A band that does not limit itself in terms of the music it plays, travels its own road and lets borders between genres blur in a wonderful way. With “Die Wand” (Sessionwork Records), the Viennese trio SAIN MUS + delivers an album that becomes more and more a real listening experience from note to note. CLEMENS SAINITZER (cello, electronics), PHILIPP ERASMUS (guitar, electronics) and drummer DANIEL RAMSTORFER, who recently joined the duo, spoke with Michael Ternai about the impossibility of positioning their music as regards genre or style, the relevance of improvisation for the creation of their tunes and the importance of constant development.
With your new album “Die Wand” you are walking on new musical paths. Especially by adding drums to the duo this becomes obvious. How and why did this decision come about?
Clemens Sainitzer: We’ve always had a very strong rhythmic component in our music, a groove that you might not expect from the combination of cello and guitar. The drums were simply supposed to amplify this element. Another reason why we decided to do this was that we’ve known Daniel for a very long time and it’s just a lot of fun to play with him. It really works out very well on a personal level too.
Daniel, how difficult was it for you to get into the musical world of Sain Mus?
Daniel Ramstorfer: Actually not that much at all. I had often played with Philipp in another band before Sain Mus. So we already knew each other very well musically. And with Clemens too I did something here and there. So it wasn’t that difficult for me to get into this project.
“We told ourselves we wanted to try something new.”
Was Daniel involved in the songwriting process for the new album right from the beginning?
Clemens Sainitzer: Yes. The three of us worked on the songs. It wasn’t like Phillip and I took anything to the rehearsals, and then we worked it all out there. We told ourselves that we wanted to try something new. As it always happens with us, something concrete came out of jamming and a free approach. And I think that the new songs are already very different from the old ones. Of course we still play these live, but sometimes in a different shape.
Philipp Erasmus: Some old songs don’t work in the new constellation either. Since Clemens and I have been playing together for so long, Sain Mus is already a thing of its own. Maybe it wasn’t always so easy for Daniel to find his way into it. With some of the old songs, it simply doesn’t make sense to play the drums. After two rehearsals, we said to ourselves: “Let’s just play”. We practically did what Clemens and I always do when we’re together, we simply improvise. Luckily we recorded this rehearsal, because three or four songs developed from these things. And we continued to work like that. The result was that, in the end, completely different things emerged than if we had worked as a duo.
Clemens Sainitzer: That’s why I think Sain Mus + is a new story for us.
So, one can generally say that the album would have gone in a completely different direction without the drums.
Clemens Sainitzer: I would even say that the album wouldn’t even exist. It’s a separate story, but it still suits us.
Philipp Erasmus: The songs that are on the album would not work at all without the drums.
“When I’m asked about it, I always like to talk about informed popular music”.
If one listens to the new album, one notices above all a great stylistic variety. The previous releases were already characterized by this. How did you get there? You studied jazz too.
Clemens Sainitzer: Phillip and I met about 300 years ago in the parish of Hernals. There we also started to make music together. At some point we both started to study jazz, one of the reasons being that we simply wanted to get the tools we needed to realize our musical ideas. Jazz served as a starting point.
As far as our music and its assignment to a certain genre is concerned, I believe that this is relatively difficult. Whenever I’m asked about it, I always like to talk about informed popular music. We are not necessarily jazz, nor rock or hip-hop. We’re moving somewhere in between and are making music that in a way encapsulates all that. And that is also the case with Sain Mus +. There’s a lot in our music, from minimal music to funk. It’s a very unique musical universe that we are creating for ourselves.
Philipp Erasmus: I must honestly say that I don’t really care about what our music would be called in terms of genre. I remember my first duo in which I worked with a friend who also sang. At some point we started to discuss about which direction to take. From that moment on it became difficult because I didn’t care and he said that he wanted to go into this and that direction. I don’t really think about it at all, I just play what comes out of me. Sometimes I like this, sometimes that.
Daniel Ramstorfer: To explain these things to an outsider is difficult. I think the album has something for all music lovers.
Clemens Sainitzer [laughs]: Is this a sales pitch right now?
Philipp Erasmus [laughs]: Daniel is now taking over our marketing.
Clemens Sainitzer: We are already dealing with genres during rehearsals. And we also say to ourselves: “Let’s play this part like this or that”. Or: “Let’s go about this part like this.” So the part then already falls into a category, but more in the sense that we know how to reproduce it. But the genesis of the moment always comes from improvisation, from not thinking about what it might be.
Is there actually a style or genre you might not consider?
Clemens Sainitzer: For me there’s actually nothing that’s not possible. I find it exciting when you take things, process them into your own sound and turn them into something personal. Now I don’t want to say that it’s very likely that we will suddenly incorporate London underground techno from the 1980s into our music, it’s probably too special for that. But on the other hand, and if it fits and feels good, why not.
Daniel Ramstorfer: We are open to everything. And I believe that our instrumentation makes it easier for us. Even if we were to play a polka, our playing would give it that Sain Mus + touch per se. It would be the same if we were to include a black metal element in any part of our music, for example.
“The music on the album is simply the music that the three of us are playing in our rehearsal room.”
A lot of your stuff is created spontaneously. With this method, do you already have in mind at the beginning what the result will sound like? Or are you letting yourselves be surprised where the path will lead you?
Clemens Sainitzer: Even if it’s probably not that good from a marketing point of view, I have to say that it’s more of the second. But I think that’s what makes it honest and authentic. And that’s important to me. The music on the album is simply the music that the three of us are playing in the rehearsal room.
Philipp Erasmus: The title track “Die Wand” is probably a very good example here. In the beginning we already had a little idea: we wanted to play something long, steady and aggressive. Actually the whole number consists of a drum solo. We’re playing the same stuff all the time and Daniel plays a solo over it. We played the tune once or twice live and thought that something was missing. But the tune was already recorded. So now, when we’re playing it live, there’s a kind of dubstep part attached to it, and who knows, maybe it will become an even longer piece in the future. That’s a constant evolution.
“If we went into the studio next week and re-recorded the stuff, I’m sure it would be different.
Daniel Ramstorfer: Nothing is set in stone when the tunes are recorded. They can always continuously develop.
Clemens Sainitzer: I’m also seeing the album format more as a kind of snapshot than a finished thing. If we went into the studio next week and re-recorded the stuff, it would certainly be different. And I find this very exciting about our approach. Especially live, because the songs change every time we’re playing them. That transforms every concert into a new experience.
What your music does very well is to create an atmosphere. Wild and fierce parts alternate with wonderful lyrical parts in a highly-charged way. The pieces sound very elaborate. How strongly do you pay attention to details?
Clemens Sainitzer [laughs]: Should we lie or be serious? It’s just that moments like these are always happening spontaneously. It’s a story that always goes that way. It was already like that with the duo and it’s no different with the trio. We don’t elaborate on anything in a particular way.
Philipp Erasmus: The tune “M6” is a good example. The way we recorded it in the studio, it originally began as a trio. But after we listened to it, we agreed that somehow it didn’t feel coherent. We just told ourselves then: “Let’s just cut out half of the drums part and see what happens.” That’s what we did and suddenly the tune had a beginning with a lot more impact. This actually happens often that way.
Are there things or circumstances from outside that influence your music? Does a good day or a bad one decide where it all goes?
Clemens Sainitzer: As a matter of fact, I have to say that by building on a collectivist, improvisational concept, we also have really bad rehearsals. We all have many other projects going, but what makes Sain Mus so special is that we are very much dependent on the mood in the room or what we feel like, whether we’re having a good or a bad day. Since we don’t play by notes, we can’t just say, “Well, we’re going to play this and that program from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.”. Since this element doesn’t exist, there are only extremely cool rehearsals and rehearsals where we actually don’t play anything. But I think it’s also very important that something doesn’t work out, like you’re playing and checking out patterns, but it simply isn’t happening. That’s part of the game.
For the cover of “Die Wand” you have also thought of something special. As I understood, the artist Thomas Schrenk is making a separate cover for each of the first 200 copies.
Philipp Erasmus: For me it has always been a big concern to combine something else with an album, like an interestingly designed, individual cover. This also gives space to other artists.
Clemens Sainitzer: We already did something similar with our first release. At that time, Jakob Maul, an artist friend of ours, took great photos of us, which we then used as covers. In that way the people who bought our CD were not only able to enjoy our music, but also got to know Jakob’s work.
Philipp Erasmus: For our second album we already had the idea to make different CD-printouts and design them individually. But since such a thing is very complex, we ended up with four different covers. For the trio album I took up this idea again. I thought about numbering the CDs or writing something individual on them. But that is very expensive. The compromise was to take a cardboard box that has a grain that is very individual and keep it empty on the front side. We’ve known Thomas Schrenk for quite a while. His paintings are created in such a way that the paint dries and thus changes. Afterwards he processes these paintings in various ways: he works over them, steps on them and so on, so that they get an individual structure from the cracks. These paintings are usually huge and divided into tiles. I photographed several of these tiles and made 200 labels out of them. And these are now stuck onto the first 200 CDs.
Thank you very much for the interview!
Translated from the German original by Julian Schoenfeld