Jul 02, 2007 Web Exclusive Photography by Jason Evans
The titles of Ulrich Schnauss’ three albums: 2001’s Far Away Trains Passing By, 2003’s A Strangely Isolated Place, and 2007’s Goodbye, make it seem as if the German-born producer is a very melancholy individual. This fact is up for debate, but Schnauss, whose work to date has been about taking the shimmering walls of guitars and wailing vocals of shoegazer groups (think Spacemen 3 reverbs and Chapterhouse experimentations) and revisiting them with studio elements, upped his operation from Berlin and moved back to his hometown of Kiel for the recording of Goodbye. Goodbye marks the end of this despondent trilogy and with it Schnauss’ most recent move, this time to London, England.
Under the Radar: There is a sad quality in your last three albums, more in sentiment than in sound. What do you attribute that to?
Ulrich Schnauss: I have always loved music that has both elements: melancholy and sadness as a description of the current situation you are in, but at the same time a hopeful, utopian element that reminds you of the possibility of a different life. Generally, I would say that I find sad things much more inspiring to write about than a state of happiness. It very rarely—or never—happens that I think, “Everything is great,” and write a song about such a feeling. This is probably less down to the fact that I am a miserable person and more about the situations in which you turn to music. In my case I am almost exclusively using it as an attempt at self-therapy, so it is not necessarily the most joyful situations when I am writing stuff.
UTR: Why did you move back to Kiel for the recording of Goodbye? For that matter, why are you in London now?
Schnauss: I don’t have very positive memories of growing up in Kiel. I also don’t think it is a particularly nice place to be. But I knew I would be able to reconnect with a lot of sentiments and feelings in a much stronger way than if I had stayed in Berlin. A lot of the songs on Goodbye were inspired by the gap I see between my childhood/teenage dreams and how things really turned out to be in the end. I was hoping it would have an impact on the recording to confront myself in the most direct way with that contrast. There are several reasons why I wanted to move to London. Most of my friends and the people I work with are based in the U.K. Musically, I felt quite isolated in Berlin throughout the last years as there isn’t a lot of stuff happening there that I can connect to. Another reason is that I find the overall political situation in Germany [difficult]. History is being rewritten, suddenly the Germans mainly appear as victims of World War II, reemerging national pride, anti-Semitism is openly expressed again, growing anti-American and anti-Western resentments since the reunification [is] increasingly difficult to cope with.
UTR: Nowadays which bands do you think are capturing a similar vibe to what Chapterhouse or Spacemen 3 were doing before?
Schnauss: Currently there are a great amount of fantastic American bands influenced by that tradition. Mahogany is an essential name to mention. Their album, Dream of Modern Day (1999), provided a blueprint for a lot of the stuff that is happening today. Airiel from Chicago—I had the pleasure of guesting on their debut album. Elika from Brooklyn—an incredibly exciting, radical fusion of shoegaze and electronica elements. Auburn Lull, Soundpool, lovesliescrushing (another true pioneer), Asobi Seksu, Fleeting Joys, Meeting Places, Landing, Daysleepers, Francis7. The list is endless. What I love about these bands is that in difference to a lot of European stuff they seem to be less conservative, less interested in replicating stuff that’s already been done and instead doing something new and interesting with these influences.
UTR: Since Goodbye is the last chapter in the soundyou have been experimenting with, where do you see your sound moving towards next?
Schnauss: It has been quite liberating to restrict myself to a more song-orientated formula. Throughout the making of Goodbye, however, I realized that I’d like to move on to a more open structure for the new stuff I’m going to start working on soon. After three albums, which were mainly about exploring what can be achieved by merging indie-influenced songwriting with electronic instrumentation I’d now like to work on some music that will allow me to concentrate even more on the atmospheric, soundscape-y side of things—especially as I’ve been collecting a lot of sound ideas throughout the last years that were not really fitting for Goodbye but that I still consider worth working on.