The German producer and vocalist talks about his multidisciplinary project and debut EP Oh Me Oh Life, international collaboration and discovering identity in the UK. Scroll down to watch an exclusive video premiere for Cerulean featuring Sara Wolff.
If you had to describe your music/style in a sentence, what would you say?
A blend of avant-garde R&B, nu-jazz and alternative indie.
Have you always wanted to create music? How did you get into it?
I remember drumming on card boxes, wooden-blocks and everything else I could find in the house when I was little. Music has always been around me from very early on. My parents have a massive vinyl collection in their house and I remember music being played constantly. My dad is heavily into jazz and classical music, so I feel like he introduced me to being both radical and playful with ‘rules’, but also developing a serious appreciation for classical music theory. There is something about jazz that just makes me feel homely and sheltered. In fact, that feeling probably translates to any music in general. It does beautiful things to not only yourself, but also everyone you share it with. I believe this sense of community is what inspired a large portion of my artistic approach.
Please tell us about the idea for your EP, Oh Me Oh Life. What drew you towards responding to Walt Whitman’s poetry in various artistic forms?
I first stumbled upon this poem when I saw The Dead Poet Society a few years ago. In many ways, I felt like it was the focal point of the movie. Without really knowing what it was about at first, it sparked a kind of juvenile feeling in me, the kind that makes you feel wise and innocent at the same time. It was only years later when I realised the poem was about life in a larger scale and how it can only exist the way it does because we all contribute something to it (Whitman calls this the contribution of our ‘verse’). That, to me, it felt like a very fitting description of what I saw in music and the arts in general. That then sparked the idea of creating a project which is simply all about collaboration and a space in which a lot of brilliant voices and minds get to tell their story and, quite literally, each contribute a ‘verse’.
What was the visual inspiration for the EP’s accompanying short film? Did the project always begin with a visual aspect in mind?
I knew I wanted to build as many different art forms around this project as possible. To me, the visual element is a very important part of the way we consume and process music, especially contemporarily. By the time I had finished creating the general concept for the project, Bon Iver just released their latest Album I,I together with a selection of experimental and creative visuals. Justin Vernon’s sensitivity for expression was something that had always inspired me, and the visuals for that album definitely were a strong inspirational thrust. Beyond that, my brother, who directed and shot the movie, was definitely the biggest inspiration and all of his previous work has influenced the final piece. Each song on the project presents a different interpretation of the conceptual idea depending on the respective featured artist. So, it felt like an exciting idea to try and enact those interpretations in the form of dance and eventually visualise them in the short movie.
Tell us a little bit about how you selected each artist to feature on the EP and work on the film. Was there a particular narrative or message intended?
I decided to explore the idea of international collaborations across multiple genres. I knew I wanted each artist to originate from a different country and genre background. Liverpool is an outstanding location for this. What sticks out about the artists who are featured on the EP is that they’ve all developed a very unique sound and artistic voice. I had been an admirer of all of their work and knew I wanted to be able to collaborate with someone who knows what they sound like, so that I can help them express and deliver that in the songs. Collaborating with people is wonderful in general, you learn so much about yourself and your craft. Extending that process beyond national borders and the experience become absolutely priceless.
You’ve stated that European identity lies at the heart of your music, with the diversity of your native Germany reflected in the genre defiant characteristics of your productions. Was this a natural process, or something you’ve consciously looked to respond to?
Probably a mixture of the two. When you move to another country, the situation you throw yourself into kind of pushes you to be very open and willing to adapt. Whether that being a different culture or just personal habits, it definitely does something to your character and the way you approach things. I was very much looking to discover myself and my identity, artistically and personally, in a new way when I moved to the UK. It almost presents you with a blank page that you get to fill with whatever you like. I feel very privileged that I have been given this advantage, on top of which I think Liverpool makes it quite easy to be integrated regardless of where you come from or who you are.
Has your approach to these themes differed at all since being based in the UK where European identity has been more under threat since 2016?
I can only really view the situation from the perspective of someone from the outside, looking in. I think cultural exchange is one of the most crucial aspects of an effective and modern society. The music industry is, in my opinion, one of the largest contributors to this exchange and is, due to the most recent events, in serious danger. This is before even thinking about the technical effect it has, especially on smaller acts, when it comes to touring, insurance, visas, performance rights and the amount of money this will eventually add up to. Then there is the effect it has on the UK itself; the creative industries are one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors, growing at twice the rate of the overall economy. On top of that, the UK is using many EU initiated programmes and other cultural networks such as the ERASMUS scheme for students to work and study abroad, so I think we should try and protect that level of funding as much as possible. In terms of the creative aspect, I’m not feeling a massive impact as of yet. I think there will have to be new forms of support to maintain cultural exchange and keep it lucrative for both, international and UK acts to go on tour.
In what capacity has Liverpool helped connect you to other European musicians? Does the city contribute at all to the pan-European identity which contextualises your music and latest release?
Absolutely! Liverpool has made a lot of my ideas and endeavours possible. It’s like a hub or, pardon the pun, ‘pool’ in which you can find nearly everything you can imagine. Not to blow too much smoke, but none of the experiences and improvements I have made since I moved here would I have been possible to make somewhere else – at least not in that form they have developed. Liverpool has always been very welcoming and accepting to me. As far as the European connections go, I really have to pay credit to LIPA, who are just very invested in keeping this international exchange alive. With all the fantastic artist development programmes such as the Merseyrail Sound Station, LIMF Academy and the Sentric Accelerators Programme, the city is a great place to really hone your craft and develop your skills. Liverpool’s music scene is very vibrant and it’s great to be a small part of its diverse community.
Why is music important to you?
It creates and nurtures community, it makes you look inwards with the chance of sharing that experience at the same time and it connects people across gender, culture and social disparities. But I also wouldn’t really know what else to do with myself if I wouldn’t have music. It’s just the only suitable form of expression I have found.
Oh Me Oh Life is out now.