Einstellung - Motor(ik)head And Neu! Metal In Birmingham
, February 9th, 2010 06:45
Ben Graham talks to Einstellung, Birmingham based Apache beat, interstellar overlords
Formed in Birmingham in 2003 by ex-members of stoner rock band Sally, industrial metal titans Godflesh, Kat Bjelland’s Katastrophy Wife and post-rock/ shoegaze outfit Grover, Einstellung have stripped the motorik chassis of the first Neu! Album down to its essential cogs and gears, and fitted it to a custom-built hot rod roadster, equal parts Sonic Youth skronk, My Bloody Valentine narcotic noise and Black Sabbath hard rock. The resulting album, Wings of Desire, is finally available in the UK as one of the first releases on Capsule Records, brought to you by the fine people behind Birmingham’s unspeakably excellent Supersonic Festival. Released as an exquisitely-designed limited edition of 500 heavyweight vinyl double albums, Wings of Desire is a record that needs to be listened to loud, its six lengthy instrumental tracks (all given cod-German titles) building from droning, lazily melodic beginnings to monstrous, fuzz-blasted raptures and epiphanies, via sonorous avalanches of warped and clanging sturm und drang. We spoke to Einstellung guitarist Andrew Parker on the eve of a major show opening for Cluster at Birmingham Town Hall on the February 11, where the band will play their forthcoming second album, And The Rest Are Thunder, in its entirety.
You all have previous form in a number of bands and have been playing music for a long time separately- how and why did you come together as Einstellung?
Andrew Parker: I used to be in a heavy band called Sally that released a couple of albums on Lee Dorrian's Rise Above Records. Along the way we recorded a single and released it on Bearos Records. Bearos also had another band called Grover. After Sally had split up I saw Grover play a show which totally blew me away with big walls of psychedelic melodies. I did however find out later that this one song set was a cover of Rolf Harris's 'Sun Arise'. I'm not sure if that makes the gig better or worse!
At this point I was also playing in Katastrophy Wife with Kat from Babes in Toyland. Sally had supported the original line up of Katastrophy Wife and I got to know Kat and her manager, which led to me joining and writing most of the second album. After a couple of years of Katastrophy Wife I was eager to get back into a locally based band. Living in Birmingham and being in a band with a girl from Minneapolis didn't really lead to that many rehearsals. I was at Glastonbury and I found myself sitting with a friend of a friend called Andy Smart, and after a lengthy discussion about the state of music and the almighty power of Sonic Youth, we decided to meet up when we got back to Birmingham and have a bit of jam.
This was the initial rumblings of Einstellung. Smart and myself started rehearsing fairly ambient guitar twinklings but we gradually moved towards more repetitive melodies. I managed to get in touch with Grover drummer Simon Rider and talked to him over the phone about what sort of thing we were trying to do. I talked about My Bloody Valentine, Stereolab and Sonic Youth. Si didn't seem to bite, but he does now admit that it was Stereolab that swung him!
Anyway after another one or two rehearsals Si dragged Steve Hough, the Grover bass player, along. Steve has been in a million bands over the years including Cable Regime and the mighty Godflesh, so obviously with credentials like that even if he was rubbish we were prepared to have him in the band, just for the reason that promoters would give us gigs! It was probably less than 20 minutes from Steve walking into the rehearsal room before the four of us were grinning like beasts and rocking like idiots. So as far as we're concerned that was the start of Einstellung.
To what degree do your previous bands still inform the music you're making now? Is it a continuation, or a reaction against, or neither?
AP: It's most definitely not a reaction against our old bands. For me it may have started as that when Smart and myself originally started jamming gentle melodies, but it soon became apparent that that wasn't what was in our hearts. There are now plenty of heavy riffs in the songs that wouldn't go amiss on a Sally album. I can't really speak for Steve but I don't think he thinks of Godflesh as an evil metal band, as some do, but more of an attitude within the music. Godflesh had full long drawn out songs which is pretty much where Einstellung are at. Si used to be in a load of bands that played with the likes of My Bloody Valentine so he's not a million miles away from where he started. Grover were fairly post-rock, and although we certainly don't class ourselves as post-rock I'm sure HMV would put us in that section. I think we've all been around the block a million times and we really have no interest in making money or joining a fashionable scene, so that's allowed us just to be four like minds who meet up on a Wednesday and talk about their favourite bands and then rock out to music made by four very like-minded musicians.
'Krautrock' is very obviously at the root of your sound, particularly the Neu!/ Cluster/ La Dusseldorf/ Harmonia axis. What is it about that music that appeals so much?
AP: I'm terrible at music scenes and I'm probably the worst person to answer this question. The first time I heard Neu! I was appalled as I thought someone was ripping off Stereolab. After learning the error of my ways, Neu! are now one of my all-time favourite bands. The motorik beat is unbelievably simple and all-engulfing. It sounds ridiculous but its sheer beauty is that it’s just a thoughtfully honest beat. There are no frills involved yet it allows the most beautiful textures to be laid over the top of it. I know the Krautrock scene is much bigger than just the mighty motorik beat, but Steve would have to tell you more about the bands’ other Krautrock influences.
I like the fact that you seem to have a sense of humour and irreverence about your influences and wear them on your sleeves, with the German band name and song titles, certain graphics you've used and so on. These deliberate references also stimulate the imagination. Is it because you're all fairly experienced musicians that you don't feel the need to take yourselves too seriously?
AP: We mostly definitely don't take ourselves too seriously. We know we are four great friends who love to meet up chat and play some decent music. We've all played in bands for many years and we've all got our own style of playing but at the root of everything is the fact that we respect each other creatively. We do laugh and joke constantly but in regards to the actual music it is complete passion. If one of us is only 99% about a certain part of the song then we scrap it. We love our band and we're not in the slightest bit bothered what anyone outside of the four of us thinks.
The German thing is pretty much a reflection of this. I found the word Einstellung in a Wim Wenders book. He said it meant 'seeing the world through your own lens'. Einstellung's music is the four of us expressing what we have pretty much become through our own previous musical worlds. The song names are in German because we have no lyrics and we don't see the point of naming a song after something that it's not about. Our songs are about nothing other than playing that song at that time.
How far do you also consciously draw on your own Midlands Metal heritage of bands like Black Sabbath? 'Sabbath meets Neu!' would be a simplistic but not inaccurate summation of the Einstellung sound I think (though I also hear Loop, MBV, Sonic Youth, Hawkwind etc in the mix).
AP: I am a huge Sabbath fan and they were THE band that inspired Sally. They came from Birmingham and they made the most immense music that came from a bunch of scummy Birmingham lads. They didn't come from a scene and they just did whatever they wanted. Yes, they became pretentious and started wearing capes, but the first few Sabbath albums were beautifully honest and were written for music's sake and nothing else. I think 'Sabbath meets Neu!' is a pretty damn good representation of Einstellung. Sabbath were metal but they were much more passionate and gloriously heavy than some of the true metal bands. Neu! were Krautrock but they were much more structured than some of the more ambient Krautrock artists. I see Einstellung as a heavy band like Sabbath, but without the metal edge of bands like Judas Priest, and I see the Krautrock of Neu! in Einstellung but without the more ambient noodlings of others. There's definitely a big Loop influence, especially from Steve as his older bands toured with Loop many times. There's also Sonic Youth, Spaceman 3 and MBV in there. I love all these bands so I'm just happy I get to talk about them.
Do you have any theory as to why Birmingham and the Black Country have always been such a nexus of primal hard rock magnificence?
AP: I think the bottom line is that we've never been a pretentious region. We're not London with all its glamour and we're not Manchester with its fuck you attitude of "we're from Manchester and we've got loads more to offer than London". Birmingham and the Black Country's attitude is that of not really caring about anything other than being honest to what you're doing. The live scene isn't great in the Midlands so it tends to be people going to shows who want to listen to music rather than going to a show to see who's wearing the latest haircut. Bottom line is we're just interested in rocking out and the sex and drugs bit can come second!
Wings of Desire was originally released in 2006 in Australia only. This seems an odd state of affairs for a band from Birmingham influenced by the music of Germany primarily. How did that come about?
AP: Brian from Chatterbox records in Australia wanted to release the second Katastrophy Wife album, but with a shit storm of legal rubbish this never happened. He asked the Katastrophy Wife manager what I was doing, and he told him about Einstellung. Brian really liked the Einstellung album so they put the album out. Brian now runs Rish records so I hope he'll be interested in the second album.
You're supporting Cluster at Birmingham Town Hall on February 11. You must be looking forward to it, but are you also nervous at opening for artists who are among the originators of the type of music that you are obviously influenced by?
AP: This is going to sound terrible but I never get nervous about playing. This all comes down to the fact that I'm doing this for me and my three mates. If an audience is there then fair enough, but I'm really not that bothered about what they think. As long as the four of us have fun playing our songs then I'll have a great night. I am really looking forward to it though, as we all appreciate what pioneers Cluster are. If they hadn't been around then I may have ended up on the dodgy Judas Priest side of metal. It's great that the girls from Capsule have got them to play in Birmingham, and what better venue than the new Town Hall. I'm really looking forward to the Town Hall PA, hopefully it will be ridiculously loud!
Along with Wings of Desire I also received a copy of a CD called 'C' by your side project Lash Frenzy, a 25-minute recording of a single note of feedback in the key of C, thus dragging 20th Century Classical minimalism and the likes of Terry Riley down to your scuzz rock level, as well as those German hippies you're so keen on. Splendid stuff, but can you tell us a bit more about this project, how it came about and whether more similar ventures are planned?
AP: Ah, the mighty Frenzy! This started many years ago when Kat Bjelland was over in the UK. I love my big slabs of pure sound, and elements of that can be heard in Sally and Einstellung, but those bands are not the right avenue to explore this in its fullest. I've played various shows and completed projects under the guise of Lash Frenzy, and I use it as a platform to collaborate with other artists and musicians. The first show Lash Frenzy played was at a tiny venue in Birmingham. I enlisted the help of the Sally drummer and bass player, the Mistress/ Anal Nathrack drummer/ guitarist, the old Katastrophy Wife bass player, Kat on guitars and vocals and myself on guitar. The only rule was that you play as hard and fast as you can without keeping a rhythm or playing a melody. The thirty plus minute performance was a mighty slab of sound and something I'll always be proud of.
Since then the Frenzy has gone on to collaborate with lots of different artists. I've supported Melt Banana where the performance involved me screening off the massive stage area and lighting it from behind with nothing but strobes and smoke machines, while a stripper writhed all over the stage. I've played with my friend Mort the Sonic in dungeon type clubs with nothing other than huge strobes. I've supported Earth where we recorded the piece 'C'. I've also just completed a Master’s in fine art and much of my work for this was based around sound art and involved a few Frenzy performances. I've got a few plans this year for Lash Frenzy but it's important that these performances are just encountered and the audience has no expectations of what's going to happen. We’ve set up a record label called Powerkraut records, just for us to be able to release our own side project stuff, and I'm working on a Lash Frenzy live compilation DVD.
Finally, is playing in Einstellung as much fun as it sounds?
AP: Yes, most definitely. But there's only four of us and that's how it's going to stay!
Einstellung are playing live this week:
Thursday 11th February, Town Hall, Birmingham w/ Cluster 0121 7803333
Saturday 13th February, The Victoria, John Bright St, Birmingham w/ One Unique Signal & The Telescopes
More Einstellung shizzle available at their myspace.