The American nightmare
Can't you hear, how time flies: for more than 25 years Hubert von Goisern has been enriching show business with culturally encompassing melodies and honest, but challenging lyrics. In the spring the biographical documentary Brenna tuat's schon lang on the Upper Austrian cross-cultural mediator was released, this summer he'll be playing at Burg Clam and in Wiesen. VOLUME talked to Hubert von Goisern about the function of role models, his honorary citizenship and the American nightmare.
A reasonable question: why was 2015 the right time to release a documentary about the life of Hubert von Goisern so far?
My manager Hage Hein thought that there needed to be a film about my career. He wanted to be finished with it for my 60th birthday, but the wealth of archive material overcame him. I couldn't and didn't want to support him in this project. Of course I feel honoured that someone has gone to the trouble of filming a documentary about me. But it's also embarrassing to actively collaborate on it. The only advice I gave him was: "Find a professional filmmaker to support you!". I was all the more pleased that he was able to get Rosi (Marcus H. Rosenmüller, Ed.) as director. So it was clear: the film will be good, even if I don't like what's in it.
One of the first scenes in Brenna tuat's schon lang: you meet your mentor, Sepp Atzmanstorfer. Who takes on the position of role model for Hubert von Goisern?
I don't know! Until recently Sepp didn't know what role he had played in my musical career either - he still doesn't understand it to this day. Which is probably down to his very modest manner. It's also a little odd when someone confesses to you that you are their artistic motivation. It requires a necessary respectful distance. I've always approached it this way: if I want to be a role model, then only in the form of giving people the courage to do what they feel within themselves.
After more than 25 successful years in the music business: would you still be embarrassed if your hometown of Bad Goisern erected a monument in your honour?
Since I've been an honorary citizen of this town for eleven years now, a monument isn't necessary. Hopefully! (laughs)
What does this honorary citizenship mean to you?
Please, I'd rather not talk about it! (laughs) Teddy Podgorski had a very fitting saying: "There's only one thing more embarrassing than accepting an honour - and that's turning it down!" I'm incidentally the first honorary citizen whose nomination didn't pass unanimously - the mandataries from the Freedom Party were all against my award. That makes the whole issue bearable straight away …
You mentioned your manager, Hage Hein from Munich. Where would Hubert von Goisern be today, if he hadn't met this person?
Difficult to say, because fortunately this meeting did happen. Hage and I got on with each other straight away, but have done battle on various occasions over the years, which time and again nearly brought our collaboration to an end. But that's part of the relationship and keeps it alive! For me there's no alternative to Hage - if I can't work with this guy any more, then I'll stop!
Cheerfully onward: you recently released your new studio album Federn, which developed in the southern states of America. Why this musical journey?
During our last tour and my following creative break, I was very occupied with the apparent alienation between America and Europe. That's why I flew across the pond, to spend a while over there and to try and build cultural bridges. That was to be my contribution, that at least a few people would be brought closer together and this mutual misunderstanding would disappear. The travel destinations included Nashville and New Orleans, where country and blues are part of life. And I'd also never been there before …
Did this bridge-building work?
Quite the contrary, I returned even more alienated than I had been before my departure. America is not the same all the way through, but this characteristic is to be found throughout the land: most people there suffer from an immeasurable overestimation of their own abilities! I simply can't take this bragging. Everyone tells you about their grand plans and how great they themselves are. After a little while it becomes pretty easy to see that there's nothing behind it all though. It really clouded my stay. Last June I was almost ready to can the whole album project.
What saved Federn?
The fact that I had promised my band that we would go on tour in autumn 2014. The record should have been released beforehand. I prevented the release, but wanted to still try this shitty programme out live and play. That was the salvation, or the birth of Federn. Because when rehearsing and playing, we all discovered how cool this material is. After a few adaptations and corrections, I'm now convinced that Federn is one of the best albums of my career.
"A flat landscape depresses me"
When we meet Hubert von Goisern in a Munich café, the 62-year-old has a day and a half long marathon of interviews behind him already. The documentary on him, Brenna tuat's schon lang, has just been released, the new album followed a few days later. The alpine world musician seems accordingly tired, but happy.
Which mountain were you on last?
My last mountain didn't have a name: it's in Greenland and I climbed it on skis - together with Alexander Huber.
With Huberbua? How did that come about?
A film project by Servus TV's Bergwelten brought us together: I wanted to continue my long-running project with the Inuits and play the first concert of my tour, he wanted to go to the Arctic mountains. But we've known each other a long time, that's why I liked the idea of travelling in Greenland with him.
What do the mountains mean to you?
Mountains signify a challenge to me. They signify protection. They give the landscape form. A completely flat landscape depresses me. Sooner or later I'll need the mountains. Without the mountains I tend to let it all go.
Is it hiking and climbing for which you need the mountains, or do they suffice as a scenic backdrop?
I want to be moving among them. Sometimes I climb them to get an overview. I just want to get up high and see: aha, that's what that looks like, I could over there sometime ... Being flat in every direction is the most ominous thing for me. In the mountains - in the ideal case at least - silence reigns.
You almost played Elias in Vilsmaier's film adaptation of Schlafes Bruder. Are you familiar with the same condition that Elias had: hearing everything in the silence?
Yes. But I know that I'm hearing myself and do not have the fantasies that Elias had that it could be a divine message. It's not the case that I don't believe in God! When I walk in the woods it can be that I hear a tree talking. But I know that it's within me. I can accept that I think: the tree is saying that. Perhaps it's simply the case that the tree is talking in me through me to me. That could all be imagination. I don't think about it all that much.
But you hear something even when it's objectively silent all around you?
I constantly hear music within me. I don't need the radio. When I'm not talking, then (gestures with his hands over his head) it's all going on in here. Sometimes it's a dumb ear worm from someone else. Sometimes it's a dumb ear worm of my own. Sometimes it's something I don't know at all. Then I think: Ha, you could make something out of that.
Is that your only source of inspiration?
Yes of course, I only have one head.
And the other cultures in which you've travelled and have spent time? Don't you look for inspiration there?
No, not at all. I simply listen, everything runs within me. In the creative process, there's a valve that I open and then everything possible thing comes out again. I often have no clue where it's come from, where I've gathered it. I don't compose in the natural world either.
I think that the natural world is self-sufficient. When I'm out in nature, I don't get the feeling that I want to make my own contribution to it. I like to hear the birds, the wind, the whooshing of the water, the hum of the insects ... it's all a perfect symphony to me. Why should I add a single note to it? I've never felt the need to go up a mountain somewhere and sing.
How do you manage being understood in spite of your Salzburg dialect in northern Germany, eastern Europe or even Africa and that you make a good impression with your music?
That's the music. It's a universal language. The voice is an unbelievably truthful instrument. When I sing something, I'm completely in this story, I want to tell it the way I'm telling a story while talking now. Together with the music, with the harmonies, the dynamic, the power that is within it and with the tenderness too, I can take people who don't understand my language with me on the journey too.
But the people don't understand the foreign language, the content, do they?
Many years ago I invited Jane Goodall to give a lecture in Ischl. She spoke for one and a half hours and showed maybe ten slides that were rather symbolic. After the applause, a friend came to me and said: "You know what, I don't understand a word of English, but I feel as though I understood everything she said." You can do that when you don't simply release the words as husks, but they come across with life. Then it works.
The pose the question the other way around: can you give life to the words of a foreign language?
There are of course people who manage it - by no means few of them - to sing in a foreign language. High German is a foreign language for me, I have a hard time with it, I've tried it on occasion ... (laughs) It always sounds odd. I can do it talking now, but when I sing there's something unpleasantly solemn about it.
Nonetheless you sing in English too.
There's a song on the new record that has two verses in English. I originally wrote the whole thing in English. Actually I wanted to write more English lyrics. Then I thought my singing was terrible! And I barely sing in German: relief! Now only the third verse is in German, it's like the resolution. I therefore didn't pursue the other English lyrics any further. Because in contrast I feel how truthful I am when I sing in my own language.
Whence came the intent to write a song in English?
Because I spent the whole preparation period in America and worked together with musicians who only speak English. There was and still is the vision of one day going over to America and playing a small tour with this Alps-flavoured American music. And I thought it would be nice if there were a couple of songs that I could sing in the language that people over there would understand.
So observing the local people in their tradition and absorbing ... What is the fascination with tradition?
Traditions are important for identity - not just on a personal level, but for the society in which one lives too. You want to feel embedded, you want to belong somewhere, not everyone wants to do their own thing. The ego has been promoted a great deal in the last ten, twenty years. There are ever more single households, ever fewer people who really live together. I think it's an undesirable development, because community makes us strong and safe. Life is simply much easier when you can act from this security, than when you're an individual, living somewhere as a hermit.
Those who are happy in isolated alpine valleys, or on lonely mountain peaks, are probably looking for the life of a hermit.
It could be needs that we all feel and sometimes need for a period of our lives. But being together is much more exciting, you can learn from others; not everybody needs to make every mistake, you can be inspired. Traditions are very important for this feeling of togetherness, of community. But there's also something about them exclusionary and confining about them.
Do people in the Alps have an easier time with the feeling of community, because the mountains form a natural border?
In the Alps we have the phenomenon of there being a different culture in almost every valley. Of course these cultures are related, and there are always a few people who have travelled about. But it was an austere life, there wasn't much to share. So they had to confine themselves: up to here and no further, that's my ground! But you can overdo anything. In my youth, in the 1960s, there was a neighbour who was called the newcomer. She was 90 years old and 70 years before she had married and moved to Goisern from Gosau - 15 kilometres away.
Was it similar for you, were you a newcomer in Goisern too?
My maternal grandparents were from the Sudetenland and came to Goisern in 1945 as refugees. I was born and grew up there. But yes, I was an outsider.
What is homeland for you?
Where family is, where the closest friends are. And the natural world. Nature is something like home, no matter where I am. Whether that's Greenland now, or me standing in the Pacific and looking out at the ocean with the mountains behind me. Nature is something like homeland for me, I feel safe and can get a feeling for what's around me. I feel the fish, the trees and the insects, I'm one with all of them.
Even in a landscape that's unfamiliar to you?
"Country from Nashville is like tinnitus"
Hubert von Goisern went to America and returned with new experiences
If there's a real alpine rocker, then it's Hubert von Goisern. The busy globetrotter, who's as familiar with South Africa as he is with Tibet and Canada, who has played with musicians from all kinds of countries and has always ventured into new terrain without forgetting his roots, is more popular than ever and fills halls and arenas on his tours with no trouble at all. The youngest child of his musical passion and desire to experiment is Federn, the result of a month-long trip across the pond. To Nashville and New Orleans, where he hoped to either confirm - or preferably disprove the clichés. On a visit to the BNN publishing offices in Karlsruhe-Neureut, the 62-year-old man from Goisern talked about how it all went for him and how despite a certain amount of disillusionment a profound album still came from it.
Why the USA? To confirm prejudices, or to see that it's actually all different?
The hope was that I would be able to dispel these prejudices, but they were increased rather than halved. It was important to me to build a personal bridge and form relationships and friendships. And to counteract this generalisation that makes people say: the Europeans are this way, the Americans are that way.
And what did you find?
New York is not America. New Orleans is not America. L.A. is not America. But you find the overall feeling of this nation in the Midwest, in the so-called "Bible Belt". That's the home of country music too. And there I saw unbelievable poverty, which I hadn't reckoned with at all. You think: America is one of the richest countries, if not the most advanced and modern country in the world, sending up satellites and spacecraft, and has produced great minds and critics and great literary figures and musicians. But the whole thing doesn't work in detail at all. It was pretty upsetting, I hadn't expected that at all. There's an unbelievable ignorance over there, of what's happening outside America. It was accordingly difficult to make contacts there too. But there were a couple, thank God. In the case of pedal steel guitarist Steve Fishell, I was even able to get a great musician excited enough to come back with me. We have a pedal steel player on the tour now too, Bob Bernstein. I'm very happy that there are at least a few musicians who can say, that's an exciting adventure and I want to participate.
Are the Yanks not up for such adventures in general? What experiences did you have over there? Was it at least exciting with other musicians?
It was most exciting in my fantasy, in reality it was rather tiring, because there's simply no great curiosity over there. Very few people are interested in what else there is in the world. It's a country, a society, a music scene, where everything works on the basis of money. I've never experienced it in this extreme form. Everyone's for sale. When you say: I'd like ..., the other person says: what do you need, do you need a guitarist, a pedal steeler, or a bass player? You just need to say the word, I can name enough who are good. They do it all for a union-prescribed fee. Nobody asks what you want to do, nobody listens to the music and says, I don't like it, or I'd like to join you. It doesn't matter to them at all. It's a job. I found that very strange. Not long before I was over there, Eric Clapton produced in Nashville and then went on tour. And most of the musicians who had contributed said, no, I won't go on tour, that doesn't interest me. You think: touring, that's life, going on stage, playing for people and something develops from it. But no.
Any more negative experiences, for example in the stronghold of country music, Nashville?
Yes. In Nashville, in this famous city, where one club stands next to the other, where the acts change on the hour, everything sounds the same. It's like a kind of tinnitus.
The man on the street would think: wow, Nashville, that must be inspiring ...
No, it's not inspiring, it's not where creativity lives. There are great studios, you have the best microphones there, the most up-to-date equipment. You have musicians for every instrument. A champion for everything. You have all the labels there, the agents. It's a real industry, but not very inspiring. Nashville's aura comes from the past. Sure, there are still people like Emmylou Harris, who lives in Nashville, and ... oh, what's he called, the guy with the long hair ... he's 80 years old ...
Yes, that's him. And many others too. They live somewhere somewhat secluded, own a house, but as good as don't make any appearances. They produce something from time to time, but that's it. Nashville still just breathes the aura of a Hank Williams or a Patsy Cline. The aura of the fifties and sixties. And people still draw on their songs today. But that's all just blueprints. Quite a lot of pop is being produced there now.
I should have gone to Austin, Texas to find what I was looking for. I knew that, but I didn't want to go. I wanted to go to this epicentre of country music. I wanted to dock with the roots and not contemporary country music. I wanted to discover the old. But there are only bluegrassers. That's the Taliban, like the "real" folk musicians we have at home, where no deviation is tolerated. I simply had to experience it and I somehow needed it.
Was it worth it?
Certainly. For meeting Steve Fishell alone. I met him on the first day. All in all I spent a month in America, but there was nothing else other than Steve. I could have come back after the first day had I known.
When you listen to Federn with its blues and country, in the end it must have been enough inspiration for an album, right?
Yes, inspiration materialised. The idea for the first song Snowdown came to me on the way from Nashville to New Orleans.
What is such a development process like? Can it be put into words at all?
No, not at all. I'm kind of a passenger on my own creativity.
So it just happens?
Yes, exactly, I start the engine and then it takes off and I see what comes and separate the wheat from the chaff in the thoughts and ideas. A lot of dumb stuff comes up too.
Apropos: the word schnapps comes up a couple of times in the songs, one song is even called that explicitly. What's that all about?
I actually don't like schnapps, I'm more of a wine drinker. But schnapps was something like the initiation for Steve Fishell, when he came to Austria from Nashville. He was suffering a bit with jetlag, but wanted to get straight into the studio. I said to him, stop, come down first. Then we drove about a bit, I showed him the area. Finally he wanted to buy a bottle of vodka, to help him get to sleep. I told him you can buy vodka somewhere else. But if he needed something, then we'd go to a friend of mine, a schnapps distiller. He didn't want to do that. There's schnapps in America too, but it's so terrible, 30 per cent hooch, chemically flavoured with peppermint or peach. No, he didn't want anything like that. Until I explained to him that he had the wrong impression of schnapps. So we really had to go to the schnapps distiller to correct the image of schnapps. Steve tasted a bit - and in the end we stayed there for five hours, we didn't go home.
With any side effects?
We went into the studio the next day and, accordingly hungover, this song came to me. This song Schnaps, and Corinna too. We then played Corinna and I composed Schnaps in that state. Oh, Corinna is called something completely different on the record: Des kann's nit sein.
How long was Steve there?
He came over three times in all, then we played a tour together in the autumn. All in all, it was about three months.
So he's an exception, when you think of American musicians the way you've described them?
Oh yes! It cost him quite an effort to take on this adventure, but he did it.
And he liked it?
Absolutely. When the whole thing was over, he stood there stunned, he was completely touched and moved and said he'd never played such a cool tour, never played such cool music. You have relativise that a bit with the Yanks. They think everything is great, amazing and awesome. But I believe him. And he was raving about the tour bus and the fact that the whole crew travelled together, the fact that there was no hierarchy like there is in America. And he was rhapsodising over the food too, he'd never eaten so well at a stretch. That's certainly true. There are good restaurants in America too. But everything's better in Austria.
"You must feel the magic of the music inside you"
Alpine rocker Hubert von Goisern makes a stop on his tour in Esslingen on 23rd July
Hubert von Goisern is a musical jack of all trades: he is a talented singer-songwriter, he has made a name as an alpine rocker and is always in search of something new. He gathers influences from around the globe that he weaves into his music. And when he releases an album, his audience is never safe from surprises. His most recent CD Federn, which was only recently released, has the unmistakeable blues. Hubert von Goisern went on a search in the southern states of the USA and was inspired by country, blues and rock, which he confronted with his alpine traditions in his new songs. Hubert von Goisern will be playing at the Esslingen Burg on 23rd July. The concert is organised by Music Circus and presented by EZ.
You've released a new CD and are at the centre of a documentary film. How does it feel to see yourself on the big screen?
It's not a completely new experience, there's already been a cinema film about me, which Joseph Vilsmaier and Dana Vávrová made about me at the end of the Alpinkatzen. Back then, like today, I said I didn't need a film about me. It's not the case that there's nothing to see in the past, but the here and now is much too exciting - I don't want to be distracted from it. When I put the focus on the past, it hinders me from continuing. It took a long time for me to find value in the idea. I'm happy now that this film document exists.
Many people think of alpine rocker when they hear your name. Is it a label that you can make friends with?
Yes, it denotes a part of my music - and my history. In the nineties I ripped apart folk music and returned to it the power that it used to have, before it became vague and shallow with the folksiness and schlager that crept into folk music. In this respect there is a lot of what I have done within the term alpine rocker - but not everything.
Would you prefer the term "alpine world music"? You make use of a variety of cultures after all.
That's not completely off base. I have problems with the term "world music" though, because it's been used in a very inflated way. Much of what is so labelled is very general music. The roots are often missing. Some people simply take a few branches and leaves and make something new from them that could be from anywhere and nowhere. What I'd like best would be for people to just say: that's Hubert von Goisern.
Over the years you've gathered many fans. Does success give you more inner freedom to do what you really want to do?
Of course you can swim free with success too. What I did in the 90s with the Alpinkatzen was super successful, but that wasn't only freeing. Economically it was freeing, you also gain self-confidence, but it could have been very constricting. That's why I made a conscience break - for as long as it took for me to feel that people had forgotten it to some extent and were open for something new again.
You're constantly in search of the new and innovative. Does the audience join in with everything?
You'd have to ask the audience. My manager Hage Hein once joked that I have an audience very capable of suffering. And he's right: people go along with it all and trust that they could be interested in what I'm doing too. The most extreme case was certainly the project with Tibetan music. All the experts put their heads in their hands at first. In the end we sold 100,000 copies of the CD. It shows: when you make music that is exciting and honest, people are very interested in listening to something that they've not heard before. It's wrong to think that people always want the same thing.
Musically speaking do you make no compromises, or do you sometimes wonder how far you can go while still taking the audience with you?
I serve my own taste. I'd rather do nothing at all than something by which I am not convinced. You have to always be open to trying out what you like. But I'm old enough now to be able to say what I don't like. That's enough for orientation.
Would you advise young colleagues: do your own thing, otherwise you'll never be any good?
You must feel the magic of the music inside you. If you can't manage to enchant yourself with your own music, you can't expect to enchant other people with it. As an artist you have to feel how your music electrifies you. You have to feel the goosebumps. That's the way you have to go as a musician: to listen to this inner voice, your very own melody, this unmistakeable sound - that's what it's all about. And not about what others demand of you.
Listening to music can mean pure joy. Do you experience such moments of joy even if you're on stage almost every evening?
Playing concerts is the coolest thing there is. For me it's the reward for my work, because I get so much back. You have moments of joy when you're standing in the studio and producing too, when something goes well. But the phases in which you're productive and creative are pure stress too, because you're permanently worried that you won't think of anything smart. You start afresh every day. During the tour it's like you're on tracks, everything is planned. This summer we're playing 45 concerts in 120 days. You'd have to work much more in any other normal job. Overnight you're taken to the next venue and when you wake up in the bus at the next place, you start to feel this energy again. I think it's wonderful.
Pure joy on stage almost every evening for three months: can it be endured?
Sure - you go to sleep in between. Then it's fine.
Don't say a word, Hubert von Goisern
Folk musician Hubert von Goisern in an interview without any words,
on tradition, his reputation as an "alpine socialist" and a duet with Andreas Gabalier.
Your song "Koa Hiatamadl" made you famous in 1992. How many better songs have you written? (1/9)SZ-Magazin | Photo: © Maximilian Geuter
Tibet, Greenland, Africa, Philippines - you're always travelling. What do you find in foreign lands? (2/9)SZ-Magazin | Photo: © Maximilian Geuter
And what brings you back to the mountains? (3/9)SZ-Magazin | Photo: © Maximilian Geuter
You have two children. As a father what are you better at now than ten years ago? (4/9)SZ-Magazin | Photo: © Maximilian Geuter
A real folk musician doesn't perform on "Musikantenstadl". Right? (5/9)SZ-Magazin | Photo: © Maximilian Geuter
Is a duet with the self-proclaimed folk rock 'n' roller Andreas Gabalier within the realm of possibility? (6/9)SZ-Magazin | Photo: © Maximilian Geuter
Tradition is always ballast too. How much of it have you shed? (7/9)SZ-Magazin | Photo: © Maximilian Geuter
How big is your faith in Europe? (8/9)SZ-Magazin | Photo: © Maximilian Geuter
Is yodelling the soul of Austria? (9/9)SZ-Magazin | Photo: © Maximilian Geuter
Born: 17th November 1952 in Bad Goisern, Austria
Education: Training as chemistry lab assisant, music studies in Vienna
Status: Juhuiiii ridldulio
Musically Austria is a split country: on the one side there's Wanda, cool and urban, on the other there's Zillertaler Schürzenjäger, folksy and without any mystery. In between: empty land - and Hubert von Goisern, to whom one must listen very carefully, in order to divine what drives and occupies him, the love for the mountains, the longing for the world, the constant fight with the idiots without and the demons within. Sound-wise Hubert von Goisern draws on many, many worlds and puts the pieces together so boldly that the music that results just can't be pigeonholed.
He was still young when he decided that he didn't want to spend his whole life playing in a brass band, so he moved off into the world, lived in South Africa and Canada, gave concerts in Egypt and travelled to Tibet, always picking up new instruments along the way. Music became his way of making the world and the people in it accessible. His big breakthrough came with the atypical song Koa Hiatamadl, four years ago Brenna tuats guat became the most political Wiesn hit in history. He is on tour at the moment, his new album Federn was released not long ago – together with the film Hubert von Goisern – Brenna tuats schon lang from Marcus H. Rosenmüller.
Doppelkopf: At the table with Hubert von Goisern, "alpine philosopher"
World musician, songwriter, protest singer, alpine rocker, Hubert von Goisern is and wants to be everything. He couldn't have been anything other than a musician, says Hubert Achleitner, who named himself "von Goisern" after his hometown.
The people of Goisern didn't always like it, because the man with the accordion liked to take their music "to where the pain was". He musically redefines "home" and "folk music", in his lyrics he addresses unfairness, injustice, pettiness, ignorance and everything else there is to be upset about. In recent decades he has travelled the world and endlessly expanded his horizons.
He is his own main thread, he says, now he is back with a new album Federn, with a tour that will bring him to Hessentag on 4th June, and with a film of his very special biography Brenna tuats schon lang. In Doppelkopf the alpine philosopher talks about travel, music, his most recent project of getting acquainted with the music and people of the American south and his view of the world. Quite simply, what has moved him for the past 25 years, where he is now and what's burning.
"I was looking for love, not the brothel"
On his new album "Federn" Hubert von Goisern deal with America. He's happy with the record.
But the musician thinks he should have stopped the film about himself.
In July he'll be playing at the Esslinger Burg.
Stuttgart - Musician Hubert von Goisern has added a chapter to his exploration of the world - the south of the USA. He wanted to overcome alienation. But was faced with ignorance, he says.
Mr von Goisern, in the booklet of your new album you write that you travelled the south of the USA looking for inspiration. This region seems much less exotic than Tibet or Africa, where you've previously been inspired.
I have to disagree. It was easier in to make contact with people in Africa and to feel a mutual sense of curiosity than in the south of the United States.
During your Danube tour through eastern Europe a few years ago you complained that a number of local musicians were not interested in the cultural exchange, but instead just wanted to make a foothold in western Europe via you. Is this Hubert von Goisern's curse?
No, in America they didn't even think that I might be a springboard or a door opener to Europe. I was simply confronted with with basic disinterest and ignorance - with the addition that they all indicated that they'd do anything for money. But for me it was about feeling a mutual affection and curiosity, the light in the eyes and the interest in the person. I was looking for true love - and not the brothel.
Were you naïve?
I'm an incurable romantic: when I suffer a setback, I withdraw and resolve never to do anything like it again. But then I nonetheless find myself in that same situation again, because I dream of the world being a beautiful place and believe in these dreams.
What was the catalyst for picking the USA as a destination for inspiration?
The catalyst was this alienation between the United States and Europe: I didn't understand how they tick any more, although it's a culture that has been a great musical influence on me. I don't understand why the USA leaves scorched earth behind them in Libya or Iraq for example. Nonetheless, I thought I could dock our shared roots in country music. In the handful of sessions I played over there things went really well too. But I was the only one who got goosebumps, they didn't. The Americans are self-sufficient. They don't want to go any further.
Nonetheless you explicitly mention two Americans by name on your new album, something you've not done before. Why have these two whistle blowers received this rare honour?
I really engaged myself completely with America on this record, and those two are part of that country, not just this madness, the unbelievable poverty I encountered there, and the crazy religious rituals like masses with poisonous snakes: if someone gets bitten, then they must have been full of sin. Then the doctor can't be called, because either God will save him, or the devil will take him. But Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning show that there are also people over there who think that all that's rubbish and say, you're doing something wrong.
You've created a musical heroes' memorial to them both. At the same time, a film memorial to you has been out for a few weeks, the documentary film Brenna tuat's scho lang. How does that make you feel?
Not very good. Hage Hein, my manager, had this idea four years ago and I said: "I don't think it's a good idea, I don't like it, but I can't stop you if you really want to do it. Only - I don't want anything to do with it." I didn't work on it. Having seen the film three times, I knew that it was a mistake not to have been more vehemently against it being made. I allowed it, because I'm vain and now I'm paying for it, because the retrospect feels like a burden. Old wounds have opened up. The film forces me to deal unduly with the past. It's like having to eat the same schnitzel 20 times.
Does too much past hinder planning for the future?
No, but the present. Just an example: it took a huge amount of strength to pull the plug on the Alpinkatzen - and then not go on stage for seven years. When I watch the film, that whole period comes back to me, with its doubts and decisions. The sweat and tears of before come to the fore again. But I want to smell sweat of now and cry the tears of the present.
There are also a few traditionals and cover versions on your new albums. Are they statements against vanity?
Above all I wanted to show how related we actually are. If you listen ingenuously to Amazing Grace, you could swear that it's an Austrian folk song.
You've taken the song Amazing Grace, originally a song of praise to God, out of its spiritual context. From it you make a ...
... song of praise to life.
Is that permissible?
I'm of the opinion that music is greater than any religion.
Sorry? Music can't answer as to what happens after death.
Nobody can. Religion can only fool you. That's why religion will never be as great as music can be.
But you've travelled so often and so far, that you've without a doubt noticed that beyond Europe nearly everybody adheres to their respective religion.
I respect that. But I believe you need to pray yourself free.
I don't think we'll see eye to eye on this. Final question: do heroes make certain places home?
No, I don't think it needs heroes. It needs events. The interpretation of holy places by the travel writer Alexandra David-Néel, the first to travel to Tibet, was: something happened there. There was an event. When she was a hundred years old, she had to renew her passport - but then died a year later. By all means, these places are constantly charged with spiritual energy by the people who visit them. That's how it is with home too: many people recharge it, because things happen there that make them happy.
Can you achieve that by giving a concert at the pier in Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut?
I'll think about it.