Gloomy music for a subculture? As if!
Albums of Deine Lakaien reach the front of the charts. This happens not least because of the fascinating sound design. We paid a visit to Deine Lakaien in their studio in Munich.
Deine Lakaien are the grand old men of the German Electro-Wave scene. Since 1985, Ernst Horn and singer Alexander Veljanov delight a continuously growing fan community. While singles like “Dark Star” were club hits especially in the Dark-Wave scene of 1986 (especially considering that the song was released in 1991 ;o), note by Jo), the last album “Kasmodiah” from 1999 reached number 4 in the German album-charts. The successful mixture of Veljanov’s expressive baritone voice and the tasteful acoustic and electronic sounds of Horn packed in mostly melancholic songs apparently struck the nerve of a broad audience. It is unmistakable that Horn is a classically trained musician – years as director of opera orchestras, as conductor and as composer left their marks. The new album “White Lies” is no exception.
We met Ernst Horn in his studio in Munich and talked with him about the new album of Deine Lakaien.
KEYS: Listening to your new album, one gets the impression that you avoid the classical pop-song on purpose…
Ernst Horn: Everybody undergoes his own development and thus the classic song scheme might become boring at one point. My impression on the other hand is that our sounds used to be wackier in the past and perhaps louder. To me this album seems to be very song oriented and a bit more reflective and sadder. Perhaps this is the reason why we tried to be more experimental with the song structures. We just are not a band for the car radio.
KEYS: The last album was number four in the charts after all…
Horn: We have a strong base that has been growing for years. But we are no single-band and keep failing (laughs).
KEYS: Wolfsheim used unabashedly Drum’n’Bass-beats on their last disc…
Horn: Wolfsheim actually were an electro-pop band from the beginning, we rather unwillingly. Alexander and I have a strong connection to guitar and noise bands like for example My Bloody Valentine. Thus, we had a different taste from the start that can be recognized most clearly on an unreleased album from 1987.
Meanwhile we got quite tame, though (laughs). We tend to melancholic songs. We cannot help it. It would demand too little from Alexander, if I just sampled something from him and put it into a dance number. That is simply not us and others can do this better. We realize time and again when we meet what we can do and what we cannot. There is a mutual chemistry. When, e.g., “Kid A” from Radiohead was released we immediately talked on the phone – with great delight! Finally there was something really new.
KEYS: There are some songs with strings on the new album, are these samples or were those recorded for real?
Horn: Those are real strings and the recording was rather new to me, because I used mainly samples in the past. This time I had a violinist whom I gave the scores. It was our wish to have a broader spectrum on this album an test styles that rather lie next to our own: Like add a Reggae rhythm or – as on the single “Generators” - something Indian. This is the reason for the effort to include more acoustic instruments. And this really is interesting: As soon as for instance an acoustic guitar is added, the songs change radically.
KEYS: Does it sound more natural and organic compared to samples?
Horn: No, not at all. The stylistics change due to the way the guitar player plays. When sampling acoustic instruments I choose small snippets and use them like in patchwork in my songs. However, if there is a musician playing the guitar in a certain way, I get totally different associations.
KEYS: How did you technically approach the recording?
Horn: We record directly on the hard disc of our G4: Wir nehmen direkt auf die Festplatte unseres G4 auf: everything primarily with Emagic Logic Audio - Pro Tools was too expensive for me (laughs). I have the 2408 MK. II by MotU and think that it perfectly serves my purpose. One can combine everything, use high-quality converters together with simple ones. I do believe that soon there will be no more problems with latencies and such. The future challenges will emerge in ergonomics. Controllers like the new Logic Control are going to become more important.
KEYS: Do you work originally with software synthesizers?
Horn: Yes, but not yet without friction. I have the EVP88 from Emagic that sounds wonderful and that I used for example in “Lost”. In “Silence In Your Eyes”, which is Alexander’s favorite song, I used a Rhodes from the Korg 05RW for the demo and planned to replace it later with the EVP88. However, Alexander protested and therefore, we used the more musty and old-fashioned sound from the 05RW on the album (laughs). I have the Waldorf Attack that invites to play around: When you found a sound, you want to try the other waveforms as well.
KEYS: You do not fear contact with software, after all there are several Keyboards here in the studio?
Horn: It is surely a problem, if you have got too many things on your computer. On the one hand because of the computing power, I sometimes get the impression that the MIDI-timing suffers from that. On the other hand because of the clarity. I always try to make my studio an instrument and think a lot about how to arrange the things around me to be able to reach everything easily. I will have to adapt to my new digital consol. The bottom line is that everything is a question of getting used to it.
In the past we used to work with eight or just four tracks. One was forced to make intermediate mixes. This procedure is nowadays revived working with laptops. The instrumentation is going to become more frugal. Recently, I listened to an interesting album by Fisherspooner supposed to be produced completely in Reason. These are totally different approaches.
KEYS: What do you think about the issue of laptop and music?
Horn: To go outside to get the great inspiration – I do not see this as all. We all used to take our study materials with us on vacation and did not study a single second. It is much better to take along a good book, isn’t it (laughs). I became totally unromantic in the course of time. I grew up with classical music, felt the idealism of a composer in my bones, read my Bach and my Beethoven biography to sit down at the piano in the moonlight – and I did not get a single inspiration (laughs).
KEYS: How do you approach composing? Are the acoustic instruments first or the electronics?
Horn: I always start at the piano. I fiddle around with the songs here at the grand piano and at this stage usually Alexander joins me already, listens to the material and we vary the Tempo and the vocal ranges. Then I record the piano with my midified Yamaha grand piano. I work a lot with the score editor by Logic including the drum tracks, I am simply used to this. When I later print the scores for the other musicians, everything is very easy with the score editor.
The second important part in creating songs is the sampling. I really do sample everything including sampling CDs. I do not hesitate at all here. However, I choose only about four Mbyte from a sampling CD investing a lot of time in the selection, because I assign different envelopes and filter settings to every key of a key-zone.
KEYS: What is your position with regard to software samplers?
Horn: Of all virtual possibilities, the sampler comes in the first place, because filing is much easier at the computer. The exchange of files between HD-recording and samplers is much simpler as well. I would have switched to the EXS24 long ago, if I did not put so much detail work in my Akai S3200 that cannot be easily transferred.
KEYS: If you review the past 15 years, which synthesizer left the strongest impression?
Horn: Time and again there was equipment, which had been thought through to the conclusion and realized a truly great idea. This includes the Oberheim-Xpander for sure. It was the first attempt to put a modular system inside a MIDI module separating it from the keyboard. That was a true benchmark back then. With regard to samplers, the Akai S1000 was very important. The Waldof-Wave really got to the heart of the complete PPG development in my opinionThe Yamaha DX7 was the revolution in those days, of course. For better for worse, however, since it opened the chapter “synthesizers impossible to use”.
I really love good ideas. Also very simple things like for instance this small Doepfer MS-404. It has only one oscillator, but its sound is amazing. And then there is my personal favorite of course, the Oscar, I feel organically connected to this device because of its peculiarities. It has a filter that sounds weird. There is a range, where it does not whistle and it sounds really fascinating there.
KEYS: How do you record the vocals?
Horn: I reduce the space using these partition walls and use headphones for monitoring. Of course, I could install a separated production and use a glass screen. But this is too complicated for me.
Recently, I bought the Neumann U87, whether this was really necessary I do not know. A tube microphone was out of question for me. I have got a TLA compressor, if I need the sound. I have had some negative experiences with tubes not speaking about ambient noise. Once I recorded four female voices and the micro started singing along. That sounded really odd.
KEYS: On the recent album there are only two pieces with a cathedral echo, the remaining songs are rather dry.
Horn: The entire aesthetic of sound is currently changing. For me as a classical musician today’s standard of extreme compression is difficult to accept. The listening expectation today demands compression of every track. An uncompressed recording – as beautiful as it might be – sounds like from a medium wave radio in comparison (laughs). Echo becomes an issue then, because echo means always some distance. Also the new songs and the way Alexander is singing now, are a reason that the old Lakaien-echo is not applied as often.
KEYS: You mix here, do you master here as well?
Horn: We do the mastering in the Mastering Studio Munich. This is important to me, not necessarily because of the expensive equipment, but because it is incredibly helpful if somebody listens to the songs with fresh ears. Christoph Stickel from MSM is my police in this sense. There you get very directly confronted and you realize the problems with the sound also for the future work. It is immensely important to draw comparisons to other CDs as well.
KEYS: How are you going to present your new material live in concert?
Horn: We start touring in March. I always try to work creatively with the electronics on stage: Be it arpeggiators or the touch tracks in Logic that enable starting and muting tracks using the keyboard. We never used a DAT in our concerts, however always a computer: First with an Atari ST, then with an 190 Mac and now with an iBook. With the computer itself I never had any problems, but I use it only for the MIDI tracks. I hope it stays this way: Knock on wood!
The sensual aspect of playing live gets lost of course, if you use only a laptop on stage. There is nothing like the good old Emerson-castle (laughs). When he tilted his Hammond, you could feel the physical power: Does he hold it or not? He played ostinato putting a knife into it. Then the key was held as well (laughs). This had an incredible effect of course.
KEYS: You played in 1995 and this December several acoustic concerts. How did this happen?
Horn: I had this idea of performing with piano and voice alone from the very beginning. I often used this prepared piano before, since I worked with contemporary classical music in my time as répétiteur. This resulted in a tour and later the recordings were used for an album, because the feedback was surprisingly good. That might be related to a certain heroism of the project: One man alone at the grand piano tries to replace the entire electronic drum battery (laughs). And the sensation of conveying to the audience that somebody rocks the keyboards as hard as possible funnily enough seems to be more rock’n’roll than the collected electronics on stage.
Text by Alexander Schmidt, Ingo Gebhardt/ig (translation from German by Carola Meyer)
The studio of Deine Lakaien
Synthesizer and sampler: Access Virus, Akai S3200, Crumar Spririt, Doepfner MS-404, Elka MK55, Emagic EVP88, Juno 106, Korg Monopoly, Korg Prophecy, Kurzweil K2500 X, Oberheim Xpander, OSCar, PPG Wave 2.2, Roland SH-5, Waldorf Attack, Waldorf Microwave, Waldorf Q, Waldorf Wave.
Effects and dynamics: Boss SE-70, Lexicon PCM 70, Marshall JMP-1, Roland SRV-2000, SVC-350, Kompressoren von TLA, dbx, Behringer und jede Menge Oldies und Bodentreter z.B. von Electro Hamonix und Ibanez.
Computers and recording: Apple G4/ 400, Emagic Logic Audio, Microtech UM70, MotU 2408 Mk. II, Neumann U87, TLM 193, Tascam DA-38, DA 88 (für Live-Mitschnitte)
Mixing desk and monitoring: Sony DMX-R100, Mackie HR824.