interview by: Roberto
Imagine being at a lounge in hell and witnessing this set
by former serial killers playing catatonically mellow music. Or, if you're
familiar with the TV series "Twin Peaks," imagine hanging out
in the Black Lodge and the music that would accompany such an experience.
Thankfully, you won't have to die for your sins to enjoy
this, as the band in question, Bohren und der Club of Gore, exists, up
here on the material plane - Germany, to be exact. This four piece's image,
name and themes are about as incongruous with the group's music as you
can get. Ever since I first heard this group's material, I was instantly
fascinated by all the irresistibly random and aesthetic aspects of its
persona, like the austere, nocturnal cityscapes devoid of human life,
the impossibly slow drumming, or the clash between the image of an armory
of rifles and sultry saxophone sounds. And then there's that inimitable
atmosphere, one that takes you off to a world where only you really exist,
as you turn the lapels of your trenchcoat up and the brim of your hat
down over your eyes, before you venture out into the opium world that
Bohren creates. (You can read more about this in detail in the reviews
of the band's first,
albums in issue #4, or Bohren's fourth album, reviewed in issue #11).
It is with great pride that I present to you this interview
with Morten Gass of Bohren und der Club of Gore, one of the most essential
Maelstrom: Hello. Let's please start by discussing the name
of your wonderful band. I understand that "bohren" is German
for "to bore" or "to drill." (although I'm sure some
people might find the irony or the other mening of "bore" too
great) Then you have this club of gore thing. What's up?
Morten Gass: The band name has no real meaning in the first
place. It just happens the way a lot of band names had their origin from:
we were drunk!!! But besides the fact that we had a few beers too many,
we managed to put some important words in this name. "Gore / Bohren"
stands for horror movies (especially the Italian stuff like Fulci, Bava,
Argento, where you can find some pretty nice drilling scenes as well).
Gore is also a secret hidden link to a genius Dutch instrumental band
called Gore. The first two Gore albums had a big influence on us. "And
the Club of" just means that we wanted to be a jazz band. Playing
in smoky, dirty nightclubs, just like Sade. Well, as I said, we were drunk.....
So your group is wacky and so brilliant. Your first record, Gore Motel,
has a picture of Bruce Lee on the cover and a zany array of random images
ranging from paintings of birds to a logo with an upside down cross in
it. It's got hilarious titles like "Dangerflirt mit der Schlägerbitch."
Were you going for the maximum off-the-wall effect or was there method
to your madness when you created this album?
Morten Gass: Gore Motel was a real quick shoot.
We never thought that someone would be crazy enough to put that stuff
out on CD, so we scraped everything that had some kind of a meaning to
us and sent it to our record company before they could change their minds.
Not very clever, but it was a debut album. Yes, and it all looked over
the top. But this was not our aim, cause Bohren ain't no fun band! Beginning
with Midnight Radio, we took care of all the artwork (photos,
drawings, layouts etc… all by ourselves)
Gore Motel's subsequent two records, Midnight Radio
and Sunset Mission, were enamored with these austere, nighttime
urban landscapes, charmless and devoid of all human element. As with your
Gore Motel record, there's the theme of fierce contrasts arises
again, this time with the urban landscapes clashing with images of rifles
and katanas; loungey, sax-heavy music with titles like "On Demon
Wings." What attracts you so about these elements?
Gass: After the spontaneous Gore Motel we came up with a theme
for every single album. We wrote the music to images that we had in mind.
Call it them concept albums or whatever you like. Midnight Radio
has a night driver theme. Just streets, rain and a radio... Sunset
Mission has a serial killer theme. Lurking in shadows, checking out
locations and preparing for war.... I don't see any contrasts. To me it
is a perfect association, all these images are in our heads when we start
creating the music. Besides, all the mellowness it is some kind of dark
music we play. Horror, death and vengeance, our minds seem to be poisoned
with that stuff.
Maelstrom: Speaking of Midnight Radio and Sunset
Mission, these two albums remind me so much of the TV series "Twin
Peaks," to the point where they could both be alternate soundtracks
to the show. The lounge feel of Sunset Mission makes me think
I'm in this place in the show called the Black Lodge. I don't mean to
bore you with this if you haven't seen the show. Is the similarity in
feel to this cult series at all a coincidence?
Morten Gass: We formed Bohren in '92, so I can’t deny that we had
a bit of "Twins Peaks" in our heads those days. The title-theme
from "Fire Walk with Me" is great. David Lynch movies always
have a kind of horror feeling, so it is ok to connect them with our music.
Maelstrom: Speaking of the saxophone, the new record, Black
Earth, continues to use the sax, but it's toned down a great deal.
Some friends of mine felt that the sax on Sunset Mission was
a bad thing, and it's just right on the new record. I for one loved the
saxophone on Sunset Mission, but I'm getting the idea that you
may have not…
Morten Gass: Sunset Mission is a sax-album. It
was meant to be the most mainstream album in Bohren's history. We are
100% satisfied with that record. But indeed it is the most atypical Bohren
album. Black Earth is the quintessence of the three previous
Maelstrom: I've heard this rumor that you guys are in fact pretty big
black metal fans, and in particular Immortal fans. Is there any truth
Morten Gass: Actually, I didn't like the last two Immortal albums very
much. But, yes, we are into any kind of heavy music (except nu and rap
metal...). Nordic black metal still has an influence on us. Check out
the new Khold, Shining or Taake stuff to know what I mean.
Maelstrom: How did your band develop into this catatonically
mellow, loungey group? I can imagine you may have started as some sort
of Melvins-influenced group and then found this voice all your own. You
can kind of feel this in-between point of uncertainty on Gore Motel
when you had some relative speed to your music, but your sound wasn't
quite developed yet.
Morten Gass: You are right. We had exactly that kind of
background. I must mention Chris Reifert and his band Autopsy (which had
the coolest slow parts I've ever heard), along with Black Sabbath and
Trouble, with whom we were on a real doom trip. In the end we just got
bored ripping off our heroes and we started playing our own style. Gore
Motel features our first demo tracks, no real worked out stuff. It
is the only album that we are not really proud of.
Midnight Radio is close to an hour and a half of comatose bliss.
Then there's this sort of electronica track at the end with canned beats.
Perhaps I should know better than to ask, but what's going on here?
Morten Gass: This last track (track #11) is just a bonus
track. We ruined one track from the Midnight Radio session, so
we made this electronica track as some kind of experiment. I’m still
not sure about this track, but I agree that this song doesn‘t fit
in with the other 10 songs. Let's call it a bonus, filler track.
Maelstrom: Let's talk about the way you play. I've never heard slower
drums. Does your drummer ever fall asleep, or is it the rest of the band's
job to wake him up every now and again so he can gently tap the ride cymbal?
Morten Gass: Hell, yes, "...other bands play, Bohren bore!!!!“
Thorsten has a hard job. I mean, he is a really fast drummer; he had a
grindcore band in the 80s. But look at him now, what a poor fellow. He
must drink a lot of beer to slow himself down. Only as an act of solidarity
do we do the same...
Maelstrom: What are your shows like? Do you play all newer, saxophone
stuff? Would you be satisfied if the audience fell asleep?
Morten Gass: We play in total darkness with nothing but
a 10-watt spotlight above our heads. The audience must have the feeling
of being in a grave. Yes, we make it pretty easy for them to have a nap.
I would just recommend the audience to go to the bar and have a drink,
because our show is very low-voltage. The stuff that we play live is form
our last two albums.
Maelstrom: How about your compositions? How do you write
your pieces? Are they sort of structured jam sessions? Do you ever feel
like speeding up as a band?
Morten Gass: All the music was written on bass or piano, just like a
rock song were you start with a guitar riff. Sometimes there is a bit
of experimentation to get the right melody line for the saxophone or piano.
But 90% is straight written on a piece of paper before we start to practice.
We never waste time on jamming.
Black Earth plays up the dark/evil side of things more than ever
before with an all-black packaging and a skull on the front. Again, here's
one of our favorite things about you guys: contrast. What's the story
behind the evil elements and your mellow, mellow music?
Morten Gass: I don’t know, but to me it is just dark
music (without being a Goth or metal band). It is like meeting a very
cute girl who hands you a gin-arsenic tonic.
Maelstrom: How did you guys find each other? Has it pretty much been
the same people in the group the whole way?
Morten Gass: We are friends form school making music together for about
15 years. Christoph Clöser is the only new member. He joined us in
`97 to play the saxophone. Reiner Henseleit quit a year before because
he had a very time consuming job.
Maelstrom: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Bohren
und der Club of Gore is without exaggeration, one of the most magical
groups in the world and certainly one of my favorites ever. Please tell
us about your touring plans and anything else you'd care to mention.
Morten Gass: Well, Roberto, thank you very much for those
flattering words and your support. Sorry about our website (www.bohrenundderclubofgore.de),
which is still written in German. We are working on it. Please excuse
my short answers, but my English is too bad to bring them to a deeper
level. What else? We are doing a small German tour at the end of March.
Unfortunately, there are no touring plans for the US right now. Wonder,
our record label, is negotiating about a licensing of our current album
in the US with a cool label from San Francisco. We hope they work something
out this year. Die hard legions iron and steel....
photo courtesy of Morten Gass (second from left).
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