Interview with Kurt Maloo of Double

(This interview was originally published June 21, 2013 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)  

When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.

This time that awesomeness is Kurt Maloo. Americans might be most familiar with him as half of the Swiss music duo Double (pronounced Doo-Blay). Maloo (vocals, guitar) and Felix Haug (drums, keyboards) formed Double in 1983 and are best known for their 1986 hit single “The Captain of Her Heart“. I have always been fond of this underrated gem, but Double is generally considered a one-hit-wonder especially in the U.S. though Maloo has gone on to continue his career as a solo artist. Find out about him, Double’s big hit single and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Kurt Maloo

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? When and how did you get your own start in the music industry? Please tell us a little about what you did earlier in your career prior to Double.

KurtI started to play the guitar at the age of eleven and later performed with school bands on young talent festivals. After a short career as a painter I founded the art-punk group Troppo in 1976 and decided to spend all my creativity then on writing songs instead of torturing canvases. In the early '80s, I had a trio called Ping Pong where I was the singer, songwriter and guitarist. We toured in Europe, released an album and finally played at the famous Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982.

Q: How did Double come to be?

KurtAfter the bass player of Ping Pong left the trio, Felix Haug (the drummer) and I looked at each other and saw Double. The concept of doubling ourselves and appearing as four people like on the album cover of Blue evolved later, since we already had released three maxi singles prior to our first album.

Q: Please take us back to when “The Captain of Her Heart” was written and recorded. What is the back story about how that particular song was conceived and written? What inspired the lyrics?

KurtWhen we were in the studio recording our first album Blue, Felix played a demo tape he had made a few months before. There was this catchy melody played by an Oberheim synthesizer, very '80s style. I was hooked immediately and couldn’t get the lick out of my head. We weren’t sure about the final instrumentation yet as we started to record the basic tracks and the engineer suggested that we play the melody first on a grand piano and then decide later on the final sound. Felix played it thinking it was just a guide track for my vocals. It was a first take and I had trouble convincing him later to leave it on tape just the way it was.

I wrote the lyrics to the playback in no time in the studio. Like a ghost writer. They were just there out of the blue. It was almost spooky. I never thought the lyrics would touch so many hearts around the world and I’m still overwhelmed from all the positive feedback I get through the internet.

The Captain of Her Heart” was released as a single in 1986 and went on to become a worldwide hit. It reached the Top 15 in Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Austria and the UK before eventually peaking at #16 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #4 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts. The song was co-written by Maloo and Haug about a girl realizing that she can no longer wait for the guy who has won her heart and she must move on. The wonderful piano-led ballad also features a smooth saxophone solo by Christian Ostermeier and has gone on to become the most enduring pop hit to come out of Switzerland. I really relate to what Stewart Mason, a journalist for AllMusic, said about the song calling it “one of the great lost one hit wonders of the 80s” and stating that “the Swiss duo never managed to capitalize on this song’s casual sophistication and melodic grace, but it remains a glorious anomaly.” That sweet piano lick does stick in your head (in a good way). Here is the U.S. version of the music video for “The Captain of Her Heart” by Double

Q: Did you have any feeling that “The Captain of Her Heart” was going to be something special when you wrote or recorded it? What were your feelings about the song when you first released it? What changed for you after this song’s international success and a breakthrough into the U.S. market?

KurtI felt the song was something special, but never thought of it as a single just like no one else did at the time. When the album was ready, “I Know A Place” was the favorite for the first single, because there were no ballads on the radio that year and “I Know A Place” was the most 80s sounding song on the album. But when the secretaries at the record company started to whistle the piano melody of “The Captain of Her Heart” in the hallways, the A&R started to finally realize the hit potential of the song. It became a hit in Germany first, although the album entered the charts a few weeks earlier. Then all the European countries followed and finally the U.S. where we had chosen to go with Herb Alpert’s A&M Records instead of Polydor which was our company for the rest of the world.

Our lives changed drastically. We were on a promotional tour for more than a year and hardly found time to write new songs for a second album. The album got released worldwide and “The Captain of Her Heart” hit the charts in more than 50 countries. It became a million-seller soon and we were busy hopping from one radio station to the other recording things like: “Hi we’re Double and you’re listening to …. in Albuquerque” although we were in the studio of a big radio network in Los Angeles or New York City, the only two U.S. cities we actually saw on our promotion tour.

Q: Any other interesting stories or details regarding writing, recording or performing “The Captain of Her Heart”?

KurtLater when “The Captain of Her Heart” became a million-seller I asked Felix what had inspired him to come up with a melody like that. He said he was sitting at his piano in his apartment on a sunny day in spring, windows wide open. On a near tree outside there was a blackbird singing the first two notes of the melody repeatedly. He caught the notes… E…G…E…G…E…G… and started to jam to the blackbird’s singing until he had that final lick that sticks like glue once you’ve heard it.

Q: What are your feelings regarding “The Captain of Her Heart” now 27 years later?

KurtIt’s an old companion that opened so many doors for me and I’m still thankful it came into my life.

Q: You created a very cool video for “Devils Ball” in 1987. Who came up with that concept and what do you remember about creating that video? How about your videos for “The Captain of Her Heart”?

KurtI wanted the “Devils Ball” video to be an homage to Jean Cocteau’s Le Sang d’un Poete (“The Blood Of A Poet”), a surreal movie from 1930. All the “effects” in the video had to be built since there was no post-production or animation at the time. The directors Rossacher/Dolezal did a great job. We asked the Swiss mime group Mummenschanz to participate in the video and they surprised us with the idea of creating masks of clay live in the very moment the video was shot. The clip won the Silver Palm award in Cannes.

For “The Captain of Her Heart” we actually had three different videos. The first one was produced by Swiss National TV. We won the first prize in a competition before the song was even released. The second one (blue monochrome) we had made to establish the Double concept of faking a combo. We used to feed the TV directors with an U-matic cassette of Felix and I playing the missing instruments, while we performed live as singer and piano player. The third and final video was only made for MTV America, which claimed they wouldn’t show a monochrome video in their program. They needed color and women. So we shot a new one in Paris with ten models, all in color of course. They loved it and put it on heavy rotation in 1986.

Here is the very cool music video for "Devils Ball" by Double featuring Herb Alpert...

Q: Was it surprising and/or frustrating that you were not able to repeat that incredible success with additional hit singles crossing over into the U.S. and other countries?

KurtIt was more surprising rather than frustrating at the time. We had minor hits with “Woman Of The World” and “Devils Ball”, but they couldn’t compete with The Captain’s popularity at all. We were proud of other songs we had created, but it’s like when the sun is shining you don’t see the beautiful stars, although they’re there all the time.

Q: After breaking through and achieving worldwide success, what lead to the end of Double with you and Felix Haug going your separate ways?

KurtI had moved to Paris in late 1986 while Felix was still living in Zurich. Our communication got less, no internet back then yet. When we met for the production of our second album we already had different concepts regarding Double’s future. I wanted to stick to the format of the pop song while Felix wanted to create more epic and cinematographic soundscapes. With the recording of a third album we finally realized that each one of us wanted something different. We disbanded Double in early 1989. Felix started to write music for films and advertising while I continued my career as a singer/songwriter and released my first solo album Single [1990] on Phonogram France.

Q: What do you remember best about the decade of '80s music?

KurtI of course remember all of the hair bands that now have no hair anymore. “Lost Hair Live”…haha. An era of very melodic music wrapped in cold synthesizer sounds. I think many people are underestimating the songs from that decade only because the singers wore jackets with huge shoulder pads. I never considered Double as a typical '80s band, but I personally had the best time in this decade for sure.

Q: Please tell us a little about where your music career has taken you since the '80s.

KurtI have released four solo albums since we disbanded Double. The latest one, Summer Of Better Times [2009] was on the jazz label Verve Forecast. I lived in Paris for seven years, became a proud father of a daughter and a son. Then we moved to Hamburg, Germany where I have lived for the last 20 years. I have gone back onstage again with young top musicians. Playing concerts was something I’ve always missed since Double never toured in the '80s.

Q: What else is Kurt Maloo up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? What can we expect in the future? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?

KurtI just released a new single called “Wonder”. It’s a collaboration with Norwegian DJ Rune Lindbaek. I’m also up for more concerts with a new project… more details soon. And last but not least I wrote my memoirs in German, but they will be translated into English by August and be available on Amazon and iTunes.

Ambitions? A multimedia journey through my repertoire. Regrets? None, except that we never toured with Double and thus missed out on the incomparable experience of getting all this love from the audience.

I am so pleased that Kurt was able to take some time to answer some questions so I could share them with you here. You can keep up with him on his official website at I want to take this occasion to again thank Kurt Maloo for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially through Double’s “The Captain of Her Heart” and, even more, for going back to the '80s with us here for a little while as well.

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