iO Pages Interview with Hansi Cross - February 2010.
Antonie Deelen: It took you five years to come up with The Thrill Of Nothingness (but it has been worth waiting for). Why did it take so long?
Hansi Cross: The main reason was that I was struck with a severe hearing loss and a horrendous tinnitus (it was like having a loud trumpet inside my head) and I also became extremely sensitive to sounds (hyperacusis). There was absolutely no way I could finish of the album after that happened. Even things like chirping birds were too much. I tried to listen to music quietly but when I did, the high pitched trumpet sound became even louder.
This happened in April 2007 when I was working hard to finish the album that was to be released on May 28, 2007. The doctors were not very encouraging. “You will have to learn to live with it” and “I can prescribe anti-depressants if you feel too bad about it”. But…my basic philosophy is, that there is always something one can do about anything; it’s just a matter of finding the solution. I searched and searched and found something that made sense to me. Dr Lutz Wilden’s Low Level Laser Therapy. So far it has brought me to 85% recovery. And I’m still (slowly) improving. There is a lot to be said about laser treatment and there are some not very good working methods out there, but Dr Wilden sure knows what he is doing, and when doing it right - it works. These days I get e-mails from many, many tinnitus victims so I decided to put up a page on the internet where I describe the therapy at www.progressrec.com/curing-tinnitus.com
AD: With every new album you seem to outclass the previous one. How is this possible?
HC: Well, thank you! How it is possible? I really have no answer to that. I simply write songs and record them with our band and if people, like you, feel that it is even better than the last one, it is very satisfying. Thanks.
AD: When I listen to The Thrill I can only conclude that you must be a big fan of Genesis (and Tony Banks in particular). Is it fair to say that The Thrill is what Calling All Stations should have been?
HC: Well…that’s not really how I would describe it myself. I’d say it’s a new Cross album that, compared to previous releases is more focused on the melodic side of the band. I believe it’s up to the listener to decide what they think our music is like. For me, personally, it feels a bit odd with the Genesis comparison. In reviews it is mentioned every now and then, often also with songs that I feel have absolutely nothing to do with Genesis. But, also I must say “Yes” in the sense that I have always appreciated Tony Banks aesthetics when it comes to harmonies and arrangements. I also believe that it is a way for reviewers to try to describe our music. In our music there are also influences from 70’s heroes like Yes, Frank Zappa, UK and - which seem to be unnoticed - early Manfred Mann’s Earthband side by side with some Weather Report and Shostakovich. And perhaps some Beatles. I also feel that there are parts in our music that are quite unique, what I would call truly Crossish. But that can of course not be used as a description. I mean, “Cross sounds like Cross” wouldn’t say very much to someone who is not already familiar with our music :-).
What I can say about the new album is that we choose to focus on our more melodic side. I guess this is why we this time also have been compared to Camel - a band I never listen to. One reviewer wrote something like “It is obvious that Hansi Cross is a big fan of Camel”. My reaction: Huh? I must listen to them and see what he’s talking about.
AD: In those five years did you write enough material to come up with a new album very soon?
HC: All material written since “Playgrounds” can be found on the 2CD version of “The Thrill of nothingness” but, there is a chance that we will have a new one out in a not too distant future. Now, after had the 2 year break from music, it’s so damn inspiring and very easy to compose. I actually have too many ideas; I don’t have time to put it all down! At this point it seems that the next album will be much more of our “wilder” side where comparisons to UK, King Crimson, ELP and Zappa along with Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky might be appropriate. And I’ll probably be back to the heavier guitar sound that was abandoned on “Thrill”. It will definitely be one of the most complex and symphonically orchestrated works we’ve done - of that I am sure.
AD: Is Göran Johnsson a band member of Cross these days and no longer of Grand Stand?
HC: Göran, who is a talented multi-instrumentalist but have drums as his main instrument is fully into working with Galleon at the moment. The next Cross album will be Tomas, Lollo and myself with one, or maybe a couple, of guest keyboardists.
AD: Göran and you were also members of Spektrum. This band released only one (fine) album. Can we expect more releases of this band?
HC: We have talked about it, for a while there were plans to come up with a number “II”, and there are almost 30 minutes basic music recorded (which we did in 2006 simultaneously with working on the Cross album), but it’s really not that easy to arrange free time for all members at the same time so…at this moment we don’t know.
AD: Like many progrock bands, Cross does not have an outstanding singer. Are good singers so hard to find?
HC: I guess it depends on what one defines as a “good singer”. There are plenty of technically skilled singers out there, but my definition of a “good” singer is someone that touches me and this seldom happens with technically brilliant vocalists. When I grew up my favorites was Lennon/McCartney, Jon Andersson, Ozzy Osbourne, Peter Hammill and Peter Gabriel. All these are unique in one way or another. I also love Andy Partridge (XTC), Elvis Costello and some other singers with strong personal expressive styles. We have tried out a couple of vocalists but it always ends up with people telling me that my own style suits our music better than the one’s we tried. I mean, I love Jon Anderson but I’m not too sure that it would add anything to our music. There is one of my favorite vocalists that I would be curious to try out though. I’ve for a long time felt that Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke would be interesting to hear with Cross. BTW…have you heard his symphonic work? Great stuff. Really. I actually did an attempt to contact him through their record label but I never got a reply. We had some plans to do a “prog rock version” of the first movement of his Symphony No 1. And, if we had made contact I would also have been interested in checking out his interest in taking over the vocals on a track or two. I also contacted Peter Hammill but at that point he had not recovered enough from the heart attack.
AD: Can we ever expect a live album of Cross?
HC: At the moment I must say “No”. I don’t dare to put myself in a situation with loud rehearsals and the loudness on stage. There would be too much of risk that I could ruin all the improvements I achieved regarding the hearing loss/tinnitus situation and then there would be less chance to recover if it happened again. But…who knows…if I continue too improve and things are totally stabile - I’d love it.
AD: You’ve also raised your own record company (Progress Records). What was the reason to do this?
HC: The Company I worked at moved too far away from where I lived and I didn’t want to work full time as a studio technician so I took that as a sign and decided that it was time for me to put my energy into something that felt meaningful to me and became a part of Progress Records.
AD: What albums did Progress Records sell most?
HC: As for now Galleon, Magic Pie, Cross and Grand Stand are the bands who sell/have sold the most.
AD: Is there any news about bands like Grand Stand, Brighteye Brison and Galleon?
HC: Brighteye Brison have material for a new album and they recently started to record it. If everything works out without any problems their next album might be out in 2010. Olov, who is the main composer of Grand Stand, has been fighting against severe diabetes for some time, and now, ehen he is better, he is a part of another band project - Audiovision. So, we should not expect a new Grand Stand album for a while, but there is written material for a new album as far as I heard.
AD: What bands/albums are about to be released the upcoming months?
HC: At this moment we only know that there will be a new Magic Pie out in March/April. But we are negotiating with another Dutch act right now (you probably know that we have 2 Dutch bands - Silhouette and Illumion on our label) but I can not say more about that right now.
AD: What is your personal opinion about Progressive Rock in general, regarding present, past and future?
HC: If we define “progressive rock” as all kinds of rock that is either relying on the early 70’s truly progressive bands as well as new bands that are progressive in the sense that they are unique or at least developed their music into something that is more than just “rock” I’d say that there is plenty of good music out there. I hope that this can continue despite the fact that there is a gigantic problem with illegal downloading. It is not easy for bands to keep developing their music and be in a state where they progress when so many of them must have a day job to make a living. Compare today’s situation with the 70’s and we see that the bands that created masterpieces at that time were able to develop their thing full time. Big difference compared to only being able to do it in the evening after a days work and during weekends! We also must see that rock music - progressive or not - is a rather established art form today and to do something totally unique today would probably mean some kind of music that no longer can have the word “rock” attached to it. For me personally - as a composer, musician and recording artist the near future looks very, very interesting. Our goal with our next album is somewhat the opposite of what we aimed for with “The Thrill of Nothingness”. When we made this one we wanted to do a melodic album somewhat leaning towards classic prog with classic harmonic structures (even if a small amount of Crossish quirky riffing sneaked its way into the material) and more classic sounding production than earlier and it was a lot of fun. We are happy with it and fortunately it seems that the prog audience is too. Our goal with the next one is to be “very Cross”. We intend to push some boundaries.