» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum

October 24, 2005
Mike Wright poses questions for Jan St. Werner

MIKE WRIGHT: It's quite rare for an electronic group to release a live album. Can you tell us a bit about Live 04? From where did the idea originate?

JAN ST. WERNER: It was actually an idea that came from other people. Throughout the past people have [asked], There should be a live recording; can I get a recording of that concert that you played on a tape, or a CDR, or something? There have been bootlegs that people have recorded with microphones, and so at some point we thought it wasn't really our intention to make records solely as a studio effort, and that a live concert is something that is really meant to happen in the moment, and is not meant to be conserved on a record. It shouldn't be caught like a butterfly on a needle. It's a very populistic gesture that people would really like to have - a proper live recording that isn't distorted, where you don't hear people talking, and there isn't an unbalanced mix where the drums are overwhelmingly loud, or its just noise and you don't hear the subtlety of the bass.

We tried to adjust and make some modifications to something that had already been around anyway. We were just donating our point of view, as well as a booklet with some images, because you don't normally get that with a Mouse on Mars album. It's not about the people who make the music; it's about ideas and much more abstract images, or the visual equivalent to the music. It's not about us assuming some kind of pop star identity. For this record we've done it all wrong according to the Mouse on Mars dogma. We didn't fiddle on the record for two, or more, years, like we often do, but made a few certain adjustments.

So is it taken from a number of different live performances?

Yeah, a lot of live performances. Some of which were not even from the 2004 tour. Dodo kept coming up with recordings from years ago, which we listened to, and some of them we used.

It's out on Sonig, your own label, right?

Yeah, that album is on Sonig. We intentionally didn't go though Thrill Jockey. We wanted to keep it as self-made and personal as possible. These days if you're not a super-big major company running a high profile promotion machine the differences are not actually that big anyway.

Did you put it out on Sonig, as well as the other albums you have done on Sonig, to give your releases a more personalistic element to them, or was Sonig started primarily as a means of releasing other bands?

Having a label has lots of levels, and one level is to prove that you need a record company to do what you want to do. If you want to do things the way you want to do them, then you can find a way, then you do not feel the need to professionalize, and in a way, follow the capitalist rules. It's a statement against them, and it may take a longer time, and it may mean fewer copies, but you are still fully in charge, and you can keep an overview of the profits. It's a very personal statement; we can say we made this, we baked this cake, and everything is so homemade and bio-, eco-correct. It's a statement against the idea that you always have to depersonalise things, fuel the promotion machine, and give in to certain values.

But we started the label when we had a certain size. If we had started the label earlier it may have been more difficult - being a band that has no name starting a label that has no name and no profile. We started the label after we had existed for about five years, and realised that we wanted that parallel to the collaborations that we have with bigger labels, or other independent labels. We realised that we could reach our audience, and decisions could be made faster, and sometimes more efficiently.

We started contacting people, such as Scratch Pet Land after they had released their EP on Source, which was very Air-related, very loungy, and with this French freshness and unique pop feel. We asked them to do another record and offered to release it on Sonig. And now Schlammpeiziger, who was on the A-Musik label, which is maybe a less ambitious label, asked why it would not be a good idea to release something on Sonig as he was already in the same sort of family. We collected all these people, like this weird band called Workshop, which has been on a very small Cologne label before, and the drummer of which is a really hip and quite high profile visual artist, so when they asked it was like a gift, because we were already big Workshop fans. I could go on talking about Sonig for about two hours. I can't even remember if you had a yes or no question. I'd say yes anyway!

How do set about writing songs? Do you jam out ideas together or do you work separately, and piece the music together bit by bit that way? Do you each concentrate on separate elements of the music?

We work together separately. Or perhaps separately together. Andi and me have a strange dynamic because we really feel each other's presence without having to communicate too much word-wise. I only have weird words that I wouldn't like to use to describe it, like chemistry, or electricity or something. You don't have to look at things so precisely to understand where something is going, and we give each other a lot of space. Maybe we start by jamming, or one of us is working on some rhythmic ideas, and then leaves the studio while the other one is adding something over the top. We work in parallel, but sometimes we have to work together when, say, one person is playing something and the other is recording it, or maybe Andi is playing the guitar while I am tweaking the effects. We might record that, then edit it and cut out bits and put it into a piece of software and see what it does. Then maybe one of us is getting tired or hungry so we have to take a break.

It's the same when Dodo is in the studio. He is incredibly persistent. He can work for, like, 48 hours without needing anything. Sometimes you can leave him in the studio while he's working on some vocal tracks or he's adjusting something rhythmical, or exploring some software. Then me and Andi might just go out and do something else, and wonder whether to go back or leave Dodo to it. It's a long process. It goes on for months.

So the writing of songs all takes place in the studio?

Yeah, of course. We have a studio, which is very like a living place. It's very big, gives us a lot of space, and has beautiful daylight. And then there are balconies, so we can go and walk around on different roofs of buildings connected to ours. It's somewhere where we can easily spend weeks, months, even years. And that's what we do!

Do you go about selecting software or sequencers or whatever that are specific to what you consider the Mouse on Mars sound to be, or was it a case of you trying to cultivate a sound based on whichever tools you could acquire?

I think that every piece of equipment that we use is used in the way that it contributes to what you call the Mouse on Mars sound, which is very much our signature and distinguishes us. On the other hand it is also a limit. We are often fed up of getting an exciting new piece of software, and using it for lots of time, and then we come out with the exact same sound that we always have. You always create this certain identity. It's just the way it is, and there's nothing you can do about it, and in the end I like it. I think that having that very specific focus on certain frequencies and resonances makes it possible to work in different areas, and do extreme things that might be closer to break-core, or subtle things that might be more ambient, or some tracks that are more pop and others that are more rock. They are still all glued together by this sound, and also enable me to do my solo work as Microstoria.

It sometimes feels to me like this saliva thing that babies have - they make the world theirs by soaking it all. By that it kind of becomes real for them, you know? I find it quite weird, and I wonder when it stops. Does a human being just go on soaking everything wet, and licking everything he or she can get hold of? Maybe as musicians, and artists in general, you find a way of staying in that strange state of mind, whereby everything you touch, everything you piss on, everything you sick on, kind of becomes yours, and becomes limited through your point of view. I feel that everything we do kind of becomes us in a limiting way, but that also makes it real, and it thus becomes something we can use.

I can't really use sound I haven't made. It's hard for me to use sample libraries. I have to run sounds through processors until they become my own, and so I can claim that they were never there before I recognised them.

Yeah, so you give it its own identity by changing it, or manipulating it, or whatever.

Yeah, and just kind of soaking it wet.

I think that since Vulvaland your music has, broadly speaking, become more immediate and upbeat. Was this a conscious objective of yours?

We don't really plan things, we are drawn into them. You expand, your universe expands, you travel, you meet people, lots of things change, and maybe your music is a little less subtle, a little less bedroom-made, and a little more edgy in a way. You start out with this total fascination for music, and then you realise that there is so much music already existing that is so much more exciting and so much better than you can ever make, and of course that is an influence too.

In some respects you become more shy, and more respectful towards music, but on the other hand you become more edgy, or more robotic in the way that you realise you have to respond to its challenge. Of course you hear things that change your perception. As our experiences became richer we became more the band we are, and our identity became stronger. Initially I was making music and people thought, "This is the music Jan makes." Now I am the guy in Mouse on Mars. It's weird - it's not even a big thing, and it's surprising that I can go nearly everywhere in the world and there will be someone who knows this music with which they associate me first. The music is already there, and you have to match it.

Yeah, you're now synonymous with the music itself.

Yeah, I think that it's interesting. Mouse on Mars is, and will always stay, bigger than I can ever be. It sounds very weird because we're not a big band - we're not Kraftwerk or something like that - but we already have something that will live longer than we will individually. It will be there when I am a piece of wormhole, or ash in the ground, or something. You know that this thing needs care, and you fuel it. We now work for Mouse on Mars, whereas in the beginning Mouse on Mars was working for us. We made music we wanted to hear, and we thought, "Hey let's see where this thing takes us." It's like a horse, and you becoming better and better at riding it, but it has a will of its own, and you obviously try to tame it. It's great because me, I'm not sufficient for myself. I'm not interested in myself to lead a life with only me in it. Music is so much more interesting. I'm so satisfied to have it, and it's never boring.

Would you say that you consider yourself more of a 'live' band these days? Would you say that with vocals and a live drummer your music is more accessible in the live setting? Do you write songs with the live setting in mind at all?

Yes. But then we already have ideas for a new album, which will be very ambiguous. It will be a compilation of tracks that we have written over the years but haven't made it onto the records. Perhaps they are not vocal-orientated, or not pop, but odd Mouse on Mars, so we always kind of break our own path. We have an interest in the straightness, or compactness, that pop songs have, but we have this twisted version of what other people might call proper.

So that's what's next for Mouse on Mars?

Yes, and then we have plans for new songs, and plans for a duo-set live album because Live 04 is the whole band, and we'd like to do the thing that Andi and me do together, which is a bit more odd and a bit more experimental. There's also an idea for a collaboration with a visual artist and a radio project. I'm also doing a new Lithops album. It's kind of finished, but needs mixing. Then we have a project with another guy. It'll be a kind of disco-noise thing. In fact, it's nearly finished so I can tell you about it - it's a project with Mark E. Smith, but it's not fully done yet, so we need to finish it and hopefully by next spring the album will be out.

SEE ALSO: www.mouseonmars.com
SEE ALSO: www.sonig.com
SEE ALSO: www.thrilljockey.com

Mike Wright
A staff writer based in London, England, Mike Wright is eternally troubled by the American bastardization of the English language.

See other articles by Mike Wright.



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