Jan Fride

The "Kraanich" (crane) flies again
( Interview from
www.drumsundpercussion.de )

With KRAAN he was already pushed into the limelight more than two decades ago,
and he's still an idol for many 'groove drummers' until today. Now, together with KRAAN and a new album, he returns onto Germany's stages - JAN FRIDE..Jan Fride

Kraan, that's the band, which in the 70ties was the forerunner of a new style, with their psychedelic krautrock enriched by some elements of jazz.
What characterized the music from the very beginning was the incredible groove, the pulse of the music. And this was formed mainly by Hellmut Hattler on bass and Jan Fride on drums.
Additionally the band was famous for their extensively improvisations and always performed both, musically and technically, on the highest level. When the improvisations became less important, Jan Fride lost his pleasure of making this music and left Kraan. He was followed by Udo Dahmen, who with Kraan was in his first real 'big' band. But in the 90ties the band finally split completely, Hattler formed TAB TWO together with Joo Kraus, the other musicians lived scattered over the whole of Germany and it had become quiet about Jan Fride.
Accidental three years ago the music journal FACHBLATT MUSIKMAGAZIN prepared a story about Kraan and therefore of course interviewed all musicians. This resulted in a direct contact between them again - which finally ended up in 2000 with a first club tour and a live album in 2001. In 2002 they played some more gigs and at the end of the year they produced a new album by themselves, which is planned to be released in may and supported by a bigger tour. We met Jan Fride in December 2002 in Essen during a short test-tour, which offered old and new Kraan-material, and which was accepted enthusiastically by the fans at the sold out gig.
But let Jan himself tell us his version of this reunion, which caused quite a lot of excitement in the German music scene.

"Well, 'guilty' of this Kraan reunion is the Internet. For some years now, there is a homepage on the Internet, maintained by a Scandinavian fan, which always is a topic of conversation. So it happened, that my brother, the guitarist of Kraan Peter Wolbrandt, received some tapes by mail, which contained old recordings from the 70ties. Using this material he compiled a CDR and sent it to some friends.
This action, started without any ulterior motives, resulted lots of emails referring to Kraan and re-aroused Peter's interest in the music and the band.
About the same time, I had met Hellmut at a gig in Frankfurt, where he played with Tab Two and I with De-Phazz. He was quite surprised to see me on a drum kit and talked to me about Kraan. We hadn't seen each other for years, some time later we arranged a meeting in Ulm with Peter, and Ingo Bischof our keyboarder, where also the first sessions happened."

And they were convincing immediately?
"Indeed, that's what they were, cause our interaction worked at once, and this style seems to be burned into our genes. These sessions were really grandiosely and worked automatically, like in trance. Short time after that, we already got two good offers, the Donaufestival in Ulm and the Herzberg Festival - and these two at the same time were our first gigs with the old four-piece line-up. We played old tunes only, and at the Herzberg Festival also the recordings for the live CD were made, which was released in 2001.
This CD was and is of course only available via Internet, whereby Michael Bohn from Denmark, who runs his Kraan-homepage, was extremely helpful. All that has of course encouraged us extremely and from that time on we have periodically played some gigs. And they all worked very well, many people came to see us, whereby the audience often tends to be more and more grey haired - if they still have got any hair at all. Together with us, people have grown older, but there are also younger people at the gigs - that's quite a lot of fun I must confess."

At least it must have been enough fun, to produce a new studio album in autumn / winter 2002 without having a deal, which is planned to be released in the near future!?
"That's right, whereby the production was really very spartanic. We recorded 8 tracks, five of them for the drums, and one for each of the other instruments. Then they were mixed down to two tracks, to record some additional things like vocals and percussion. For this I used Congas, a Madga, Shaker, Talking Drums etc., everything I liked and which I felt would match to the tunes. All in all I'm absolutely pleased with the results"

Jan FrideWhy so spartanic and not in a regular studio with all it's benefits?
"There are several reasons, which cover completely different aspects. The first is, that there's no deal for this album, so there's also no budget. We wanted to create the recordings very free and so we didn't even negotiate with any labels, but instead became initiatively ourselves. Second is, no one knows how the album will be accepted, if it will be a success and if it sells. So 'low budget' was appropriate.
And third, at the place where I live at the Bodensee, I have got all the necessary equipment. There's a good room with the appropriate acoustics, there are recording machines,a mixer, mikes, and effects. All that stuff is no high-tech equipment, but it's o.k. to work with. And here we had the time we needed to develop our music. There's no expensive daily rate, like in any other studio, which spooks through your mind while you should work creatively at the same time. If something didn't work, it simply was pushed further on, or we just tried and tried till everyone was pleased with the result. So any pressure was rather locked out completely, and everyone could bring in his ideas very relaxed."

And the music we can expect, relates to the old times of Kraan?!
"That's what I really do hope. The first tunes, which were finally mixed, at least convinced ME absolutely. We have reanimated the old concepts and rather recorded all things live. Mostly we were three, drums, bass and guitar, and Ingo added most of the keyboards later. Every tune was taken 5 - 8 times and two versions of each we kept, to continue developing. Finally then, the best version was chosen for the mix.
Everything was quite 'live-like' at all, and for example the drum kit only equipped with few microphones. There was only one overhead, one bass drum mike, the toms were miked in pairs and both snares single. So when the mixing process started, the sound engineer was blasting, cause he had many more problems according to this way of recording. For example he improved the snare-sounds by placing a snare in front of a speaker, which only played the original snare signal of my recordings.
Then he only recorded the 'carpet' via mike and later added it to our tapes, to make it sound more fat and voluminous. I think at the next production we'll use some more mikes and will work a little more prudent."

Do you release the CD on your own label?
"That's running via Hellmut's Bassball label, from which we get the benefit of a distributor, but on the other hand can keep our costs quite low. Actually this is an optimal way for all bands, which have to get along without deals and big budgets. And what follows as a consequence is the fact, that you earn your money much quicker, cause you're not conditioned by a record company and don't have to sale quite a number of CDs before you get some money. Therefore I absolutely can imagine, that we'll work this way further on and manage many things by ourselves, just to keep independent."

Your personally Kraan-break lasted more than ten years. What were the reasons for the split at that time?
"In my opinion it were, simply said, 'musical differences', which caused the split. The last CDs we had recorded together, I felt were too confused. There was no thread, which should go through an album, and to me there was too much technics involved.
There was too much programming and too little playing - and so life was taken off the music. On the new album there are certainly some moments, where the timing slightly becomes faster, fills which slightly jam, but that doesn't matter, cause it simply sounds more living, its just played live by musicians, not by machines.
But at that time there simply were too many problems within the band, cause everyone tried, to move in a different direction - and so the overall concept crashed. This probably happens to many bands, whereby only very few manage to work together again after years and maybe continue former successes.
I hope we'll make it."

So what did you do in these ten years of transition?
" Now, actually there was nothing big over the years. Except the name De-Phazz you will hardly know anything. And furthermore my part in the band was very restricted, cause I only made some overdubs. Live the band mostly performed half playback, which means the singing was live and the rest came from tape or CD. Thereto I then did some overdubs in the percussion and drumming, which to me wasn't really playing.
So the whole thing didn't attract me that much any longer - and in the year 2000 I stopped it. But the music is still amazing to me, it turns me on and there's the special something about it. Besides there was a time when I've made no music at all, I only cared about my girlfriend and me and helped her with her shop. But there were also times, when I made some percussion for a musician from Heidelberg, who produces CDs for kids, and for some months I worked with the Folk-Rock band 'Zeitenwende' as well. Additionally I design websites for friends from time to time, I do much work at the computer - which after some time becomes too boring, staring at the monitor all the time. I also did some musical theatre, but all those things were more for the underground area and nothing real big.
"I've struggled through", would describe it the best way."

Today you are often seen again as an idol, especially for all those drummers, who work more groove orientated. You always were the grooving pulse of Kraan although, because of your style, you were rather different from all other German drummers. How comes this still present style, this groove orientated drumming without many fills and licks, but nevertheless characterized by a special kind of ingenuity?
"Well, how can I explain? I think, the main reason is, that I'm a musical analphabet.
I can't read notes, so I don't teach and also never was taught myself. I just play what I like, what I feel, without being able to describe concretely, what I'm just playing. I'm absolutely an autodidact and concentrate completely on my grooves till today. When I'm on stage, for me there's only the music present yet, and a kind of trance I drum myself into. I listen to what the others do and try to react, by copying certain figures, and so build up interactive acting. Before Kraan, for example, I made freejazz and I've learned a lot during this period. The point is, to listen, to follow what the other one does right at this moment, to react and so to attain a fusion or 'tooth system' of the instruments. The music in freejazz was absolutely without any groove - and with Kraan then, it was the groove itself I concentrated on, especially during the extensive improvisations, which we did at that time. When later the whole thing was more structured and the improvisations were cut to the necessary, I quit. This was no longer my kind of thing, I simply felt bored. Of course the risk of an improvisation is, that it might not work sometimes, but on the other hand it keeps the tension inside the music. When this was gone, coincidentally it meant my retirement.
The last CDs were programmed in big parts and I nearly played nothing."

Didn't you have any chance to bring in yourself more, and to substitute the machines in the studio, at that time?
"To tell the truth, that's not my thing. If someone already has done everything with the computer and brings it into the studio, I don't want to be the one, who plays some additional drums or substitutes things by acoustic instruments. In my eyes that doesn't work and sounds too sterile. Today we rather work again like in the 70ties.
We meet, jam for a while, while at the same time always a tape is running, which we listen to afterwards. Parts we like, we keep and later add the necessary details - the rest we discard. By working this way, the music sounds much fresher, there are more surprising elements, I can contribute more and don't just reproduce any guidelines."

Your arsenal of percussion instruments, has somewhat grown again when playing live, nevertheless apparently you seem to use them in a very sparse way?
"At the moment, I'm still working very carefully with that whole thing, cause we mainly perform older tunes at our gigs. Therefore a Timbale to the left of the HiHat, as well as a Cabasa, which I put right on top of the HiHat, is sufficient to me. This way, while playing it by foot, I obtain an additional percussive sound. But when we'll tour with the new program in spring, I'll have to integrate the percussions which I recorded by overdubs - that will be more devoting at all. I've thought about playing with samplers and pads, which however will affect my drumming, I think I'll loose too much concentration to the basic groove. I would have to do much shifting / switching while playing, the others would have to get it on their monitors etc. - that's all effort I try to bypass. So I'll have to think about it till the next tour."

How important in general is your drum sound for you, live and in the studio?
"It's rather important, allthough I wasn't quite satisfied formerly, and today at least in the studio, I can handle it better now. Though my Kraan drum sound always has been slightly different from other German drummers, I would have liked a little more dynamics and fullness. Nowadays I work with equipment, which I bought somehow piece by piece over the last years. There are for example two different HiHats. One normal type in 14", and one I combined myself, using two 18" cymbals. Additionally there are tambourine-bells screwed to the lower, to achieve a hiphop-like sound. Between these two I change during the gig, depending which sound I need.
This way I obtain modern sounds, without having to rely on samplers.
The drum kit and the drums are second hand, which I bought at the drum shop in Markdorf, and this way my drum set grew over the time. Today I also use two snare drums, a deep one with a fat sound and a flat Piccolo, which 'bangs' very nice. And the set-up of the snares is done in a way, that I can reach them very easily and so can change quickly within the groove. Therefore the flat snare is not positioned to the left of, but a little slantwise above the HiHat. This makes working much easier for me and automatically results in new grooves."

From where whatsoever do you get the ideas for your rhythmic work with Kraan?
"Many things come from the music, I listen to. That's Hip Hop, Drum'n Bass or Techno from it's beginning, African music - all sorts of things, which I have been or still am listening to. Hip Hop has become less today, meanwhile it sounds too much like commercials to me. So from all that stuff I tinker my very own grooves, which together with bass and guitar, form the basics of the Kraan tunes. And cause we now jam and improvise more again, they simply sound more open and free again, like in former days."

Jan FrideIn the early days Kraan was one of the bands, who lived together in a cotenancy, and from this way of living also created power for their music, which has become a very rare pattern these days!?
"And even then, it only worked with restrictions. At that time in Wintrup it was easier to live and work this way. You always had direct approach to the music and noticed immediately, if someone was rehearsing something, so you could react quickly. Today the jam sessions are similar again, when during some hours of teamwork new ideas are created. But this just doesn't happen that often anymore, because not only everyone lives on his own, but we're also spread over Germany. But this way of living together normally doesn't work any longer, when families with children arise. Then it becomes quite difficult - and that's probably also where we failed in a way, at that time."

You're still living without big plans for the future and also never have tried to build up any other 'big' band beside Kraan or to get into some other band?
"No, that situation simply never came up to me. In former times I had some offers to do studio work, which I didn't accept. Because I can't read notes, I need something to listen, have to become engrossed in the music, to provide a good result. And this lasts too long for the most. It always has to be done quickly and that's not my musical world. Making music for kids was easier, cause it's a different audience and I can easy slip into this world. I also did this kind of job on exhibitions in the 80ties and I liked it. But the return of Kraan and the gigs is still the best thing. To perform in front of an audience again, to feel it's energy. I've rather missed this, and the more I now enjoy it."

What's it about your stage name, 'Jan Fride'? Your real name is Jan Wolbrandt and you're the brother of Peter, the band's guitarist.
"Actually the original idea was, not to have to join the army and under the name Fride they couldn't find me for the examination, when we were on the road, cause they only knew me as Jan Wolbrandt. By the way Fride is my second forename, which made it easier. However, later in the 80ties I finally went to the examination and was refused for an indefinite time, cause of being in bad feeding condition. So the whole thing rather hadn't been necessary - but nevertheless I kept the name. But as a reserve I think I'm still registered, so if the situation comes up, maybe some day they'll fetch me at all."

What are your plans for the future now?
"They are still not very concrete. I hope Kraan will succeed for while and then we'll see. Besides I'll try to do more with the computer, video editing and so on. I also still haven't got an insurance pension, though I know I should. I rather live for today, than for the concrete future. But I'm quite sure it will work. Additionally I always work on sounds and music at home, but that's not suitable for publishing. I also don't really rehearse actually. I prefer playing with others, making sessions and so on. What I do is more playing than working, especially concerning to Kraan-music.

The recordings of the new CD were completely managed by you, concerning the technics?
"You can say so, but it wasn't that much effort. Keyboards and bass were straight connected to the mixer, Peter's guitar was recorded via an amp, and furthermore there was the drum kit. Later vocals and percussion as overdubs, and everything recorded without any effects or compression, to have more freedom later for the mix.
So it was a quite spartanic way. On Hellmut's albums it looks quite different, that's mostly technics pure - and here I can bring myself in with some own samples, which I produce at home."

Text & Fotos
Heinz Kronberger http://www.drumsundpercussion.de

Translationish treatment
Christian Zey