Interview: Michael Rother (NEU!, Harmonia, Hallogallo)
Written by nikos on 25 Σεπτεμβρίου 2023
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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: November 2011. We had the great honour to contact with a legendary musician: Michael Rother. With his main band in 70s, NEU! he created some really revolutionary music and influenced artists like John Frusciante, Thom Yorke , John Lydon and many others. He has a great solo career, he was a member of Harmonia with Roedelius and Moebius from Cluster and Brian Eno and he recently toured as Hallogallo with with Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth and Aaron Mullan from Tall Firs. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
Which are the current projects you’re involved in?
I will do an Australian tour next year. I was invited to play in Adelaide Music Festival, which is a big festival and be there artists like Jane Birkin. I will tour with Dieter Moebius from Cluster and Hans Lampe, the drummer from La Düsseldorf. Except the Festival will play some few more gigs in Australia. Currently, I try to organize all this tour and the details. There is also an offer to tour in Japan with Dieter Moebious next April. Some days ago I sent some guitar parts for the new Paul Weller album. He will do an album about the music that influenced him and two tracks are influenced by NEU! I sent him some guitar parts I recorded, I think it will be for a remix album, I don’t know exactly how he’ll use them. It’s great your music to be in a Paul Weller album. Yesterday, I did an interview for Mojo, the UK magazine about David Bowie’s Berlin period. David invited me to play in “Heroes” in 1977 but it never happened. It’s quite a strange situation that, because I was told then that his management and his agency didn’t want me to play in it and David was told by other people that I wasn’t interested in. They told him “Michael doesn’t need you any more”. So, that’s why I didn’t play with him. Many years ago, I read a David’s interview about what he was told. That’s an interesting and strange story, so I’ll be in Mojo Magazine talking about what really happened then with David. I’m also working on a German teacher film, I’ll write the music. It will be out in December or January I think. So, I’m very busy that period. Ofcourse, I ‘d prefer working on one thing each time, so I can focus more on it.
Any news from Hallogallo band (with Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth and Aaron Mullan from Tall Firs) ? Are you recording anything with them?
Last year we did more than 30 dates together. We have done many live recordings and it’s possible to release some material. Now, we are all busy with other projects but yes, I think there will be future for Hallogallo.
You’re the OLNY musician I know who ALL albums he has participated in, are masterpieces!!!Do you think your solo work would have more recognition from fans and critics outside Germany?
No. In Germany my solo albums are much more successful than NEU! albums. They are very well-received here in Germany. When I put out my first solo album “Flammende Herzen”, I didn’t have the technology that now exists, the computers etc and I didn’t want to get other people to play my music onstage, so I didn’t do gigs from 1976 to 1998, for 22 years! Until the re-release of NEU! albums in 2001, my solo albums had sold much more copies than NEU! albums in Germany, exactly the opposite to what happened to rest world.
Do you think that NEU!, if they hadn’t the personal conflicts inside the band would have lasted longer and become more popular? (as I believe)
Well, as musician I got on well with Klaus (ed:Dinger, drummer and the other half of NEU!), it was great to have him at studio, he was very inspired but as a person I couldn’t stand him. We were two completely different personalities outside music, but at studio with Conny Plank’s contribution ofcourse, we created some good music that period.
Many musicians like David Bowie, Thom Yorke (Radiohead), John Lydon (Sex Pistols,Public Image Limited) have told that NEU! Have influenced them . Do you see NEU! influence is other’s music?
To be honest I don’t pay much attention to contemporary music. I don’t hear Coldplay (laughs) for example. I have read that newer bands like Radiohead, Sex Pistols and even Oasis, cite our music as an influence. It’s ofcourse fine to hear that but I don’t stick on that, I keep creating new music. I don’t know until I read it recently that Oasis, a mainstream band referred to us as an influence, I can’t find that in their music. I know that Sex Pistols used a lot of our sounds to their music, but generally I don’t focus much into that.
How important was Conny Plank (the most important German producer who worked with everyone then) for 70s German scene?
Ofcourse Conny was very important for bands like NEU!, Cluster, Kraan he produced my first 3 solo albums and later he worked with Brian Eno. He was literally the center of everything. He was a genious, an innovative and inspired recording engineer and his ideas helped me a lot during my solo career.
In my opinion your guitar playing is very underrated. You’re a very innovative guitarist! Do you consider yourself as a guitarist or firstly as a songwriter?
Again, I ‘ll refute you (laughs). I think I’m quite recognized as a guitarist and John Frusciante, the ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist has said in interviews that his influences are “legends like Jimi Hendrix and Michael Rother”. But I was never too focused into being just the guitar player. I always looked the whole song, the whole picture. The guitar was just the instrument I was most accomplished. So, I think I was more a composer.
In 2007 you jammed on stage with Red Hot Chili Peppers. How was that experience?It was something spontaneous or you knew it behorehand?
I jammed with Red Hot Chili Peppers twice. The first time was in 2003 in Hamburg, next to the football stadium and I was surprised when it happened, I was just in the back of the stage and they called me to jam with the band and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from The Mars Volta. We played in front of 18.000 people and there were so many fans, you could see them, but you couldn’t really feel them. They were too far. I prefer playing in smaller venues where there is more contact with the audience and the atmosphere is warmer. In 2004 when I was in United States I visited John’s house and I saw the collection of non-mainstream albums John has.
I have talked with John, in July 2010.
So, you know how much focused to music he is. He doesn’t live like a rock star. He prefers to stay at home and create music. He has left now Red Hot Chili Peppers and I watched them some days ago with Josh Klinghoffer, it was a great performance. Josh is a very gifted musician.
To be honest, I felt very happy that John left Red Hot Chili Peppers, so he could do more experimental things. His latest solo album “The Empyrean” is fantastic, you should check it!
John had planned to visit me here in Germany the summer of 2010, where we would be for a tour but his tour finally cancelled and I didn’t meet him. It is very difficult being in a so successful band. When I played with them in 2007, in Hamburg again, which it was something already planned that time, they were very tired, the band was 18 months on the road and when I jumped onstage Anthony Kiedis thanked me that he had the opportunity to take some time off (laughs). It is always very exhausting to do all those travels. During last year with Hallogallo, we toured in Europe, USA and Australia and when I returned home, I needed some weeks to recharge. That’s always the difficult with the tours.
A Radiohead song called “I Will” is very similar to “Lieber Honig”. Have you ever heard of it?
No. Thom wrote the sticker notes in our re-releases in 2001 and he did some very generous comments for NEU! So, I think that is the reason for the similarity with our music in the song you say (laughs).
I know that you had bad experiences from recording companies. Do you think their collapse today is some kind of justice for their greed?
No, I don’t have bad experiences with recording companies. I preferred to work with people in companies that I can communicate with. Klaus was always against recording companies, his attitude was against them, he was saying “fuck the recording companies”. Conny and I, we didn’t agree with that. We always told him that the first take in the recordings is always that best, the most genuine, he was recording always more takes and but finally he agreed with us, that his first takes were the best and he picked them. In a website, I read that he had said “I have taken more than 1.000 LSDs in my life”. I didn’t like that thing that Klaus said and was proud of. That has nothing to do with me.
A very successful German singer Herbert Grönemeyer -he’s very known in Germany, but not in the rest of Europe because he’s a German speaking artist, he is influenced by NEU! music, he’s a very household name here- he has his own recording company, Grönland and he does great work. He has dedicated a lot of time, a lot of attention and a lot of money in Grönland . So, if someone does good work and respect the listeners, as Herbert Grönemeyer does,there is no problem for me with that. As far for the recording industry today, I think with the Internet and the downloading the things have changed a lot. Now, it ‘s more difficult to live an artist from selling his albums. Recording companies all these years have made fortunes from their activities. So, the future is something that no one can predict.
Have you ever been in Greece?
Yes, the first time I traveled to Greece was in 1975 with my girlfriend, in Crete. I went in Greece also later in the 80s. I haven’t been in Greece for many years. Recently, I ‘ve done some gigs with a newer German band called, Camera. They are a very good band. I played with them in Berlin three weeks ago, and a promoter from Greece was interested to bring us to Greece.
What music they play?
They say that they are heavily influenced from my music, that’s why they called me to play with them (laughs). What I was saying? Ah, we got that offer from a promoter to play in Greece next year with Camera. I know how difficult the situation is in Greece, I send you my best wishes and I hope to overcome these problems. I would be happy to play in Greece.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Michael Rother.
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