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.
Part one of the interview is here.
Ez: So after some research I found out that Hinterlandt started off as an electronic project.
Jochen: I moved to Australia in 2000. Lived here for about three years. Then I moved back to Germany. Then I moved back again about six years later. When I first moved here, I had some kind of weird epiphany [about] starting a noise rock band here. Kind of like Melvins, Jesus Lizard, a heavy-leaning noise rock band. It was a very strange feeling. I was using the same amp that I’m still using, and a Gibson SG at the time.
The people I played with were also in that noise rock space. It just felt so strange to be on the other side of the world doing the same thing. Mostly sound-wise; not so much the music. Also the music a little bit, but I felt like I had to somehow break out of this habit, essentially. I needed to do something that operates in a different sound world. I couldn’t listen to myself doing this kind of loud rock, post-punk whatever thing anymore. I had lots of bands in Germany in the eighties and I had already arrived at that point before I think, where I couldn’t progress unless I made a very big change.
Hinterlandt I started basically as a vessel for whatever it is, and the first gigs were improvised music mostly in Sydney but also in other parts. It was with pretty good musicians and it was all absolutely free-form; No rehearsal. Sort of like drawing a little bit on krautrock and psychedelic experimental music, but I didn’t want that to be a recording project. All the recordings were electronic music. Experimentally leaning music. I made a lot of records using that name. Basically solo albums. Not all of them are good. Some of them are…
Ez: You have to say that all of them are brilliant.
Jochen: Ah yeah. All of them are brilliant.
There’s a lot of them. It was a big phase of trial and error, Experimenting.
I played a lot of solo shows. Initially it was just an improv collective; Members were never the same. It was maybe just like… something like fifteen shows, and after that I played solo gigs when I was back in Germany. Toured around Europe. Also played solo gigs here and that was sort of half-electronic, half band played-music, kind of culminating in the last album I did called Cartography. The idea had at that point – in my eyes – worked relatively well. At least the live sets were good.
I would say in hindsight it was just not there yet. I was just trying things and [had] iffy solo shows. Fair enough, experimenting is the format, but how can you play solo and make it engaging for a live audience not using a laptop, not just standing there looking like you’re checking your e-mails? How can you do that?
I played trumpet, had lots of pedals, played guitar, kind of switched, made a pretty complicated set; high concentration for me, and very narrative-based. Just one slab of forty minutes. Then I had a similar effect happened after Cartography.
I was just getting very exhausted from the solo gigs. There was also quite a few f gigs and I was flying and it was just crazy. I didn’t know anyone and it was really weird situation ’cause you don’t have band mates. You don’t have anyone to relate to.
I had this very clear situation. One night I played in Berlin – I was already living here – I played at a solo set at 3AM in some squat. While I was playing I was thinking “That’s the last solo show. I can’t do it anymore”.
At that time I had already started writing for a string quartet kind of setup, and it really felt like that’s what I’m gonna do: People playing real instruments, no effects, no digital trickery, no amps. Really just focus on purity of the experience. The only thing that I was trying to keep was the long-form narrative in that format for Ensemble, a four-piece instrumental record that has three songs around twenty minutes, so it’s very really… art music or something. I don’t know.
It freed me up. I was very happy about that situation. I’m still very happy with playing Hinterlandt now.
Then No Mandate just felt like “Okay… I want to rock out again” *laughter*. I hadn’t rocked out for a long, long time. Most shows were just seated, or people just sitting on the floor, listening to experimental music.
Ez: It’s funny you talk about rocking out because you’re going to be playing Lazybones.
Jochen: Yeah, I know.
We thought a lot about where to play, and we’ve played at Lazybones before. You can do it. You can sweat there.
Ez: Oh, that’s easy, but currently it’s a seated venue.
Jochen: Is it still now?
Ez: I’m pretty sure.
Jochen: It should be stand up right now, as of yesterday.
Ez: Oh really?
Jochen: Yeah yeah.
Also No Mandatae, we’re not punks in the sense that we have mohawks and tattoos and throw beer bottles at people. That’s not what we’re doing.
Ez: Well I mean, what’s stopping you doing that? If it’s still seated, all the more reason to do so.
Jochen: *laughter* Yeah.
Ez: Really, the aim of energetic music is to scare the audience. At least make an impression, so…
I’ve got yet another band called Snob Club. Sort of like an off and on thing happening in Germany. It’s a three-piece band and it’s an instrumental noise rock band.
We don’t play very much because we don’t live in the same hemisphere, but if we play, the concept of the entire logic of the band is to fuck shit up, basically. From the first note until the last note, just go absolutely crazy until we almost fall apart at the end of the set.
It’s not so much in No Mandate. No Mandate is more like dance music. It’s got energy, but it’s positive, friendly, funny, enjoyable. Sometimes more happy; sometimes more sad. Loud; Sometimes not so loud. All three musicians are pretty outgoing in the other band, but that’s not really what No Mandate is setting out to do. It’s also pretty musical. There’s a lot of melodies and things like that. And there’s a dub reggae thing which is more of the slow groove thing. It’s kind of like… I don’t how how to describe it.
Ez: I’m not exactly sure myself either, but I do know what you mean. Dub & reggae have a very certain feel to them and it’s not exactly what is usually perceived as a groove, but it still has a groove going on.
Jochen: It’s very interesting music rhythmically speaking. I listen to dub reggae… Pretty much only dub, not very much reggae. I don’t listen to vocal reggae very much, but dub, I’ve listened to for at least two, three decades or something. Never really played it very much, but in No Mandate it felt like…
I don’t know. I find it really similar to some of the seventies hard rock. It just feels very analogue and slow beats… I think it’s almost like Sabbath sometimes. If you’d change up some of the instrumentation, some of the grooves – these half-time grooves – are like Sabbath. Some of the vibe is like Hawkwind.
I like a lot of prog, like King Crimson, things like that of course… so that’s also an influence on No Mandate in a way, but it’s not as direct I guess.
To me it’s really strange that dub reggae and punk, hardcore, prog, noise rock for that matter, that they haven’t collided much more often. Historically-speaking it’s really strange that that hasn’t really gelled. Hardly any bands doing that.
Ez: Didn’t punk and ska come from reggae, or were at least heavily influenced by it?
Jochen: Well ska yes, around the time when The Specials started up. When the Jamaican influence in the UK happened there was a big overlap with punk and reggae. Even The Police I would say is a pretty good example of a punk reggae band when they started up.
Ez: Early Killing Joke as well.
Jochen: P.I.L… But yeah. I don’t know, but for some reason it didn’t progress, or it didn’t feel like it progressed. In my mind there are very few examples of bands that have a heavy progressive approach and a dub reggae approach at the same time. Blind Idiot God is an example, Dub Trio is an example, but it almost stops there. I guess a lot of dub is not band music. A lot of it is studio music essentially. Someone might have recorded something at some point, then someone is messing with that maybe a year later, then making fifteen different mixes of that, so a lot of the dub we have today I guess is not really band music.
I’m kind of missing that a bit. I’ve actively gone out and looked for dub reggae bands playing original dub reggae; instrumental dub reggae in Australia. Literally no band does that. It’s kind of like reggae bands, yes, it’s easy to book and everybody likes reggae, so you could have a reggae band playing here in this room right now and people would go “Oooh, this is nice”. It’s very unobtrusive.
More serious, darker dub reggae bands in Australia are pretty much impossible to find. I would have liked to have played with some dub reggae bands. It’s a strange kind of scene. The reggae scene’s absolutely not part of that.
[For No Mandate] it’s a very foreign road and I can’t see that the reggae scene or anyone from the reggae world would find any appreciation in No Mandate. It’s kind of strange ’cause it’s clearly in there. It’s definitely something that’s deliberately in the music, but it’s only one aspect.
Ez: Might only be one aspect, but to me it seemed like a very obvious aspect. Maybe you should start your own pure dub reggae band as well.
Jochen: *laughter* We could do that with No Mandate.
It’s not as easy as one would think to make good dub music. I personally have reached a point where I recognise where I underestimate a little bit how hard it is to make a good dub reggae track. You listen to it and you think “Well, how hard could it be? All you have to do is use a certain type of rhythms for the drums and have a thick, fat bass line and leave that running, with good delay pedals and you’re done”. You can do that and it’s just bloody boring and no one’s gonna care, so it’s really hard to make it good.
Like with most music it’s very easy to make, very easy to write songs [but] very hard to write one that’s good.
Ez: It’s very easy to overestimate music writing in general. You see all these bands from a scene get highlighted, so it makes the scene feel smaller. You’re like “Well they’re all doing it. They’re all good, so yeah, I can do it”. Then you go to do it and you’re like “Oh. Ohhhh”.
Ez: I’m happy you mentioned Crimson because I was listening to The Construkction of Light on the way here and I was getting a bit annoyed because the GPS kept interrupting it but I had to keep the GPS on because even though I’ve been here I’ve only been here from walking from Leichhardt.
But yeah, they’re an interesting band.
Are you a more a fan of their seventies… ?
Jochen: Yeah, definitely.
I think I have a pretty clear idea why I like the seventies better; It’s mostly the sound. I’m a big fan of seventies-sounding records. I like the drum sound, I like the warm, rich sound… I really like the sort of four-piece set up they [King Crimson] had with the violin player. It feels like a union to me. It’s not transparent, but in a warm way. That’s something I had problems with the music in the eighties. I’ve got the feeling it got a little better in the nineties, with some of the alternative rock sound aesthetic. Probably I would like that a little bit more sludgy, not super clean…
I find some of the later Crimson stuff interesting in a brainy way, but it doesn’t sort of make you wanna dance in the kitchen, you know what I mean?
Jochen: Sabbath is another example. Just the first couple of albums sound so good. Just really rich, warm, friendly, welcoming sound. A lot of singer-songwriters, a lot of reggae at that time, a lot of jazz, obviously have that kind of quality to it.
It’s almost like having better technology has made it worse in some case. There is music that is cool that came later, like metal music, things like that that’s great in that digital space.
I find it interesting that on their debut album “21st Century Schizoid Man” is the quintessential go-to song for everybody as a Crimson song. You’d probably play that song to introduce someone… but it’s kind of funny that the rest of the album is just beautiful.
The vocals are really lovely. It’s like you skip that song and you can listen to beautiful, pretty music.
They then left that there.
Ez: I think it’s because they were already losing members at that point.
Do you think listening to prog and reggae when you’re doing hardcore music had an impact on how you played?
Jochen: With reggae I think it’s… I would say in No Mandate we are all from the heavy camp originally, so that’s easy. We can bash out loud and hectic songs very easily. That’s our comfort zone so to speak. Reggae is – for all of us – really foreign territory in the sense that we’re being too white guy analytical about it. I’m wirting a lot of the groove and then Sim and Alex are really interested in things like dropping the one and coming in on the two, and having the bass on the two and four instead of the one and three and all this kind of stuff.
I’m really interested in using non-4/4 time signatures and still trying to get some sort of slow groove happening.
Then the big challenge is to make it feel right, make it sit right as a band. It doesn’t always work, so sometimes we drop songs. Not every song is as successful as an experiment, but it’s pretty deliberate; It’s not a jamming band. Everything is very planned. We would probably be a math rock band, something like that if we would just let it go.
I’m of the older generation so I’ve got more of a punk attitude I guess. I’m more Black Flag, whereas these guys, they’re punk but they’re more like Mars Volta, kind of like At The Drive In, just a couple of generations of music development later. They kind of came in more through that and they’re not really identifying much as punk listeners or players as much as I do. They’re a bit better with having functional equipment and things like that *laughter*.
I’m a bit more chaotic I guess.
Ez: Would you think that listening to dub and prog helped open the avenues to do non-common signatures and [try to] make them work?
Jochen: Yeah. Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do and that’s also what keeps Alex and Sim interested in the band, because that’s basically unusual. It’s really not not happening [much] so that’s an interesting space to be experimenting in. Some of the new stuff that will come later has more keys. I’m playing a bit of keyboard. Makes it more seventiesish, a little bit less punk.
In dub reggae another thing I find interesting but doesn’t really play into the band thing is that I listen to it in a different way than I listen to math rock. I’m very clear about which band, which album, which song; I keep a close eye on the listening of it, whereas with dub reggae I can put on three albums and almost let the algorithm decide what is coming on after that ’cause it’s all gonna sound the same anyway and I can just have it running five, six hours, no problem and not pay attention to who is it playing. Occasionally I’ll go and check, but it’s a very different way of music listening.
With Dub reggae It’s almost like it’s utilitarian in a sense. I wouldn’t say commodity, but it has a… You could have dub reggae here with no problem. Maybe later in the day. Maybe not so much in the morning, but you could put it on at 6PM and have it running until 2AM, no problem.
It’s nice music; it has a friendly vibe.
Ez: Back to production:
Both Hinterlandt but more specifically No Mandate, are no frills bands. At least what I’m understanding is that you’re not doing more than what you can do live in either of them.
How important is compression to No Mandate?
Jochen: Alex would be better to talk about that because he recorded the album.
Ez: At least from your perspective.
Jochen: From my perspective it is very important not to have that. Compression on individual instruments? Yes. It kind of makes sense. On vocals for example it leads to having it flow and not jump out so much. Guitar too, but you don’t get the good old loud / quiet / loud effects if you compress the shit out of everything. It also can be too much in your face I think. Just flattens things out too easily.
We want to sound like the band that we are but we can’t play all the stuff exactly like it’s recorded.
I did double a lot of the guitars to get a better stereo image, so you’ve got two guitars playing the exact same thing, but it doesn’t mean there’s additional notes that can’t be played, pretty much.
Hinterlandt is extremely pure. Basically Seven Tales is a live record more or less and it is exactly what it is. No Mandate is a bit more produced, but compression is a good tool if used well; A terrible tool if not used well.
The mastering is the one thing that we didn’t do ourselves. Michael Lynch mastered both bands and he’s got a good sense. Alex and he were in touch a few times, so he gave Michael a few tips about phasing so he’d make new mixes just to get it right and we are quite happy with how the album sounds. We’re really happy with that now because it’s still got feedback and accidental sounds. It’s not clean at all. There’s a lot of bits that make it human, so to speak.
Took a long time for him to do it but it really was worth it because it really got better every time. And also it’s been made almost – it’s not quite true, but almost a $0 budget, so it’s a really good outcome.
Alex put a lot of energy and time into it, but he also used the album a little bit to train himself in an engineering department sort of thing. He wants to get better at audio production. I think he wants to do a little bit more of that but I can’t really speak for him.
We made an album before, or like a double EP (No Mandate / Scheme of Things) before at the very very beginning of the band and it was more or less like we were playing the demos that I made. We just played them as a three-piece band. We just did it in my living room, so I’m happy about the sound of that first album. We kind of felt like “let’s take our time with that second album” and it feels like it’s our first album, so that is No Mandate now. Before that, that was the demos basically.
Ez: When you become super famous and rich and famous and a billionaire so you go back and re-record the first one, right?
Jochen: Yes, exactly.
Ez: And at that point it’s been idolised by everyone to the point where you release the new version and people are like “oh, I don’t know”.
Jochen: “It’s not what it used to be, it doesn’t sound like the bloody terrible sounding Jawbreaker records, or like the crappy Hüsker Dü drum sound, you know?”
They wouldn’t be what they are without those imperfections and imperfections are important to us. We like to play well, at least, but not without having fun.
We just enjoy it a lot. All three of us like to move along on stage. It’s a little bit planned in a sense that I’m writing music which I anticipate will be fun for us to play.
Like “Oh that bass line, I’m sure Sim will like that” and he’ll probably change it a little bit. Obviously Sim and Alex are both great musicians. They do change things. The songs and the signposts, accents, changes, all the metres, everything is mapped out, and then within that they do occasionally change some rhythms.
Sim plays very openly. You can hear it on the double EP, you can hear a little bit how the bass is doing things that were not written that way. His slides, he makes all this noise and uses his pedals so there’s much more personality in his playing.
Alex also has come up with a few ideas that fit into whatever’s playing.
Ez: Well, I’ll cut the interview there. We’ll cut it with a non-ending.