow. Main direction was chaos-beauty-chaos. Only Harald’s guitar riff always stayed the same. On our 1991 revival-live version in Le Garage (CD-R Make Ends Meet - Dies Irae) you can hardly recognize the song “Trip” until Harald’s beautiful riff sets in.
A strange disturbing flashback to my childhood bible-poisoned days ringing in dies irae, the day of doom, the last days, mixed with Romanticisms blue flowers and a touch of Wordsworths mellow meadows descriptions.
For me, my most uninspired lyrics on this record! Sorry for that, really!
Might sound strange today, but I always was in search of the mind-expanding effect of drugs then, the heightening of my awareness; I liked the softness of red lebanese.
Here I tried to express the right to live your own dreams, as long as you do not hurt anybody by purpose. As I see it now I waved my freak flag a bit too high in this one, and I understand by now some critics I unleashed at that times, even if I’m still convinced, that smokin’ a joint really is much more harmless than carrying a gun.
“Run Off ”
Harald and me liked Elmore James. This was our bow to him.
How did critics receive the album? Did it break in any markets?
Our local TV station SR produced this “Trip” video (that gathered that much youtube-clicks since ROCKPALAST emissed it again in 2006); for a short time we were treated like local heroes. Manfred Sexauer from our local radio station SR and Frank Laufenberg from radio SWR presented the record in two of the best radio shows of that time.
But all the other German radio stations boycotted the record because of the lyrics. I had insisted on the lyrics being printed on the record sleeve.
Nobody had read them before the release, neither the people from PILZ, nor my bandmates. I was sentenced GUILTY! The German market was closed for us. I became the persona non grata – the fallen angel.
Did you do any promotional touring with the band?
We toured from Zürich/Switzerland throughout many German towns up to Hamburg, together with other PILZ artists like Ardo Dombec, Virus and McChurch Soundroom and did many solo gigs (Dies Irae), best of all in Fabrik, Hamburg.
First is among my favourite albums from Germany. Was there ever a plan to record second LP? Is there any unreleased material?
In our contract with PILZ there was an option for a second LP. But PILZ informed us pretty soon after the radio stations had refused to play our songs that First was definitely our last record with PILZ. 1992 after our revival concerts, we recorded 5 new songs “rough mix” in the Green Wave studios. (on CD-R Make Ends Meet)
Were you inspired by psychoactive substances like LSD at the time of writing the album? What’s your opinion about it?
Like I told before, I was. Having been the drug apostle, I was then, I persuaded Bonnie and Harald to check it out later, but they didn’t like it.
I stopped taking LSD in 1973. No more need to be crazy by purpose.
Today my only drugs left are Spanish red wine (Navarra) and, Belgian beers, even though I still support the movement for a legislation of drugs.
What happened to the band after the album was released? Were members involved with any other bands?
No, we all only played with Dies Irae.
What would you say were some of the major influences for making First?
Sure all of them British progressive bands like The Yardbirds, (early) Led Zeppelin, Ten Years After, Taste, John Mayall and funny but true: my all time favorites were The Kinks (because of Ray Davies’ fantastic lyrics) as well as Bob Dylan (lyrics) and Frank Zappa.
Were you in contact with other “underground” bands from Germany?
Not really. Living in a part of Germany, most of the German people thought: “Belongs to France, or…?”, without any music business, we didn’t get the entrance tickets to the underground in-crowd that easy. When we first got invited to a kind of underground party in Hamburg I really was shocked by the political unawareness of some of them “underground-stars” – they just partied with the Big Biz, I really felt pissed off.
You’re still very active and have a band called Green Wave which is kind of a continuation of Dies Irae. Would you like to talk about it?
Active - right; very- no; by the time it’s getting less!
After the exitus praemortalis, name it the sudden death of dies irae, I first thought of turning my back on music. But 1975, with a bunch of friends, we formed Green Wave, who now, after 41 years slowly seem to face the final curtain. To celebrate this kind of good-bye-for-long in a suitable way, we just finished recording a fantastic CD in our own studio, that we’re gonna release at the end of the year or maybe in springtime 2017.
It will be the finest record I’ve ever took part in.
I could write books about those 41 Green Wave years, but it would take too much time to read them. The coming new CD Stolen Dreams In a Nearby Lost & Found is part of my concept story “... green days on a planet blue...”, which includes our former CD’s The Inner Garden (2000) and double CD …we used to cut the green grass…/…the war is over… (2009)
If you read the story behind all of our CDs at http://green-wave48.blogspot.de maybe you will understand the philosophies behind my 51 years of music.
What are some of the favourite memories from Dies Irae?
Anyway we had a rather good time. In the sixties and the seventies young people had the chance to check out many different ways before they finally chose one. All those ways had memories worth being preserved. I still preserve them all.
1991 Dies Irae revival concert in Le Garage, Saarbrücken on CD Make Ends Meet, includes 5 new songs (rough mixes 1992). Order it from http://green-wave-live.jimdo.com/shop/
What’s the story behind making footage for song “Trip”?
The location where we filmed had a WWII military background. It had been a drilling area for soldiers, SS and police during the war. Nearby, about 1 km away, there had been a concentration camp. At that time they had just started to remove the remnants to build up an industrial area for Mercedes and others. The only “plan” for the movie was: the war is over, and crazy long haired hippies desecrate “this holy ground”. The television crew had no idea, what they should do with us, so Bonny our “natural high” drummer suggested, that the camera man should bind his camera to his hand and shake it all around to make it more psychedelic. To make it even more freaky we entered the bus. I had found a plant that had got removed by one of those caterpillars (excavation machines) and we planted it back into the sand and watered it to let it grow again (maybe this was the beginning of the “green wave” idea). I had smoked a joint before filming but it was stronger than I thought. Unfortunately a few weeks before, Harald Thoma, our guitar player had just received his notification of recruiting and was replaced by our manager. The one in this movie was only a substitute for Harald, who rejoined the band months later, after he luckily failed the second examination for military: he appeared there pretty stoned.
After that episode we sacked our manager, but paid a lot to have him go.
Why the name Dies Irae?
I happened to hear some medieval church song, called dies, irae – dies illa.
Very angry young man that I was – politics, education the Vietnam war - I suggested the name - the day of anger, the last revenge for all the evil.
Concluding out of the lyrics, you must have been reading a lot of esoteric literature at the time?
I was pretty much into reading all kinds of books, and I still am.
- Klemen Breznikar
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