Red Flag Interview for shout.ru
SOME INTRO QUESTIONS
Alex: First of all, Chris, I would like to thank you for providing me an opportunity to make this interview. I know how you are busy right now, with all these preparations/promotions, so I’m very glad that you have some time for your Russian fans.
Chris: Thank you for providing me with this interview and the opportunity to reach out to Red Flag fans.
Alex: So my first question is — did you ever hear how many fans of Red Flag you have here in Russia, especially during the time when the album «Naïve Art» was released?
Chris: At the time when «Naïve Art» came out we were unable to communicate with Russian people so we did not know very much about what was really going on over there or how life was for people. On the one hand we heard that it was very difficult and people had to wait in long lines for food and toilet paper and on the other extreme we saw James Bond movies filled with romantic intrigue about spies and rogues. We didn’t figure that Red Flag and «Russian Radio» were important topics in your country.
Later, when the cold war was over and especially recently we began hearing about the huge fan base Red Flag has in Russia. Now I wonder — did Red Flag fans wait in long lines to get our albums during the cold war? It just goes to prove that Russian people have great taste in music!
Alex: Chris, what did you do all these four years of absence?
Chris: Honestly, and I’m not making this up or joking, for most of that time I was living in a jungle with primitive people who descended from pirates. I’m lucky I made it out of there with my life!
After I returned to civilization I began putting my life back together. As you can imagine, with the death of my brother Mark everything was turned upside-down for me. His death was the worst event in my whole life, and has been very difficult for me to accept and move forward.
I’ve had quite a lot of setbacks in the past 5 years and I’m working through them. Writing this album has been cathartic. Whereas before I couldn’t delve into music because of my grief, now I have found a release in music. I didn’t wake up one day and say hey I’m going to write an album and its going to be cathartic, but it worked out that way naturally.
Alex: I always wondered why you chose such a politically radical name for your band? In connection with the title of your memorable song «Russian Radio» it seems that you were agents of Soviet KGB [just kidding]
Chris: What makes you think we weren’t KGB agents? Now with my KGB powers I command all Russian citizens to storm the offices of the evil enemies of Red Flag – the digital downloading sites located in Russia and to grab their equipment and break it over the heads of the thieves who operate those sites.
Actually, I must admit that Red Flag just seemed like a cool name when we created it. In English it has a connotation of a warning signal or something that requires further attention, not so much a political message and it means «Danger!» to surfers. However, I really like the Soviet connection as I am intrigued by all things Russian and I plan to embrace that very image you hold of Red Flag. So, I think you will really get a kick out of the new Red Flag photos and promotional materials Red Flag will be putting out.
How come no one ever makes the pirate connection? …the dreaded red flag feared by every man at sea that signaled a fight to the death!
Alex: I heard your band for a first time in late 1989 — it was your debut album «Naïve Art». To tell the truth, when I listened to it I thought «Hmm, it’s just another Depeche Mode-like band». Later your music and style grew up and changed into something special, into your own original style. So please answer two related questions: how many people thought the same thing as I did at the beginning of you career and how you now describe your current music, your style?
Chris: Well the comparison to DM in the early years was constant and it began to be really annoying not just for us but for every other electronic band. I’ve read some pretty funny quotes from other bands where they just cringe when that question gets put to them. Yes, we really liked DM and we liked many other bands as well. DM just happened to be the one electronic band that everyone knew of, there weren’t many others that got radio airplay back then. We didn’t set out to be like DM we were just in the same vein as them along with a whole cadre of great electronic bands.
The reality is that when we first started out, the technology in synthetic music was very limited. I mean we were extremely limited by the sounds we had access to. At that time we didn’t have the huge catalogue of sounds that are available today. If one wanted to create something vastly original it required you to meticulously record samples from your environment, which we did, but it was painstaking. Even though other bands may have had more resources than we had when we started, all bands were basically limited to a certain amount of sounds, hence a certain “sound”. The gear was really primitive too compared to what’s out there today. Our music grew and varied as our universe of sounds expanded and our gear improved. I am certain it was the same with other bands, even DM. As our access to sounds grew, so did our music and our “sound”. Nowadays, the variety of samples I can get just amazes me.
How come no one ever asks the more interesting question of what DM thought of Red Flag? Click here to find out!
Alex: Originally there’re comparisons of Red Flag as being stylistically similar to seminal synth pop heroes Depeche Mode. But later, definitely, your band has inspired countless synthpop bands around the world. Do you feel that you yourself became grandfathers of a whole music generation?
Chris: If my mail is any indication, then yes I would say that Red Flag is often cited as having been a major influence on other artists, particularly in the electronic genres. But what is especially interesting about the influence of our music, what fans and friends of Red Flag have written to us recently and over the past years is the many very important ways in which our music influenced their lives. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the most common themes in the letters and email we get are about the following: Red Flag music is therapeutic and helped me through some difficult times, Red Flag helped my relationship, got me engaged or attracted my girlfriend to me, Red Flag music is necessary on long road trips in the car, Red Flag music inspired the creative side in me, etc. I believe that the very intimate lyrics and provocative melodies in our music profoundly affect listeners. I think they are deeply affected by our music in a way that isn’t just about entertainment but somehow spiritual as well. Red Flag touches people’s lives-and that is powerful!
Alex: What’s your favorite Red Flag track of all times?
Chris: My favorite has always been «For the Dark». I heard there was some pretty great music put out by my band after that, but I’m still very into «The Crypt». I’m just now beginning to get a lot of outstanding feedback from the darkwave and Goth community regarding our darker albums — «The Crypt», «Fear of a Red Planet», and «The Bitter End». It seems the Goths have only just started to discover the music and they love it.
Alex: Do you think that well done remixes are very important for your band?
Chris: Until we put out the album «Who are the Skulls?», we didn’t collaborate much with other remixers or artists. We remixed our own songs, Razormaid, and DJRam remixed our songs, but not many others have we worked with. We were constantly coming up with new material and putting out albums, sometimes a few in a one year span -and collaborating with others was difficult. With the rise of the internet, a remixing phenomenon began and we were deluged with requests for remixes. The Skulls was our answer to this. However, we came up with the idea to make the Skulls club-like and continue an ongoing rapport with remixers.
Unfortunately Mark died not long after the Skulls album was released and the Skulls website and membership were just taking off. Nowadays, I’m still in the same position. I’m devoted to producing the music on my album and I don’t have much extra time to remix other artists songs or collaborate on remixes of my own songs. So, I am relaunchingTheSkulls.Biz website to streamline Red Flag remixing efforts once again. It’s a continuation of the Skulls membership idea and it’s a lot of fun for remixers and for Red Flag.
Alex: What can you unveil regarding your promised new album?
Chris: Listeners don’t need to wait for me to unveil something. I’ve got two massive songs from the new album, «Born Again» and «Pouring Rain», streaming onRedFlag.Org. Go there have a listen and be sure to post me a little note while you’re there!
Alex: Where did you find inspiration to write your music & lyrics?
Chris: Much of what I have been writing about are topics Mark and I had both discussed in the past, just simply put, life. A large portion of the record has been inspired by my brother’s life and his death.
Alex: How many songs did you write in prior recording session? How many of them will be on the new album?
Chris: I actually don’t know how many Mark and I wrote. I know that Mark was planning on releasing at least an album of material so there must have been at least 10 songs. However, I don’t know where those tracks are stored and I believe that Mark was planning on redoing the vocals on them. So I’m not sure what I would do with them if I do locate them.
So every song on «Born Again» is new and original. Unless, I end up putting a bonus track on a licensed product or a special issue, none of the songs on the new album are old recordings or prerecorded material. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about whether I used some of Marks vocal tracks or even if I had recorded vocals or back up vocals on our prior albums. The answer is no. The new album contains only new vocals and music. In the past I have never recorded vocals on any album or track. On a few occasions I did contribute some back up vocals during live shows but that is all.
Alex: Who helped you work on your upcoming album? Which musicians did collaborate with you in studio?
Chris: It was only me working on the music. Joseph Watt may do some mastering work on the album — we are discussing that right now.
Alex: Is it difficult for you to sing instead your brother Mark Reynolds?
Chris: Writing this album was not difficult for me to do as far as coming up with ideas for music and lyrics. The real battle was going through the same steps I would normally take in writing a song then coming to a point where my brother would step in and work his magic, only to find he is not there. This reality is quite startling. We really had a system. I can say I really learned a lot from Mark and have tried to incorporate a similar style in writing «Born Again» lyrics that he would have used. Mark had a great range when singing and I have found this to be a big challenge but I am happy with what I have achieved.
Alex: It seems to me after listening to a few of new Red Flag tracks your music becomes much darker with every album… your comments?
Chris: I can write music of most any type. I play jazz piano and classical piano constantly and my head is filled with such melodies. I could still write 80s style pop tunes. However, I like hard music, I like dark music, I like powerful music that has a driving force. I call this “massive” music-songs that build up with an intense bass line then wham, the drums come down and the story begins. My songs tell a story with or without lyrics. In my music I try to present a journey to the listener, a mini-opera that unfolds and carries the listener along. That journey is sometimes dark, sometimes gloomy, but often exciting and surprising.
I write what I enjoy.
Alex: Are you satisfied by the results of the work you have done?
Chris: Yes, actually when I listen to the title track, «Born Again», I’m really amazed at my creation. I don’t know exactly where it came from. It was sort of like constructing a puzzle and it all came together better than I had anticipated.
Alex: Which label will you choose for your new release? Maybe via your own label again? By the way, how is it — running an indie label?
Chris: Yes, I’ll be putting it out on plan b records. I don’t see an advantage at this point in going elsewhere. Actually the prospects of continuing with CD manufacturing is uncertain. Everything is going digital and the ROI for CDs just isn’t there. It is hard to justify pumping money into all the labor and costs that goes into making and distributing CDs. It has come to the point where it might be better to be all digital and focus our resources on promotion and touring. The CDs have become almost a vanity item. It may be that in the future the only function of the label is in the area of promotion or as an artist’s agent. So, we might branch out into promoting electronic music, an area which is really lacking in the U.S.
Alex: Do you have any side-projects at the moment? I heard you are professional pianist… do you have any releases of such music side of you?
Chris: I’ve been very busy with «Born Again» and getting that perfected. When that is done I plan to begin on a Christmas album that contains the whole collection of previous Red Flag Christmas songs as well as new Christmas tracks I’ll be working on. I still have a best of Red Flag album to start as well. And in my head there are more albums wanting to be recorded. But if I find time, I have some interesting ideas for acoustic piano albums.
Alex: I know in the past you worked together with famous Joseph Watt of Razormaid remix service. Do you have any contacts with him at the moment?
Chris: You must be psychic. I have been recently talking to Joseph quite a lot by phone. We’ve been discussing mastering of «Born Again» as I alluded to earlier. He is very talented at what he does. Joseph is amazing! First of all he is a pioneer in his field and he has come up with some really innovative business ideas for Razormaid. I admire his business acumen and his talent. But what stands out to me by far is his outrageous sense of humor! He always has an uncanny way of summing up a situation with humor. A few weeks ago we were chatting and we were talking about the quality of some of the bands out there and whether they could be improved in the studio and he tells me: «You can’t polish a turd!» I was in tears, laughing for about 5 minutes!
Alex: Do you like live appearances? Can it be said that you prefer concerts more than working in the studio, or vise versa?
Chris: Playing live is exhilarating. It is fun to play concerts and to interact with the fans. It’s like a big party and I love parties and I love to be around people. There isn’t really a choice between concerts or studio work. Concerts are just a bi-product of the work I do in the studio. I intend to keep doing both and I intend to keep evolving both in their own artistic ways.
Alex: Do you plan on any Red Flag live shows in close future? What will be your live lineup/setup?
Chris: Yes, today we confirmed two Red Flag shows and we have many dates in the works for the upcoming Born Again Tour. The first Red Flag comeback show will be in Chicago on June 8th. Red Flag will be playing also at Gothicfest in Chicago on October 12th. We’ve been talking with a promoter about playing a Goth cruise — that’s got to be a lot of fun! Red Flag has had a lot of invitations to play at festivals and events in the U.S. and abroad, but they aren’t confirmed yet so I can’t give specific details.
Alex: Can fans expect some surprises? For example, you could perform some songs acoustic etc..
Chris: Oh, there will be surprises! Good ones!
Alex: How about a gig in Russia? [smile]
Chris: We have been talking with some promoters in Russia that are interested in bringing Red Flag over, but nothing is confirmed yet. I had hoped to start my tour there but I may have to push back the Russian and European dates until after I return from some dates we are working out in South America.
Alex: I heard that Red Flag were huge Depeche Mode fans since early eighties. How about now?
Chris: That’s true! I’ve been a fan of most innovative bands who use piano or synthesizers in their music. Nowadays though, I don’t listen to much music of any band except when I’m in the car or I’m out somewhere. The last DM album I heard was one I picked up in Thailand a few years ago. I’m sure they’ve got some great newer stuff that I should listen to, but I just haven’t heard any of their latest works. I haven’t listened to any of my old music collection for years either. I sort of write my music in a vacuum. When I’m in the car I alternate between the jazz station and the hard rock station. I’m actually quite influenced by some of the downbeats and heavy percussion styles heard in hard rock. It’s definitely impacted my music over the last many years and I think this as well as my classical training has set Red Flag apart from most other electronic music.
Alex: As you started your band did you want to be like Depeche Mode? Sounds like them, looks like them or be so famous like them? [smile]
Chris: I used to be a really great guitar player when I was a teenager. My school friends still talk about how I used to shred on guitar. At some point I switched over to piano and I just really liked it. I was gung-ho about music, including DM’s, that incorporated synthesizers. That genre of music was really different and a very exciting period of music. I wanted to be involved and be a part of that movement. As I explained earlier the similarity of Red Flag to DM was part and parcel of the limited gear and sounds available back then.
Did we look like them? Didn’t all bands and fans in that genre share similar taste in clothes and hair? Most of the people and bands I remember from that genre back then had the 80s fashions going on strong, including us. And the fame, well, they still have the lion’s share [smile]
Alex: What’s your most liked and most disliked Depeche Mode song?
Chris: I really like «Personal Jesus», «Shake the Disease», and their cover of «Route 66». I play all of these songs jazz-style during my piano events. One song that stands out to me was the b side — «Get the Balance Right» because it was really upbeat but dark. I can’t think of any that I dislike.
Alex: How much time do you spend with computers? Do you use PC, Mac or both?
Chris: Of course I’ve been using my computer constantly while working on my album «Born Again». I use a PC but have been considering moving over to a Mac.
Alex: Do you like any PC or video games? What are your favorites?
Chris: I used to play «Resident Evil» but there are probably far more sophisticated games out there today that I’m not aware of. Right now, the closest thing I get to playing video games is using some of the programs I use to make music.
Alex: Do you like to surf the Internet? What’s your favorite sites?
Chris: Shout.ru is one of my favorite sites [smile]
I don’t actually have time to surf. I barely get a chance to look at RedFlag.Org and that’s it.
Alex: What does the Internet mean for you and your band?
Chris: The Internet is both good and bad for Red Flag. The digital pirating has killed sales and made it impossible to make significant money from the music. Touring and Red Flag merchandise are my only real means now to make a living from my art. But the Internet isn’t bad, it’s become a really terrific means to communicate with fans, other bands, clubs and promoters-everyone. That is extremely positive. The ways Red Flag can reach people through the Internet is amazing. There are many people who have found Red Flag through RedFlag.Org or through Myspace.com, who never knew that we had recorded any albums since «Naïve Art». Other fans are too young to remember «Russian Radio», they just like Red Flag’s music today and they found it through the Internet. The Internet is amazing.
Alex: What’s your future plans with Red Flag’s web site? Any improvements, new features?
Chris: Well, we just got the website back up and running a couple of months ago and the traffic and reaction has been phenomenal. The site has an area to post on, a blog and a news area, a forum for fans to interact with one another, and a place with video, articles, interviews and other Red Flag material. So far RedFlag.Org isn’t the slickest band site, but fans have really liked its features, especially the site wide streaming audio player. Quite a lot of people have let me know that they use the website as a radio while they clean the house or do work at their desks, and who knows what else [smile]. It turns out people prefer to have a very interactive experience than a slick informational site that is static. Now there is a forum with sections in Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese as well as English so that non-English speakers will have a place to discuss Red Flag. I hope some of your readers will stop by the Russian section with their comments.
Alex: I noticed that you’re personally promoting your upcoming album via your re-launched web site and official MySpace page.. Seems you are very close to your fans, at least virtually.. can they catch you at music forum, or something?
Chris: All of the day to day administration of those sites is done by my wife, Victoria. If an important message or really inspiring email from a fan comes in she forwards them to me. Otherwise she has done a great job of getting those sites together and taking care of everything related to them. On occasion I will write a blog or announcement to post on the sites, but I can’t personally answer all the mail or requests that come in.
I haven’t had a lot of time to interact with anyone lately, even my family. But I really enjoy reading fan’s posts on RedFlag.Org and Myspace.com. The enthusiasm and support by Red Flag friends has been so encouraging during some of the hard times I’ve been confronted with. Now just reading what these great people say and hearing about how Red Flag has touched their lives… well I’m touched by their words. So yes, there is a lot more interaction on line than I ever imagined possible.
Alex: What do you think about P2P nets? Is it help such bands as yours, or it’s just an evil?
Chris: Well at one point Mark and I were really upset about Napster and pirating but a lot of things have changed now. Napster closed down and then became legitimate and iTunes came along opening opportunities for independent artists. There are still a lot of bunk sites out there, and I’m sorry to report that the all time worst sites that steal money unjustly from artists hail from Russia and justify their thievery with some mumbo-jumbo about Russia’s laws not adhering to international standards. Red Flag has never made one red cent from all the many albums and songs that have sold in Russia. Anything that you buy from a dealer or online in Russia is unlicensed and a bootleg.
The situation has forced me to rethink my strategy. It’s difficult to let go of the idea of getting some money back from my creations, but I’ve had to accept that the money isn’t going to come from album sales but from touring and other bi-products of my music. At this point I see my music as promotion for my shows. However, I do not condone the sale or issuing of my music without my consent. I want people to hear Red Flag’s music. I just don’t think someone should be charging money for the music and not paying the artist.
Alex: Are you interested in politics?
Chris: I’m interested mainly in avoiding politics because politics pervade almost every facet in life. From one’s workplace to driving you car to the store there’s politics involved. I don’t necessarily mean that all politics are negative but the politics I’m speaking about, in general, I take great pleasure in avoiding them at all costs.
Alex: Can it be said that something changed in your mind after September 11th?
Chris: Well it’s had an impact on everyone’s lives, not just mine. Its affected society as a whole. Seeing airplanes flying into buildings is not a common event. It’s not something you see every day and it’s horrific. I suppose the point these terrorists were trying to make was effective.
Alex: Did you ever use drugs? Did you write any of your songs being under drugs?
Chris: Is that what the music sounds like? [smile] I have never written a song under the influence of drugs. However I have come home on occasion from clubs after a few pints and been inspired to write.
Alex: Do you like clubbing? Do you DJ sometimes?
Chris: I don’t DJ but I do like to go to clubs and listen to music.
Alex: What music are you listening to recently? And what artists are amongst your all time favorites?
Chris: I’m listening to what I write and that’s been for about the last 8 months because when you are writing a record like I am and your producing it and doing as much as you possibly can to further it along — I’m totally focused on it.
I really like Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, and there are a lot of bands I just like particular songs from.
Alex: Your favorite way of relaxing?
Chris: I like to sit on the deck and smoke a cigar. I find it really relaxing.
Alex: What’s your favorite place on Earth? To live, to work, to rest?
Chris: I really did like Denmark and Germany when I was there performing with Red Flag concerts because it was different but familiar there. But I really don’t believe I’ve discovered perfection. I really tried to when I lived in Thailand but I always found there was something not right when you looked under the rock. But a really great place to be is where I am right now and that is writing music and lining up Red Flag’s tour. There is no rest for Red Flag.
Alex: OK, finally — your huge plans for year 2007?
Chris: All of 2007 is a period of monumental plans. First I announced the return of Red Flag with the upcoming album, «Born Again», which will be out June 1st. Now I am announcing the Born Again Tour and we are just now putting dates into place for the rest of the year. I am very excited about those two huge plans. But I think fans will be happy to hear about the Red Flag Christmas album I will release before the holiday season. It will be comprised of some of the Red Flag Christmas material that was already issued as singles and some new material.
Now I am announcing that Red Flag will re-launched The Skulls website and I’ll be working with Skull members and new inductees to put out a «Skulls II» remix album sometime next year.
Alex: Would you like to say or wish something to SHOUT! Online readers and all your Russian fans?
Chris: Stop by RedFlag.Org and say hello! I hope to see you all in Russia soon at a Red Flag concert. Raise the Banner! Chris Reynolds, Red Flag.
Alex: Thank you for interview, Chris! See you!