An Interview with Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubauten

Februar 15th, 2004 | 0 Kommentare ...  

Alexander Hacke at home in his studio, Photo by Mário Dzurila, Dorfdisco 2004

Von Travis Jeppesen

Alexander Hacke is a Berliner who requires no introduction. After having released his first album at the age of 15, four years later he became a member of Einstürzende Neubauten, a band that has consistently ignored all trends and forged a unique musical legacy that is unprecedented within Germany and outside. Having produced and collaborated with dozens of local musicians and promoted several important club nights alongside partner Danielle de Picciotto, Hacke has already managed to form the ground work of cultural terrorism that extends beyond the merely local. On the day after the release of Neubauten’s tenth album, Perpetuum Mobile (Mute), amidst preparations for a four-month tour, we visited Hacke at his home in Berlin.

Dorfdisco : Maybe you could say something about the philosophy behind the new Neubauten album. I know there are a lot of weather motifs, a lot of references to rain, storms, etc.

A. Hacke : The predominant element on this record is air. Previous Neubauten lyrics and imagery was based around fire.

Dorfdisco : Lyrically, there’s also a lot of content about alcohol.

A. Hacke : There’s one song called “Self-Portrait with a Hangover,” and that’s definitely about drinking, or the day after. But that’s the only place really where there’s any alcohol-related songs.

Dorfdisco : How has the band’s writing process evolved over the years?

A. Hacke : When we were younger and less experienced, it was more of an outburst of pure emotion. Over the years, our approach has gotten more scientific. What we do now is research in different fields, besides our job as entertainers. We research new materials, emerging technologies, different ways of songwriting and dramatics, ways of putting things in a dramatic order. What people usually say whenever a new Neubauten album comes out is that it’s more approachable than the previous album, and, to say the least, it’s a lot softer than the previous ones. There’s a couple of proper traditional songs on this record. But it’s pretty much like a score this time around. It’s always been cinematic and very…Well, people tend to like to use it for movies and that sort of thing. It’s very applicable to that type of thing.

Dorfdisco : What made you decide to start working outside of the music industry?

A. Hacke : After the 20th anniversary tour in 2000, we were getting quite bored with the constant complaints from the music industry and friends, musicians complaining about the music industry. We were also getting bored with our own production style, spending three years to produce a record to fulfill a recording contract and spending another year promoting that. So we were basically ready to quit or put Neubauten on ice for a while.

So the idea came up to set up this internet project. It’s an internet site which, in its content and structure, is very similar to a porn site, meaning that people pay in order to step closer to us. They get virtual intimacy. They would have a chance to watch us at work and communicate with us via chat and forums on that page, and would also get a special edition of what we produce sent to them through the mail. This record is finished and was sent out last summer already. And that’s the supporters’ album number one. It contains two-thirds material not on the Mute release, and one-third with different versions from the Mute release. And we promised them that this will never be released through official channels. So this record is exclusively for the 2,000-something people who joined us for this project and supported us with their donation of 35 Euros.

Dorfdisco : So you’re now working outside the safety net of a recording contract.

A. Hacke : The original plan was to work and bypass the music industry altogether and just produce music, but as we were doing it and getting more into it, we found out that we liked what we do and that we wanted to tour with this material and make it available to people who don’t have internet access. So to tour, you need the logistics of a record company, to get distribution channels and take care of all the business that no one likes to do. Basically using the industry entirely for our own means. And we decided to work with Mute because we’ve known them for a long time and it’s kind of a PC thing to do, considering that we had gotten bigger offers from major companies to release this record, but they would’ve shut down parts of the original enterprise. We didn’t have to do that with Mute.

And basically, doing that, the process of being watched and letting people that close into that realm, that means you’re sort of demystifying yourself. Lots of bands spend lots of money and time in order to create a mysterious image about them, who they are, how they work and stuff. This kind of thing is the exact opposite. You show more of your actual personality, more of your actual work than you do normally. And obviously, that can also be very disappointing for the people involved in that, once they figure out that we’re just regular people who tend to go in the wrong direction, sometimes we don’t play our instruments correctly…

Dorfdisco : They can see that you’re not in the studio holding séances.

A. Hacke : (Laughs) It just seems less glamorous than you might think. So now we’ve just started Phase 2 of the project, where you can choose between a CD or a DVD or both as part of the package. And a lot of people who were in Phase 1 of the project didn’t join again for Phase 2, because they learned in that regard…Or also people who were very active before by writing comments and just very active in the community joined again but withdrew themselves to keep the mystique of the situation.

Dorfdisco : So you’re basically operating now as an autonomous network. Didn’t you also book your own tour?

A. Hacke : No, we didn’t book our own tour. We used a booking agency. But of course the touring is also tied in with the internet project in certain ways. Supporters have certain advantages for the live shows. They get better tickets, they get to meet us. Another thing we’re doing on this tour, another test balloon that no one has done before, is we’re going to sell recordings of the live shows right after the show.

Dorfdisco : How?

A. Hacke : We’re going to record the shows and then we got this copying tower that does 70 CDs in 30 minutes.

Dorfdisco : So you’re doing that for all the shows on the tour?

A. Hacke : Yes, all the shows. By the time we play the encores the copying process will be happening backstage, and then we’ll sell them at the merchandise stand. Obviously supporters will have first priority. They can reserve them and they get them cheaper than the regular public.

Dorfdisco : I’m trying to imagine the size of the Neubauten archive right now.

A. Hacke : We tend to record everything and we’ve done that ever since we started. In the beginning we just had cassette tapes, but later on we moved to DAT tapes, but we always have a tape recorder going in the studio just to see what will happen, even if there’s just silence for hours on end. There will always be a tape recorder going. So everything we’ve ever played is on tape somewhere. Originally we were going to install on our website a thing called Mole Hole where users would have the chance to browse around and listen to our archive, things that we never bothered to listen to, but in order to digitalize that it would take us another couple of months. So we haven’t done that so far.

We were always secluded from the outside world and suddenly, this time there were people watching. So you’re quite nervous and excited about that when you start out, but after a couple of months you forget about that. But it helps with discipline. Band members get to rehearsals on time because they know there’s a couple hundred people watching. When you’re just dealing with each other, the attitude’s more like, “I couldn’t make it, I was hung over,” but now, we had more motivation to get to the studio on time. We were quite disciplined and that’s why we made this recording in record time. This is the fastest we’ve ever recorded an album.

Dorfdisco : How long did it take?

A. Hacke : One year. Usually it’s at least three years. We wouldn’t work continuously for three years, obviously, but within the period of three years, we would produce an album. This time it took one year and we didn’t do one, but two albums. So by that we’ve gotten quite effective.

Dorfdisco : In what ways has your interaction with the site members contributed to the recording of these two albums?

A. Hacke : Obviously if we were secluded we would have scrapped much more material quicker than we’ve done now. You start doing something and after doing it for a while you figure it’s leading nowhere or not going where we want it to go and you feel like, “let’s do something else and scrap this.” But when you have a whole bunch of people watching what you do who say, “no, don’t scrap this, it’s good, because…” That would give us a different perspective. So on both records you have pieces that Neubauten normally would have scrapped and discontinued working on.

Another thing is that of course they were able to point out little mistakes. You have more observers, so accuracy is achieved. It’s not just the five of us filtering what we do, but a couple hundred people listening to it and pointing out what’s not quite right or correct.

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