Interview: THE NOTWIST (Markus Acher) / Intervju z The Notwist

After seven years we finally got the new studio album by German trio The Notwist. Meanwhile brothers Markus and Micha Acher and Cico Beck didn't waste time, they were involved in many side project, collaborations, organizing music festival, running the record label... About this and that, Markus Acher via e_mail...

I think the Vertigo Days is one of the best The Notwist albums (OK, close second to Neon Golden), but it seems some critics don't share my opinion. They don't like the diversity of the album, they say there is so many ideas/styles thrown in... so, did you have any „second thoughts" about „identity" of the Notwist, with so many guests on the album?
If we have an identity as the Notwist, that we could be proud of, then it is to be diverse and uncategorizable. We have no problem with some people liking more the experimental side and others more the songs, and on the other hand being too much an ‚indie-band' for the experimental-music-fan and not accessible enough for many pop-fans. Actually that's something, that we like about other artist's and band's work, too. We try many things and for us it is important to always question our sound and never fall into routines. We are not interested in making something perfect or flawless...we prefer to experiment and fail then to record the same album over-and-over again.

The first three album are very different, based on heavy guitars, so what caused this transition into more melodic, mellow, electronic, yet experimental style from Shrink onward?
This was always based on the music, we discovered and listened to at that time. During „Nook" we had discovered Metal-bands like Slayer and Voivod, but also experimental improvisers like Fred Frith and also the scene around Sonic Youth, and so we got more and more interested in Noise, experimental sounds from tapes and records etc... Before the album „12", we for the first time heard the last two albums of Talk Talk and they became a huge influence (until now). We started to care more about the sound of the instruments and the room, they are recorded in, tried to make the spaces in-between tones as important as the tones, and invited improvisers like the bass-clarinet-player Rudi Mahall into the studio. On „Shrink" we were heavily into electronic music and Martin Gretschmann, who had started playing live with us, became a band-member and also composed with his sampler and other electronic instruments. We liked very much Stereolab and their way of combining electronic sounds, band and brass. We also made brass-arrangements and long saxophone-solos, because we loved records like John Coltranes „African Brass". On „Neongolden" we wanted to sound like a singer-songwriter in the digital age...classic, folky songs accompanied by electronic crackling and codes. I remember, we listened to Johnny Cash and Bonnie Prince Billy a lot, but also to Autechre and other electronic projects. And so on...every album was informed by many other artists and bands.

Can you imagine playing loud guitar music again?
In our live-concerts, there are always parts, that are loud, distorted and guitar-based. And we also played old songs again as a surprise-concert at our last Alien Disco-festival. It always depends on the composition and the moment. Generally everything is possible. Except Metal-riffs, I am very sure, we will not play again.

What differences were the reason for you leaving Lali Puna? They and The Notwist don't seems to be that different.
Valerie and me were a couple and separated.

The gaps between the regular albums are longer every time. We have waited sedem years for Vertigo Days. What's the reason for this gap? Your involving into many side projects, work for Alien Transistor, or you wanted to be 100% satisfied with the new album?
All of this and more. With Notwist, we are involved in many other activities, like music for movies, theater and radioplays. We started to curate a festival called Alien Disko in Munich, and run our label Alien Transistor. And there are other bands, that are as important to us as the Notwist. For me personally it's the acoustic band Hochzeitskapelle (German for Wedding-band), which also features my brother Micha. This band we started to be able to play spontaneously without big equipment, in-between people in a bar, on a table, or on the street, on the river or in beer gardens. During the first lockdown, when concerts weren't allowed anymore, we started to play on roofs in backyards, for people standing on their balconies or windows. And I also started the band Spirit Fest with the duo Tenniscoats, Saya and Ueno, from Tokyo, and also Cico from Notwist / joasihno and Mat Fowler from the bands Jam Money and Bons. This band is very special to me and one of the best experiences I had in making music. We recorded 3 albums and toured together in Europe and Japan, until the pandemic stopped all plans and meetings unfortunately.

And how did pandemic effect your work on the album? Did you change the direction/prime idea as the pandemic kept spreading?
First, we were very everybody, I think. For me personally, it was impossible in the first time to be creative and compose songs, as my head was occupied by so many other things. So we started to work on music, we already had recorded over the years and arranged and puzzled together what became „Vertigo Days". When we had a better idea of what it could become, I started to compose songs especially for this, which also reflected the surrealistic, isolated situation. So, this album was very much influenced by these times, because it was not possible to exclude it, but also we tried to not make it a ‚corona-album'. 

With the same song (almost) at the begining and at the end of the album it seems Vertigo Days is sort of a concept album. If it so, can you explain a bit this concept? Is it hidden in the title Into Love Again?
Actually the concept was more to have no concept. We tried to make it sound like a mix-tape on a tape, where the sound brings different bands and styles together, so that you sometimes don't know, if it still the same song or already the next one. Also we had the idea of making it a soundtrack to the photographs of Lieko Shiga, that are pictured on the cover. They perfectly fit to our mood in these the dreams you have, when you wake up and fall asleep again. And in soundtracks, you often have a theme, that is repeated in different arrangements... something, we really like. And then this album is a lot about how life goes in circles, and you never arrive anywhere... which is a good thing.

With many guests musicians and singers on the album, how did you decide who would sing particular song?
This were very spontaneous decisions. Saya we know very well...she has a beautiful voice, but also is an incredible musician and composer, who can find something special for every song. She made „Ship" shine, and it sounded even better then we thought. We are fans of Juana Molina for a very long time, and we gave her loops and tracks we had recorded to make them her own song, and she re-arranged and recorded new tracks and made this incredible song, which is as much her own as it kept our initial idea. And Ben LaMar Gay, we gave a nearly finished song, and didn't tell him what to do. He could have recorded trumpet or electronics or keyboards or spoken word...but he sang these stunning melodies and words, and we were very surprised and extremely happy.

When the album is finished you want to sell some copies... So, what is your opinion on streaming as it's becoming the most common way of listening to music nowadays? But some claim services don't pay much...
In the end, I am happy, if our music gets listened to and is available for everybody everywhere in the world for a fair price and not too expensive. But of course it is more and more difficult to make music, if you only can get money from live-playing. This leads to very expensive ticket-prices and too many bands touring. So smaller bands will be left behind again, and that's really bad. So I hope people don't lose the fascination in beautiful vinyl-LPs and other special formats with additional art, lyrics, etc..., which add so much to the music. And understand why it is important to pay something to the artists. Bandcamp was really good during the last two years.

What's the most profitible way for The Notwist to sell albums, via streaming services, via bandcamp as DL, vinyl, CDs...?
Or I don't know, actually. I think it is just a combination of all of these.

Some live concerts were already announced for March, were they meant to be streaming events or live with audiance?
Most of them are cancelled again. So there will be nothing, I think...

Anyway, with just three members it would be difficult to perform songs as they are constructed in studio, especially without guest singers. How would you solve this problem?
On stage, we are always six people, with Max Punktezahl on guitar and keyboards / electronics, Karl Ivar Refseth on vibraphone and percussion, and Andi Haberl on drums and electronic percussion. So this gives us a lot of possibilities to play the songs. Also we don't want to reproduce the songs exactly like they are on the is more interesting to think of new ways. And the guest-singers can not be replaced, of course. But we never think of the live-playing, when we record. Maybe some of them we don't play at all, or in another form, or I sing some parts... we will see.

You have been involved in many side projects and collaborations, tell me, which one has been the most problematic in the sense of adoption the style you are not really familiar with? (Hochzeitskapelle maybe?)
Hochzeitskapelle took some time to find it's own language... but also as it is a very unique combination of instruments (trombone, viola, banjo, sousaphone, drums) it sounded special from the beginning. We always try to find our own style with every band and avoid to adopt something... so it is always a long process of learning and thinking and discussing, and it never stops somehow.

Keep on good work and I hope we don't have to wait another seven years for the next The Notwist album...
Thank you! Yes, I hope, too... but that's what we always think after every new album...

(Rock obrobje, March, 2021)

Janez Goliè