For round about 25 years The Notwist are making music together. The core of the German band are Martin Gretschmann, Andi Haberl and the brothers Markus and Michael Acher. Last week they played at Heimathafen in Berlin a sold out concert and it was amazing. The crowd danced throughout for over two hours and three encores. And what counted was their music. They didn’t put on a huge show or were saying anything except for ‘many thanks’ and stuff like that. They are engineers - they look like a bunch of men who spend their days in a cellar working like (insane) engineers on their music and and just ocassionally leave it to play an amazing concert…. ok, they’re on tour around Europe for some weeks to promote their first record in six years, “Close To The Glass”.
Their mix of electro and rock is rather eclectic which could easily drop into a completely mess but they know how it works. They’re very good at wandering on this fine line with they electro fiddeling, drums, bass guitar and their very own xylophone player - that’s something I haven’t seen to often on Rock concerts to be honest.
I brought some photos with me - they did have some extra lights:
Thanks for reading,
10 Mar - D-Stuttgart - Wagenhallen
11 Mar - F-Lyon - Epicerie Moderne
12 Mar - F-Nantes - Stereolux sold-out
13 Mar - P-Paris - La Maroquinerie
14 Mar - F-Lille - Le Grand Mix
15 Mar - UK-Manchester - The Deaf Institute
16 Mar - UK-Glasgow - Mono
17 Mar - UK-Bristol - The Fleece
18 Mar - UK London - Village Underground
19 Mar - B-Brussels - Botanique
20 Mar - D-Köln - E-Werk
05 Apr - IT-Milano - Magnolia
06 Apr - IT-Foligno - Serendipity
07 Apr - IT-Roma - Parco della Musica
08 Apr - IT-Bolgna - Estratgon
09 Apr - IT-Padova - Mame
10 Apr - SL-Ljubljana - Channel Zero
11 Apr - HR-Zagreb - Mochvara
12 Apr - A-Linz - Posthof
13 Apr - D-München - Circus Krone
25 May - D-Berlin - Astra
26 May - D-Berlin - Astra
27 May - D-Hamburg - Laeiszhalle
28 May - NL-Amsterdam - Melkweg
9 Jun - US-New York - Webster Hall
10 Jun - US-Philadelphia - Theatre of Living Arts
11 Jun - CAN-Montreal - Societe des arts technologiques
12 Jun - CAN-Toronto - Lee’s Place
13 Jun - US-Chicago - House of Blues
14 Jun - US-San Francisco - Regency Ballroom
15 Jun - US-Los Angeles - The Fonda Theatre
So, a couple of months ago FastForward Magazine sent me out to meet a guy called Dallas Green, also known as City And Colour and former band member of Alexisonfire, and talk about his latest album “The Hurry And The Harm”. We did that, especially about “Thirst” and how writing a song for some else influenced his writing. And how it was to work with strangers on his music. But most importantly we both agreed on how awesome his bassist Jack Lawrence is who played bass on the record and became part of Green’s new live band and a friend.
Find the German version here - if you prefer English, just keep reading ;) Enjoy!
Dörte Heilewelt: What I found pretty interesting - I have read a lot of interviews beforehand - you said “Thirst” was written for someone else and beforehand you wrote more personal songs and your songs are very personal to you - did writing “Thirst” change something for your future writing?
Dallas Green: I think maybe I am writing the same way I usually do but I think what “Thirst” did was just it sort of gave me… the confidence in myself that I could write a song just to write a song and still be enjoyable and I still like it. I do enjoy singing it and when we play it every night, it’s one of my favourite songs to sing. I don’t think that’s gonna necessarily mean I am gonna write songs like that all the time but it’s nice to know that I could.
Did writing personal songs - to me they always feel very personal - get easier over the time or do you still sometimes think “ooh, I shouldn’t write about this-that’s a little too far”?
It’s not hard because I wonder if it’s too personal. It’s just difficult because want to make sure that when I am writing about something that’s personal to me, that’s about something in my life whether it be my family or something I am going through, I want to know it’s good, I want to know it’s the best I can do. That’s why it is harder. I’m never too worried…the things I have chose to write about tend to be quite personal but I have never thought that it’s too personal, I think. I try to at least still write the song in a relatable enough way that even if you don’t know me or what I’m writing it about, you can still listen to it and take whatever you need from it.
Does your family ever thought that it is too personal?
Or like find different sides of you?
Sometimes. Sure my mother thinks I am very sad when she listens to my music and I think I get this misconception out of people because of this music I write. They think that I am depressed, that I am this sad person which to a degree I am but I am also happy at times but when I am happy I don’t feel like writing songs.
I have heard this from other artists as well if they are happy they don’t feel the need of writing songs but if they are sad they want to get it out somehow so they write a song.
I think some people - like people who are professional songwriters - just write a song and give it to whoever takes it. Now you are just writing a song, so you can write about whatever you can write about: this flower on the table, you can write about Friday night, you can write about going to the club but I don’t approach songwriting that way, never have. When I am having a good time with my friends or walking my dog or having my happy moments, I don’t feel like writing, it’s the other stuff that I want to get out.
In my imagination it must be difficult when you’re happy and you start to think that you can’t write a song right now and getting worried about being too happy to write music.
Yeah, I have definitely felt that way because I am not gonna write a fake personal song. So, that’s why it takes me a long time with lyrics because I sort of have to wait for the feelings to show up as oppose to just like “what do I want to say now”.
It’s been almost three years between each record. This was quite fast with two years.
But it also was tumultuous two years in my life so think I had a lot of content to deal with, transitional period in my life and so I found all these songs basically.
But now you need to get sad again.
Well, we’ll see. But “Thirst” is a proof…it’s another move in my life. I think I have written enough songs now that I can approach writing a song the way I do from an observational perspective now and feel good about it as opposed to always be afraid to not write something not that connected to me.
It’s good, I guess.
It is. I think so because I wanna be able to do this for however long I want to do it. And I wanna know that I can write a good song that people will like and that I will like even if it’s not about a tough time in my own life. Everyone goes through it, so if I can use the tools I have learned in records and records of writing from my perspective.
You went also to Nashville to record your album rather than California - did you plan having musicians like Jack Lawrence (Bass for The Raconteurs, Dead Weather, The Greenhornes) on your album or was it a spontaneous idea who you’re going to work with on the album?
Well, Alex Newport who produced the album he found all the guys. I had send him all the demos that I had recorded in my house by myself. I had never made a record like that, like picking people. There were some people that I kind of had in mind but I didn’t know how to go about finding them. Alex put together the guys that he thought were gonna do the song justice and thankfully he found Jack who is now in the band.
I love him! I once waited for him out after a Raconteurs concert. He was the last one to leave the Huxley’s. And we were waiting. I think we were a bit creepy.
He is very quiet.
(That’s me and Mr. Lawrence back in 2008 - he showed up during this interview with Dallas Green - I might have glowed out of happiness…thinking about it now that was a bit embarrassing.)
We were very fan-ish, waiting for him.
He is great. He is one of the best people I have ever met. I am thankful that he not only played on the record because I think the bass playing is one of my favourite parts of the records but then from that I have a new friend. The choice wasn’t necessarily spontaneous but it was pretty much just put together. The first day in the studio was the first day I met Jack.
How weird is it to play with someone you haven’t played with before?
I thought it was going to be quite weird. But because of Jacks professionalism and you know he is a great person and the same with Matt who plays drums and Bo who plays keyboard and James who played drums as well, it wasn’t weird. All the people we picked were wonderful people as well. Everyone just got along like it was no big deal even though we have only known each other for one or two days.
Is it because you have one big thing in common which is music which is an instant connection?
Yes, I think so. That’s the instant connection and then hopefully you’re like minded enough that beyond that you can find another level of comfort and we did right away. I was very, very lucky to have the experience go that well, especially for my first time doing something like that.
It could have gone the other way round easily.
Exactly. And that was what I was worried about, that I wouldn’t like the guys or that they wouldn’t seem interested.
Just doing their job without any addition…
Yes, but it wasn’t. It was the completely opposite of that. They were awesome.
Did they change parts of the music of your songs?
The songs were very, very much together before we went into the studio but I think, naturally their ability changed the outcome of the songs. Naturally I could play or write a part one way but Jack obviously will play it his way. And the same with Matt who plays the drums. He is a unbelievable drummer. I can give him only so much direction but his ability takes over and changes the shape of a song.
Also, a way of letting go a little bit. I guess it also must be like…You created something and then you have to let go. Maybe it’s not that worse for you because you started in a band and then you started your solo project.
There is more….the solo stuff is more like mine but it was nice to let go of certain ideas and trust that these guys do the right thing.
Could you have done it beforehand?
I don’t know. I don’t think so, because I needed to get to this point in order to be comfortable enough with myself and with the songs. Of course after experiencing this I could say I wish had done every record like that but I don’t think I would have been able to.
You’re very happy about “The Hurry And The Harm”. How long did take with the previous records until you wanted to change something?
Yeah, I am sure there are certain things I listen to and think “I could have done that better” but right now when I listen to this it’s exactly what it should be which is good. Now I hopefully can move on and do better than that and improve it but right now I am happy.
Do you always need to challenge yourself to get better?
Yes, I think. I always try to. I always want to be better. You know, especially when you’re writing-you probably know this - you never want to think that this is the best I can do. You want to think that’s the best I can do now but I want to be able to be better than that. I never want to know that I’ve written my best song. I want to hope you’re always striving towards getting the best song but you’ll never reach it. It’s an endless process.
But sometimes it’s tiring…
Absolutely. It’s terrible.
I guess if you want to be a good artist that’s one part of what you have to do-you shouldn’t be satisfied with yourself too much at no point, except you’re KISS then you can do the same for 40 years [laughter on both sides].
Well, that’s the thing, too, you can decide that this is, what you’re good at or this is what you do and then you do it like the Ramones. But everyone loves the Ramones because of what they sound like. But for me I don’t feel that way, I always want to evolve and take on new influences and try to do different things. It’s not like an insult to the Ramones or KISS, it’s just the way I feel, the way I want to do things.
Thank you for your time, Dallas!
Of course “The Hurry And The Harm” has been out for some time now, it’s highly recommendable! He is currently on tour in Europe and America with his band.
Thank you for reading,
Me and William Fitzsimmons have something in common as I found out in our interview: We both have never seen our dads without a beard. But unlike me he at least seen a photo of his Dad with a goati taken during the first wedding of William’s dad - I just know some photos when my dad was simply too young to grow a beard and one of his student time but there he is looking through a big camera lens. And after William and I both agreed that we actually never want to see our dads shave or clean, we started talking about his upcoming and already released in Germany album 'Lions'. Backstage at the Berlin Club Lido we sat down surrounded by PR- and other people, filmed for some reason, we chatted about working with producer Chris Walla (Death Cap for Cutie, Tegan & Sara, Nada Surf etc.) and the lesson he learned, Family and what has changed since his last album 'Gold In The Shadow' (2011). Enjoy!
Dörte Heilewelt: When I heard ‘Lions’ for the first time, it remembered me of the first ‘Until When We Are Ghosts’ because it has the same feeling to it - was it the intention to go that far back?
William Fitzsimmons: It was the intention to not try to make it sound like anything. Just to be natural with it and that’s exactly where I was when I first started writing. It was natural. I didn’t think about shows or festivals, sales or anything like that. I didn’t know if anyone will ever hear it besides me or my friends that I was forcing to listen to it. I think that’s why it has the same sort of spirit to it because it was free, without care and concern.
[…] I really like listening to ‘Lions’. It feels new and kind of exciting to me. I mean it always happens in the middle of a long tour and all of a sudden the songs get kind of mechanical and you get troubles of feeling them strongly. So, I try to hold on to this wonderful feeling now where it’s all like ‘oh, yeah, I got to play this song, I love playing this song’.
Do you have a plan on how to hold on to this feeling?
The best thing you can do is keep making little changes in what someone plays, what the band plays, what I play or even changing the tempo. Last night I was speeding up, slowing down. And bringing back old songs, too. No different than anything else: If you do something for long enough it starts to get normal. So, you do the little tiny variety things you can do to keep it alive, keep it fresh. But it’s still fresh but it’s always hard. There will always come a point where they’ll flatten out a little bit.
I have been waiting for the album the whole last year - I was waiting since January.
Can I tell you: I was so bummed! When we finished recording the record in June, I think. And I was really excited. It’s going to be mixed and mastered probably July/August and there is still time. I was still hopeful that we might be able to but it’s one of those things. At some point you finish it and it’s totally wrapped and you give it the record label and they say “awesome, we have to wait until next year.” But I really did had the intention of finishing it but sometimes…I was close, I am off by like two month.
Another thing that just occurred when I listened to it in the car was - it sounds like some love letters. Somehow this “I am a little broken”-kind of love letter.
Yeah….I think a lot of the other ones where very male-female-partner relation appear on it. This one is to me because of the story where it started, it’s very parent to a child. It’s like mother-child-relationship. To me it feels a lot more loving than the other ones do and it’s a kinder, not a romantic love, it’s more like pure, familiar kind of love.
With a song title like “Sister” it seems like family being involved.
Yeah, exactly and I don’t have a sister. I suppose it is. There is a lot of love on this album. There’s this point where you try to figure out what the connections are between people and we are acknowledging all the ugly stuff, too. It’s still very descriptive about a lot of negative things. There is plenty of pain on the record that’s real but It feels a lot better. It’s not like ‘The Sparrow And The Crow’, it’s really just plain dark and there is just a little bit of light. ‘Lions’ has a lot more of it.
What I also found interesting is that it seems you’ve spend a lot more time with your family in the last one or two years and you changed the way you wanted to write reading the note you published. Did it all came when you were with them as family is usually a bit more honest?
[laughs] That’s for sure. It was a large part of that. It was the environment that I was in. I probably wrote this record faster than any of the other ones before-not intentionally, I had no deadline, the record labels were kind of happy to wait until… They wanted something but they were waiting patiently for it. There was no pressure about this. I wasn’t thinking about all that stuff, I wasn’t thinking about the record label, I wasn’t thinking about ‘OK, I have three songs that feel like this and I have a couple of songs that feel like this and here is the piano song” - I wasn’t doing that really before but in the back of my mind those thoughts start to get really strong.
It felt really good to just write it, same thing with recording. We didn’t plan it out too much. We listened to the demo and we just started playing. ‘Let’s play some guitar, this sounds good, let’s chase this….’. If something sounds good, let’s do it, if it sounds bad let’s not do it and before it was really pain. ‘No, we have to keep working on this. We have to play… we’ll do ten more instruments and then we’ll figure out three of those were good…’ You can make yourself crazy and often you don’t end up with a better record this way either. You just work really hard for the same thing.
Was there a certain event where you thought that this is going the wrong way?
No, one thing I had to do was I had to let go some of the notions I had about…like the way you write a song. Even when you’re doing what I do - which is just guitar and voice or piano and voice - you start to hear arrangements. And you start to think like ‘Oh, man, this definitely could have a trumpet playing the melody right here’. That was the one thing when I was working with Chris Walla. I had to be willing to drop some of those ideas and let Chris steer the ship a little bit more but I never felt it was wrong. We were working in such a good balance and chemistry while we were working between the two of us that if it felt wrong it was wrong with both of us at the same time. We were both like ‘oh, that’s bad’. That was good. There were no real brick walls. I don’t think I ever walked out of a studio - we finished 11 or midnight maybe every night - and was worried or scared or frustrated. It was always like ‘Man, good day, see you tomorrow’. That was awesome. It felt good.
Did it have influence on how you work as a producer? You produced the last EP “Soft Light” of Lonesome Animals - I am not sure how the actual timing was.
I think I finished “Soft Light” before I worked with Chris but I since recorded new demo stuff at home. So, Chris is a master - that’s why people go to him because he certainly knows what he is doing. And he has a comfortability in the studio that I’ve probably never seen before. If you see someone who is a professional secretary who is doing this for 40 years watching them type is beautiful, it is like a dance. You know, there are looking away from the keyboard and having a conversation and they are typing about ten pages. That’s what Chris is like in the studio. He’s running the tape machine, he’s mixing stuff at the same time, splicing tape together but he’s never gets angry or super over-thinks everything. He is just uses his ears, he turns off the monitor when he is listening to something. He literally shuts it off, he says ‘you don’t see music’. Most of the time when you’re in the studio everybody is starring at the computer screen watching the faders just go up. That was the biggest lesson: Your eyes don’t matter, you have to listen to it and if it sounds good, let’s do it.
Also the listener won’t see the computer in the end. I don’t see it…
You don’t see the wave-files, you don’t see the tracks going up and down - all that matters is what’s coming out of the speaker and if it’s communicating something. But you really forget these things and in any profession you try to - if you have any success with it you try to hold on to it really tightly. ‘This is working, I don’t want to loose this.’ I have been in many studios now and it seems like the bigger the studio is the bigger the computer monitor is. It was funny to go into Chris’ space and he has just a normal computer screen, turned of most of the day. The first couple of days I didn’t know where to look and he just sit there eyes closed, leaning back in his chair and I thought I start doing that, too. He taught me a lot.
Now a really simple question - I know how you’re loved being asked about your tattoos.
I don’t mind telling about my tattoos…
Have you found your harbour? For me the anchor is always a sign of having settled down.
That’s almost exactly what it is. My life is not without conflict and change and challenge and those things but I feel more peaceful then I probably have before. That’s it. It’s scary, too. It’s scary, too, when you make the kind of music that I have been making because you read this stories about Kurt Cobain, Elliot Smiths and all these guys and you start to convince yourself that only good art can come from tragedy and heartache.
Some artists get even scared when they’re too happy for too long…
I heard a friend of mine telling a story about another friend of his. He left his wife and told the guy he did it because he was in artistic crisis and he there wasn’t enough pain in his life. I thought it was the most awful, backwards, stupid thing ever. Music for me is about being honest about emotions and experiences. So as long as you’re living and you’re observing and trying to learn from other people there is always conversations to be had. I just bought an album of Sun Kil Moon. It’s been out for a while but Mark Kozelek has been writing very similar albums and songs for like 30 years and I was listening to the record and I was sitting there in a bathroom when I listened to it and thought this is so fucking good. This guy is still even more brilliant than he has ever been before. You just have to tell the truth.
Thank you for the interview, William!
William Fitzsimmons is for the next months on tour, in Europe, Great Britain, USA and Canada. Look at his website for further information:
The interview will be published in German on FastForward Magazine in the upcoming days.
Have a good weekend,