It was only briefly, but he was once in a band (Aragon) whose lyrical themes included Fantasy, War and Sorcery. progression to a Power Metal band (Trick of the Light) followed, and now he’s waiting in a quiet Bonn Bistro for his cup of tea to arrive so our interview can start.
Alex Krienke, best known for his many appearances as vocalist with Sunny Skies, is, Like his new CD ‘What’s Good For You‘, full of surprises. Okay, there’s a reason for the tea, he’s on anti-biotics – but what about the musical surprises on the new disc? Rock, Pop and Jazz instead of Metal, Mayhem, and Sorcery? – and where do Huey Lewis and Freddie Mercury fit into the Alex Krienke story so far? Alex spoke to 3SongsBonn in advance of the bands CD Release Concert at Bonn Harmonie on 6 December
Your musical history before Sunny Skies was a band called Trick of Light I believe? And they were quite heavy?
Yes (laughs) in those days at least, in the 1990s they would have been labelled progressive Rock/Progressive metal.
Like Killerz? (The iron Maiden coverband Alex plays in)
More keyboards, more orchestral than that really. But very powerful and high, sometimes “air raid” style, vocals, so that would fit “Killerz” indeed.
But you found yourself playing in Bonn’s premier coverband ‘Sunny Skies’. Wasn’t that an odd decision musically coming from the progressive/orchestral background? They’ve got heavier now but when you were first there (1999) they were doing things like ‘American Pie’?
Well I’ve always been interested in everything going on musically. I saw Queen on TV when I was about nine years old. I was taking classic piano lessons then for some time until I was 16, but seeing Freddie led me into rock and pop music quite early. Johnny Cash and Tom Waits I love, also Blue Öyster Cult, Janis Joplin, Django Reinhardt, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin or Lou Reed. Anything that sounds “real” to me, no matter what style. Heavier stuff too, until it gets too rough. It all fitted in with Sunny Skies.
You did some pretty big shows with Sunny Skies too I remember, including shows at the Museumsplatz. The Beach Boys for example. Do you have a favourite memory of that time?
Huey Lewis was to me something very, very special because I’m a great fan of Phil Lynott and of course he played often with Thin Lizzy (his band ‘Clover’ supported Lizzy in the mid-70’s with Huey on harmonica). Huey played on their wonderful album ‘Live & Dangerous’ too. At Museumsplatz it was raining cats and dogs but he came over after speaking with some journalists and said “You did a great job man!” Wow! That was something, coming from someone with such a musical history with Phil and the like…
He had some great people to compare you too, and you still impressed, which can’t be bad?! I remember the Huey Lewis and Beach Boys slots were at Museumsplatz with big crowds, but you’ve played to even bigger audiences.
That’s right, at Rhein in Flammen we played before the fireworks and continued again for 20 minutes afterwards so we had around 70.0000 to 80.000 people.
Well you haven’t played in front of anyone yet with your new band ‘AJK’ so people reading this won’t know what to expect. What would you label the AJK sound as Alex? Where would Mr Music put you in his racks?
We need to decide on a name for our sound. Maybe if I explain how it came about it will help?
Since I was 16 or so I constantly wrote songs, mainly based on piano, occasionally on guitar, and I picked some that felt right to me to start over. I did a layout for any song I chose with some drum computer tracks, some piano or guitar, vocals and the lyrics and gave it to the band, along with a sheet where I explained the atmosphere I imagined. So we worked it through together, which I liked very much, because, and I know everyone always says it, but I’ve never been in a band with so much musical quality before, especially when it gets to listening to each other. We worked things so there wasn’t a single excess note played, with plenty of space and plenty of ideas and styles. From Bluesrock like ‘Crossroads’ (not the Robert Johnson song but referring to it!) Some rock n roll, even heavier rock. The lyrics are very important, too, a song does not consist of music only. Twenty years ago it might have been considered a singer/songwriter album.
Interesting that, because the songs are yours so it’s a singer/songwriter band named after your initials. Was the band allowed to change things?
Some of the songs I had worked out completely – at least I thought I had.
Others not, and I liked the direction we took them in very much. I had the chords, lines, melodies and lyrics ready and ideas for drum tracks, bass lines and guitars. Some ideas made it on the album, some didn’t. It can be very difficult to give up your own songs to the hands of others which is something I had to learn – and I learned it! (laughs). I mean, you have a song in your head and it becomes different sometimes.
So some things changed from what you expected?
Yes, but I like it a lot, because the finished album is even better than I’d hoped. That’s part of the way to become a band, and seriously, good musicians always add to the music, they don’t take something away, when they work on your ideas. Well, take the Dead Kennedy’s song ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ as an example. I love the lyrics
Was it the song you liked or the politics?
Well, you have to love both. Not necessarily for the views expressed but the way they are delivered. He (Jello Biafra) is so cynical in his mocking and shouting and I love that part of it a lot. We played with it by adding a House of the Rising Sun bit on to blues it up.
Why have you made this album now? There’s been a big gap between Trick of Light’s ‘Neverlander’ (1995), “eMotion Machine” in 2001 and ‘What’s Good For You’ in years. Was it that you finally found the right musicians?
To be honest, since I had my share of the music business I never thought of doing something like this again. The idea behind it started about a year and a half ago on my birthday. My drummer Paul (Jens Olaf ‘Paul’ Mayland) and Michael Newiger who actually produced the CD called me and said ‘Let’s do music again!’
I thought ‘Crazy!’ and ‘It won’t work out’ but we met and yeah… it worked out. We agreed on one thing: No compromise concerning our music.
Musically different from your old band?
Very different. Having said ‘This isn’t going to work’ I slept over it. Thought: “Well, let’s do it”. Then we found a keyboard player and a guitarist and step by step it happened. We worked the songs out together as a band. We then started recording the drum parts in Maarweg Studios in Cologne where the likes of BAP have worked so it’s a very good, very professional set-up. The brass we recorded in Leverkusen, the rest of the album was recorded at Michael’s studio in Cologne
And the guitarist you found of course was Andreas J. Ballnus .
Michael Newiger suggested we contact Andreas from Leverkusen who is very much in the Heavy Metal mode and plays in the band of ex-Iron Maiden singer Paul Di’Anno.
I imagine he was expecting to be a part of something heavier than AJK? He must have been surprised at least. Maybe disappointed?
Well, we didn’t shanghai him, so I think he is not disappointed at all; he did not hesitate to join the band. No, He’s a professional musician and I played him ‘Revolution Calling’ early on, and he loved it. He plays mostly metal but like Martin and Paul he’s a very versed musician in other styles too and he really did a great job. I love his tone.
How did you choose the songs that weren’t your own? The Queensryche one for example is a surprise in that finally you had a metal song for your metal guitarist and play it pared down to just a piano/vocal almost.
“Holiday In Cambodia” is a punk song that I love very much because of the lyrics. We took it, stripped it down to the essentials and played it in a swingy style that puts the lyrics in a more ironic and less aggressive context. “(Then Came The) Last Days Of May” speaks for itself, pure 70s rock. I liked the lyrics of ‘Revolution Calling’ particularly and the album (1988’s ‘Operation: Mindcrime’) it comes from is very much a concept album that tells a very powerful story. I left it open at the end with keyboards…
You tend to come in and end tracks on the keyboard in a style that reminds me very much of Freddie Mercury. Can’t be bad to be compared to him I suppose?
(Laughs) It’s actually embarrassing even to think about – mostly because he is my hero, a legend. Certainly he influences me musically, but then when I play the piano I sit there for a whole song. Freddie would get up and do his own thing with the band. Maybe our style is more similar to acts like Billy Joel, Randy Newman and Elton John. Not musically, but in that I stay sitting down! Comparing me to Freddie is an unbelievable stretch
So you won’t be standing after two bars on piano and have helpers bring on an ermine cloak and crown before dashing across the stage to conduct a grand rock finale?
Well, now that you mention it…
Sorry, I shouldn’t be passing on any secrets about the live shows! On the subject of which, when can we hear the songs played live?
We will start with a CD Release show at Harmonie, Bonn on the 6th of December.
After which, have you said everything you wanted to say and play on this album?
Stay tuned! We already have some songs for another one worked out and we will be ready in spring 2015 for the next recordings
So that ‘Crazy’ idea of getting together that Paul had a year and a half ago wasn’t so crazy after all?!
Many thanks and good luck with the CD Alex!