Why is the best pop music often the most emotionally intense pop music? As artists like Pet Shop Boys and Robyn have demonstrated, there is sometimes no better way to express our most euphoric, wistful and lovelorn inner thoughts than by indulging in the electronic swirl of the synthesizer.
It’s this type of emotional undercurrent that makes the debut album by Wolfram Eckert so great. Featuring the unique vocal stylings of dance music luminaries like Hercules and Love Affair, DFA Records’ Holy Ghost!, ’90s Eurodance mainstay Haddaway and ’80s gay club fixture Paul Parker, the album is like a chronicle of Italo, Eurodance and synth pop’s past and future. To find out why Wolfram is so in love with synthesizers, we rang him up in New York a while back. Read the full interview after the jump!
This is the cover art for Wolfram’s self-titled debut album.
When were you first exposed to Eurodance music?
At my parents house because my dad used to be a sculptor. He made Maria and Joseph statues for churches in the 1960s but then he started to make and design loudspeakers out of wood. He also collected electronic music from the ’70s like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis so I always heard electronic synthesizer-based music at home.
Where I was born I couldn’t buy those records, so in the mid-late ’90s I started to take records from my dad ⎯ 12-inch vinyls. In my village there was no record store, not a proper one, so I went to flea markets to buy Italo records. I grew up close to the Italian border, like 30 minutes by train to Italy. They have lots of cheap, cheesy Italo disco there for 50 cents. I bought all that stuff and I fell in love with it. For me, it’s very important to evoke emotion in my music for it just to be fun. Italo actually had really beautiful melodies, but sometimes the sounds they used made the whole song really cheesy. Of course the singers were really cheesy because they couldn’t speak or sing English ⎯ kind of like me.
And so have an interesting and diverse roster of vocalists on the record. Are you a well-connected person in the dance world?
Yeah, because I have Internet in Austria! Super connected! I was just lucky that I met lots of people when I was DJing under my old name Diskokaine. I met Andy Butler of Hercules and Love Affair and we became friends. I sent him a song and a picture of where I made the song in a studio of my friend Patrick Pulsinger, who is also on one track of the album. It was instrumental song where we freak around with synthesizers and Andy was like “Oh, I like those synthesizers. I want to come and visit.’ He stayed at my house and he actually recorded the whole new Hercules and Love Affair album Blue Songs in Vienna.
You make the distinction between tracks and songs. Why is that an important distinction?
The typical pop song is around three minutes and thirty seconds or four minutes and in the verses the singer tells a story about love and then comes the chorus and verse again. I thought that [making pop songs] might be a new challenge for me because for five or six years I made enough club tracks that are only heard in clubs. On the [instrumental] song with Patrick Pulsinger, for example, you can hear my club background.
“Hold My Breath (Sally Shapiro Version)” by Wolfram featuring Holy Ghost!
How did you convince Haddaway to sing? Is true that he’s quite reclusive?
He lives in Monaco and in Switzerland in the Alps of Austria, but he’s fine. He sometimes tours in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.
A friend knows him and the friend told him, “Hey there’s this guy in Vienna and he’s talented. You should check his stuff out.” He sent him Sally Shapiro and he liked the Sally Shapiro album, which I put out in 2006 on my label. Then I talked to him on the phone and he was like, “Yeah just send me your stuff and let’s see.” But he was in a bad mood that day because I called him and it was the 23rd of December, one day before Christmas Eve and he was like, asleep. I was like HELLO! And he was like, “Uhhhh, who is this?” And I was like F*CK! It’s not the right moment! And he was like, “No, no, no come on now. What do you want? I’ve heard of you. You’re the friend of Felix, blah blah blah. Send me the instrumental I’ll give it a listen and I’ll give you a call back.” I was like, “F*ck that was not a good start.”
I was at my parent’s place, which is in a small village in Austria close to the Italian border, so I didn’t have reception on my cell phone so he called me back but he ended up on my voice mail. It was like 10 minutes after I had sent the instrumental so it was really quick. I saw the voice mail and I checked the voice mail and he was like, “Hey this is Haddi. I checked out your instrumental and it’s really good. I have this idea and he started singing the song on my voice mail. And I was like, “Oh my god this is the best Christmas present ever!”
“Thing Called Love” by Wolfram featuring Haddaway
What about the singer Didi Bruckmeyer? I like his look and I like his vocal performance on “All For You” as well.
This is crazy because when I sent that song to my European label, which is my main label, they were like, “Oh my god this dude cannot sing! We don’t want that on the album.” And I was like, ‘OK it’s your label you can decide.’ So the “All For You” song is a bonus track on the US and Japanese releases because Europe didn’t want it. When Andy Butler from Hercules and Love Affair heard it he was like, “Oh my god this vocal performance is so great. I want to have him for Hercules Love Affair.” He really said that.
I believe it. He has a very distinctive voice. It’s almost like a Klaus Nomi vibe.
My dad and my mom were also like, “What the f*ck? Is he making fun of opera singers?” Some people love it and some people just think it’s wrong; that he’s not in tune or whatever. I don’t care. I just put it on. I’m thinking of having him when I perform live. He’s a crazy guy ⎯ he’s actually a doctor and teaches at a university but his body is covered in tattoos. And he’s a dark wave fan from the ’80s. He’s a great performer.
Is it true you used to be a model?
What’s the story there?
I was not really making lots of money with it. I just had a good time and traveled a lot. That brought me to New York for the first time ⎯ modeling. The best thing I did was for Yoji Yamamoto, for his runway show, but you don’t get paid that much if it’s just shows or editorials. You need to make campaigns for big brands and I never made campaigns for big brands so I just started to DJ more and to play more music. My modeling agent was getting kind of pissed that I didn’t show up for castings because I was playing the night before and blah, blah, blah. And so that was my career.
Photos by Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek (first), Elsa Okazaki (second).