Q+A: 5 Minutes with Calcou
German producer Calcou recently appeared on our radar with his downtempo single, ‘Below’ released via MFRD+C. The artist is classically trained, with his debut single, ‘Lfost’ having been selected by the Berlin Music Commission to represent Berlin’s infamous sound. Each of his following singles have had small jazz elements that pay homage to his creative background as a jazz pianist and lure the listener into a state of relaxation. The latest collection of Calcou’s work is expected to drop on the 20th of May in the form of the Places EP which also features the previously released singles, ‘Above’ and ‘Beyond’.
We were curious about the rising musician who’s earned himself a spot in our playlist and jumped at the chance to learn a little more about his creative process. Find it all in the exclusive interview below.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
My soccer career didn’t turn out as planned.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
Usually, it’s a sound that triggers me. It might be just the piano in my studio, it might be some glitchy, detuned synths but it might also be some strange noise from my daily surroundings.
Does your material feature any collaborations?
My latest single features Julian Mueller on vocals. We were collaborating on a side project and at one point I realized how beautiful his vocal take sounded chopped up and sampled. I just had to use it, even though it wasn’t planned as a collaboration in the first place.
What’s on your current playlist?
Probably too much to name it. When it comes to electronic music, you’ll find Bonobo, Weval, Ross from Friends, Janus Rasmussen, Howling, Stimming, Floating Points or Christian Löffler. But you might catch me as well listening to The Bad Plus, Robert Glasper, Yussef Kamaal or Brian Blade.
Right now I’m pretty excited about Moderat’s new album as they have defined electronic music for so long and it’s always fascinating for me to see where they’ll take it.
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
After a long covid-break I’m finally working on my new live-set and can’t wait to hit the stage again. I love to keep my set as open as possible for improvisation and interaction with the audience – that’s what makes it exciting, both for me and the fans.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
To me, it’s all about creating the unexpected. My whole workflow is based on not having a workflow. I just try to collect as much material as possible without judging. Then I’ll go through it, slowly sort out the parts I didn’t like and build an arrangement from the parts that surprised me the most. It would terribly bore me do just pull in some loops from splice, play a few chords on a synth and call it a demo.
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
I usually start early in the morning. If I can, I work on what feels right in the moment – that might be creating a song from scratch, it might be fine-tuning an arrangement or it might be mixing and finishing a song. I normally have several projects open at the same time and jump from one to another as soon as I get stuck. That really helps me to keep a fresh ear.
Most fun definitely is creating something new. You’ll then see me jumping around in the studio, hitting the drum kit, recording some hand percussion, playing piano and guitar, programming synths and drum machines or just drawing and fine-tuning automations in the DAW.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
I think to me the question never was “is this what I want to do” but rather “is this what I can do”? I knew I always wanted to be a musician – but how could I get there?
Luckily, I didn’t overthink it and just started creating music. And with every release, every gig, every new connection, every new record deal, publishing deal etc. it became more and more real.
So I would say it was a very gradual development rather than this one big moment that changed my life.
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
‘All Night Long’ by Lionel Richie. You never know when the crowd is ready.
Any emerging artists on your radar?
Mellowdine is certainly one to watch.
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Coffee, Nature, Sound, People.
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
Centrepiece of my studio is my MacBook running Ableton Live. I’m recording / monitoring through a UAD Apollo and also use most of their plugins for mixing. I have a pair of Adam S3V as main monitors and a pair of KS C5 as secondary speakers.
My newest acquisition is a Feurich piano which I absolutely love. A Sandberg Bass, a Fender Strat and a Sigma Dreadnought make my guitar section. Luckily I also have access to the beautiful Gretsch Drum Kit from the drummer of my Jazz trio. And last but not least, a DSI Pro 2, Nord Electro 5, Roland System 1, TR-8 and quite a few other synths for anything electronic.
Any side projects you’re working on?
When I’m not working on my own releases, I spend quite some time playing piano with my Jazz trio – the White Noise Trio. It’s a lot of fun creating music in real-time, improvising, playing live in those dirty Jazz clubs in Berlin and having some good nights with music and my friends.
Besides that, I’m composing for advertising campaigns. It’s a lot of fun to dive into these very specific briefings and create something that is far from what I would release myself.
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
I think collaborating with other people really helps to get some perspective on your own sound. You can learn so much from how other people approach music and that there is actually no right or wrong. YouTube is a big influence, too. There’s so much crazy good content out there – Disclosure breaking down their productions, Dave Pensado chatting with fellow mixing engineers, live sessions, concerts etc. I find it really important to stay curious and to be willing to learn and innovate rather than just repeating what you can do already.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
In May I will release my third EP and I’m already really excited about it. After that, I’ll lock myself in the studio and prepare my live set with some shows coming up towards the end of the year.
Famous last words?
It’s “Calcou”, not “Calcou”.
By Sarah Britton