Today, The Notwist are brothers Markus (vocals / guitar) and Micha Acher (bass), Martin Gretschmann aka Console (programming) and drummer Andi Haberl. They emerged from Weilheim, just outside Munich as a heavy metal act almost 20 years ago, touring with the likes of The Jesus Lizard and Bad Religion. Two decades of constant evolution, collaboration and innovation later, the band are a different animal in all but personnel. They have long since embraced the virtues of technology.
The addition of Console to their line-up in 1997 marked a further shift towards a fabricated foundation, whilst never betraying the sound, tuneful and melodic songwriting that is still the cornerstone of their work today. Their back catalogue bulges now with albums recorded under the aliases of 13 & God (with anticon. alum Themselves) amongst others.
This week, they return under the Notwist persona for their first album since 2002’s lauded Neon Golden with The Devil, You + Me. Finbarr Bermingham caught up with founder member and lead singer Markus Acher on the eve of the release of what is sure to become one of the albums of 2008 to find out what has driven The Notwist towards a legacy of two decades in music.
The band’s first release was the eponymous album from 1990, a year after The Notwist formed. It will be 20 years next year – if you don’t mind me reminding you of the fact – since you first got together. Are you planning anything to mark the anniversary, and what is the secret to the band’s longevity? Do you still get on as well as ever?
Markus Acher: No, we don’t really have any plans to mark the anniversary. We haven’t thought about it, actually. But yes, all in all, we get along very well, except for our drummer who left the band before this record (Martin Messerschmid). But the other three members: Martin (Gretschmann), Micha (Acher) and me, we never fight.
Since that formation, your music has moved ‘genres’ from heavy metal to incorporate the elements of indie rock and electronica we hear today – do you attribute your success and the longevity of the band to embracing new types of music? And moving with the times?
MA: We are fans of all kinds of music, that’s why we changed our music a bit from the beginnings to now. In the beginning Hardcore and Post punk was the music that brought us to form a band. Later on, we discovered so much other music, that also had a certain energy, we could relate to, and we listened to it so intensely, that it found it’s way into our music. And yes, I think, if we would have continued to make the same music over and over again, we wouldn’t exist anymore as a band… Notwist is always song-oriented, so there’s always something, that holds everything together, and that gives us the opportunity to experiment with arrangements and sounds a lot.
What are the main musical influences on The Notwist and how have they changed over the years?
MA: Oh, there are so many…. but there are some that always stay: Sonic Youth, the late Talk Talk, Autechre , Stereolab, Krautrock (mainly Can and Neu), Dub reggae, Gil Evans, and old Gospel music. So that’s also the elements that are always parts of our music so far.
Music aside, what inspires the songs you write? Are you influenced by politics or literature?
MA: There were a lot of things happening in our lives over the last years. Lots of positive things, but also a few sad things that all went into the lyrics. Then what happened around us, politics, the internet, the media. And a lot of books too. For this record I was very much interested in the writings and the art of so-called outsider-artists, especially the great artists from the Austrian “Haus der Künstler” in Gugging. Like Ernst Herberg, who wrote beautiful poems and the artist August Walla. They succeeded to translate their feelings and lives into a unique language, that’s totally their own, but understandable and touching for everybody – like all art should. And making lyrics for the Notwist is a lot about translation in the end, translating ideas into another language, based on English, but different …
Your last album, Neon Golden, was released in 2002 and was a massive critical success. What have you been doing in the interim and was it tough to follow up an album that was so acclaimed?
Regarding Neon Golden, while recording the new record, we didn’t think about that too much, actually. When the record was finished, we discovered that Neon Golden had become that very important record for many journalists. But we think Neon Golden was one side of what is the Notwist. I don’t think that we already found the definite form. I think we never will… However, we didn’t want to make something totally different, but we also didn’t want to make the same again.
You’ve also collaborated with various members of anticon (in 13 and God) in recent times. Do you come fresh from your extra-curricular endeavours with suggestions for Notwist, or do you try to draw a distinct line?
MA: Both. We take ideas, instruments, and sounds from one band to another, and every new record influences the next one. But we always try to make every band unique. They all have a special idea or concept that no other band has.
As a German band, was it difficult for you to get your music heard in the UK, and indeed in western territories initially?
MA: Yes, in the beginning it was very difficult. Nobody wanted to hear an indie-rock band from Bavaria/Germany. We could support American bands, though . But with electronic music, the interest in music from Germany grew again. We are always happy for every show we can play outside of Germany.
How do you think live shows differ from the UK to Germany? Do you find the audiences different?
MA: No, not too much, actually. There’s nothing significant that’s different. Both countries are strong beer-drinking countries, that maybe makes them quite similar. But usually, in the UK, there’s much better DJs or music before and after the show. In Germany it’s mostly really bad techno.
Great, we hope we can see you in Scotland sometime soon!
I really hope so. But I don’t know, so far.
Written for The Skinny