Hubert von Goisern


TRAD II TOUR 2004 >> Interviews: 1 2 3 4 5

Hubert von Goisern: you have to give chance time and space

Soundbase Online 2nd June 2004 | Text: SB

Hubert von GoisernThank you for taking the time for this interview - especially as you have a concert to do. Are you still nervous?

It's all right today. It's different with so-called home games. We recently played in Salzburg. Equally such an important concert in at home in the Festspielhaus - and that was after a two week tour break ... That was already occupying me a few days beforehand.

Can you not simply feel at home and approach the concert feeling relaxed?

It's more stressful at home than elsewhere. You have the feeling of knowing everybody and you certainly have the desire to come over well at home and you want to deliver something good.

Because you have a reputation to lose there?

Not so much that, but there are simply more barriers there. When we play the Trad II programme here in Düsseldorf, it's an unfamiliar repertoire which we are giving our best with. For the people in Salzburg or in the Salzkammergut, they are songs with which they have grown up and now they are suddenly hearing them in very different garb. These are factors that increase the stress.

You recorded the Trad II CD on the 2100m high Krippenstein in Austria. The transportation of the equipment by cable car was alone very costly. Did you just do it because of nature and the opportunity to go skiing in between, or was there more behind it - did you all want to go into this "cloister"?

The most important thought was actually that we recorded in an ambience that made great concentration possible because there is just no distraction there and you are exposed and thrown together much more strongly than in a studio, where people come and go. Normally, people come to the studio at 10am at the earliest and then sometime around noon you finally play something usable that can be recorded. Then there's a break, you go out of the studio and are in the sophisticated world again. You then have to groove back in when you return. Then I also really liked the idea of not recording in a studio, because that is always also a little intimidating. You have the feeling that everything we do in the studio is very significant, because everything is cabled up and this whole infrastructure makes itself so important. Up on the Krippenstein, all that fell away. It then also proved itself, we were able to play much more freely there.

So will you always search for such special places for CD productions from now on?

The recording on Krippenstein emerged because the hotel was standing empty up there and I heard that it was rentable as a whole for an affordable price. If a similar opportunity should arise and a production be appropriate, I would take it again, but I am quite certain that I probably won't do a production so high up the mountain again, because the thin air has a very transparent quality. For what we made, it was apt, but if you want to make something rocky or funky for example, what shouldn't just be loud, but also impressive, I would rather that we come into the valley, because the sound up there never comes over as tight and impressive as at sea level. And you hear that too. But I am of the opinion that you should avoid studios. I do have a studio myself and it is more like a living room, but it's just great when you're in a landscape that inspires.

On Trad I and II, you newly interpret old folk tunes that have accompanied you since your childhood. Would you call the music 'cover music', or have you brought in too much of your own style for that?

One does not exclude the other. To make a good cover, supposes really that you can find a new avenue to the piece, otherwise, it is not necessary and actually stupid to make a cover. There are also titles that were simply not recorded well the first time, by whoever. The heart of the subject was not really revealed. There are some Bruce Springsteen titles that Manfred Mann has recorded - Blinded by the Light, for example. With Springsteen, I would call this title very arbitrary. Manfred Mann then played the potential of this song better. Or the Springsteen number Fire too... (sings away happily)

On the Iwasig tour, you said that on stage you expose a great deal of your personality, which sometimes makes you very nervous before the appearance. Is it simpler to present Trad I and II to the audience than your own pieces from Fön and Iwasig, or does just as much of your personal spirit flow in here?

It's not like the titles I write myself. But I wouldn't say that it's less. They are simply my roots, my history, my biography ... They are songs I have grown up with and you also get a picture of me from that - through the choice of pieces too. And with the wordless songs, the room for interpretation is very broad and very big in any case, so I also have the feeling that I sing and have arranged the pieces in a way that very specifically corresponds with my feeling of being alive.

But there are also some text passages on Trad II by me because I didn't like the originals, or just fragments of them which I have then filled with my own thoughts. But I didn't want to firmly declare these lyrics as my own because I like to pass the songs on as folk. So anyone can sing the pieces without having to ask me whether he may.

What does the criticism of you from the 200% folk musicians mean? You often hear that you are at war with them. But I have hitherto read only positive reviews of Trad. Do these "MuPos" (music police) approach you directly and look for a fight, what should I imagine?

There are situations again and again where runs into a personal confrontation. But it is so, that the respect that people meet me with - also those who don't think it's so good - is so great, that they seldom dare to say. I rather realise that from behind. For example, I discover that whole music bands get terribly upset about me.

So it's more about the gossip that you hear from other people, but nobody speaks to you directly?

The fewest speak to me. There were these confrontations much more often at the beginning of the 90s. In the meantime, such a strong wind has blown against the traditionalists, that they no longer dare to come out of their holes. Only far fewer have the courage to also confront that publicly. But I don't think I have a problem with these people. I think it's also quite funny and exciting. On the other hand, these people very likely have a problem with me.

There is certainly also a scene, which I prefer when the people who belong to it declare themselves to be foe instead of friends, because they stand for something that I call small-minded thinking with the demand for exclusivity. I would prefer not to be embraced by these people, otherwise I would have to distance myself from them.

Obviously only the fewest of them would do that, declare themselves to be foe ...

Only when they are with each other, then it comes out. It's certainly a lot to do with opportunism. The people are simply not the most courageous. In the group, you're strong and alone you'd rather keep your mouth shut, than expose themselves to heavy opposition.

You say that you avoid irony in your music because the thing is too serious and important for you. In the song Gamserln, there are some text passages that I would call very ironic - also in the way they are sung. Is it provocation?

The song is about hunting and I have a problem with hunting. It is not the case that I reject the killing of animals in general. I'm a meat eater, not someone who needs it every day, but it is so. Nevertheless, I have a real problem with hunting because high expectations of one's entitlements often reign there and apart from them, nobody else may traipse around and disturb the picture. That goes totally against the grain for me! But the song is super and I didn't want to think of a completely different text, but rather remain with the heart of the matter. I then simply brought in this whimsical level in the last verses.

You like to work together with the most different musicians. Did you always have a good nose for it, when you decided on someone, or has it also happened that you have tried someone and then only later realised - it's just not working?

Yes, that has happened. Of course it is the case that I think about it a lot before. I would also call myself a true soul, who does not immediately take the logical step when it turns out that it's not working, but I actually really give people time to integrate and find their place.

I engaged a guitarist for the first Fön tour who also recorded in the studio and then it turned out that he is not cut out for touring, because it causes him too much stress. He does not need this gypsy life and can't deal with it. There were also musicians with whom I thought, well, I searched for six months, so I'll play to the end of this tour with them too, because the qualities they have and which I saw in them, were still there.

How a personality develops in a group is not predictable and it takes time to get used to one another. That is simply the chemistry within a group, you change someone and really the whole chemistry changes and I think it also gives something back at times when there are tensions. When you now have the perfect family, it also gets a little stale. I'm not looking for daily arguments, but I would like there to be tense circumstances and not just harmonious circumstances.

You want the individual musicians with whom you work to bring their own style and character. How does that work? What is a rehearsal like? Is it more of a jam session in which something new arises because everyone is improvising, or do you all practise to specification?

There are the songs we are concerned with and which I play. I take a guitar or my accordion and sing the song. I can accompany myself, or sit at the piano and sing it in a way that it is simply appreciable, how the song is. You can also present a good song with just one instrument, or even just one voice. You sing out, and when people listen attentively, then they hear what still resonates. The conceiving is different with every musician of course, and actually I only play with people who have fantasy. People with whom you have to say exactly what is to be done are out of place with me. There are exceptions. There are things that I write out, for strings for example, because I want that it sounds so. Then people come into the studio and get the notes. But in most cases, people listen first and then on the second time, they begin to play along. There are perhaps short notations, a lead sheet, on which the formal structure is noted and the harmony changes. And then there are also sessions about parts that are somehow still not grooving, which don't yet engage and then you play these eight bars in a loop, see what comes out of it and if it is sticking, then you must simply let the whole thing rest, or I withdraw and plan an approach for how you can break a stalemate and tear the whole thing open.

What happens to musical development on tour?

At the beginning, there is still a lot of practising, because when you play the songs in front of an audience, you also notice if there is too little excitement somewhere, or it needs a break in the arrangement, because it's not understandable any more, or the information is too dense.

Then we practise in the soundchecks - you play that and you don't, or just bass and drums ... so we are always working on details. But the longer the tour lasts, the smaller the corrections become that you make.

Do you get much feedback from the audience? You're only playing seated concerts on this tour. Does anything come across from the audience, when people actually listen more than move - which can't be a bad thing. Are there big differences from concert to concert?

Yes, huge! We began this tour block in Salzburg, in the big Festspielhaus. There was an unbelievable atmosphere there! I was really very nervous and thought, there in Salzburg are many of these keepers and traditionalists. It is a stronghold of folk music. I was all the more surprised and I was really pleased that the people went along with it so. They carried us through and sang along in such a way that was really touching and I noticed that it meant something to them. The next day we were in Memmingen. We have mainly played at the Burghalde in Kempten when in the Allgäu and always had a super atmosphere there, but Memmingen - that was so bleak, it was unbelievable! It's not that it was a homogeneously bleak situation, but there were 10% of people who were in a good mood and 90% were mood dampeners and reserved to eternity.

There were also obviously conflicts between individual fractions. Some, who inconspicuously listened, were annoyed about the individuals who were louder at times, or danced at the edge.

So, is inconspicuous listening the same as being reserved for you?

There are different kinds of listening. When I don't feel that someone is sinking into the music, then it's somehow bleak. Basically, it doesn't matter to us, we only need the audience in so far as it gives us the authority to be on tour and to play lots of concerts together. But when the audience joins in, then something greater arises. The audience has a share of at least 50% in how the evening runs as a whole.

You say yourself that the Trad songs have a certain depressive potential. Have you had a small bad patch on this tour?

In the second block, we had a small tour tantrum. Because of lack of sleep, which you can't avoid, you are sometimes at your physical and psychological limit. Fourteen people in the smallest space, who have to get along with each other 24 hours a day ... Then there were really dark clouds for two days, but it didn't harm the music playing. It perhaps took a little of the joy of playing away, but something else came along instead, an uncompromising nature came to light in many passages and a special tension too. What I can't suffer is cynicism. But I have not experienced that at a concert yet. Everyone can have a bad patch or frustration, but you must simply have so much respect, for life, for every day and minute, that you give everything you have to give, and that is sometimes not as much as on other days, but I want to have what goes from myself and I also expect that from other people. I argue for it too.

Why are you playing Koa Hiatamadl again, after you didn't want to play it for years?

I played it around 500 times at the beginning of the 90s. At some point I simply never wanted to play it again. Just because people demand it is too little for me. It must be a need to me to sing and play something. We played and sang it so perfectly in the 90s that you couldn't build any more on it and I resisted simply copying it, copying myself. Now with this different lineup, there was the opportunity to see the song newly again, without having to completely deconstruct it in order to desperately make something new. That's a result of the instruments. With double bass and mandolin, acoustic guitars, really unplugged and with bagpipes, you can see and hear it anew. Apart from that, it is one of my favourite folk songs, the Hiatamadl has never lost this status. In the Trad programme, which is exclusively folk songs, it simply fits in properly again. When we played it for the first time in December, in the first moment, I thought, it's a shame that I haven't played it for so long. It has somehow already left me, but right at this moment, I am actually always waiting for it to come to a real internal need to do something.

Which CD have you recently listened to or bought?

The Stevie Wonder Collection with the song Superstition on it, because I want to perform it next week with a young funk band in Salzburg. Now I must listen to the original.

How was that contact made? Were you simply asked?

Yes, I was asked. It's a kind of open day for the music school. My daughter also goes there for violin lessons and through that I was asked if I could do something together with the young musicians. But I didn't want to do anything together with my daughter, because I want her to do her own thing.

Do you see it that way generally, or can you imagine playing music with her later on?

I like playing with her. We have already appeared together in Altersheim for Christmas or at her school at a school festival, I have no reservations about that. But here I don't want to integrate myself in an enterprise like it is at a music school. I want to do something special. Then came the suggestion of doing something together with this funk band. The band members are all about 17 or 18 years old, just doing their Abitur and groove really well. We are playing one of my songs and this Superstition. I'm really looking forward to it.

Yeah, and I've recently listened to a Swiss yodel CD that someone gave me in Stuttgart, that's quite exciting. Familiar somehow, but yet very strange and very artistic multi-voiced choral yodelling. Then I recently repaired my record player again and listened to a few vinyls, like Whammer Jammer by J Geil's band, with an amazing harmonica part. But I listen at random really...

What don't you like?

I don't like Dixieland, it's too much like carnival. I also have a hard time with musicals, I can't get on with this new Andrew Lloyd Webber story above all. For me it's not far from Musikantenstadl, while musicals from Cole Porter or Gershwin - that's in another league, that's really good music. Or Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. I don't want to damn musical completely. I have problems with operetta, but again and again I discover pieces that touch me a great deal. Although they are very kitsch, there are unbelievably romantic sounding works, by Lehár for example, or Der Zigeunerbaron and Die Fledermaus by Strauss - wonderful music!

I had to see Die Fledermaus in Romania with my grandma when I was eight. I thought it was terrible, probably because I was too small and bored.

Yes, operettas are long ... that's certainly bleak as a child, but stage and opera works simply have that in them. For example, I like Wagner a lot, but it's long - so it's difficult! I don't understand how you can do Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg to yourself. I did it once and that's enough. But I always say that you can only stand through a Wagner opera. If you sit down, you fall asleep in the second act.

You're now having a two year break after the tour. Do you have concrete plans, or are you letting chance inspire you again?

Yes, the latter. I think it's necessary again to have no plans - for at least one or two years. I want to compose, I want to travel and simply have time for chance. You must give chance time and space so you can follow it. When something falls to you and you don't take the time to look at it more closely, to bend down and pick it up - then the nicest chances are not used.

Beer tent? No thanks!

Berliner Morgenpost 25th April 2004 | Peter E. Müller

Pop rebel from the Alps: Hubert von Goisern makes yodelling a global event - and gives folk music back its dignity

He takes his thing seriously. He respects the traditional songs, yodels and country dances of his Austrian homeland - as he meets each folklore of this world with curiosity and respect. He is just misunderstood too often. At the high point of success with his band Die Alpinkatzen, it most rankled with Hubert von Goisern that of all songs, his rousing rocky song Hiatamadl was promoted to a long-lasting phenomenon at the Oktoberfest-Wiesn. Beer tents, no, they're not his world. He looks for closeness to musicians, no matter whether from Tibet, Tanzania, Egypt - or the Salzkammergut.

When he last made a guest appearance in Berlin, Hubert von Goisern demonstrated with his band how highly modern, how contemporary, how engaged the folk music of the mountains blends with blues, rock, world music, Caribbean elements in his songs. When he now returns to Berlin, he will present traditional almost with exception, the songs and yodels of his two CDs Trad and Trad II. With Hubert von Goisern, folk music gets back its dignity, which is so incessantly clapped away by countless folksy schlager musicians.

He is not someone who goes on field research with the utmost care into mountains and valleys and looks to see what can be dug up there in terms of traditional folk. "It is rather chance which confronts me with these songs," says Hubert von Goisern. "They are melodies that follow me. And sometime I have a good look at them." You feel: this man expresses himself primarily through his music. He speaks with care. He considers for a long time. He searches for the right words in order to make the beauty and fascination in simple folk songs like Dirndl woaßt nu den bam or über d'Alma comprehensible.

Yes, he takes these songs seriously. "I can't do anything with making the material ironic," he says. "I also don't like cabaret. When I play music, then the sounds, the sequence of notes, the harmonies spark off something and when I feel that I'm getting goosebumps, or that I'm suddenly far, far away, then the music playing becomes independent."

For the recordings of Trad II, he moved with his musicians and the whole studio up to 2100 metres above sea level on the Krippenstein in the Dachstein massif. Far from all the solemnity of civilisation, in cloister just for the music. "When you're up there on the mountain, you come into a raised position," he says. "It doesn't matter to you, what's happening in the valley down below. And apart from that, as von Goisern says, he and his musicians could go skiing undisturbed in the recording breaks.

Now it is certainly not the case that the man, who's really called Hubert Achleitner and comes from Bad Goisern, plays the old songs faithful to each note. He carefully peps them up, makes them his own. A harmonica blues sounds through, and a steel guitar harmonises in the best way with the classical raw material. "My personal approach actually excludes zither and dulcimer and such things. If I want to sing and play these songs, then it must be what I like." Back in the middle of the eighties he played together with a slide guitarist. "The American folk and country music has a very great relationship with our tradition. It was the emigrants who took this tradition to America. In addition came what the blacks brought with them from Africa. Thus the whole thing got a depth and width we don't have here."

Hubert von Goisern respects traditions, but is not someone who would blindly take over what is handed down. That means he often offends professional customs protectors. "Tradition is always something exclusive with us. To that extent, I already carry a spirit of provocation inside. Sometimes a spirit of destruction too." In folk music, for Hubert von Goisern it is above all about the expression of a sensitivity of life, about the story you have experienced. It is just the languages which separate instead of connecting. "I can only speak English and German," he says. "When I meet an Italian who can only speak Italian, I'm stranded. But when he sings or plays an instrument, then I imagine that I know what he wants to say."