The rise, fall & rebirth of

Mattias Huss

The story of Camouflage is the perfect Hollywood rags to riches tale - it goes from nothing to top twenty hits and international fame in the blink of an eye. But like any success story, there is a price to be paid, a price so high that it nearly destroyed the band and gave the story a sad ending.
Now hear the story, from the mouths of three wizened wonder boys. Once upon a time, in a small city called Bietigheim-Bissingen…

A new beginning
In the 2003 movie ”Verschwende deine Jugend”, we are transported back to Germany 1981, where the 19-year old bank trainee Harry makes a pilgrimage to the big city to watch DAF perform. Afterwards he buys a cheap toy synthesizer, pushes the keys and marvels at the sounds they make on the train home.
- At that time we were taking dancing lessons, recalls Heiko Maile. It was standard dancing like waltz. It’s kind of embarrassing, but, you know, until the end of the eighties it was still common to take theses dancing lessons at the age of 15 or so. We didn’t grow up in big town, so it was the first the first contact with dancing for us. You met girls. It was just for fun.
In the same building where Heiko, as well as Oliver Kreyssig and Marcus Meyn - later the singer of the band - took their first nervous dance steps, a club was held in the weekends.
- And at this club, Heiko goes on, the DJ:s played the greatest music of this time. They were music collectors; they bought records as imports from Canada and all over the world, to play the latest shit there. So, this was really the time when we got real contact with the new music from around the world.

From AC/DC to The Human League
Heiko had taken classical guitar lessons as a child and mostly listened to AC/DC. The experience of hearing ”New Life” by Depeche Mode and songs by The Human League and DAF on the same club night was a wondrous revelation, forever changing the direction of his life as well as the trio’s. In the following years, long hours were spent toiling in factories during school holidays, all to earn money for synthesizers to form the only group in Bietigheim with their own band T-shirts. Heiko:
- You mention DAF. I was a big fan of their music. I think Oliver and I, we walked down by the river somewhere in our hometown and I said to him: “What they can do, at least we could do the same or something similar. We just need a drumbox and one synthesizer.” And that was the equipment we started with.
If dancing was unfamiliar to the young trio, so was playing any musical instruments, excluding only Heiko's rudimentary guitar skills.
- We never learned to play any instruments, says Marcus Meyn. I never learned playing keyboards, none of us did. We had a fourth member in the beginning that was a professional though; he learned playing the piano. But he was the only on who could do it, like this (shows ten fingers). We others just did it by trial and error, you know, with three fingers.
- That guy wasn’t really interested. He wanted to hang out with friends and things like that; not sit in a studio programming. We’re still good friends, though. He’s a lawyer. He’s my lawyer, Heiko says.

The new punk
The synthesizer was making way for the new punk. There is no other way of putting it. If punk was concerned with three simple chords and three simple people with no musical background, the new wave of synthesizer music was the same, minus guitars and even drummers. It was just as radical a change as punk used to be, and it met with as many prejudices.
- We were the only ones doing this in our area, the Stuttgart area, at the time. When we told people we were making music without guitars, they couldn’t believe it. It can’t be serious, they said, it’s not rock music. And you have to see this dimension, how this kind of music was perceived back then. No feeling, no art, nothing. Cold electronics.
But unlike many bands fascinated with the mechanised, inhuman qualities of electronic music, Camouflage were always striving for a warm, passionate sound. The Depeche Mode influences constantly and clearly audible on Camouflage tracks aren’t there by accident - Camouflage, like Depeche Mode, always put songwriting first. Only when a strong melodic frame has been established, is there room for experimenting. Camouflage even claim to enjoy Kraftwerk, the band mainly responsible for the public view that electronic music is cold and machine-like, for their warmth.
- Everyone loved Kraftwerk back then of course, says Marcus. We all know about ”The Robots” and so on, but I think at the time when we started listening to electronic music, for us it was ”Computer Liebe” - “Computer Love”. The other stuff was interesting too, but on that album, ”Computer World”, you have a really warm, melodic, harmonic sound, and that was a very big influence on us.

Alphaville and Boytronic
Around Stuttgart, Camouflage may have been the first group making this particular type of synthesizer pop music. But unknown to them at the time; they were not alone in Germany.
- I remember the first time we heard about Alphaville, Heiko laughs. We had just played our first or second concert, and suddenly we realized that there is a band on a TV-show called Alphaville and we just couldn’t believe it ‘cause we were so naive - we thougth we were the only ones doing music like that. I think we even spoke about how it was ”senseless to go further now” because there is already a band like that. And of course there was Boytronic as well, who already had a big hit one year before our first single came out.
To start with, Oliver was the chief of promotion in the band, diligently sending demos to addresses he had found in music magazines. He also sent a package to a legendary radio show over in another part of Germany called ”Songs from Synthesizer”. One day someone finally called him, at his parents place, saying the magic words: ”I heard your song on the radio, and there is a record company who’s interested in you”. Oliver Kreyssig is not likely to forget this.
- I couldn’t believe it. But I called Heiko immediately. That was a small label called West Side, they invited us over, and a few weeks later, we met. We played our demo, and they gave us a contract.
- I think they thought we were quite professional, says Heiko, because we were really calm, and we didn’t say that much. But the moment they left the room we were like YES! YES! And when they came back in it was like, hrmm, we were totally serious again!
- It was a lot of fun, Marcus says, ’cause we had a song called ”Suddenly Went Away” that later would become ”The Great Commandment”. During the meeting with the record company I don’t know how many times we played the song to them, just in the backgroud, saying something like, yeah, um, I think this could be a good single...

It’s all about the first single
”The Great Commandment” would change everything. From practically nowhere, Camouflage crashed headfirst into the German charts in 1987, and remained there by delivering a string of hit singles including ”Stranger’s Thoughts” (1988) and ”Love Is a Shield” (1989). Thanks to the efforts of American college radio, international recognition soon followed, and the success was perhaps too quick and too massive for a couple of naive young men from a small town. In workaholic tempo, two albums, ”Voices and Images”(1988) and ”Methods of Silence”(1989) were produced and the pressure on the group grew in force and became constraining. After the second album, Oliver Kreyssig simply had it with Camouflage. He bailed out. Suddenly went away.
- It wasn’t easy, explains Oliver. The band changed. We changed. The success came very fast. We were together all the time, in the studio. Together 16 hours a day, doing promos and things like that. There were little problems and they grew bigger and bigger. So, one day the consequence of it all was to say OK, that’s it.
The bubble of success gradually deflated in Oliver’s absence. Heiko Maile and Marcus Meyn recorded three albums on their own, but public interest had faded and the record company no longer even bothered with releasing their albums abroad. The success and what it brought had somehow drained the band. Something was missing, Heiko thought.
- It sounds a bit romantic, but we really used to sit in the studio and say: “Oli” would love this song, or “Oli” would really like this. And we still met him now and then. To be honest, it was not easy for us to be selling less and less records. I mean, you are still working full time with the project. And at the end, you have to realise that you can’t spend years in the studio and get no money out of it. So, we had to react and sort out what we could do.

From musicians to record label people
After the last album as a duo, ”Spice Crackers” (1995), was finished, Camouflage took a break. Marcus moved away from Hamburg where they both were living, and for two years, he and Heiko scarcely met. Like Oliver, Marcus worked at a record company, while Heiko kept himself busy writing music for advertisements.
- After a while we decided that we needed to talk about the future of the band, Marcus says. Eventually, the decision was to try it all over again, but only on the condition that the basis would be the same as when we started the band. It would have to be about friendship, fun and music. This was really a kind of new start for us. And one part of this new start was to ask “Oli” to come back to the band.
The new start brought many changes. As record company people, both Oliver and Marcus had gathered enough experience of the music industry not to accept any bullshit when it came to the business side of the band. Creatively, the focus was changed from Heiko as the creative center to a more democratic working order with three songwriters.
In light of these reforms, hopes were high for their next musical love child, named ”Sensor” long before they made the album or even found a record company for it. But the birth of ”Sensor” would prove long and painful.
The idea was to use three separate production teams for the album. Considerable sums of money were paid to enlist the aid of well-known Brits Rob Kirwan and the production team TOY, with German producer Humate as the third part. To solve the problem of geographic distance, a web site was set up where new versions of the tracks could be uploaded and heard by everyone involved. The idea was grand, and in retrospect, it seems foolhardy, but nonetheless work commenced.
Kirwan proved to be a charming fellow. And musically completely unsuitable for Camouflage. Then under mystical circumstances TOY, who worked on Depeche Mode’s ”Ultra” and must have been high on Camouflage’s wish list, suddenly jumped the ship. Heiko seems almost pained by the subject.
- We had really fought for them. We had a good start. It’s hard for a German record company to pay a British producer; the prices are triple to those in Germany. But we said OK, we won’t use any material produced by them.
In the end, all the work was done with Humate in Hamburg, and with the pre-production fiasco included, it took about a year.
- The funny thing is that we thought the three teams would be a great way to get a record made in less time, says Marcus. And at the end of the day, it took us one year, and a lot of stress, a lot of discussions and a lot of money for the record company. They don’t forget to remind us how much money they spent on the project.

One step back, two steps forward?
When ”Sensor” finally saw the light of day, some of the songs were several years old and had been played live, leading to speculation among some fans that ”Sensor” had been finished for a long time but that the band has been forced to wait four years to release it. But the actual production only started in 2002. Before that, Camouflage used the name ”Sensor” in various contexts, such as to name concerts, for no other reason than to keep their focus and put pressure on themselves to actully complete the ambition to record the album.
- The name ”Sensor” is about the music we are making, says Oliver, which is electronic music and the kind of songs and lyrics, the atmosphere. You have electronic music and a kind of sensual or sensitive theme, so we thought this is perfect, and it sounds good and international. Since we used the name for so long, we already had a kind of feel, or atmosphere of ”Sensor” before making the album.
The warm atmospheres and strong choruses of the finished album hearken back to a younger Camouflage and a younger synthpop scene, as if the band were reaching back, searching for the secret of their past success. ”Sensor” undeniably contains a couple of strong, if not original (the Depeche Mode influences on the album occasionally border on song theft) singles, especially ”Me and You” and ”I Can’t Feel You”. Can these songs pull Camouflage out of obscurity once more? Nothing is certain. And Camouflage, apprehensive after all the hardship, are a lot more humble today.
- We started in Germany with a top 20 single, Marcus remembers. Suddenly you had lot of people around you. Management, tour management. Big companies, and they organised everything for you. We didn’t recognise that much how it works. And now we have learned a lot and see things differently. Now we haven’t got a top 20 single and we have to work from this position. But we know that people are still interested to see us live, in Sweden or in America. And now we are playing in Sweden because we are releasing our record in Sweden. With our old management, we would never have gone here without major record sales in advance.
- In a way, how we are now is a mixture of almost the same spirit as we had at the beginning and the knowledge we have from all these years, Heiko summarises. On one hand, we are open-minded like 20 years ago, on the other hand, we know exactly what's going on.