Friday, February 12, 2016

Egon's Now-Again Reserve: Paternoster "Cultural & Business Liaison" Stephan Szillus Reveals The Cross-continental Journey Behind Tracking Down Frontman Franz Wippel & Son of Bassist Haimo Wisser (The Witzard Interview)

"The venerable Austrian rock-scribe Johan "Hans" Pokora was the most welcoming–he, through his Record Collectors' Dreams books, had first canonized Paternoster, bestowing upon the album his highest honor of six-stars (the rarest of rare records) and also placing next to it his "symbol-of-music" ... He had kept two copies of the album–one with a proto-type, hand-colored cover–and he traded the other to me. That kickstarted this re-issue, as I put out a call to find someone–anyone–who could put me in touch with any of Paternoster's principal members. Stephan Szillus, a German journalist with a Hip-Hop background but with a worldly score, heeded the call and found Franz Wippel," Now-Again Records founder Egon wrote within his extensive 65-page Paternoster re-issue liner notes; referencing a fateful 2014 Instagram post that started a cross-continental journey to track down the long-lost makers of a fabled album that's been compared to everyone from Pink Floyd to Procol Harum. With that said, in light of Now-Again's recently-announced super-deluxe Reserve Edition: Paternoster HIT+RUN-assisted re-issue, I myself reached out to Szillus on Twitter, who, to my delight, was very eager to talk about his involvement with the first Paternoster-sanctioned album re-press since 1972; and so, without further ado, please enjoy my insightful and delightful 12-question conversation with Heart Working Class founder and integral piece of the Paternoster puzzle, the one and only Stephan Szillus.

I. First off, would you care to debrief my readers and I on your professional background, business dealings, and current affiliations?

Yeah, I've been a music journalist for nearly 15 years. For six years (exactly 50 issues), I was the Editor-In-Chief of Juice Magazine, which is Europe's biggest Hip-Hop print publication. A couple of years ago, I left and founded the artist management company and independent label Heart Working Class with my wife, who had been a freelance music publicist for years. I also did project management for Red Bull and recently started working as a Channel Manager at VICE.

My musical interests have shifted in the last [few] years. My main focus had always been Hip-Hop, Urban, and Electronic music, but from there, it naturally turned into a love for the music that was sampled a lot: Jazz, soundtracks, so called "world music," and Krautrock. This ultimately, led to me running my own radio show on German web radio station Byte FM and also working on this Paternoster re-issue with Eothen [Egon].

II. How did you initially become involved with Egon's long-overdue, band-sanctioned Now-Again Reserve re-master and comprehensive re-issue of Paternoster's coveted $10,000+ 1972 debut?

I've been knowing Eothen loosely for more than 10 years. Back in 2005, I met him and Madlib in Hamburg for interviews. I also went digging with them through Hamburg's second-hand record stores. It was a promotional tour for Quasimoto's second album [The Further Adventures of Lord Quas]. I have to admit, Madlib, Dilla, and DOOM were my musical heroes back then, and they shaped the way I perceived Hip-Hop.

I have crossed paths with Eothen a couple of times since then; for example, at the Red Bull Music Academy, which we were both affiliated with. I also happen to follow him on Instagram. There, in early 2015, he put the word out that he was looking for someone to get him in contact with obscure Austrian Psych-Rockers Paternoster. As I had been on a heavy Krautrock diet, my journalistic hunting instinct got triggered. So, we exchanged emails and phone calls, he gave me a few initial points of contact, and I went from there.

III. I was, let me be perfectly honest, surprised and a little taken aback to learn that you agreed to help Egon on his quest to locate the founding members of Paternoster without ever having heard their album; is that correct, Stephan? Then, what exactly swayed you to sign on, if it wasn't the music?

I hadn't heard the album, as I hadn't yet engaged in the Austrian side of Krautrock (and the Paternoster record is really, really obscure), but the topic triggered my interest. I have been on a heavy Krautrock diet in the last [few] years, reading every book and article on the subject I could find, religiously listening to the works of Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Dieter Moebius, Michael Rother, Conny Plank, and all the other 1970's greats. My parents were part of the 1968 student generation and I remember music like Tangerine Dream, Can, or Klaus Doldinger's Passport playing in our household growing up.

When Eothen sent me the record as a MP3 rip from his vinyl copy, I immediately fell in love with it: those heavy drums, Jazzy bass, proggy guitar lines, and Franz Wippel's "world-weary drawl," as Eothen put it perfectly in his liner notes... I wanted to find out more about this record because it sounded so special, like nothing I had ever heard before.

IV. Egon spoke very highly of you within a recent emailed conversation: "he's a great journalist, he tracked down Franz Wippel, and acted as a cultural and business liaison to make this process happen. If not for him, [the re-issue] wouldn't have happened." How exactly did you manage to track down Mr. Wippel, the remaining members of Paternoster, their offspring, and associates?

Well, that's nice to hear as I do have a very high opinion of Eothen myself. How we found them was just plain research: Eothen has an Austrian friend who knew Thomas, who is also an artist, rapping under the name Mista Wisdom and doing lots of other stuff. Then, I tracked down Franz through his former workplace, the public radio station Ă–3. He had already retired and we connected through email for an initial phone call. He was very open to meet me in Vienna and he even signed the licensing agreement upfront. I guess it was good for me to come on board, as Eothen doesn't speak fluent German and Franz doesn't speak fluent English. German is my mother tongue, but I happen to have worked internationally for years.

When we finally met in Vienna's Hotel im Brillantengrund in March 2015, Franz brought along Kurt Orator, an old friend of the band that took the press photos for the album back cover and autograph cards. He provided us with a lot of unseen material from the early 1970's, even a short Super-8 movie shot on a vacation trip in the mountains where the band members brought their model girlfriends along. Some weeks after this meeting, I also managed to find [Gerhart] "Hardy" Walenta, the former Paternoster drummer, through some Austrian music business connections. Only guitar player Gerhart Walter remains lost in the midst until this very day.

V. You mentioned during our previous conversation that you conducted interviews with Paternoster frontman Franz Wippel along with Egon & Madlib, which in turn, helped assemble the album's extensive liner notes. How much leg-work did it take to get to that point and what did it take to convince Wippel and bass player Haimo Wisser's son Thomas to agree to partake in your re-issue?

Well, my interviews with Eothen and Madlib happened in 2005. Those had nothing to do with this re-issue. For its liner notes, which were written by Eothen, I interviewed Franz Wippel, the mastermind behind Paternoster, and Thomas Wisser, the son of late bass player Haimo Wisser. Convincing them to participate wasn't too hard. I guess Franz didn't have anything to lose. He also probably felt our genuine admiration for his work. He knew about the record selling high on eBay for years. He said he Googled Paternoster some years ago and was amused to find other things than articles about elevators. So, our request didn't come [as] too [much of a] surprise for him.

With Thomas, it was a little more challenging, as he had to open kind of a personal Pandora's Box: by agreeing to partake in the re-issue plans, he automatically decided to openly touch upon the subject of his father's suicide in the 1990's; something we had only heard about through Internet rumors. Still, we managed to win his trust and he became a valuable source of information for this re-issue.

VI. Are you currently able to divulge any information concerning the additional three releases lined up for the Now-Again Reserve's quarterly release schedule? Please tell me, you and Egon has something in-the-works with illusive Korean Rock/Go-Go act, He 5-6?

That's a question for Eothen, as I probably won't be participating in all Now-Again Reserve releases. I dare say that we have another really obscure Krautrock gem coming up later this year: the self-titled German Oak record from 1972, recorded in a real German air strike bunker aka the band's rehearsal space. I have been to Dusseldorf to speak to two of the former band members extensively. Never heard of that Korean band though, will definitely check it out. Asia is kind of a blank space in my record collection, so far.

VII. Can you briefly go into the formation, rise, rapid fall, and abrupt disbandment of Paternoster, as to told to you directly from its one-time members themselves? What do you think it is about their music that still allows Paternoster to resonate with crate-diggers young and old nearly five decades later?

I could talk for hours on this subject, but I will try to keep this brief. Paternoster were four young students meeting in Vienna's alternative nightlife around 1970. They hung around the same bars and artist communes, and they happened to love the same music: Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Procul Harum, mainly Progressive Rock, and some Jazz Fusion. They formed a band to record the soundtrack for a silent art movie called "The First Days." The movie got premiered at some of the big festivals and somehow a major label subsidiary (CBS Austria) got interested in the band.

They signed a deal to produce one album and only had two studio days for recording and mix down. "Paternoster" got released, but the record company didn't have a plan for the band. The record didn't sell, they played a couple of gigs, and just went on with life. * Paternoster existed from 1970-1973, maybe early 1974. No one seems to remember. All of the band members went into separate directions. Only Wippel and bass player Wisser, who were the musical driving force behind the band, stayed in contact.

I think the music on the record is simply mind-blowing. Wippel himself thinks it could have sounded better with the right engineer. But people like Eothen or myself just love the way it turned out. It cries out to be sampled by beat-makers, but at the same time it's excellent music to listen to: Psychedelic, melancholic and trippy. Something that A$AP Rocky and his producers might use, as well as people like Madlib or Flying Lotus. For an album recorded in 1972, it's totally ahead of its time.

* Editor's Note: it's supposedly been reported by Franz Wippel himself that "470 copies were sold and the rest of the 1,000 destroyed by CBS Vienna in 1983." Although, there's little to no proof to substantiate this claim, aside from a wide-spread Internet rumor. However, this would likely attribute to the album's immense scarcity and heavily marked-up re-sell price tag, quite often exceeding $10,000.

VIII. We're a primarily Hip-Hop-minded publication here at The Witzard, although, with that said, I'm not too privy when it comes to world music–let alone Hip-Hop. Would you care to share a sampling of, in your opinion, the finest German Hip-Hop albums, singles, mixtapes, etc. released within the last year go 18 months?

This is kind of a difficult question; a personal favorite of 2015 was Audio88 & Yassin's album Normaler Samt that we released on our label, Heart Working Class. I dare say, it was kind of an underground rap favorite. But the German Hip-Hop scene is huge and really successful right now. I see interesting new stuff once in a while, but at the same time I'm mostly listening to beats, Electronic, and old music, personally. It's difficult to point out certain albums or mixtapes for me, aside from the people I'm working with. We're working on the new album by German rapper Megaloh right now, to me, he's just the best [emcee] this country has ever seen. Here's his most recent music video titled "Regenmacher."

His producer, Ghanaian Stallion sampled some Krautrock for the album. Not Paternoster, but Joy Unlimited, another band that I managed to contact and interview. No re-issue plans though, as their catalogue is owned by Universal.

IX. How exactly did Franz Wippel react when you told him that crate-diggers across the world were willing to pay up to $10,000 to purchase and own a copy of Paternoster's lone 1972 album? Did he and Thomas Wisser seem surprised to learn that people still wanted to hear their music all these years later?

For Franz, this didn't come as a surprise. He had been called out of the blue by crate-diggers for years, especially after music writer Hans Pokora had called the Paternoster album a holy grail in his "1001 Record Collectors' Dreams" book. They had been trying to contact him since the 1990's, mainly about leftover copies that he might own (he doesn't have any). Franz made some joking comments on this, but at the same time I felt he knew that they were on to something musically; he's just not too happy with the way the record came out sonically. As for Thomas, I hope he feels good about his late father's heritage being celebrated through this re-release.

X. Did Wippel give any sort of indication as to why Paternoster abruptly disbanded following their album's CBS Austria release? To the best of your knowledge, what did each of its band members ultimately end up doing?

They didn't even split up officially. It "just ran out," as Wippel put it. You have to bear in mind they were students in their early 20's. They just got on with [lives]. They had to find a job to pay their bills, as Paternoster didn't do anything for them. Franz dabbled in advertising, then moved on to writing radio features which he did for more than 30 years. Guitar player Gerhard [Walter] stopped going to the same bars as everybody else and focused on his architectural studies. We didn't manage to find him, but some sources say he's working for Vienna's city council today. Bass player Haimo's girlfriend got pregnant (with Thomas) and moved back to her parents' place in Tirol. He went with her and got involved with the musical underground there. Unfortunately, he developed a serious psychosis and committed suicide in the 1990's. Drummer Hardy [Walenta] is the only one who is still making music: after Paternoster, he joined a Punk band and today, he's playing in The Carosellis.

XI. What kind of information are you able to divulge concerning the album's re-mastering? Did Egon obtain an original copy of Paternoster or better yet, its master tapes?

The master tapes seem to be lost; at least, nobody knows where they are. The label folded in the early 1990's. Eothen made a great effort in getting it re-mastered from an original vinyl source. Dave Cooley of Elysian Masters in Los Angeles is a specialist in this field, who did an amazing job re-mastering the recordings. He does all of Adrian Younge's stuff, which sounds spectacular. He has been working with Now-Again, Eothen, and Stones Throw for years and did a lot of J Dilla and Madlib's stuff. He obviously knew exactly what we were looking for.

XII. How did you, Egon, and his Now-Again Records team ultimately decide between the original black-and-white cover and Hans Pokora's one-of-a-kind hand-colored test press? And in closing, Stephan: do you have any parting words? Thank you for your time, gripping stories, and a wonderful six-star interview!

I didn't take part in this decision, but I guess Eothen wanted an original feel for the re-issue. Franz is very proud of the artwork, which was done in one night by Bernhard Paul. He was a graphic designer living in a kind of arts commune with Kurt Orator back in the days. Later, he founded Circus Roncalli, so he is kind of an Austrian celebrity today. This is just one of the many weird stories around this release that make it so fascinating. I am just deeply thankful to have been able to work on this with Eothen, Franz, and Thomas. Anybody with a soft spot for deep and Psychedelic 1970's Rock has to check this out!

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