From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)
By now even the german people are aware of the fact that German Rock Music of the seventies is being highly appreciated throughout the world. "The farther you get away from Germany", the german leading news magazine "Der Spiegel" quotes "Neu!" guitarist Michael Rother due to the re-release of Neu!'s first two LPs on CD on Herbert Groenemeier's Groenland label, "the more this kind of music of the Seventies is being appreciated." Indeed, German Rock is alive. Many LPs of those days have been re-released on CDs. Recently the band Kraan released a very respectable new Live-CD, and a new CD of the Nine Days' Wonder showed up on the "Garden of Delight" label. German Rock sells quite well in the U.S., Japan and the rest of the world, but itīs not doing that great in Germany. Walter Seyffer, founder and head of the Nine Days' Wonder band and later one half of the duo Wintergarden, is now 51 years old. With his life companion, a dog and a cat he resides in a small town by a mountainous area called the Odenwald, in the south west of Germany. He has a degree in designing and he acquired a great deal of knowledge as a sound technician and at producing records back at the time when he was a successful producer of several bands of the Neue Deutsche Welle ("German New Wave"), a music genre of the Eighties. He designed two LP covers for other bands which are now collector items that people look for from all over the world. (Omega: Time Robber and Haze: Hazecolor-Dia). Walter Seyffer has retired from playing music. He is now involved in Public Relations Work for one of the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf Schools primarily offering fine arts for children and parental training for young adults. He accompanies youth groups on recreational trips for educational purposes. He wrote a childrens' musical for children to perform in. Writing and designing for a variety of clients is another part of his busy schedule. The material for the new Nine Days' Wonder CD - containing mainly unreleased songs and live performances - has been prepared by him using the original tapes and tape recorders. He maintains the band's home page (http://www.ninedayswonder.de) and besides that he stays in touch with fans and journalists due to the re-awakening interest for German Rock Music of the Seventies, one of whose leading figures he doubtlessly was.
Frank Gingeleit (FG): Do you remember your first band?
Walter Seyffer (WS): They were called The Graves. This band was formed in 1966 and there were three guys and a female bass player. I played the drums and the lead vocals. Back then I was a regular listener of the weekly Top Ten radio show on Radio Luxemburg (a station broadcasting Beat and early Rock music long before German stations played that new kind of music - F. G.) every Wednesday night. It was our goal to play the latest hits from the U.K. and the U.S. before you could buy them in record stores in Germany. In the city of Mannheim, Germany were we started off as a band there were only The Thunderbirds besides us who later became The Kin Ping Meh. Both bands were in their starting blocks and it was a real competitive situation. It was not only about who of us was playing the bigger dance schools with larger audiences, but it was also a matter of musical creed. The Thunderbirds were more commited to the music of the Beatles and the Shadows, we prefered to play in the fashion of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds.
FG: How did the Nine Days' Wonder form as a band?
WS: The transition from The Graves to The Nine Days' Wonder took place in 1967/68. The Nine Days' Wonder then still were a Beat Band. Only about one third of our program were our own tunes.
FG: How did people took notice of The Nine Days' Wonder?
WS: It happened overnight. We participated in a Beat Band contest and we made only seventh or eighth place, because in this contest the jury was not fond of the idea of playing guitar the way our guitar player did. In the song "My Friend Jack" by Smoke he was sliding along the low E-string with his pick instead of playing "real" tones. The jury's decision was not accepted by the audience, they were almost rioting. The next day there was a big article in the newspaper about this incident. We were considered the hardest band in the area. All off a sudden we were somebody.
FG: Where does the name Nine Days' Wonder come from and what does it mean?
WS: In my understanding it means an ephemeral sensation, just a passing fancy, a flare-up. In the vocabulary of the British press it means an incident is worth reporting for nine days and then it's "over". In the language of the army it also means seargents who underwent only a short training period.
FG: How did the transition happen from the former Nine Days' Wonder as a beat band to the band that recorded the first Nine Days' Wonder LP?
WS: The spirit of the times had changed. The rock scene with its phenomena had emerged. A question came up for the band members what was their perspective on their own future. The outlook for most of the members of the Nine Days' Wonder Beat Band was to lead a middle class life where music played a secondary role. To me it was important to make playing music a part of my life considering all consequences coming from it. We had the opportunity to work and live together as we rented a former bar with adjacent apartments in the city of Mannheim. Our manager at that time dug it up. From the outside it appeared to be a "commune". The members of the "new" Nine Days' Wonder, who lived and played this kind of life style were Bernd Unger on bass guitar, Winfried Schmitt on drums, Rolf Henning on guitar and myself. I did the lead vocals, played percussion and occasionally did second drums. Our repertoire at this time was "Krautrock" in the original sense of the word. The breakthrough of this band came when we played a show at one of the first music festivals at Burg Herzberg. During the following period we played lots of gigs out of Mannheim, some of them for thousands of people. In this situation we felt the need we should really work hard on ourselves. We didnīt wanna be a "Hit And Run" Band. We really wanted to bring something to the world. The crucial turn came when John "Irish" Earle, a saxophone player, became a band member. He was and still is a great musician. When Wilfried Schmitt left the band we had a problem to find a new drummer. John's preferred drummer was Martin Roscoe. He knew him from performing in U.S. clubs in Germany at that time, but he did not know how get in touch with him. We discussed this matter at a meeting in our office, when he suddenly entered the room, because he wanted to visit with John...
FG: As you said the "Bayrisch Zell" project was not a commune in the original sense of the word at that time, but on the other hand wasnīt it more than what it appeard to be - a bar with adjacent apartments?
WS: You're right. The "Bayrisch Zell" was an open house in any way - everybody who came was welcome. In the beginning the local juvenile department had an office in our house. The staff took care of young runaways and they were counseling them with their drug problems. Everybody knew that drugs were sold and consumed in front of the house. To us musicians it was important that drugs did not have too much an influence on our work and our lives.
FG: In this atmosphere the first LP came into being which reamains unusual and unique in itīs way up till today. Why didn't you continue this way?
WS: I also think that the first LP was a "brilliant stroke of genius". As far as the music was concerned the music we never approached it in a theoretical way, instead we were just doing it. We came about the music as if it were a demand of the time. In this phase of the band's history - basically since John Earle joined us - we no longer felt as part of the "Krautrock" scene. In our opinion, most members from this scene were dope heads and too lazy to rehearse. We were rehearsing like maniacs. Even at the breakfast table we sang our riffs. The tunes of the first LP have a complex structure, but in the end they were put together by applying a collage technique. This way they were comprehensive for us any time. All of us internalized the music completely. Even the guitar solos were composed and could be replicated. There were almost no boundaries between rehearsing and not rehearsing. This was a state that could not last for too long.
FG: The change in style compared to later LP releases was very obvious. Many fans of the first hour never really wanted to understand this. Therefore I'd like to ask you again: What was the reason for changing your style of music so dramatically?
WS: Today I believe that this kind of music could only have been created in this short period of time in which it actually was created. The "Bayrisch Zell" project flopped after a short while and also problems with our manager came up. He turned out to be strictly money oriented and the band got into severe economic difficulties. The lease of the house was terminated and we moved to a small village. We thought that this might help us financially, but exactly at the same time our music producer Peter Hauke went bankrupt with his company. This was the end for us. We had to return our PA-system and without it we couldnīt play any more shows. We had to suffer from extremely strong pressure coming from outside which led to the stumbling of this period of the Nine Days' Wonder project.
FG: What happened then?
WS: The members of this line up were scattered all over the place. John Earle became a well known musician in England (The Dance Band, Shakin' Stevens - F. G.) and I graduated from the design school that I still was enrolled in. It took quite a while until Michael Bund and Peter Hauke showed up again. In the meantime Peter Hauke became an employee of Bellaphone Records working as a producer for them. The second LP "We Never Lost Control" that we produced with Hauke was unsatisfactory for me. It was very much in the style of David Bowie and Mott the Hoople. On the album cover we put on a lot of make up and we were dressed in flashy clothes. Michael suggested that this might be an opportunity to get a better recognition by the press by drawing their attention on us. The third album "Only The Dancers" was again produced by Peter Hauke at the Chipping Norton Studios in England. Rolf Henning the guitar player had returned and in Sidhatta Gautama we found a new drummer. Guest musicians were Dave Jackson of Van der Graaf Generator on saxophone and Steve Robinson of 2066 & Then on keyboards. On this album we managed to get back into the drive and the dynamics of the first LP, even though there were more so to speak "songs" on it instead of the experimental and progressive stuff that we used to play. "Sonett To Billy Frost", the fourth and last Nine Days' Wonder release, was a chapter of its own kind. Bernd Unger, who had already been a band member in the Sixties, had returned. In the meantime I was listening to a different kind of music, mainly Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen. My goal was not to copy them but to let their music flow into mine in an original way. Bernd was strongly influenced by the West Coast Sound - 10 CC, Crosby, Stills & Nash - and he was able to write complex vocal parts. We wanted to create something that was musical wise indisputable. We also focused our attention on writing interesting and shrewd lyrics. Ray Opper helped with the lyrics. I would not have achieved this by myself. His support was so important to us that we put his photo on the album cover too. "Sonett To Billy Frost" was produced by Christian Kolonovits. We really put all our hopes in this album. Just as many copies were sold than of the other albums - none of them was really successful commercial wise - but in addition to that this last album was even rejected by the critics. For them it was too "British" and an "experimental" touch was missing.
FG: Did all of this lead to the final split of The Nine Days' Wonder?
WS: This and there were other reasons. On one hand we were in a bad financial situation because we could not even come close of being able to live from the record sales. This surely was not our own fault. The people at Bellaphone Records were incompetent and ignorant - write this down! You could bet not to find our records in the record stores of the cities we played. The same thing happened with the re-releases as CDs as it did back then - you just couldnīt find them in the stores. Looking at it from outside everything looks pretty good but in reality they didnīt do anything for us. Our contract guaranteed us two percent of the wholesale sales - that added up to nothing! We really enjoyed to work with Peter Hauke, but Bellaphone was actually a dead company who lived off their old repertoire releases at those times. In the Rock segment of the Seventies they were only successful if they couldnīt be stopped from success. This was the case with Nektar for example who sold well in the U.S. And on the other hand Nine Days' Wonder only consisted of Bernd Unger and myself in the end with almost no impulse from the rest of the band. So Bernd and I decided to do our own thing. We started the Wintergarden project. But this is a different story.
For more information you can visit the Nine Days' Wonder web site at: http://www.ninedayswonder.de/.
You can email Walter Seyffer at: firstname.lastname@example.org.