VELJANOV - The Sweet Life
Zillo Feature (Mai 2001)


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Granted… Solo projects are usually a very difficult matter - and if you have a voice as concise as Alexander Veljanov, it doesn’t make the whole action any easier. As the frontman of the band Deine Lakaien, the Macedonian-born band quickly reached the top of the (Darkwave) German cult bands. Knowing that it is important not to lose sight of himself in all the hype surrounding the band, Alexander Veljanov released his first solo CD “Secrets Of The Silver Tongue” in 1998 and is currently on his second solo tour with “The Sweet Life”.

The result is a velvet-heavy album that sounds completely different from its predecessor and - inevitably - always reminds a little bit of Deine Lakaien. “As a singer it is of course incredibly difficult that the solo things sound different. My voice is very concise and is always identified and recognized and the voice cannot be exchanged - well, what do you do if you want to work solo? As the singer of a successful band, which I am, you have no chance to release anything as a soloist. I was lucky enough to get my first solo album without a record deal. After an intensive lackey phase with release, tour and festivals, one is quickly at the point where one realizes that one cannot tackle the new lackey album right away. Ernst (Horn, Lakaien comrades-in-arms) and I were always in agreement, and simply everyone did something of their own in this phase. It’s a bit extraordinary that a band has been working together for 15 years and doesn’t wear out and repeat themselves and doesn’t shoot an album on the market every year. Our sideprojects keep the lackeys alive.”

But we don’t want to talk about the lackeys, even though the borders are inevitably blurred and Alexander Veljanov keeps talking about the good cooperation with Ernst Horn. After such a long time of ups and downs, common dreams and constant struggles for recognition, one gets on in one’s sleep, especially beyond the borders of the black scene. “I refuse to be labelled a cliché-crypt by certain media. That’s the fight the lackeys have been fighting for years. And it is not only we who oppose the prejudice that this scene lives completely blind and in itself stupid in the underground. That’s not true at all. I mean: 100.000 buyers - whether this is Wolfsheim or Lakaien or Pitchfork, in my opinion three completely different bands, but they are connected to one scene and are always seen like that… But we have a right to places in the media, whether they are public or private channels - they all live from the consumer and who decides what comes in the media”. Veljanov has a passion and you can clearly feel how much he cares about the recognition of his music. Nevertheless: The consumer is simply unbelievably influenceable.

“Yes”, Alexander talks himself into a rage, “and why shouldn’t he also get the chance to listen to other music - on VIVA TV or elsewhere. I don’t give a shit if Backstreet Boys is in front of me or Zlatko or whatever shit is going on. I want to position myself, I want to fight for this kind of music - for demanding pop music.”

Even though the new album “The Sweet Life” has become a fundamental romantic work in which even the promo is based on the tenor “Liebe, Lust und Leidenschaft” (“Really?” He grins a little embarrassed and then says: “Yes, it’s true, it’s full of lust and love and passion, of course, but that’s life too, my life consists of love, lust and passion… Those are the goals that keep you alive, otherwise you’re dead”), as the basic mood of the album still seems melancholic to me personally.

“Sure, I just have a Slavic timbre and that sounds rather melancholic and gloomy.”

“Dedicate Your Life To Tenderness” sings Veljanov in one song and I wonder about the incredibly emotional vein that can be seen there. “How can this be, I ask him, that there is so much faith in goodness? Life is not tender and tender, life is always really just cold and you really have to find your niches in which to find warmth…”

“But”, Alexander Veljanov begins and I am happy about the enthusiasm with which he wants to convey his thoughts to me,”…I’m singing about “the sweet life”, you know what I mean? Music is the outlet - after all, I became a musician out of fear of the hardship of life. Life is terrible, you are born to die. Yes, this fact alone can drive you to suicide, if you realize the idea, this madness, that you are just there to decay…” He drums on the table as if to create space for his energy and to give emphasis to his words. It seems important to him to convey the background and faith of his music. But that’s not true. What really counts is the inside, the invisible, the soul and that grows more and more - the older a person gets, the more valuable the soul can become, what he can give and pass on, only the shell decays and gets older and older. And music is something that should survive. Of course it’s a bit exaggerated “The Sweet Life”, but this line in the song, “dedicate…” is meant ironically. It would be nice if life consisted only of tenderness, passion and all these beautiful things… And I think you can give that to the music: People also use music as a catalyst for emotions.”

But isn’t that just a bubble?

Alexander reacts almost indignantly. “No, that’s not a lie!” “But a dream,” I think. “That’s true, but everyone runs after him and many find him, at least temporarily or for a lifetime. - Well, I’m very happy…. Maybe that’s why the whole album is so full of harmony. I’m so relaxed, so happy in my life, I’ve achieved so much I’ve always dreamed of. To be a musician for such a long time without bending, to be able to do what is the best thing in life: singing. I’ve wanted to be a singer since I was like this” - he holds his hand at hip height - “but society always tells you: Oh, are you crazy, you’re crazy… Then, of course, I also studied, but the dream came true - you have to pass that on! It can work!!!! Turning passion into a profession is a privilege that many don’t have - that’s why I pass on this experience and everyone can do what they want with it. Let yourself go or feel positive melancholy, as you said; others may draw optimistic feelings from what they hear… Where was I?”

He has lost himself a little in his own plea for life’s happiness and I find that immensely sympathetic. “-Oh, yes. It’s not just a bubble, life itself is grey of course, but you have to make the most of it. If only someone feels comfortable with my music one evening, it is an insane compliment… It’s just my honest feelings and if I’m okay, why shouldn’t I pass it on? Of course, there are also more serious titles on it, “Seraphim”, “Fly Away”, even themes that go from darkness into light.”
He’s right, although it’s actually the case with all the songs on the album that it finds a turn to the light at the end. “Yes, yes!” Veljanov is glad I got it. “That’s the beauty of pointing the light back again.”

The musical side of “The Sweet Life” is as varied as I have just learned about life - after colleagues have confirmed an unmistakable Western touch to the solo debut, ” The Sweet Life” is more electronic, playful…

“I have just discovered that there are still areas of music that simply have no place with the lackeys, because it does not fit into the aesthetics. On this album are songs from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s on it, which fit from the feeling wonderfully into this mood. Music history doesn’t start in 1980. And that’s what I want to show young people.” Versatility as a program. But nowadays, especially within the underground it seems to be really uncool to be open to other styles of music, I observe again and again and find this as stupid as Alexander Veljanov.

“Yeah, then I’m uncool. Sorry. My fellow musicians who are interesting to me are always people who don’t know any musical boundaries at all. And my album wouldn’t have come out of it - there were people coming from jazz as well as people from the scene, from the dance and hip hop sector. You don’t listen to the album God knows where the people who play come from and it doesn’t matter - as long as they have a feeling for good music. Behind all the surface is always the true core of the music, the mood, the lyrical content and the quality of the composition of a song. Whether this is packaged in this or that style doesn’t matter… Often in subculture, whether in crossover, hardcore, metal or darkwave, packaging and style are much more important than content and real substance. I fight against this, qualitative music can also be scene compatible, but does not have to stay in one scene. In our audience there are listeners between 16 and 60 - if anyone thinks it’s not cool to stand next to a person in a concert who could be his father or mother, I’m sorry. Then let them go to the scene club. Music is now often just a fashion item; vinyl, leather and the right song to go with it. Sorry, but I don’t serve the customer.” Clear words.

Besides the mentioned guest musicians and of course Veljanov himself, David Young, whom he has known for about ten years, was significantly involved in the creation of the album. “I’ve worked with David many times before, but I’ve never written songs with him - if he’s ever been a producer or live musician - and this time the basic idea was that the solo album was reduced to us both…” How can this cooperation be imagined? “It just worked wonderfully from the beginning, we started in spring, developed the songs over the whole summer and then knitted the frame in London, all the computer stuff and then finally went to the studio in Berlin in autumn. I was often in London, and in between again and again in Berlin and could continue working on my parts there. In Berlin as well as in London additional musicians recorded - it was a very open and a bit complicated working time. An incredible challenge to the technicians.”

The Sweet Life” has become a round, flowing work, despite the diversity of the songs. The song “Black Girl”, an old slave song, which many will already know as Nirvana version under the title “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”, is striking. “Lead Belly sang this in the’30s. I didn’t know the Nirvana version at all, but had heard a recording from 1937, on which only a completely out of tune guitar, footsteps and a howling-singing slave can be heard, which one really hardly understands. We then took out the passages that were important to us and the result is a song that is incredibly far away from the original. Another cosmos. And… The original title “Black Girl” alone -, I really thought at the beginning, I can’t do that. Veljanov sings “Black Girl”, the title alone is a cliché to the power of 10, although, in the sense of the original, of course, it’s not about the thing that everyone associates with it…” Well, that should be clear at the latest, if you know the origin of the title.

We agree, but this changes abruptly a second later, when I tell him that I find some sounds in the titles “Town By The River” and “Chains Of Steel” typically dico and that even remind me of the 80s revival wave a la Kylie Minogue. Alexander can’t believe it. “Really???? Chains Of Steel?” He laughs with horror. He grasps himself and is nevertheless visibly irritated. “It’s always amazing how people feel about music. In each interview there are different assessments. “Fly Away,” for example, some felt like rock and others like ballad. Chains is for some classic 60ies pop, others say: The really great feeling! I think that’s a brave title anyway, because I’m going to the limits of what I can offer musically as a person. For me it was the big 3 minute pop song with a lot of feeling and a big orchestra, it was a nice challenge for David and me, because it was completely strange to both of us. Many will say: It is not gloomy, what is this? The album is full of contradictions, but I hear again and again that it sounds totally homogeneous and coherent as a whole” Well true.

When I told him that the “Song of the Lone Girl”, which Veljanov heard for the first time on a Nico disc, the - coincidences do exist! David Young, sounds like a fairy tale to me, Alexander was (hopefully) reconciled again, because that was a compliment for him. “It’s probably the saddest song on the album. I didn’t want it to be the tomb. I wanted it to be fascinating, just as children are not only afraid of hearing fairy tales. Loneliness is not only negative, it has a lot to do with self-reflection and with reflection, to go into oneself and to think.” He talks for a long time about Nico’s life and the fascination “the goddess of the tomb scene” exerts on him. The song was successful and the fear he had ( Als Mann! In German!) to record with the interpretations of Hildegard Knef, Marlene Dietrich and - above all - Nico was unfounded.

Veljanov had only sung the lackey song “Lass mich…” and “the number was very special and more of a game…” in German. He had less problems singing in Macedonian, as he did on “The Sweet Life”, in the form of the song “Blag Zhivot”. What 50% of the listeners don’t recognize - Alexander charmingly assures me, because I didn’t notice it either - is that “Blag Zhivot” is the same original song as “The Sweet Life”, only in Macedonian and completely, really arranged completely different than the title track. Not only the oriental-looking arrangements, but also the mystical suction of the rough language makes the song special. What role do language and texts play for Veljanov himself?

“I know from so many letters and conversations with fans that they really dissect our lyrics. Many ask to translate our texts, but I don’t do that. Of course I can only speak for my lyrics, not for Ernst’s. My lyrics are very metaphorical, very ambiguous, and only I know what I really want to say. And… Sometimes I don’t really know what I thought at the beginning before the text went on its way and developed - but when I read lovingly meant translations all over the Internet, I often think, oh no, that is completely misunderstood or there are simply gross translation errors in it. But what the hell, it’s nice that people take the lyrics so seriously and important and sit down. And they’ll all sing along.”

In some interviews Veljanov is accused of distance and coolness towards the fans in the lackey context. I experience him differently. A man who knows what he can and has achieved and who is rightly proud of it, but who also seems to stand by his own weaknesses and fears and confronts me without arrogance or reservations. How do you deal with such accusations?

“There are two categories of singer: you’re arrogant and get adored or you’re a nice guy, buddy-bap-like. I’ve noticed that the biggest bitches are those who have such a super-nice buddy image, while people who are shy and modest, precisely because they are also very artistic on stage and represent a figure, always have this arrogant, crazy, drug-addicted image. You have to live with that. I’ve always been an actor. But that I’m not warm to the fans…? There are evenings, only the music is important, I’m not the type who does dancing steps and shake hands. Maybe I’m conservative, but I do think distance is important. I appreciate very much what comes up from below, but tinkering with people on my legs is not mine, so you become an object. Take “Love Me To The End”… When I see two people virtually merging below, it’s a much nicer feeling for me than when someone tries to project the feeling into me as a person alone. Of course, this happens often, longing is satisfied by music and as a singer you are the projection screen. But I’ve never supported that, I’ve always deliberately drawn the line.”

In the booklet of the CD Veljanov presents himself mysterious and erotic, the album looks very stylish and noble. How important is the visual? “I think it’s important that a CD looks like music - that you don’t just say it’s just a plastic box and that’s it. That’s why I worked with a stylist, Sibille Pavenstedt, for the first time. In addition, the photographer Markus Rock, who works mainly in Paris and the USA in the fashion and music industry… Everything has become very noble,” he agrees, ” and also a little daring, I think. This can be seen with a wink, but it should also be a statement.”

Did he discover his diva potential through photo series, stylist and video shooting? Alexander Velyanov thinks for a moment before answering: “The question is: Who is one. It’s nice to hear: “On the other hand, it is a little annoying not to be perceived as what you actually are in this situation. When a video is shot for me, I’m the main protagonist and it’s really all about me and I realize that some people don’t take me for full because I’m not bitching enough, then I think to myself that you really have to be bitchy. One may not take oneself so important as a person, but the function that one fulfils. But diva-likeness… “I must say…” (he’s drumming on the table again) “…sometimes you have to be a little like that, after concerts for example, when you’re exhausted, just can’t talk to every fan: Then you must be the asshole. Or before that, I have to concentrate on myself, on my music, sing myself in and such, I’m nervous and have stage fright - that comes across as superarrogant asshole-like, but people should put themselves in there. You’re not always just the pop star…”

Certainly not, because Alexander Veljanov separates his private life very strictly from his profession. So it’s all the more surprising that he chose his very own name as the title for his solo project. “A pseudonym would have been discovered immediately. But - hmm - maybe that’s why I gave up Alexander.” He’s smiling. “Although… Of course I am also a vain pig and like to see my name on CDs. I realize that’s a contradiction.” Sounds human and realistic, because anyone would probably love a CD with their own name on it. “Nevertheless, there is nothing worse for me than to become prominent, but I think that only happens when you take yourself too seriously. I don’t depend on celebrity. If it doesn’t work anymore, it just doesn’t work anymore.” Although it wouldn’t be easy not to have cheering fans, I believe him. But as Veljanov himself says: “I can do something else” Without Deine Lakaien good albums, for example. Nice talking. And certainly also write a book - sometime… Maybe… … Just to mention a few things.

Tania Krings

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