I recently had the opportunity to interview Peter Degenfeld of Beyond the Bridge about their debut album The Old Man and The Spirit. Enjoy!
Beyond the Bridge’s biography states that you all have been together for some time prior to the making of The Old Man and The Spirit, is that correct?
That is partially correct. The guys who have been together for almost 10 years now and have been playing music together for eight years are Christopher Tarnow, the keyboard player and composer, Dominik Stotzem the bass player, and myself. The rest of the people are kind of new. So it’s partially right, yes.
During that period what was your focus?
The thing is everybody reads that we were together for six years, and that is true. We started out as a school band. I started playing music when I was 16, and we had this school band, but the school band eventually broke apart. Christopher, Dominic, and I were all really good friends so we thought let’s stay together and someday do a really cool album, and some really cool music. So six years ago Christopher decided to go to university and study the so-called tune master here in Germany, which is something like a sound engineer or producer. When he decided to do that, I knew we might have the opportunity one day to go into a professional studio. Six years ago I came up with the concept of the album; however we were mostly focusing on our university studies, so that is basically why it took six years. We were always working on the music and the composing, but we were not like a normal band in that we didn’t even live in one city together. Then maybe two or three years ago we met Simon Oberender, the producer, and we actually really started working a bit harder in getting the musicians together and getting into the studio to finish the compositions, so that is why it took six years because first we focused on our university studies and the building of our lives.
You mention the production, and one of the things that stands out on listening to the album is how well produced it is and the overall quality of the sound, which is not surprising when you learn that Sasha Paeth mastered the album given his history.
Yes, he did master it, but it is not only Sasha because Simon is a really good producer and also did the sound engineer studies, which in Germany takes about 5 years to complete. Every day you are just concerned with music and recording music, and he actually is a professional producer now. Simon met Christopher at this university study and Simon decided to go into the metal business while Christopher decided to go into the classical business. Now he is recording classical stuff but Simon went into the metal business and actually started working at Gate Studios and Sasha, though not his boss, certainly had more experience. So Simon did the recording at Gate Studios and the reason for that was because he works there. We took the opportunity and we asked Simon if he wanted to produce us and he said yes, and then at the end when it came to the mastering Sasha also helped us. Sasha also helped us a lot with the guitar recordings and with the setup of the amps and so on. That’s why I think it’s such a good production.
So we talked about Simon, Christopher, and yourself. Tell me about Herbie Langhans and Dilenya Mar.
Herbie is also a professional musician, and perhaps you know him from other bands like Sinbreed and his own band called Seventh Avenue where he composes and I think also plays the guitar. So he has been in the business for quite a while and we met him, or it was Simon who met him, in Gate Studios because Herbie is often invited to sing in the background or in the choir of bands like Epica, Edguy, or Avantasia. And in one of these recordings Simon was there and Simon knew that there was this guy called Herbie Langhans and he could sing and Simon asked him if he wanted to join the band and he said yes. So basically that’s how Herbie came to the band. Dilenya is quite different story because she is really young and is quite new in the business and actually I met Dilenya here in Munich and I think it was 4 years ago and she had a concert, and she actually sings more jazz and similar kinds of stuff and she was doing a concert where she was presenting some of her jazz tunes and I went there because honestly on that night I just had nothing better to do and hadn’t been to a concert in a while. A friend of mine invited me and this friend was also friends with Dilenya. We got to talk to each other and I told her about this progressive stuff that I have and I actually had the demo tape with me because we were looking for a singer because we had Herbie but we didn’t have a second singer and we also didn’t know if the spirit should be a man or a woman, and I asked Dilenya and it was a big surprise that she said yes because I would have never guessed I could convince a jazz singer to sing progressive metal. Also back then I only had the demo tape from pre-production and you could only hear guitars and keyboards. But still she said yes and she liked the music and composition and she joined. Yeah so that was the biggest surprise from the starting point where I came up with the concept to the finished album. That was kind of cool.
So of course remaining members are Dominik Stotzem (mentioned above) and Fabian Maier on the bass and drums respectively. Can you provide some background on them?
So, Dominik was also back then like 10 years ago and he played also in the school band and he was a really good friend of Christopher and me and it was actually really natural that he stay in the band so he was always there. Also when Christopher and I did the composition, Dominik would join sometimes and make really critical comments, which also helped in the process. Fabian is also a friend of Simon, because they went to school together, and Fabian decided to become a drummer and he went to some Jazz school or something and then Simon asked him if he wanted to join the band and he joined the band. Yeah, that’s basically it.
Ok, I think now we can start talking about the album itself. What inspired the overall concept of The Old Man and The Spirit?
Well, what inspired it was a point of my life when I had just finished school and I had to decide what I would do next with my life and I had two possibilities basically. One was to go for music and playing guitar because I had been playing a lot of guitar before and I also had classical lessons and I practiced really hard. One opportunity was to stick to the guitar and do something with guitar or music. But the other was to go for physics because my other passion was always mathematics or physics and I had to decide what I would go for. So basically between those two decisions, what I hoped to get from Physics and what I hoped to get from music, they’re really different. With Physics I think maybe I learn something about the world or about questions I had back then. Most of these questions concern stuff that you can read in scientific popular books like questions about the universe or quantum mechanics or elementary particles and so on. On the other hand there was music which can be really intense and can make great experiences and I had to decide what to do and that’s how I came up with The Old Man and The Spirit. Of course the Old Man is more the music part, the experience part and the Spirit is more the knowledge and getting awareness and being curious part. So I came up with this idea. The inspiration was my own problem and the decision I had to make.
Alright, on the other side is the compositional piece of it, bringing the music together. I noted in my review that I felt this was one of the strongest points in listening to the album which is the different intricacies that happen. There are a lot of moments where you’re listening to it and you hear something and it just stands out in your mind, and this happens repeatedly throughout the album. So could you just elaborate a little bit on bringing that together? What methods did you use, how did you compose the work?
First of all thanks for the great review and all your kinds words it’s really, really cool, thanks a lot. So, how did we do this? Basically it was actually before the music this concept was there and I thought I always liked the idea of having some concept and some restrictions on your music. So for example I wrote this concept and I wrote down that we will have 11 songs, and this sounds really silly to know from the beginning that you want to have 11 songs, but I divided the story into 11 parts and I knew for example what song, say number eight, had to sound like. Song number eight is The Struggle so I knew that we would write the lyrics in a way that the Old Man and The Spirit, they would fight with each other. So we knew that in song number eight we had to musically compose something that reminds the listener of a struggle or of a fight. We did this with all the songs and at the end I thought it’s great and I think I’ll do it again in this way. It was great that before you start writing the music that you have something to say. Not only with the words but also with the music so that was what came first. Then we sat together and wrote the music and at the end we wrote the melody. The melody is always written by Christopher, he’s the man for the voice melody, the vocal melody. And at the end we wrote the lyrics together but already knowing what we were going to say, we just found the words. About the composition we tried to really write a concept album in the sense that you have musical parts which are connected which reoccur in one song and in the other song in the album. When you say something in song number one and you put some certain music under it and then you say something like that again in, I don’t know, number nine you put somehow almost the same stuff under it so that it has a connection and it tells a story at the end. So, we were really working hard on this idea because we liked the idea of a concept album and I felt that really working this way and creating a concept so that everything sticks together was our goal. It actually helped for creativity in some ways. You may think if you give yourself some restrictions on your art it’s not good but in the end these restrictions they help to be creative.
Would you explain each song and what part of the story it plays and how you want the listener to interpret it and what you’re trying to express with it,if you would please.
I mean, that can be a long answer.
Well how about this then, just kind of summarize the beginning of it in The Call to the end of it in All A Man Can Do how the story progresses and what your thoughts are on it.
That’s a hard question but I’ll do my best. The thing is we have an Old Man and The Spirit and I called it the Old Man and the word old is important because I somehow want to say that this guy, this old man, has already lived his life, his whole life and he has made a lot of experiences. As we wrote down on our homepage he went through all the highs and lows of human senses so The Call starts with this guy being at the end of his life looking back and realizing it will be over and questioning the whole sense of it. That’s why it’s called The Call, like somehow the call for help or something like this. And then the next song, it’s called The Apparition because The Spirit appears and introduces herself as the personification of awareness and knowledge. In The Apparition the spirit comes up and she’s a nice character in that song still because she just says to the old man listen up if you want to understand life, your own life or life as itself, you just have to go and ask but you have to trust me and you have to give me the opportunity to lead you so the point of this song and the lyrics and the content is that the Old Man is not able to find out everything about the world by himself but only through The Spirit, and that’s an important part. Then the next song is called Triumph of Irreality and it’s an instrumental song, but there’s a small poem in it which is done by The Spirit actually so it’s spoken by another woman, it’s not spoken by Dilenya, but yeah so it is this short poem that just tells that the spirit herself was once a human but decided to do the trade which will be revealed later on. And The Spring of it All is just a song about the spring of it all, and by that we mean the heart of the world where everything starts. The Spirit tries to convince the Old Man that it’s all a matter of knowing and this song is so nice and it’s a ballad because we want to show that The Spirit is trying to convince the Old Man in a nice way. She’s first really nice to him. The same thing happens in World of Wonders where she describes how great this planet and universe and everything are and that’s why it’s called the World of Wonders. Basically so far that’s actually act one of the album. We divided the album into two acts. Oh, the most important thing about Triumph of Irreality is we call it that, and I’m not even sure if the word irreality actually exists, but by this we mean the state of mind where you reach both things so where you are like The Spirit and at the same time like the Old Man. Basically the spirit states that it is not possible to have both so Triumph of Irreality is a state of mind for both characters which is not reachable. Then in the second part of the album The Primal Demand is almost only instrumental and all it means is that the old man makes the move and says ok alright I want to know all the stuff, that is my primal demand and I want to know the answers to my questions and in song seven The Doorway to Salvation this is the song where The Spirit reveals herself and says ok I can give you everything you want, I can give you all the answers but we have to trade. We have to trade all your human parts against my non-human parts. And by human and non-human we always mean the positive and negative parts in it. By human you always think of experience and feelings and love and also negative things like fear or transience so things like that and the spirit has also positive things and the positive of course knowledge and awareness and she has a sense and she has certainty and she lives infinitely, but she has also negative things like indifference and she’s not able to feel and not able to laugh and so on and in song seven she reveals this and says ok let’s trade. I cannot just answer all your questions; I can only do it if we trade. Trade this to character properties you might say and in The Struggle the Old Man realizes what the plan of the spirit is and starts to fight a bit against it and then you hear this passage about what it is to have something, and like do you really want me to change and he lists all these feelings that a human being can have. And also in The Struggle this song stands out quite melodic and quite easy so still there The Spirit tries to convince the old man in a nice way where later on the music becomes a bit harder and The Spirit becomes offending and so on and that’s where the struggle between the two characters becomes a part of it. And song nine, that’s where the Old Man says ok maybe his life is worth more than the answers to the questions he’s having and also there’s one important thing we use for the life of the Old Man, we say that everything that he has lived through is contained in his memories so basically his memory is what the old man would have to give away in order to take the trade offer of The Spirit. I don’t know if you knew, but I decided to pursue physics and so I decided to take the trade of The Spirit and I studied physics and today I’m working also in physics. So you know, The Spirit is not a bad character in that sense. Not at all. So all people in life have to decide on their own which one to favor.
Well it sounds like you’ve found a balance between the two.
Maybe a bit yes. Yeah to the point I’ve never thought of it. For the last five years maybe physics was maybe more important and more on a daily schedule but now that we have this album and since we have been really lucky to get the contract with Frontiers it seems to turn around. It’s great yeah. I’m also, I’m kind of like The Spirit after my five years of studying physics I somehow, I mean I do not regret it but I somehow got behind it and I revealed the mystery and it’s not so great to me anymore as it was in the beginning. Yeah so basically then the Old Man says ok I’ll go for the human part and I’ll keep the memories. And then Where the Earth and Sky Meet is just, actually the truth is we had this song before I came up with the concept and I liked this song so much that I wanted to have it on the album and I tried my best to fit it into the concept and it’s almost at the end of the album and it basically shows this memory of the Old Man and he remembers back on his life and so on and it’s taken out of the story just kind of describing this really nice memory. And then All A Man Can Do is just a final song where the Old Man says ok I’m glad with what I had and I’m glad that I’ve been a man and I’m glad that it’s over because you know somehow in literature or something human beings are always trying to reach infinity, to live forever and so on, but on this album we say maybe that’s not the most important thing. Also there’s a line in The Struggle which we’re really proud of that basically says all the beauty in life that you experience is because your life ends at some point, because if your life would never end, if it were infinite, maybe this beauty would go away and we would not realize it as being beautiful and that’s what the old man says at the end, I did what a man can do and it’s all a man can do and now I’m glad that I have done it but it’s over, somehow in this kind of a way. Yeah, that’s basically the content of the album.
That was a perfect answer, and I do appreciate it. It helps me and I’m sure whoever’s reading it once they get ahold of the physical album to be able to sit down and even as we’re reading the lyrics be able to have that knowledge to open up the album as you intended.
Yeah, it was a pleasure to answer but the most important part is that The Spirit is not a bad character, you can always go for The Spirit, it’s not all about the Old Man everybody can decide we just needed an end to the album and we decided to go for the Old Man as the album is about music and not about physics and you know you can spend the whole day talking about stuff like this.
I won’t keep you for that long I promise. My final question, now that we’ve discussed the album, what if any plans have been made in order to tour in support of the album? Dates lined up anything of that nature?
Unfortunately not. I have a feeling, and I’m glad you asked this, I have a feeling that people don’t understand the whole situation for us and it’s important that people do. I mean somehow as I said we did a lot of other things than music over the last few years and now everybody in the band became a professional musician or sound engineer in some way or the other except for me, I’m not that professional but that doesn’t matter. We’re actually at the starting point of our career and we went through a strange way because we first produced album. We actually first had the master already done I think in April 2011 or May 2011 and we found Frontiers in September so we have not had time to spend on tour and actually we never played live together so we did the album first, found Frontiers, and we had a lot of stuff to do with finding a cover and the artwork and the booklet and we had to do some photos and now we do our best to promote it. And we also, and this is most important, we also do our best to play this live and this is not the easiest task and we started the rehearsing process. We bought a lot of new equipment and so on but we didn’t reach to the point where we really plan a tour but we really want to do it and we will make it happen it’s just I cannot say at this moment it’s going to be April or whatever. Actually it would be great to play on the Prog Power in the US because I know Herbie is playing there with Sinbreed and I wanted to start convincing the people that we can play there, but we are newcomers and no one knows us yet and it depends a lot on the reactions out there and how the album you know will be liked or not liked. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen and unfortunately we don’t have concrete plans yet.
With that being said is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, I mean, of course it would be great, it would be cool if our career could go further and so on and maybe what I would just like to add is that we are young and we have time now, we are not as famous and if people would like and take the opportunity they can get in contact with us on Twitter or our Facebook page or Youtube channel. They can make comments or maybe wishes or suggestions and you know we try to make it happen. Up ‘til now we have time for all these things. People like you also like you did you know comment and contact us. Just feel free. Thanks for listening and for all your nice words and everything.

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