Thomas Fehlmann Interview
Dylan McChillin: How would you describe your new album, Low Flow, in a nutshell?
Thomas Fehlmann: Basically it's the stuff I left out the last 4 years because this music has been in my head all the time. Before I worked with the Kompakt label and my albums covered the whole techno thing, ambient etc and then for some reason I thought I'd like to check something right to the depth, like with the Kompakt stuff I really wanted to go with the dancefloor and made me kind of explore it far deeper that with before. So with Low Flow I just wanted to fill this gap of me leaving this down tempo side out of my open work and concentrate on making a full album. Basically the music is as dear to me as the other stuff but I realize is has a different kind of angle going to the people. and maybe even different people will like it than before.
DM: What would you say your influence is for this new album? It definitely sounds different than your Streets Of Blonde album. It sounds almost like it has a hip hop feel to some of the beats that you used in Low Flow.
TF: You're correct, this just represents my other kind of love for the music. I feel myself kind of taking all this stuff in from various sources, buying records, going to gigs, and this is just the way I digest, musically speaking. You know, hip hop had a big influence on this album, but by hip hop, I mean a more abstract, instrumental feel. My native tongue is German, and my ears show that I am very much a musical kind of guy; I'm not thinking about lyrics or text as much. When Dobi released his record on ghostly, that was something that I thought was a strong statement, and he kind of opened me in that sense.
DM: I kind hear a lot of different genres in your music, like jazz, hip hop, to ambient...
TF: Jazz is the kind of music I listened to as a kid. After my first kind of pop music developments like when I was around 13, 14, and it hasn't left me since. Because I'm not the kind of musician that entertains you on the piano and I'm not the guy that's the master of the instrument I worked with it like this, I've got to take some samples in and there are a bit of a few trumpet bits, that I did myself.
DM: I also wanted to ask you about your transition. It seems like every label you've worked on, from RNS Records to Kompakt, now to Plug Research, each moment in time that you recorded your albums, they each have a different sound to them it seems?
TF: I think this has more to do with time, as time goes on, I try to get more clear with what I want. And also maybe mature by doing it over and over. RNS Records reflected me doing everything downtempo, more of the whole picture and I wanted to split it up more because I felt like I could go more into the trance and bring more out of it and force myself to bring more ideas out of it. Test myself. And I like to take risks, because it gets boring otherwise!
DM: Definitely. and I hear that every album has been different. And that leads me to my next question actually. Who are some of your influences? Past and Present.
TF: You know there are two different ways of looking at this question because I like looking at an influence an artist has by the sort of attitude a musician has. Lets pick Miles Davis for example. I mean he was involving and changing and putting on kind of like new clothes, in so many parts of his career, Cool Jazz, and then in '69, '70, with Bitches Brew, this was a crucial part of my youth, where it was that I really connected with something I never experienced before. And I got a chance to see him in 1973 in Switzerland, and that never left me! It was such an intense moment, where you really never knew what the end result was going to be like, and they were experimenting themselves, they could fuck up, and not everybody loved it, but I certainly did. I consider that to be a very strong influence on me. But not so much that I tried to copy the music but that I was inspired by this radical kind of incorporation of this new musical instrumentation. Brian Eno on the other hand is another guy that influenced me very much. Because he was the guy for me who championed the idea that you don't have to be a master on a certain instrument to make beautiful music, that is has more to do with the concept and the attitude and the way you approach it. There's a freedom to it. I'm inspired by his freedom, his choices of picking certain chords, sounds. Those are two very crucial influences for me.
DM: Which Brian Eno album is your favorite?
DM: Either a produced album maybe like Heroes or Low, or one of his solo albums?
TF: You know, the second side of Low, I really love that. When it's instrumental. And you can't really tell where one is finished and the second one starts. I like Another Green World out of his pop song records. Or Apollo is another one that is very good.
DM: Well that's great to hear about your influences. And you can definitely hear some of it if you listen closely to Thomas Fehlmann records! What were the circumstances surrounding your introduction to electronic music? I heard you were a big fan of Robert Fripp in your early years?
TF: Yes that's true. Robert Fripp was important for me when he was with King Crimson. And then obviously, a big lightening up for me, was when he was teamed up with Brian Eno for the first time for No Pussy Footing and then I had a chance to meet him, but that was a time when he disbanded with King Crimson for the first time, and went on the road with his Frippertronics in the late 70's. What I really liked about him was that he abandoned his super stardom to come back onto the road and play in record shops for free to introduce this new sound to the people.
DM: And you actually got a chance to work with Robert Fripp on the FFWD album.
TF: Yes, I met him in '79 for the first time and then we kept in touch loosely and for some reason after meeting him that was the time that I decided to take up music, I was in art school at the time. And that took up quite quickly. My first band started then, Polushamberg, and art school became less important to me then. I didn't really consciously think this is analog or acoustic music or electronic music. It was just a continuous flow. I stared with a synthesizer and that was basically my introduction to it.
DM: Who else would you say influenced you from the German scene? Would you say Tangerine Dream?
TF: Yes definitely. Cluster is also one of my favorite bands of that time.
DM: I wanted to ask you about the collapse of the EFA, and the way records are produced and released these days. How has that affected music, especially in Germany, a distribution company like EFA being so huge - have you noticed any kind of a change?
TF: I noticed that people just had bigger headaches! but it didn't affect the quality of music.
DM: But the best music these days come from smaller independent labels. the underground.
TF: As far as I'm concerned? Definitely.
DM: Labels like Kompakt and Plug Research are really pushing the envelope. Are there any other particular labels that you think are making the best music right now? I know the Japanese are making some very interesting ambient music right now.
TF: I don't find so many interesting things in England right now, but I really like many things coming from Germany.
DM: What about psychedelic music from the 60s and 70s? Was that an influence on you at all?
TF: Of course, King Crimson. I listen to Pink Floyd as well!
DM: How would you describe your collaboration with the Orb? You've been working with them for quite a long time now?
TF: What I like about my situation with the Orb is that I'm not contractually bound, I can do whatever, whenever I want. And Alex lets me do what I want and I'm so happy with his input as well. At first we had an engineer come in and finish it up but these days we do it ourselves. It's totally independent from anything. It's a joy.
DM: There's a new single out from The Orb on Kompakt, called Komplot. Can you talk a little about that.
TF: You know, there's never been a conscious decision with The Orb, we've always just said, let's plug it in and see what happens.
DM: Do you usually record together in the same room with Patterson?
TF: Yes, that's the thing - the trademark of The Orb. Alex is there, and if Alex isn't there, then I won't be able to sound the way I want. He has this kind of magical input that makes you do things you wouldn't normally do. And that's an inspiration. He really insured me in believing in what I like. He gives me loads of self confidence.
DM: What kind of equipment or software do you use for your compositions?
TF: Since day one I've been using Logic. Even when it was on Atari, I've been using it. I really don't need anything else, the live stuff is a new step for me, I use different software, it's called Live, from Ableton. The guy who designed it is a musician friend of mine from Berlin.
DM: And this is how made your new album?
TF: No - when I make the tracks I always use Logic. And after I finish the track, I edit it so I can use it on the Live software.
DM: Are you going to be performing live on this tour or using a DJ set?
TF: Performing live!
DM: This is your first album on Plug Research, right?
TF: This is the first one, yes. And this is the first time, tonight, that I will be performing this album!