Bleep Interviews Michael Rother of NEU! (Part 1 of 2)
This week sees the legendary NEU! have their classic albums re-released, including never before released material. You can see all of the catalogue here. To mark this occasion, we decided to talk to NEU! co-founder, Michael Rother.
Bleep: The late 60’s was a turbulent time politically in Germany, but exciting musically, as this era marked the genesis of elektronische musik or krautrock. Can you give us an insight into this period?
Michael Rother: I think the best that I could do is tell you about my own situation. I was born in 1950 and when Paris 1968 [student riots] came around, I was 17 or 18. There were political upheavals and the students demonstrating at the universities. Me and some older friends had problems at school – I was a good pupil – but the conservative teachers were surprised by this this previously ‘nice guy Michael’ suddenly coming up with strange ideas in his mind and my relationship with them at school slowly worsened. We did have one or two ‘progressive thinking’ teachers, but they were a minority. I finished school in 1969 and I knew that, then, I could no longer cope with this very conservative situation at school.
Seeing all the changes around the time, like the Vietnam War, even the changes within the media of film and art; this compelled me to develop my own personality further. My friends and I thought that these changes were like some kind of ‘virus’ that was in the air, and looking back, this was the reason why it felt so natural to develop who I was and detach myself from the background that I grew up in; especially growing up within the clichés of American and British rock music at the time.
B: Was there a mutual decision amongst your peers to react against these clichés?
I think that there’s a misunderstanding here, and I think that this might be a bit of a myth! I hope I’m not going to be disappointing people, but I felt quite alone with the idea of “not continuing with this old style of music” and by the time that 1970 arrived, I wanted to do something new. It’s not like we were all connected then like we are today as people. Back then, I wasn’t aware of what people were doing in musically in Munich, Berlin or other cities. At the time, I didn’t even know that Kraftwerk were in the same city! I went into the studio for the first time without even hearing their music, or even knowing them, and after chance meeting in the studio with Ralf Hütter [Kraftwerk], which led me to start jamming with them, I realised that my thoughts were not unique. We thought about leaving those blues-rock structures behind and having this idea of a more European-based music. From then on, I drew inspiration from and exchanged ideas with the musicians that I worked closely with; firstly in Kraftwerk with Florian Schneider; then Klaus Dinger in Neu! and then with Moebius and Roedelius in Harmonia.
B: Before Neu!, you were involved with Florian and Ralf of Kraftwerk. How did this came about and can you tell us more about the work that you did with them?
I didn’t know Kraftwerk. At the time I was doing service in a hospital as a ‘conscientious objector’. I refused the military draft. The alternative after a court ruling was quite tough at the time – these days you can refuse via sending in a post card, or something like that! Anyway, at that time, I didn’t know the music of Kraftwerk, and, as mentioned earlier, my initial meeting with Ralf and Florian was purely chance after a friend invited me to the same studio. I picked up a bass and started jamming with Ralf Hütter, and from that moment, things started to develop. The melodies and the music that we created were really quite interesting. Everyone in the studio had the same idea; Florian and Klaus were sat on a sofa listening and then at the end of the session, we exchanged numbers and they called me a few weeks later when Ralf decided to go back to university, leaving Kraftwerk for a few months. So I actually met those guys after jamming with Ralf but started performing live with Florian and Klaus as Kraftwerk. A very exciting time!
B: Can you tell us how Neu! started?
Contradictory to myth, Klaus and I were not friends – as strange as it might sound – but I thought Klaus was a fascinating drummer and I had never known anyone with that power, energy and radical approach to drumming. I guess that he was attracted by my style of guitar playing; approach to music and where I was heading. We had this immediate similarity of where we both wanted to go creatively, and when we stopped collaborating with Kraftwerk, in the summer of 1971, we decided to go our own way together. As much as we were very productive together, Klaus was a very difficult guy to work with from the beginning. He wasn’t very pleasant and the way that he drums tells you the story of Klaus! Once when we played with Kraftwerk, he cut his hand badly on one of the broken cymbals that he preferred (he liked the sound) and blood was literally squirting all over the stage! He didn’t stop for a moment and I could see jaws dropping! This approach to drumming was how he would treat his own body and this would get worse in later years. But as an artist, this behaviour would be the extension of his creativity. This was the core that we needed in the studio. I had no idea what to expect in Autumn 1971 when we booked the studio with Conny Plank and took all of the little amount of money that we had to pay for production costs. It was a very stressful time. After recoding for four nights (the studio was a little cheaper at night) and mixing for a few more days as was at home with Hallogallo and other tracks. This was a great moment that I remember so clearly.
B: Neu! has a very unique sound, synonymous with the motorik rhythm structure of tracks such as Hallogallo and Negativland. This highly original sound has influenced the likes of Stereolab, Sonic Youth and countless others. What influenced you at the time?
This is another opportunity to contradict the a myth! A lot of people try to understand and analyse Neu! as the beat created by the drums. There’s no understanding of the music of Neu! if you only look at the drums. Try to imagine ten minutes of simple drumming – nobody would want to listen to that. The magic is the relationship between the drums and the harmonic and melodic instruments. If the drums are taken away from the guitar / piano parts that I played and vice-versa, you are left with something totally different. Neu! is about the relationship between the two. The time that I spent in Pakistan, I listened to a lot of music and I was fascinated by how hypnotic it was, and also the idea of music that went on forever fascinated me. Klaus and I never discussed theories. We were never talking about music, we were making music. The harmonic structures that I put together, I guess, were based around European folk and classical music, but without the song structures of that kind of music or the approach to classical music. It’s basically the ideas of which notes go together and which don’t. Combining these ideas with the hypnotic music that I listened to in Pakistan somehow lead to Hallogallo and what followed. I’m always surprised when people talk about the drums and think that this is the essence of Neu!. It doesn’t make sense if you just listen to the drums and think that’s Neu! If bands are inspired by us are only picking up on the drums, then, in my opinion, are quite far away from understanding what really made Neu! You can hear this effect if you listen to Oasis’ The Shock Of The Lightning – it works if you combine their ‘Beatles-style’ with Hallogallo.
For Part 2 of our interview, go here.
This entry was posted on Friday, September 3rd, 2010 at 13:38 and is filed under Interviews, Music News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.