Einstürzende Neubauten (Zillo, April 2001)
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Germany`s eldest and probably most influential avantgarde band, a new record by the noise symphonics from Berlin, „Silence is Sexy“ will be released. Well, Neubauten are not the kind of people who take an anniversary like that too serious; anyway, that’s what Blixa Bargeld says. He is now ready for being interviewed, sitting there pinstripe-suited between white wine and three packets of Gitanes. The date was fixed by him, the other two „old buildings“ Alex Hacke und N.U. Unruh as well as by former Die Haut members Rudi Moser and Jochen Arbeit just because they wanted to get the record finished someday.
Moser and Arbeit joined the band already for the live shows they played when the last record „Ende Neu“ was released in 1996 and they do not push „Silence is Sexy“ in a sensational new direction. The record is more of a solid intensification and one can recognize more tranquility in it, although many classic virtues of Neubauten are still in use. Blixa Bargeld switches back and forth from German to English which is unusual for a „language-athlete“ like him, who is normally very accurate with expression. This makes the interview a much more exhausting experience than interviews with musicians usually are. Imprecisely expressed questions have no chance to get answered by him and the Franconian white wine has no chance as well: „That has cork“
Zillo: On your last record „Ende Neu“ the title track said „Kein Neuland, mehr, lass andere auf Trampelpfaden hinterher“ (But no fresh country any more/Let others tread beaten tracks). After that many people expected it to be your last album, your final stroke. Did you really think about cessation back then?
Blixa: No. I was thinking about that for some time before the last record. Mark quit right at the beginning, then Mufti left – so I was asking myself if we are even going to finish that. It was an act of pure spite by me and an economic decision as well, because you just can`t produce half of a record and then say „No, now we stop it“. I think you can easily see that „Ende Neu“ was created in a period of transformation and change. The band got younger, changed and personally we are different today, you can really hear that. Although this album was recorded within a period of two years again, we stayed the same persons the whole time now and although I think the musical elements have a very different character and are very disparate, I have the feeling that they are more true and more related to each other than on the last record, which was just a collection of ten or twelve songs we put in an order. With the new record I have the feeling that it’s like a monolith, just one big thing, drenched with references and cross references and I am very happy about that.
Zillo: How did the work together changed within the band? That disruption probably was very hard after you worked together for such a long time without any lineup changes?
Blixa (after quite a long break): There are less fights. All in all you can say that working is very harmonious now, we are acting in concert with each other. I don`t want to say that there are no different opinions, of course there are, but we did not have to fight that much this time.
Zillo: Did you need these fights in the past?
Blixa: Well, I need resistance to think over my own ideas all the time. I need opposite opinions, but it was better for the nerves.
Zillo: „Silence is Sexy“ gives a very controlled and structured impression. Was there a concept right from the beginning?
Blixa: Structure existed before the tracks even did. Some parts of the structure come from the tracks which are not included on the record, as we had much more material than is actually found on the record. The structure was there from relatively early moment. It’s just like a rope you are stretching, like the coordinates in which we moved. They are not imperative but something you can orientate on and say „Ok, now we follow that and see if it takes us somewhere“. If not, you just let it go.
Zillo: Was „Die Befindlichkeit des Landes“ (The lay of the land) a center for this record?
Blixa: There was no text for it until the first week of January. Only the title was clear for which we had a whole binder full of material which was connected to this song. If I remember correctly I sang and cut it on January 6th after three or four days of failing. I was becoming more and more unhappy with it every day because it would not abandon the level of a modern protest song and the plateau of a cynic. It began to happen as soon as I added the figure of Melancholia. After that I could say: Yes, ok, that’s a song! That’s a song and it has its legitimacy, it’s not a cynical essay anymore.
Zillo: What’s so bad about cynicism?
Blixa: Cynicism wouldn`t be bad, but in this format as a song, I wouldn`t have liked it. It’s so easy to put yourself in a cynical position. And the simple way is never the best artistic solution. I prefer a veritable song over just breathing fire and brimstone. That’s simple. And the song was drenched in breathing fire and brimstone. That did not satisfy me.
Zillo: Can people who know you well find personal things about you in your songs?
Blixa: Of course. „Ich kann die Tür verrammeln, tagelang im Dunkeln auf der Lauer sein“ (I can barricade the door
in darkness lie in wait for days or more) (from „Zampano“) … that are definitely my experiences with stalking. When I have to hide in my flat because some maniacs are hammering against my door. Sure, I am in these lyrics.
Zillo: Is the experience with tinnitus you are mentioning in „Silence is Sexy“ true?
Blixa: Yes, I have tinnitus. It’s strange that the ringing in the ears gets louder when I am stressed and if I have less stress, it can be so low that one can hardly recognize it. There is a story by John Cage in which he is in an acoustically dead room for the first time. The walls are cased in cellular material so that there is no reflection in it. You go in there and hear two sounds: One is a deep sound and that’s the sound of your blood running through your veins, and a high sound is sound of your working nervous system. It’s always there. People who suffer from tinnitus don’t have a dysfunction of their ears, they have a selectivity disorder. They can`t figure out what’s important for them of all the perception-garbage surrounding them, so they always hear the sound of their working nervous system.
Zillo: In „Musentango“ you are describing a drunk artist searching for inspiration – did you create that song while watching a specific situation?
Blixa: Well, I can see myself in the picture I created in that song. I see myself as an eldering, half-drunk intellectual who is dancing with memory while drinking cocktails. I had to fight for this song getting finished. It’s so obvious that it’s a joke, that it was not one of the „beloved children“.
Zillo: Were there other songs that induced strong friction within the band?
Blixa: „Die Befindlichkeit des Landes“ was the hardest way, but we all wanted to finish it. We had this „state-groove“ in the end and six different parts to choose, but only „Beauty“ did it. There was another one called „Godzilla in Mitte“ (Godzilla in Central Berlin), but it wasn`t finished.
Zillo: Instead of that Marlene Dietrich is in Central Berlin in „Die Befindlichkeit des Landes“…
Blixa: The center of this Potsdamer Platz crag, what I call a scar-area which is slowly disappearing, is called „Marlene-Dietrich-Platz“. This is one of the most dreary places in Berlin, cropped with daffy and courteous „as-if-architecture“. Marlene Dietrich came from Schöneberg and next to my house was the old town bath with „Marlene go home“ written on it for years. Marlene was not welcomed kindly when she visited Germany again for the first time after World War II, because she joined the GI troop support; so there were these „Marlene go home“- protests. I just do some work of remembrance. I bring out everything which is cosmetically covered there now. That there are the bunkers and that the „Marlene-Dietrich-Platz“ is at a place where Marlene Dietrich eventually was not welcome and so on. Aside from that I was always a fan of Marlene Dietrich. She did a great second career as a singer and she did that even though she could not really sing. While working on this record we played „Sag mir wo die Blumen sind“ for a while. Seriously.
Zillo: You also sang „Somewhere Over The Rainbow“ by Judy Garland.
Blixa: Yes. Although I prefer „Sag mir wo die Blumen sind“.
Zillo: In terms of the rather typical Neubauten-sound you put a subtitle under „Alles“ at the new record by yourselves which says „A song in the old style“. I thought that „Redukt“ ties in with the old virtues of Neubauten.
Blixa: Well, „Alles“ is a typical live improvisation by Neubauten, which we reproduced in the studio. We all play at the same time and nobody knows what happens next, it all went with vocal commando. We already played „Redukt“ live in the last two years.
Zillo: „Der Mittelpunkt, der Kern, der Zellkern der gesamten menschlichen Zellkultur – bin ich, ist ich in jeder Zelle“ (The centre, the nucleus, the entire human cell culture. Am I, is me in every cell?) is it written in „Redukt“. What fascinates you about these body metaphors, which you liked to use in songs like „ZNS“ or „Zerstörte Zelle“ before?
Blixa: That in fact goes through the complete history of Neubauten. This mixture of everyday speech and academic speech, especially these biological and astronomical metaphors are typical for me. I have no idea why. I already had a certain interest in natural science when I was a child, which did not decrease even if I was veering away from that in between. I am still the biggest fan of skeptic theories.
Zillo: Was the reference to the discoverer of gravitation in „Newtons Gravitätlichkeit“ because of that?
Blixa: There are more references like that. The wordplay with „Gravitätlichkeit“ already appears in „Was ist, ist“ on our last record, I started to write both songs on the same day as well as „Stella Maris“, these three things occurred on the same day.
Zillo: Are you more creative on some days than on other days?
Blixa: I have to force myself upon it. For some time I really drove to my working room everyday to write, mostly just something which I did not want to write. There are miscellaneous songs which were not finished, I tried to work on them but instead of that there arose something like „Zampano“. „Redukt“ took ten minutes, it was easy, it was running by itself, but most of the time, it’s fairly a struggle.
Zillo: How does this working room look like?
Blixa: It’s empty, it has white walls and I hang up all things I am writing on. Then above is written „Newtons Gravitätlichkeit“ for example and beneath that hang all sorts of stuff, from newspaper articles to commercials up to my own notes.
Blixa: Volvo: „Über Sicherheit brauchen wir nicht mehr zu reden, von jetzt an befördern wir Träume“ (Volvo: We do not have to talk about security anymore, from now on, we carry dreams). I really tried to find advertisements for „Die Befindlichkeit des Landes“ and we even talked to some advertising agencies. I wanted short jingles, like the one by Intel – ding ding dingggg – which should appear like call signs in the song. Of this concept there is only the constant flipping through TV channels left. Within the whole song you hear the change of channels in the backround…“Vera am Mittag“ (stupid talk-show), film music and the „Tagesschau“ (news). A last invasion of reality in this musical arrangement.
Zillo: Have telecommunication and the media the same impact on you as the industrial world to which you reacted with your industrial sound in the early years of Neubauten?
Blixa: Occupation and love for the material, for finding things out of which you try to tease out something you can use or work with somehow was always the hallmark of Neubauten par excellence. The materials were of totally different nature. When we made „Kollaps“ we first intentionally limited it to metal, but on the next record it was already going in different directions. Metal, plastic, meat. It was exploding into „Everything is usable and everything is possible“. There are always new things which we didn`t use yet, which are added to our environment and the ones which simply were not existent before.
Zillo: To the catchword „Die Befindlichkeit des Landes“ the bands of the so-called „Neue Deutsche Härte“ crossed my mind as they partly refer to you. What kind of connection do you have to that scene?
Blixa: Luckily I have not any connection or know anything about that. I first heard the term „Neue Deutsche Härte“ in another interview today, I had no idea that it is existing before. I have never listened to a record by Rammstein, I don`t have a clue. And I feel much easier since have no idea about everything anymore. I don`t have to put myself into a context because I don`t know anything about it.
Zillo: What about Nine Inch Nails on whose label you are signed in the USA now?
Blixa: Trent Reznor is so kind to contract the band he always admired. That’s fine. Nine Inch Nails have been existing since when…since the mid-80s, he probably grew up with us, saw us in concert in 82` or 83` or whatever. He does not try to hide that he liked us and I like that very much as he not just signed Neubauten but one of his favourite bands, like Coil.
Zillo: What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?
Blixa: Well I travel without any music. I don`t have music here and I have no idea what’s in that cd-player over there. I think I am not worthwhile as a victim…I stopped the preoccupation with popular music.
Zillo: For a long time?
Blixa: Yes. I recommend that. Especially when you are a musician. I have no idea what drum’n’bass is about. I have never been to a techno club. I only know the stuff musician friends of mine give to me and I listen to it, but I can`t remember the last time when I were in the pop music section in a record store.
Zillo: You are active in other artistic directions for a long time, doing spoken word performances, under the title “Serialbathroomdummyrun“ there were shown photos by you and you just released a book called „233° Celsius“ – can you tell me something about that?
Blixa: Well, there is an artist who is a friend of mine, Kain Karawahn, who has been working with fire as a medium for decades. I did several things with him, one was a book burning which causes anger in itself of course. We sorted out books we got from different libraries, and piled them up to a Babylonian Tower, to a cone, and burnt them. The difference between what we did and an ideological book burning was that it didn`t matter what kind of books were burnt, we did not choose them. We just burnt everything, ranged from phonebooks to a tax law from the year 1965. During this book burning there were several fire springers who had long calipers with which they fished out fragments of the burning books and these fragments were archived by me. Out of these this book is made. „233° Celsius“. And there also is an essay by me about my childhood as a pyromaniac.
Zillo: What was that like?
Blixa: I grew up in a flat which had a heating stove and that means I had always contact with fire since I’ve been a child. That’s something you can`t say about the people who grow up today. If the parents do not smoke and there is no stove heating anymore, there is no contact with fire. We had a regular breeding on the handling of fire, we were allowed to fuel the kitchen oven and we learned how to handle the material and what happens when you do this or that. Those are things I am talking about in my essay. I was kicked out of secondary school because of arson.
Zillo: Because of malicious arson?
Blixa: Sure. In this case it was no book burning. The arson took place in the so-called „SMV-Raum“ (Student Council Room), the Student Council, it was a ridiculous product which should pretend democracy. I was the spokesman back then, that means I was the leader of the Student Council.
Zillo: Your recent performances are just called „Rede/Speech“. Do you use Neubauten songs in that as well?
Blixa: No, but „Dingsaller“ originated out of these „Speech“ things contrary. I have a lot of freedom with „Speech“ which I can not have with Neubauten, because there are too many people involved. For „Speech“ I go out and start to let out and advance all associations and all thoughts I have in my mind. Here I am in the situation of a stand up comedian. There is nothing on stage except a microphone and with that I entertain the crowd for two hours. For me it is nothing more than thinking out loud. None of these performances is like the other and there are no recordings of it so nobody can wait for anything. Of course they heckle me sometimes because they want to hear something like „The Weeping Song“.
Zillo: How much are you being identified via your work with Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds?
Blixa: That depends on where I am. In Australia I am primarily the guitarist of the Bad Seeds. In other countries it’s different. I mean, Neubauten exist much longer than The Bad Seeds.
Zillo: Why did you work more with English texts on this record?
Blixa: There are three reasons for that: First of all we have a new American record label and after the last record I asked them what they would think about me doing some songs in English. They were excited about it of course. Secondly, Leander Hausmann wanted English songs for his film „Sonnenallee“. That’s where „Sabrina“ comes from, although it’s a song which we have played live for years in another style. They did not take it and I was very happy about that because we can use it ourselves now. And the third reason was: Well, we are doing another record now, there are 20 years of Neubauten now and I don’t want this album to be absorbed like other things. As someone who always had to stand as a flagship for German lyrics I thought I want to go in an unexpected direction.
Zillo: Are you treating the English language in a different way than the German language?
Blixa: Yes. I find it easier to write English lyrics, it’s probably easier for most Germans. That’s because the roots of the German language are deeper for me as the English ones, which are much younger. It’s less difficult for me to tear weeds out of my English lyrics as the roots that German words have within me are much deeper. I weigh my German words much more than the English words, but it would not have satisfied me to do a whole record in English.
Zillo: Why not?
Blixa: My eyes get watery to a great extent when I use the German language.
Author: Kirsten Borchard