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flag 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 anything.

C: Well, you can put pressure on yourself by making contracts with record companies that have deadlines etc...
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.
J: Yeah, 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?
J: I 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 success.

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 e-mail address

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