WITH ANDRÉ KELLERBERG
During this interview, I change seat, place myself in front of another artist and ask him the questions I wish people asked me. Today, I speak to German composer André Kellerberg. The pianist has just released his latest project and takes some time to tell us about himself and his cultural and musical beliefs!
André, tell us about yourself!
A former girlfriend of mine used to say — and I guess that she was quoting or paraphrasing Jim Morrison: “You are an intelligent, sensitive human being but with the soul of a clown which always forces you to blow it at the most important moments”. That stuck with me. I am not taking myself too seriously, only what I do. I would consider it a crime not to make something with the talents you were given, not to allow it to flourish. I admire a carpenter’s work, an engineer’s capabilities to build and maintain machines, an architect’s ability to envision and sketch something out of the blue. I leaned on to music, although life threw me on a different professional path due to families rejections (“there is no money on music” — well they were certainly right about that, but life is not just about money, is it?) forcing me to lead a schizophrenic life — with a day job I do not like and some form of artistic pursuit late at night. While reflecting on life, there comes a point when you reach your fifth decade when you start to realise that you will never accomplish anything extraordinary and outstanding. You will get no public honours, no large scale recognition, no street, building, no library or school named after you. You are a solid craftsman, nothing more — but nothing less. And to let go of your ambitions and to realise your own insignificance in the greater scope of things, is very liberating.
A few words about your previous projects?
After focusing on other kinds of music (an alternative rock band, DJing or singer songwriter) Around 2013/14, I returned to my musical roots, the piano. recorded my first piano solo album in a studio in Prague. As I could not study music, I studied film and literature, and unconsciously there is always a tendency to put individual pieces into a bigger context and to find a narrative bracket, for which the structure of an album corresponds best. The first album under my own name, Light Breaks Where No sun Shines, was inspired by my trips to the English sea cost and my admiration for the works of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. The following two albums East End Glory X and Irradiant where inspired by the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and my trips to Moscow and Barcelona. The Way Out Is Through is not inspired though by any external factors but rather by individual struggles in life which kind of found their way out in musical form.
Now tell us about your latest release, The Way Out is Through?
There is a strong underlining narrative, a journey with quite some detours and hurdles on the way. The order of the pieces and their titles are exactly what they need to be to reflect that. Mark McGlinchey, from the independent label interpret null, made the following remark on the first mixes: “I especially like the fact that you have not fallen into the trap of always soft, slow and waltzy”. Some of the piano music that appeared in the last couple of years seems to me like “fizzy yellow beer”, a “wussified” light beer that is overly carbonated, just enough to kill off all of the aromas and flavors. A beer that does not have enough alcohol to get you wasted. “Fizzy yellow beer” is what people drink when they have given up hope and resign themselves to a bland life, devoid of enjoyment and satisfaction. It is the idea that these kinds of beer represent; a lack of originality and soul. Made for conformity. It is devoid of complexity and character. It is boring. I like it edgy and am glad that it was perceived that way; no fake pretense, an honest, true and courageous statement in musical form.
When did the title of the project come?
An anecdote from the recording session: I played a very physically demanding thirty minutes set the evening before, which resulted in nasty tendonitis and muscle contracture in my right hand. I was only able to play through the day with the help of frequent use of icing spray. The studio was booked and paid for, and cancelling was not an option. On top of it, the piano was not properly tuned. The only way out, was pulling trough. That gives the musical textures some nice additional character. I am really glad that I was able to record the pieces the way they turned out. For “Honesty”, I had to stop recording during the first attempt due to pain and muscle contracture. Maybe unconsciously it might also be a comment on one’s situation in a relationship; When you strip naked and expose yourself to your deepest fears to finally be open enough to accept someone else to see your true colours.
What are your intentions when you compose?
It is sort of a mental and physical workout. The conscious mind set turns blank and pure instinct and muscle memory take over, reacting on impulse. I do not really compose intentionally, I simply play when I feel the urge to. And playing means creativity: Melodies, rhythmic patterns, harmonic progressions — blueprints. I record them on my iPhone and I work on the keepers. As it then turns out, a few share a similar narrative, and that is the point when and a project emerges. “Nobody Noticed” is the result of an improvisation during a recording session in Prague, the spur of the moment that was born from a simple finger warm-up.
How do you approach the performance of your pieces? Is there a particular sound that you are after?
Performing for me is like an eruption, an outburst of concentrated emotions. When it comes to the physical and emotional aspect of playing the piano, it is somewhere between chopping wood and making love: it is energetic and passionate. Like making love, it is a time during which you are so absorbed with all your senses, that the fear of death disappears completely. And when the performance is over and reality kicks back in, you are longing to perform again as soon as possible. This understanding of the act of performance translates back into the sound I feel most attached to: a vibrant, full sound with a strong bass that resonates within our primal and archaic instincts — deep down we are still running on caveman software.
I find the artwork for the project very interesting, tell us more about it. Are you considering developing that visual element in the future?
Absolutely! As I already mentioned, my background in film and literature brings a strong interest for visual art and narratives, a context in which I try to place my music. I was lucky to get acquainted with a young Italian artist, Nico Fontana. We met over a mutual friend in December and he delivered a great visual performance for a piano gig in Prague. That is when the idea for a broader and longer term cooperation came about. He designed the cover art for the album, which is vibrant, archaic and simply intriguing. He drafted it while listing to the album, which gives it also a particular urgency and directness. The video he created for “Honesty” works as a blueprint for the live visual part which we intend to explore further.
So after The Way Out Is Through, what’s next?
Well, my mind is constantly cooking up ideas and not necessarily music related. I try to work on a blog, do some writing etc. With the recording of the album done, I felt a little empty, as if I had nothing more to say musically. A couple of things are now on the radar though; As a spur of the moment thing I’m turning the current home situation into a creative advantage. Compiling a couple of from scratch tracks in the housing environment with surrounding noises. Then there is the joint project with Austrian sound artist Jakob Schauer, which is to be completed by the end of the year. Furthermore, I am really excited about a joint multimedia project on Siberia which will come to fruition with my dear friend and acclaimed photographer Björn Steinz. In terms of my personal album Canon, I already got a few promising tracks together for the follow up of The Way Out Is Through. Lots of fun and late nights ahead for the next couple of months!
Thanks very much André. Last one for the road — one book, one album, one film — tell us about your latest cultural pearls?
Well, not entirely new releases, rather some re-discoveries or discoveries of things. Here is a short list of things that are in higher focus, caught my attention or are running repeatedly at home right now. Book: Albert Camus, The Plague. It seems like an obvious choice right now. It resonates with my socio-psychological fascination for chaos, and its impact on the human condition. Album: Slayer, God Hates Us All. If emotions stir up in you (and that can happen when you are forced to stay at home), it is good to scream out of your lungs and get things out of your system from time to time. For a more relaxed vibe, I recommend Fink’s Perfect Darkness. Refreshingly down to earth and intriguing. Film: Climax by Gaspar Noé. Fun to see that it does not take much to turn people into animals again. Second film tip, Roman Polanski’s God of Carnage; Not as extreme and provocative, but it gets messy too.
Bouncing on André’s words; after Climax, and to stir the climate of anxiety: Irréversible, Enter the Void and Love! Read my review of The Way Out Is Through.