The title of your current record "Till Party Do Us Deaf" refers to the fact that too much partying will eventually cause a whole lot of boredom.
How do you prefer to spend your time, then? It seems to have become a social convention to party all the time.
Ooh, that's a good one! To me, partying should be the reward for a job well done, or at least something you completed or tried to complete. At such times, even I can turn into a real party animal. But if my life only consisted of partying, sobering up, partying again, etc., there wouldn't be much time left to do what I really want to do. In my case, that's writing songs, recording them, explore new approaches, dream up clever settings for live gigs, meet people, and the like.
Your songs (the booklet says that all tracks were written by Chris Scheck which is a bit confusing) share features with tunes by THE SMITHS and PINK FLOYD. Did these groups influence your work and what other sources of inspiration do you have?
Sorry for the confusion: Chris Scheck is my alter ego. It's interesting that you should mention the Smiths and Pink Floyd. Both are great bands, and I'm obviously aware of their music-and in love with some of their songs. But if there is an influence, it's most probably in the attitude, mood and approach. I like to listen to all sorts of music, some favourites being Toto, Simple Minds, Zucchero Fornacciari (Italian), Peter Gabriel, U2, Coldplay, anything produced by Reinhold Heil, Yes, Kings of Leon, etc.
Which song is the one that you're most proud of on "Till Party Do Us Deaf" and does commercial success influence that judgement? Are you happy with the outcome of the album in general and how about the reactions? Is there already a tour schedule for 2013?
I like all eleven songs on "Till Party Do Us Deaf", albeit for different reasons. I think the one I would really love to become a hit is "Cosy Black Hole In My Soul", which says a lot with surprisingly few words and keeps spinning in my head for hours. It's got all the elements I need to enjoy listening to it and reaching out for the volume knob to set it to eleven.
Obviously, I'm also happy with the other songs, otherwise I would have worked on them a little more before recording them. Recording an album is always a tricky thing: first, you can't wait to get started, then, while you're at it, you try to add as much as possible to make them sound their very best, and afterwards, I often feel like they could have been even better. That's when you need to let go, because if you don't, your album is never released. Learning to accept that a recording, though carved in stone in a way, is really only a reflection of who and what you are at a given moment in time, is the hardest part. And it doesn't get any better as years go by.
We are indeed putting together a tour schedule for 2013, because working in a studio is all very well, but it just cannot make up for the thrill of live performances where you can interact with your audience and experience first-hand what your songs mean to other people.
Obviously, we are hoping that the album will be a resounding success and open a lot of doors.
You lived in Japan to work for an instrument manufacturer for some time. How many years did you spend in Asia and what kind of job did you have in Tokyo? Was it Tokyo?
It was Hamamatsu, actually, a "small" city (half a million, which is nothing in Japan) halfway between Tokyo and Kyoto. I spent three years there discovering prototypes of exciting new music gear, like synthesizers, sequencers, effects processors, and the like, and writing owner's manuals and product brochures for them. I spent quite some time in Tokyo, in a big recording studio of a Japanese friend whom I'd met through a musician from Texas. In retrospect, I still can't believe that we left the studio for lunch and supper without actually locking it, because crime was not an issue in those days, not even in Tokyo. The worst thing that could happen-and it never did in that particular studio-was that somebody would walk in to have a look at the giant console and outboard gear without touching anything. Our neighbour in Hamamatsu, a ninety-something-year old lady, sometimes walked into our house for a chat, because we never locked our doors either. It may have been embarrassing at times, because we weren't always fully dressed, but it was also fun. To me, Japan is one of the safest places on earth. It may have changed a bit since we left, but I still remember it as a place where you can go just about anywhere without feeling scared.
When did you actually return to Europe? How come you ended up in France? Aren't you British and how about your stay in Belgium?
That was quite some time ago. The main reason for returning to Europe was that we felt our skins were too different to eventually fit in. We did speak Japanese and had lots of Japanese friends, but despite that we kept facing situations where we were told that an "outsider" (a gaijin) would never understand and therefore should not attend certain kinds of meetings or get-togethers. I moved to the south of France, because my grandfather used to have a house here, and to me, Provence is one of the most beautiful spots on earth. There was no doubt in my mind that I would live here by the time I was sixty, but my wife and I decided not to wait for that-and so here we are.
I'm not British, no. I still have a German passport even though I only spent my first year in Germany. It's still a major advantage for soccer championships where the Germans usually reach the semi-finals or even finals, while the Brits and French are sent packing long before that J.
I grew up in Belgium, because my father was hired by the Antwerp Philharmonic Orchestra. His father, i.e. the grandfather who rented a house in the South of France, was a famous classical musician and had told his son that he would never help him find a job in Germany for fear that this might be considered favouritism. And so I grew up in Flanders.
How did your French mates react when they heard you imitating their accent in "At your service (In zis restaurant)"? Do the French have a sense of humour nowadays, can they laugh about themselves?
Aha, let's get down and dirty! My French mates didn't even notice the accent and so completely missed the joke. The same is true of the French-speaking part of Belgium, by the way. Brits, Australians and Germans, on the other hand, find "At Your Service" funny and immediately realise that the song is not meant to be taken seriously. Besides, a French or Italian accent is usually considered charming or even sexy.
Do the French have a sense of humour? I suppose they do, and I think it is similar to Japanese humour: a situation or joke has to be sitcom, blatant or overly brutal to be decoded as funny. It's a far cry from how other cultures view humour. Obviously, there is no such thing as "the" French, and there are definitely people with whom you can have a good laugh.
You wrote a song about the German reunification which is pretty unusual and since I'm writing this on October 3rd I was wondering what the motives behind that track might have been.
My grandmother, who lived in Hildesheim (West) had a sister who lived in Magdeburg (East), so the separation felt real enough to me, and we often talked about the two Germanies. When my grand aunt turned sixty, she was allowed to spend some time in the West each year and even received money from the West-German government, which I found odd at the time. Despite all that, she would bitch all the time about how life was miserable on the other side and how we didn't realise how lucky we were to eat fresh bananas and oranges whenever we felt like it. And each time my grandmother sent her a parcel with West-German coffee, the only thing she would write back about was that the coffee had taken a bit long to arrive and therefore tasted a bit rancid or stale. Mind you, I'm sure that was just her and that she was in no way a typical East German.
When the wall came down in 1989, my feeling was that East Germans didn't really want to make history and probably weren't interested in reunification at all. They wanted blue jeans, Big Macs, and the liberty to travel. That's how the song came about.
I watched a TV feature on German television the other day (Der Turm), and in the documentary on the first night, somebody indeed confirmed that reunification was not high on anybody's agenda. So I got that part right, didn't I?
Your previous record "Sheer Excellence" had more of a synthie sound and seems to have been composed mainly on the piano. Is that possible or is that statement simply nonsense? Which instrument do you prefer when writing a song?
You're absolutely right, I did use a lot more synthesizers on that record, and most songs were indeed written on a synth or piano, even though the bass and drums are, for the better part, acoustic. At the time, I was looking for a big sound and believed that piling sound layer upon layer would help me to achieve that. Coming to think of it, however, the difference between the writing stages for the two albums is surprisingly small: I worked in much the same way. Only this time, I was in love with a new guitar I had bought and therefore wanted to use it as much as possible. In addition, I asked Herwig Scheck to produce the album and ultimately decide about the sound, and he is definitely into guitars.
Funnily enough, I started out as a guitarist and wrote my first songs on an acoustic guitar, singing the horn, piano or organ lines I thought would work well. Then I bought a bunch of synthesizers and used those for new song ideas. Nowadays, I alternate between keyboards and guitars. It all depends on what I hear in my head, as most songs start out as a hookline, a verse or just a catch phrase, in which case the lyrics are there before the melody. And that's how it should be, I think, for the most important bit are the songs themselves.
It would be interesting to hear what you think about the doom revival taking place at the moment and whether you share stages with bands coming from other genres.
I can see why doom is on the rise again. I mean, just look at the world around us, and it becomes clear that people need a valve to let off steam. I especially like doomsters with a twist, i.e. those who don't take themselves too seriously and even poke fun at themselves by choosing hilarious band names. And as long as the feel is genuine-as opposed to: we're into doom and this is how it sounds and how we are expected to behave-I'm interested.
Sharing the stage with acts from other genres is fine, as far as I'm concerned, and can lead to rewarding experiences for bands and audiences alike. But one always needs to think of the audience without whom there is no show. I mean, there needs to be some kind of link between my music and that of other bands to make it worth the audience's while.
Lately music has become a retreat for almost everybody and is no longer an exclusive thing that some nerds worship with dedication. Does that make the situation for musicians better or worse? On the one hand more people go to see shows but on the other hand there is probably a lot of competition as well…
Again a tough one. First of all, in the past, almost everybody used to play an instrument, while only a happy few sought to make a living out of it. That was well before you and I were around, of course. Also, I don't believe that music should be an exclusive thing. Just look at Africa where striking mineworkers dance while singing about their unhappiness. Music is-or should be-part of our lives, and certainly not be restricted to people who like to call themselves musicians with a capital "M".
Obviously, if there are more musicians seeking to play in front of an audience, there is more competition, but I don't think competition is a bad thing. For better or for worse, I still believe that if you manage to conjure up moods or states of mind that appeal to a large audience, and if you keep doing what you are good at or what you feel you should be doing, it will always be possible to do your thing. On the other hand, if someone is mainly into music for the fame and fortune, they may be in for a nasty surprise.
The recording of the album involved many people. Did everybody come to the studio or was there some file-trading going on as well? Wasn't it a big effort to make sure everybody was available at the right moment? Obviously everybody has a job and duties connected to it… how did you manage that?
There was almost no file trading, except between Herwig, the producer and myself. The drums and bass parts of nine tracks (the ones produced by Herwig) were recorded in two days, then a guitarist came to Herwig's home studio and added his bits, my keyboard and guitar parts were then added, etc. There were always at least two persons working simultaneously on those tracks-usually Herwig and someone else, or me and someone else. The remaining two songs, "Cosy Black Hole In My Soul" and "At Your Service (In zis restaurant)" were recorded live, with all musicians present in the studio. Those recordings took six hours. I later added more guitar parts, some keyboards and the vocals in my own studio.
Obviously, you need to plan your sessions carefully, because the musicians appearing on the album are all pros and were touring or doing sessions with other artists at the time. But everything worked out and we even had a lot of fun, cracking jokes and teasing one another between takes.
We just set aside the time we believed it would take and all people involved were there when we needed them. This may be due to the fact that we have known one another for a long time and that, somehow, everybody believed we were doing something worthwhile, something that had the potential to go places. As a matter of fact, that weird bunch of musos has become my band. And we're all hoping the album will allow us to keep playing ever-bigger gigs and see the world…
Thanks a bunch