THE BLUE ANGEL LOUNGE

24 Apr

 If judged only by their name, one might be tempted to associate The Blue Angel Lounge with those poor souls stuck staring only into the prism of the past.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as any of the fortunate souls who have deeply listened to – or heard live – the sounds of The Blue Angel Lounge will surely testify.

Rather, this German band strikes these ears as conscious explorers of sound, using the past only for purposes of orientation and as a launching point for moving forward, for determining what comes next. Some might call that merging of the past and the present in their sound as being the sound of something not old or new, but eternal. Some might also say that their forthcoming EP – “Ewig” – is eternal in both name and deed.

The Blue Angel Lounge have taken flight – both literally and figuratively – toward what comes next in both their sound and their spirit. As they begin their second visit to these United States with the honor of a tour with perhaps the unquestionable masters of that bending of time and space, The Brain Jonestown Massacre, it’s no surprise that both are among the most anticipated artists to perform at this year’s Austin Psych Fest.

We feel more than fortunate to have the chance to see The Blue Angel Lounge perform live again this year at Austin Psych Fest, and more than fortunate to share this interview with keyboardist Theo Berwe. Enjoy.

One of the first things that ever caught our eye in regard to The Blue Angel Lounge your song title, “LSD and The Search for God.” What can you tell us about the origin of this song? Can we be so rude as to ask whether this title was chosen in tribute to the psychedelic pioneers of years past, or from your own personal experiences? How has playing in The Blue Angel Lounge altered your perception of God – if at all, and assumed you have one to begin with?

We were young, naive and searching for a particular direction our music should belong to. In this kind of scene, it’s the unspoken rule that you have to write a song about drugs to become part of it, and so we did. Well, of course we knew the band and it’s where we got the title from.

Today we’re happy to say that this song is the only track dealing with drugs in such an obvious way. Actually, we’re not a drug band – we would rather write about feelings, impressions and several other things that surround us, but a lot of people misinterpret that.

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The name of the band, as we understand it, is a reference to a long-ago nightclub in Manhattan, one where Nico began her singing career. What was your first introduction to Nico and her music? Do you feel any particular connection to her art given that you share a country of birth, or is it a strictly artistic and aesthetic admiration?

We don’t think of Nico as a typical German artist. She isn’t popular in Germany at all (a fate she has in common with almost every good German band). What fascinates us about her music is its incomparable depth. Listening to Nico is like a trip into the abyss and you never know how (if at all) you’ll come back. She was clearly a lost and driven character. If you have reached a certain point of nihilism, you cross a point of no return and you get caught in a weird state somewhere between (normal) life, which looks like a bad joke from this point of view, and the absolute void. Maybe that’s what happened to Nico. Her music is the manifestation of being lost and blank despair. But if you are really able to accept the darkness and give yourself up for the moment, you may discover unbelievable beauty. In their most radical form, sorrow and happiness boil down to one overwhelming feeling.

How have you seen your own musical palette expand since playing with The Blue Angel Lounge? What are some of the most meaningful bands or albums in your world that you might not have ever been introduced to without being involved with The Blue Angel Lounge? Is there a particular area of musical interest of yours that is decidedly not shared by the other members of the band?

Of course our range has expanded ever since we started the band, even though the main focus and taste is still the same. While working on “Narcotica,” we listened to a lot of 80s music and you can definitely notice the influence on the record. If someone in the band is really confident and enthusiastic about an artist, sooner or later, we will all give it a chance and 90 percent of the time, it will manifest in our music – consciously or unconsciously. The Blue Angel Lounge is the tree trunk and everybody follows his own way like branches. But in the end it certainly belongs together.

Anton Newcombe assisted the band in the recording of the stunning “Narcotica” album. What did you learn from his approach in the studio that still informs how you make music today? How do you think the band has evolved since recording “Narcotica”?

Actually, all songs on Narcotica were written before we went to the studio. So Anton’s direct influence on the songs was limited somehow. He visited us in the studio and participated on two tracks (“Delete My Ideals” and “Darklands”). Apart from songwriting Anton seems to have a similar approach in the way he works. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on setting up microphones or twisting EQs. We recorded “Melloch,” one of the songs off our new ep with him and soundwise, it’s maybe the best compromise so far between spontaneity during the recording process, good studio equipment and additional editing afterwards. In this regard we were not perfectly happy with “Narcotica,” because it lacks the roughness and the lo-fi character of the first record. However, there is at least one big difference between Anton and us: Anton gives a lot weight to drums and beats while we want to have the drums as simple as possible.

Your song “Die Away As One In Time” also delivers some of the most undeniable atmosphere, like the merging of a funeral dirge with a love song from the early days of rock and roll. What can you tell us about this song? Was it written with one particular person in mind, or did you set out to create a more general atmosphere?

The song is on our first album, by the way. And of course it was written with a particular person in mind. The initial triggers for our songs are in almost all cases events and people from our direct environment. However, we don’t try to turn these events into  concrete stories, but rather to create a more general atmosphere which reflects the impressions the events had on us. Therefore, listening to our music can have a highly individual impact, because maybe the specific atmosphere of a song reminds you of a personal event.

“Die Away As One In Time” is exactly about the person you think of when you listen to the song.

What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what’s your favorite song by The Black Angels and why?

I doubt anyone of us have been listening to the Black Angels lately. We really loved the older stuff back then, but we don’t like the third record. Some of the recent videos I saw had a more acoustic touch though, which seems to fit pretty well. So, we are curious about their future development.

One of the few contemporary artists that engaged our attention are Amen Dunes. They’re going to play the Psych Fest as well this year, but unfortunately we won’t be able to see their show. Mostly, we’re still trying to catch up with the last six decades of music culture.

We were quite literally awestruck by your performance at Austin Psych Fest in 2011, with a very clear memory of standing entranced in the very back of the room, our jaw making contact with the floor. What was your experience like? What bands made an impression on you live at the Fest? What bands are you looking forward to seeing this year?

The show in Austin was the highlight of a fantastic trip. It was the first time in the U.S. for all of us and especially Austin made a great impression on us. Live bands in every bar and an atmosphere of openness that reminded us of some Mediterranean cities. We really enjoyed hanging out at the festival – the whole weekend in this beautiful scenery with lots of good music. Actually, the waitresses in the backstage room were already whispering, “Oh, the Germans again,” because we intensively explored their alcoholic supplies.

Regarding music: We were blown away by the performance of Indian Jewelry last year. A Place to Bury Strangers did a really powerful performance as well. We are not too much into this classic jam psychedelic stuff, thus some bands sounded somehow redundant to us.

This year we won’t get to Austin until Sunday, so no more whispering waitresses this time. Unfortunately, most bands we would love to see this year are scheduled to play Friday or Saturday – e.g. Psychic Ills, Amen Dunes and Peaking Lights.

What are the necessary elements for a good live performance in your mind? Do you find that playing music can deliver you to a mild (or perhaps not so mild) altered state? Do you think of yourself or the band as feeding off of the reception and energy of the assembled audience, or does your experience on stage feel entirely separate?

A good live performance combines the auditory and the visual experience. Ideally, there is reciprocal feedback between artist and audience. The best shows are those when you completely stop thinking and start doing. You can forget yourself and form something like a supra-individual entity. There are certainly shows where you don’t reach this state and remain self-controlled. Perhaps these shows are musically better in terms of accuracy, but they’re lacking something more important. And it’s pretty obvious that technical perfection is not our main goal anyway.

Altered states? I’m pretty sure we all know that music can do that!

German philosopher Martin Buber said the following in his book, “Ich und Du”:

“Some would deny any legitimate use of the word God because it has been misused so much. Certainly it is the most burdened of all human words. Precisely for that reason it is the most imperishable and unavoidable. And how much weight has all erroneous talk about God’s nature and works (although there never has been nor can be any such talk that is not erroneous) compared with the one truth that all men who have addressed God really meant him? For whoever pronounces the word God and really means Thou, addresses, no matter what his delusion, the true Thou of his life that cannot be restricted by any other and to whom he stands in a relationship that includes all others.”

Your thoughts?

A lot of German philosophers have said a lot of stuff about God. If we had to decide, I think we’d stick to Nietzsche’s: “Gott ist todt! Gott bleibt todt! Und wir haben ihn getödtet!”

And if you argue that Buber doesn’t talk about God at all in this quote, you’re certainly right.

What’s next for The Blue Angel Lounge?

The next big step of course is the West Coast tour with BJM (including Austin Psych Fest) and the release of our new EP, “Ewig,” on May 1st. We will go back into the studio and work on new material for our third album during summer/fall.

The Blue Angel Lounge

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