Written by: Paul Gleason
(All photos by Klaus Mellenthin)
Breaking a nearly ten year silence, the legendary German synth pop band Camouflage are back.
The band’s new album Greyscale is a textured affair that’s a winning confluence of techno-pop, deep club beats and wistful, string-laden ballads. Founded in 1987 by schoolboy chums Heiko Maile, Oliver Kreyssig and Marcus Meyn in the German town of Bietigheim-Bissingen, Camouflage made a name for themselves with the 1987 smash “The Great Commandment.”
Almost thirty years later, the band sounds as fresh and as inventive as ever, and Greyscale is the perfect album to announce their return.
On the eve of the record’s release, Camouflage’s Marcus Meyn sat down for a chat with us.
SEM: How did Camouflage maintain its integrity as artists during the adverse period when your label at the time, Metronome, promoted trendy bands like Ace of Bass over you?
MM: We were shocked and disappointed. That’s for sure, but we were believing in us and in our songs and so we continued.
SEM: During the period of Areu Areu and the opera project, how did the band grow artistically?
MM: These are two totally different projects. Areu Areu is a pure fun driven project, based on the idea to play on a 30s’ birthday of a friend of us. To produce the pop part of the Salvador Dalí opera Etre Dieux was a huge interesting and intellectual challenge. We spent a fortune of time to find our way to use the existing parts and compose something new out of it.
SEM: How did having Oli rejoin the band in 1999 make you stronger?
MM: We were always in contact with each other. After all these years, we thought it would be time to restart the band with all members, so we asked him to come back. Nowadays, we follow the democratic way of deciding things, and we have one more good songwriter back – a great winning situation for everybody!
SEM: With the rise of bands like M83, Cvrches, Washed Out, and Neon Indian and the continued success of Depeche Mode, OMD, and Duran Duran, synthpop is more popular than ever. What do you expect Greyscale to add to all the great synthpop that’s being made right now?
MM: I don’t know – time will tell. I think the sound and the style of Greyscale is quite different from these other bands, so it has a unique position.
SEM: In what ways does Greyscale reflect your band’s evolution in sound over the years?
MM: We’re not thinking about something like that. We’re working with the aim to evolute something – it is a natural process.
SEM: You first performed lead single “Shine” in 2011. How does the studio version differ from what you played in 2011?
MM: The 2011 version is more filled with melodies and sequences as the album and final single version. We were looking for a way to have the song playable for the live shows and always thought that the final version, “the original” as we call it, will be different.
SEM: The melody and lyrics are very optimistic. It seems like the song comments on the mindset that Camouflage must have had to face adversity. Any thoughts?
MM: We’ve never been a negative band – we are melancholic and sometimes sad – but not negative. The lyrics are personal thoughts and stories. We’re not writing fiction; most of the time we’re writing about us and the world we’re living in. The melodies are great – I love them – some really beautiful electronic pop songs. We love the way it is. That’s the way we write songs – without any strategy behind!
SEM: Who directed the video and what did his/her visual sensibility bring to the song?
MM: The video is directed by Sebastian Stuertz – a friend of our record company. We told him that we want something really simple – maybe just focused on the singer’s performance and playing with light. The result is great – it has a huge energy and pushes the song.
SEM: The tempo in the chorus of “Misery” is very upbeat in contrast to the lyrics and melody, which are melancholic. What do you think this contrast adds to the song?
MM: It starts with the word Misery – which is slow in contrast to the beat – that’s right: the bit in the second part is on the beat, so you have both situations, which is great and fun to perform!
SEM: Would you please discuss the instrumentation and arrangement of “Misery”? They’re very intriguing…
MM: The song is based on the idea to have this strong drive of the beat and the simplicity of the eighth bass. It is pushy, and you feel like a runner, or an 80s’ dancer. Very electronic, with kind of real drums – traditional and fun. The song should sound simple, but not cheesy and it should make you smile, but the lyrics should speak another language – let me suffer – please – we love it!
SEM: “Count on Me” features the vocals of Peter Heppner of Wolfsheim. How did you meet him?
MM: The Idea was born on our 30th anniversary concert last year in Dresden, where we asked him to perform “That Smiling Face” with us and it came out quite fantastic!
SEM: Why did the band ask him to sing on “Count on Me”?
MM: We both had a hell lot of fun and so we thought about making something new for Greyscale. Finally, we came up with a song and asked him if he would like to sing this one with us, and he liked the song right from the beginning – so here we are!
SEM: Why did the band decide to make an instrumental the title track for the record?
MM: This has an old tradition. We always have instrumentals on every album, so it was clear that we’ll have one on Greyscale, too.
SEM: “In the Cloud” incorporates a telephone busy signal as a beat. How do the lyrics relate to this effect?
MM: The idea came during the production, when we recorded the vocals with final lyrics. We always love some special effect – like the sound of the foodsteps after the song “Thief on Sensor.”
SEM: “Dark Grey” is the penultimate song on the album. It’s also the third song on the album with the word “grey” in the title. In addition, it’s an instrumental, like the other two. Why did you sequence the “grey” songs the way you did?
MM: Grey is the red line through the album. When you have instrumentals or instrumental parts you are alwas looking for names – in this case, we thought about the differen kinds of greys – we decided quite early that we will play with it.
SEM: The album cover is very evocative. Please tell us about where it was shot and who designed it.
MM: The pictures were shot by Klaus Mellenthin on location outside of Berlin. It’s the style of the photographer to shoot 13 pictures in a row to get a final one. You have the possibility to change every single picture, and you’ll get a different visuality – this was interesting for us right from the beginning.
SEM: What’s next for Camouflage? A tour?
MM: At the moment we’re on tour in Germany. Afterwards, we travel to East Europe and later on to South America.