Alphaville remain best known in the UK for their debut single Big In Japan, in 1984. But although it was their only real success in Britain, the German synth-pop trio fronted by vocalist Marian Gold were far from one-hit wonders…

Marian GoldBig In Japan was a smash all over the world (except in Japan, ironically) and the global hits continued with Sounds Like A Melody, Jet Set, Dance With Me and Forever Young. The band has released seven albums, with the most recent, Strange Attractor, making the Top 40 in Germany. Their debut long-player, Forever Young, has just been reissued in deluxe format.

Were you involved in the reissue of Forever Young?

Not me, because I’m just the singer. Bernhard Lloyd [the synth player] was very involved on the technical side. But we were both of the opinion that after 35 years it was about time to remaster Forever Young because back when we recorded it, it was mastered for vinyl rather than CD.

How did Alphaville begin?

I met Bernhard in West Berlin in 1981. He shared an obsessive love for the same kind of music as me, which was especially indie bands from the UK. Tubeway Army, Gary Numan and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark were strong influences on us. Along with Frank Mertens [Alphaville‘s other keyboard player], none of us could really play an instrument. The music was in our heads, but we were dependent on synthesizers and drum machines and things like that. Bernhard already had some equipment, so we were able to compose and record songs.

Synths and computers must have been expensive at that time…

The equipment we had at that time was basically toys – the cheapest monophonic synthesizers you could imagine. We had a little studio in a basement, made a couple of demos and sent them to some record companies to try to get a deal. We didn’t have much hope, but we had three offers and from that moment everything happened very fast. We released Big In Japan and within seven weeks it was No.1 in Germany. It was a rocket ride of a start for a band that no one knew of a couple of months before. I remember sitting in a restaurant where I was working, peeling potatoes and stuff like that. Suddenly our record was on the radio four times a day. After a week or so the cook came up and threw me out! He said, ‘Why are you still here peeling potatoes? You must be earning a fortune. You don’t belong here anymore!’

Big in JapanWhat was the story behind Big In Japan?

We originally weren’t sure whether we should put it on the album, because it’s a bit autobiographical in that it reflects my time in West Berlin in the late 70s, with the drug scene around the train station and the zoo, and all the underground things. It has nothing to do with Japan. It was that line where if you’re a complete loser you tell people, ‘Well, I’m nothing over here but in Japan I’m a big star.’ I actually got the title from the British band Big In Japan who were on a compilation album I’d bought a couple of months before. The funny thing is that when we released the song four years later, we were at No.2 in the German charts and No.1 was Frankie Goes To Hollywood, whose singer, Holly Johnson, was the original singer in Big In Japan. We never got to speak with him but he must have wondered, who is this German group with a song named after my band!

You didn’t tour much in the 80s…

We didn’t feel we were good enough musicians. These days it wouldn’t be a problem to go out and play with tracks, but at that time it was really complicated. We didn’t feel like we were performers. We felt more like we were studio rats. The studio felt like a safe environment. So, much to the annoyance of our manager, we didn’t play very much. We started playing live in 1993, when we became better on our instruments, and began touring from there on. Since then, we’ve never really stopped.

For anyone who only knows Alphaville from Big In Japan, which albums would you recommend they listen to?

The last one – Strange Attractor! Also, Prostitute. There’s a great variety of styles on that one.

Do you have another album on the horizon?

We didn’t have much time to record in the last two years since Strange Attractor, but on the other hand we have a lot of material in the vault. We probably have enough for a new album but I don’t think we will be releasing one this year. It will probably be in 2020.


Douglas McPherson


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