Bleep Interviews Michael Rother of NEU!
(Part 2 of 2)
BLEEP: Legendary producer, Conny Plank, was involved with the production of Neu!’s music. What was it like working with him and how was this relationship started?
Michael Rother: I met Conny when I tried to record the second Kraftwerk album with Florian and Klaus in the summer of 1971. He was the obvious, and natural partner for Neu! when we wanted to record our album. Conny was an amazing character and I guess that he was similarly crazy and special in his approach to music as we were. He was the only sound engineer that I knew who was willing to listen and to work with us crazy guys! Kraftwerk were very popular at the time and we were a minority and very underground; I think that it took years for people to understand us. I remember that we once did a concert with a very popular jazz player and he said, “Why do these guys get as much money as I do and they only play one note!”
Conny was very capable of handling the studio technology; at that time it was so simple, making what he created even more amazing. It was fascinating to see him work. He was a strong character and also very gentle. He didn’t try and impose his ideas and I guess he understood that when he started working with Klaus and me – we weren’t the kind of musicians that wanted a ‘total’ producer role i.e. “do this, or try this”. He was attentive and picked up our ideas very, very quickly and offered us all these possibilities towards creating our music. That was the understanding of his role. He had this amazing capability of memorizing the good parts of a session.
Of course, we did the mixing without any computer aid, and many of our fuzzy ideas were scattered over the tape and he had this quality of remembering where all the good parts, the nuggets, were, and while the tape/mix was running, he would focus on these moments. I try to make people remember Conny and to give him enough credit because he was so important for Neu! and Harmonia and, also, the first three solo albums of mine that he recorded. Conny left his mark, and without him, it’s hard to imagine us releasing anything similar. A man with a great open mind that was looking for people to work with like we were all looking for him. It was logical for both sides, really, he was looking for these new musicians with a new approach and that’s where he nurtured his inspiration – we were so lucky to have him in our production team!
B: Last week saw the ‘official’ release of the fourth Neu! album, entitled ‘86′. Can you tell us about this record?
MR: There’s a difference between the first three albums and this one, and that is that Klaus and I did those together. In the mid-80s, we tried to record our fourth album, but the record companies whom we approached with some tracks that we made were not interested in Neu! at this point. The Brain label had stopped pressing our first three albums – and only recently, after sitting in an interview with Steve Shelley [Sonic Youth], I found out that he and the rest of Sonic Youth were listening to Neu! in the mid-80s – I had no idea .
I think labels were not convinced about what we were doing because the music scene in the 80s was a lot different. Klaus and I, had to accept that this album was not going to be released. Klaus was taking substances that he believed would enhance, not only the music, but his perception of what was going on in life. He really believed this, and as a result, things became more and more difficult; he became more and more isolated and seemed to be on a different planet. In the early 90’s, things started changing and Daniel Miller [Mute Records] wanted to release Neu! and suddenly people were starting to talk about us.
But Klaus, in the end, and I don’t want to be unfair as he’s not around any more to explain his motives, but he always said “no” to all the record company offers. He wasn’t prepared to compromise with them, and being such a strong and stubborn guy, he always wanted to ‘run through the wall instead of taking the door that was opened for him’! I had a very different understanding of the situation, even though we were equally as unhappy about bootlegs that were circulating, but he just wasn’t willing to sign the contracts that were offered and he would not trust anyone who was trying to negotiate with him. He was very paranoid, short of cash and thought that no-one wanted to work with him any more; which was quite understandable being the person he was at the time.
My mother liked Klaus a lot; she thought that he was a crazy guy, but she really had a soft spot for him! Many people thought that he was very interesting. But sooner rather than later, his behaviour made sure that he was left more-or-less alone. He sent me a fax once saying that there was a label in Japan that was willing to work with him and had decided that this album that we had been working on ‘Neu! 4′, or ‘Neu! 86′ as it is known now, was to be released. He had finished his own version of the album from the tapes that he had and, basically, took the money and ran!
Of course I didn’t find this very amusing at the time and the artwork for the album had Klaus Dinger all over it! He even started a project called ‘La Neu’ which used our original logo… These where the darker and more bitter times of the 90’s and at this time, Klaus was so far ‘away’ from everyone. I decided not to take court action against him and my girlfriend said that if I did, we may never ever reach and agreement and if I did, that would be the end of Neu! and I wanted to keep this music alive.
I had worked so hard on getting things together all the time while Klaus was getting more and more paranoid, and to him, even I was one of the ‘gangsters’ that was trying to cheat him! It was a terrible and depressing time; I was trying to find an agreement between Klaus to release ‘Neu! 86′ as a better version because I didn’t like what he had done to it and all the crazy ideas that he added!
We were lucky that superstar actor and owner of Grönland Records, Herbert Grönemeyer, decided to re-release our back catalogue in 2001, but it was still impossible to find an agreement with Klaus… a few years later he died. I had a meeting with Klaus’ widow and the Grönland team in Berlin to discuss the situation with Neu! and what to do. I was very, very relieved and happy that Klaus’ widow was prepared to compromise and she also knew that ‘Neu! 86′ could not be released in the way that Klaus had recorded it. I offered to rework the music, which I did last year, over a period of six months, transferring all the tapes. It was such a great experience and very important to, as the whole experience that had passed was like a wound that had never healed. I felt that it was important that the ideas Klaus and I had in the 80s were correctly documented. With this album, I tried to the best of my ability, present my understanding of his vision of music at that time, and when I presented my final version of ‘Neu! 86′ to Klaus’ widow and the people at Grönland, everyone was very happy with it.
All of Neu!’s albums are available to buy from Bleep.com
For Part 1 of our interview, go here.
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