Interview Hans Jörg Schmitz (King Of Agogik)

“It's impossible to search for a style of your own; you just have it or you don't”

(November 2011, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)

The German multi-instrumentalist Hans Jörg Schmitz is the mastermind behind an instrumental musical project with the rather strange name King Of Agogik. He recently released his already fourth album From A To A (see review). For me this release was a good reason to find out more about Schmidt, his project, the name of the project and, of course, his music.

Who is the King Of Agogik and why did you choose that rather peculiar name?

Hans Jörg Schmitz: King Of Agogik is my solo project that started in 2006 with the album Membranophonic Experience. The name has to be understood in a humorous way. It came into life in the nineties when I was playing in a cover band called The Assholes. At the time humour and chaos were great elements in our music, so madness broke out quite often maybe due to the band's name. By doing so it once happened that the guitar player in the midst of a solo stopped playing because the roar of the double bass drums 'killed' him. In those days the name King Of Agogik was born. So it's not grandiloquent to give this name to myself. Agogik means nothing more then 'the art of changing speed', but in fact I'm the 'king of dawdling'. Today, in the wisdom of growing older I use this term wittingly as a kind of stylistic device. I always look at my music with the wink of an eye and I don't take myself that serious, thus the name King Of Agogik fits perfectly. However, this self-created and self-chosen name is sometimes misunderstood and wrongly interpreted as big-headed and lofty...”
Hans Jörg Schmitz

Can you tell me a bit more about your musical background and where you come from?

“I was born in Andernach, Germany. I still live there and I'll probably die there. Andernach is located at the beautiful river Rhine, somewhere between Koblenz and Bonn. I started to play music in 1979 and since 1981 I was a regular member of several bands. From the beginning of the nineties until the mid-nineties, I was even involved with three bands at the same time. Apart from the approximately 1300 performances I gave, I have also worked in recording studios trying to increase my musical spectrum.”

How would you describe your music? I would say it's old school progressive rock performed with modern technology.

“I always find it difficult to express music in words. I've been influenced by many different musical styles. The word 'progressive' is essentially a positive word, so I'd combine my old passions with something new thus trying to create something new or something that's hard to compare with other existing music. However, in the end I just do what I like.”

Why did you call your debut Membranophonic Experience (a drummers little ego trip)?

“Because it's exactly what it says: an egomaniac trip without any consideration with the audience. All musical instruments covered with membranes and producing the sound of it, are called membranophons. I thought that people who are able to listen to my first CD at one piece go through a real membranophonic experience.”

Has the album a story or concept?

“The lack of a concept is the concept. It's about the transition between styles and variations, regardless of the above-mentioned consequences. In addition I cared about avoiding the worst thing which is boredom...”

On the cover of that album I noticed a rock with an eye wearing a crown. Can you explain the use of this cover?

“In 2005 I rehearsed with a band in Darmstadt. Unfortunately, this proved to be a real waste of time. Due to my frustration I started to work on my own CD. This stone on the cover lays in a pool in the Schlossgarten of Darmstadt. The centre of this city contains a wonderful and peaceful scenery which gave me several times the chance to escape the bad world with a good book. The eye in the stone is my own eye and that also applies for the next CD-covers. Everything optical has something to do with my life or my environment.”

The album contains many styles including prog rock, jazz rock and fusion. Did you try to find a style of your own on this album?

“No, definitely not! It's impossible to search for a style of your own; you just have it or you don't. I didn't record this album while having a musical style in mind that's easy to sell. I don't think in those kinds of frameworks. In my opinion good music is timeless...”

Do you have a dream yourself like Martin Luther King had on King's Dream?

“If I was a top model I would say world peace, but my body size isn't suitable for being a top model. Beside the wish for peace and freedom for those who haven't got it, I live my personal dream. Being a child I already had a big desire to make music and be able to live from it. This has worked out already and everything else is just an encore.”

You use a lot of samples and sounds in your music. Where do you take them from?

“A little man from the forest came to me carrying a bag of presents on his back and he asked me: “Do you like to get samples for free?” Then he grabbed into his bag and gave me a number of CDs with sounds and samples. Afterwards he granted me the internet which was very gentle of him. By the way, what was his name again? No, no, no, I'm sorry, let's get serious: I only use legal media.”

On your debut you used three different bass players. Why did you do that and why contains an album made by a drummer a real bass solo on Bassomania?

“I just love the bass, without bass there's no fun I guess... I've worked with Pantelis Petrakakis, who plays the guitar on Bassomania, for the first time in 1985. He also was a member of The Assholes for about seventeen years. He's an ingenious bass guitar player, but Greek after al (laughs). For my album From A To A he had been chosen to play a part, but unfortunately we had a schedule problem. That part was supposed to be named Schlabber-Shirt, a tribute to Rubber Shirt from Frank Zappa. Maybe we'll work it out on the next album.”

On Go Where The Pepper Grow I heard The Beatles. Is it a tribute to them?

“This piece of music starts with a rare version of Sgt. Pepper, although supplemented by my drums and the guitar of Dirk 'Dago' Wilms. I was and still am a big fan of The Beatles and John Lennon is acoustically represented on my four King Of Agogik-albums. The remainder of this piece is, among others, a number of things which I found aggravating. Because of that they should just go there where the pepper grows. It's a typical German phrase and therefore hard to translate. The English equivalent would be something like 'jump into the lake'. Analyzing by just the word 'pepper' is senseless.”

Two years after your debut album you released Aleatorik System, again a rather strange album title. Can you explain it and is it a conceptual album as well?

“Some things are based on coincidences that fit in a system. A random system, however, actually is a contradiction in itself, just like the title Bishu on my first CD, a bi-nary shu-ffle. On Aleatorik System (2008) I just wanted to bring in a number of uneven steps. Quintols over sevens and so on, no wonder that some people stated this as a bit strange, but to me it sounds great. The part 138 by the way is 1 minute and 38 seconds long and its pace is 13/8. The Long March Of The Royal Fifth has had a length of 22 minutes and 22 seconds and is pure neo-prog. It's one of my favourites on this album.”

The album shows a musician who has found a musical style of its own. Do you agree?

“In my opinion this is a natural process, a further development that happens without any conscious influence and hopefully causes some progress to the whole project.”

The credits mention AMC Choir Miami. Did you use a choir on the album and what was the reason?

“While my wife and I visited the United States of America we attended a mass in Miami. Usually you expect that coloured people have music in their genes, but the AMC Choir was more of a disappointment. Therefore I used only a short recording of the choir later on to incorporate on the album...”

Your previous album is called The Rhythmic Drawing Room (2009). What is it exactly and why did you use this title?

“The original idea has been taken from the Crimson Drawing Room, the saloon of the Queen in which she receives her guests and in which many images, mostly canvases, can be found. In my 'rhythm' living room I invite my guests on a more mental level. The pictures in the digipack do all have a link to the album. For example, there is Ostia the old harbour of Rome or John Cleese from Monty Python and Mad Hatter, the figure on the label of record company Charisma.”

Why did you release it as a double-CD? Was it difficult to write so much music?

“I released it as double album because the available time of 78 minutes on a CD seemed too little to me. I'm a drummer and drummers are sometimes a bit crazy. I was brimful of new ideas and I also like it myself to get something for my money. I hate new CDs with a playing time of less than forty minutes.”

On this album you used for the first time other keyboard players. Why did you ask them to play on your songs? 

“Oh, that's very simple. Since I'm a very bad piano player and guitarist, I work on keyboard and guitar parts for hours and hours to get it work. Sometimes the only way to produce good music is to ask somebody who really has the ability and the talents to play those instruments...”

On Prog 'n'Roll I heard the sound of a live audience. I guess it was taped somewhere or was the music really performed in front of an audience?

“The sound of an audience is mixed in from live records from the bands I've played in. Prog'n' Roll was never played in front of an audience.”

The inside cover of The Rhythmic Drawing Room reminded me of Pictures At An Exhibition by ELP. Do you agree?

“In the beginning I had another intention for the cover (see above), but months earlier a project had been planned, in which the compositions of Mussorgsky - that ELP didn't play - should have been completed. Maybe this event influenced my subconsciousness.”

Do you consider your latest album From A To A to be your best album so far?

“In fact the latest album should always be the best one, but with the passing of time you get a more differentiated view on your own work. You then get the chance to take a step back and look at the things you've done. I think all four albums have their strengths and weaknesses and naturally my focus is on the next album. However, regarding the sound of From A To A this album is the best one so far.”

Why did you call the album From A To A?

From A To A means: from Antunacum through or till Andernach. The album tells the story of my two-thousand years old native town from a pure subjective perspective without any comment on political or historical accuracy. It's about many stories and events that have happened or not in and around A to A.”

Our reviewer called the album 'sensational'. He stated that you're the first artist who recorded the entire musical history of prog rock on one CD. All songs contain many sub genres like neo-prog, prog metal and heavy metal, but also new age and space rock and the influences from many artists in these genres. I guess he's right in a way or don't you think so?

“Perfect and thanks for the flowers.”

On From A To A you mentioned Amsterdam, Vancouver, Cambridge, Tingsryd, Bonn and Friedrichsdorf in the credits. Why did you mention these cities?

“These are the places where the people live that did some recordings and sent them back to me via the internet. At Friedrichsdorf, nearby Frankfurt, lives Michael Elzer who is the 'stickist' so to say. In Bonn lives guitarist Dago Wilms. I went personally to these two guys to do the recordings. This also applies for keyboardist Erik Vaxjö. The recordings for the drums I did at home.”

Erik Vaxjö played the Mellotron, but did you play it yourself as well this time?

“The Mellotron is probably one of the most beautiful instruments and I'd like to have one. Erik's got a real M400, but I work with the VST Plug-in.”

Is Blue Tears a song about World War II?

“It is, in a way. It's about personal experiences and my feelings about war and the Holocaust. The language on Blue Tears is Yiddish spoken by Gernot Jonas, a protestant priest at Andernach. He's one of the few persons in the world who still speaks this language. For example, he is translating books from Yiddish to German. He also travels through Europe in order to stay in contact with the few people left who also speak this language. The words on Blue Tears haven been derived from the Partisan song Sag Nit Kejnmol. The title Blue Tears refers to little sparkling pieces of blue glass, but to understand this I have to give you some background information. In 1938 the synagogue of Andernach - the picture can be seen in the booklet - was destroyed by the nazis. The ruin of the building was dormant for a couple of years. Later on a regional building enterprise built a house upon the ruin and my parents settled in. My bed stood at the same place as the former altar and nearby the house there was a sandbox. When my friends and I digged deeper than seventy centimeters we sometimes found blue and shimmering little treasures. Only after years I heard about the windows and the mosaic floor of the synagogue that were made of the material we had found. Many tracks on From A To A are based on such personal stories and have a relation with Andernach. Thanks On High Street is a good example of the things I did and at the same time unmasks me being a thieve. The picture in the booklet has been shot on March 9, 1945, the thirteenth birthday of my mother who at the time lived nearby. The American army liberated Andernach while driving their tanks through High Street. With this regard High Street, or Hochstraße in German, is a pun. The British band The Stranglers released in 1978 an album called Black And White, the only punk album ever I bought myself. On this album the hugely distorted bass sound is very dominant. This sound I wanted to have for my album, but not as a sample. So I set down and played bass for two days in order to produce exactly the same sound and thus the strong related feeling. And not to forget, the hooter you hear at the recording is the one from Andernach. It's still howling every Monday at five o'clock in the afternoon to prevent her from getting rusty. Michael Kreutz, the guy who played the bass on one track, has recorded it for me.”

Thanks for this extensive explanation. On From A To A you used a musical part of Popcorn, a song written by Gershon Kingsley and mostly known as the instrumental dance hit by Hot Butter in 1972. Are you free to use this kind of fragments without paying royalties?

“Yes, everything under twelve bars is absolutely legal.”

I saw that you dedicated the album to Hermann Schmitz. Is he a relation of yours?

“Yes, he's my father. He died in 1991.”

Will you ever release a vocal album or an album on which the drums are mixed less up front?

“I probably will, but under another name. The idea is running through my head, because I know a few good singers and the whole thing stirs me up a bit. I think the musical structure would probably change in order to become more real compositions.”

You released all your music on sAUsTARK Records. Is it your own label? Did you try to find other labels to release your CDs?

“sAUsTARK Records is my own small, but independent record company controlled by myself. There's no need to ask anybody if it's alright what I'm doing. I don't release records to earn money otherwise it would ruin me.”

On all four albums guitarist Dirk 'Dago' Wilms contributed. How did you find this fantastic musician?

“Dago already plays about seventeen years with me. He was a member of The Assholes. To me he's one of the best German guitarists, unfortunately for him and a bit blessedly for me he's too modest, otherwise he would probably have played in another league. Actually he doesn't like prog music, but he's able to play different genres. He helped me a lot with special technical things. I admire his solo parts especially when he plays them with the Paula guitar (Les Paul).”
Hans Jörg Schmitz

Since 2006 you already released four albums of which one of them is a double album. Do you have so much inspiration or what?

“As I said I'm kind of foolish and my head is filled with many ideas. I also spent many hours a day with music and drumming. Unfortunately the variety and diversity is too much for some people. It can happen that you feel strained while listening to the music for the first time, but after being through the album five times it'll get better and better.”

Do you ever think of performing your music on a live stage or is King Of Agogik just a studio project?

“King Of Agogik is and will probably stay a studio project.”

Your music is very cleverly made and enjoyable for lovers of prog rock. Nevertheless the music sometimes tends to sound alike. Do you realize this and do you try to avoid this on your next albums?

“Naturally I reuse some of my sound and chord preferences, but I hoped that I didn't reach this point yet. Of course, I keep trying to create something new, something of my own.”

Would you name the musicians that influenced you most and would you like to record or play with them?

“Everything started with The Beatles and then it went on with Genesis, Yes, Mike Oldfield and so on. From Genesis alone I own over 250 CDs with all sorts of stuff: live recordings, recordings from the studio or the practice room, simply awesome. Sometimes it thrills me more than a good thriller. Phil Collins was one of the best musicians and drummers of the seventies and eighties. On Aleatorik System I've recorded a tribute to him named Call In S. As a young drummer I went for all I could reach for. Fortunately there were drummer meetings in the area so I got the chance to listen to professionals and getting in touch with them. Today I'm beyond the higher-faster-further-attitude. I respect the achievements of other people and I enjoy it.”

What are your future plans?

“Well, I would like to stay healthy and satisfied and I hope to create some good music a couple of years longer.”

Would you please say a final word to our readers and how they can in touch with your music?

 “First of all I'd like to thank you, the interviewer. Only by people with real interests in new, honest and non-commercial things, you enable further development. To all I would say: stay calm and try something new like at the dinner table. Tackle problems with an open mind and invest some time in it; maybe the results reward your efforts. Otherwise it still applies that every end carries a new beginning.”

Thank you for this interview.

“You're welcome.”

More info on the Internet:
       Website King Of Agogik
       Website Hans Jörg Schmitz
       review 'From A To A'

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