Rodney Orpheus (vocals, vocoder, synthesisers, drum machines) from The Cassandra Complex
The new album by THE CASSANDRA COMPLEX has been eagerly awaited. On May 6th, 2022, the time has come: ‘The Plague’ will be released. It is the first new album in 22 years and it definitely has what it takes to become a classic: THE CASSANDRA COMPLEX remains true to their unmistakable style and combine electronic elements with rocking guitars and fast punky rhythms with dark gothic elements. I had the opportunity to talk to the charismatic frontman Rodney Orpheus about ‘The Plague’ as well as the history of THE CASSANDRA COMPLEX, their musical development and Rodney’s most important musical influences.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: First of all: Congratulations! You founded the band in 1982 - that means 40 years of THE CASSANDRA COMPLEX. How does it feel?
Rodney: Horrible! Horrifying! I hadn’t realised that it’s forty years. It never even striked me that it is forty years now. It seems like a huge long time. Oh my god! But okay, forty years and we still make a new record.
RoD: ‘The Plague’ is the first new album of THE CASSANDRA COMPLEX in 22 years. What have you and the other band members been doing in all these years?
Rodney: Well, we’ve all been in the music business, all the four of us, all the time. We haven’t been making records with THE CASSANDRA COMPLEX, but we’re all in the business. Andy Booth is a music business lawyer, Volker Zacharias does music business marketing, and Axel Ermes does a lot of other productions and mixings for many other bands. I can say that he did mixings for almost every German indie band! I worked for software and video companies; I create technology. If you look in any recording studio anywhere there is a very good chance that they are using some technology that I was involved with. Or for example CHILDISH GAMBINO performed at the O2 arena and the entire show was running on technology that I invented. There are lot more examples, from CELINE DION to DRAKE or other others artists - the four of us have always been involved with music.
RoD: How has the band changed or developed musically in the past years, from the eighties to the present day?
Rodney: Technically I am much more professional than I was in the beginning. I never had any musical training; I just went along. So now we all know a lot more technical things than we did at the beginning. But from an attitude point of view, I don’t think there is a big difference. People used to say “you’re so punky, so political and aggressive, but when you get older you will be more mellow…” - that’s bullshit! If you listen to the new album, you can hear that it still sounds very vibrant. And when people see us live on stage, they will still see a great live band, even after forty years.
RoD: Do you consider the new album as a new start with THE CASSANDRA COMPLEX or does the story just continue after a break?
Rodney: People have been asking us that question with every new record we did - because our line-up changed several times, and we always tried not to do the same things over and over again. But making this record was hard in some ways because we had spent a lot of time without making an own record, we’ve always made records for other people. Every time we make a record is like we are carrying a big rucksack on our back. Your history is like a big rucksack. And every time you make something good it’s like putting a big stone in your rucksack. So, your past weighs you down and you are always trying to do something better. Each record becomes another stone in your rucksack, it gets harder and harder to make something original because you have done so much before. And so, there was a lot of effort to get started with the record. But once we started working. And the pandemic was a good thing in some ways, because I couldn’t go anywhere. My studio is in my house so I could work there. I couldn’t do anything else anyway.
RoD: The album was made during the pandemic. Does the title ‘The Plague’ have anything to do with it? Or what does it refer to?
Rodney: Yes, we called the album ‘The Plague’ because we worked on it all the way through the pandemic. Ironically from a practical point of view it should have made things harder because I live in London right now, Andy Booth lives in Manchester, Volker Zacharias and Axel Ermes live in Hamburg. So, we are in three different cities and in two different countries. But we used all the technology like video conferences and social media all the time, we talked every day with each other and they sent me their stuff. So, it became a very technically process of working together. Even if we actually never saw each other in person and we never were in the same room, we worked together all the time. Only some songs were recorded before the pandemic when we were in Hamburg. Ironically the whole album was much more a group effort than before. That’s interesting.
RoD: What did the pandemic do to you personally?
Rodney: I got Covid at the very beginning. It was really bad. So, the first time of the pandemic was horrible for me. I was pretty sick. But I am lucky having a nice house here in London, I have my studio, so it wasn’t really a problem. It was much easier for me than for most people. But we couldn’t play any concerts of course, so that really hurt us financially.
RoD: Would the album have been different if it hadn't been made during the pandemic?
Rodney: No, I don’t think so. I wrote most of the lyrics before the pandemic started. The last song we wrote is the first song on the album, ‘Hotline To Elvis’. That song is written during the pandemic.
RoD: What is the story behind ‘Hotline To Elvis’?
Rodney: It has to do with QAnon and other conspiracies. There were people on TV, right wing people in America, who distributed their conspiracy theories. And since Elvis died there always have been those conspiracy theories as well. They say “he never died; he is actually alive”. I was thinking about that and I remember that there even used to be a hotline where you could call up and report if you saw Elvis! So, I looked in the internet and I found the little snippet in the advertising “call 1900909 ELVIS” - and that was a real tv advert! So, I wrote the song, because there are always those dumb conspiracies. That’s what the song is about actually.
RoD: ‘The Crown Lies Heavy On The King’, for example, is a very political song referring to Donald Trump. ‘The Best Thing’ is a love song. What inspired you to the different lyrics?
Rodney: We had the beautiful and romantic music for a song and I wanted to write a love song. But writing a good love song is really hard because it’s very hard not to make it sound like a stupid cliché. I was in the studio, it was a warm summer’s day, and I looked out of the window and saw my wife working in the garden. The music was playing in the background and so I just started singing the lyrics. It was literally what just happened at that moment. Technically I could sing it better but I kept the original, because I wanted to keep the honesty of that moment. That’s how ‘The Best Thing’ came about.
RoD: If you listen to the finished album now, how would you describe the mood of it?
Rodney: Many people asked us that question and some people criticized us for making albums that are very mixed and have many different moods and styles on it. But people are complicated. You don’t just think about one thing all the time. We never had the feeling that we should limit ourselves to one idea. The world is a big place and the human psyche is a very complicated thing. So, it is very mixed, like humans are.
RoD: THE CASSANDRA COMPLEX consists of four band members. Who gives which influence in the music?
Rodney: I write the lyrics and I am the band director. Like the director of a movie. So, I think most of the emotional impact is from me. But at the same time each of us gives his own something in it. I could say, they are like the actors and I am the director.
RoD: If you look back at the past decades - which artists and bands were and are the most important influences for THE CASSANDRA COMPLEX?
Rodney: We all are huge fans of music, there so many influences. If you talk to any of us about music, we can sit there all day long and talk about records. So of course, there is a huge influence. For me personally I would mention THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, THE BEACH BOYS, PINK FLOYD, LED ZEPPELIN, SEX PISTOLS, RAMONES, KRAFTWERK, TANGERINE DREAM, PROPAGANDA, DAF… there a so many, I am sure I could name you a hundred more in the next five minutes!
RoD: What music do you listen to privately today, what inspires you and helps you to come down?
Rodney: For example, THE BLUE NILE, one of the greatest bands ever. And I still listen to TANGERINE DREAM, they never get old! But there is so much stuff I listen to at the moment… a huge range of stuff.
RoD: The music scene has changed a lot; everything has become more digital. Especially young people don't buy records or CDs, but stream everything online. What do you think about that?
Rodney: I wrote an essay about the history of digital music. The thing is that record companies and fans made a huge mistake. In the sixties, the seventies and in the eighties, they thought that music and records are the same thing. But: Music and records are not the same thing. A record is just a thing that carries music. Record companies thought they were selling music and people thought they were buying music, but they weren’t! They just sold and bought records. I remember when iTunes first came out. And I remember record companies gave Steve Jobs thirty percent from the proceeds. I remember people saying that nobody would buy digital music or care about it anyway. How stupid they were! Of course, people did care about it. The thing is people never cared about the record, but they cared about the music. Music was before records were invented and music is still there now that records are obsolete. It’s just about the music, and that’s fine. I just care about making music and people hearing it. It’s the song and the emotion that counts. Not if it’s digital or on vinyl.
RoD: Now the first gigs are coming up, you will play some festivals. Currently confirmed are New Waves Day, M’era Luna and NCN Festival. How much are you looking forward to presenting the new songs live?
Rodney: We love to play live. Everybody who saw us live can confirm that. It’s always a great experience. We really missed it a lot! I especially want to play the new songs, so we have a big discussion which songs we will play. If it’s up to me we would play the whole new album. But people want to hear some of the old songs as well, of course. But on a festival, we usually only play 45 or 50 minutes. Actually, we could play five hours! So, we try to figure out which new songs we will play. The biggest problem is which songs not to play. But at NCN Festival we will have about 90 minutes, so there we can play more songs.
RoD: Where would you like to perform, where you have never played before?
Rodney: We never played Glastonbury in the UK, so I would like to play there for example. Or maybe Coachella in the USA. But I don’t care about the name of the festival I just care about the people. I just like to play for people. I don’t’ care if it is a big or a small festival or a club night or whatever.
RoD: You have also used the last months in other ways, for example you are politically active. Can you tell me about that?
Rodney: Yes, I am the Green Party candidate in my constituency. I haven’t a chance of winning, because the area where I live the Green Party has no chance to win. But the party asked me to stand and to represent them. So, I did! I am very environmentally conscious so I have been a supporter of the Green Party for years. And I think it is important to engage. There a so many stupid people in politics who don’t realize that there a stupid - and they win! And so many smart people who don’t stand for election because they don’t dare, they have self-doubts. We need more people in politics, especially young people, it’s really important. You have to stand up and make yourself heard!
RoD: A very good conclusion - thank you very much for the interview!
Live pictures by Daniela Vorndran, other pictures by Rodney Orpheus