Back home. At the SCHIRN SUMMER HANGOUT Newmen will play a set from their new album. A conversation about danceable music and easy listening that turns out to be not that easy at all.
This year’s SCHIRN SUMMER HANGOUTS are coming to an end, and also this year’s endless summer seems to be slowly drawing to a close. But after months of heat, it makes a nice change to put on a light cardigan once again, just the way Jörg likes to wear it. The singer and guitarist from Newmen comes from Frankfurt, just like his band members. Their particular brand of pleasing, zeitgeisty electropop has already earned them a devoted fan base nationwide. We talked about their latest album “Soft Ware” and the right mixture of entertainment, danceable melodies and long instrumental pieces.
Hi Jörg! Your last album “Rush Hush” came out in 2015 and a gig at Frankfurt’s saasfee* pavilion was on the agenda. Tell us what Newmen have been up to since then.
A whole lot! After we released “Rush Hush” we first did a lot of live performances, and then very soon we got back to working on new music. We were signed to a new label and we wanted to record a new album. The songs were recorded in Barcelona, which was really great. Shortly afterwards though, we decided to make an EP of these songs instead of an album, which is how “Fond on Pond” came about. We also played at the Goethe-Institut in Moldova, and last autumn we released a few more songs from Barcelona as remixes.
This May your second studio album “Soft Ware” was released. It’s quite a bit more instrumental than “Rush Hush”, also calmer. How would you describe the record’s sound?
You’re right, it’s essentially calmer overall, and for those who loved “Rush Hush”, it’s perhaps also a bit less accessible. We had this idea to do a classic album like Bowie did with “Low” or Air did with “10000 Hz Legend”, a mixture of songs that work on the radio, but also create a mood – long, instrumental pieces that tend towards “early electronic Krautrock”.
A mixture of songs that work on the radio, but also create a mood with long, instrumental pieces.
Some songs are well over five minutes long…
The album is very long overall, a full hour, and it has become a double vinyl. For a few years the trend has again been towards longer albums. “Soft Ware” is an album through which you can discover us, or perhaps rediscover us. You have to listen to the album multiple times – that’s what I mean by “more inaccessible”, but that was precisely our intention, not to make you groove along straight away, but to take a bit longer to get into it. The reviews we’ve received are correspondingly varied –some don’t like “Soft Ware” at all, while others are really enthusiastic.
What exactly did you do differently with this record? How did “Soft Ware” become what it is now?
We wanted something new for the album and therefore teamed up with producer Elias Förster. He has his own band, Sea Moya, and is actually a pretty “psychedelic” guy, but he also makes old-school and early electronic music. We worked with a drum computer from the 1960s or 1970s, and although we recorded everything digitally, all the instruments are analogue.
You can already hear on “Fond on Pond” that our music is changing. The music we were listening to during that time had an impact on us. Worth mentioning would be Air, but we also listened to a lot of DJ sets, which are currently emerging from the Düsseldorf area. Detlef Weinrich, aka Tolous Low Trax, uses percussions that you can hear on “Soft Ware” too. Moreover, we experimented with afrobeat elements – sometimes we actually push the boundaries towards ethno-music.
What’s your approach with new music? Do you work in a constant flow and the music develops organically, or do you get to a point at which you say: OK, we want something new?
We had the idea for this kind of album quite a while ago, but we initially failed. After founding the band we brought out “Rush Hush” pretty quickly. We simply got started without giving it much thought, and we produced the album ourselves. With the new album we noticed that we need this objective view from outside in the form of a producer. Someone who can generate a color palette so that our songs, which are all very different, fit together.
Your song titles are very short and have a specific character, such as “Pool Day”, “Finish Fetish” and “Trivial Pursuit”. Often they’re just one word. What’s your approach – do you look for words and titles for your songs or do you try to create music for words and concepts? Or both?
It’s an alternating process. We like the culture of readymades or specific readymade notions and we like using them, seeing what happens when we bring these everyday concepts and our songs together. Everyone knows the term “software”. We’ve modified it slightly and given it a different meaning. In our song titles, we like to play off the different meanings of words against one another, particularly with concepts that are closely linked to pop culture. We tear them out of their syntactic environment and take them, like a readymade, to a new context of meaning through text and music. That’s something we’ve always done. This way, the song title leaves room for you to reinterpret it and give it further meaning. The album title “Soft Ware” also creates a contrast with the album. The music is anything but “soft” or “easily consumable”. It’s not an album for the mainstream. Sometimes though, the title stays very close to the text.
The music is anything but “soft” or “easily consumable”. It’s not an album for the mainstream.
How is the new sound reflected when you play live? “Rush Hush” is easy to dance to and works really well on live gigs. “Soft Ware” is calmer, so does that mean you’re calmer on stage too?
Only partly. We deliberately held back in the production of the album, so it is somewhat austere. On stage though, we put more energy into it and the songs on “Soft Ware” are definitely good to dance to in the live context.
And what can we expect at the Summer Hangout?
Lots of new songs, of course, and definitely not a concert in the classic sense. The structure is somewhat more like an electronic live set, a constant flow of music.
We’re looking forward to it. What are your plans for the future?
With the end of summer we start playing live again much more, but aside from that we’ve currently got a few ideas in the mix. That’s a good thing, because we can approach new projects in a relaxed frame of mind and it also helps the music if there’s no pressure. We’ve got something in the pipeline for autumn but I can’t give anything away just yet.