Last week Dark Entries re-issued the eponymous 1981 debut album by STARTER, a Swiss Wave band featuring Claudine Chirac of Grauzone and designer/lead singer Francis Foss! Dark Entries conducted an interview with Francis last week and this is what he had to say:
Dark Entries: Can you tell us a little bit about growing up in Switzerland and your earliest musical memories?
Francis Foss: I remember at the age of about 14 or 16 listening to the Beatles and the Stones, and all the 60ies-beatnik-stuff like the Kinks, the Bee Gees and many more. I was very happy when Punk started and New Wave. That was so refreshing for me. I think it was the great synthesizer-sound of Gary Numan that pushed me to rent a Roland synthesizer and a CR-78 drum-machine that looked like a cube. I didn’t have the money so I had to rent it. I met friends like Stephan Eicher and Jet Harbour who were also very impressed by the sounds and we formed a band. Jet bought himself some Korg-synthies.
DE: When did you form the band and where did the name STARTER come from?
FF: We started to compose songs in 1980. I thought STARTER is a great name, because it’s the little “thing” that makes a neon sign get really a bright light. I was a fan of this new neon light, which I also placed in my apartment. With the demo-tape we found producer Peter Mc Taggart who liked the completely new sound, at least new for him. And with his production we got a record-contract with a new record-label in Hamburg, called Repertoire Records.
DE: How did you meet the other members and form the band?
FF: I had a small clothing shop selling clothes for Punks and New Wavers, there I met Jet and Stephan. By the time Claudine Chirac joined the little group with her saxophone.
DE: Do you remember the set up and equipment for recording the songs from the STARTER LP?
FF: I just remember my Rolands and the Korgs from Jet. There must have been one or two more. Stephan Eicher left us just before going to the studio to record a solo album. He is now a huge star in Switzerland and also very big in France. Happily we are still good friends. We meet usually back-stage when he is on tour, or when he visits his parents at Christmas.
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DE: Their have been multiple Swiss Wave compilations over the years, what do you think caused this rich and talented culture?
FF: You are right. Probably because that was a time when you could easily make some music. I never had studied any music, and we were just fascinated about the sound of these new instruments. Well, Jet and Stephan played also some guitar. Other kids saw that (almost) everybody can make a band, so we did it too.
DE: Were there any differences in the music scenes throughout the various cities of Switzerland (Zurich, Bern, Geneva, Basel) in the 1980s?
FF: At that time I was more interested in bands who there making music out of synthesizers, than all the punk-bands with guitar, bass and a human drum. I was definitely more into machines. From all the punk-bands I preferred Kleenex (they had later to chance the name into Liliput), because it was a all-girls-group, that was rather exotic. But with my friends we went to many concerts of all these bands, because that was the opportunity to dance pogo and going crazy. We took my old Renault 5 and drove to Zurich, Basel and Lausanne. Geneva was too far away.
DE: STARTER only released one LP as a trio and then became a duo, what happened?
FF: There was a difference between Jet and Claudine, compared with me. When the sun was shining, they didn’t want to go down into the cellar to compose new songs. I never give a fuck about the weather. I always have a goal, then I go for it, and nothing should stop me. That’s why my little shop of 40m2 I started in 1977 is now quite big (http://www.olmo.ch) and still makes me happy. So we split in peace and I met Reto Keller aka Gary Gray. Now we had better machines, we bought ourselves an Atari.
DE: As a duo STARTER produced moved into Italo Disco/Hi-NRG sounds, was this a conscious decision?
FF: Ok, that’s the only point in my music-history, I will not call it career, I regret. Reto and I should have continued like we started with “Victim”. Unfortunately I couldn’t work with the computer, so Reto did the music. But I liked what he did. We were influenced by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and the Pet Shop Boys and Reto wanted to reach for the charts. I think that was maybe a mistake. But anyway, we made some nice songs together and had a lot of fun. That’s what its all about. If I remember as a young fellow I always wanted to make a record and be on TV and I did it, more or less all on my own. “With a little help of my friends” I forgot… and I always loved to sing!!!
DE: I first heard your music on a CD-R that re-issued all the STARTER material and was shocked at how modern it sounded. How did you create this sound?
FF: Maybe it’s because with the instruments we had, we couldn’t do it better. But also because we liked it so reduced. I recently got the test-pressing of the re-issue and I was listening to the STARTER record again, and I was quite impressed. Yes, it’s quite modern, and I still like it.
DE: A DVD-R of STARTER music video clips was released along with the CD-R in 2004 and showcases your sense of fashion, can you tell us about your 80s style?
FF: With my clothes-shop and all the friends at this time, we were really crazy about dressing up. Later I had my hair like Robert Smith from The Cure, as you can see in the clips. After New Wave there was the Gothic style, New Romantic, Pirate style and other influences. Thank you Malcom McLaren!
DE: Can you describe your most memorable/favorite live concert?
FF: Oh my God! That was in front of 5,000 people. It was a disco-festival at the Festhalle in Berne, and we were one of the main acts. That was great, especially the food and the drinks backstage after the gig. The crowd was fully into it. They screamed and had a lot of fun. Reto and I dressed completely in white, and we had two beautiful girls as backup singers. Still people remind me of that show, after so many years.
DE: How do you feel about the renewed interest in your earlier music?
FF: Thanks to the internet and Youtube a lot of people see and hear our music. I’m grateful and happy about that. That’s the place to thank you Josh for your great work you do for the reissue of Starter after 30 years (the LP was released August 1, 1981).
DE: What music are you currently listening to these days?
FF: Well, the album by Hurts I bought this year, their first, because it reminds me a little of our sound. Of course they do it much better. But I also like the great voice of Adele, it looks everybody does. Then I like Keane, they play piano instead of a guitar. And I love Muse, maybe the best group in the world.
DE: What are your current projects and plans for the future?
FF: I still work at Olmo (http://www.olmo.ch) and I am the manager and producer of a musician named Adrian Zaar. It’s relatively new and we have just started looking for a record company. I like his music because he is also very influenced by the 80s. He only plays synthesizers and has a great voice. He sings in German. If you like STARTER you will love ZAAR. Check www.adrianzaar.com and watch the video of “Warten” and the songs “Liebling” and “Taxi”. Maybe somebody can help us find a label for his music. He deserves it.
Thanks Josh for your time and the interview.