American critics, anyway, have got Michael Lueckner all wrong. The man behind Guitar and Computerjockeys is vastly more substantive than Pitchfork would have you believe. Guitar isn't just about pretty sounds and happy Japanese afternoons. Lueckner proves as much in this interview where he discusses everything from ancient African proverbs and Roman poets, to Fleetwood Mac and Nick Drake. Lueckner is German, but speaks delightful English. Without further ado, enjoy the Townhouse interview with Michael Lueckner.
Evan Jones First off, it's nice to have you over to the Townhouse!
Michael Lueckner ja mann, du bist auch willkommen!
EJ So who is Michael Lueckner? I haven't been able to find much information about you over here in the States. Do you mind giving readers a short bio?
ML A short lyric version says: the storm is hairy on the outside like a caterpillar! That's what they said when we were only a few people in Gondwana, South Africa 30,000 years ago.
The nice version is: a bio-organic food eating non-vegan musician who studied philosophy to B.A. after he made a teaching to male nurse :o)
He loves electronic music, but used to be an old school two finger blues picker: (Michael playing the blues)
Long versions of him as a releasing artist say another story that he approx plays acoustic and electric guitar since 14. Started the electronic pop duo Computerjockeys together with Hagedorn, based in Cologne, Germany and after years of club touring in Germany as a Geheimtip and first ones who used computers in clubs for original club music, released two albums on EMI and Universal with a Europe-wide clubhit named "Pinpong" and massive MTV Manga film score music hype. Been on tour with Moloko, Console and others.
And I founded 'Guitar' with Ayako Akashiba from Tokyo, starting as a shoegaze band. The success in sales and fans with first album "Sunkissed" on Morr Music Berlin, ended up in seven more Guitar albums released on german, Us, and Japanese labels.
During the first years as an electronic musician I called myself "Digital Jockey" on all releases and produced three solo albums with more or less Dub influenced backings and laid back crossover kind of music. Straight bass drum and world music samples plus a Jamaican singer, chamber music and straight bass drum plus a female soprano singer, Dub and Techno and world music and an African-american gospel and soulsinger.
EJ What was the last bit of music you listened to?
ML Clifton Hicks and Matt Kinman singing Last Gold Dollar on youtube - I love this version, the intimacy and the American new folk wave :o)
EJ Now you're primarily a guitarist?
ML Yes, you have seen me two Q up, don't you!
EJ I assume you have some guitar heroes?
ML Only John Lightning Hopkins and the young Chuck Berry. Everything else is a derivative.
EJ Speaking of guitars, I mainly would like to talk about Guitar for this interview. It's remained a mystery to me since I first learned about it. And I want to start off by talking about Sunkissed. That was my introduction to Guitar, and I really had no context for it but I knew I liked it. Do you mind talking about that album? Its development, what it's all about, those kind of things?
ML Short lyric answer says: if it doesn't rain a long time you bury a chameleon alive! Again from the Gondwana/South Africa context.
In the late 80's and early 90's, as a young man, after a rich time with Prefab Sprout, Steely Dan, Sonic Youth, Tuxedo Moon and The Smiths I have been musically driven happy again with the new shoegazer or "dream pop" (stupid old Rolling Stone grandpa Greil Marcus formed that nice description to diss that movement). Tn the pit stood MBV and put music on a new level mixing ALL instruments on one volume level including vocals. The vocals sounded like a siren in the symphonic ocean of endless guitar tracks and you could not completely understand the lyrics, you only understood the teasing of the song as a siren. That was postmodern music for me. No "she loves you, yeah..." but only the emo part of music.
Then in the middle of this wonderful movement, promising all sunny news, came, unfortunately, the revenge of the major label empire: Nirvana's "Teenage Spirit" smelling golden perfume and the grunge wannabe-punkn hippie-retro square check shirt thing and blew this tender new blossom of dream pop away... gone, but not completely dead...
...untill 1999, when we had huge success in Europe with Computerjockeys, I decided to not wait any longer for a third MBV album that picks up the techno/electronic years in between and grabs out some new shoegazer, and did it by myself. Made experiments besides Computerjockeys to get that drone sound with a different note in the oceanic sound for one year. Made the first track called "Hot Sun Trail", saw that it worked and then made House Full of Time and sent it to German's best, coolest singer Regina Janssen of Donna Regins who is an MBV fan too. This was the start of it.
My lyric idea, or better, concept (i am a concept artist!), of a good shoegazer album has always been the idea of Roman Empire poet Scipio: Earth is surrounded by seven planets on concentric circles on slices or plates and these plates' circles produce a big big roar touching each other, but we can not hear it cause we have been born & rised with it. And I always thought: yes, that's the story, NASA tell lies, there is no empty room. There is drone and roar and now we take the Sun into speech and say, the sunwinds blow their soft warm roar over earth, but we can not hear it because we are born with it, like you guys in NY don't hear that stupid roar of your city anymore.
That's why its called Sunkissed. I gave Ayako, the singer, that idea and title and she made a song out of it. We are kissed by the sun and if no stone from outer-earth will hit us, she sun surely will do expand into us in 2000 years. The song she sang can be heard on "Sunkissed" - it's all there including "Melt". Fun? Yeah yeah yeah!
EJ I'll need to let that sink in for a bit. At any rate, you seem to present an idealistic place to listeners. I actually think the title Sunkissed describes your music perfectly. Is that your goal to present this idealistic place to us? Is that place Japan in your mind?
ML Japan is best fresh food in the world and supernice friendly people in a beautiful country. I made an album about that called Tokyo. Sunkissed has nothing to do with Japan, except a female singer who is born there and lives there.
EJ And who is the nice lady?
ML Ayako Akashiba, living in the suburb of Tokyo, working full time in her prefecture in the registration office being responsible for weddings, death cases, and birth, who knows more about Gerrman neue deutsche welle music than me and taught herself English with mc tapes as a teen to be able to sing songs of our occidental culture.
EJ Where do you get your love and fascination for Japanese culture from?
ML Japanese people are the better Germans, hahaha. I just love Japan, but I love USA too as a cultural phenomena and the country itself. And if you want something important about Japan: Tokyo and Japan is not the shibuya crossing! All documentaries and Miss Coppola and all the others show that, but its much more. Tip: just take a compass. Climb out of the subway somewhere in Tokyo city and just walk outside in one direction for 10 hours. You would not believe what you see: parks, British houses, San Francisco up and down streets, museums you never heard of with old Chinese sketches and paintings from rich Jap collectors, mantis religiosa in meadows, flyfishing in rivers...
EJ I'm looking up plane tickets right now. So it seems that just about every review of your Guitar work references them. I actually don't get as strong of a sense of MBV in your work as other people seem to. Are you, in fact, sick of all the comparisons to MBV?
ML No. If you compare my fat symphonic guitar layer songs with them, fine! All my other music and albums are influenced by music all over the world. MBV only influenced me 1/1000th!
For example, my personal most heard and beloved album is Rumours. If you want to reduce me, you can do it with one song: "Dreams" of Stevie Nicks, and Lyndsey Buckingham's guitar and Christine's organ doing swelling layers in the backing and in the middle of the song when Buckingham makes that kind of soundsolo with some volume pedal tricks. I always always wanted to sound and go beyond this particular part of this one backing. "Dreams" is the apotheosis of songwriting, song-backing and song-feeling in itself and of all harmonic sounds and layers one can make. It's all in there; all! MBV's sound design isn't imaginable without "Dreams". I would never ever believe Kevin Shields isn't influenced by Rumours. He is, minimum in his subconscious, remote controlled by this album and "Dreams". I could not understand and perceive all these shoegazers without this one song's appearance. And I didn't talk about the lyrics yet.
It's postmodern, not this "she loves you, yeah" stuff. They were not the first ones, Pink Floyd and to name it directly, Syd Barrett, did that first on early PF in the song "Brain Damage" when he sings about the madness in the grass/meadows of English art universities where students meet and grow a band. But Nicks/Buckingham and Mcie put that on the map of unconscious life and remote control of musicians and people's brain by having a world hit that played forever in all channels. If you listen to "Dreams" again closely with that you'd say, "what a simple dwelling layer sound", but if you check everything before and the developments after it - at the horizon of "Dreams" you can hear the layers of MBV's first album. Rumours has been the best selling album for a long time and probably still is in the top 20 and that makes a difference in the unconscious. Hotel California didn't do that!
You know, it's behind the moon to talk about music, but what has to be done is to examine resp. study the progression of sound, maybe that tells another story. Our story!? Surely not the story of Clapton's lost guitar or Slash's hat, hahaha...
EJ Haha! So long story short, those comparisons are as accurate as the number of them made suggest?
ML Journalists and people need something to write and to compare . I understand that.
EJ Are there some influences that aren't music that make their way into Guitar? You seem to have a bit of a fascination with cultures?
ML As said before: there are some old lost poets dreams that influenced me to work conceptual instead of just having a boring stupid construction like a band. You know, that concentric circles plus planets plus friction of these plates making a big roar has been a dream by Scipio! Just stay relaxed, sit back in your chair and let that flow into your imagination. That was nearly 2000 years ago, a Roman poet dreamed that. What does it mean if 2000 years later a young couple wrote and made that sound in a Burbank studio? That's simple discourse analysis in a postmodern way and not that bloody biography history writing the stupid lonely dead Rolling Stone and Greil does!!! It's not: "I have hung around with famous band 'xyz' and made photos of them, singer died early, let's make a film to understand how it was", hahaha. It's all in the art itself. It's just postcards from Scipio to young Lindsey and young Stevie to Kevin. Everybody can read that and being an artist, but only Christine did that and swelled her pedal to talk with Scipio.
Isn't that more poetic than the circumstances of Nick Drake's death?
EJ Your song titles for Guitar reference mis-translation, particularly between Japanese and English, which are notoriously brilliant. Is that accurate?
ML I like self-made English and add sense that oscillate between something.
EJ Technology is making its way into virtually every avenue of creative practice so this next question comes up a lot, and you're certainly no exception. What role does technology play in your work? Is technology at the forefront of your concerns, or just another tool? The use of technology seems that it could be important considered Japan's contributions, and your combination of traditional techniques and modern ones.
ML Like Japanese peoples' daily easy handling of hundreds of years old tradition and newest tech I do see all tech as a tool like Fernando Flores and Terry Winograd did write that first in the 80th. We do not need robots that act like men, we need autobots that help like a good fork in the windy cold night. That's something music history tells too when African-American did scratch Mr. Nixon's table.
EJ I'd also like to talk a little bit about your process for Guitar. Technology certainly plays a big role in the process. Do you mind giving a general outline of the process for a Guitar song?
ML A Guitar shoegazer kinda backing is made by just putting 15-20 guitar and classic symphonic music made by Claude Debussy over each other in different mostly slowed down tempo forward and reverse until I have a fat stable wonderful symphonic sound, cutting a eight minute loop of it and sending it to Ayako in Japan to sing to it with only the title given - melody and words made by herself. That's it ;o)
If you are asking other Guitar albums like instrumental It's Sweet to do Nothing!, I just made a concept: chamber music crossover with world music would be nice! So let's do it...
EJ Straight to the point. I love it. Anything you care to say in closing?
ML I do sell ALL my albums and some extra stuff now at Bandcamp. I would be superkind if all those folks out there, listen my music and have been ripped it would do me a favour and buy some or all of it, because it lands in the pocket of the musician directly and helps him to make some money and stay in his home studio making music instead of interrupting and going outside and driving out biofood to pay the flat rent, so he has time to spin the Ariadne thread concentrated for you musiclovers - in time of your death you will hear music and be able to cross the labyrinth to the light! Thank you.
...uh, I forgot to speak to you rich musiclovers: it's good for your labyrinth-kharma to drop more than $7 at Bandcamp for one album. Consider $70-70k and consider your fave artist could have played your beloved stuff with a $3,000 Bibson custom instead of a 0.6k epiphone studio kinda wreck ;o)
Michael Lueckner would really love it if you went to his Bandcamp page and purchased $70k worth of his music. Just do it.