INTERVIEW AT THE AUSTRIAN EMBASSY IN WASHINGTON DC, with Julian Steiner
How would you describe your music if you had to put a label on your style?
That’s a question I often have to answer as it is not easy to classify my music. Together with my brother who produced the album we came up with our own description: “avant-garde pop” - comparable to increasingly popular U.S. bands like Gotye playing a more edgy form of pop acts. While defining “pop” is difficult for some, I would simply explain it as “pop equals song” with a verse, a chorus and a repetitive pattern. My songs do have that, but my roots are also in the classic singer-songwriter style; therefore, my music is a combination of different styles. Furthermore, my album was produced with a live orchestra. Thus, I would label my style as “art-pop” or “avant-garde pop”.
You released your debut album “Here comes everything”. Why did you choose this title? “Everything” because of the differences in style or because it is your first album?
On the one hand, the “Everything” refers to the abundance of the album, which includes incredible arrangements. We had been recording for one and a half years with 30 musicians and were experimenting a lot. Therefore, no song resembles any other. But there is still a common thread: my piano and my vocals.
On the other hand, the title of the album is drawn from my favorite novel: James Joyce’s "Finnegans Wake" which has inspired me tremendously. In the novel, which is not very easily accessible, the reoccurring motive being the repetitive “Jedermann” motive, which we Austrians know very well. The only thing that is clear throughout the entire novel are the capital letters HCE. In the book they stand for “here comes everyone”, which I transformed to “here comes everything” because I think it presents a wonderful projection space. I also think that it is our job as artists to capture aspirations, worries, and all other human feelings and to mirror them through art. In short: we all are a walking projection space, which is why: “Here comes Everything”.
As you mentioned feelings: Your album is described on your homepage as “music combined with stories”. Are those stories about biographic events or things you have experienced yourself?
There is no single formula for writing songs: My lyrics are both inspired by my own story as well as by things happening around me, e.g. to friends or family or even on the street. I would say it is a 50-50 ratio.
Your background can be described as “international”. How do you feel? Austrian, Spanish or Dutch?
I would say I feel European. That’s the most honest answer I can give. My thinking, my habits, and my general view on life are European. Indeed, my father was born in Indonesia as a son of Dutch parents while my mother is German, while having an Austrian father and being born in Spain. It was only a coincidence that I grew up in Vienna. I therefore don’t know if I feel Austrian, but I definitely feel Viennese (laughs).
And now you are on tour in the U.S. Is that a dream come true or have you been here before?
I’ve been to the US many times, but I had only played small gigs at friends’ houses so far. This time we are starting our tour of Austria, Spain and Germany with a little tour through the U.S. I have to say: I love the United States! It has always been my dream to one day live in California. We’ll see… I’m really looking forward to it and think that it will be a huge challenge to perform for an American audience as they understand all the lyrics. While people in Austria listen to the music and hear a “wall of sound” and focus on the melodies, Americans listen much more attentively to the text. Yesterday, I played a small gig in a friend’s living room and somebody actually asked me after a song: “What do you mean in the second verse? Can you explain that?” That was really impressive! This would never happen in Spain or Austria. This is what I am looking forward to in the States.
After DC, you will carry on to New York and then head to the west coast…
Yes, I am looking forward to my concerts in New York; afterwards, I’ll go to Portland, followed by a small gig in L.A., but mainly with friends: Thus, my US journey rather looks like a vacation with some small gigs.
If you would compare the music scene in Austria and the U.S., is it easier to start off in the States or in Europe?
I think yes and no would be the right answer: More opportunities also mean more competition. There is a saying in Spanish: “Cabeza de raton o cola de leon”, either head of the mouse or tail of the lion. I think this is the phenomenon in Austria: I can name twenty people who are the most important pop artists at the moment. At the same time, I cannot think of anyone who makes a living from their music alone. And this is the problem. The mentality in Austria is not very supportive for young musicians, especially in the avant-garde scene. The live-culture and mind-set of being proud of the young pop-scene is missing, even as these acts could become music exports to Europe or the U.S. Thus, music in Austria is very local phenomenon: In Vienna, my concerts fill quite big venues, but nobody knows me in Klagenfurt or Innsbruck. Every city has its own enclave and it does not matter how often I am on Austrian television. The Austrian radio scene is also not very conducive, not to say destructive for Austrian artists.
Many here in the States see Austrian music as classical music or Falco. How would you describe the young Austrian music scene to an American audience?
The refreshing aspect of Austrian music is that great resistance leads to great art: If you encounter great obstacles in your own country, you find alternative ways to get to your goals. And that’s what makes the Austrian music brand. All acts that I know and respect are those whom I think could make it in other markets too. That is the only way to survive unless you want to continue singing on weddings or company parties for the rest of your career: These artists dare to take risks; they try different new styles, new instrumentations, etc. At the same time they remain approachable to a broad public and remain pop too - just the Austrian way of pop music: pop music with a twist.
In contrast, the music scene in the U.S. is way more competitive and almost any street musician is already a genius. We do not have that in Austria! This is why it would be good for Austrian artists to explore the U.S. and witness the high level of pop music here. However, what separates the Austrian music from others is innovation, courage for change and not to repeat the same old stuff all over again. Austrian artists also have a very original songwriting and really fascinating lyrics – it is all very well thought through.