We had the chance to sit down with one of Switzerland’s biggest Jazz musicians who in the 80's formed one half of the immensely popular pop group 'Double'. We gather this thoughts on then right up now in our exclusive interview…
One doesn’t expect to see the Verve Forecast logo on an album by a Swiss
musician, for Verve Forecast is the legendary American Verve label’s brand known for its crossover sound of folk, jazz, pop, rock, and experimental music. But Kurt Maloo, a native of Zurich, who now lives in Hamburg, is a citizen of the world, now in good company of such Verve Forecast artists as Jamie Cullum, Elvis Costello, Lizz Wright, Blues Traveler, and Susan Tedeschi. And his new solo album, Summer Of Better Times, is a timeless work.
In the 1980s, as one half of the brilliant pop duo Double, he coauthored and sang the most enduring hit Switzerland has ever produced: “The Captain of Her Heart.” His new songs are ebullient yet intimate, nostalgic yet forward-looking, with a classic flair. The velvety insistence of Maloo’s voice has grown in suggestiveness and seductiveness over the years. This is a mature album, marked by the cheerful nonchalance of a man with nothing more to prove but plenty left to tell.
In the mid 1970s, in Zurich, Kurt Maloo stood out not just as a singer and guitar player but as a painter and member of the Performance Art Group MAEZ, the predecessor of the nine piece art-punk cult band Troppo, Maloo’s first playground for his songwriting. In the late 1970s, he met drummer Felix Haug at a jam session. The chemistry was right: Maloo and Haug teamed up with bass player Hazel Pazzi to form a trio, Ping Pong.
Soon the group had outgrown the Zurich scene. They were feted at the Montreux Jazz Festival as the next Big Thing. Then the big thing turned into Double - as Haug and Maloo named their new project after Pazzi’s departure. Their debut album, Blue, became a bestseller first in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, then France, Italy, Spain, and Scandinavia, caught on in England, then the USA, Canada, and South America, finally reaching Asia and Oceania. Their hit single “The Captain of Her Heart” sold millions, and Double went on to sell a million copies of the album. To the industry’s bemusement, their second work was titled Dou3le - pronounced “double three.” Double never did the expected thing, and, after releasing Dou3le, Kurt and Felix were already going their separate ways. Sporadic later sessions never led to another joint album.
After the end of Double, Maloo needed a break, to come down to earth. He moved from Zurich to Paris, released a solo album, got married, had a daughter, moved from Paris to Hamburg, had a son, released another solo album. Between raising a family and writing songs, life went on.
“The Captain Of Her Heart” remains a firm favourite and is still part of Maloo’s live repertoire. Internationally the most successful Swiss song of all time, it has long been a radio standard from Canada to Kathmandu, and regularly makes it into the jazz and pop download charts throughout the world. The song captures the moment when a woman realizes she can no longer wait for the man who has won her heart, but must move on to a new life, “as the day comes up.” This melancholic optimism is central to both Maloo’s poetry and his music.
Poetry seems effortless in his small masterpieces, such as “Day of the Man with a Heart of Gold.” The songs always have a cineastic quality that conveys images to the inner eye and tells a story. A daydreamer since childhood, an accomplished painter, Maloo creates his songs out of sequences and pictures.
The songwriter, singer, and guitar player has recorded Summer Of Better Times in his Hamburg studio, with assiduous support from members of his live band. His Web links did their bit, too. Playing and singing along were violinist Maria Fausta Rizzo from Messina, and Putokazi, a dazzling female choir from Croatia. They have never met in person, but have exchanged digital files across the small world of the Internet. Why do total strangers spontaneously agree to work together, when Maloo approaches them for collaboration? They are fans of his songs.
Summer Of Better Times is a seamless whole: an unmistakable sound and an unmistakable voice, flattering and challenging, teasing and empowering at the same time. It’s not quite nu-jazz or pop or adult contemporary. It is Maloo - Kurt Maloo.
The title song of the new album is the stuff of classic blues. But Summer Of Better Times is not about bemoaning the past. “Summer,” to Maloo, means a moment charged with longing - it doesn’t have to be in the past; it may be yet to come.
In 2006, Maloo’s album Loopy Avenue explored the impact Double had had on him. Felix Haug had died unexpectedly of a heart attack two years earlier, in 2004. His death prompted Maloo to revisit the past twenty years and take a new look at his own work and that of Double. Loopy Avenue was a respectful flashback the artist needed to let go of the past. Now back fully in the here and now, he is looking ahead to an action-packed future as a musician.
Had Double adopted the cool exterior of the 1980s, the “Captain” might not have lasted for as long as it has. But there is a human understanding in the story it tells, which goes straight to the heart and has touched so many. Certainly there are the gentle, velvet echoes of the 1980s pop jazz in Summer Of Better Times, yet Kurt Maloo’s new songs are never cooled to the point of chill. The fire blazes on, warm and comforting. And his reflection, which keeps these new songs true to life, is always there, cheerful and gracious.
Now then, in 2011 we caught up with Kurt in Hamburg, Germany for an exclusive interview with one of thew worlds most talented Jazz pioneers of all time.
i:Vibes: Who were your early musical inspirations?
Kurt: I was very impressed by the innovative sounds of Miles Davis. He was the first guy that combined electronic music and jazz. I always loved his experimental approach. Before Miles I also liked the Rolling Stones, Beatles, or Jimi Hendrix. Jimi because of his guitar playing and singing, the Beatles because of their composing and the Rolling Stones because of their lifestyle.
i:Vibes: Herb Alpert also was a big influence for you.
Kurt: I heard his music at a very young age and it wasn´t until way later that I found out it was him. His music was a big part of my childhood. My mother used to listen to him on daytime radio. He always had incredible melodies. With the success of Double, we were able to meet him at the former Charlie Chaplin studios (now A&M Studions) in Los Angeles. He was cool and I remember him playing us his latest songs at that time. He told us it was great what we did with Double. When we were mixing our second album we asked him to play the piano part on “Devils Ball” on the trumpet and he immediately agreed. 10 years later I saw him at his concert again in Hamburg. He insisted that “Devils Ball” should have been a big hit and that it's a shame it wasn't. He obviously hates to lose.
i:Vibes: You are best remembered for the beautiful 80s ballad “The Captain of her heart”. Were you surprised that it became a hit?
Kurt: No one expected this to be a hit. In the 80s songs had to be danceable. It was a ballad and nobody thought it would get airplay on the radios and sure not be played at the clubs. We didn´t even want to release it as a single, wanted to release “I know a place”, but the secretaries at the label were always humming “Captain of her heart” and the A&R guy thought maybe they should release it after all. They released it and the breakthrough came with the national tv show Bananas. The show was on at 18:00 on Saturdays and the response was so good that people started buying the single the following Monday like crazy. We were selling 6,000 records a day. Later it was in the charts in 52 countries. Surprisingly in Switzerland, our homeland, our Album Blue was more successful reaching #2 in the charts while Captain of her heart was only at #11. People bought the album and then didn´t need to buy the single anymore. The track was most successful in the UK, United States, Brazil and Italy. When we were on promo tour in the US, we even got an offer to play on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, but we had to play live and couldn´t get a band together within one week time.
i:Vibes: What was the reason behind the song Captain of her heart? It seems like it has to do with a man waiting to long to get the girl?
Kurt: I don´t really know why I wrote it. I felt like a ghost writer, because it had nothing to do with my life. It was a fantasy and the song just came to me. Waiting for a man is universal, but the interesting moment is when she stops waiting another day.
i:Vibes: Why do you think “The Captain Of her Heart” was so loved ?
Kurt: I guess it's a combination of many things that fell in place. The theme of the song, that seems to touch many women's hearts, because they've experienced this situation I'm singing about. Then the combination of a very catchy piano melody and the moody atmosphere of the arrangement, that make the song so appealing. My voice, that seems to be perfect for the song. I don't know....the song has been covered many times, even by great singers like Randy Crawford, but never lived up to the success of the original.
i:Vibes: Why was there never a tour supporting the 1985 Blue album and the success of “Captain of her heart”?
Kurt: We had no tour, because we didn´t find the time since we were being plowed by the success of Captain of her heart. We did so much promotion for radio and TV, it was like a snowball effect. We first started with promotion in Germany and Switzerland where the song took off first and then moved with the success of the hit from country to country. Nobody really came upon the idea that we were only two guys either. The album cover shows four people, twice Felix and twice me. But we were only the two of us and didn't have a band at the time to play live.
i:Vibes: What is the most bizarre story you can say about your track “Captain of her heart”?
Kurt: There are so many. I created a section on the DoubleCity website, called “rewind”, where people could
write me stories about the first time that they heard the song and what it meant in their life. For example one woman from England heard the Captain of Her Heart in her car while driving along the coastline in Norway and drifting off the road. She had a very bad accident and had health problems for many years, but she said that it wasn´t my fault (laughing) and that she wanted to come to one of my concerts to meet me. It is really amazing how many people remember the song. One guy wrote me and said that if he had had heard the song earlier, he would have had nine kids instead of four kids. It is always great when people write me saying that they are on vacation on Barbados or in Brazil and are hearing Captain of her heart somewhere on the radio.
i:Vibes: “Captain of her heart has been your biggest hit
Kurt: As long as the sun is shining you can't see the stars. Captain of her heart was so successful it's hard to top and it still shines brighter than all the other songs I've written, although there are many pearls among them.
i:Vibes: Your follow up to Blue was DOU3LE (pronounced Double Three). Why did you call the album this and why wasn´t it as big as the Blue album?
Kurt: We thought of it as our third album because it took so long to make it. It's not my favourit album. The
album isn't homogeneous. Everybody was doing his own thing and we were about to split up over the recording process. Our single “Devils Ball” was a big accident. It wasn´t a hit, because the guy that played the electric violin couldn´t play the theme on the accoustic violin. I wanted an accustic violin, but in the end we went with the electric violin and a free interpretation of the lead theme. I didn´t want this and I knew it wasn't good for the song, so I asked Herb Alpert who owned A&M Records to play the main melody on the trumpet, but in the end the violin survived along with the trumpet. The label wasn't happy, because we had a hit, but radio stations didn´t play it, because it was too experimental sounding. It was a minor hit in England though. I recently made a new edit for “Devils Ball” with a
new chorus at the end. Maybe I will release it.
i:Vibes: Double broke up in 1989. What were the main reasons for the split?
Kurt: We finished with only two albums Blue and DOU3LE. We started working on the third album, but
musical differences kept popping up between Felix Haug and me. He wanted to do more film music like soundscapes and I wanted to make 4 minute pop songs. We moved away from each other musically since I lived in Paris and Felix still in Zurich. Despite the split, we stayed friends. We decided to go in the studio again in the late 90s. We went to Can Studio in Cologne and recorded 9 new tracks. We were happy with the product, but it wasn´t enough for an album. We left the album on ice and then decided to finish the album in 2003, but Felix then died in 2004 of a heart attack. I always thought that the material has to be released. I gave the result of this late Double session to Pit Baumgartner of De-Phazz and he remixed a few songs. I included them in my 2006 album Loopy Avenue.
i:Vibes: What do you miss the most from the 80s?
Kurt: I miss the light heartedness of the 80s. You could have fun and not everything was seen as negative right away. I have to say I don´t really miss the music so much. I was more into fusion and acid jazz. I liked people like Sade, Style Council and the Fine Young Cannibals. I was never into the hair bands.
i:Vibes: You have lived in many cities. Has it been weird producing your music in so many places. How has it influenced you to make your music?
Kurt: I have always done my own thing no matter if I was in Zurich, Paris or Hamburg. There is no difference. I also was never really living in that city when I was making a record. When I was living in Paris, I recorded in London. Also when I was living in Paris, I was making an album in Cologne. The last record I made was in Hamburg and probably the only one recorded in the same city I was living at the time.
i:Vibes: Your last record was Summer of better times in 2009. How was this album made?
Kurt: I did that album all alone and it was recorded in my bedroom. I had a collaboration with a Croatian choir and a violinist from Sicily, Italy. I had contacted them over Myspace and exchanged files over the internet. Never met them in person though. I start an album and I want it to sound a certain way but then in the end it sounds like Kurt Maloo. It's always the same. I can't escape my style. This is more an acoustic album and probably the jazziest album I ever did.
i:Vibes: Are you already thinking of new ideas for a new album?
Kurt: I am taking it easy. An album finds me. When I get ideas, then I get forced to do something. I don´t want to be forced to do something. I once had an 11 years break between the albums Soul & Echo and Loopy Avenue, although I don't want to wait that long again. I would like to go on tour. I have a good catalogue of songs. At the moment I am working on a multi media show project in Hamburg.
i:Vibes: If you had the chance to work with an artist who would it be?
Kurt: Tommy LiPuma who produced all the big jazz records.
i:Vibes: What is your opinion of pop music today?
Kurt: I think that there is a lot of good music today. I like Amy Winehouse....how sad and what a waste of talent....and I like James Blake or Frank Ocean...there are so many. What strikes me is that big selling acts these days make boring music, worse than ever, while many independent artists on the other side make interesting and exciting songs, that only have to be discovered.