"Like a burning torch"
Last Friday Hubert von Goisern thrilled his fans in Maxlrain. Before the concert he took time for a stop on our red bench.
Tuntenhausen. With a break the artist and his young band presented an almost three hour concert with songs from his newest album S'Nix as well as the big hits from his time with the Alpinkatzen.
You have a big and faithful fan base here in this region. As an Upper Austrian is the concert in Maxlrain almost a home game for you?
Almost. For me there are four places that have something special about them. At my home in Goisern, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich. Maxlrain doesn't stress me out so much. But I prefer not being stressed to being stressed and like playing where I have the feeling that I don't have to read too much into things.
From 3rd to 5th July the big finale concert of the two-year Europe tour is taking place. Are you warming up here in Maxlrain for this big event and are you looking forward to the festival?
I'm looking forward to it very much, apart from the fact that afterwards it will unfortunately all really be over. It was four years' work, but it was a really wonderful time with exciting meetings and of course there's a bit of wistfulness there too.
Your European journey was intended to bring people and artists closer together. Do you have the impression that Europe is slowing growing closer, or are you frustrated that there are still obstacles between people and prejudices in their minds?
It's normal for there to be sceptics of Europe and you have to make an allowance for them. But Europe is a brilliant project, even if it's still a building site. If there's something not right in this building site, you have to get involved. But I have the feeling that meanwhile, thanks to fallen borders, there is a much more relaxed contact between people.
Was there a stop on your river tour to the Black Sea and Rotterdam that is especially memorable or a high point to you?
Nearly every day was a high point The fact that it happened at all was the great miracle.
You once named Vienna as one of your favourite cities. Does the city represent something along the lines of a symbiosis between east and west?
Yes, certainly. Just the mix of people from the times of the monarchy resonates even today. And I like that about a city, that there's not such inbreeding, but rather cross-fertilisation - from the country too of course.
Apropos Vienna. In 2006 you called upon the FPÖ politician Hans Christian Strache, very successful in Vienna, not to use the song Heast as net for campaign events. The German SPD politician Martin Schulz recently publicly called Strache a Nazi. Do you share his assessment?
I don't like the expression and I wouldn't use it for anybody today; because it was an especially bad time back then that you can't compare with anything. But he is certainly an igniter and such people don't belong in politics.
During your career you have always involved nature in your projects, be it the Danube or the Dachstein for a press conference in 1992. The natural world seems to play a special role in your life and your music.
I couldn't last long without nature, I'd become depressed.
Even in your younger years you were a globetrotter. In your biography you can read that you lived together with headhunters in the Philippines. How did that happen? Weren't you afraid?
I just wanted to go to the area, because I'd heard that instruments were still played there that were no longer anywhere else to be found. I had no fear. Here at home you can cross the road and get run over by a madman.
You learned to play the nose flute in the Philippines. With all the instruments you play: do you have a favourite?
It varies. When I'm looking for a melody, I like to play the trumpet. When I'm looking for harmonies I sit at the piano, or play the guitar. Accordion is somewhere in between. I actually really like all instruments - including those I don't play.
From the Philippines to Bavaria. What is your relationship with Bavaria like?
Thanks to the audience Munich is definitely my capital. That's where you find the most people who can get along with my music and what I do.
Hiatamadl, one of your greatest hits, is a similar phenomenon to Schiefoan by Wolfgang Ambros and Fürstenfeld by STS. Are you still able to listen to the song - will the audience hear it tonight?
I don't know yet. It depends on whether I'm in the mood. In the last ten concerts we've played it once. But in principle I still like the song. (Editor's note: he played it.)
You're now 56 years old. Do you sometimes think about stopping, or do you already have new ideas and projects for the coming years?
I can't imagine anything like retirement. I like being on tour. It's tiring though. It's like a torch that's on stage as long the fuel lasts. Then you should take a break and that's what I'll do too from August and probably won't go back on stage again until 2011.
Cloister Benediktbeuern rocks
LUDWIG spoke to the musician Hubert von Goisern about the region's event of the summer.
Mr von Goisern, what induced you to give a show in this location?
We played two evenings at the cloister during one of the recent tours, the ambience is very appealing - it's a dignified pile that exudes calm.
Do you have any personal connection to the values of a cloister, for example being down to earth and honest?
Of course I think that all these values are close to me. But I still can't manage to muster enough repose to let mosquitos live.
Your new tour is called S'Nix. What's it about?
With S'Nix the songs evolved during our ship tour in eastern Europe and that gave them a very individual groove. Before that I was often influenced in my composing by travelling that brought me closer to other cultures in terms of music in particular.
How is that expressed in your songs?
Maybe the listener can get something from the lyrics and melodies? But basically I think that my songs are less about asceticism or cloisterly discipline. Groove is something very physical, intense, non-celibate, promiscuous.
Is it important for you to speak directly to people in smaller towns and regions too?
Every person I can reach with my music makes me happy, where they live is secondary.
Soon chance will rule once more
World musician and eternal traveller: this week Hubert
von Goisern is making a stop in Weiz.
What he's looking forward to at the end of his mammoth tour: time and chance.
Cruising into the harbour after the concert expedition by ship up and down the Danube, having terra firma beneath the feet again at last. Arriving. For a search like Hubert von Goisern, this means above all: having time. "Giving chance space again." Full stop.
And with this the 56 year old exceptional musician and ambassador (he prefers "am-boat-ador") for the Capital of Culture Linz couldn't encapsulate his philosophy any better. "I'm just an inquisitive person, interpreting everything that comes."
He has not yet forged plans and planned projects for the time after the ship. Chance should direct where he goes, where he stops, what inspires him, which sounds he will make. "Otherwise it wouldn't be chance", he says and adds quietly: "I want to be a bit quiet again." He says and with this means contact with the media too. A lot has happened, requests, interview dates, press conferences. Too much.
Silent, but not quiet
Falling quiet. With talking too. "I'm looking forward to myself." To his thoughts, his circle of friends. Simply the part from which he withdrew when he was on board. When it came down to it, the journey to bring people together was all about "us". All about "we". About playing music together, joining together. "I have been able to meet unbelievably exciting people."
He is writing a book reflecting on the time on the Danube. "I'm almost finished." There are tasters of the gigs he played from ship to land too, magical and wild melodies from land and water. The live double album Haut and Haar is released on 12th June.
Apropos. The chasm that gapes between far and nearsightedness occupies him. He likes people who have no fear of broadening their own horizons. Nearsightedness leaves him at a loss. A current example is the EU election: "I'm shocked at how many opponents there are. A postscript to Austrian politics: "At least we don't have to grapple with someone like Berlusconi." He says this and hurries on his way. To the next press conference. To the last storm before the new peace.
"I have no target audience"
After his ship tour through Europe Hubert von Goisern comes to Landshut
Hubert von Goisern wasn't happy as being regarded as the founder of alpine rock for long. He then became a globetrotter and musical frontier crosser and confronted his audience with all sorts of exotic presents, although again and again they called for Hiatamadl. Three years ago he thrilled the audience in the Landshut old town with a repertoire that was as catchy as it was ambitious. This summer he will be coming to Landshut again, refined by further experiences. Among them the Linz Europe Tour, in his own words "the biggest thing I've ever done": for two years he and his band sailed with a converted cargo ship downstream to the Black Sea and back. In 2008 they then took the western waterways to the North Sea. Along the way they moored time and again in order to meet well-known musicians from the region and to play with them. At a press event Hubert von Goisern spoke of his journey by ship and new projects.
Your travels on the water are now over. How have you been since then?
Yes, it really was something huge and life-shaping for me for three years, taking this ship through Europe. But I'm happy in a way that it's over. The ship is no more either, it was turned back into a freighter.
Along the way you met musicians such as Xavier Naidoo and Wolfgang Niedecken. How did that come about?
I wanted to meet Xavier Naidoo, because I'm interested in what he does. So I went to Mannheim and asked him if he would collaborate. When he then came on board the ship I was ill. We played one concert together and at the next one I was in hospital with pneumonia and he had to sing my part and even yodel. The collaboration with him was very uplifting. He has that kind of charisma. When we were travelling the Rhine we of course went to Cologne and BAP simply go along with that. I knew Wolfgang Niedecken from a show in Austria. He was also willing straight away to play with us. It was more difficult with others: with Marie Daulne from Zap Mama I waited two hours after a concert. Then I practically had to trip her up in order to explain to her what it was about.
The journalist Bernhard Flieher has written a book about this journey, called Weit, weit weg. Have you read it?
I've only dipped into it. My ego inflates with the things I like. And at other points I'd probably say, that was completely different. But I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing.
What's happening with the band that accompanied you on the ship through Europe?
I don't want to be on any stage next year, I just want to compose. But I'd love to be on tour with them again in 2011. They are amazing people, who have impressed everyone who's heard us. It was evident how good they are during the guest slots, where they had to take on every possible style. Zap Mama played with them twice - and once with their own band - and that was a mistake!
Some people are unsure whether they should buy a ticket for your Landshut concert, because they don't really know what you'll be playing and what mood you'll be in.
I don't think about whether people will like my programme. I just go on tour with it. I myself prefer to go somewhere where I don't know what I have coming to me. At my concerts people come together who wouldn't say hello to each other in the street. I don't have a target audience. But basically I'm always in a good mood when I'm on stage.
From where do you take your ideas for composing?
Things simply occur to me. I occupy myself with lots of things, travel and read a lot. Then the ideas just come out. The process of composing is lonely. But you shouldn't imagine that I'm always sitting up at the top of a mountain. Nothing comes in nature. I always have the feeling that the world is perfect, I don't need to add anything to it. In contrast there is so much craziness and noise in the city that I feel I have to contribute something to it.
Music tells of the intangible
For the time being Hubert von Goisern - most recently to be seen on the DVD Goisern Goes East - has had enough of musical globetrotting. The 56 year old is concentrating now on less gruelling tours.
You play in Tibet, Africa, Eastern Europe and take musicians like the Egyptian Mohamed Mounir with you on your tours - is music a means of understanding among nations for you?
I wouldn't call it that. For me music is one of the languages there is. So it should be used for understanding too. Above all it forms a level of understanding between the concrete world and the other world - that is, as an intermediary between the tangible and the intangible, on different levels of perception from language. That is why music works beyond the boundaries of language too - something a poet could never do.
Have there been any misunderstandings on your travels - for example, that someone has felt threatened or offended by yodelling?
No, I've never been aware of that. Only in a village in Africa, where I yodelled without a band, did the people start to laugh really hard. It really got them going, although they themselves sing with clicks, so that's pretty unusual too. In a sports stadium in the Ukraine the 15,000 people there cheered the yodel as though a magnificent firework had been let off.
What's the most unusual form of singing you've come across so far?
The singing of the Inuit women. It consists of just gasping and breathing sounds. It's quite extreme.
How much does is annoy you that traditional folk music in Germany is put on a level with the over-conditioned industrial product that Florian Silbereisen and the Musikantenstadl manufacture?
I can't get on with this stuff at all. It enraged me in my younger years too. For a long time I thought that they were breaking music. But that's not it. After all, there's something like it in every culture. Think about the country music scene in the USA, it's incredible what goes on there ... But ultimately the commercial contortions don't hurt anybody. But they don't reach the magic that would be possible.
The Mannheim musician Laurent Leroi started a "Zwiefacher" live project at the local theatre. Really thrilling, but without enduring success - why is it so difficult for "German folk" in its explosive, original form?
Perhaps it simply takes time. You've got to keep at it. Or it's down to the lack of variety that the genre offers.
You are currently working a lot with Xavier Naidoo - from folk musician to folk musician, so to say? He likes to define himself as an artist for all, that is for every age and generation ...
Looking at it that way: yes! I think that what he does and the fact that he really throws himself into it is great - with his aspiration to make the world a better place too. It's courageous. Everyone wants to do it, but most don't dare, because it might be uncool - and ultimately unattainable too. Aside from that he is a terrific singer, who can get on with people - it's great cinema. I didn't need to look long for what we have in common - when the curiosity for others is as great as it is with the two of us, it works out. And a duet is always more exciting when two people don't do the same thing. And he inspired me to do something in High German sometime - it always had too much pathos for me.
Would you undertake such an adventure as the ship tour on the Danube again?
That's enough for a long time now. It was an act of strength, from which I came away with a black eye. In view of what we experienced and the profit we made on the emotional side it's completely okay that we made an economic loss. But I'm somewhat burned out as far as the collaboration with so many regional artists is concerned. The one or two weeks that they were on board with us were ultimately not enough. I would have liked to have dedicated myself to them more intensively.
Is your most recent album S'nix the ultimate synergy of Alpinkatzen and world music experiences? Or will all the experiences of your concert journeys flow together into a globalised folk music record some day?
I have the feeling that I've freed myself of constraints. On S'nix I simply drew from the complete picture - no matter whether it was world music or traditional alpine music. Next time I'll probably attend more to my geographical centre - I'm only going to play live in the German-speaking area, where the people understand me.
Talking of understanding: Can you comprehend the strong election result for the new Haider party?
It's unbelievable, but true. Mind you, I would concede to the Carinthians that we don't completely write them off because of a few flash heads. Anyway, the Freedom Party hasn't managed it and the schism between the two right wing parties still exists.
"Yodelling gives me weak knees"
He yodels and rocks, lived with headhunters and married the first one he kissed. The Austrian folk music punk Hubert von Goisern will be making guest appearances next week in Zurich and Bern.
The great white: walls of snow all around, three metres high. In between the Hotel Bellevue raises itself up on the Kleine Scheidegg, a tourist monolith that reminds you of Thomas Mann's Zauberberg and films like Titanic or Shining. The looming Eigerwand mountain has disappeared in the raging snowstorm, in the hotel salon it is cosily warm.
Hubert von Goisern (56) is a mighty person: big body, long arms, big hands. Black jumper, grey trousers, black mountain shoes and an orange neck scarf underscore his extravagance. He is enthroned like a Buddha in the soft cushions between heavy rugs and large oil paintings of mountains. He talks calmly and with consideration, constantly weighing his words - he will soon be raging on stages in Zurich and Bern ...
Hubert von Goisern, you are a passionate mountain climber. What attracts you to peaks? It's dangerous up there, cold and inhospitable too.
But this view! The view across things that become so small. I also love the effort of running myself tired. In time thoughts vanish as well. And in the evening it's then a great feeling to fall into bed totally tired.
So do you often flee from your thoughts?
It's not fleeing. The spirit is a fire that you can stoke. Those who are creative and who work cognitively often fall into a mental exhaustion. I am then without the physical exertion as balance.
So is the music that you like to play live not enough for you?
We play folk music. And folk songs are common property, but they only survive when they are constantly newly invented. What's crucial is that I can sing in our language. When I watch my children and friends, I see: they want to hear lyrics that they understand too. Lyrics in which poetry lives, lyrics that are funny too.
That's good, but we have little to laugh about: crisis reigns.
Well, there's a lot of exaggeration in many places. We're still picking from an embarrassment of riches, Central Europe is stinking rich. Certainly a new poverty is encompassing us. But so far the social network that catches the disadvantaged is working.
I have read of more than 350,000 unemployed - twice as many as here in Switzerland. And that everyone's looking in fear towards the east.
We're still looking to our eastern neighbours full of worry. Our banks and businesses have hitherto dealt greedily with the east. It behoves us to look after this nevertheless to worry about this suffering market.
People are afraid of people from the east. You had bad experiences on your three year ship tour through the former east block too.
That's right. We were threatened in Budapest, they wanted to knock our captain's teeth out, a guest band forgot their date. There were one or two other unpleasant incidents. But they didn't suppress my romantic-idealistic view of a peaceful Europe.
What does your European ideal look like?
That individuals peoples are not afraid of each other, that we have an open, tolerant society, that we live the unity in variety. Think about Sicily: Christians, African, Jews and Muslims once lived there in perfect harmony until some small-minded people complained and wanted to only live among their own people. I actually think it's a shame that Prince Eugene of Savoy beat back the Turks in the late 17th century. Because at that time they had a much more developed culture. I don't really like this Christian-Catholicism: there's something exclusive about it, there's always a great requirement for superiority. As far as cohabitation of ethnicities and peoples is concerned it will have to be like with love: you must always make an effort for happiness and affection.
Apropos love: you were a daredevil and married the first woman you kissed. Would you advise others to do the same?
Not really. I was young. (smiles)
And you now have your third wife. The Austrian Ingrid was followed by the Canadian painter Kate and then Hildegard, an Austrian teacher. Still happy?
Oh yes and how. Love is like music though: you feel life in all its beauty and tragedy. It'll be 25 years this year. They are among the best things that have ever happened to me. We have two children too, 15 and 21 years old.
Is it possible to fight with you?
Anyone who wants to does so. If he or she dares (laughs). I once bit a musician during a concert, because she was standing around apathetically. But I'm someone who needs harmony. Although: there aren't only sunny days, föhn reigns worldwide now.
That's what you called your album that was released in 2000.
Yes, because I love such strained situations. With föhn the sky is blue, there are pretty fish-shaped clouds, we suffer under the air pressure. When the föhn stops, the right weather comes along.
Then there's thunder and lightning like now in the crisis! There's a storm in the music business too. Music pirates and copyright pirates are taking the bread from the mouths of the artists.
I see that differently too: I want people to hear my music. It doesn't matter to me whether they buy my CDs, download or copy them. Things have changed: nowadays it's more about the musicians and bands, earning money with concerts is more honest. That's positive. Aside from that: what I am meant to do with more money than I need?
Put it here in Switzerland! Why have you never lived here?
You have to be at least a Formula 1 World Champion! (laughs) No, seriously: because life would be too similar to ours.
You've lived in the exotic countries of South Africa, Canada and with the headhunters in the Philippines. What was the latter like?
The people were extremely hospitable and wanted me to settle with them. They even gave me a house.
Where is your true homeland?
In the Salzkammergut, among the mountains and a rich folk music. But I feel at home elsewhere too. Because a jacket can soon become a straitjacket, tradition often weighs heavily like a rucksack that is crammed full. From time to time you have to clear it out.
Do that. Come to us. Switzerland is exotic too. Great mountains. And we lure with low taxes.
I think it's obscene to shirk from taxes. As a high-earner I have to give up a good half to taxes in my home country. But I think that's okay, because I use the system, profit from the state, the public amenities. That's my part of the responsibility. Aside from that: a few interesting people need to stay in Austria.
To then tour to distant lands time and again.
That's an act of solidarity. We here in the west can hear sounds from all four corners of the world with just the click of a mouse. But the people in the Third World have no notion of our culture. We're getting ever richer here - the people there ever poorer. That is why I gave free concerts in Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal and along the Danube in Eastern Europe. That was the entrée every time. And then as a reciprocal gift I witness their music too ...
... and then weave it into your sounds too.
It has often pollinated me. As an artist you are always searching for new, unused sources from which to draw. Taboos too, which is why one goes back to the archaic. Folk music for example, for all those on the left it was a red rag, the plaything of the political right. But at the moment I am exhausted by all this travelling. I have invested a lot of energy and money in it. In the next few years I want to concentrate on the German-speaking area again.
And give more concerts here - great. We like to crack jokes about you Austrians. Do you guys make Swiss jokes too?
We don't need to (laughs). No, I don't know, I don't know any. And I think that we're more suited to being the butt of the jokes than the joke-tellers. But it's a great thing to make someone laugh, isn't it?
You should also cry often with emotion, for example when you listen to music.
Not just with emotion, but also with anger or empathy. Music for me is like a drug. My floodgates open, my heart opens up. Operas get into me the most intensely: Verdi, Mozart, Puccini ...
So why don't you do classical music yourself?
I can't play music that constantly makes me cry. (laughs)
Pop doesn't seize you?
Rarely. I get weak knees with yodelling. But also with the German soul singer Xavier Naidoo too. When he sings it grabs hold of people and he conjures up a smile on their faces.
But Naidoo is often controversial due to his impassioned, often religious moral outpourings.
It's no wonder, Naidoo makes himself vulnerable with that. But we are all do-gooders to a certain extent, we all want to change something. Xavier has the courage to admit it. And that annoys his critics.
The biggest adventure of his life
Hubert von Goisern (56), Austrian musician through and through and outdoorsman, talks to Bianka Rehn about himself, his new album S'Nix, the current tour, his show on 5th April in Offenbach and plans for the future.
What do you think of the course of your career? Are you happy?
Yes, I am. I don't like to bemoan what was or is - I let the past be the past.
Do you think that with your mix of rock and traditional folk music you set a ball rolling that resulted in a musical movement?
Yes, I think I set something off. There are certainly a number of artists who picked up on the concept of reinventing folk music, yet doing so with a gateway to tradition.
To fans you seem quite natural and reserved. How ambitious are you?
I'm very ambitious and I want recognition for what I do. Nonetheless, I want to have a break next year. Nowadays you have to unfortunately do a lot of publicity work to be heard by people - it takes a lot of time.
From where do you take strength, who gives you the moments of peace and calm?
My family of course; I have two children. But friends help me find peace too. But I really like being alone in my little house as well. I'm among nature there. That helps me a great deal to relax too, to recharge.
Some see your most recent album S'Nix as one that needs adjusting to and as very modern and want back old beer tent hits like Koa Hiatamadl. What do you say to the old fans?
I would say to them: don't be cross with me. You can't turn back time and I'm simply too curious to want to stay with one musical style. Both old hits and new are represented at my concerts. You simply have to keep yourself moving and not get too comfortable. S'Nix is like an house whose rooms are empty. And this nothingness is not nothing. But rather space for numerous new ideas. Because that's what is interesting: filling the nothingness.
You explained that you see this as "the greatest and most significant, the most content-rich thing" - "apart from love". What do you mean by that?
Love is something exceptional. The feeling of being loved, with all its strengths and weaknesses, is like medicine. The security and the feeling of affection make love something special too.
Which track on the album do you like the most?
Songs are like your own children: you love each in their own way. Sometimes one more or less. But if I have to pick one, then it's Siagst as, which I sang with Xavier Naidoo.
Are you able to reveal anything about your new book?
Yes. It's about the last three or four years of my life, which I've spent on a ship. It's based around a logbook that I kept during this time. But the start and finish of the journey will be depicted too. The trip was the most exciting time of my life.
What would you do if there wasn't music?
I can't imagine a life without music. However I have once in a while toyed with the thought of throwing it all in, because I still suffer with terrible stage fright. I might want to help young artists with their music. I liked writing too.
Do you have plans for the future?
At the moment I have none. I'd really like to sing in High German sometime, which isn't easy if you only have Austrians in your team. I'd have to spend a long time in the High German regions and perhaps change my musicians too. Many words sound completely foreign to me in High German, so if possible the conversion wouldn't be simple.
What is your memory of the concert last year in Offenbach, and what would you like to say to your Offenbach fans?
I can still remember the show on the bank of the Main very well, as I became very ill the next day. My fans certainly don't remember me so well, as I wasn't able to come back at the end of the show, because I was so ill. But with willpower and antibiotics I fortunately made it to the end. I want to apologise to my fans once more. I'm now looking forward to appearing in Offenbach again - hopefully in good health.