Hubert von Goisern


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

"An act of piracy"

Der Bund 27th February 2004 | Text: Michael Sahli

Austrian folk songs; almost seriously meant - Hubert von Goisern is at loggerheads with the "music police"

Hubert von Goisern loves the music of his homeland. He says: alpine music also belongs to the open-minded thinkers and liberal-minded people. On Monday the man often called a denigrator of his own country makes a guest appearance with his interpretations of traditional country dances in Bern.

Hubert von Goisern, you play traditional Austrian folk songs and thus incur the wrath of lovers of folk music. What are you doing wrong?

These critics, of whom you talk, think that as a musician kindly keep to the rules. Rules which I evidently break in their eyes.

Which rules do you mean?

For example, they think the fact that I sing songs with one voice, rather than with three voices as in the original is a betrayal of the art. In their opinion, neither piano nor percussion instruments have a place in folk music. I have changed about a fifth of the lyrics, because the straddled, stilted language of the originals meant that you could no longer take the songs seriously. In short: people raise their fingers and point out the inaccuracies of my work.

You call these people "music police". Why?

Because they try to comprehend music scientifically, and then have no choice but to be somewhat "forced" in doing so. Because inaccuracies are of course the fiend of every scientist. But I am a musician and I don't like music which is scientific. These purists overlook the fact that every tradition must grow further. We have unfortunately arrived at a time in which the archives are given more attention than life.

At the beginning of the nineties, with the Alpinkatzen you stormed the charts with palatable alpine poop and yodels. On the other hand, your new interpretations of traditional songs sound correctly adapted. The meeting with hostility must have been much more violent back then.

Yes, it was much more difficult before. But back then, lots more people breathed a sigh of relief because they no longer had to be ashamed of enjoying traditional music. Besides, the critics had grown rather silent. However, the harsh attacks of the political left or the feature writers of the left intellectual newspapers particularly hurt me. I had always felt myself to be a leftist. And still do today.

Did you feel misunderstood?

I simply wanted to take this traditional music away from the conservatives. I plundered their music stores. It annoyed me that everything to do with tradition should be the terrain of the right wing and stick-in-the-muds.

(Almost) everything real

NEW CD: In the nineties, Hubert von Goisern rode the wave of success with palatable alpine pop. He brought disco to yodelling and jazzed up folk music into the charts. Now von Goisern has returned to his roots again. With Trad II the widely travelled Austrian has now recorded his second album after Trad (2001), which orientates itself towards the traditional originals of his homeland. Recorded in an empty hotel on the peak of the Dachstein massif, an affectionate and winking homage to folk music has arisen, which has experienced a contemporary polish with drum loop, slide guitar and keyboard runs. (mic)

So you shared the same musical preferences with people, whose attitude you criticise. A delicate tightrope-walk.

It was less a question of taste. Much more an act of piracy and of pleasure which you have when you take something away from someone who does not have sole requirement of it. I smashed the building that the traditionalists had built around themselves. Mind you, the left thought that they had to be ashamed because of my projects, because so many people had asked about the translation of traditional music.

Could it be that you and FPÖ politician Jörg Haider, who comes from the same town as you, sing the same songs?

I don't think so. If Haider sang, he would not be as he is. For I firmly believe in the saying: "Where you sing, you easily establish that bad people have no songs".

Why do you hang on so stubbornly to these traditional tunes?

I quite simply like these songs. They haven't left my ears for twenty ears. They shouldn't be cared for in ghettos any more, in three voice ensembles, or folk groups. Not many people dare to go in on such homeland evenings. Because whoever isn't wearing traditional costume or lederhosen is treated like a leper.

You are widely travelled. First as a young man, when you were travelling for many years in South Africa, Canada and the Philippines. Why did you migrate?

I left Austria when I was 21 years old. The environment in which I moved, my parents, my then wife and her family were absolutely against me becoming a musician. So I packed up my things. After four years I got a divorce from my wife, then I began to play music.

What inspired you?

In the Philippines I visited the village of an old tribe, who lived far from civilisation in houses built on stilts. When the people there played music, the whole village sang, danced, drummed. Almost every evening. There I learned their music and their singing. I experienced music in its original sense and considered it a great deal.

What did you want to do with it in Austria?

I thought, when I am back, I will see if there is also something there too, something buried alive, this heart in Austrian folk music, which touches people and brings them together. I was then successful with that too.

You stormed charts, raked in prizes. You became a star. At the end of 1994 came the end with the band and you went travelling again. To Tibet, in various African countries. Did you have to air your head?

The actor Helmut Qualtinger once said, there is a death through recognition. I felt that. The hype around me and my band became too much for me. There were hugs from people I did not like. I also wanted to feel at home in other places in the world. And so it required trying something completely new. The recognition in my youth that tradition has something exclusive weighed heavily on my shoulders. Always the same chamois tufts and lederhosen, no, thank you. I already knew in my young years that I never wanted to be like that. The travels made it possible for me to be able to tolerate and esteem my Austrian homeland.

Rock & Pop "Anti-drugs to fundamentalism"

AP 25th February 2003

Hubert von Goisern and BongoFrankfurt/Main (AP) "There are wonderful melodies there, which in their simplicity are nevertheless very rich in content." That is the impetus for Hubert von Goisern to also sing songs from his homeland that way. The man from the Salzkammergut in Austria recorded his album Trad II (Blanko Musik) with his band high up in the mountains, at 2,000 metres - very acoustic, but also combined with slide guitar and other influences.

"Yes, on the one hand I have taken away the electric guitar and the rock element and made it a bit more traditional," he says in the AP interview. "But it is evidently exactly that, which shows the breaks more glaringly in my treatment of tradition." And adds calmly: "I see myself in any case more as the anti-drug to fundamentalism."

Von Goisern is now going on a big tour until far into the summer with his Trad songs, with stops in Austria, Switzerland and far over the River Main into deepest North Germany. Above all he wants to bring his music close to the people "who have a defensive reflex," because there can be a bitter aftertaste with tradition and folk music in the German-speaking area. "Because this whole past resonates, so that nationalism is connected with and the whole thing must stay as it is," he says in the AP interview. "To show them that folk music, the folk music tradition a priori is not political, but - it is beautiful melodies or melodies which are not beautiful."

When playing folk songs he has the feeling, that "it is also about an intimacy," says the musician born in 1952 in Bad Goisern. He is curious to see whether it will be communicated in a large hall. "In clubs with 500, 600 people I can imagine it well, but in places as big as the Frankfurt Opera House, 2000 or so people go - I am curious how it works. Because it is really something intimate."

On his journeys to Africa he has felt that tradition can be a protective armour. Tradition - from food to language, from music to literature - creates identity, but can be at the expense of an exclusivity which can go to chauvinism. "For it to really work, so that I really feel happy, I must also give up a lot of what I have learned: a routine-like life. The same goes with playing music. When I play music with an Egyptian, with a Tibetan or an African, then I must be ready to dissociate myself from a piece of my tradition. Because when they do it as they have always done it and I remain exactly with what I do, then we never come together. We must also give up a piece of our identity, abandon it and move ourselves across and accept something else. Then an understanding also happens because music is not bound to a language, but is a meta level of a language. When you open up it is possible that you can immediately communicate and establish a connection."

The last Africa trip two years ago was partly very painful because he was robbed of many illusions. "But it is totally liberating when they are gone. I also now have a more relaxed contact with my own tradition, with chauvinism which confronted me at home in Bad Goisern. When I think: yes, why should they be different from Senegal? I am not so reproachful any more."

And in any case: "I firmly believe that things are constantly changing. I am an optimist and think that they are changing for the better, for expansion. Everyone's horizons are simply moving further away. That is painful for some, but it is a fact."

World music from the Salzkammergut

Anzeiger Online 24th February 2004 | Text: Helga Schabel

Hubert von Goisern sings the folk songs of his Upper Austrian homeland so that people who otherwise have nothing to do with folklore hear them too. We met HvG before the beginning of the tour.

Hubert von Goisern comes to the interview in one of the better Zurich restaurants in a red quilted jacket. He left at home the "Goiserers", which get their name from Hubert's hometown of Goisern and which are synonymous with rural footwear in Austria. "I feel safe in the mountains," he tells us later. That is also the explanation for the unusual place in which his new CD Trad II arose and was then also presented: in a deserted hotel on the Krippenstein, a ski mountain in the Dachstein massif at 2100m beloved by the Austrian. "My father gave me the idea, one day at lunch he told me that the hotel had been shut for some time." His father regretted it because although a trained hairdresser, he had helped to build it himself in the post-war years and had thus kept the family's heads above water in this difficult time.

Cloister on the mountain

Now nothing could suit the son better. He ordered his whole team, musicians and technicians, to the mountain cloister in the snow-covered house with the ghostly atmosphere. All the studio equipment was taken up on the cable car a total of three times, because not only the recordings were done here, but also post-production and mixing. A year later Hubert is pleased with his brilliant idea: "We were with each other the whole time, nobody could run off in the evening, a very special atmosphere arose." And they even went skiing - at night by the light of a full moon. Is he a good skier? "Not bad," he says with his dry Upper Austrian mountain charm and spreads butter on his bread roll. Because there's only proper food later... Incidentally, Bongo, Hubert's four-legged friend, also enjoyed the unusual production place. He romped around and gorged on snow with excitement, whereas the nature-distant journalists rather groaned when summoned to the draughty mountain for the presentation. But in the end most of them nevertheless admitted that the new CD was especially successful, so warm and real and authentic.

Artistic freedom

Hubert von Goisern has recorded folk songs from his Austrian homeland, for which there was no more room on the previous CD Trad I. And that it is now those people, who usually keep clear of such music, who are listening is due to the fact that he instruments the old melodies originally, underlies them with a modern sound and sings them without any histrionics and far from anything kitsch with his raw voice. Sometimes it sounds like Hawaii or Asia. And Hubert von Goisern also takes his own liberties with the lyrics. He attributes pink and purple sunglasses to the Gamserln (Chamois) in the hunting song, lets them taste like marzipan and vanilla - that is his "revenge" on the shooting guild. "Because even though I know that there must be hunting, I still can't get on with this archaic urge." This free treatment of tradition is not esteemed by everybody. Therefore Hubert von Goisern employs the name of his hometown as his stage name (his civil name is quite simply Achleitner), but otherwise he has long held a distance from the village at the foot of the Dachstein (the Upper Austrian Säntis). "I would only get endless arguments there," he says and: "I don't let anyone tell me how I should play music."

Late starter

The stubborn man also reacts indignantly when you ask him about private things, about his earlier job as a chemistry laboratory assistant, his family. "That is unimportant, I make music and I speak about that in public." Incidentally Hubert von Goisern seems to be a late starter in other areas. He could only decide on the bond of marriage with the mother of his children when his son Nico had been going to school for some years and daughter Laura was also at school (private details which we could nevertheless draw out of him). At any rate you can get from him that at home as a child, he was the only one who played music, rock and blues above all. The Upper Austrian did not learn to yodel until he was 37. He went onto a motorway bridge to practise, "not just because at the beginning it sounds so dreadful, but because you can't hear yourself and therefore the feeling develops in the body, which is so important for singing right." Later he then found that the Tibetan monks also practise their ritual singing at waterfalls.

Later ministrant

The man who grew up in good Catholic tradition first became a ministrant at an age at which others already have ordination or something similarly desirable behind them. "When I was 33 I acted as a server for a year and a half at in the Augustine church in Vienna." Why there? "Because it was the only church in which the mass was still read in Latin. That is an abstract language for me. However I cannot pray to God the Father in German, this masculinity in religion goes against the grain for me and I reject it." Hear! Hear! The feminist theologians would certainly delight in Hubert von Goisern! Even though he left the church a long time ago, although he "thinks it is nice when people belong to a religious denomination."

Spiritual model

Is he a Buddhist? as relaxed as he seems, it could be good, especially as he knows the Dalai Lama personally. "No, I have never deeply occupied myself with Buddhism, but I have met the Dalai Lama on a few occasions." What fascinates him about the man? "I don't know anybody who has so many reasons to mourn and who has nevertheless never forgotten to laugh. It impresses me with what great seriousness and exclusivity he carries the responsibility for his exiled and oppressed people."

Friend Jane Goodall

Friendship connects Hubert von Goisern with another famous personality - with the soon to be 70 year old chimpanzee research scientist Jane Goodall. He has spent many months with her in total, in Africa, England, Taiwan. "I like her softness, her elegance, how she goes lightfootedly through the jungle dirt with bare feet," he enthuses and: "Jane Goodall and the Dalai Lama are, for me, models in handling adversities." He comforts himself over adversity by listening to music, "preferably Verdi, Schumann, Wagner and all Strausses". In contrast he rarely listens to popular music - even though he has models, Miles Davies, Louis Armstrong, reggae. "I have my music in my head, that is what sounds the strongest in me." And it immediately sounds out live for the fans again. This week Hubert von Goisern starts his tour Trad II in the German-speaking countries. Swiss guitarist Max Lässer is also part of the internationally cast five member band.

"I make holes in the bunkers because I can't stand the stale air"

14th February 2004 | Text: Sarah Marchant | Photo: Dachstein Tourismus

Hubert von Goisern and BongoDid you enjoy your winter break?

Well, there wasn't much of a break. I used the time to get my studio finished and then did the first rehearsal for the new tour. Then I had a short trip to Cairo to meet with Mohamed Mounir; we are planning a joint concert in Cairo. There is still a way to go until everything is settled, but - inshallah - we will continue our collaboration. It is only in the past few days that I have been skiing a little. That was wonderful. I visited Toni Rosifka at the Simony-Hütte and spent time at the glacier. It amazes me time and time again, how close this different, strange, tremendous world is. I have it in front of my eyes every day, but only when I step into it, does it open for my senses.

And are you looking forward to the year ahead?

Very much! It will be a great challenge to play a programme with these musicians which consists entirely of folk songs and yodels.

At the end of last year, you said that this tour would perhaps be the last for a while. Is anything in particular pulling you away from the stage?

The unknown is pulling me. I still don't know what will come towards me. In any case, I would like to break the rhythm. Since October 1999, when I began the work on Fön, I have been constantly producing and touring. I have the feeling that for the next creative period, I need Muse and that means time. I have a couple of vague ideas which I must let mature and develop.

To what extent are your tours a necessary marketing-evil for you?

I am at least just as much at home on the road as I am in Goisern or Salzburg, where I have my domicile. What I don't like are promotion trips. I do also gladly give interviews when the interview partner is curious and asks intelligent questions, but in a world of a flood of information and over-stimulation, I often feel that remaining silent is a greater challenge than talking.

When you spend every day on tour with a relatively small group of musicians and technicians, does it ever become too close and claustrophobic for you?

No, not so far. When I want to withdraw, that always works out somehow.

What is the best thing about touring and what is the worst?

I like everything - except coming to a tiny, loud hotel room and having no opportunity for getting a decent meal on concert-free days.

When you are on tour, does the routine stem the flow of your creative juices?

It is not the routine that hinders, but on tour I am orientated totally to the evening, the concert. The rest of the day is just ticking over.

How do you feel when you think about the coming concerts with the new band members?

In the run-up we are occupying ourselves exclusively with musical tasks. I am trying not to think about the concerts - that would just make me more nervous than I already am.

Two CDs, a film and now a long tour: is it your intention to extend the Trad genre any further?

I don't think about it. I don't have any plans. Perhaps after this tour the subject has been exhausted. No idea. Everything is possible. But after this project I think I first need a time out from folk songs.

If you had not had the courage to modernise these folk songs yourself, do you think that they would eventually be lost to a broader audience due to the rather unforgiving possessiveness of the "music police"?

It is much more the bourgeois nature of many protagonists that makes it difficult for many to take pleasure in this genre, the suspicion of the new, the strange, the rejection of every development. But you find this attitude with most traditionalists all over the world. You could also say that without this suspicion, there would be no tradition at all. I am one of those who breaks down fences, I make holes in the bunkers because I can't stand the stale air. For many who have never held their noses up in the air, it is simply the smell they call homeland, which gives them security. I decode the routine. That is how I understand the panic.