FEDERN LIVE 2014-2016
Hubert von Goisern in conversation
For the release of his new album Federn Live 2014-2016 Hubert von Goisern spoke to NEWS Magazine on a broad range of topics: from his experiences with musicians from the United States, to the growing problem of radicalisation. Below you'll find the print interview and over the next few weeks you will be able to watch video extracts of the interview here too. English subtitles are available on each video.
"I'm not as nice as people think"
At the age of 64 Hubert von Goisern no longer wants to be the party guy in lederhosen. He's grown thin-skinned and vulnerable, and media-shy too: that's why for the release of his new album he's giving just this one interview - and then disappearing again.
Things had calmed down around Hubert von Goisern. After his number 1 hit Brenna tuats guat and the following tour, the 64-year-old alpine rocker withdrew from public life - at least in Austria. Goisern undertook an extensive musical journey through the USA, which was to become a trip of limited, rather than unlimited, possibilities: arriving in a country as a singing exotic and being of no consequence to other people was a new experience for the globetrotter.
But conditions in the old homeland noticeably annoy him too: right wing populism on one side, political correctness on the other and "fundamentalists in lederhosen", who musically underscore the whole thing - all this makes Goisern a candidate for inner emigration. "There are many people and things around me that I find tiresome," he says.
For the first time the father - his daughter Laura is 22, his son Nick 25 - talks about his family too, his wife and his unconventional role as pop dad.
Here at home you're a musical authority. But what was it like, landing in the USA as a kind of yodelling alien with an accordion?
The journey to the so-called Bible Belt was enough to awaken my horror. The people who make music there are actually very close to us musically-speaking. That's why I thought: here is where you'll most likely find people who are interested in venturing to build a bridge with me. I wanted to do something to oppose this alienation between the United States and Europe that began about twenty years ago. But I still don't understand what makes the people over there tick. Perhaps - having focused on them - even less so than before.
Is it right that there were some musicians in the southern states, who had no interest in playing with you?
Yes. And I think that first and foremost it came down to some Americans being unable to imagine that playing music with someone from outside the USA could be an enrichment of some kind. Of course there are great exceptions, thank God. But compared to the overall number of musicians, it wasn't very many. Very many people said: "Yes, super, we absolutely must do something together!" But then nothing happened. It's just a thing in the USA - this capacity to rate everything positively, although in reality you see it differently.
You could find such behaviour in Austria and Vienna too though.
In Vienna, yes, but not in Austria. We're basically very self-critical: we prefer putting down our own stuff, over saying that everything is really great. But on my America trip it was about meetings between people who had never met before. Meetings in which, according to my cultural self-image, I'm not beating my chest, saying: "Look at everything I've done!" Instead I'm coming along more modestly, saying: "I'd like to play music with you." If anyone's interested in what I've done up to this point, they can take a look at the website. In contrast, people in the USA tell you everything they've done in the last five years and it becomes clear: what they're telling you couldn't even get done in a hundred years. These stories intimidate me - and in return I don't impress the Americans with my reserved approach at all. It then becomes very difficult to come together.
You're reserved? So where does the biggest misunderstanding between the way in which people see you and the way you really are lie?
For example I'm nothing like as fun and nice as people think. I'm no arsehole, but a lot gets on my nerves and I find many people and things around me to be annoying.
So is the aim of such a journey to escape everything that people think about you?
Yes, but the aim is also to escape oneself. To get away from the mirror.
Taking the word mirror: what's it like for an ageing popstar to get older?
It's actually not so difficult. There are certainly moments in which I think: can you still do this or that at 64, or is it too juvenile? But I don't travel and play because I want to be up with the kids. No, I don't do it, because I have to prove something, these journeys just happen. But on the other hand there are only a few destinations in the world which make me think they would be too exhausting for me. Mountains are among them, mountain climbing and bivouacking. I have to be honest: I haven't done that in a long time, at least not in the cold. I'm getting softer and a lot hurts after a night on a hard floor. But it still goes.
So as an artist must one travel far away in order to free the mind for new things, or can you not just travel into the depths of your own origins? Can you no longer find inspiration with walks to the Goisererhütte at different times of year?
No, you don't have to leave in order to find inspiration. Although I've done it before: when I've returned from my travels, I buried myself in the Salzkammergut and grappled with the traditionalists, as well as enemies of tradition. But nowadays Goisern is no more or less important to me than the Philippines, or California for example.
When you look back: how much of your time have spent on the road and how much at home?
Much more on the road than at home.
You have a family: how does that work with being away a lot?
It's easier nowadays than in the first half of the nineties, when I was on tour a lot. It was an intense time on tour - and an intense time when I was home, home for years. From 1995 to 2001, I didn't go on tour.
How difficult is it when one parent is at home and has to make the rules, while the other parent, Dad, is away and only to be heard on the radio?
When he was twelve, my son once said when I came home: "On the first day it was great that you were back." But on the second day, it was clear: I was disturbing the order of things. And on the third day there was the first trouble and my son said to my wife: "You have to give him time, he's just back from tour, where he was the king and here he's the unpaid help." You have to subordinate again. My children understood that right from the start: at home I'm not the king, my wife maintains the structures in which our family life works.
Was your role not the more attractive of the two?
An artist's life is stressful too and you have to do the job - but there's something playful about it too. But you're a mother 24 hours a day, that's the considerably more demanding job. Nevertheless, my wife also says: "I don't want to have to do what you do." Interviews with the media for example.
When someone has as egocentric a job as you do - how does that fit with equal status?
I was 32 years old when I met my wife Hildegard and was wanting a child for the first time. And she said: "How's that going to work? You're an unprofitable artist, who lives hand to mouth." Back then I had an annual income of 14,000 Schillings, that's 1000 Euros. That was in 1984 and it wasn't much then either. And I said to her: "You know what, I'll stay at home with the child and you go and work. I'll be a househusband as well as I can and will work on the side as a producer, or write film music." And I'd have liked that, I enjoy cooking. But then the Alpinkatzen hit the big time and of course that delighted her too.
Back to your USA trip: you know the populist side of Austrian politics and now the American versions too - what are the differences between a Trump voter and a Hofer voter?
For a start in the degree of weaponry of course - but other than that there's probably no great difference. Mind you, in contrast to Austria, there's unbelievable poverty in the USA. The people here who see themselves as poor, or who count as poor - I don't understand it! There are certainly hardships for many people, but there aren't as many as would warrant 30% voting for such a party. I understand worries about the future, but I don't understand displeasure with the current situation. Everything is badmouthed in politics and in the end people vote for a dolts who have no idea how to keep a society together, or how to handles the challenges of our time. My father has always said: "When I was young, the rich didn't have as much as the poorest do today."
But your biggest hit, Brenna tuats guat, is an anthem to exactly these angry citizens. The lyrics serve the view: if the bigwigs carry on like this, it's all going to go down the drain.
The message of the song is of course one that fermented within me for a long time, and then at the right point, out it comes and manifests itself in the form of these lyrics.
Good, but what is the difference between the musical fury of the left wing angry citizen Hubert von Goisern and the anger of a right wing angry citizen?
The right wing does politics with fear - the left too perhaps, but perhaps I'm a little blind in this eye. Well, there are artists who are right wing too, art isn't automatically left wing. But art is certainly something fine, with a depth to it. The populist cry against it is just a reflex, which of course can be a catalyst for art too. We live in a time where you have to depart from this distinction between left and right. It's about the subject, no matter from which side you're viewing it. For about 30 years now, there's been this feeling in the air that things can't go on like this, that there's too much injustice in our system, that something has to change. And now that's taking off in various ways, be it in the person of a Trump, an Erdoğan or a Strache. But in it you see that there are ulcers that are making society ill.
Ulcers? That's a heavy word. Does this political correctness annoy you - or do you see sharpening things as a duty of art?
Yes, it annoys me, because it's this political correctness that leads to things like "alternative facts" or "fake news". For thanks to correctness, you often can't call a spade a spade any more, and in turn that constantly leads to the breaking of taboos - because when you make so many things taboo, it inevitably leads to them being broken. Now we're in a situation where language needs to be taken back to comprehensible statements, instead of always going all round the houses in order to say what you're not allowed to say any more.
Do you give any thought to language taboos when writing lyrics?
When I write lyrics, I've always considered very carefully: how can this lyric be construed? You can't entirely do away with the misunderstanding. But when I see how brashly some representatives of quality journalism treat language, it's annoying. The written word is open to interpretation and it simply doesn't go away. It's a special responsibility. It happens to me all the time that I think: you could have expressed that better. But I have always paid very particular attention to making sure that there's nothing casually thrown out, or frivolous in my lyrics. With every song I right, I get the feeling: that's not actually what I want, but I can't do any better.
In your song Stoansteirisch there's the passage "I tua ma hart mit da Lederhosnmusi dort" ("I have a hard time with the lederhosen music there"). Could you have expressed that better?
Yeah, that was mean. But who puts on lederhosen and starts hopping around on stage? It's this odd rustic thing, you need to have a special twist. Music has the potential to support nationalism, in folk music for example. It's also the reason why I've spent a lot of time dealing with folk music and traditions. You have to break up this way of thinking, folk music can get along without this humptata-humptata. But there have to be "fundamentalists" too, you have to tolerate that too. But when the fundamentalists demand that everyone has to be like them, we can all shoot ourselves.
Video interview extracts
The recordings for your new album are partly inspired by a journey through the USA. Here at home you're a musical and moral authority. What was it like, to land in New York as the "yodelling alien with the accordion"? What was it like to land in New York as the "yodelling alien with the accordion"?
In the southern states of America, there were a few musicians who didn't want to play music with you. Why not?
Is it the aim of an artist to constantly be moving away from oneself and one's own clichés?
What are the biggest differences between what people see in you and the way you see yourself?
What's the difference between the musical fit of rage from "leftie" Hubert von Goisern and a fit of rage from a "right wing" angry citizen? In what way does an "artistic outcry" differ from a "populistic outcry"?
Are you sometimes annoyed by political correctness? Shouldn't art be allowed to provoke too? Is radicalisation of language simply the precursor to a general radicalisation?