Alphaville lead singer Marian Gold is doing something he has done thousands of times before: pacing back and forth during vocal warmup exercises in the backstage bathroom of yet another concert venue.
But tonight is special. Because onstage, in front of a sold-out crowd, he will, for the first time in his life, play in Los Angeles with his band on their first ever U.S. tour. You read right. Alphaville, the German group behind a string of 1980s hits like “Big in Japan,” “Dance With Me” and the anthem “Forever Young” never played live in our country. Even back in their MTV ‘80s heyday.
Mr. Gold, who now resembles a sturdy opera singer, took the stage with a pristine voice and an impressive live band. Between the pacing and the opening notes, Mr. Gold and I talked about why Alphaville never played America, the lasting appeal of “Forever Young” and the band’s brilliant new album, “Strange Attractor.”
Question: How is it possible that you’ve never played live in America before?
Answer: In the ‘80s we didn’t play live at all because we couldn’t play. We were very much depending on drum machines [and] sequencers. The existence of Alphaville was created by the invention of those.
None of the first members of the band, including me, were musicians. We were basically fans of music. We would be sitting in front of a stereo listening to the music of the artists we loved and just dreaming about making our own music. Suddenly with the invention of this machinery, it became possible for us to create our own music. Our ideas, the melodies in our heads, came to life and instruments would play them. We also refused to do large tours with playback or additional musicians because it didn’t fit to our hippie ideology. For us it seemed like a lie. So we didn’t tour until the mid-‘90s.
Q: How did life change when “Big in Japan” and “Forever Young” became hits?
A: The success came on like an avalanche. In the beginning we were not the stars that everybody expected us to be. We were just very regular people. It was a dream come true, but we had a lot of difficulties handling the situation, psychologically. You couldn’t go outside because people recognized you. We became a little bit paranoid about that. We retreated. Hid out. We didn’t do many interviews. Our manager almost killed himself because of that. (Laughs)
Q: In the bands multidecade history, was there ever a moment where Alphaville didn’t exist?
A: No. We always carried on. The thing about us, which is probably considered unprofessional, is we need lots of time to write new albums. The minimum is three, four [or] five years because there [is] so much happening in between.
To get this done right took us always such a long time. We had very strict ideas about how things were going to be. Almost every record we did was a comeback.
Q: How long did it take to make the new album “Strange Attractor”?
A: That album took us seven years. We are now starting working on a new album called “Thunder Baby.” There were three songs we recorded for “Strange Attractor” that somehow I could not bring them into the concept, so the next album will be built around these three songs. I don’t think I have written anything like them before.
Q: How is the touring different in America from the rest of the world?
A: There is no difference. As a European you are used to different mentalities. You go three steps and you are in another country. There are other people with different mentalities. We are very much used to that. The music experience is something that makes everyone very equal to each other. We love to get onstage and play our music. It’s such a great thing to go out and play live after several months of being in a studio.
In the studio you are in such an intense situation and you don’t care about the world or anybody else. You just follow your ideas. The songs tell you what to do. When you go onstage, it is the opposite. You have to please the audience. You have to be the outwards entertainer. As a musician you oscillate between thesetwo worlds.
Q: What do you do to keep your voice in shape?
A: When I am on tour, I take Cortisone. It is not very healthy and I cannot recommend it, but unfortunately, it helps quite a bit. When you are on tour, the older you get, the more fragile your voice gets. Alphaville songs are not that easy to sing. It’s quite straining.
I’m 63 now, and I don’t think that I could go on longer tours without medical assistance.
Q: Where did “Forever Young” come from?
A: It is one of these songs that just came up. It’s a phenomenon.
Bernard came up with the playback and the chords, and it had that trumpet part in it already. I took it home, really liked it [and] wrote the lyrics. I came in and sang it and thought, “Yeah, it’s a nice song. Probably a little bit too commercial in the chorus.”
The song came out and became a thing on its own. I have no explanation for it. It touches so many hearts, souls and minds because it seems to speak to every generation. Or to every problem in the world. It has this fantastic title that I stole from Bob Dylan. But, hey, Rod Stewart did the same thing. (Laughs)
Q: What keeps you motivated to make music?
A: Curiosity and obsession. I’m obsessed with music and I’m very curious. There is always a corner and you want to know what is around that next corner.
Alphaville’s “Strange Attractor” is out now.