MONOPHOBE is a producer and beatmaker, but also a solo artist and currently involved in projects with LEYYA, SIXTUS PREISS, LEFT BOY, 5K HD and BILDERBUCH. His debut EP “Throwback” was released in 2015 by “Shash Records”, followed by “Double Tap” on the Slovak label “Gergaz” and by a lot of remixes for different acts. He himself describes his sound as “quirky, club, electronic-experimental music”. In an interview with Ada Karlbauer, MAXIMILIAN WALCH aka MONOPHOBE talked about the relationship between production and mix, finding one’s musical identity, fugal writing, how early baroque vocal music is translated into his own work, about expectations, evaluation systems, and the connection between Mark Rothko and “Proleten-Disco”.
“I Like Order” – An interview with Monophobe (Maximilian Walch)
At the Amadeus Music Awards 2019 you and Marco Kleebauer were awarded the recording studio prize “Best Sound” for the Bilderbuch album “Mea Culpa”. How did you perceive the sometimes controversial music event?
Maximilian Walch: I don’t deal with it that much, I don’t see it that way with this political issue about art. I always have the feeling that when it comes to publicity it’s ultimately a matter of short-term decisions, it doesn’t matter which side it comes from. Either you say, “I’ll stay away from it,” or you say, “I didn’t win anything, so now I’m complaining.” You also present yourself in this way. I think it would be much nicer to use such a platform for a dialogue and, despite your own reservations and conflicts, go there and consider how you can make use of this platform from the inside out. But I think it’s good, because this kind of prize definitely attracts attention. One person, who is not so unimportant, recently said to me: “It is actually the most important prize in the German-speaking world”, because the Echo no longer exists, and therefore, why not turn it into a positive moment? I prefer to use my time for something more positive than constant finger pointing. That only keeps you from reaching out to each other.
“DECIDE WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT, NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE ELSE WRITES ABOUT IT.”
Maximilian Walch: I think it’s important overall: Don’t read so much and listen a bit more and don’t read so much about music, but rather listen to it yourself. Decide whether you like it or not, no matter what someone else writes about it. It’s like film reviews, it’s not about whether something is sold or not. You sometimes read that a music journalist expected something different from an artist, and because this expectation wasn’t met for this person, she doesn’t like the album and it gets a bad review because of that. Whether someone wins a music prize or whether you give an album 8.5 out of 10 or 4 out of 10 points is related to each other, that is also a certain kind of evaluation.
Collaboration is an essential part of your artistic work. How does this complement your activities as a solo producer?
Maximilian Walch: I am alone a lot, but funnily enough it is then fully invigorating during collaboration. For example, when I work with Left Boy, we always work together without sending things back and forth. It’s also nice because I do have the feeling that something completely different comes out of a real collaboration in the end, when two heads really have to fight it out spontaneously with each other. I spend relatively little time going out, but when I then work with someone, I like to keep close.
I realise that when I´m working a lot with other people, the creative source dries up. Then I know that I have to take more time for myself, go back on the lookout and do research. That’s precisely why I’m appreciated to a certain extent for bringing my ideas and skills to cooperative ventures. The exchange about one’s own art takes place digitally, but the collaboration is almost always analogue.
“PRODUCTION AND MIXING ARE NOT SEPARATE FOR ME, IT’S ALL ABOUT EMOTION”
What are you working on right now?
Maximilian Walch: Recently my focus was on the latest album of 5K HD, which is just finishing up, that has been in development. It’s often the case that you originally decide what the collaboration should look like, then you get involved in a project or things change and the kind of collaboration changes with it. Originally we assumed that I would only do the sound mixing, we also said early on that we would try that out with production. They’re all great musicians and I’m happy that I’m able to pull some strings.
Maximilian Walch: The nice thing about producing and mixing at the same time is that it’s all about sound and aesthetics. For me, production and mixing are not separate, it’s all about emotion and always about sound. Many questions in production are solved if, for example, I tackle something early in the mix and I ask myself how something specific should sound like. Suddenly there is some space and I go back to the production. You always have different options, the whole thing is more flexible if you are involved until the end.
How important is emotion for your way of working?
Maximilian Walch: In the end it’s always about emotions, even if you don’t understand the language, its complexities or starting point. Imagine you wake up for the first time in your life and hear something and that’s what you hear, then you shouldn’t reject it because it’s too complex for your ears, but you still need some emotional access to it. Maybe that was a small part of my job with the project. That you allow complexity, but not just for complexity’s sake, but as another color, another stylistic device for those who want to speak that language. Nevertheless, it makes the whole thing accessible on an emotional level.
Through the Bilderbuch project I learned a lot about songwriting because I got so deeply into the music. Something I hadn’t considered for myself before. I want to write more songs in my quirky, weird, club, electronic-experimental music style. By working with 5K HD in the same way, I can only emphasise once again how incredibly talented these musicians are, each and every one of them is second to none in their field. At the beginning you ask yourself what you can even contribute.
Looking at your discography: There are almost the same number of remixes as solo numbers. What potentials does the remix have as a form?
Maximilian Walch: Since my first solo release in 2015, I’ve released as many remixes as solo numbers. I just like doing it, that’s why the collaboration with other artists works so well. I like to take something and reinterpret it. I take a song, don’t touch the voice at all and just look at how the mood changes. How can I reinterpret the text by adding a different harmonic context, adding different chords? This sometimes even changes the way you understand the existing text. This is the most interesting thing: How can I reinterpret a text with instrumental accompaniment?
I just do a lot of different things. I’ve often thought about how many different solo projects I could do because the sound is so different. So perhaps the next step towards the first album, there is material like sand at the sea [laughs]. It’s just about arranging it, defining yourself and saying, “That’s what I want to be to the outside world.”
“YOU THINK TOO MUCH.”
Finding an artistic identity is a major difficulty in so-called FOBO times (“Fear of Better Options”), in which one could start a new project every day and many do.
Maximilian Walch: Some time ago I visited the Mark Rothko exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. There were early works by him in the entrance hall, paintings he painted as a student, and then there was a cut. Suddenly there are only abstract paintings, what Mark Rothko is known for. The question is where does this phase begin with other artists. When does one decide: “That’s what I want to be to the outside world.”?
Finding a style certainly has something to do with decision. I can’t imagine that this simply happens. When you do something, you decide either how you want to paint yourself sooner or later or, if you have a lot of material, that you publish under a certain name. Either in music or in fine arts. That’s always the question. I have the feeling that the Americans don’t care: “You think too much.” They just do exactly what they can do well from the beginning, and then it sounds exactly like that. Maybe I’m just looking for too much. But the search is also an opportunity.
For example, I like to make this weird instrumental sound, which is also a bit jazzy, and then hundreds of Timbaland-style beats. Maybe at some point I’ll do two projects and distinguish between jazz chords and no jazz chords. That’s just such an artistic decision that would help me to put it in order. I like order.
This sounds like there’s a mental musical schizophrenia within your head about this.
Maximilian Walch: I’m into “Proleten-Disco” [08/15 run-of-the-mill disco, note], too.[laughs]. I can identify myself with that, I grew up in a small town south of Linz, by the St. Florian monastery. When I was four, five years old, the young guys would drive through the residential area settlement with their Golf GTI blasting the trance sound out of the window, Eurodance or something like that. That also shaped me more than I would admit or want to show. 2006 was also such an awakening moment for me, the Timbaland record with Nelly Furtado on it came out, Gorillaz “Demon Days”, that was Timbaland’s year actually – he had so many years actually. [laughs].
These influences from a long time ago and the current mindset seem opposed by your very classic upbringing.
Maximilian Walch: Basically, I’m very grateful that I had a very good piano teacher in Linz very late at 16 or 17. He knew “Ableton Live” very well and that’s why I started to play with it. I started playing the piano that way. I came to jazz via D ‘n’ B and not vice versa. I always found the jazz chords very cool, but before that I never heard much jazz. Actually I discovered jazz very late, when you think about it time-wise. Before that I always did a lot more conventional classical music, and I played in a string quartet and sang in a vocal ensemble, I still do that. I am very interested in early baroque and renaissance vocal music and also in contemporary vocal music.
Sometimes that clashes?
Maximilian Walch: There are many parallels in the way vocal music is set and sounds. It was therefore easy for me to transfer, even if the musical context is completely different. But I never learned the theory of composition. Finally, at university, it helped me to take what I knew before and to make music. In Vienna it’s great, because composition means historical composition techniques, where you really learn intensively for two years from writing fugues, from writing motets, from the Baroque period to the composition of Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck”. Sound engineering is a bit like composition “light” but with more technique. The basso continuo and aural training have been indispensable for me to make musical progress and to realise how awful one actually is [laughs].
Addition instead of restraint.
Maximilian Walch: I knew right from the beginning what I wanted to do. I’m not going to study music because I don’t know what I want to do with it, but because I see it as an enrichment. And that doesn’t prevent me from doing what I want, but I think to myself: “Wow, cool, now I can start writing weird phrases like that or using jazz harmonics and occasionally sprinkle in something that fits aesthetically well, but already goes far away from jazz.” So no, certainly not!
In the media they like to throw around labels like “emerging talent”, ” young talent” and so on, sometimes also in the context of your work. What do you think of this reduction?
Maximilian Walch:I grew a beard relatively early on and tried not to let age become an issue. I think that music or what I do should not be judged by how old I am, positively nor negatively. But simply as what it is. Age hardly plays a role for me. I think a lot of people who are very talented become very well-known very early. They are very far ahead and you often don’t even know who you are, who you want to be and then it’s all about this previously discussed artistic decision again. Actually you would like to develop further, but the commercial success drags that away from you. Maybe even more the pressure you put on yourself than the pressure you get from outside through a label. That never interested me so much. I also don’t have the need to achieve world success as a soloist, but I simply just want to make sound, make uncompromising sound and the longer I do it, the more sophisticated it becomes. When I see more commercial electronic acts, like Mura Masa playing with the band, I always think it would be so nice if they would develop further instead of only reproducing the record track for track live. That also doesn’t happen with a typical band.
But many artists don’t want to take this risk. It’s safer to stick to the album and then reproduce it in a live situation, or so it seems.
Maximilian Walch: Yes! And also to run with what just worked well. That’s actually the only thing about pop music that can bother me at all. If you get the feeling that it’s just about rehashing, instead of evolving, you stop …
…and try to reignite it.
Maximilian Walch: I just can’t get that much out of it. I have great respect for how far Bilderbuch is willing to step out because they could have stopped evolving. But they didn’t. That’s a remarkable step. But again: I’m not angry with anyone if they do that. Maybe I wouldn’t be any better, even if I’m talking like that about myself now. I can only say what I personally like about music and then I get perplexed and think to myself: “Too bad that you don’t allow yourself to take the next step”.
Do you make a living from music?
Maximilian Walch: It’s already happening. I do a lot of different things, and that also makes it very interesting. This year I have decided to mix less and produce more again. When it’s graduation time at university, this sometimes holds you back in your head more than it actually is in reality. I just like it when one thing is finished and you can fully devote yourself to the next things.
I have also decided to do less at the same time. It’s just been a bit much during the last few years. You just lose time when you take on so much because you always have to get used to one project. Then a week passes and there’s only a week of production time left and then the next project comes. Some projects need that, but this is not good for all of them. I don’t mind doing a blue project in the first quarter and a complementary project in the next. That would be cool if that were still possible.
Thank you very much for the interview!
[Translated from the German original by Elisabeth Kelvin, 2019]