Body, Soul, and Intellect: An Interview with Hauschka
The past few years have seen a blurring of the once-rigid lines between classical and alternative/pop music. In fact, many of today’s musical geniuses (Zoe Keating, Olafur Arnalds, Nico Muhly, Sigur Ros, and Ben Frost, to name a few) are heavily imbued with classical overtones. One such artist who has successfully crossed over is Hauschka, aka Dusseldorf’s Volker Bertelmann. Most famous for his prepared piano work, Hauschka has recently branched out to a more full-band sound on his latest release, Salon des Amateurs(FatCat), which found him collaborating with members of Calexico and Múm.
ELM: Why did you make the transition to a fuller sound on Salon des Amateurs than on records past?
Hauschka: I had the impression that I am losing a little bit of my club and indie roots if I am only working with an orchestral sound. It was, for me, important to incorporate rhythm and bass.
So, when I wrote “Foreign Landscapes,” I went at the same time into my studio and recorded techno based piano loops and sounds.
ELM: What was it like collaborating with members of Calexico and Múm? How did they enhance the record?
Hauschka: The guys from Calexico and Samuli Kosminen are wonderful, open-minded musicians and it is a pleasure to let them do what they like. I trusted their taste and so they sent me the files they where recording at their home.
ELM: Where did the album title come from?
Hauschka: The album is named after a famous club in Düsseldorf where you can visit dance nights but also readings and film nights. It is a room for body and soul and the intellect.
ELM: You spoke about Ferndorf [a previous album title] being evocative of your early years and the ties you still carry to that place. What does Salon des Amateurs evoke for you?
Hauschka: It describes a little bit for me a dance night. When I go dancing I mostly dance in the Salon in the last years, and I felt it would be weird to give the record an abstract name. So I dedicated the record to my favorite dance club.
ELM: In some places on the album (I’m thinking of “Girls”), I hear hints of jazz improv. Was that a style you incorporated deliberately? Have you had jazz training?
Hauschka: Well, as a pianist you definitely come across jazz and idols that are big jazz musicians. So for some years in my older days i played jazz music and iI accompanied singers and players who applied for the jazz university in Cologne. But somehow the jazz world in germany was for me too restricted. Which is totally subjective as for others it was the biggest world to conquer.
ELM: One of my favorite tracks on the record is “Two AM.” Can you tell me more about that?
Hauschka: “Two AM” was based on this sequence in the beginning that is like a waterfall with an echo after 24 bars and I had as well the pattern that sounds like a synthesizer. What I like about it is the little plucker melody that sounds like a mistake. And Samuli and John Convertino played great stuff on that piece. Joey Burns played cello in the middle section which i think is beautiful lyrically. So it somehow stands for the whole record, as the record combines dance and orchestral music at the same time.
ELM: Do you think you will ever work with a vocalist?
Hauschka: I would love to. I have already worked with singers but it will be maybe not released under the name Hauschka.
ELM: You’ve talked in the past about being very moved by film, especially directors like Pedro Almodovar. Have there been any recent films that inspired you?
Hauschka: I was actually very impressed by the movie “The Road,” which is quite a dark, scary film but it somehow had an atmosphere that was staying with me for a few days ,and that is always a good sign. I liked also the music in it, as it was very minimal but created a strong atmosphere.
ELM: Will you be doing any more work for film or tv that you know of?
Hauschka: I am working on a long feature film right now, and it seems that it will be a great film of a very well known German director. I also try to work on other projects related to film .
ELM: Where are your favorite places to travel, either on tour or not?
Hauschka: Portland in Oregon, Berlin, Manhattan and Brooklyn, London and Brighton, the south of France. And I like Spain and Italy. I would love to travel more in Scandinavia. I love Sweden.
ELM: Who are your favorite writers?
Hauschka: Luke Sutherland , Heinrich von Kleist, Bertholt Brecht, Kevin Rittberger, Dai Sijie.
ELM: The best interview I read with you was a 2009 interview with Pitchfork, in which you talked about feeling connected with contemporary indie bands like My Bloody Valentine and Sigur Ros. What other contemporary artists do you feel a kinship with?
Hauschka: Bands like The National, singer-songwriters like Tom Brosseau and Josh T Pearson and Owen Pallett.
ELM: What was the first record you heard that really changed your life?
Hauschka: Queen, A Night at the Opera.
ELM: What are some of the tricks you’ve used to prepare a piano?
Hauschka: I work with vibrators and ebows. I have a lot of shakers that I put on the strings. The palette is expanding from week to week.
ELM: Do you ever work with tape loops?
Hauschka: I work with tape echoes, which are in a way tape loops.