If we were to describe The Vagabond Stories as being a rock and roll band with a distinct literary aura surrounding them, coursing through them, and centering them like the drum-beats that center their magnificent songs … we could be accused of damning with faint praise.
We don’t want that. Mostly, we don’t want our praise of The Vagabond Stories to come across as faint. Simply put, our introduction to the band’s spectacular EP, “The Lonesome Death of Hedonism” served as a necessary bit aural refreshment for the relentlessly-routed state of our rock and roll brain. “The Lonesome Death of Hedonism” imprinted itself on our landscape with a full, furious sound that strikes us as more communal than lonesome, more in control of its sonic desires than given over to a hectic hedonism, more full of life than a celebration of death.
So which part of this is “literary” and what does that even mean when it comes to the music of The Vagabond Stories”? We turn momentarily away from The Vagabond Stories home of Germany and away from our own American-centric perspective for the words of a French woman named Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette – no stranger herself to hedonism, both lonesome and living – who declares in her book titled “The Vagabond”: “I have found my voice again and the art of using it …”
Undoubtedly, The Vagabond Stories have found their voice and the art of using it. We feel fortunate to be able to receive that voice and equally fortunate to have many of the band members (Paul: floor-tom, guitar, perc., Moritz: drums, Niko: bass, Fabian: vocals/guitar, Thomas: guitar, and Susi: percussion, synth and vocals) respond to our ridiculous questions below. Enjoy.
Despite our preternatural lack of rhythm (evidenced by the spastic movements we call “dancing”), we remain fascinated by drumming and drummers, considering the drum to be the central element in most of the music we enjoy, the center around which all other elements gather. What first drew you to playing the drums? What was the most difficult aspect in regard to drumming when you first began? What do you find most difficult about drumming today? Which drummers remain a source of inspiration or fascination for you, and why?
Moritz: I heard that the first instrument the kids run to when entering a rehearsal room is the drums because it seems so joyful to hit on it. I think it was like that for me, too, only that I was 17 years when I started out. I always liked to play really repetitive with very little use of cymbals or fill-ins, almost like playing a riff on the drums. Some sort of pattern.
At some point I found it quite hard to come up with really “original” drumming; beats that you may not have heard a lot of times. I was trying and trying to find some new beats. I got quite frustrated over it. I was trying to think of beats only with my brain and not with the heart. At some point I realized that there is no such thing as “old” or “new” in terms of expression – especially expression in art – and that it’s just about wether what you do, in this case drumming, is alive or not. It took a lot of pressure from me. I think it’s a strange modern phenomenon to think too much, also about what has already been done and what not. It’s not a bad thing, per se: To go searching for new boundaries. But if it’s your only goal in making art, I think it’s also able to suck the life out of it. I do also write, and drumming just as typing is a really reduced language. That’s one of the reasons I like it so much. It is very, very direct.
Paul: Drummers which inspired me in the past were people like Buddy Rich. He does a great show, just because it all looks so easy and great fun … and of course he does the one handed roll. Which is quite impossible. Also Mitch Mitchell, the drummer of The Jimi Hendrix Expirience: Self-taught drumming and a lot of fill-ins. But these days they are not really an inspiration. Clearly there are songs that you like to re-enact but that has nothing to do with one drummer. I guess making music with different people is what inspires me, or maybe us, the most. No matter which instrument: You have to comunicate with each other and each person speaks in another way. Sometimes totally different. In any case, try to restrict yourself as little as possible! Simply go out. Either it fits or not becuase there are no rules.
More broadly, when did you fascination with music begin? Would you call music the primary artistic or creative impulse in your life – and why, or why not? Can you recall the first album or song that truly captured your attention in a sensational way, beyond mere enjoyment? What was it about that music that made such an impact on you? What are your feelings about that music today?
Fabian: For me, my primary artistic or creative impulse was skating and watching skating. When I was young it was a perfect way to be outside, see new things, be around open-minded people and to express yourself in a creative and somehow productive, though destructive way. It´s a truely free feeling, you stop thinking … it´s comparable to playing music.
And that, music, was always around. Early on, I was especially obsessed with the first Strokes record. I was listening to it for about three or four months in the winter everyday when I came back from school. It was something about the way it made me feel, it made me somehow feel comfortable. Musically, I cannot truly describe what I liked so much about it. I don’t know what exactly it was that had this special impact on me. Because now I dont especially like the guitars or the singing and I never really liked the drumming … it must have been something about the overall sound and some lyrics that made me fall in love with it.
At the same time, it was the banana record from the Velvets and Nico. But on that I would at first mainly like the more poppy tunes like “Sunday Morning.” And I immediatly fell in love with “If Love Is The Drug Then I Want To OD” from the BJM. The guitars, the repetition in the end … that was magic to me.
Moritz: I remember listening to a melody on a cheap Casio keyboard over and over again in the room where I played with friends as a little child. I repeated that melody over and over again. It had some sort of sailor-feeling to it. As if it could be sung far out at sea. A bit sad and nostalgic but also providing hope at the same time. That was the first song that really got me. When I heard it at a fleemarket the other day I recognized it already from twenty meters away and it gave me chills. I dont remember lot of things from the childhood years but when I hear that melody, I know quite well how I felt back then.
The Vagabond Stories is a very evocative name, one with overt literary ties. What does the name represent to you? If music and literature are both forms of communication, where do these two things intersect when it comes to The Vagabond Stories? When it comes to your own life in particular?
Thomas: Being very fascinated with the pureness and the dynamics of beatnik literature and its outcome, the name just came into our minds all of a sudden. I’d say that in some way, most of the music we are listening to has this dialogue between vocals and instruments. So it’s not only the lyrics carrying the meaning of the song, but also the instruments and especially the guitars, creating an epic atmosphere and expressing a feeling or a situation. Since the members of the band don’t live all in Berlin but also in Stuttgart, the band name was rather chosen by coincidence and then gained more and more appliance. For a few years already, at least one or two of us had to travel quite a long way to play concerts or even just to rehearse.
What can you tell us about the origin of The Vagabond Stories? Had the members played in any other projects together before coming together in this form? What has been the most pleasantly surprising part about playing with The Vagabound Stories thus far? What pleasant surprises do you wish to experience in the band’s future?
Thomas: We came together as friends with a certain fascination about modern guitar music and just started jamming a lot. After some time, you get sick of just improvising all the time and so we needed to start writing songs and to arrange them.
Niko: The most wonderful and surprising thing about our band is that we never know where our music is going. We try to be not too conceptional, not to stick to a certain genre too much This makes it difficult as well, cause the future stays very blurry, but it‘s fantastic at the same time. It emerges out of energies between us as people and playing together.
What can you tell us about the origin of the song “Eastern Highway”? We’re drawn to the songs outstanding mix of propulsive rhythm and neo-Eastern guitar lines, producing an explosive, mesmerizing effect. What imagery does the title – or the song in full – evoke in your mind? Are we hearing correctly when we hear the line, “The Western world, it drives me insane”? What does this line mean to you? Would you suspect that, were you a part of the Eastern world, you would be driven equally insane?
Fabian: It´s a longer story behind this song. When we wrote the guitar lines – we mostly start with that – we stayed out very long the day before. We managed to catch three hours of sleep, thanks to medicine. We awoke in my apartment in Stuttgart. We were all very dizzy and nervous or at least I was. We had breakfast listening to Turkish music that came from the apartment above. Beats like “boum-catchunka-boum, cathounka-boum.” This may have influenced the main spirit of the song. But I’ve been into eastern music and world music ever since I first heard beautiful tunes in kebab stores. When the evening approached the colours finally got darker and we went to a friends place. We had a smoke and jammed on balalaika and guitar. The main guitar riffs walked towards us. We brought it into the rehearsal room, added drums, bongos, and structure. I wrote spontaneous lyrics. Two days later we recorded the song.
You’re right hearing that line. It fits on a day when you wake up from three nervous hours of sleep and walk through Stuttgart. The city is all filled with expensive cars, wealth, police and straight-headed minds. And it´s clean as hell, so if you feel a bit dirty or criminal you´re having the feeling of being watched all the time. Basically it is capitalism everywhere.
Well, what I really wanted to express is the need to get away from a city that is too degenerated, decadent and unbalanced. Thats what the “eastern highway” is all about. The need for the western world to change. To be fair there are still a lot of cool and creative people in Stuttgart – maybe because of this tension between the shit surrounding you and the will to make it better.
I’m not sure what kind of being I would be if I was born in the eastern world. Maybe a stone and I don´t know if a stone could be insane or not…
To what degree do you think the band’s home in Germany has influenced your sound? We’ve held a fascination with the music and art of post-WWII Germany for many years – from krautrock to Kreator and beyond – but we wonder if we aren’t just being cultural carpetbaggers, as it were, or perhaps dilettantish in our appreciation. Does modern (late 20th/21st century) German music hold the same fascination for you? Why or why not?
Moritz: At first it influenced us in that we did not want to be anything at all like other German bands, because there was (and for the most part, still is) almost only radio-pop-rock-clichés. You get more inspiration from drinking a sip of water. But yes, when I discovered Krautrock a little bit later, I loved it and I think we all still do. It is very free, very artistic music.
We had the pleasure of meeting you here in the United States, as you filled in on drums for The Blue Angel Lounge during their American tour with The Brian Jonestown Massacre. How much advance notice did you have in regard to this temporary venture? What, if anything, gave you the most pause about the journey? What were the most enjoyable or illuminating experiences you had during your time with The Blue Angel Lounge and/or The BJM?
Moritz: Mel (The Guitarist) called me up two months before the tour. We only rehearsed four times. Fortunately, we had a small Poland tour before the States (with a, let’s say, energetic driver that carried a baseball bat next to the gearstick – he called it “the translator”). That was good to get used to the songs and all the troubles you have to face on tour like, “put your smelly feet somewhere else!” No, really, the thing that was quite hard for me is that you don’t have a room for yourself, where you can just chill down and think – you are surrounded by people 24/7. It took me a while to get used to that, to build up some mental refugee camps. It’s quite exhausting.
In the States we barely had time to do anything – we drove 10.000 km in 17 days. I saw the States basically through the backwindow of our car. One of the most illuminating moments in the States was driving through some lunar landscapes listening to, and it’s funny because Fabian just mentioned it, The Strokes. I am not a very nostalgic person, in fact I don’t really like a melancholic approach towards life – I guess that’s one of the few things that seperated me from the BAL-fellows, a lot of rather grey music in the car – and so I was quite sceptical if I actually wanted to hear it since I link it so much to the past. But as soon as the first tones hit, Mel and I were celebrating the record a lot. We sang every song at full voice. It was very joyful to watch those wide open landscapes with honest music that also carries that colourful spirit. “We’re not enemies, we just disagree … We all disagree, I think we should disagree, yeah …”
Walking trough the steep streets of San Francisco on a mild, windy afternoon gave me a great feeling (thinking of Sixto Rodriguez), and having some margaritas with cool local musicians in a cheap, worn-down bar in L.A. (thinking of Charles Bukowski) and all the swimming pools and the last evening at a big mansion on a hill outside of L.A., underneath the stars.
What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite Neu! song of all time and why?
Thomas: Connan Mockasin, Disappears, Bill Callahan and lots of African music from the 70s. Favourite Neu! Song: “Fur Immer,” because the song is still being played in my mind.
Another German dude we like a lot was named Hermann Hesse, and though we think he spent time playing drums with Kreator, Sodom and Destruction, we’re more certain that he wrote the following in his book, “Demian”:
“Science as we know it today was unknown to antiquity. Instead there existed a preoccupation with philosophical and mystical truths which was highly developed. What grew out of this preoccupation was to some extent merely pedestrian magic and frivolity; perhaps it frequently led to deceptions and crimes, but this magic, too, had noble antecedents in a profound philosophy. As, for instance, the teachings concerning Abraxas which I cited a moment ago. This name occurs in connection with Greek magical formulas and is frequently considered to be the name of some magician’s helper such as certain uncivilized tribes believe in even at present. But it appears that Abraxas has much deeper significance. We may conceive of the name as that of the godhead whose symbolic task is the uniting of godly and devilish elements.”
Niko: Although I don‘t understand exactly what Mr. Hesse is trying to tell me here: I really love his writings. He is definitely one of the most influential persons on my life and my art. In “Narcissus and Goldmund” he drew a mirror of my personality: And in doing so, he demonstrated me the possibility to walk my life in a different way. The two main characters, Goldmund, a person who wanders around and lives the life of a rootless poet and artist, and Narcissus, a deeply religious Catholic priest, showed me that there are different ways of living a meaningful life despite the classic middle-class bourgeois path. In identifying these thruths in the time of my youth, I‘m now able to make music and write, and I am not just looking for the next big house and a cute baby bath tub.
Moritz: That’s funny – I just finished writing an essay entitled “The Arrogance of Science” about a similar topic. How science tries to take the only ownership of the term truth in the modern world. And how neuro-science leads us to strange paths of seeing the abilities of a person. Although there are plenty of other views on the world that are not more or less plausible then the scientific one and sometimes even less dangerous. So I can identify a lot with that quote!
What’s next for The Vagabond Stories?
We just released our 7-track EP, “The Lonesome Death of Hedonism.” It is completely handmade using silk-screen printing and comes with a poster.
After being seperated in between Stuttgart and Berlin for two years, in which we basically just played live, the whole band lives in lovely Berlin right now and we are finally able to write a lot of new songs and bring some fresh air to older ones.
We are also working on a music video right now and plan to tour in autumn.