"...he is the thorn that drives me."
Interview ORKUS! Music Magazine (print) / December 2019, Jan 2020 / english
Did the creation phase of the new album begin with its title, or was it only given to it after the track "Against the Pain" was created? Why did you decide on this title?
The title came about very late, that affects the song itself but also the album. I need the greatest possible freedom for the creative process, which for me stretches over a long period of time, in order to be able to make necessary changes until the end. So far, I have made the experience that only this filtering, playing again and again and reducing leads to the result that satisfies me: the quintessence of the song. I am never satisfied early on, but I know exactly when the time has come when nothing more can be improved. I only decided to call the album "Against the Pain" shortly before I finished it, after I had several work titles. Pain, i.e. pain is elementary for my work, it is the sting that drives me, from which I gain a large part of the inspiration, in this sense pain even has a productive character for me, but this does not mean that I glorify it or consider it necessary; it simply belongs to me, I am familiar with it, I therefore name it without ifs and buts, but do not succumb to it.
The cover shows your face again. Is there a concept behind the pose you take in the artwork, or did the image come about spontaneously?
I wouldn't call it a very narrow concept, rather a matter of course to show myself as a person who creates this music. I do it in a very restrained, not at all extroverted way, remain a little secretive, which is my nature. The image, like the title of the album, only came about in the late phase, before that it was exclusively the music that was in the foreground, no image or the tight corset of a concept should get in the way. The pose is a little playfulness and homage to the director F.W. Murnau, whose films I admire, as I am very fond of the silent film era in general, there is still an unbelievable fantasy and aesthetics there; yes, also silence and it is nice to experience that this effect has not been lost until today. Films like "Nosferatu", "The Last Man" or "The Joyless Alley" are more topical than ever for me, raise questions that concern our present existence more than ever. While we seem to want to live forever today, a Nosferatu still suffers from his immortality. The Last Man" reflects a time that resembles ours like a "dance on the volcano" and, such is the course of history, is drifting towards ruin. That is our fate, a constant coming and going, becoming and passing, whether we like it or not, and what is so bad about that; if we think of Nosferatu, isn't it many times more cruel not to be able to die; nice to return to the earth, from which new things can arise. From an artistic point of view, there was always the possibility of creating something that "outlasts" a little, or that seed ensures that something new emerges from it again, is carried on.
"Don't be scared" and "Into the dark blue sea" both directly address "fate", especially as a comforting concept. Do you believe in a providence that guides our lives and do you consider this as something comforting or also as something oppressive?
If songs are comforting, that is certainly an additional, very individual sensation and speaks for the openness of music, the freedom of interpretation that I grant to every listener. I don't perceive fate as a comforting concept, but as a necessary one, it is a form of acceptance for me. Every end also means a beginning, that's not necessarily hopeful, that's not the point, maybe that realisation alone can be comforting, that's quite possible but for me even that is not a necessity. As far as hope is concerned, I find it quite deceptive, it often conceals a belief in progress, a quasi "it will work out" and if it doesn't, then redemption will have to do and history has shown often enough how terrible "redeemers" and "redemptions" can be. I don't believe in providence either, that's even a dangerous concept, because a lot of misfortune is legitimised with it. For me, accepting one's fate does not contradict taking life into one's own hands. We cannot determine how we are thrown into the world, but with what we are given and how we experience this world early on, we can contest life in the sense that we become what we are, not what we want to be, as is unfortunately increasingly the case today. If I define fate as such, the question does not even arise as to whether it is reassuring or oppressive, it is solely a question of acceptance.
On earlier releases, you mainly sing German lyrics. What made you sing in English for "Against the Pain"? In your opinion, is a language better suited to convey certain themes and moods and to express yourself? Does the language of the lyrics influence your composition process, or does the harmony and interplay of melody and words work the same in all languages?
I consider myself a very European artist, that is my home. Linguistically I have always been very open-minded, the influence of longer stays abroad made me sing in English in the beginning, the study of German and philosophy later made me record the first two albums in German, also to show how well the German language is suited, can be sung, that was not so common at that time. At that time, I was so surprised by the positive response I received, especially abroad, that I wanted to create an album with "Against the pain" that could also be understood internationally in terms of language. I wasn't sure at first, worked bilingually, but then switched to English as a matter of course. Every language is equally suitable for a native speaker, I wouldn't see any difference in principle. For me, English is a language in which I am equally at home but also a stranger; it left me enough room for feelings and moods that I would have worked on too head-heavily in my mother tongue. In "Against the pain", however, it is precisely these moods that I wanted to name in the language but not to burden so much. There were very free creative possibilities in finding the right melodies and, as you ask so beautifully, also in the interplay of melody and word. In principle, a constant dialogue took place, often over months; it's like this that I write songs very intuitively, use the first rush or a certain mood to then "walk" with it for an infinitely long time, until I have completely internalised the song, that the head disappears from it and it becomes a matter of course.
Ellipses are not uncommon in the works of Emily Dickinson and also create engaging moods in your texts. Can "incompleteness" and an openness or a breaking up of structure convey something that the formally closed cannot express?
That is very well recognised. Ellipses create exactly this free space, which I also appreciate. I come from poetry and found a kindred spirit in Emily Dickinson not only because of this preference, she too suffered from chronic pain. It has hardly been described more vividly, more eloquently, and also more impressively in its radicalism, what it feels like to be in the throes of a severe - there are also mild - migraine attack. "I felt a funeral in my brain" was so familiar to me that I could immediately translate the words into music; I didn't have to think about it. I had a similar experience with the setting of Nietzsche's "Venice" song "An der Brücke stand" on my second album. As is well known, he also suffered from "brain pain", as he called it much more aptly, and even had to give up his professorship because of it, but this gave him the freedom to devote himself entirely to his thinking.
The "unspoken" plays a role in the lyrics of the two cover tracks "Strictly Confidential" and "You wear it so well". Is there anything that you prefer to remain unsaid in your work, or is music an unrestricted means of expression for you?
It's not for me to speculate on the motives of another artist, as the songs are not written by me. In the interpretation, however, it was important to me to do justice to both artists, if only out of respect for their skills. I had never covered a song before, I respect the original, but I still find it most important to write my own songs. But the attraction lay in the interpretation of two songs that had received little attention so far, and whose content could be integrated into the album as naturally as if they had been created by me. Maybe it's a kindred spirit, I don't know, but the songs of Bryan Ferry and Lou Reed have been a familiar constant in my life since my earliest youth; to internalise and interpret them as if they were a part of me - which, in a certain sense, they are, as often as I have heard them - was a special challenge. Furthermore, the songs have a very personal meaning for me, which I don't want to go into, but it's very easy to understand in my song "By your side". For "Strictly Confidential" by Bryan Ferry, I allowed myself the artistic trick of another homage, namely to use the wonderful (singing) voice of the Viennese actor Oskar Werner as an intro; the small excerpt of his "Hamlet" interpretation was a perfect match not only in terms of content, but also vocally.
Does it make a difference for you to sing a song you created yourself compared to a covered song, or does a foreign composition automatically become "your" work through interpretation and adaptation?
There is a difference, but it can be bridged with great empathy, so that thanks to an interpretation, the song is even expanded and enriched by a dimension that can be very exciting. Bryan Ferry has reached the master class in this for me.
Analogue technology was used in the Castle Studios. What is the attraction of that for you compared to digital alternatives?
This album was made with heart and soul and is the most personal album I have ever made. I allow a closeness that I would not have thought I could create. Analogue technology has always fascinated me, how else could I have represented this human closeness in sound? In Arno Jordan I found a studio technician who shares this passion. I was concerned with authenticity in every respect; only analogue technology can do that in this form, where every sound, even every breath is significant, manifests itself. I also didn't work with a click, as is usually the case, but freely guided the guitar; there were neither drums nor a metronome to guide me, only my heartbeat, my very personal beat! It seemed important to me to create songs free of any rigidity that digitality so often brings with it, they should swing, be in constant motion, calm and unsettling at the same time, only in this way can the listener empathise just as freely, almost breathe along and at best feel one with the music, just as I do!
Applause is part of the recording of the closing "Nothing stayed the same". - What setting do you feel is most appropriate for the impact of your music to unfold best in a live performance?
"Nothing stayed the same" is a live recording that took place in a very small, rather intimate setting, whereby this raw, direct atmosphere did the recording and intention of the song good. But each song is unique, so the setting in which it can unfold can be very different. In my songs, despite apparent calm, there is a restrained energy that can even carry you along, for which the composition does not have to be fast, loud or obtrusive. Dramaturgically, this is certainly no less appealing for a larger stage; ultimately, it's up to the performance itself as well as the sound possibilities at the venue. I am very open-minded about that.