The following article was published in N-SPHERE August 2011 issue.


:: Gertrud Stein is a relatively new project in the electro/new wave scene. How did it come into being?
Gertrud started it in my bedroom with the cover of Tanze Samba mit mir, after the unearthing of my old post-punk tapes following a particularly cheesy disco night. It has also been suggested it might have been a reaction to the artistic concept of the band named Nouvelle Vague.

:: For the moment, there is only one person behind it, also for the live shows. Is this set-up ideal for what you have in mind, or do you want to expand it in the future?
Well, Gertrud is a bit like a retro futuristic folk singer… Think of Tracy Chapman in a spaceship, i.e. I have the computer and synths instead of the guitar. So Gertrud basically sings whatever comes to her mind whenever and however she needs to say it. That leaves little room for someone else – particularly if this someone else were to write lyrics for example. But Gertrud collaborates on occasion with other people. She is currently trying to convince a friend to come and play the ukulele for the next gig. People are welcome. All, except drummers.

:: While seeing one of your live performances in Berlin, an instant thought regarding the aesthetics was the film Liquid Sky. Was that a conscious choice? How do those visual elements fit together with your project?
I have never seen the aforementioned movie, except for the little bit that’s on Youtube. The fashion show. I like it. I like the aesthetics. But the music is dreadful.
No, the inspiration to the video band comes from the Jilted John video on TOTP. And I’ve actually robbed the idea from a friend who had his flatmates dancing on a video while he was playing guitar. I thought that looked awesome. Oh and stupid playback performances on TV as well, where the instruments don’t match with what you hear. I think that always makes great TV.
And anyway, having no band members I thought it would look funnier to have Gertrud and a false band playing rather than just watch me fumble some buttons and dials on a synth. I can’t sing and play at the same time anyway, so that would have sounded awful.

:: Interesting name reference for your project. Gertrude Stein asserted at some point that »everyone gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.« She almost seems to have predicted the information overload we get nowadays. How receptive are you to the music, film and media surrounding you? What influences you during the work process on your songs?
I am going to disappoint you: I didn’t know much about Gertrude Stein when I chose the name. It actually comes from a song on an album by Jeff and Jane Hudson. They have a song called Gertrude Stein. I just liked the sound of it, and the fact that Gertrud is a totally silly name…! Now I have read a few of her things. But I don’t refer to her writings at all.
I have very little concern for the prevailing trends in contemporary music, in particular the mainsteam output that’s thrown at us. I am actually most happy when I am sitting quietly in a field, somewhere in the green, away from the city and the noise.
Of course I also have my little cocoon of Scandinavian cinema, and movies with a surreal touch, of listening to drama on BBC, and the music I like. Mostly 80’s stuff… some classical, some foreign stuff… What inspires me most is actually some kind of longing for better things, it’s a feeling.

:: Gertrude Stein also coined the term »lost generation« referring to the condition of artists in XXth century America. Do you believe we could talk about a »lost generation« nowadays in relation to music, and if yes, what does it gaze at and what does it oppose?
In connection to your project: why the interest in Modernism? How have Modernist writings/artworks influenced you through the making of your first album?
Not really. My music doesn’t deal with this. I don’t refer to it.

:: You perform both in English and German. Would you in a sense consider German more »effective« for electro/new wave related tracks because of its rhythm flow or maybe simpler structures?
Simpler structures in German?!!? No English has easier structures I think…But it’s true that I like the German rhythm… It works well with some songs… DAF wouldn’t work in another language.
English is my thinking language… my intimate language… I don’t know, it’s hard to explain.
It just comes to my mind in one language or the other. I have tried translating stuff sometimes from one language to the other but it just doesn’t work, so I just leave it in whatever language it comes to my mind. Occasionally one song will start in English and finish in German… whatever.
One language I will never sing in though is French.

:: Regarding your live performances, you seem to be focusing on creating effective minimal sets for both the audio setup and the visuals. What instruments do you generally use?
I have a couple of retro synths, drumboxes and a computer. I have a complete studio… but I have given up doing most music from home… Most of the ideas happen under the shower anyway, so by the time one gets to the studio it’s gone. It’s a lot more practical.
And I don’t care about good mics etc anymore… I used to care a lot about sound quality – recording etc… I am a trained sound engineer and I used to produce electronic music like techno, minimal electro etc. I would put hours into polishing a snare drum sound for example… Now I don’t give much shit about it anymore… Of course I like it when a track sounds nice, but if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t…

:: Concerning your visuals – how do you usually make a video and what do you use as material/setting during the process?
Well I had just one month to do the video, so I bought a camera, and we went to a friend’s place, covered the walls with black curtains, and went filming… Very very basic really. I then spent a few long nights editing in my room.

:: Would you say that Gertrud Stein is ideal for an indoor listening or does it become more powerful onstage, in a live a setting?
It’s best listened to while standing atop a collapsing dam.

:: Besides doing music, you are also a DJ, what interesting events have you been involved in so far and how pliant are you concerning your playlists? Do you have some tracks that you enjoy spinning no matter the event?
I just want to be able to play the stuff I like. Sounds like a very basic demand, but it’s not always as simple to implement as it sounds.
Regarding tracks I enjoy playing, I must admit that I have this taste for Schlager that has the unfortunate tendency to manifest itself after a few drinks, no matter what musical direction the night is. That has sometimes caused a few strange looks. But in the end they were all dancing away. Gertrud knows what’s best!

:: On your official myspace page, you’ve included: »Gertrud is happy to play anything pre 1988. Gertrud is happy to play anything post 2001«. How come the gap between 1988 and 2001? Would you also draw a parallel between some of the music released during the 80s and post-2000?
Well most of the music was shit, wasn’t it… What did we get? Losers in pyjamas unearthing the rock’n’roll poser thing… or doing the rap poser thing… The great blossoming of the bimbo. It’s all shit. It even gets worse during the 00’s… In the beginning of the 90’s we did get early techno. That was fun at least. And I liked the whole Madchester Britpop thing… What now? Just trying to think about it is mind numbing… There is so much stupid music around. Or conversely music that takes itself too serious for its own good …
I quite enjoyed the electroclash thing… but I suspect that many were also doing just their version of the poser thing by copying what they perceived as being only a pose… namedropping Depeche Mode because it sounded cool to do so…
I felt more love for the posing than love for music in that scene. Very narcississic…  and not in a funny way.
Now a few years have passed and you don’t see or read anything about the electroclash people anymore, so their music has become quite enjoyable.
Gertrud is a bit my impersonation of the ideal 80’s… The 80’s of the awesome music, the amazing haircuts, the pointy shoes, the make-up, the new romantics. The 80’s as a mirror counterpart image of everything that sucks nowadays. That’s Gertrud.

:: I think we’re witnessing a resurgence of the 1990’s in music, growing especially in the self-entitled witch house/ghost drone scene – many musicians seem to have adopted colourful 90s aesthetics in their projects. What’s your take on that and do you think it could become a point of interest for Gertrud Stein as well?
Well, I have already uttered my mind to the 90’s.


questions | Diana Daia

answers | Gertrud Stein

photo| Gertrud Stein by Aurélie Genoud-Prachex. Courtesy of the artist

Full article here.