Masha Qrella’s three most recent singles have all featured on Few as tune of the day over the past couple of months. She has just released her new album, Keys, on Morr Music. It finds Masha in scintillating form. It’s a record of understated, low-key (no pun intended) beauty – melodic, deceptively simple and, above all, an expression of an artist who is comfortable to let her songs speak for themselves. We caught up with her to find out a bit more about her influences and the new LP.
What is your favourite piece of music that you remember from childhood or earliest musical memory?
My earliest musical memory is probably the songs of Vladimir Vysotski, a Russian poet and actor. Both of my parents studied in Moscow in the 1970s and when they came to Berlin they used to listen to him all the time remembering those days. But my first kind of consciously favourite piece of music was “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics. I had a tape that I was listening to over and over again. We had to record our mix tapes from the radio, because I grew up in East Berlin and this was the easiest way to get western music. So I set in front of the radio, the fingers put on the record button ready to press it down as soon as the first note of the song was something I was waiting for.
What is your favourite song/piece of music that you’ve written ?
I don’t really know. I’m always very much into the new songs. But I can say that “Keys” is definitely my favourite album. I love all the songs from the album and I’m so happy about all the moments I kept in these songs.
How do you know when something you’re working on is complete?
My hard drive is full of songs I didn’t finish. Through the years I found out that if you want something to much you can only screw it up. But in the good moments, when I really let the songs decide where to go I know where the end is. I try not to force it too much but as long as there is something I don’t like about it I keep on changing words, instruments, sounds, harmonies. Though I always try to keep the first takes and if I get lost I get back to them. I even often stay with them. I guess there is always a moment when the song is there. But you can miss it for various reasons. Maybe because you are distracted by questions of production or you want to push a song into something that the song is not. Once I worked on an album for almost 2 years. In the end I threw it all away. It was horrible. I couldn’t find the point or an end. But sometimes you need to try out things and to even sacrifice a song in order to find a new approach.
Has the way you approached writing changed much over the years?
The moment a song comes up is still quite the same, it can be sitting in the underground, riding a bicycle, hanging out at a lake or waking up in the middle of the night horrified by something.
I have always had great respect for first drafts of songs, song sketches if you like. Often I found them stronger than the “produced” songs and felt something is lost in the production process rather than being enhanced. Therefore, my first album “Luck” is an album full of sketches. This is the beauty and what is special about the album, but at the same time it’s also something that you can not easily repeat. My second album “Unsolved Remained” was experimental, involving collaborations with other artists and generally more influenced by electronically generated music. After that I was exploring songwriting. In “Keys” everything comes together. I didn’t feel trapped or lost in the production process, I could record multiple versions of a song without losing the vision of a song and for the album on the whole.
You’re just released your new album – how do you feel before a new work goes public? Do you worry about how it will be received?
Yes, I do. I hate the time between finishing the album and waiting until it is released. When it’s there and I can play concerts and do other things I’m fine again. Also the first moment of giving it away to the label or playing it to somebody else can be very painful. It takes a while until the songs turn into a piece of art that I can look at from the outside.
What, outside of the musical world, influences your art?
First of all people I meet and work with. Everything that puts my music into other contexts. Just recently I got asked to set a poem by German writer Heiner Müller to music. While reading his unnamed poem I found a link to the David Bowie’s song “All The Madman” (from “The Man Who Sold The World”). I used to hang around with good friends in Minsk at the beginning of my 20s and they were singing all the songs from this one album, over and over again. They are in my head since then. That’s why I recognized the lyrics straight away. Heiner Müller did not even hide the Bowie text, he quoted the lines in English and used them like a spice inside his German text. And nobody really noticed it before. So I did a German/English hybrid, a mixture between David Bowie, Heiner Müller and me. It was the very first time I was partly singing in German and it’s all about surviving your friends, your lovers and your thoughts. It felt just natural singing it because Müller’s unique way of using rhythm in his poems is a gift for every musician.
Or when I wrote the final song for the cinema documentary “My Freedom, Your Freedom” (directed by Diana Naecke) I tried to walk in the shoes of the fascinating and self-destructive character Salema, a long time heroin addict, super smart and lost at the same time. The film does not leave you with any hope for her but respects her little moments of freedom. At the moment the song starts in the movie Salema is caught in such a painful moment, living in the streets of Berlin without a home and totally lost in her addiction but she still recognizes the beauty of autumn leaves, so that she lifts them up in the air and laughs like a little child. Everybody starts to cry. In combination with the pictures and the story this song, “Take Me Out” from my last album ANALOGIES, gets another dimension.
At the moment I am writing the soundtrack for Diana’s very new film “If Allah does not agree, you won’t die” and here I am walking in the shoes of a really big Turkish guy, Engin, hunting for ghosts driving through 5 east European countries to find his Turkish village he remembers like a fairy tale turned into a “mafia” place. It sounds like a big challenge, but it is more. Writing the soundtrack for this film is the most wonderful way traveling into different worlds and to understand how close I actually am to a big Turkish guy. “Pale days” from KEYS will be the title song for the film.
What music by other artists have you been listening to?
When I was writing and recording Keys I was listening to very little other music. One thing was the soundtrack for the movie “Fuori dal Mondo” (Outside From The World), an Italian film from 1999…it was exactly the mood I could stand. And I rediscovered some older records from my record collection (because I moved to another flat and I guess this is always a good occasion to go through old records….). My favorites records then where “Sound of Water” by Saint Etienne, the first Adam Green album “Friends Of Mine” and “The English Reviera” by Metronomy. I’m afraid I’m still in that mood. Can’t wait to get out of it 😉
And from Berlin…?
If you ask me about new music from Berlin – there is a new album coming out soon from a band called Oum Shatt, I haven’t heard the album yet but they’re a great band!
Looking back before you went solo, are there songs that still stays with you?
I always liked these two Mina songs – “Minsc” and “kupferfarben” but you need to get through the first 3 minutes and then it’s getting exiting, it’s kind of weird listening to this music today, but it was a trip to play those songs live ;). and my favorite Contriva Song is “stuck”.
Name a song that makes you smile.
“You Can’t Talk To The Dude” by Jonathan Richman.
Do you collect anything?
I dream a lot, more than ever. In a way I collect all those weird dreams in a big box big box big box big box…
*Headline photo of Masha Qrella by Silke Botsch