SWR1 Leute: Hubert von Goisern – Musician and author

SWR1 4th September 2020

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"Scaredy cat" Lehar, an eternal shark and the Capital of Culture Intendancy

OÖN 28th August 2020 | Text: Lukas Luger

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. 

Hubert von Goisern: "I don't believe this moaning"

Profil 23rd August 2020 | Text: Stefan Grissemann | Photo: Alexandra Unger

Hubert von Goisern on coronavirus pessimism, his ecological utopias and offers of a dialogue with the right-wing.

You have called the coronavirus shutdown "cool" in interviews, a wonderful opportunity to find peace. Don't you have to be in a pretty privileged position to be able to see it that way?

Sure, and it did land me another shitstorm. Of course, I understand the objections of people who don't have it as good as me, but should I lie? I wouldn't think of it. I almost exclusively know people who have been able to gain something from this phase of peace. My friends in California and Brazil are having a really hard time. It's terrible what's happening over there, but that wasn't and isn't the case for us in Austria. Fine, nobody wants to hear that a crisis can also be an opportunity any more.

That's what it is for you?

Yes. It's down to us and I hope that we can build pressure as a global community to ensure that, for example, jet fuel is finally taxed. How can a law that is seven or eight decades old and was once supposed to promote air travel still be in force? Why do train journeys cost four times as much as some flights to the same destination? It's unacceptable that dirty marine diesel is traded tax-free! Everyone complains that everything is down: but one lorry rushes after the other on the motorway, one traffic jam follows the other, without end. I don't believe this moaning. Anyone trying to book a craftsman won't manage, because everyone is booked up. I now think that it's artists that have been hit hardest. And the wheat has to be sorted from the chaff in this crisis; what is essential, what do we need? What we don't need will disappear. The souvenir stands in tourist spots that sell unnecessarily manufactured plastic waste that serves only to pollute the world. On average in Europe, a T-shirt is worn three times and is then disposed of. The sustainability we have been talking about for ten years is now essential. We have to use our resources and ourselves more efficiently.

Was the writing of your first novel a completely positive experience, or was it tormenting at times?

It wasn't a torment, but I had my moments of stress in which I was certain that I wouldn't manage it. It was just clear to me that I wanted to finish writing it, because if it was going to be rubbish, it should at least be finished rubbish. I told myself that I would decide whether it was publishable at the end. But I didn't want to think about who would read it. That would have put me under pressure. I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a novel. When I was finished, Michael Köhlmeier laid out my path to the publisher Zsolnay Verlag, that was it. I didn't go to any other publishers.

And your new album developed in parallel to the literary work?

Yes. During the last six months of the novel, I started to long for music and playing together with other people again. You get a bit quirky in that kind of solitude, as you see with many writers. Whenever I didn't know how things were to continue, I picked up a guitar or a trumpet, or sat down at the piano – and played to myself without wanting to compose, simply on the run from the beginnings of writer's block. Because in the beginning, I had no idea how to build a novel. I just knew that my heroine was running away, but where should she go? I held on to these incidental musical ideas that came to me, but let them lie. In 2017 and 2018 I collected a good 20, 30 ideas for songs. I picked them up when the book was finished.

In the song Brauner Reiter you bemoan the idiocy of the diehard tradionalists, but your lament sounds more resigned than combative, almost like an offer of reconciliation. Don't you have to fight right-wing extremists?

I am not always capable of the reflective attitude I display in Brauner Reiter in my daily dealings, I'm not always so willing to put out my hand. But I can do it in the process of writing.

Do you think that Nazis are capable of learning?

At least you can't accuse me of simply dismissing them. I don't accept them, but I would like it to be understood that it's not down to me if we don't find our way to a dialogue. Though when I see the comments from these FPÖ types on my songs A Tag wie heut and Brauner Reiter, the offer of a dialogue is perhaps a bit of an optimistic thought anyway.

Do you have aspirations for your album to enter the charts, or is it enough that it exists?

I do make music for it to be heard. But it's like with my book: when it was finished and I felt good about it, the most important part was done. I'm delighted that my album has turned out so cool, that it worked so well, that we could implement the ideas without restrictions. Maybe I haven't gained enough distance from it, but it hasn't disappointed me at all so far. My producer said that this album has been under a lucky star right from the start. It was also fortunate that in lockdown, suddenly everyone had time to do even the final recordings.

You never saw any kind of ban on meeting other people in the government's decrees?

I was always amazed when people told me, all het up, that we should no longer leave the house. For me these were recommendations. Anyone who paid a fine for their coronavirus "violations" has only themselves to blame. I would never have paid.

You supposedly get the fine back anyway.

Yes, if that's true, but you have to fight for it.

HvG on NDR Kultur à la carte

NDR 2nd September 2020 | Photo: NDR

Proteins of poetry

Nordbayern 28th August 2020

From rap to operetta and from rock song to polka: Austrian world musician Hubert von Goisern has seldom sounded so versatile. The lyrics are quite something too.

Three alpine words for jack of all trades? Hubert von Goisern. It's not just that the Austrian world musician and singer-songwriter can sing, write lyrics, yodel and play numerous instruments. He knows how to surprise people over and over again too – including on his new album Zeiten und Zeichen.

While others simply head to a normal sound studio to record, the wiry 67-year-old still hikes, travels and wanders through every possible geography and landscape of sound. Rock, waltzes, blues, mariacci and polka are all part of his musical medicine cabinet. In the past he has travelled to Tibet, the southern states of America and Jane Goodall's chimpanzees in Africa to find inspiration for his songs. But there are also times when he simply goes into the woods with a harmonica.

As a modern troubadour, he dresses his stories on Zeiten und Zeichen in the most colourful garb – from shimmering to grim. For example in the song Freunde, in which both the tenor Andreas Schager and rapper Dame join him at the microphone, to recall a harrowing chapter of musical history. It's the story of the tragic friendship between the king of operetta, Franz von Lehàr (1870-1948) and Jewish librettist Bedrich Löwy (1887-1942). Although Lehàr knew both Hitler and Goebbels personally, he failed to put in a good word for his long-term companion when the pogrom began in Austria. The sad end to the song: Löwy was murdered in a concentration camp.

The polar bear who'd so love to be a vegan

Von Goisern has a talent for telling gripping stories without vanity, and he put it to literary use in 2020, when his debut novel Flüchtig was published. The interplay between ballads and liveliness, between melancholy and irony, provide for some surprising moments in the 17 new songs on Zeiten & Zeichen. On the track Eiweiß (Protein) for example. It's about a polar bear: " Er wär so gern Veganer und lutschert nur Stana … Er wird amoi Tibeter. Irgendwann später." (He'd so love to be a vegan, he'd only suck stones... one day he'll be a Tibetan. Sometime later.) But until that day, he still likes flesh and blood, because he needs protein – at any price. Political correctness? Von Goisern believes in the proteins of poetry. 

In conversation: singer-songwriter Hubert von Goisern

Deutschlandfunkkultur 1st September 2020 | Author: Katrin Heise

Duet with the toothbrush

Kulturnews 28th August 2020 | Text: Jürgen Wittner

Hubert von Goisern has melodies in his ears the way others have tinnitus. But the fact that the quirkiest song on the new album "Zeiten und Zeichen" feeds from real life is down to very different reasons, which have their roots in Africa.

Hubert, while writing your novel Flüchtig, you didn't play music for a long time. What was that like?

During the first six months of writing, when I hadn't yet built up the necessary internal pressure, I let my thoughts run free. Any time inspiration wasn't coming to me, instead of thinking about my characters, I picked up the guitar, trumpet or flute, or played to myself on the piano. There came a point when I denied myself this outlet.

Zeiten & ZeichenThat must have been a harsh measure. After all, you've said that you are imbued with music.

When I want to be creative, it's often the case that the creativity comes out in the form of music. Most of the time, it's not bad – like now, when I'm giving interviews. But when I want to write, and the outlet is music, I have to turn it off, so that something comes out of the literary outlet.

Do you really have a soundtrack in your ear always and everywhere, for what you're seeing at that moment? Can you explain it?

If you don't have it yourself, you can't imagine it. But imagine that you've got an earphone in your ear and music you want to hear is playing the whole time. There's never anything you don't like. Sometimes – everyone will be familiar with this – an earworm comes along. That's something that I don't want to listen to for two hours. When I'm not talking, or don't have other things that are distracting me, I have non-stop earworms. I can always hear something, but it's something that doesn't exist, or hasn't existed before. The melodies go on endlessly. They are long drawn-out melodies, which waft through your head like symphonies.

Is it music that simply streams out of you, or is it a reaction to your environment?

It's both. There are often sounds you hear. Or a rhythm. The classic rhythm is that of the travelling train (mimics the sound). Or you're on a tram and you hear a buzzing sound, from I don't know where, from the engine or the rails. And then I sing to this sound. Or the (gets worked up) electric toothbrush! When I clean my teeth, I sing a duet with the toothbrush, sing something over and under it and listen to the harmonies. Sing a third, a major third, a minor third and I find it all so fantastically exciting. Or the bells chime and … (calms down again) – yeah, it goes on and on from there! It's just the way it is.

Did ideas come to you when you were writing the novel too?

No, I was completely in the literary world.

Aha! Literature was able to stop the music production.

When literature is good, it's music in words.

In Dunkelrot and Dunkelblau you describe two sides of love: first, unconditional love and then the absolute negation of love. Did you write both songs as a pair of opposites? How did they come about?

I wrote the music to Dunkelblau and knew what I wanted to sing about. About love, about togetherness, about affection. I knew only the subject, and the music was done. Then I hid myself away for a week and wrote the lyrics for that song and the others too. During this week, I didn't do anything but eat, sleep and write. Then I came home and my wife said to me: How did it go? I said: Super, I've finished everything. She said: Would you like to read something to me? Among others, I read the lyrics to Dunkelrot. She said: Amazing, such beautiful lyrics! How does the melody go? I played her the playback and sang the lyrics to it.

When I was done, she said: That's such a shame! Such beautiful lyrics and such a gloomy, sad melody. And she never says anything, normally she never says anything! She simply doesn't comment on my work, because she knows that that's where I'm in my world. But once she'd said that! When Hildegard does say something, I really take it seriously. I thought about it, sat down and wrote a new melody in less than two hours, and that became Dunkelrot the way you hear it now. But then I had this other melody that no longer had lyrics. Then I turned the Dunkelrot lyrics into their negative and said: it's simply the dark side of the moon.

What's the song about the polar bear who doesn't want to eat any meat substitute all about? Do you want to say that in times of climate catastrophe and factory farming, some people can't be changed?

There are two stories behind it. There's global warming, which is melting the polar bears' habitat, destroying their food chain and making survival ever more difficult. And on the other hand, there's our belittling and humanising of the animal world. I've met people who unfortunately have dogs and cats and have been trying for years to force them into a vegan diet. That's just sick!

A polar bear needs his food the way he's used to it. And we won't ensure his survival if we offer him mangoes or meat substitutes. The world is very colourful and at the same time very dangerous. Not just because a tree could fall on your head, but because humans as a whole are predators, intensely resource-consuming characters. This is all packaged in the story in a very funny and humorous way, but isn't really to be trifled with – neither the polar bear, nor climate change.

In my opinion you've composed a very optimistic song with Novemberpferde (November Horses). But why the title? In my cosmos, horses often stand in the mist in November.

They stand at the lake and dream of the first snow. If you see that in a positive light, that's really good, but they're basically dreaming of an obliteration of the world, and only then can something new begin.

Obliteration of the world: for me it was simply the coming winter …

I wrote the lyrics sometime between November and January. And then came the coronavirus, and when that came along, I thought this was a song that somehow reflects that atmosphere. Where the world as we know it, where it hasn't been obliterated, has been covered up. But we have the chance to dream it up anew. Of course, it's connected with light and innocence, the way that anything new has something innocent about it and is filled with light. But it's down to us to keep this innocence and not make ourselves guilty again.

From new beginnings we turn to protozoa!

You mean the yodel?

Yes, I mean Jodler für Willi (Yodel for Willi), the one for the biologist! The most whimsical number on the album. Is the single-celled organism really named after you?

Yes. It's called Rigidotrix Goiseri. And Willi – he died in March – Willi Foissner, was my brother-in-law. He was a great, internationally renowned researcher. When I went to Mali to play at the Festival au Desert, he asked me to bring back a soil sample. He also warned me: you need to watch out, as you're not actually allowed to import soil. Then he said how much he needed and that I should put it in a plastic bag and then put it in a dirty sock, as that was where it was least likely to be found.

So I brought back a soil sample from an island in the Niger in Bamako. Six months later he said: Hey, I found a single-celled organism which was previously undiscovered. It's a kind of flagship, so not a variant of another single-celled organism cell, but unique. I said to him: call it "Kohler", that's a yodel I sang in the desert and which was close to my heart at the time. He just said: Rubbish! And then one day he sent me the documents, in which it said that he'd called it Rigidotrix Goiseri. Jodler für Willi is my gesture for him, my return of the compliment.

Global normal

Profil 23rd August 2020 | Text: Stefan Grissemann | Photo: Alexandra Unger (Edited)

Hubert von Goisern is an anomaly among Austria's pop stars: an alpine rocker with a love of world music, a political preacher with literary ambitions. Three months after the debut of his novel, he is now releasing a new album.

In view of his age and his unbroken popularity, one cannot necessarily speak of a "comeback", but strictly speaking, Hubert von Goisern has been away for a long time. He hasn't released an album in five years and hasn't felt a stage beneath his feet for nearly four years. He has used the time to prepare for a kind of double whammy: in May his debut novel hit the shelves (which was very favourably received by the critics), this coming week a new album is due. The book is called Flüchtig, which he published under his birth name Hubert Achleitner; the album is Zeiten & Zeichen.

Hubert von GoisernHubert von Goisern is flighty too. He took the early years of adulthood as an opportunity to escape the confines of the Salzkammergut; he spent seven years in South Africa, Canada and the Philippines. His decade of travel made him an artistic late starter: although he had been active in the local brass band at the age of 13, he didn't release his first record until 1988, at the age of 35. He has released his debut novel at 67. He sees in his deliberation a recipe for avoiding self-destruction: "if I had realised a pop career in my teenage years, back when I was mistreating my first electric guitar, maybe I'd have been dead at 27, like so many of my generation. I wrote songs early on, but it's not until you leave Austria behind that you get a decidedly different perspective – though Austria is by no means a swearword for me. It's more of a distinction, because we are a cultural nation, but not the centre of the world."

A boutique hotel in Vienna, last Friday. Goisern is on a brief trip to the city. The previous evening he read from his book at the O-Töne literature festival in the courtyard of the MuseumsQuartier. For the meeting with Profil, he greets us in the hotel corridor at 9am in top form.

There are no signs of tiredness. It is noticeable that the prospect of another 100 interviews, which he has to give in the coming weeks gives him no great joy. But he is polite and professional enough to make no great demonstration of a bad mood. He plays along, a little shy, allows photos to be taken, as well as a video, and answers all the questions with a mix of mild interest and gentle indifference.

He played his last concert on Austrian National Day in 2016, then decided "to do nothing for a year. I gave myself time to come down from the tour, worked on the house, dedicated myself to my family and friends." In summer 2017 he began to write, for almost two years. Flüchtig tells the story, from a female perspective, of the failure of a marriage and of travel as an escape and enrichment. The author searches out the political in the private, the extraordinary in the mundane. He's left the blustering sexism of his hits like Koa Hiatamadl (1992) far behind.

For him, this book was also about healing an old wound. "I was terrible at school, particularly in language subjects, and always just about passed. I was kicked out in the fifth year of secondary school, having failed in German, Latin and English. So I always thought that I was very linguistically untalented. That's what I was always told and at some point I started to believe it too. It took a long time to forget school and to get to grips with language through lyrics and short stories."

Meanwhile, music, from which he so urgently needed a break, has reeled him in again. He didn't know if he would ever go back on stage again, he explains quite believably. Then the desire returned. The 2020 tour has been postponed to 2021, but it will be monumental: between April and the end of the year, he and his band will complete almost 60 dates, many of them also in Germany, Switzerland and Luxemburg. The collection of songs Zeiten & Zeichen, which he will be presenting, is a "hodgepodge", as the composer himself confesses. Can something be this eclectic? "I came to the conclusion that I can simply afford it now."

The territory of new folk music is bound to the left by edgy bands like Attwenger, and to the right by stadium populists like Andreas Gabalier. Somewhere in between lies the cosmopolitan Hubert von Goisern, whose work, which has long since drifted into world music, could not scratch his reputation as an alpine rocker. "I have my roots in the alpine folk music with which I grew up. It wasn't necessarily my music, but it was formative, because it surrounded me and entered my DNA. Then the blues grabbed hold of me, which isn't so structurally different from Austrian folk music, partly down to the harmonica and the cadences imported from the Occident." He speaks quite naturally about Mixolydian scales and the intricacies of the Mali blues. Ravi Shankar's ragas thrilled him early on, a little later he was caught by Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. That's how "the whole world entered my understanding of music" and he "released [himself] from style dictates".

He remains politically explicit: In an interview with Standard two months ago he said, for example, that Sebastian Kurz "is doing a good job" – and provoked almost 1,700 posts. ("It's amazing how many negative one-sentence posts you can catch with something like that.") First of all, the sentence is harmless, and secondly taken out of its (coronavirus) context, he sighs. "Then it became the headline, of course. Outrageous headlines increase attention. But all this blatancy and polarisation is not doing the world any good. Of course, Kurz has "his weaknesses, his dark sides and blind spots," he says, "but under the current circumstances I feel this government configuration is the best we could have wished for". Hubert von Goisern will have to be careful if he doesn't want to be embraced by the wrong side again.

Journey into the boundless Goisern world

Kleine Zeitung 24th August 2020 | Text: Bernd Melichar

His first novel came out in the spring, now comes his new album "Zeiten & Zeichen". Hubert von Goisern, the artist without boundaries.

He could have both benefitted from and remained at the mercy of the coat tails of the domineering Hiatamadl shepherdess, but Hubert von Goisern soon leaped from the golden cage, spread his wings and flew far, far away to explore the sounds, voices, melodies and vibrations of the world. The journey led to Tibet and to the Sufis, to Mali and Tanzania. This restless but never unsettled man melted the swampy sounds of the America south into the alpine crucible and he explored the Danube for two years to investigate the musical DNA of Europe. In the spring, Hubert von Goisern set off for a completely new continent as Hubert Achleitner. With Flüchtig he presented his first novel, which was well-received by both critics and readers – a moving road movie, how could it be anything else?

From Hubert Achleitner's writing room, things led straight to Hubert von Goisern's sound studio, where he recorded the songs that can now be found on the new album Zeiten und Zeichen. "The image I couldn't escape was that of a huge wave that builds to a tsunami, a wave we would have to surf," Hubert von Goisern writes in the album booklet. And continues: although the songs developed in the time before coronavirus, "many are permeated by something intangible, abysmal."

These 17 songs are indeed intangible. Boundless, immeasurable, wonderfully incalculable, aimless in the positive sense of the word. The concept is that there is no concept. It starts with a bang: Freunde, a powerful, angry rap aria about the librettist and schlager writer Fritz Löhner-Beda, who was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp and died there – abandoned by his "friend", the great Franz Lehàr. This is followed by the seething Sünder, a sparkling adaptation of Nina Simone's Sinnerman, then Brauner Reiter, with the absurd dream of Proto-Germans in the torn saddlebags, gallops into the sunset or doom. After the hard, combative introduction, the tender centre: Goisern draws melancholy songs of life and love on the wall, often only accompanied by flecks of quiet piano or soft strings. Anyone thinking they're now in the "blue hour" is mistaken, because this album constantly twists and turns. Eiweiss and Elektro could pass as airy, funny summer hits. Then the Grönlandhai (Greenland Shark) turns up in Hawaii, the thus far seldom-used squeezebox comes into action in Jodler fur Willi and Gamstod, A Tag wie heut is a lively rock rumbler – and with Tierische Polka, Hubert von Goisern sweeps into the furious finale.

And done. And phew! What a motley hound. What an adventurous journey. It brings joy, it makes you thoughtful, it makes you curious. And this time it didn't lead around the world, but instead through the inner globe of Goisern. Which probably amounts to the same thing.

"Many people told me that I can't make a record like this with no leitmotif," Hubert von Goisern said recently in conversation with the Kleine Zeitung. Fortunately – as always – he didn't listen to well-meaning advice.

Calypso for a polar bear, sympathy for Lehàr

Kurier 28th August 2020 | Text: Brigitte Schokarth | Photo: © Konrad Fersterer

Back to music. Following the recent publication of his first novel, today Hubert von Goisern releases his new album Zeiten & Zeichen.

Hubert von GoisernFor more than ten weeks in June and July, Hubert von Goisern's debut novel Flüchtig led the bestseller lists. Now the 67-year-old is on his way into the music charts again with Zeiten & Zeichen. Von Goisern presents himself with greater stylistic range than ever before, meandering between Caribbean sounds and polka, Wienerlied, electronic music and rap, and imprints it all with his seal of quality. In conversation with the Kurier, he talks about how his book characters rebelled against him, his issues with the current style of goods transport and why he dedicated a calypso song to a polar bear.

Congratulations on the success of the novel. Why did you choose a woman as your protagonist?

I hoped that it would be easier to get away from myself that way. I didn't want to write an autobiographical book, or have a protagonist who thought and acted as I would in these situations. And then I actually felt what many authors talk about, namely that the characters become independent and develop their own lives. I originally had the idea of including a storyline in which a crime would take place and false accusations would have been made. But this character completely refused to have anything to do with crime.

So your own pacifist attitude came through …

Yes, sure. But I think it was Paul Auster, who said that a novel that has nothing to do with the author can only be a bad novel.

On the album, you use the very first song Freunde to address the Nazi era. You describe how Franz Lehàr who, despite his good relationship with the regime, didn't step in for his Jewish friend Fritz Löhner-Beda, who was transported to Auschwitz and murdered. Why is some level of understanding for Lehàr perceivable?

I have great sympathy for those who had to go through that time. And I don't dare say whether or not I would have taken cover in such a situation and made sure that I somehow got through it. Lehàr was 68 years old at the time of the invasion. People had advised him to emigrate to England or New York, but he said, I can't speak the language, I'm too old for that. He managed to have his Jewish wife classed as an honorary Aryan, but of course that was a precarious situation for him. I wouldn't have done the song, if I hadn't heard an interview with him, in which he was asked about the death of Löhner-Beda. You can hear him break down into tears and try to save himself by saying that he knew nothing about it. Of course that's nonsense, as it had clearly really preyed on his mind.

There are other songs on the album that address that era. Are you remembering the crimes because there is a younger generation that has no relationship to them, while you heard such stories from your parents?

I think that the younger generation knows more about it than we do, as they hear about it in history lessons. I mean, we didn't hear anything at all about it at school. I was born seven years after the end of the war, but I didn't hear many stories about it from my parents, either. But it was present, because you didn't get any answers. The wall of silence made it clear that something appalling had happened. It made it physically palpable for us. The younger generation doesn't have that any more. But I sing about it, because I think it's important for us not to distance ourselves so far from it that we think it can't happen again. Because that's exactly when it will happen.

Do you see it as a danger at the moment?

I think we still possess the necessary alertness. And these songs are my contribution to maintaining this alertness. I have no such fears with the current federal government. But it's not long ago that we had a different administration. And at that point it was very justifiable to think about what kind of division was being created, what kind of scapegoats were conjured up and that it can happen again at any time.

It certainly isn't coincidence that the song Eiweiß, about a polar bear on the search for food, has a Caribbean flair.

Of course not: the polar ice caps are melting, it's getting ever warmer and their region is turning Caribbean.

The subject of the environment pops up often on Zeiten und Zeichen. You like to travel. Do you sense a conflict between the desire for it and damage that flying inflicts upon the environment?

Yes, there has been that. Mind you, I've always done slow travelling. I've gone somewhere and stayed there for a long time, in order to delve into the people's culture and way of living. To give the people there the chance to get to know me too – not just as a cappuccino consumer. I still think that's very important with regard to losing fear of the unknown. So I will certainly travel again. But I think that the way of travelling in which people race through five countries in one week has to come to an end now. And what would help the environment even more would be pricing transport differently.

Do you mean the transport of goods?

Exactly. The damage done when you send things to India to be dyed and to Siberia for buttons to be sewn on, three times around the world just because this work is cheaper there, is insane. And it only works because the transport costs next to nothing and jet fuel is tax free. Marine diesel too, which makes so much filth. In order to save the environment, we need to act in solidarity against this kind of madness. That certainly means that things will be more expensive and we'll have to do without some things. But you certainly don't have to completely abstain from flying. You can fly once a year instead of five times and stay longer. Then you can also afford it if it's five times as expensive.

How did Elektro come about, a song that unites pumping electro beats with guitar and accordion?

I was drinking a beer with my co-producers Alessandro Trebo and Wolfgang Spannberger after a recording session. The other two started talking about technical issues. That's not really my thing, I couldn't join in and I was bored. To interrupt them, I kept saying "elelelelelektro". They asked: "Which song are you singing?" I said: "It's not a song, it's interference!" They said: "But you can make a song out of that."

Hubert von Goisern: Zeiten & Zeichen

Okerwelle 35/2020

It's been a long time - Hubert von Goisern's last concert was on 26th October 2016 at the Circus Krone in Munich. After that, he withdrew to write. What resulted was the novel Flüchtig, published at the end of May 2020 under HvG's birth name, Hubert Achleitner. Since its completion, Hubert von Goisern has been working on new music once more. The album Zeiten & Zeichen will be out on 20th August.

On first listen, the record leaves the reviewer (admittedly) at a bit of a loss. Initially, it remains overlooked and on the pile "for resubmission", before it finds its way to the CD player at last. The headphones go back on, with the intention to concentrate on listening for just over 60 minutes. It sounds like "work", but from the very first notes it is captivating fare, certainly musically, but lyrically above all – the most political Hubert von Goisern since his brilliant beginnings in 1988 with the legendary Hiatamadl.

Right from the start, the opener Freunde… (das Leben ist lebenswert), based on the "schlager" of the same name from the Franz Lehar operetta Giuditta and initially regarded by Hubert von Goisern as an encouraging title and counterweight to the widespread habit of complaining about oh-so-difficult living conditions, makes you sit up and take notice. Not least because the song's message changed significantly during the creative process.

In short: HvG tells the story of Fritz Löhner-Beda (who penned the lyrics for Freunde…) with great musical twists and lyrics that get under your skin. Löhner-Beda was a close friend of Franz Lehar, who shamefully abandoned his friend to persecution by the Nazis due to his Jewish origins. Fritz Löhner-Beda was arrested on 13th March 1938 deported first to Dachau, later to Buchenwald and then to Auschwitz in October 1942, where he was murdered on 4th December. It's a story that Hubert von Goisern has engagingly told in the first song of his new album.

The album contains a whole collection of songs that make you shiver a little, such as the hypnotically arranged apocalypse anthem, Sünder, or the song Brauner Reiter, rhythmically reminiscent of Rammstein. Before the listener (of any gender) decides against venturing into the album, with the assumption that the song material on Zeiten & Zeichen would be too heavy for them: Hubert von Goisern manages to add something akin to a ray of hope to even the "hardest" lyrics/songs, with a series of twists and turns (he "steals" a great deal from a wide variety of music genres).

Zeiten & Zeichen is an album, which in parts is certainly not really easy fare, but get involved with the work and it depicts some facets of life – the dark as well as the cheerful – and not in black/white, much more in every conceivable shade of grey, and above all in colourful musical variety too. In summary: Hubert von Goisern's album Zeiten & Zeichen is a great album, a definitive masterpiece. Tips: the whole album all in one, or alternatively Freunde… (das Leben ist lebenswert), or Dunkelblau (Königin der Nacht).

New album from Hubert von Goisern: "I am the leitmotif"

OÖN / APA 24th August 2020 | Text: Christoph Griessner | Photo: © Schwarzl

It begins with an artist murdered by the Nazis and ends with marmots biting each other in the backside: "Zeiten & Zeichen", Hubert von Goisern's new album has emerged as an exuberant work, grazing upon numerous styles.

Hubert von Goisern

The singer himself says: "Not many of the songs have a relationship to one another". But anyone who knows him knows: standing still is not an option for von Goisern. He has already proved that this year with the publication of his first novel Flüchtig, and now he is doing more. According to von Goisern, instruments kept falling into his hands while he was writing, and when the novel was finally finished, he went through his recordings. "It occurred to me: I have 40 good ideas for songs," von Goisern recalled in the APA interview. Ultimately, 18 were chosen, with one slipping from the album. "It had an Arabic touch. It's a great idea for a song, but it would have been one song too many in this framework."

That's easily conceivable. This almost 75-minute long opus is already more versatile than almost anything else in von Goisern's discography. From stomping rock gestures in Brauner Reiter, and the personal experiment with modern dance music (El Ektro) to the amusingly witty bow to Mariachi of Eiweiß. In between there are more traditional tracks (Gamstod), things turn balladic (Dunkelrot), or von Goisern reinterprets a text by Goethe (Glück ohne Ruh). The jack-of-all-trades himself knows: "The only leitmotif is me". 

But he has never made it easy for himself or his fans. The nearly seven-minute opener, Freunde, marrying hip hop and operetta, is proof of that. A song that von Goisern actually wanted to write about Franz Lehar. But along the way he came across his librettist Fritz Löhner-Beda, who was murdered in Auschwitz. "I really wanted to write a number in the spirit of: Friends, life is worth living! There's so much complaining." But Löhner-Beda's fate hit him hard, as was evident during the interview. "I went through hell in writing and researching it."

The piece, on which rapper Dame and opera singer Andreas Schager collaborate, is not one he will perform live. "I can't imagine doing that", says von Goisern. "I don't know if I would manage it, whether I would want to confront the audience with it, to go so deep. I've always avoided the subject until now", the artist added thoughtfully. "Remembering is important of course. But it was too intense for me. This time, I've really engaged with it. And now I know why I've always made an arc around it. It's so terrible, so incomprehensible – that mankind is capable of something like that!"

The forceful disparity between the monstrous on one hand and what makes life worth living on the other gives this piece a special intensity. "That's life. It's often difficult to believe that where there is war, people are still living their lives, children are being born, a "normal life" can take place", says von Goisern. "In a way, it's like that with the coronavirus: people adjust to it. If you can't do anything else, where are you meant to go? And that's how it was back then too. There were still operetta performances during this madness. You can't stop living."

The harrowing tone at the beginning of Zeiten & Zeichen ceases after the first track, even if von Goisern certainly appeals to the conscience of his listeners. Such as in his interpretation of SinnermanSünder – which ably continues his recently lived out penchant for the USA. And then the many animal references, like in the closing Tierische Polka (Animal Polka), featuring (not just) the aforementioned marmots. Wit is by no means absent on this album, for which the artist has "a couple of killers". "There are a number of things that really get under your skin."

We can expect to hear all this live in spring 2021, since Hubert von Goisern, like many artists, has had to postpone his autumn tour on account of the coronavirus. What effects the virus will have in the coming year are "difficult to predict". Of course, it is difficult for artists who "live hand to mouth", von Goisern adds. "But I too had years in which I lived hand to mouth. There were often no gigs for weeks or months at a time – and so I simply did something else. Nobody is sentenced to death by it."

The peace that could be felt at times over the past few months was something that he was able to take thorough pleasure in. "I can't take this overkill any more", said von Goisern of the social and cultural urge for ever more stimuli. "I think it's doing us all good. It's not only dreadful, what happened with the coronavirus. There is a good side, in that people are reflecting on what we really need and what is necessary to have a good life and not just to survive. A little less consumption, in terms of culture and sport too, is good for us all."

Rebel with a cause

Plattentests 35/2020 | Text: Christoph Sennfelder

Anyone who reduces Hubert von Goisern to the terms "folk music" is both doing it right and wrong. He is and always has been miles off from the folksiness that still enjoys great popularity. Nonetheless, the musician has searched for his inspiration at the grassroots level for decades. It was in the 1990s that he first pushed open the doors. He combined the sounds of homeland with rock and pop, managing a sleight of hand that combined quality with mass appeal. Then he went out into the world, collecting, combining and reinventing himself multiple times. His new album Zeiten & Zeichen brings all these tendencies together. Eclecticism is the chief principle. The opener Freunde is the blueprint. A tale of war, which tore apart biographies and left behind fewer traces than one might think, forms the framework. Rap, operetta and Wienerlied musically unite. And somehow it all works.

Hubert von Goisern has never shied away from the political. He has always avoided ranting, but never shied away clear stances. Even in 2020, the world is not what it could be. In the brilliant Sünder (Sinner), the songwriter reckons with the mendacity of the interaction of "those above" with the people in just a few verses, before the song escalates in the most agreeable way. "Even the children are pointing to the sinners", is Goisern's succinct conclusion. The absurd, the abysmal is usually only a stone's throw away anyway. Differences are what unite humanity. A Tag wie heut (A Day Like Today) turns this need into a virtue. Music cannot show the way out of this misery, but it can help to build bridges. Stones are there for building.

The musicians may offend his listeners' sensibilities with some of the experiments. But that's simply necessary. For example, Brauner Reiter (Brown Rider) is an unapologetic calling to account of Nazism. Von Goisern consciously chooses the Neue Deutsche Härte (New German Hardness) genre to give his statement a musical counterbalance. At the very least, it's exciting. On the other hand, El Ektro and Quick, quick, slow, which make fun of dancing from different perspectives, turned out rather silly. But a wink makes many things in life more pleasant. It's the reason that Eiweiß is such a masterpiece. Nobody has ever dealt with the mania for nutritional optimisation this nimbly before. What a polar bear has to do with it will not be revealed here.

There is certainly room for thoughtful tones as well. Future Memories, for example, is wonderful. A melancholy meditation on hope and transience. And then these lyrics: "Meine Liebe kennt keinen Anfang / Und sie kennt auch nicht den Tod / Auch wenn ich bin längst vergangen / Leuchtet sie noch dunkelrot" (My love knows no beginning / And neither does it know death / Even when I'm long gone / It will keep shining dark red), Goisern sings in Dunkelrot. Sometimes not even words are necessary to transport an emotion. In Jodler für Willi (Yodel for Willi), there is only yodelling, though to a piano accompaniment in a minor key. That this works too is testimony to the virtuosity of the author. It is no coincidence that afterwards a lonely squeezebox sings the lament of the Gamstod (Death of the Chamois). In the end, this Hubert von Goisern is crazy in the best sense of the word. A man who unites artistic freedom in one person. Other people can grapple with boundaries. They are only a sign of the times anyway.

Humorous admonisher

Mittelbayerische Zeitung 22nd August 2020 | Text: Mario Kunzendorf

Musically intangible, politically unambiguous: Hubert von Goisern returns to the public stage with "Zeiten & Zeichen".

Hubert Achleitner alias Hubert von Goisern once said in an MZ interview: "As an artist, among other things you have a duty to wrench open windows and door in order to let some air into culture (and society)." The Austrian singer and multi-instrumentalist is accomplishing that once again with his album Zeiten & Zeichen, which will be released by Capriola/Blanko Musik on 28th August.

What has emerged is an album that wanders the world with much musical expertise, as is usual for Hubert von Goisern, but that in terms of content is more topical than hardly an album before it. The musician, who will be 68 in November, positions himself on the side of climate protectors in Sünder with a driving crescendo (seemingly heading into madness). In Brauner Reiter, he adopts a right-wing rock style to urge the failed diehard nationalists to finally unsaddle their tired horses, and in Meiner Seel he considers the confused world twisters, who live out their "stupidity as a privilege" of modern prosperity, not least thanks to social media; incidentally, musically a blissful ballad with strings, which should in turn offer room for new conspiracy theories.

"Who lives sees, who travels sees more", the saying goes. It's not talking about the annual temporary deposit of tourists within sandcastles, but what Hubert von Goisern does: he opens himself up to new cultures, looking for connections, without denying potential divisions. And so, this time his Styrian accordion finds itself in a lively Mariachi-style piece, in a stomping electro club satire joined with an orientally influenced melody, or in an ironic, instrumental dance lesson on Quick, Quick, Slow. It's not so much the fusion of many musical sources that is new, it's that this time Hubert von Goisern sings with unusually clear articulation, so that even those Krauts should understand everything that is meant by the musician's critiques. The "thought, not sung verses" are new. And his entire zoo is new.

Hubert von Goisern dedicates an instrumental piece, a farewell yodel, to the zoologist Wilhelm Foissner, who while he was alive dedicated his research to single-cell organisms. But Hubert von Goisern also performs larger animals, for example in Gamstod. He sings about the Greenland shark (perhaps an old friend of Mack the Knife), about November Horses that dream of another world, or about the erotic amblers among humpback whales and scorpions; to say nothing of the Tierische Polka, or the polar bear in Eiweiß, who doesn't want to be re-educated into being a vegan, all of which show him to be a strict, but humorous admonisher and observer of all too human failings.

Hubert von Goisern has recorded almost 74 minutes of music. This strategy differs from what we are familiar with nowadays from some of his peers in the same age group, who sell a good 30 minutes as a big deal. You can't really find a hit single on the new album , but it has a consistently high standard, as is achievable only by a recording artist who has had decades of training in thoroughly airing out cultures.  

New music from Austria: the best releases in summer 2020

Helden der Freizeit 17th August 2020

He hasn't just joined the literati. Hubert von Goisern is also releasing a new album. On his latest CD, he has a plethora of guest musicians in the deck, who raise the usual musical class to an even higher level. Lyrically, there are both subtly scattered social criticisms and more prudent passages. The tracks already released, Brauner Reiter and A Tag wie heut, serve to really increase anticipation.

Hubert von Goisern in Willkommen Österreich

ORF 24th June 2020

The path of least resistance

Combo 02 2020 | Text: Inez Ardelt (Edited) | Photo: © Konrad Fersterer

Hubert von Goisern is the representative of new folk music and a superstar of alpine rock. This summer, the world musician from Bad Goisern will release his 13th album: Zeiten & Zeichen. Combo met him in his home office for an interview.

Shortly after the novel [Flüchtig] is published, a new album will be released too: Zeiten & Zeichen. It's sometimes very critical. The track Freunde in particular really tackles collective guilt. It's about the operetta librettist Fritz Löhner-Beda, who was murdered by the Nazis at the Auschwitz concentration camp, and about the king of operetta, Franz Lehár, one of Hitler's favourite composers, who did nothing to save his friend. How did this song come about?

It's down to a chance meeting with Wagner tenor Andreas Schager. Last summer I was at the dress rehearsal of Parsifal in Bayreuth. Later on, Andreas came over to me at the outdoor restaurant and asked if I was Hubert von Goisern and what I was doing there in Bayreuth. He was quite amazed that I was interested in Wagner. He said that he'd grown up with my music and then said just in passing: shall we do something together? I'm slow with things like this, it takes a while for me until it all ferments and takes form. A couple of weeks later I called him and said: Andreas, were you serious? If so, let's meet. I'll make you a couple of a suggestions. We agreed on this song. From the start I had this idea of using the hook line "Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert" ("Friends, life is worth living") as the refrain. And to have verses in a hip hop style between the refrains. Except that the content of the verses was originally very different. I actually wanted to sing about the greatness of life. About the fact that people here complain all the time about everything that's wrong. That they're constantly complaining about something – no matter what it is. I wanted to sing about that. Along the lines of: hey, folks, life is worth living, in spite of everything. I knew that Lehár had been dead for more than 70 years and so the melody was available for use. Since I wanted to use this lyric too, I had to see whether the librettist who wrote it also died more than 70 years ago. When I googled, I saw: year of death 1942 and thought: shit. That's a year in which very few people died a natural death … When I did some research, I  came across this whole story and knew that I could no longer write the song the way I had planned. I had to tell this story! In the last interview Lehár gave before his death, he was asked at the end of the interview about what had happened to his Jewish friends,  Fritz Löhner-Beda and other. There's a brief deathly silence and then you hear him crying and just sobbing. Now of course you know that it was impossible to have known nothing. That's why this sentence in the song is very important to me too: "Let he who is without weakness cast the first stone". So I don't want to judge him. I regard him as a great composer and he was an artist, who simply wanted to perform his art and have nothing to do with politics. His wife was Jewish, a so-called "honorary Arian". There were evidently also attempts by the Nazis to have his wife deported, which he was able to prevent. His friend, the tenor Richard Taubner, tried to persuade him to emigrate in 1938. But he said he couldn't speak English, what would he do in America or England? He would die of grief and disorientation. He tried to keep his head down, which he managed, but at a very high price. I didn't write the song to polemicize Lehár, even if I do call him a coward in the lyrics. But I'm not sure I wouldn't have been a coward too. Like most of us.

Hubert von GoisernDo musicians have to be political and work that into their art? You've done that from the start.

I was forced to deal with it through my "integration" of folk music, which is tradition. Anyone who tackles it and changes something and says, not everything is good just because it's tradition, is stirring up a hornets' nest. You automatically become more political. I think that every artist is political. We make our mark and are role models. We're idolised by many people and must be conscious of what we say and what we sing.

From "what we sing", we come to "how". Why do you rap on Freunde?

It turned into a rap because I knew that I needed a lot of words for the song in order to tell this story. When you sing, the story very often retreats behind the music.

You learned yodelling from Sabine Kapfinger. Did anybody give you tips for speech song too?

A couple of people said, you can't really do it, you should get advice from someone who can. So I said: "Ok, if you think so." I had previously read something about the Salzburg rapper Michael Zöttl alias Dame, and I thought I'd ask him. So I called him and Michael had a listen and then said: It's fine, what do you want? I wanted to know how he would emphasise the rhythmic points. But the bottom line was that I didn't want to imitate him and this modern style of rapping. Then I asked him if he'd do certain passages and we'd take it in turns, which is also a device in hip hop. He was happy to do so.

You recently awarded the "Hubert von Goisern Culture Award" and due to the stressful situation in which the culture scene finds itself, you doubled the prize money and the number of winners! On your website you don't mince your words about how the government has dealt with the cultural agenda during the crisis. You write that you are disappointed …

Yes, I was disappointed, but am no longer, since in the form of [Culture Secretary] Andrea Mayer we have been given a great successor for Ms Lunacek. I didn't advocate for her resignation though, and what I wanted to bring attention to was that there were prospects that needed to be fought for. I don't think that it's down to us artists to say that the lockdown must be lifted, people should meet, and concerts and large-scale events should be possible. I hope that we can get back there as soon as it's possible. But there are other people who know more about it and should make the decisions as to what is possible and what is not. The pub owners have a lobby, the hotel industry has a lobby, tourism, the economy have them and the Secretary of State for Culture just shrugs her shoulders and says: what can be done? It's too little. You need to have a burning energy for it, think about it and make promises. There were certainly one or two offers of aid, but it was very clumsy. It's not about making ends meet, instead it's about how things will work in the long term. You have to be able to give hope, you have to show your strengths.

Hopefully everything will be fine again by 2024. That's when Bad Ischl and 20 other municipalities in the Salzkammergut will be the European Capital of Culture. You have experience with the Capital of Culture. Are you itching to do a project? And in your homeland into the bargain?

There are no conversations yet, they were made impossible by the corona crisis. We were meant to have met in the middle of May, a few people from Goisern and Ischl. I'm happy to get involved, even if I don't have any visions for it for now. But I have capacity after the book and album and can make a contribution to it being a great year.