Between Notwist and Rayon: Interview with Markus Acher

Hi Markus, thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us again! Why did you decide now was the right time to release a live album?

When we play concerts, we like to re-arrange our songs and slowly change them, and because some of them became really different over the years, some people asked, if we recorded these versions. We are no big fans of live-albums, to be honest, so it took us quite a long time, to like the idea and how the album could sound and look like. So, no big plan behind it…

You have your fingers in so many different pies – The Notwist, Alien Transistor, Rayon, Lali Puna – do you find it challenging to devote the time you want or need to each?

Yes, it’s very challenging. It’s never enough time. But it’s also necessary… Notwist was never a band that stands on its own, it was always a part of some sort of microcosm. We need the input of friends and colleagues and other bands and records.

Had you decided beforehand which concert you were going to record for the album? 

Because Leipzig was three concerts in a row, in a very beautiful old theatre called UTConnewitz, and concerts in Leipzig were always very good, because people are really enthusiastic and nice, we thought, it would be a good chance, to finally try a live-recording. And thanks to all this and Olaf O.P.A.L. and Willi Löster, who recorded it, it sounded good in the end.

Presuming during rehearsals you set the template for the songs you are going to perform live do they change much as a tour (or a series of concerts) progress?

Yes, they change a lot. We often change the songs during soundchecks, and also often a small phrase or sound, one of us plays live, can take the song into a new direction. But also, there are songs that never change 😉

Have you considered recording in the studio any of the live versions of the songs as they appear on “Superheroes, Ghostvillains, + Stuff”? 

No, that was never an idea, actually. It needs the concert-situation.

Your new Rayon album “A Beat of Silence” is quite beautiful. You said it became a very personal piece of work, what are your overriding emotions when you think about it?

It’s a feeling about how everything in one’s life can change within in a moment.

What influences you work as Rayon?

I try to compose in a different way than with my other bands. I try not to look so much for the Song and melodies, but for sounds and structures. So I took inspiration from gamelan and percussion-music, contemporary composers and soundtracks. But also I looked at art-books a lot… to find ideas…Agnes Martin for example was very inspiring in her way of arranging colours and forms. For this music, the Japanese musician Susumu Yokota, who died tragically last year, and his album “Image 1983-1998” was an inspiration for the song “Kona”.

Harking back to Messier Objects, were those pieces written over a long period? Do you see a connection between them and Rayon? 

These compositions were written over half a year, I guess. Except one, which I had written for another concert, and re-arranged, and that we also recorded for Messier Objects. Messier Objects was different in the way, that we made it all in the studio, with lots of samples and overdubs, and the idea and possibility, that it can go everywhere.   Rayon was all composed before and then played and recorded live in the studio, with a limited number of acoustic instruments, and all the electronics were generated by sampling and processing these instruments. I wanted it to be one sound, but many different layers on the whole album.

Do you feel you move further away from the mainstream as time goes on or do you want to? What interests you more, the more “conventional” work you do or the experimental?

I think we have more courage and more possibilities to do everything we like now. But also with the internet and touring and buying lots of records, we just know more different things. I really like the combination of songs and experiments. I love both. I wouldn’t be happy to be just an experimental musician… or to be just a singer-songwriter. But I deeply admire everyone, who has a clear idea, and explores it in his work without compromise.

Are commercial success and/or critical acclaim important to you? Do you worry about the reception new work may receive? 

We always try to make a record that we would love to listen to at the moment. But we also all need money to live, so it’s a good thing, if some people buy it, too 😉

When can we expect some new music from Lali Puna?

Yes, but I don’t know when.

You are obviously a highly creative individual, how do ideas come to you? Do you have a set creative process that you use? Do you spend a lot of time in contemplation? I imagine you sitting on park benches staring into space.

I actually don’t have the time to sit on park-benches anymore, unfortunately… I listen a lot to other people’s music, buy records and art-books… that’s my main inspiration. Some ideas grow very slowly over a very long time in the back of my head, while doing daily things for my children, some come very quickly, when I play guitar. There’s no scheme, and I try to avoid to look for one. I don’t want to have a recipe for a good song… because there’s none.

What did you think about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize? 

It’s really great! I like, that song-lyrics are honoured for what they are. I like to understand it as honouring Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, MF Doom, Jarvis Cocker, Kathleen Hannah, and all the great writers of words in music.

You said to us previously in relation to Alien Transistor that in a world where people are so afraid of everything alien coming into their safe and secure environment, it’s good to amplify alien sounds and words. What are your thoughts on Brexit and the direction of German and European politics?

It’s shocking how nationalist, racist, homophobe and sexist ideas and groups find so many followers again… everywhere all over Europe. In times, when the bigger idea of working together without frontiers and making Europe (and  in the long run the whole world ) a more fair place for everybody is close as never, it’s frustrating to see, how people are so afraid to lose what they think they own. And people in Germany should know better…But there’s a lot of clever people, too, organizing and arguing for being Germany an open- and open-minded, international country… and many artists and musicians support them.

Finally, the desert island discs question – if you were stranded on said island and could only chose one album to bring with you what would it be?  

This changes quite often….But at the moment, it surely would be: Tenniscoats “Music Exists” Vol.1. I haven’t listened to a record more often for a long time.

Photo Credits: by Johannes Haslinger

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