This is the second part of the Michael Rother interview. Read Part 1 here.
Guitarist, composer, producer and visionary, Michael Rother was a founding member of the bands NEU! and Harmonia, and a founding member of Kraftwerk. A collaborator with Brian Eno (and almost David Bowie) his musical vision – one of minimal elements, yet great beauty – has coloured, directly or indirectly, post 70s rock music indelibly.
Michael and his trio will be playing Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne in March, en route to a solo performance at the I’ll Be Your Mirror festival in Japan. In the lead up to Michael’s Australian shows, The Orange Press spoke to Michael on the line from Germany:
TOP: It’s very interesting that both Low and the NEU! albums were not commercially great but they have been so amazingly influential in the fullness of historical time. With Krautrock – I don’t really like that term – or rather, German experimental rock music, Jaki Leibziet from CAN played on your first four solo albums…
MR: I’m grateful you don’t like that expression (Krautrock) because I don’t either…
TOP: I think it’s horrible. It’s very derogatory in my opinion – I’ve never liked it at all. But I was thinking about all the German experimental groups of the time: NEU! and Kraftwerk were very different from bands like Amon Düül and CAN, in my opinion. Did you feel as if NEU! was very different, or were you all going for the same sort of thing?
MR: Of course I preferred to think that we were very different, because that was of course my aim – trying to create a music that was completely independent, not only from my musical past but also completely different from what anybody else was doing. There was not a feeling of a collective of German musicians that were doing the same thing. And to be quite honest, apart from the musicians I collaborated with, I wasn’t very much interested in what was happening in Germany either. I think there are very big differences in the music of NEU! and Amon Düül and Faust. I didn’t really listen to what they were doing – I was fascinated by the Kraftwerk people, Klaus Dinger, the Cluster guys, and that was the music I wanted to create. But of course, if you look at the musical scene in Germany from far away, like from the Moon…
TOP: …or even Australia (laughs).
MR: (Laughs) No that’s not far away… Things move closer together. So if you compare us to the Beatles, or other classical music, or folk music, or Deep Purple or something like that then of course the ‘family’ of German music of the ‘70s does have something in common maybe, something more like a spirit. I think I prefer to leave the finding of differences to journalists and other people; it may sound a bit big-headed if I try.
TOP: On your 1983 solo album Lust, you made it entirely solo on a Fairlight (synthesizer), but you seem to generally like to work with a band and other musicians. Do you prefer to work with a band?
MR: We are talking about a process of 40 years already. First, you experience a certain situation… you have to react to circumstances. That was the case in ’71 when Klaus Dinger and I decided to start the project NEU! as a duo, which was strange because, as we found out later, it was obvious we couldn’t play as a duo live… it was possible to record an album together with the help of multi-track machines. And later on, my solo albums were very popular in Germany; they sold a lot of copies and I was able to buy all the studio gear, the professional recording gear. I was completely happy to spend weeks and months – and years even – in my studio developing music. That was a dream come true for a musician, to have all those machines. Then the situation changed again with the arrival of notebook computers – in the late ‘90s it was possible to present interesting music onstage without a band, so I started collaborating with Dieter Moebius again, and we did several tours around the world. Parallel to this development the situation changed as our music… it had to do with the internet I guess: the world got smaller and I sudden started to find out about other musicians who knew my music, bands like Stereolab or Sonic Youth, and later on (The Red Hot) Chilli Peppers for instance, and Secret Machines. It was a new situation and I met musicians I liked and there was opportunity to collaborate. This has been the situation for the last 12 years or so, and I started enjoying playing live much more. In the ‘80s I wasn’t interested in playing live; I was fascinated by the studio atmosphere and the possibilities of sound creation with the Fairlight computer. Do you know that this (the Fairlight synthesizer) came from Australia?
TOP: Yes I do, that’s right.
MR: It was a great machine, and at the time I was so thrilled I spent months researching and trying to work with its very complicated software. Lust was the first album that was created on the Fairlight, mostly. Maybe I overdid it but it was wonderful for me to write music and let the machine play music that I couldn’t play with my limitations on the keyboard. And to create and integrate sounds that, before the arrival of the Fairlight computer, were not available for my music – I would have had to ask an orchestra to play. The sampling technology in the early ‘80s was a bit different from nowadays – it was 8-bit and it sounded like 8-bit. Nowadays people sometimes use the 8-bit limitations to create a certain effect… but at the time I was so thrilled by that machine. Nowadays it is the meeting with other musicians that sometimes really inspires me, like two years ago when I did all the concerts with my project, Hallogallo with Pete Shelley and Aaron Mullen… and last year I met a young man from Germany called Camera – we jammed twice – and we will be doing some live appearances this year. We are booked for a festival in Athens and we are talking about going to Russia as well, so this will be a very colourful year I think.
TOP: That’s wonderful. And you are coming to Australia in March.
MR: Yes, this is what I am preparing for right now. I’ll be in Japan for a solo concert that just came up recently. Jim Rourke, in the early days he was a member of Sonic Youth, he lives in Japan – I think he even grew up in Japan – we both did a concert in Yamaguchi in Japan last year. So we met there. He was invited by ATP (All Tomorrow’s Parties) to curate one of the two days of the I’ll Be Your Mirror festival in Japan, so he invited me to play there. The first step is the Australian tour with Dieter Moebius and Hans Lampe, which will the first time that this collaboration will come together on stage.
TOP: That will be fantastic. With Dieter Moebius, after all this time. That will be wonderful; I am very much looking forward to it.
MR: There was no chance to rehearse, but I know exactly what Dieter Moebius is capable of creating on the spot. So I am preparing the ‘backbone’ of the music, and I rely on Dieter adding special colours and spices to the music – that’s what he’s really great at: he can pick up the situation and come up with crazy ideas. I look forward to that experiment very much.
The dates for Michael Rother’s Australian tour are: