Germany - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 28 - 01/31/99
Blumfeld - on a one way street
"Where the hell have you been?" is what some people might ask this
band from Hamburg, Germany. Even more might ask though: "Who the hell
are they anyway?" Well, Blumfeld is the most important German band of
the nineties, despite that fact that they only release an album every
four years or so. After their acclaimed debut Ich-Maschine in
1992 they shot to fame three years later with their first
international album L'etat Et Moi, released by the English
label Big Cat. The album proved to be pretty popular world-wide, even
though Blumfeld (the name is culled from a piece by Franz Kafka) sing
in German. The fact that they sounded a lot like Pavement and toured
with Steve Malkmus and Co. as well helped a lot I guess. Five years on
Blumfeld still have a strong fan-base in their home country, but the
rest of the world probably have forgotten about them by now. But lo
and behold, they have a new line-up, featuring a new bassist and an
additional keyboard player, a new album, Old Nobody (due out on
Big Cat on January 25th) and - a new sound. The Pavement comparisons are
gone, which has made way for a sound that can almost be described as easy
listening. Even the lyrics are much more mellow. The political
statements are still there, but much more in the background. Blumfeld
'99 deal with love, relationship and other disasters. In the closing
song, So Lang Es Liebe Gibt, they sing about smashed mirrors
and paths of no return, something which sums up the album pretty good.
Just before Christmas, we met their singer Jochen Distelmeyer in
Cologne to explain the changes in the band and its sound.
Carsten: To be honest, the new record isn't quite the album I
expected Blumfeld to make. Especially as far as the sound is concerned
- lots of keyboards, acoustic guitars, real singing - it's a big step
from L'etat Et Moi to Old Nobody.
Jochen: I can
understand that the new album sounds surprising. But the sounds only
sound different cause the production has changed. If you
compare Mein System Kennt Keine Grenzen
with Jet Set (from their previous album), you will notice that they have a
lot to do with each other musically. If you take Status: Quo Vadis you might think it is
similar to Walkie Talkie. And The Lord Of Song has a lot
in common with Evergreen. And that can be said for almost all
the songs. But yeah, we have more in common with the, say, Pet Shop
Boys now than any kind of Indie-Rock-Band.
C: On the albums
there is an interesting diversion. On the one hand the lyrics are a
lot easier to figure out (on their previous album even people with
German as their first language had a hard time to understand what
Jochen wanted to say), and on the other hand is Old Nobody
more mature musically. Do you agree?
J: Know what you
mean. The lyrics have a new and different importance now. They are
simpler. I did that on purpose and also for artistic reasons. The kind
of Rap-Lyrics I did on the previous albums - I've done that and it's
no challenge anymore for me. As far as the arrangements and
compositions are concerned: They are as simple as ever. Only the
production makes them sound different.
C: Listening to the
new album one could think that your influences have changed quite a
bit. What kinda music do you think has played a part in the
development of the somewhat new Blumfeld sound and what kinda music
would you compare the new album to?
J: Grace Jones, especially
one record, Nightclubbing it's called I believe, the one that
has Walking In The Rain, the Flash And The Pan cover version.
Robert Palmer's Know By Now, that song is amazing. Scritti
Politti. ABC. George Michael, especially Jesus To A Child. A
lot of stuff by Michael Jackson. Stevie Wonder. A whole lot of
different stuff. Pet Shop Boys as well. But also a lot of House and
Drum'N'Bass even though that's not very apparent on the album. Chris
Rea's On The Beach. Early Fleetwood Mac, John Lee Hooker, Joni
Mitchell. And especially Dylan's last album, a total masterpiece. A
stroke of genius.
C: Do you think that the laid-back feel of
the album might have something to do with the fact that you had a lot
of time to think about what you really wanted to do with the record?
Apart from occasional live shows in Germany you haven't been doing
much over the last three years or so, once the promotional activities
and the tour for your second album were over. In a way that's a
parallel to Dylan's last record, which has been his first real studio
album in seven years. It is also very laid back, quiet and mostly
dealing with the subject "love" as well?
J: That's a very nice
comparison, even though the records don't sound much alike. I think
that Dylan's Time Out Of Mind is a perfect album. Completely
and utterly perfect. Everything fits perfectly. I have no
clue if there's a connection to how much time you take in-between
albums. I for one never felt any sort of pressure to deliver
C: Well, you can put pressure on yourself by
making contracts with record companies that have deadlines
J: That's right. I remember when Andromeda
Heights by Prefab Sprout came out a while ago. When I listened to
Prisoner Of The Past I thought: "This can't be real". It was
exactly what I was working on at the time. I'd just finished Mein
System Kennt Keine Grenzen. On the one hand that was great. To see
that there are obviously other people out there working on the same
stuff. But on the other hand it was like: "Oh, crap, why does this
take me so long? I gotta get this out right now! That resolves somehow
though, cause you are just happy that there's somebody out there
seeing things the same way as you.
C: In February you'll
embark on a major tour of Germany (and depending how the record is
received, other countries, too) and by that time you'll already have
an impression of how your fans deal with your new direction. But there's a risk
that at least some of your fans would rather have the
Indie-Rock-Blumfeld back. Especially in foreign countries
people will probably have some problems to get into the record -
especially if they don't understand the lyrics.
that's true. The Krautrock and Pavement connection will be gone.
C: Do you care about that or do you see the success outside of
Germany merely as a bonus that isn't that important?
never thought that this band would hit big time outside of Germany. I
always felt we were very lucky that Big Cat had high hopes for us
and gave us the opportunity to tour internationally. That way we got
to play cities I always have wanted to visit. And it's cool to play a
show in a faraway city and then get to hang out there for three days
and go shopping... That's what I enjoyed most about the international
C: At the end of the day your new direction might
kill your international career though...
J: That's pretty
interesting, don't you think? That's the funny aspect about the whole
thing. We made a mainstream pop record and yet we'll be even more
underground than before....
Copyright © 1999 Carsten Wohlfeld