EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: 5 Minutes With… Booka Shade
Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier, the duo behind celebrated Frankfurt electronic act Booka Shade, have managed – with new release Galvany Street – that rarest feat from established artists: to produce something that sounds new.
Described as a “new beginning” by the band, Galvany Street (released through the band’s own Blaufield label) recalls the darker moods and themes of debut album Memento, and prominently features guest vocalist Craig Walker (formerly of London group Archive) on seven of the album’s 10 tracks.
From opening track “Digging A Hole”, to the emotive “Broken Skin” and the melancholy “Loneliest Boy”, Galvany Street announces itself as a moodier, more introspective release than recent Booka Shade offerings – and one that successfully rises to the challenge of presenting songs, and not just grooves. Single “Babylon” features synth work that channels the best of 80s pop, while Walker sings “I gave you everything I had to give/Now you wanna be my friend?” with a snarl in his voice that recalls Richard Ashcroft.
We caught up with Booka Shade to chat about the new album, the band’s origins and their legendary live shows…
How are you feeling about the new album?
We’re very proud of the album. It was over three years of hard work and we feel that we have succeeded in finding new territory for Booka Shade. After more than 10 years, it was time for a bigger change, for a real step forward. We´re passionate about music, and every now and then it´s time to reinvent yourself in order to keep the music interesting. We opened up for collaborations with other people such as the singers Craig Walker, Daniel Spencer and Yates. Craig will join us on stage for the live shows which will promote the album. We needed a new vision, four-to-the-floor club music isn’t interesting for us at the moment, we were interested in bringing in more song structures and vocals. The two instructions for the album were: no typical Booka Shade synth riffs, and no four-to-the-floor techno! We released the album via our label Blaufield. We have a small but very enthusiastic team around us, and since in life it’s always about energy, we feel that the energy is very positive this year.
How would you place this new album in terms of your back catalogue?
We only recently realised that Galvany Street has a lot in common with our debut album Memento in terms of its darker, adult moods. As much as it was our aim to create adult, serious electronic music, it wasn’t our intention to return to our roots, but we have received particularly good feedback from those people who grew up with electronic music together with us. Galvany Street is an electronic album, but not a club album.
You guys have been at the forefront of electronic music for over two decades now. What has got easier and what has got harder about staying in the game as it goes on?
It’s not so much about staying in the business game for us – and in recent years, particularly during the production phase of this album – it was more about finding way back to who we are and what we love to do. It´s easy to get lost in everyday routines, and it´s difficult to break with old habits and dare to walk a new road. At the end of the day, it´s always about personal growth, not the growth of your bank account. If it was that, then we´d not play live shows that are quite expensive for us to take on the road. But we are not DJs , we are musicians, and playing our own music on stage is what we do and what our audience loves us for.
Talk to us about a phrase you’ve used in interviews before: “positive melancholy”… Does this term come from a desire for the listener to feel something when they listen to your music?
Yes, we LOVE positive melancholy! In music it´s all about feeling, isn’t it ? That´s the beauty of it. Music touches your heart no matter what your cultural background is. We always felt this when we played instrumental music as they are no language boundaries. Now that we have Craig Walker singing on this new album, we do have lyrics, but Booka Shade is still all about atmospheres.
How do you feel your experience as ‘hired guns’ in the industry (producing for other people) laid the groundwork for Booka Shade?
In the beginning it helped in the way that Booka Shade was never about making money, because we earned our living producing for other people.The project Booka Shade was always about creating interesting music that we love. This gave us a lot of freedom, we never had the pressure to follow a trend that told us what music might be successful. Booka Shade was always different and never fit in a box.
You are known for your incredible live shows… How do these innovations come about? Is there improvisation from show to show and from tour to tour, or is everything carefully planned and minutely rehearsed?
We’re musicians, and playing our instruments is what we’re good at. Lately we’ve been enjoying spending more time in the studio again with songwriting and production, and it’s quite likely that we’ll do less touring in the future. But whenever we play live, it’s always a wonderful experience. We are privileged to having played a lot of amazing venues, such as the Royal Festival Hall in London last November. We´ll be on tour again in Europe in April / May to introduce the new album, and this time it´ll be small intimate club shows and – for the first time in our career – we will have a singer with us on stage.
Finally, how are you guys feeling about 2017? What challenges do you think musicians will face in these times of political upheaval and uncertainty, and how do you hope they will respond?
2016 brought some private changes and challenges for us that made us realise it was time for a reset and restart. There´s a lot of uncertainty in the world today, and the satisfying position of a musician is to have the hope that music will touch people’s hearts and give them enjoyment or comfort. I know it sounds quite hippie, but only if we listen to our hearts can we bring about change.
Galvany Street is out on April 7th through Blaufield Records. Catch the album launch that evening at The Printworks, London, where they will be performing live.
Here is the full tracklist:
1. Digging A Hole
2. Numb The Pain
4. Broken Skin
7. Eyes Open
8. Loneliest Boy
9. All Falls Down
10. All Of This And Nothing