ZEITEN & ZEICHEN
Hubert von Goisern in Hannes Ringlstetter's Club 1
Accompanied by Hannes Ringlstetter on guitar, Hubert von Goisern performs Dunkelrot from his album Zeiten und Zeichen.
The pioneer of alpine world music
His palette extends from folk music to blues rock, from experimental sounds to oompah marches: there's nothing Hubert Achleitner - also known by his stage name Hubert von Goisern - hasn't tried out and put to use. Though he says of himself: "I'm a lazy so-and-so!" Find out how the two go together from the man himself in the hr1-Talk interview.
Hubert von Goisern: "Even the children are pointing to the climate sinners"
Mr von Goisern, your album Zeiten & Zeichen doesn't just summarise many aspects of 2020, it also combines pretty much every western music style imaginable – from Andreas Schager's opera singing to rap. Is this post-modern abundance of variety a sign of the times, as a demonstration of openness?
We certainly live in a time in which a great deal of things happen simultaneously, owing to our networked existence. I simply felt: I don't want to restrict myself. Because nothing is the way it once was – including in the music business. The album format itself is almost outdated. Nowadays, music is almost exclusively put online and then you just download individual songs. But the kind of arc that goes through something like a concept album pretty much no longer exists. There are still people who do it, but that's niche output. In this sense, the new style of music distribution has consequences. Nonetheless it still became an album.
The first piece, Freunde, is a kind of street ballad – about the tragic end of Fritz Löhner-Beda, Franz Lehar's Jewish librettist, in Auschwitz in 1942. Very impressively and hauntingly told. Did you have to put it at the beginning of the album because this story was so important to you?
When I was putting it all together, I simply couldn't find a place for it. And I didn't want to give it up. So I took the bull by the horns and put it at the beginning. I now feel that things don't just kick off at the start, the first three pieces all have the kind of weight that feels quite demanding to me. That you really have to work your way through before you reach the light.
Nothing could be more appropriate for this tough year of the coronavirus. The third song, Brauner Reiter, is a clear stand against nationalism. You use typical Rammstein elements and evoke mental images similar to those in their Deutschland video. Is it more parody or homage?
Neither. I'm not familiar with the Deutschland video. I can hear the Rammstein sound in my mind, but I don't know any particular songs. It was important to me to have gloomy music for this kind of content. The result is something like this. I wasn't thinking of Rammstein at the time, but I've often heard the comparison since. Even in the production phase, people were saying: "Rammstein, Rammstein …" Then quite a funny thing happened: when the whole thing was recorded, I met Christoph Schneider, the drummer from Rammstein, on the ski slope (laughs). But I didn't tell him that I'd just recorded something that everyone said sounded like Rammstein.
In the second song, Sünder, your adaptation of Sinnerman, the heat returns – like in your classic Brenna tuat's guat. You draw a dystopian picture of the present against a wafting vibraphone and buzzing violin. Instead of class warfare, you bow to the climate protection movement – does it make you happy that many young people are becoming more militant?
I heard the Sinnerman version by Nina Simone by chance in the New Zealand film Hunt For The Wilderpeople. It was only a clip, but I thought the driving power of it was amazing. Then I did some research and came across Nina Simone and traced back the story of this gospel. I was very touched by what was in it. The suspension between denouncement and redemption. It's a real piece of gospel, it's about Heaven or Hell. Of course, I'm interested in the Fridays for Future movement too. I was on stage with Greta Thunberg in Vienna a year ago and felt the urgency of her message. And – I have children myself. This irresponsibility of our ancestors towards the future of the planet, we don't need to talk about global warming, even just the misuse of resources – that's been happening for umpteen, oh, hundreds of years. And the information is all there, things won't work out if we carry on like this. This song is therefore my homage to Greta Thunberg with the line "Sogar die Kinder zeigen auf die Sünder an jedem freien Tag" (Even the children are pointing to the sinners on every free day) – meaning Friday.
After this baptism by fire through the first three songs, comes a complete contrast with the initially tenderly played, thoughtful ballad Future Memories. When the strings begin, similarly to Novemberpferde later on, you feel as though you've been transported into the Great American Songbook. Unexpected sounds for an alpine cat, it's been a while since we've heard them from you?
It is also a sign of – not to sound arrogant – maturity that someone dares to approach this kind of tonality and arrangement. Of course, it has been done before, for example the studio production of Heast as net on Wia die Zeit vergeht in 1995 was done with synth strings too. But working with real strings has always appealed to me. The last time was in 1998 on Inexil with Tibet and the same year on Gombe. Now, with the addition of Alessandro Trebo, who is a great keyboardist and arranger, the opportunity has come along to indulge in a few things that were previously impossible or difficult to imagine.
Your increased interest in America is counter-cyclical. Since George W. Bush's presidency, and most recently because of Donald Trump, many have turned their backs on America in confusion. Not you?
It would never have occurred to me that the record sounds so much like Americana.
Well, there's rap and your version of Sinnerman, then the string ballads, later on there's a blues rock track…
Ok, not rejecting this thought, I'd say: what is emerging are the great things about America. If we look at what's happening now in the USA, including what music is being produced – it's all very, very weak, and it's dishwater in comparison to what was happening a few decades ago. And of course the America of the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s had a great influence on me. There are really great bands and awesome musicians. They produced great things, and I must say I miss some of that nowadays. I assume that such people are still around, but they find as little space in the media over there as they do over here.
Dunkelrot follows, a very poetic love song in which the speech song is almost flawlessly in High German. For a veteran dialect artist like you, that's actually a rather unusual approach to such an intimate subject. Dialect is generally closer to your heart, isn't it?
Yes, that's true. I think that there are only three songs on the album that are sung in dialect. Everything else is High German, with the odd little bit where colloquial language comes through. I've wanted to sing more High German for ten years. It never worked out. There was always a reflex of my throat closing up when it was too German. But this time it happened of its own accord.
Was it simpler now that you've authored a novel in written German?
Yes, I think the fact that I can sing like this now has a lot to do with the writing of the novel. After being at home in written German for two years it became second nature.
It makes it easier for the German choirs, who for years have loved singing songs like your ballad Weit, weit weg, but have had to battle with the Upper Austrian dialect…
I'm aware (laughs). I'm pleased if people enjoy them and have an easier time with the language now.
Dunkelrot corresponds with the bluesy Dunkelblau – is that a yin and yang correspondence?
That's a good image. The song has an interesting genesis. I had finished the music for Dunkelblau and sung pilot lyrics to it. I knew exactly what I wanted to sing, a love song. But I hadn't formulated it. I just kind of sang over it. And then I hid myself away and wrote the lyrics. When I returned from my seclusion, my wife asked: "And how did it go?" I thought it was great and read it to her. She was blown away and said: "Amazing, so beautiful. How does the melody go?" Then I put on the playback and sang to it. And afterwards she was really sad and thought it was a real shame that the beautiful lyrics went together with such a sad, bluesy melody. Normally, she never comments on my work, this was actually the first time. It occupied my thoughts so much that I went walking for hours and asked myself: "Well, maybe she's right? I'll sit down and see if I can think of a different melody." That took maybe two hours and the song was finished the way it is now. Only now I had no lyrics for Dunkelblau any more. And then I had the idea of turning it around. I'll take the text and turn it around, so that it reflects this bluesy colour – it's like the light and dark sides of the moon, yin and yang. A friend of mine said that Dunkelblau is the male image, Dunkelrot is the female side.
The ballad Meiner Seel sounds deeply romantic at first. But you could also interpret it as a plea against the "conspiratorial fools" who call yellow blue and march through Berlin and Leipzig in their millions.
Yes, that's exactly how it's intended. I am stunned that there are so many people who can't add one and one. If you look closely at the album cover, there's a graffito for each song. For Meiner Seel it's "one plus one doesn't equal eleven" (laughs).
The Mannheim soul singer Xavier Naidoo is among the most famous "Querdenker" – as the coronavirus conspiracy theorists call themselves - around. You've worked with him before, he accompanied your ship tour at times in 2008, once even stepping in for you in Mainz. What do you have to say about his current behaviour?
I can't actually judge. I'm just stunned at what I keep hearing. I've no idea whether they're exceptions, or whether he's reflecting on things differently. I wonder if people are just just spiking his stuff with something, which wouldn't be good (laughs). But seriously: I'm really sorry about it all. The man has such charisma, such a stage presence and can touch people like no-one else I know. So I find it all the more regrettable that he's drifted off course. But quite a lot of people are doing that at the moment.
The next big counterpoint on the record is Eiweiß, with merry mariachi brass musicians and almost satirical lyrics. Do you envy Dieter Nuhr for his regular storms of protest – or why are you satirising the "oh so endangered paw" of the polar bears, and vegans? Self-censorship clearly doesn't get in your way when writing.
No. Of course I reflect and think about what might happen when it goes out into the world. Could someone take it the wrong way? You're never immune to completely wrong interpretations. The story doesn't make me feel bad. I have great admiration for people who follow a vegan diet. Animal husbandry and mass transport are an unbelievable disgrace for mankind. Anyone eating less meat is preaching to the converted with me. It's up to you whether you also do without milk or eggs. But our handling of animal protein has a lot to do with climate change too. That's why there are mariachi sounds, it's the heat arriving in Greenland, where the polar bear lives. This song has an interesting event as its basis too.
Go on …
Four, five years ago I was in Greenland and played a concert there. A good friend accompanied me and helped to set it up. A very sensitive guy. After three or four days I witnessed a conversation he had with one of the locals, to whom he said: "I would so love to see a polar bear." The Greenlander looked at him, stunned, and replied: "These bloody polar bears! They're everywhere. You can't leave the village without a gun. They're simply a threat to us here." It always depends on your perspective. We see the endangered creature. The locals are afraid of it and perhaps welcome global warming. We make it too easy for ourselves with this kind of thing. Such as believing we're saving the world by feeding our dogs and cats a vegetarian diet. That's animal cruelty. The song about polar bears eating people should definitely be taken as a sideswipe at that. They're no cuddly pet. But otherwise, I think what vegetarians and vegans do is great.
Elektro offers exactly what the name promises – the funkiest von Goisern so far?
Yes. I once put these kinds of thumping rhythms under Tibetan opera singing on Inexil. But that was a long time ago. I haven't done it as resolutely since then.
Towards the end there's a lot about animals, very playful at times – in Grönlandhai, Novemberpferde and Tierische Polka at the end.
It just happened that way. I'm often out in nature and have huge respect for creatures which cannot survive in a protected environment. How they get by out there, especially in the mountains. Whatever animals are there, be it birds, chamois, deer, roe deer, rabbits ... I'm always happy to have the opportunity to observe them in the wild. And I'm also happy that there is still room for this animal world, which humans haven't yet conquered.
In Glück ohne Ruh you set Goethe's early love poem Rastlose Liebe to music. Are you still a proponent of the strong emotions of "Sturm und Drang" movement at the age of 68?
I don't want to answer that (laughs). The origin of this song lies far back too: in 1988 a director came to me and wanted to use the poem Rastlose Liebe as part of the film score I'd written for him. In truth, I thought it was the wrong approach. Of course, it's a wonderful text, but I didn't like the way Schubert had transposed it. I did it differently and rewrote it a little too. He didn't like the result. I've had it in my head since then. Nothing against Schubert – a great composer and songwriter. But Goethe wrote Rastlose Liebe in his early twenties, Schubert was about the same age when he set it to music. For me, it was too turbulent, even back then.
But what can, or must, be turbulent then, if not love?
For me, love was always something romantic, even as a young man. When you talk about suffering the way it is in the poem, it's a melancholic suffering for me, and not a sharp pain. It's much more of a dark thing, than a bright blood red. That's why I've done it this way now. And since I also had a super pianist at my side in Alessandro Trebo, it works.
Otherwise, the record features a kind of Cajun polka, a mourning yodel, an explosive accordion instrumental and even a laconic straightforward rock piece like A Tag wie heut. Apart from you as a person, what is the link between all these? The world that flows into you?
There's no link between the songs except for me. But the foundations of a great number of the songs were recorded by the same musicians. That's a recurring motif too. Nobody had to contort themselves musically, they were all socialised in these soundscapes. But basically: I am the wanderer through these musical landscapes. And if you follow me, you'll find your way out again at the end (laughs).
Can all this be played live, including the string arrangements?
It'll be challenging, but I think so. But certainly not one to one, because I'm sure we won't be taking a string orchestra with us on tour. But we have great musicians on hand, who can play an enormous range of instruments. We'll see what happens when we reduce it down to the sextet that we'll be on the road with. But I have a dream that there will be the odd performance to which we can invite guests who played on the album. So that there can be an occasional surprise when we're on stage. Maybe we'll manage to have everyone there one time. We'll see.
What do you think: will you be able to perform as planned on 28th May 2021, in the normally sold-out Rosengarten in Mannheim?
I hope so. But we live in times where we have to make plans while also keeping in mind that everything might have to be overturned again. We had a fully planned autumn tour, which we're now starting in April. I am confident that it will work out. But I can't say for sure. In an emergency, we'll postpone again. But it's already hugely chaotic, because the many postponed concerts are of course massing together with the ones that were planned for that period. If you postpone it all again …
Playing twice a night and splitting the audience to allow for distancing presumably isn't an option, seeing as you perform so energetically?
It would be inconceivable for me vocally.
In Germany, the cultural sector has been complaining about what you could almost call an employment ban since March, the generously announced state benefits are flowing at different rates in each federal state. How are things for freelance musicians in Austria?
I can only talk about my colleagues. I'm trying to help them with advances until things really pick up again. But the situation can't be whitewashed. You just have to learn to live with it somehow. I remember early on in my career, when I had no engagement for months at a time and barely anything substantial coming in. I lived from hand to mouth, or had contributions from friends, in that I was able to live with them for a while, without needing to pay rent. The creative can muddle through in all kinds of ways. But it's also going to be the case that some artists give up because they can't take the strain. It's not easy and you always need a bit of luck too. But I think the good ones will push through.
Since the most recent tour for the album Federn, you've written your first novel: it's constructed in an interesting way, you use multiple perspectives, including the female one. Is that an advantage of prose over songs?
I think I have colleagues who can slip into another role in a song, and not always write from their own perspective. It's an asset; maybe I'll think about it. But in Eiweiß I sing from the perspective of the polar bear and step out of my own self.
To the light
For a while, Hubert von Goisern had a bird. A wild blackbird on the neighbour's antenna, he flirtatiously whistled along with in the breaks during album recording sessions in Salzburg. There was a new-found peace in the world: no aeroplanes, few cars. Thanks to corona, the musician could hear nature tweeting in the city again. This perhaps explains why all kinds of creatures are moseying around on the record: humpback whales, a chamois, a Greenland shark, a herd of November horses and a polar bear, who in a Caribbean soundscape lusts for animal protein although he'd rather protect the fauna: "Er wär' so gern Veganer und lutschert nur Stana..." (He'd so love to be a vegan, he'd only suck stones). At one point the album was to be called Tierisches Eiweiß (Animal Protein) and it offers enough absurdity for a double LP of children's songs. But that's not how it turned out. It's simply the case that von Goisern ("I'm a part-time vegetarian. I'm certainly on the animals' side. But before anyone starves, I'm on the side of people.) no longer aggrandises everything and himself as much as 30, 40 years ago, when he started overhauling alpine folk with a touch of world music. "Now I think that there should be a certain joy and a joke inherent in taking things seriously."
But von Goisern pulls the plug on joyfulness right at the start of the album, another release on his Munich manager and problem solver Hage Hein's label, Blanko Musik. This album, the first in five years, still in the slipstream of his debut novel Flüchtig released in the spring, now bears the powerful name Zeiten und Zeichen and hits you right in the gut with the first three songs. The Bad Goisern native, on one track slipping into the role of Neue Deutsche Härte singer Heino, grudgingly reckons with the Nazi evil itself: "Der Traum vom Urgermanen und vom auserwählten Volke ist gescheitert / erwache und lache ... Lass uns lieber neue Lieder singen" (The dream of the primordial Germanic man and of a chosen people has failed / Awake and laugh … Let's sing new songs instead). In Sünder he asks how long we and pars pro toto the "yokel" in America will be allowed to play it fast and loose with our equals and the planet; he lets the broad question "He sog amoi, wohi wer'n ma renna, am letzten Tog" (Hey, tell me where should we run on the final day) gallop in front of him for a whole 7.26 minutes – this is a result of the first and only attempt at a jam session with his giddy musicians before lockdown, modelled on Nina Simone and later supplemented with a few guitars, violin, cello and marimba via file transfers.
And right at the beginning of Zeiten und Zeichen, there's Freunde … (das Leben ist lebenswert)! A mini operetta with heldentenor Andreas Schager, hip hop artist Dame and a waterfall of words from von Goisern about the betrayed friendship between Franz Lehár and the librettist Fritz Löhner-Beda, who was murdered in a concentration camp. Together in 1934, they penned Giuditta, from which the famous "Freunde!" line comes. Even the genesis of the album opener has biblical traits, as Goisern and Schager disappeared off on Palm Sunday, driving across Austria on pandemic-clear motorways to a recording session in a forest in Simmering, in a "cool apocalyptic atmosphere, the likes of which are described in Marlen Haushofer's book The Wall". In terms of content, the piece marks a turning point. Prior to this, von Goisern would have said that music was bigger than politics and religion; he had not wanted to "violate it with messages". But with Freunde he became a singer-songwriter-activist. Knowing the music of Lehár inside out, he came across the librettist Löhner-Beda while he was researching the copyright availability. He read more and realised that a certain fate must lie behind the year of death being 1942 and was right: Lehár, who let himself be hired by the Nazis for galas and who knew Hitler "could have asked for something in return" for his Jewish friend, but didn't. In the detailed piece, von Goisern rhymes: "Doch wurde Franz, der große Meister / Plötzlich zum Hosenscheißer" (Franz, the great master / suddenly became a coward). Fritz went to Buchenwald on the so-called celebrity transporter. Lehár regretted the betrayal, as von Goisern gathered from the composer's final interview at the piano. "It's a personal, tragic story that can be used to conceive of the madness. That's why I did it, not to get one over on Lehár."
The listener wants to take a break afterwards. But as far as von Goisern in concerned, the beginning is the right place for the track and the two that follow: "These dark clouds gather wherever they appear. So that's why I put the songs right at the start, where you have to make your way through: through the darkness to the light." Yes, it gets brighter, or Dunkelblau (dark blue) at least, in a heartwarming song that sounds like André Heller, and appeasingly like HvG.
Everything here is very diverse. Not because the 17 pieces aren't united by a temporary attitude towards life, but because they have been sketched out over years, some in 1987, some as a distraction from novel writing. What they have in common is a musicality that is overwhelming even for von Goisern's standards and is also down to such great guests as Maria Moling (Ganes) from Munich on the theremin. Or – a long wished-for premiere for von Goisern – the South Tyrolean accordion guru Herbert Pixner in the dance school parody Quick, Quick Slow; in Eiweiß, reminiscent of Icecream, Icecream, we are afforded the luxury of Pixner "only" making the polar bear dance with the saxophone.
Each animal has its own story. For example, the single celled organism Rigidotrix Goiseri, which bears Hubert's name thanks to his brother-in-law, biologist Wilhelm Foissner. "I sat with him at the microscope a few times. There's a regimen of 'eat and be eaten' in water droplets and measured against that, the world is a peaceful place", says the singer. After his brother-in-law's death, he returned the favour and dedicated the Wilhelm yodel to him.
Or the loneliest creature of the Arctic. After a trip together to Greenland, von Goisern's daughter suggested devoting a song to the shark that floats through the cold darkness, as if in a huge meditation tank, and which doesn't reach sexual maturity until it is 200 years old. A hymn of praise to slowing down, perhaps the most astounding role play in pop history: "Er war der letzte seiner Art / Schon gut fünfhundert Jahr' / Es wurde Zeit, dass er paart / Das war ihm nun auch klar" (He was the last of his kind / For a good five hundred years / It was time he took a mate / That was clear to him). Hubert von Goisern appreciates such peace, just like the kind that streams from his Goethe piece Glück ohne Ruh. That's only one side of the story though. He also wants to be loud again, sharing everything that he drew from the silence. He would be on tour right now and he wants to catch up on that as soon as possible. The man, who celebrated his 68th birthday a week ago, isn't thinking any further than that yet: "I don't know whether there's still the desire to do something new. Listening is a wonderful thing too. You don't always have to be playing music yourself."
Hannes Heide in conversation with Hubert von Goisern
Hannes Heide talks to Hubert Achleitner alias Hubert von Goisern about his new album, his debut novel, European politics and how the Salzkammergut has shaped and inspired him ...
Album Check: Hubert Von Goisern - Zeiten & Zeichen
It's never been enough for this musician to simply make music. Hubert von Goisern has always created music. We can hear the result of his most recent period of creativity in the new album Zeiten & Zeichen.
Thirty years ago, Hubert von Goisern created his own, completely new musical niche with his yodels and songs like Koa Hiatamadl and Heast as net. The accordion pop of that era has long since established itself as a musical genre – and since his beginnings, Hubert von Goisern has always been one step ahead.
A few weeks ago, the Austrian released his 15th studio album, Zeiten & Zeichen. And anyone who knows the musician and his passion for musical experiments and diversity, knows that this album sets off a firework of creativity too. The music is completely new, unclassifiable, difficult at times and then simply beautiful and, across the board, never there just for the sake of it. Every note sits in its intended place, every line speaks for itself and every yodel sounds as though it was invented for these very songs.
Hubert von Goisern: "I seek out exceptional situations"
His tour should have started at this point; after a four-year break, Hubert von Goisern wanted to get back on stage. The coronavirus put paid to it, for now. "It's been called off, but that doesn't mean that it won't take place", says the 67-year-old. "The coronavirus is like the weather. There's no sense in getting het up about the fact that it won't stop raining."
But even without the circus of gigs, a lot has been going on in the Austrian's life. His debut novel was released in the spring: Flüchtig was enthusiastically read by the public and critics. In addition, Hubert von Goisern has now presented his first studio album in five years: Zeiten & Zeichen. Coronavirus and tour postponement or not: it's time for a conversation.
On the new album, you say that you'd been "dreading 2020" from as early as autumn 2019.
There was a feeling I couldn't put my finger on. I traced it back to the fact that I published my first novel, Flüchtig – and didn't know if I was going to be ripped apart.
Which didn't happen.
Right. But I just didn't know what the reactions would be to a musician becoming a writer. Aside from that, I worked on the album and was uncertain what would come from it. And we wanted to go on tour.
You were worried that it could be too much?
Yes, that I might not be up to the size and density of the work. I withdrew in the past four years and felt very comfortable with my solitary creativity.
Were the restrictions on movement during the coronavirus lockdown easy for you to bear?
Yes. Yes, those were normal conditions for me. Suddenly they applied to everyone. (Laughs).
Many people say that they have lived more consciously during this time. You too?
Just as for everyone else, it was a really exceptional state for me. It suited me because I seek out situations and sensations that push me to my limits, where I have to get creative in order to cope. In that respect, it was a gift.
When you needed a break from your work on the novel, you found an escape in music. Is that why the new album sounds so diverse?
Yes. I actually didn't work on the album during the first phase of writing. But I kept finding myself with an instrument, thinking: "Oh, this is cool. What am I doing? WHAT AM I DOING?! I should be writing!" but I made a note of things that came to me. That's how many musical ideas joined the ones that already existed. A song that had been in my head for ever is the scoring of the Goethe piece Glück ohne Ruh. That's from '87. The others are based on ideas that have come along over the course of four years. As a result, there are as many different feelings and emotions in the music as you'd have over that time.
What would have happened if coronavirus had already been around while you were working on the record?
I couldn't say. Although there's a great deal of seriousness, gloominess and unfathomability, particularly in the first three tracks, the album nevertheless has a lightness to it. I don't know if I would have included this levity if it had been written in the time of the coronavirus.
You mentioned the first three songs. I'd like to talk about the first song Freunde: a touching bow to the librettist Fritz Löhner-Beda, who was murdered in a concentration camp.
The tenor Andreas Schager and I wanted to do something together – and agreed on this song. When I looked to see whether the rights were available, I came across the name Löhner-Beda. I know the music by Franz Lehàr, for whom he wrote a lot, inside out, but I had never paid attention to the small print. When I saw that Löhner-Beda had died in 1942, it was clear that the date must conceal a terrible fate. I researched his life and afterwards I knew that I couldn't do the song the way I intended. I would either tell his story – or abandon it completely. I decided on the former, but it was a bad time to get through it in all its tragedy in its madness.
In what way?
I've always avoided the era of national socialism. I know it happened – but I don't seek out the subject, because it brings me down. Now this story was laid out before me on the floor and I picked it up and tackled it.
The song is about the friendship between Löhner-Beda and Lehàr – and how it breaks apart. What does friendship mean to you?
Friendship is something very, very important. And the most important thing about it is the corrective moment. Getting feedback from your friends that you're not on the right track is as important as getting positive feedback. Without the demand to be heeded. But there are situations in which you need a talk or some stability - you need friends for that.
In terms of giving someone security: do we need to stand up for each other more strongly nowadays?
I think that as a society, we need to get involved for the weak and for those who are having a bad time. I'm stunned when I see reports about people who have to go to food banks to be given food. It's unbelievable that there is poverty on a rich continent like Europe! We all need to show solidarity, share, support. We haven't become poor just because we've cut production for two months because of the coronavirus. The money is growing mouldy on some island out there.
You've never been as political as you are in the first three songs of the new album, have you?
(Thinks, then hesitantly) No.
I don't like singer-songwriters who write political songs – or Christian songs. I find it unbelievably exhausting when someone assaults music with a message. Music is far greater than politics and religion. But as you get older and deal with society more and more, you notice that you're not just an observer, you're an actor too. I have the feeling that I react to things that are on my mind and turn them into music.
What comes first? Music or lyrics?
Music. It tells me the story.
Your last tour was four years ago. What do you get from repeatedly allowing yourself such breaks?
I always do things at 100 per cent – for example, when I'm on tour, the rest of my life stands still. I have no time for friends, for skiing, or walking in the mountains. I can't manage to spread myself thin and just play a few concerts and do something else in between. I'm on the Hay diet (laughs).
When we last spoke, you told me about two of your dreams: of writing a novel, and composing an opera. The novel is here – is the opera next?
I don't know. The tour will be next. And when it's over, I'll think about what to do.
Does opera still appeal to you as a form of art?
The amount of work it would take scares me. It's overwhelming and I think I wouldn't manage that. So, as long as I think that's true, I won't sit down and make a start. I need to have the feeling that it will work out.
Hubert von Goisern: "We must show more solidarity"
After a five year break, musician and author Hubert von Goisern has released another album: Zeiten & Zeiten
It was to be his comeback year: in spring, Hubert von Goisern published his first novel Flüchtig under his real name Hubert Achleitner. Then the new studio album was to be presented on an extensive tour. That's now been postponed, but the CD is here.
Mr von Goisern, when was your last concert?
I know exactly when it was: 26th October 2016 – on Austrian National Day.
Do you miss the audience?
No. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely can't wait for the tour that we've had to postpone until the coming year. But the applause is like a drug: if you take it continuously, you miss it immediately, but if you keep taking a break, then – after a period of transition – life without an audience and concerts is really great too.
Freunde, the first number on the album, on which tenor Andreas Schager performs, centres on the fate of Nazi favourite Franz Lehar and his librettist Fritz Löhner-Beda, who died in Auschwitz. That's quite a start to an album!
Yes, the number hits you like a thunderstorm. In terms of music, I wanted to do the track the way it is now, with rap and operetta and had an idea for the lyrics: that we live in an unbelievably opulent world and have everything for a wonderful life that's worth living. And nevertheless, we're grumpy the whole time. Then I had to find out what the rights were for the refrain. Along with the name of the librettist, whom I didn't know before, I found out that his year of death was 1942. Of course, alarm bells start ringing. I soon knew that I could no longer do the song the way I had originally thought. I had to tell Löhner-Beda's story.
That doesn't explain how the rapper Dame came into play.
When he heard me, my manager Hage said I should take a rap course. I still think that's a cheeky thing to say! Then I read an article in the paper about a Salzburg rapper and contacted him. He came over and said, "It's fine. You rap the way they did twenty years ago." But I wasn't interested in keeping the beat in that almost military, snappily accurate way. I prefer to spread my wings and fly in between. I don't think that the groove that my singing has is worse, it's just different. And so now we both rap on the song.
There are November horses, polar bears, Greenland sharks and other animals on your album. Is there a kind of ark-allusion behind it all?
No, it's just the way it happened. But I live with the pulse of nature. I share Jane Goodall's view; she always says that the dividing line between people and animals is not sharp, but is instead very blurry and constantly changing. And if you have pets and observe many animals in the natural world, then you do feel many commonalities.
You always write the lyrics once the music is done, why is that?
The music just comes along and also tells me the stories that are within these melodies. It's actually easier to put music to lyrics than to write lyrics for music. But my way is just different.
The album has an enormous spectrum of different musical styles.
I actually always carry this diversity within me. And then I just decide which part of the field I want to till. This time, the decision was due to writing the novel. In the beginning, when I had writer's block I'd keep going to my musical instruments and then along would come musical ideas I couldn't flesh out, because I wanted to finish writing the novel. I then recorded the idea, locked away the instrument and returned to my desk. I was able to go back to these ideas when I had finished the novel.
Although the album covers so many spectrums, I can't see an Oktoberfest Wiesn hit for 2021 on it. A deliberate decision?
I have nothing against my songs being played at the Wiesn. I don't think that the message gets twisted or misappropriated in that way either. When I sing that people should please eat wheat and not process it into fuel, it's exactly what happens at the Wiesn: people drink the wheat.
Alongside the heavy, political songs, there are also many odd songs on the album.
I can be funny too, even if there are some people who don't want to believe it. It's a kind of running joke in the family: Dad always thinks that he's so funny. I think it's really, really important to keep a sense of humour.
Freelance artists have been affected by the coronavirus more than almost any other section of the population. Have you felt the mood worsen among your colleagues, with some drifting off into conspiracy theories?
It's not necessary the affected artists who drift off into conspiracy theories. I can actually only think of one at the moment, and he's so successful that the lockdown can't possibly signify any kind of crisis for him. It's not just difficult for artists, but for the whole events sector, the technicians and everything that goes along with it. It's an incredibly tough time and there are certain to be some losses.
"If we don't set the course, fate will"
On the release of his new album, Hubert von Goisern talks about how he has dealt with the time of the coronavirus. Is there anything positive to be gained from it, how important is culture right now and what has this time has been like for him personally?
The "Goiserer" released his new album on 28th August – a 75-minute opus that is stylistically more diverse than most albums before it. At the beginning of August, he awarded the Hubert von Goisern Culture Award (a prize he also founded) to twice as many artists as usual, given the extraordinary circumstances.
These are hard times for creatives especially. How important is a symbol such as this Culture Award?
I was delighted for each recipient. The variety we experienced that evening is inspiring and all the more so if you've read the 171 applications. That's when you really see what a great wealth of creative people there is in this world.
What can culture contribute in times like these?
We've had more space for reflection, and there's an opportunity there to question a few things. We live in a world that has become very specialised. On the one hand there are the people who stand on stage and then there are professional listeners. I think that's a shame, the line needs to be more blurred. It would be wonderful if people sang and played music more. The same goes for sport. We've become professional spectators, but only a very small number of us get moving. This time is now teaching us that we have the opportunity to question ourselves and if the cultural offering isn't there, then we can make our own musical entertainment.
What was the coronavirus lockdown like for you, right in the middle of the critical phase of album production?
I was in a working quarantine with my producer, sound engineer and co-producer Wolfgang Spannberger. We had it all in the can, there were just very few recordings we had to fight for: we recorded Christoph Sietzen (percussionist) in a huge knights' hall at Steyregg Castle, because nothing can happen with three people in 150m2. And we recorded tenor Andreas Schager in a forest in Semmering. But we would have done this part of the production as a pair anyway. And it was kind of lovely to work undisturbed. Normally there's always someone or other coming into the studio, hello, how are you doing, I just wanted to have a listen and so on. Now that was all gone and that was nice too.
The coronavirus measures set by the government were the subject of heated discussion. How did you feel about it, was it handled well?
I think so. Perhaps we overshot a little, but that's better than doing too little. We've seen what happens when it's handled sloppily. And I think to myself, our society is so rich, we have so many resources. They're not well distributed, no question, but they're there, and this redistribution simply has to happen. We can afford to not produce anything for two months. Are you kidding me?
Were you surprised at how society reacted? Pulling together in the beginning, now there are conspiracy theories, debates about masks, etc?
Well, there were conspiracy theories right from the start. I had a couple in my circle of friends, but I blocked them out, because it simply got on my nerves. If you're careless, it doesn't only affect you, you put others in danger too. We simply need to set our own boundaries now. Not only following the rules, but voicing what you think is smart, what's necessary for yourself and where there's a risk that you're willing to take, because life has to go on. We can't lock ourselves away in a box and wait until it's all over.
Can we perhaps gain something positive from a crisis such as this? Especially in terms of culture, where it's particularly difficult?
Yes, we must. It's down to us to take something positive from it. Being an artist and living for music, it's like a profession of faith, a little like a religion You live for music and not on music. If both work out, great. But there was a time when I couldn't live on my art, and so I worked as a tour guide, sold skis, etc. I can't say: I want society or the specific times in which I live to make my dream come true. I have to do that myself.
There was the hope that society itself would take something positive from the crisis. Do you share this hope or are these just fantasies?
(laughs) I have this hope. I don't know to what extent it's fantasy. We just have to pull together and make these demands together. Because I think that the majority of people know in which direction it needs to go. For example, the fact that jet fuel is not taxed, what's that about? Flying has to cost what it has to cost. Just like shipping – marine diesel is tax free too. This can't go on any more. It cannot be the case that millions and billions get stashed away on some island and left to grow mouldy, and when someone is productive, they can't make enough to live on. And if they invest, then they do have enough. Something has to happen. If we don't set the course, then fate will set the course.
You often take on social topics in your songs. At a time like this don't ideas automatically bubble up for a creative person like you?
No, not for me (laughs). I can imagine that they perhaps do so for some people. But I've just finished producing an album and I'm looking forward to putting it into action, even if it's going to be a while before we can go on stage. I have two years of intense productivity behind me and I'm looking forward to taking things in and not having to produce anything myself.
Hubert von Goisern interprets the times and signs on his new album!
Goisern's goodie bag
Hubert von Goisern: Zeiten & Zeichen
What in an inconceivably sad beginning to an album from the sweeping pop universe! In the trippy opening song Freunde ..., Hubert von Goisern tells the story of Fritz Löhner-Beda, who wrote lyrics for the king of operetta, Franz Lehàr – and who was murdered as a Jew by the Nazis in Auschwitz. After this tough matter, a veritable Goisern goodie bag opens up. He has packed a journey through his adventurous world of creation into 74 minutes. He hops from style to style, from country dance to heavy hard rock, from the balladesque to electro beats, from mariachi sounds to yodels and polkas – and that's just a rough overview. Hubert von Goisern has clearly used the time of the coronavirus to let out everything that is within him – and that's not just melancholy and seriousness, but a great deal of fun too. Goisern has never made such diverse music.
"The signs point to a storm!"
Austrian singer-songwriter Hubert von Goisern has seldom shied away from risk. First he rocked out with the Alpinkatzen and brought yodelling to pop, now he has a new album ready to go about living and surviving in times of crisis.
Your new album is called Zeiten und Zeichen (Times and Signs). How do you interpret the signs in these times?
Well, they point to a storm. I think we've arrived at a turning point. The old order is crumbling and doesn't really work properly anymore and there isn't a new one yet. If only 50 per cent of the electorate in America goes to vote and then not even half them elects a president, then democracy has an Achilles heel. If, to exaggerate, the fools join forces – let's say 25 per cent – and the remaining 75 per cent don't agree, because they're individualists, then the 25 per cent will rule us. And that's simply not good. I think we need to think about how we establish an order that is fair for all.
The fool is to be found in the song Sünder in the form of the American president Donald Trump. You call him the "yokel". At the same time, the Fridays for Future movement is mentioned with the sentence "Die Kinder zeigen schon auf die Sünder" ("Even the children are pointing to the sinners"). They see us and our society as sinners. That's a very biblical label.
Yes, and it's a gospel. It's an old gospel song Sinnerman – there's a really great interpretation by Nina Simone. That interpretation acted as the godparent of my version. That's why this Christian image of heaven and hell comes up. Yes, there is something archaic about it, including the images of burning forests and landscapes and doom and madness that are conjured. I think we've messed up a lot over the past hundred years. There has been an exploitation of this earth that has ultimately brought us prosperity. But it took place on the backs of many people - and not just people, but creatures and landscapes and nature too. There must be a change in thinking now!
You can hear that you see your album as a message too.
There's this saying, I think it's Goethe: "You notice the intent and are upset." When I release or bring something to the stage, I don't want it to be misused. I need to see my approach to life reflected in it. My only aspiration is that I don't say one thing and do another.
You mentioned the lyric about the "burning forests" in the song Sünder before. I read in the press release that songs were also recorded in the forest. Is that right?
Yes, a passage or two – by tenor Andreas Schager in the song Freunde. That was during the peak of the lockdown. We recorded it in the forest.
I find Freunde to be a very unusual song for a pop album. With tenor Andreas Schager and the Austrian rapper DAME too. Is that pronounced the English way?
(laughs) I don't know! I always call him Mike, because his name is Michael Zöttl. I keep meaning to ask him …
The song is certainly unusual. It's the story of the operetta composer and Nazi favourite Franz Lehàr, who failed to save his Jewish librettist Fritz Löhner-Beda from deportation and thus death. Why did you want to tell this story?
I didn't want to tell this story. The story came to me and I didn't want to hide it. My original thinking was to do the song the way it is now – but with different content. But with this groove and the refrain "Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert" (Friends, life is worth living). Because I really think that never mind the coronavirus, or whatever other catastrophes happen and will befall humanity – life is worth living! I wanted to do this kind of positive song. And then I saw who wrote the libretto and started reading. And realised, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, I can't do it now, not now that I know what happened. I thought about whether or not I should do it and then gathered my courage, okay, tell this story. Because it is representative of the unbelievable abysses of humanity that we still carry within us. They don't go away just because we don't talk about them, or because we don't tell these stories. We have this within us.
The album has a very clear political stance, but it also has to be said that there are many other facets to it too. For example, the song Eiweiß, a funny or almost silly song about polar bears in which the polar mood, so to speak, meets Mexican mariachi trumpets. How does that fit in an album like this?
Well, it's an image that is basically related to climate change. The Caribbean is wandering ever further north and the polar bear, which simply requires a different milieu in order to survive, is under increasing pressure and isn't finding what makes it possible for him to survive. I have great respect for every way of life that survives beyond the civilised world or a cage. And I think it's simply wonderful that they still exist. And we should really make the effort to ensure that it remains the case that more than just humans are worth preserving.
There is also the matter of fantasy, poetry and, of course, love. You can't forgo that?
No, no, I wouldn't want to either. And I don't advise anyone else to do so.
The songs Dunkelblau and Dunkelrot for example: if I remember correctly, is like a reflection: it goes from I to you, but the lyrics are very similar.
Yes, that's right. It's like yin and yang, like the dark and light sides of the moon, or love. One does not exclude the other. The lyrics for Dunkelrot was originally intended for the music to Dunkelblau. Then my wife, who otherwise never gets involved, never comments, said something! She remarked: "That's a shame, such beautiful lyrics and such a gloomy or dark melody". These lyrics deserved a different melody. And because she had never done that in all these years, it really bothered me and so I dealt with it and wrote a new melody for the lyrics. From that came Dunkelrot. And then Dunkelblau was left without lyrics again and I thought: I'll just turn it around: I'll contrast the blue side with the warm one. And that's how these twins evolved.
SWR1 Leute: Hubert von Goisern – Musician and author
Podcast: Download audio and video
"Scaredy cat" Lehar, an eternal shark and the Capital of Culture Intendancy
17 songs in 75 minutes. With "Zeiten & Zeichen" Hubert von Goisern presents a work that leaps wildly between the genres.
Zeiten & Zeichen opens with the most unusual song of the album, Freunde, which trades wildly between operetta and hip hop. Should the fact that you put this track about the tragic fate of Franz Lehar's librettist Fritz Löhner-Beda right at the beginning be seen as a statement?
I found no better place when I was putting the album together. Freunde is a powerful juggernaut, where a Heldentenor meets rap. Anyone who has survived the first three songs – Freunde, Sünder and Brauner Reiter – can then abandon themselves to the beautiful things in life (grins). Freunde was difficult to carry off. The number gets under your skin so quickly because it combines two elements: both the abysmal and a joy for life. When I think about Löhner-Beda's Buchenwald song, it moves me to tears straightaway. It's unfathomable that somebody can write such life-affirming lines in a concentration camp.
Franz Lehar is referred to as a "scaredy cat" in the song.
It's not an accusation against Lehar, it's a complex matter. He was 68 years old when the Germans invaded. Richard Tauber suggested that he should emigrate on account of his Jewish wife. Lehar couldn't speak English and didn't have the strength to make a new start in the USA. He decided to keep his head down and not step in for his friend Fritz, although he was of good standing with the Nazis. 20 years ago I heard a radio programme about Lehar's final interview. When he was asked about Löhner-Beda he broke down in tears and said that he hadn't known anything. That was incredibly irritating to me. Not that he hadn't exposed himself to this terror regime, but that he later acted as if he had no idea.
Sünder is a dialect reworking of the American spiritual Sinnerman. Was it that famous version by the jazz icon Nina Simone that inspired you?
Yes, it came to my attention through the New Zealand film Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Sinnerman plays in one of the scenes and I thought: "Now that's really something!" I was unbelievably worried about doing my version. But we managed to distance ourselves far enough from Simone's piano version thanks to Christoph Sietzen's incisive marimba and BartolomeyBittman's contribution. The version that ended up on the record was the very first we recorded. We've never captured the spirit of the first take again.
"Es träumte einst ein Grönlandhai / Vom Urlaub vor Hawaii" (A Greenland shark once dreamed / Of a holiday in Hawaii) – in the first lines of Grönlandhai, you're still under the impression that it's a humorous song. Then it becomes clear that it's about loneliness. Is the 400-year-old shark a metaphor for the fact that quasi-immortality is not a desirable goal?
I'm simply fascinated by this image of a creature that lives so long and is threatened by extinction. It's about the longing for light, for warmth, for togetherness, for family. What kind of strange creature is it that travels at just one kilometre per hour and doesn't reach sexual maturity until it's 200 years old? My daughter, with whom I was in Greenland last year, brought the shark to my attention. Everything that's fast gets worn out. But not this shark.
But not even the shark lives forever. Do you think about the legacy that you will one day leave behind?
I think a lot about what I'm releasing into the public sphere. There are things that are important to me, but which I do not share. Thinking about what sustainability all this has wouldn't be good. Pondering too much about the transience of my creative work would inhibit me. When I compare myself to what Mozart, Mahler or Schubert created, I am just a small grain of sand. I prefer to ensure that I'm present in the here and now.
In summer 21 you'll be returning to Clam. What significance does this location hold for you?
Clam was always fantastic, even though it often rained! A favourite memory of mine is Elton John's amazing concert three years ago. I think about it often and have very, very happy memories of it.
Bad Ischl will be the European Capital of Culture in 2024. Would you be tempted to be more involved artistically?
The Capital of Culture is a great thing. I'd love to take over as director myself! But I'm too much of an artist to deal with the organisational effort that goes along with it. I'd have to scare away all my muses! (laughs) There will certainly be creative input from my side.