The band project Horizontal Ascension unites musicians of the bands Flaming Bess (one of the oldest German prog rock bands) and Marquette (modern melodic prog). The multi-instrumentalists Achim Wierschem (also known under the alias Mindmovie) and Markus Roth join forces with US singer Mike Hartmann. The result is an ambitious album with many longtracks that clearly points to the future of progressive music. Classical prog, harder prog metal and jazzy elements are condensed into a kind of fusion of the 21st century.
eclipsed: You are very versatile and active in several projects. Can you explain at the beginning where you come from musically?
Achim Wierschem: My father was a saxophonist and in his band I was able to gain my first stage experience at the age of fourteen. The heroes of my childhood were bands like Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Gentle Giant and Pink Floyd, meaning: I was influenced by modern hard blues rock as well as progressive rock. Already in my first student bands we composed our own songs, which from today's point of view would be classified as classic old school prog rock. It's been a thread running through my whole life to this day.
eclipsed: How did the band project Horizontal Ascension come about?
Wierschem: Mike I met while looking for a singer for my second mindmovie solo album "Happiness And Tears". When I heard him sing then, I was literally in love with his voice. That was seven years ago and despite the great distance between Düsseldorf and Scottsdale, Arizona, we have now become very good friends. I became aware of Markus and his great talent via the Internet and the platform "MyOwnMusic". I heard some of his songs and was deeply impressed. This led to a guest appearance of Markus on the last Flaming Bess album "Der gefallene Stern" and was so much fun for both of us that we decided to work more together. Marquette was a very intensive cooperation and afterwards it was clear: We want to set up a joint band project - Horizontal Ascension.
eclipsed: What does the name "Horizontal Ascension" mean?
Wierschem: The name is of course an oxymoron, with a dazzling meaning. On the one hand there is the floating virgin on our album cover - or also the famous "horizontal trade". But for me the name also has, let's say, a "spiritual meaning": Our society strives almost everywhere for the fastest possible ascent, a career cannot be steep and fast enough. Too often, however, much is left behind in human terms: we die of a creeping atrophy of the heart and soul. Wouldn't it be desirable to grow slowly and comprehensively with experience? Mike's lyrics are full of such ideas.
eclipsed: Briefly explain the basic musical idea. Your debut album combines classic prog, harder prog metal and jazzy elements. Do you see this style mix as trend-setting?
Wierschem: Musically it is particularly important for us to bring all our experiences into our music, i.e. to open up horizons rather than to climb the vertical heights of just one musical mountain. We no longer live in the seventies or eighties, but we take the experience from that time with us, as well as the experience of the last two decades. From this we try to create our own musical vision. The album has an immense musical density of which all three of us are very proud. Despite all the diversity, however, there should still be a feeling of development, a goal that determines the direction of the journey. It doesn't matter whether it is trend-setting or not: it is important that the music is exciting and that we grow together on the way - including the listeners.
eclipsed: What does the cover symbolize with the woman floating in the forest?
To whom: Actually, you should ask Jef De Corte. He is our designer and by the way a great musician himself. But I think the picture - like our name - opens up a broad associative space to which everyone can contribute their own. Maybe it's Dante's dark forest where we all find ourselves somewhere A mysterious place of contemplation. One does not know what is slumbering in the woods, what dangers, what possibilities - or in one's own mind. That might be the woman.
eclipsed: How did you share the instrumental work with Markus Roth? You both play on the album Keys, Guitar and Drums. Who plays what and when?
Wierschem: The album was composed by the two of us, at an early stage of the project we started to deal with each other's song ideas, inserting parts and laying the instrumental foundation for Mike's vocals. Markus is certainly more the virtuosic keyboard player, my strength lies more in the lead guitar work. We just split the drums among ourselves.
eclipsed: Especially the vocal harmonies are very elaborated. Hooks salute. A credit to singer Mike Hartmann?
By whom: Absolutely. Mike is responsible for all the vocal arrangements as well as the lyrics. As a native speaker, he also has a great advantage in active English vocabulary.
eclipsed: Several longtracks and many jazzy twists prove the ambitious character of Horizontal Ascension. No light food, how come?
Wierschem: We all love the musical freedom not to have to work in a 3-minute radio song format, but to take the time to create music that, even after listening to it several times, still develops new facets for the listener. Markus' background is deeply rooted in jazz fusion, I'm more of a soulful or hard rocker. All our influences and Mike's vocal ideas led to this album naturally and democratically. It was also a challenge for us - but that's how you grow.
eclipsed: For each song there is a small text opening in the booklet, in which the wholeness of life is strongly pointed out. Does the album have a concept character?
Wierschem: There is no coherent story on the album, but all the songs deal with the conditions, problems and possibilities of life in the 21st century: the high-powered hedonism of our time, the self-destructive exploitation of our world in the name of the economy, the background noise of media panic and the powerlessness one feels as a small individual in the anonymous mass in the face of these highly complex problems. And yet there is a deep optimism, a belief in something in common, something deeply human, that unites us. We are and remain beings of possibilities.
eclipsed: "Devious Moments" also refers to social criticism that we are at the mercy of the rich and powerful from birth, as it were, "victim of higher circumstances". Can you get to the point?
Wierschem: In the last 60 years, the West has experienced a massive redistribution of resources and wealth from the masses of people to a few in virtually every part of the world. Ultimately, there are perhaps ten to twenty families and supercorporations worldwide that control almost the entire resources of our planet, be it oil, healthcare, banks, food - right up to patenting the genetic blueprints of living beings. You only have to watch movies like "Inside Job" or "The Corporation" to lose all illusions. To give a few examples: Not even ten years ago, a few banks and unscrupulous managers in the United States, polarized solely on their profits, were able to engage in highly risky speculation with their clients' funds, deposits and mortgages, bringing the global economy to the brink of collapse. None of them have been prosecuted to date. The banks were pulled out of the mess they had caused themselves as "too big to fail" with generous rescue packages carried by ordinary citizens. Today they are bigger than before the crisis. In many parts of our planet people are starving, in others food is simply thrown away. Greece, the banking crisis, Syria, the refugee crisis - there are endless examples. If you were born on the sunny side, you don't have to worry, but life can be completely different for everyone else. In this respect, we are all victims or minions of circumstances to which we have personally contributed nothing positive or negative. We have built this deeply corrupt system ourselves and now it is slowly eating us alive. We can win this battle, but to do so we need to raise awareness of such problems and issues - and act together.
eclipsed: Will Horizontal Ascension also be live?
Wierschem: That would be a dream, but at the moment it depends very much on the success of the album. We finance everything ourselves, a tour is quite a cost factor and a big risk for a still unknown band, especially since we would have to fly Mike in from the USA.
eclipsed: What's the next step - already ideas for a second album?
Wierschem: A second album is planned, there are already ideas for at least four to five more albums today. Markus and I write new songs almost every day.
eclipsed: Although you are a kind of multi-instrumentalist, the guitar has probably remained your favourite instrument to this day - what fascinates you about it?
Wierschem: Unfortunately I am not blessed with a beautiful singing voice. When I play guitar, however, I always try to think like a singer, in other words: for me, the melody and its phrasing is always a decisive factor. Apart from the guitar and perhaps the saxophone, for me there is no other instrument with which one can express feelings and phrasing in such a natural and varied way.
eclipsed: As I said, you are involved in several projects and also as a producer and sound engineer with your own multimedia studios. How do you approach the main projects Mindmovie, Flaming Bess, Marquette and now Horizontal Ascension? What makes them different, how do your approach and working style differ?
Wierschem: My way of working is not really different. I try to put as much heart and soul into each of the projects as I can into the creation phase in order to deliver the best possible album. The big differences lie rather in the selection of the musical themes and the compositions, which then differ greatly. I guess I have a little bit in common with Steven Wilson. Flaming Bess is the more lyrical-romantic side of Prog-Rock, Marquette and Horizontal Ascension are much harder and more virtuosic - just by Markus Roth. Mindmovie is rather free - with my guitar as the main link in a very eclectic musical cosmos.
eclipsed: A lot has been announced for 2016: a third solo album with mindmovie, another with marquette and a tour with Flaming Bess. Tell us something about these projects and how you manage it all.
Wierschem: Thank God I can only concentrate on the music today. For me it is more a great relaxation than a burden to be in the studio or in the rehearsal room and to be able to play. I enjoy all these projects very much, and if you enjoy what you do, it's relatively easy to keep a lot of balls in the air at the same time.
eclipsed: How did you get into Flaming Bess in 1981?
Wierschem: I met Hans Wende, the band leader, by chance at a concert in Düsseldorf (Saga & Styx). We started talking, the second album was Flaming Bess and Hans asked me to record some demos for it. Two months later I was in the Dierks studio with the band and the second Flaming Bess album "Verlorene Welt" was released. I've been in it ever since.
eclipsed: Finally, do you have a beautiful, funny or bizarre anecdote from your rich musical life for our readers?
Wierschem: That reminds me of my first performance with my school band - it ended in a debacle. We played in a youth home and suddenly a gang of "Hells Angels" stood in front of us and forced us to play "Born To Be Wild" by Steppenwolf - for more than two hours, always the same piece! In return, they left our instruments intact ..
Interview: Walter Sehrer
Top 5 Albums
Genesis - Foxtrot
Toto - Tambu
Steven Wilson - Hand.Cannot.Erase.
It Bites - Once Around The World
Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
I'm a typical prog rocker, an old SciFi and fantasy fan. My favorite work is Philip José Farmers "The World of Thousand Levels" cycle. An old English professor and his wife visit a house they want to buy. He is in the cellar when a strange sequence of sounds sounds, an opening opens up in the wall and a young man throws a horn at him from the other side. The incomprehensible experience leaves him no peace and with the horn he finally arrives in a paradisiacal garden, which represents only the first level of an enormous artificial fantasy world, over which an ominous lord rules like a god and shapes it anew according to his wishes. He also discovers that he himself is getting younger and younger. The work is a single adventure, exciting from the first to the last page - and thanks to the interesting characters and always new "levels" or artificial worlds it is very, very varied ...
For me, his film adaptation would be better than "Lord of the Rings".