Interview: Wolfgang Zenk

Guglielmo Malusardi: How does this thick, tasty, spicy and absolutely great music take form? It sounds so happily fresh!

Wolfgang Zenk: Well thanks! It probably sounds so fresh because making music still gives us such a thrill. There's just so much energy in that band that just has to be released! I particularly like the power that comes from strong harmonies and lots of times I'd use chord progressions you wouldn't expect in order to build up tension. It has always been my goal to create music you don't get bored with even after having listened to it twenty times or more. With every listening You still can discover new things in it. Naturally it forces the listener into working on it for some time.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How do you compose your music?

Wolfgang Zenk: Composing definitely is my favorite thing to do. I even prefer that to just playing the guitar which means a lot. I usually hear my ideas in my head. I start out recording these ideas with an ancient tape recorder (45 Euros) and then keep working on them until I can hear something in my head that would fit in and so on. I develop the bass and keyboard parts on my computer and have them printed out. Then I hand out these sheets to the fellows in the band, we play the stuff and record it. I listen to the recordings at home and refuse about ninety percent of it just to start again from scratch. I keep going through this process maybe about 200 times...

Guglielmo Malusardi: Talk about how you recorded your most recent CD, "DIffusion".

Wolfgang Zenk: First thing we record in the studio is always the drums. Once that is done I record all the guitar, bass and keyboard parts at my place and pass them on to our sound engineer. This time I had to cope with a lot of technical problems. These computers can drive you nuts if they don't do what you expect them to do... seriously; at times I was close to desperation... but in the end it was worth all the trouble.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What kind of guitars did you use?

Wolfgang Zenk: I fear I'm a bit strange when it comes to equipment - about 90% of all my studio work and live gigs are done with only one guitar which was given to me 19 years ago by the faculty staff of MGI as an award for best metal player of the year.

It's basically a custom Strat by luthier Uli Kurtinat in Leverkusen featuring active EMG pickups and a Floyd Rose tremolo. I like that guitar because it is so versatile. The two of us have gone through so many years together - to me it's got character.

Though I own a couple of guitars that would definitely sell for much more than this one I find myself using this one the most - just happens to be my baby for some reason.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Amps and effects?

Wolfgang Zenk: Amp: Diezel. 20 years ago Peter Diezel and I were buddies and we used to hang out together every now and then. In the meantime he has become very successful with his amps which I think is great because I've always known him as an uncompromising idealist. I like people who have their own idea of how things should be done. Also, Mesa Boogie Mark III, and Line 6
effects, Cry Baby Wah, GCB-95, Rocktron Intelliverb and a Boss OC-3.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How did you mic the amps?

Wolfgang Zenk: Most of the stuff i recorded thru my Line 6 POD sending the signal through a speaker simulater PDI-03. Guitar - Line 6 - PDI-03 - SPL channel one.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What about software?

Wolfgang Zenk: Currently I'm using Cubase Essential 4.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What do you bring onstage with you?

Wolfgang Zenk: I used to bring a little teddy bear on stage as a mascot. He used to sit on the stage monitor and move with the vibrations coming from the speakers. Unfortunately I lost it. Aren't all rock guitarists a little sick in the head?!?

Guglielmo Malusardi: After three CDs, what are, in your opinion, the most notable differences in your playing?

Wolfgang Zenk: I've learned that to a certain degree you can tell from a musician's stage performance what he's like in everyday life. Younger musicians often appear to be more vital and aggressive (in a positive sense). But over the years, more subtle aspects like articulation, working with space and different kinds of moods become more important. Nevertheless you maintain your musical identity. What I've always wanted my music to transport is energy. But in the meantime I have musical skills at my command that allow me to also make that energy flow in a soft and slow manner.

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Guglielmo Malusardi: What are the differences from the band perspective?

Wolfgang Zenk: That's hard to tell: I guess while muddling all these different styles together for so many years we just learned how to play all kinds of things which also means to get the right amount of energy and interpretation instead of just going over the top all of the time. Sometimes it's better to play less. I think that we've grown together as a band in spite of the crisis we went through (playing in a band is no different from having a girlfriend in that aspect). It's hard to explain: when a band has played together for such a long time it can make things work that you never thought of when you started it. It'a certain kind of magic that takes its time to unfold.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Would you like to describe technically each song on "Diffusion"?

Wolfgang Zenk: "Diffusion": swinging groove plus metal power.

"Indigo Dunes": lots of sweet melodies - even the heavier parts are sort of easy listening.

"Emoctify": kind of a cool groove with a little metal extravaganza - I like the ending: it's like metal meets musical. The major part of that solo was improvised. I recorded it after someone had really pissed me off. I was in a mood that just turned out to be perfect for the solo. It still puts a grin on my face when I listen to it now.

"Silent Flow": this song is very special to me and I don't want to say anything about it - just listen.

"Cyclotron": This is where you can hear my metal roots. Just step on it (even if it might make the speed metal freaks crack up at this point).

"Spiral Dance": rock-samba or samba rock.

"Hidden Depths": a sort of floating thing in 5/4. To me it sort of sounds like a movie soundtrack. It also functions well for two acoustic guitars. Besides, it features one of my better solos.

"Mystic Mouse": it's based on an idea that I've been hearing in my head for some 20 years.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I read somewhere your "mathematic" description of 7for4 music, but I didn't understand exactly the point.

Wolfgang Zenk: I like playing around with numbers and I 'm interested in physical science and its latest results (one of the most exciting experiments mankind will ever witness will take place for instance at the LHC at the Cern Institute near Geneva (Switzerland)). I've always been fascinated by mathematics, physics, philosophy as well as logic. That's probably part of he reason why I have become an old Trekkie (Star Trek addict). All these subjects keep reappearing in our CD's booklets which is due to the fact that I have studied math and physics.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How did the band 7for4 start out?

Wolfgang Zenk: The whole thing started out with a fusion cover band named Die Anonymen Pentatoniker, which means something close to Pentatonics Anonymus. I had already been with that band even when we were recording "Uneven" and "Sophisticated" with Sieges Even. After SE broke up I had piled up tons of ideas that I had never gotten the chance to work out with SE. So I talked Klaus and both of the Markuses into recording a CD. For a couple of reasons we were in need of a new name: for all the odd meters in our music stands the 7/8 time signature which sort of means 7 eighth notes for 4 musicians.That just felt natural in a way.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Would you like to talk about your bandmates?

Wolfgang Zenk: I've always been fortunate having the chance to work with excellent musicians. Klaus is an extremely elegant drummer. I enjoy watching him play - he's got such a cool way of playing the drums it sometimes reminds me of Dennis Chambers, who I consider one of the best drummers alive. Besides that he's the band's poet and by far the tidiest of us!

Markus Grutzner is very musical, a real talented guy. In my opinion he could play a major role as a bass player as soon as he'll be able to draw from his full potential. He's always got a great sound in the studio as well as on stage and he also takes care of our web site.

Markus Froschmeier adds to the band a good deal: he's definitely the cerial guy in the band. With his way of living he's bound to become 110 years old (I won't adopt his lifestyle anyway).

Guglielmo Malusardi: I remember when I saw you play in Holland, at the Headway Festival in Amstelveen on April the 1st, 2006, Markus Grutzner (the bass player) said, introducing a not-yet-released song, "In instrumental music, one the heaviest things is to find a title for the tunes. Actually we still have to find out a title for this one, but we are going to play it for you." It's a pretty different vision compared to musicians like Rob Balducci or Jose De Castro, to name just two, that compose their music starting from a title.

Wolfgang Zenk: There's a lot of different ways to set out. If you start a song with a title, it's got a theme to start with. But if you're honest a lot of times the music you like has a lot to do with feelings that can't be put into words. I write music that moves me personally and what I hope for is that eventually other people will enjoy listening to that music because I was able to convey something emotionial with it. But to grasp these rather abstract emotions by means of a song title isn't easy sometimes.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Digging into your technique, are you still at work on some particular skill?

Wolfgang Zenk: Every day. There's so many interesting styles of music and each one has its specific forms of expression that can't be changed into something else. For instance, you could never get the unique sound of a Vienna waltz in any other style of music.Only a Vienna waltz has got that kind of floating happy feeling (and that is a very simplified way to put it). Therefore there will never be an end to practicing.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Do you have a daily practice routine?

Wolfgang Zenk: Oh sure. A lot of times I just blow over some Aebersold standard with a fully distorted sound. That's o lot of fun and it keeps me learning all the time.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Who inspired you the most when you were taking your first musical steps?

Wolfgang Zenk: Steve Morse, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Lukather, Scott Henderson and John Scofield.

Guglielmo Malusardi: And who you like to listen to nowadays?

Wolfgang Zenk: Mike Stern, Steve Lukather, Steve Morse, Dire Straits, Steve Vai, Sarah McLachlan, Joe Pass, Greg Howe, Wes Montgomery, Mozart (especially the Requiem), Dvorak, Tribal Tech and Dan Huff.

Guglielmo Malusardi: All around the world, it doesn't appear that instrumental guitar-oriented music is in its heyday. Is your country a happy exception?

Wolfgang Zenk: No.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You are a well known teacher, so what is the main advice you give to your students who are seriously focused on becoming professional musicians?

Wolfgang Zenk: Most important - learn the mechanics: rhythm, technique, harmony, sightreading. different styles (it's a drag to get stuck in one style of music). Practice the things you can't do and not what you can play already. Try to become a better musician every day. Listen to music actively - try to understand what those great musicians felt when they wrote your favorite song or played your favorite solo.The more you know and the more you can play the greater the number of gigs will be that you can function in. Even a simple thing like accompanying some easy listening song can be messed up and be played in an unprofessional way. What will last in the end is quality. In some ways being a professional musician is no different from any other job - it takes social competence. What I recommend is to respect the people you work with and try to learn from them. You can even learn a lot from your students.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Last question. About four years ago, Mr. Bill Gates declaired, "In ten years the CD won't exist anymore. Do you agree?

Wolfgang Zenk: I agree 100%!

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A music festival, that's the definition that fits most appropriately to the German band 7for4. Guitar driven and led by the excellent guitarist and composer Wolfgang Zenk, formerly with the progressive rock band Sieges Even, this band picks ingredients from apparently every music genre, puts everything in a mixer and shakes it up until their own trademarked 7for4 music comes out. Listening to their CDs is like fastening your seat belt and taking a ride on a musical rollercoaster, where virtuosity, complex rhythms, mighty chords, catchy melodies and breathless moments provide high level emotion at all times.

Interviewer Guglielmo Malusardi scored this chat with Mr. Zenk, getting to the essence of the 7for4 sound.