At first glance, you might think that René Margraff is new to the ambient drone scene, but if I mention Pillowdiver or Two People In A Room, you will most probably have your eureka moment. The German producer released his first album under his own name in March, so this was more than a good excuse to talk a bit about his latest projects, the evanescence of Berlin and some of his favourite records this year.
You have worked with quite a number of aliases in the past (Pillowdiver, Ckid, Le Mépris, Two People In A Room), but it’s been a while since you’ve released a full-length album. Earlier this year you came up with two new projects. One with your own name and Faures with Samuel Landry and Fuzz Lee, both albums released on Home Normal. Where is all this sudden inspiration and creativity coming from?
It might look like that, but releases simply clustered due to weird timing. The Faures album was done more than a year ago but just came out at the end of 2013.
Currently I am working on a few things (also a few collaborations) but am quite sure that I won’t have another album release out this year, so everyone reading this: please buy ‘Phasen’, I am quite happy with it.
How come you have released an album under your own name instead of using the Pillowdiver moniker, which is actually more well-known among people than René Margraff?
I did it because Ian Hawgood was kind enough to let me do this. Now I hope he still can get rid of a few of these CDs he got made. Honestly, I know that this is not really too clever to ditch a moniker but while the music on ‘Phasen’ might transport similar things as the darker stuff on ‘Sleeping Pills’, the way I created these tracks is quite different from the super-reduced, systematic and focused Pillowdiver approach. I already felt it was weird to release ‘Frozen Soundtracks’ as Pillowdiver but it was still quite a ‘conceptual’ record (as the EPs that I released around that one), now ‘Phasen’ is much more open and diverse to me, I am surprised how well the tracks fit together. The way I work these days is evolving further the whole time, to be honest I get bored easily with a fixed set-up and technique. A lot of stuff I did on ‘Phasen’ are accidents and I am pretty sure I would be unable to redo 80% of these tracks. Somehow I moved away from the guitar towards hardware samplers but also still embrace software processing. Unluckily, I also decided to move into the abyss of modular synthesis/processing… I need(ed) change(s). Currently my set-up is messy and too crowded, but I enjoy being lost for a while a lot.
You live in Berlin, the place to be if you are working within creative fields. Nowadays you can hear it more and more often that Berlin is ‘over’. What do you think? Why does everyone want to move to Berlin?
Haha… yeah, of course. ‘Berlin is over, Neukölln is over, you need to move to Wedding, better move to Leipzig or Krakow, blabla.’ I already heard this when I had moved to Berlin nearly 8 years ago. Of course, rents are rising quite a bit, some areas have become babyzones of the well-educated white upper middle class… It helps a lot to leave Berlin every 2-3 months just for a day or more, you will start missing it. It is a big city and that can get tiresome. But in the end, Berlin simply shows a lot of signs that I guess are typical for cities of this size that became popular. I still do not want to leave Berlin. Bitching about Berlin seems to be such a ‘must-do’, I love to skip it.
Japan seems to be one of your favourite destinations. How do you think your music would sound like if you would live in Tokyo?
I only know what Tokyo is like as a visitor, so I am not sure, but I would guess I would drift deeper into the sound processing with the computer direction simply due to not having enough space for a bigger set-up (although my set-up is already quite stripped down when I play live…).
How should we imagine this stripped down set-up? How does it look like when René Margraff is doing a live performance?
You seem to have a special bond with David Lynch’s films and you are more than eager to express this through your music as well. Where is this admiration coming from?
I am not so sure, but I guess these are references that are easier to pick than others. I am admittedly a huge fan of ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘Mulholland Drive’, but I somehow did not enjoy ‘Inland Empire’ so much. I think Lynch is best when he is subtle, but I also like it when he turns the horror to 11. A cup of coffee gone oily, a cowboy speaking in riddles…
If you could compose the soundtrack for a film directed by one of our contemporary directors, who would that be?
Maybe Gregg Araki, Giorgos Lanthimos, or something like Jessica Hausner’s ‘Hotel’.
Calling your mix that you made for us ‘eclectic’ does not express the variety of all genres and moods that you’ve blended together. This is what you usually listen to? How did you make the selection?
I guess this is quite a good representation of what I usually listen to, although I tried to keep it within a certain zone for the sake of flow. I also did not include too many new artists as I tend to not focus on that too much, although I am quite impressed with a few releases of 2014 already, e.g. Brett Naucke’s ‘Seed’ or Christopher Bissonnette’s ‘Essays in Idleness’.
How would it sound like if you wouldn’t have kept it ‘within a certain zone’?
Somewhere between this:
Have you been following the ambient drone scene as of late? Who do you think we should keep an eye on as an upcoming talent? What are your favourite labels nowadays?
I gave up following particular labels ages ago and pick carefully these days, there is just so much new and old stuff that I am interested in. Recent releases that might somehow be ambient-drone and that I really enjoy are records by Kassel Jaeger (Editions Mego), Brett Naucke (Spectrum Spools) and Robert Turman (Cejero, Fabrica), Christopher Bissonnette (Kranky), but I am also listening to 90s hip-hop, some black metal, old indie rock and post-punk, lots of soundtracks etc.
What is your favourite album cover?
Townes van Zandt: Townes van Zandt.
Who you would like to read an interview with on Sounds Of A Tired City?