By Michael Popke
The moniker RPWL came from the initials of each original member’s surname: Phil Paul Rissettio, Chris Postl, Kalle Wallner and Yogi Lang.
“Of course, the name was a joke,” admits vocalist/keyboardist Lang. “Since the day of our very first album production, we didn’t have a name. But the record label made very clear that they couldn’t release an album without a band name. Silly idea, I know. But as long as the spirit of the band is still the same, we keep the name.”
And 10 years later, the name remains the same — even though some of the members have changed.
Meanwhile, RPWL’s sound has evolved from a Pink Floyd cover band to something that Radiohead and Genesis fans can equally appreciate. The band, which recently split with InsideOut Music after that label ran into financial trouble, has formed its own label: Gentle Art of Music. To celebrate its 10-year anniversary, the German band released “The Gentle Art of Music,” which traces the collective’s evolution via 11 songs from five albums on one CD. A second disc presents 11 acoustic reinterpretations of other songs from RPWL’s back-catalog. (The band’s newest album, “Beyond Man and Time,” is scheduled to be released in the U.S. on March 13, 2012.)
Goldmine caught up with Lang and guitarist Wallner.
Q: When and why did RPWL move beyond being a Pink Floyd cover band?
Yogi Lang: In 1997, we met to jam over old Floyd songs. We all were involved in a lot of studio work and missed playing live on stage. To be honest, we didn’t have the time to rehearse a lot. To play the music we grew up with gave us the possibility to have fun on stage again, and that was what we wanted to do at that time. But, by and by, the urge to write songs and do our own music came back. The deciding step was that we did our first album together. A guy from a record label heard a tape with a couple of songs we did and wanted to release it. Some weeks later, we were on the front cover of a rock-music magazine.
Q: How did the band’s sound evolve from heavy Pink Floyd influences to what it is today?
Kalle Wallner: We’ve never been a strict Pink Floyd cover band. Everyone in the band was able to compose songs, so it was a natural step to write our own songs as a band. I think it is a good thing that every album sounds a bit different, and the last one [2008’s “The RPWL Experience”] is far away from our debut. This shows the development of each musician and the entire band. We’re not standing still, but still go on. The solo works of Chris, Yogi and I are yet another demonstration of the creative potential of RPWL. So I’m really looking forward to what’s coming up next.
Q: What has been the highlight of the past 10 years?
KW: When we started off, it was just for fun. Nobody expected that anyone could be interested in what we were doing. Meanwhile, we did so many albums and tours that it might be hard to pick out only one highlight. All the 10 years have been a big highlight for me. Of course, when we came to the States for the Rites of Spring Festival [in 2004] for the first time, and so many people in the audience sang along with our songs — that was a really big moment for me.
Q: “The Gentle Art of Music” might be many listeners’ first exposure to RPWL. How did you choose which songs to include?
YL: We compiled the first disc as some kind of time travel. Beginning with our first album, “God Has Failed,” you can follow the musical path of the band up to our last studio album, “The RPWL Experience.” It was interesting and unbelievable at the same time, sitting there listening through 10 years of our own history. Every record is also a fragment of our personal life. We took at least two songs off each studio album for the first disc.
Q: Why did you opt to record a second disc with acoustic arrangements? And how challenging was it to incorporate strings, horns and Indian instruments into those songs?
YL: It came clear to us that a simple “best of” compilation wasn’t able to reflect all our musical experiences. We love to work with friends and other artists. It was so much fun to re-record the songs on the “Revisited” part of the album. It is always special to get input from other artists. I mean, you have a certain way you see and feel your songs. Other artists add other aspects to the songs. It was a very inspiring atmosphere in the studio and a great way to celebrate the birthday of a band.
Q: The packaging for “The Gentle Art of Music,” a sturdy, oversized digibook, is unusual. Why did you design it that way?
KW: We wanted to do something special for our anniversary. It should look like a book — the book of the first 10 years of RPWL — like a “book of life” or a diary. We wanted it to be a retrospective. That’s why we did our first press picture for the cover again. And, of course, it should be a preview, as well. So this is the reason for the two discs: The first is the compilation of what we’ve done; the second shows the potential the band has.
Q: So, the cover photo on “The Gentle Art of Music,” featuring band members sitting in a movie theater, is intentionally similar to a photo that appeared in the packaging to “God Has Failed” …
YL: Yes, of course. We thought that it would be a great idea to go into the same location. By the way, the cinema has also changed a lot, not just us!
Q: Congratulations on RPWL’s slot at CalProg in October. How do you rate the band’s success in the United States?
KW: RoSfest 2004 was our very first show in the States. We enjoyed it a lot; people were very friendly, and we had some very nice chats. But our second show at RoSfest in 2008 beat it. We met so many people again, and we had a really good time. For me, personally, it was a special thing to play twice — with RPWL and Blind Ego, my solo project. At the second RoSfest, we felt quite confident in having our first real release with “The RPWL Experience.” All albums before were imports, and the band was only known by fans of the art-rock/prog-rock scene. So I think the band is quite new for U.S. people.
Q: How do prog fans in the United States differ from those in other parts of the world?
YL: Music lovers in the States listen very carefully to our music. It gives us the chance to have a very intense connection with the audience. I like that very much, because music is a kind of conversation, not a monologue.
Q: RPWL collaborated with former Genesis and Stiltskin singer Ray Wilson. What do you remember most about those sessions?
KW: When we wrote the song “Roses” in 2002, we always thought that Ray’s voice would fit it perfectly. It was great to hear that we were right! When I listened to the track for the first time, I was deeply impressed. Ray has an awesome voice, and I really enjoyed the live shows we did in Europe.
Q: The album titled “9” seems to be a hard one to find. What’s the story behind that album? And is it now a collector’s item?
YL: At the time of “9,” everyone was quite busy with their solo material. So we decided to have a short break and do something that was absolutely different from the usual production process. First of all, it had been my dear wish to release the rest of the live tracks that were actually meant for the “Start The Fire” live record. In addition to those five songs, we gave each of the four band members the chance to write and arrange a song on their own and record it with the whole band. So we had nine tracks on this album. Why not call it “9” and produce a limited edition of 999 pieces? It sold out in less than three weeks. You’re definitely right calling “9” a collector’s item, and we’re very proud of this special release.
Q: Kalle, tell how the Blind Ego project with John Jowitt and John Mitchell came about, as well as Blind Ego’s plans for the future.
KW: Over the years, I had so many songs in mind that never fit RPWL. So I decided to initiate Blind Ego. I met John Jowitt and John Mitchell at many festivals, and we always had a great time. So I asked the guys if they were interested in being a part of my new solo project. I never thought of a band, but I liked the idea of having many guests on the album. So I released “Mirror” in 2007. The songwriting for the second Blind Ego record, “Numb,” was within a smaller time period, and I decided to work only with Paul Wrightson as a vocalist. “Numb” is a bit rockier than the first one. I’m pretty sure that I will release a third album after the upcoming RPWL release. In the meanwhile, RPWL will be the main focus.
Q: What’s next for RPWL and the band’s own label?
KW: First of all, we released Yogi’s solo album this autumn [“No Decoder”]. And, of course, we are working on the upcoming RPWL album. It is quite an exciting feeling to hold your business completely in your own hands.