Jochen Gutsch is an artist with both great musical experience and a strong desire to keep on exploring music. In March and in the lead-up to the release of Recalibrate, an album from No Mandate – a band of which Jochen is a part – I met up with him to talk about his music.

Recalibrate comes out on April 15th.
To support the album’s release No Mandate are playing a show at LazyBones.
Tickets are available here.

Part two of the interview is here.

Jochen: (Referring to music playing where we were) Oh that’s a pop song.

Ez: Off It’s My Life, I believe.

Jochen: Still the pop phase, but I also like the pop phase of this band. Not just the Spirit of Eden phase.

That’s a good start.

Ez: Have you ever listened to The Party’s Over?
The farthest back I’ve gone is It’s My Life. I have an apprehension towards listening to The Party’s Over. I’m worried it’s a little too synthpoppy for my tastes.

Jochen: It probably is, but it’s still…

Ez: It’s still good?

Jochen: Yeah. But I probably wouldn’t listen to it if I didn’t have the context of what the band did and what else happened around them.

Ez: They’re certainly an interesting band. I got into them through Laughing Stock.

Jochen: Well that’s a good starting point I guess. You’re going backwards.

Ez: I started with Laughing Stock and that took a while to click, but once it clicked… I listen to it almost every week and I keep hearing new things in it. Then I went It’s My Life, The Colour of Spring.

The interesting thing about Spirit of Eden is that that’s the one that really cemented their status.

Jochen: It cemented their status outside of the pop world. Not in the pop world, so they were a big name before that.

When I got into them it was through situations like this. It was supermarket music basically. Extremely popular radio. Top forty pop music and I didn’t pay attention very much. I just noticed that I somehow liked it ’cause there was this melancholy sort of vibe in the music. It was only later that I figured “okay, well there’s actually something interesting apart from the production”.

I was listening to entirely different music. I was not listening to pop music at all. It was not on my radar.

Ez: What was I listening to at the time I heard Laughing Stock? I think I was listening to a lot of angry music at the time.

Jochen: Same, but for me that was a long time ago. Late eighties or something. Even in the eighties you’d hear these songs on the radio when just walking by somewhere and it would just be playing.

Ez: For me it was… not the eighties… *laugh*

Jochen: Well, I’m old, so…

Ez: I was the tail end of the eighties, but I was familiar with the No Doubt cover of “It’s My Life”, not realising it was Talk Talk.

Jochen: Yeah, right.

Ez: I think the thing with Talk Talk is that you can say it’s emotive, right? And that wouldn’t be an unfair assessment, but it’s more that it’s expressive. Mark Hollis is very good at capturing what he wanted to put forward and putting out this very focused but wide {7 minutes}.

I think that’s also part of the reason why I like Laughing Stock more than Spirit of Eden. Spirit of Eden has a more focused sound, but what I think Laughing Stock does is… it’s more impressionistic in a sense.

Jochen: I think they both are, to be honest. I see them in parallel more or less. I guess Spirit of Eden has more shock effect in the history of things. They did what they did when everyone thought it was entirely crazy and it was entirely crazy to do something like that.

In Laughing Stock they had already established that idea.

To me, Spirit of Eden, Laughing Stock and Mark Hollis’ solo record are all equally good for a certain type of mood. If you’re in a certain kind of mood at the time you can concentrate and take in music that is just beautiful. Just really beautiful and that’s so hard to achieve.

These three records are an influence for Hinterlandt… kind of just a long-form idea of not pushing and not shoving content into people’s faces. Being gentle about delivery, the pace of storytelling. Not always having to speak, talk, sing. Leting the music speak, bringing some vocals back in… Just taking things down a notch. Letting things happen.

Hinterlandt’s probably more well-planned and more architectural than the music of Talk Talk which is more jam-based and then edited afterwards.

Ez: The thing with Mark Hollis is that he was a big fan of silence which might also explain why he stopped making music.

Jochen: Yeah. Sadly he took it a little bit far with that philosophy, but it’s a really strong comment that he makes about the idea that if you think want you play a note, play it. If it’s not entirely clear you want to play that note, then that note shouldn’t be played, so that’s a really good point because it places bigger value on what you’re doing rather than just splashing shit around all the time.

Anyway, sadly he took it a little bit far by just not doing anything anymore and then dying.

Ez: Would you say that everyone takes it a little bit too far by dying?

Jochen: It takes it a little bit far, yeah. It’s a bit hard to sort of continue.

Ez: My understanding is that if he was content with everything that was done by Spirit of Eden he would’ve dropped it there, which is why we got Laughing Stock. The Mark Hollis solo album was going to be another Talk Talk album, but it ended up not.

Jochen: I wasn’t aware of this.

Ez: Supposedly. I haven’t seen any official sources but I’ve seen it quoted in a few places, and it was going to have a different name but I can’t remember what it was.

Jochen: Well Talk Talk were only the two guys really. The producer… what’s his name, with the double name?

Ez: Tim Friese-Greene?

Jochen: Yeah. I’m not sure he was involved in the solo album, so maybe that’s what the difference was.

Ez: My understanding was that by Laughing Stock it was just the two of them, but they were a three-piece up until after The Colour of Spring and…

Jochen: There’s a million people playing on The Colour of Spring.

Ez: Well officially a three-piece, but Tim Friese-Greene was considered a fourth member because he was very instrumental in shaping their sound. Then the bass player left just before or just after Spirit of Eden and the drummer was still there for Laughing Stock, but I’m not 100% certain.

Roughly how old were you when Talk Talk clicked for you?

Jochen: There were two times. Once was noticing that pop music worked for me which was really unusual ’cause I didn’t listen to any pop music at the time. Listening to heavy music, pretty complicated music, extreme music mostly so it wasn’t really on my radar. I would’ve been around eighteen, nineteen.

Then a second time when I discovered they were actually an interesting band. *laughter*

This was many years later. I was listening to Alice Coltrane and other music that had this intelligence. They had a vibe of being spread out and kind of transporting an idea more than notes, I guess.

Ez: Would you say it affected how you approached music?

Jochen: All music I listen to influences what I’m doing. I listen to a lot of music, but also all conversations I have, or all train trips I take, or books that I read, every film that I see kind of feeds into the music. It’s all in there and I would say that probably Hinterlandt… It’s more the non-musical influences that inform what we’re doing. Particularly literature, but stories and conversations…

I don’t really listen to music that is like Hinterlandt with the idea that I can get something out of it for Hinterlandt, so that’s a big difference to No Mandate which is more a fan band.

All three of us, we love that kind of music so we play it. There are more direct influences around say… like these bands have influenced what we’re doing in No Mandate whereas in Hinterlandt that train has left the station. It’s really become a standalone concept.

Ez: I guess in that sense with Hinterlandt at least, whilst it presents itself different challenges, it’s more freeing when it comes to writing as you’re not as concerned about outside influences. It’s pretty much Hinterlandt influencing Hinterlandt.

Jochen: That’s true, but it also makes it hard because I can’t just go and write something. It’s always concept-oriented. I always have to have an idea of what it is that I’m doing. At least an album-length idea, so I just can’t do anything until I’ve got an idea so sometimes it’s a year or something where I just not write because I don’t want to write.

I don’t want to write because I can write. I want to write because I’ve got something to say. If I don’t have anything to say, then I should just shut the fuck up and just do other things. I’ve got other bands and other projects that I’m working on. I never stand still, but that is a prerequisite for Hinterlandt.

It’s the same for No Mandate. I don’t write just because I can. I write music when I have an idea. Sort of like phases I get stuck into when one of these projects. It almost writes itself.

Other times it’s just sitting there, usually with far too much material that I’ve got. Way too much stuff that can never be. Not everything can be realised. It’s never a problem of not having enough songs. It’s never like where we need another three songs, or we need another album; It’s usually the other way around.

It’s like “We’ve got all this stuff. Someone’s gotta play it” *laughter*.

Ez: Just play it at double speed. Record it all at double speed, slow it down later.

Jochen: That’s right!

Ez: Actually no, if you did that though you’d have to play it a few keys higher so that when it gets slowed down everything’s at the right…

Just take the Radiohead approach. Put stuff aside and revisit it later.

Jochen: Yeah. I am kind of doing that a little bit. Basically for both bands I write every note for all instruments and I make demos. I write sheet music for both of these projects. Then I make .mp3s with virtual instruments in Logic, so the songs are already there. You can listen to them. They won’t sound great, but at least you get an idea of where it’s heading. Then I send it to the guys in the band. Always very excited about that part because it requires them to like it because if they don’t like it, there’s no point in doing it. Sometimes songs get dropped if they’re not good enough. It’s very hard to decide just by yourself. You have to decide it as a band.

So the No Mandate album, Recalibrate is coming out in April. I’ve pretty much more or less written the next one already. It’s basically sitting there in that demo phase.

Probably gonna learn maybe two or three tunes. I don’t know if we can pull it off before the launch gig. Play a little bit of new material newer than the new record sort of thing.

Ez: I was finally able to listen to it last night in whole. When you sent me the links I listened to “Recalibrate”. I was like “Okay this is interesting”.

Jochen: *laughter* in which way? What was your initial idea?

Ez: I shouldn’t be telling you this ’cause I don’t want to either boost your ego or cut it down just yet.

Jochen: Go for it. I mean, we’re having a conversation.

Ez: It was complete horse shit. I’ve farted out better stuff – No, I liked it but I wasn’t sure what to make of it just yet. It’s very dubby. Very reggaeish but it’s also very punky I noticed.

When I listened to the whole album… I generally find tracks released as singles work really well and sometimes they don’t. The thing I felt with “Recalibrate” is it did work on its own. I think it worked better in the context of the album as a whole.

I think the reason why it works better in the context of an album is that the album feels very… not restless, but it feels like you guys don’t wanna sit still. You’re still going at your own pace, but you’re not sitting necessarily on one thing. You guys stretch things out where necessary, so “Recalibrate” fit better in that context, but it was still alright to listen to on its own. Just if I went to listen to it again I’d rather listen to it in the context of the album.

But yeah, I also noticed that [only] two or three songs had vocals?

Jochen: Two.

Ez: I want to ask about your lyrical content.

You said you want to make sure everything works. You want to be certain of what you’re making. Is that the same with lyrics?

Jochen: Yeah, it is. Lyrics I find very hard to write. I also find it hard to sing. It’s not my strong point. I don’t feel as confident as playing guitar. That’s why Hinterlandt has a singer, Nicole.

Lyrics are very important to me. Hinterlandt it’s usually more abstract, it’s more literary, and in No Mandate the idea is more of a punk idea, so it’s more about being more openly political, saying things that are not sort of watered down. Being a bit more bold about it I guess, and again it’s like sing if you have something to sing. If I don’t have something to sing I don’t sing. It’s totally fine. Instrumental music it’s great. It’s fun. You can jump around on stage, you don’t have to be near the microphone.

You can rock out with the guys as a three-piece band. You don’t need vocals all the time, but I think they help in a live set. Also on the record I think it kind of helps to have occasional vocals, just sort of as signposts. It’s a point of orientation.

A little bit of a problem with lyrics is if you only have – in this case – only two songs out of seven with vocals, it kinds of means that there’s a stronger emphasis on those lyrics because they stand out more. If all seven songs had vocals you wouldn’t pay so much attention to the lyrics of that song, or that song. So now it stands out a bit more.

I’m more anxious about lyrics than music and how it’s being perceived. I think there’s a really big danger in being tacky and being embarrassing. It’s also not my first language, so I’m worried about tone. Even language mistakes, I don’t make them in German but I make them in English.

I always run it by the band and go “Okay you guys, is there anything that should be changed? Is there anything that sounds awkward? Do you say it like that?” Up to now, it hasn’t really happened that they’ve corrected me in both bands, but I would be open if someone – Nicole for example – would say “This line doesn’t really work. Something feels off about it” and we would change it. It hasn’t happened yet.

Ez: I can imagine that would be a pretty self conscious thing and I guess also what would make lyrics tough doing this aspect what with punk elements and your background being in punk, or at least some of your first work being in punk… Punk is more often than not a wordy genre of music and obviously words can be important, especially more so if they’re sparse. Maybe your concern, especially with English, would explain also why there’s so little with them.

On “Recalibrate”, the phrases are very, very short. Maybe there’s an apprehension towards covering over the music because it’s not completely punk.

Jochen: There’s a lot happening in the music as well, so you don’t want to overload it. It’s a pretty crowded space musically speaking; Especially live it’s very energetic and it’s very sort of… I think there’s a lot to handle for audiences.

The band is very tight, with great musicians in Sim and Alex, so it’s really…

If it works… it mostly works. It doesn’t always work as well, but it’s a pretty punchy kind of band, so it makes sense not to overload it with another layer of meaning and also to not play for very long.

A No Mandate set is forty minutes or something. It’s easy. You’re covering a lot of ground in that time. It feels like “Okay, that’s enough”. We’ve already thrown out a lot in that short period of time, so…

Ez: I guess another element to lyrics is… obviously the voice is an instrument, and more often than not the voice is not gonna be creating ambiguous sounds. It’s going to be enunciating when used in music, and the thing is – as you said before – if every song had lyrics they wouldn’t draw as much attention to it. It can take focus away from what is going on, depending on how it’s mixed in.

I did notice, not so much on “Recalibrate”, which seems more like it’s got the space for the lyrics, but the other song that has them…

Jochen: “Hamster Wheel”

Ez: The voice appears to be lower in the mix. Is that a concern about lyrics taking form the music?

Jochen: I’ve always enjoyed music that doesn’t have vocals front and centre; [No Mandate] is an example. The vocals are sitting in the music and living in that space.

I guess with “Hamster Wheel”, it’s kind of like the long, slow song on the album. It’s much more reggae than the others. It’s in 7/4, so it’s not really…

Most reggae is in 4/4, so that makes it not very reggae, I guess, but it’s still… the vibe of it is…

The snare is off and I play with fingers and I use the neck pickup, so it’s pretty warm and not a very trebly kind of sound. The vocals are also… I lowered my range a little bit and I sing relatively low frequency-wise. I leave quite a lot of space in between the lines.

“Recalibrate” would be the openly-political, angry song and “Hamster Wheel” is more of a personal account, friendlier, warmer and more emotional. Kind of opens up towards the end. More big, more progressive, using a pick, using distorted guitar. Then there’s a part where the lyrics are fully embedded in the wider sound [where] the mix is more loud guitar [and] vocals somewhere in there. Sort of like a nineties mix like Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine; music that has vocals but they’re not as clearly pronounced or they’re not sitting on top of everything else but they’re in there.

Changed for Dinosaur Jr. later.

Ez: Yeah, that’s one way of putting it.

So are you saying that they’re still in there and there’s a sense of vocals to them, but you’re trying to make them more of a sound at that point?

Jochen: Yeah.