When Dr Mabuse was in the German charts in the early 80s, I was still finishing school, then as soon as I finished, Propaganda started a world tour and we had this enormous immediate success. But our record contract was really awful, we had bad management, telling me get rid of them and them to get rid of her. And in a way, before too long, everything fell apart.
Like their 80s peers Frankie Goes To Hollywood, German electronic quartet Propaganda produced some of the best electronic pop of the era, though unlike Frankie, they ended the decade largely, though not entirely forgotten. 20 years on, however, as the 80s inspires so much of todays interesting new music, Propaganda tracks including Dr Mabuse, Duel and Machine are rightly recognised as classics of the era, electronic pop standards on a par with the best of Human League, Depeche Mode or indeed Frankie at their best.
Sitting in a Finchley Road café on a dark winters day, the bands best-known singer Claudia Brucken looks nothing like her post-punk past, and instead blends in seamlessly with the plush North London surroundings she now calls home. Shes chatting to Skrufff today about Propagandas role in a recent concert and album celebrating British uber-producer Trevor Horns work, as well as her acoustic album Another Language, and ongoing electronic project One Two, which she runs with one time OMD producer Paul Humphreys. Shes also currently recording with Andy Bell, she reveals, after the Erasure star tracked her down recently via her website.
Andy, Phillip Larson and Chris Smith were working on Andys solo album and they approached me via the internet, they emailed me saying wed really, really love to work with you, can we come and meet you so we met up and connected, says Claudia.
I think Andy is a total darling, I really think hes lovely and so are Philip and Chris; its such a joy to work with people who dont have any chips on their shoulder.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): An article on your website talks about you being horribly exploited by your label ZTT back in the 80s, during the Propaganda days, how did you feel about contributing a track to the Trevor Horn album?
Claudia Brucken: Its great in a way to be a part of it and for us it was an opportunity to participate in the live show produced by Trevor. It was great to work with fantastic musicians and a fantastic sound system for the first time. As a singer I couldnt have wished for anything better, particularly because Propaganda hadnt been on stage together since 1986. For us it was a brilliant moment after all these years. It was also a pleasure to meet Prince Charles and Camilla, the entire evening was a theatre of the absurd. This ZTT album is a by-product of that event.
Skrufff: Does Propaganda exist as a band now?
Claudia Brucken: It always changes, the face of Propaganda constantly changes, I now believe its Suzanne and Michael again, who recently released something but it can always change. If the right song came along I think all four of us would still love to do something but it has to be the right song.
Skrufff: Dr Mabuses the track thats been included on the album, how do you view the songs 20 years on?
Claudia Brucken: Theyre a part of me, Dr Mabuse in particular, because it has so much to do German history, Dr Faust. I think Trevor really captured that essence, the Fritz Lang film, Mephisto and Dr Faust. Thats a really important part of my German-ness, Im really fond of that track and I really like the theatricality of it. For Trevor it was a very dark moment in his production career, we suited each other perfectly for this particular song.
Skrufff: With Propaganda at one point you were being hailed as the next Frankie Goes to Hollywood then with all the legal problems you seemed to disappear, how easy was it to cope with that change?
Claudia Brucken: It was all a bit mad, I was really young then. When Dr Mabuse was in the German charts I was still finishing my school, then as soon as I finished we started a world tour and had this enormous immediate success. But our record contract was really awful, we had bad management, saying to me get rid of them and to them get rid of her. And in a way, before too long, everything fell apart. I was very sad and heartbroken that it all ended because I thought what a waste. We were so close to stadium success and we just didnt do what we ought to have done. Though its easy to say that now.
When I saw Propaganda recently the wounds were healed; we werent living in that moment 20 years ago, weve all grown up and were more easy going. My memories now are a lot fonder. We were all in the same boat, we had an opportunity and we didnt do what we should have done. But theres no point saying should. But Ive always been a fighter, I did act to reinvent myself, I signed to Island Records as Claudia Brucken but again because of politics it didnt pan out. I was still in the studio working on my album Love And A Million Other Things when the person who signed me, left the company. I knew my record was dead then. I was naïve before and I became, not cynical, but my eyes were opened. Thats why my music evolved into Another Language, I wanted to do music for musics sake, not for other motives.
Skrufff: Martin Gore from Depeche Mode seems to have popped up in your music in recent years, was he a key person in your solo period?
Claudia Brucken: Martin wrote Cloud 9 with me, which is now a One Two song. Martins also been really inspirational for me, I used to hang out with the Depeche crowd when Martin was still living here but then he moved to the States and I lost contact with him a little. What was great about Martin was that wed hang out at his home, wed grab a guitar and hed sing a Leonard Cohen song or something. I look back on those evenings really fondly, not because it was Martin from Depeche but just because it was about singing the songs.
Skrufff: Your new Another Language album is almost entirely acoustic, do you retain a big interest in electronic music?
Claudia Brucken: Yes, completely, its always been a passion for me, with this project I just wanted to do something unexpected. Im also working with Andy Bell from Erasure at the moment and that is seriously electronic but also all the One Two music is electronic.
Skrufff: What were some of the peak moments of Propaganda?
Claudia Brucken: We were on top of the world when we did our tour, particularly towards the end when we gained enough confidence to enjoy it. Then in 1986 we had a huge hit in France with Machine which felt great then sadly it all fell apart because of greed, insecurity, naivety and bad management, I always stress bad management, because I think thats the key factor behind lots of groups not surviving, because theyre advised incorrectly. After Propaganda the way I got through it was by working with other people. Im always interested in meeting other producers.
Skrufff: Are you a believer in serendipity?
Claudia Brucken: I always think it one doors closes then another one will open, I always think theres a reason why something stops and something else begins. Im not sure about destiny though because that removes responsibility though Im not a complete realist either.I dont believe in things like newspaper horoscopes, for example, though my grandma used to lay (Tarot style) cards when I was little and that seemed more substantial. Shed do séances and also read the tea leaves. I never tried that myself though, my faith is really my music, thats my strongest medium and language. Its what makes life for me worthwhile.
Both Claudias new albums Another Language and Item are available via her website ThereMusic.com. Trevor Horn Produced including Dr Mabuse, Grace Jones, ABC, Frankie Goes To Hollywood etc) is out now on ZTT Records
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)