She was integral to the chart-busting outfit Propaganda, he was a mainstay in late-period Tangerine Dream. Imagine if they made an album together…
“It started in late 2014,” says Jerome Froese about ‘Beginn’, his collaboration with Claudia Brücken. “I was keen to do a production with vocals for quite a long time and Claudia was introduced to me by a friend. I sent her some demos, instrumental stuff and some musical notes, but I didn’t think that she liked them.”
“You’re completely wrong,” laughs Brücken in response. “Don’t take it so personally, Jerome. I just take ages to write songs and to fit myself into a project. It doesn’t come naturally to me.”
While ‘Beginn’ is the first time the pair have worked together, you wouldn’t know it. They have a very relaxed chemistry, one that is often hard to identify while working in cities apart from each other – in this case with Brücken in London and Froese working from his studio in Berlin. Both are well used to a group dynamic, Brücken having fronted Propaganda, Act (with Thomas Leer) and Onetwo (with OMD’s Paul Humphreys), and Froese being a member of Tangerine Dream, the band founded by his late father, Edgar. They each wanted to instill their collaboration with a “group feel”, even though they were often working independently, eventually coming together in person to realise the songs and develop further new ideas, then having lengthy conversations over Skype when apart to keep their connection going.
Both parties were mindful that this collaboration should be something distinct from work they’d done before. For Froese, who had spent over 20 years solely in the field of instrumental electronic music, it was the chance to finally work with a singer. For Brücken, it was the opportunity to collaborate with someone who was genuinely interested in a partnership, not viewing her as a singer for hire or whose approach was overbearing.
“We were on the same page,” says Brücken. “Most of the time I’ve worked with really big egos, and ego gets in the way. It’s all about politics, whereas Jerome and I didn’t have any of that.”
After sharing some initial ideas, they convened at Froese’s Berlin studio.
“During the recording process, when we made the first demos in Berlin, we found out more and more about the direction where the album should go,” he says. “When Claudia left for London, I went on a composing spree and wrote song after song after song.”
At this Brücken nods and smiles, though she admits to being somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new ideas heading her way, none of which were intuitively in a space where she had operated before.
“Jerome is an extremely prolific writer,” says Brücken. “He wasn’t just giving me one idea. With lots of people that I’ve worked with, it’s a huge amount of intense labour over just one idea, but that was very different with Jerome. It’s your training and it’s your background. It’s really lovely.”
“I learned to work fast during my days with Tangerine Dream,” explains Froese after making an embarrassed expression. “I remember once my father came into the studio in the morning and said we needed a bonus track for the album for the US market, but it needed to be finished that night. I was used to that. It was my job.
But working with Claudia on this I realised that writing lyrics is a much more difficult process. It takes more time for everything to fit into place or make sense or feel good.”
The result is an album that is delicately balanced, with both artists working as equals and neither crowding out the other. Froese’s electronics and shimmering guitar textures are sensitively placed around Brücken’s vocal; each track is as diverse as the next, yet all convey a generally pensive tone.
“We had a lot of issues in 2015,” confesses Froese, acknowledging the untimely passing of his father as a major influence on his music for the album. “It wasn’t our intention to make a dark album, or a melancholic album, but there are a lot of very personal things in this record.”
Brücken is more optimistic.
“It felt like I was in a playground,” she says. “We were just throwing things back and forth. There was no censoring or negativity, it was very playful and very free, with no expectations and no restrictions on ourselves.
“When I think of writing a song, it’s like a painting, and so this album is like having 12 paintings. You make a little exhibition of ideas, and then you visualise those through each song. That gives you variety and different sides, different levels. ‘Wounded’ is extremely dark, really rather brutal, whereas ‘Flight (Of) Fancy’ is light. This album is all about light and dark and then lots of shades in between.”
In between the opposite poles of levity and bleakness that characterise ‘Beginn’ is a moment of near-whimsy in the shape of ‘Whispers (Of) Immortality’. The piece stands out for being a slice of electronic music theatre, with Brücken delivering a fantastical story imbued with a mysterious otherness, all in a half-whisper. It’s like an especially lucid passage from ‘Alice In Wonderland’ or a Harry Potter novel, but which was inspired entirely by a scene from an Italian film that left Brücken ruminating on the notion of living in the moment, almost like a child.
“I don’t want it to be just a one-off,” muses Brücken when I ask if the German title of the album hints at the start of an enduring partnership.
“I feel the same way,” adds Froese. “It was so much fun and joyful working together. When two people have the same ideas or are on the same wavelength while working together, you can be much more creative. When it works, it’s something you won’t stop. It will go on as long as it will be fruitful, so I’m very sure that we will do more together.”
‘Beginn’ is out on Cherry Red