MATTHIAS SCHINNERL (guitar, ukulele, vocals and jew’s harp), JOANA KARÁCSONYI (cello, vocals and percussion) and FLORA GEISSELBRECHT (viola, harp) formed the band ALPINE DWELLER about three years ago. Jürgen Plank spoke with MATTHIAS SCHINNERL after a brilliant concert in the SARGFABRIK about the recording of the first EP and an upcoming tour in Egypt.
How did Alpine Dweller come into being?
Matthias Schinnerl: Alpine Dweller emerged from another band project called Beyond The Trees. We had already played all over Austria with Beyond The Trees – with two guitars and a cello. We still have a guitar and a cello in Alpine Dweller, that’s Joana on cello and me on guitar and ukulele. Flora is also on board as harpist and viola player. We played a concert with Beyond The Trees and invited Flora and it worked so well that we invited her over and over again.
What does the band name Alpine Dweller refer to?
Matthias Schinnerl: Alpine Dweller was a strong name for us and it also means a lot to us. The name refers to the type of cairn or stone piles that can be seen everywhere in the Alpine region. These are the so-called stone men.
Do you musically put one layer over the other?
Matthias Schinnerl: Yes, there are several layers. Musically we work around a basic structure. We use set pieces that collide and become simple. We use this music-making to build up our music piece by piece to make this Steinmanderl bigger.
“WE PLAYED THE FIRST TWENT, TWENTY, THIRTY CONCERTS WITHOUT REHEARSING […]”
What else do these “Steinmanderln” represent?
Matthias Schinnerl: For us they mean: made of stone, but nevertheless subject to erosion. This stone construct is a very solid thing, but it is also possible that a stone is taken away here and there, and it may be that it completely collapses and has to rebuild itself. That’s how we move on stage. We played the first twenty, thirty concerts without rehearsing. The stage was our rehearsal room and that’s where you best learn how to handle live equipment.
Still not rehearsing?
Matthias Schinnerl: In the meantime we are all in Vienna, which results in rehearsals in living rooms. Our neighbours are friendly.
Soon you will play in Egypt.
Matthias Schinnerl: This has come about through a large network that we can call our own. Since the other two come from the symphonic direction, there are connections there. I come from the social sciences, so other fields of research arise. Our approach to music is also somehow research. We explore ourselves. We examine what we are capable of and how we can apply it.
Are you also interested in music ethnology in the Alpine region?
Matthias Schinnerl: Rather less. I’d just say assume a stereotypical approach to it. We also thought about “Sound of Music” and performing in lederhosen. But we are not performing in Austrian folk music circles.
Alpine Dweller also goes in the direction of classical music, how is that possible?
Matthias Schinnerl: Sure. Flora also has very strong links to new music and experimental music. We would like to introduce this new classic into our music.
Have the Steinmanderln and New Music been easily combined? Or are they more conflicting?
Matthias Schinnerl: There is always reason for discussion and that is certainly a potential for conflict. Pulling off a balancing act is relatively exciting for us and we will continue to do so.
How does the audience react to this tightrope dance at concerts?
Matthias Schinnerl: Relatively emotional. We are always surprised ourselves that we also make people cry. Maybe also because we sometimes cry ourselves during performances, because balancing is often difficult.
“WE CONTINUE TO DISCOVER OURSELVES MUSICALLY […]”
Your band has been around for about three years now. Was there a special experience during this time?
Matthias Schinnerl: It is a special experience that we continue to discover ourselves musically. It is actually getting more and not less. We are building up stone by stone and the thing hasn’t collapsed yet.
You have already released recordings on CD and vinyl. What was the recording situation for these songs?
Matthias Schinnerl: We released a demo EP in February 2017, which we recorded in the living room of my grandmother in Upper Austria. It’s cosy and comfortable.
What was your technical solution to this special room situation?
Matthias Schinnerl: We had a mobile recording studio. A buddy recorded it for us and it all worked well. We had already recorded individual tracks and then put them into a trendy dress. On the album you can hear the fire. A couple of stereo recordings of the oven made up one or two tracks of the mix. There was a campfire mood in the room and if you listen carefully, you can also discover the fire in the recordings.
Is the EP your first release?
Matthias Schinnerl: This EP is our very first release and was an attempt to produce something. We made a very small vinyl edition of 250 pieces. We produced the record ourselves, without label or other support. This was also a good way to gain experience with the subject. We’ll be in the studio soon to record an entire album.
What do you thematize with your music?
Matthias Schinnerl: The big subject of our music is imaginary folklore. In terms of content, we use offsets of themes that affect us. Our music is also called “folk”, even if we are not in the folk scene. I’d say it’s more transcultural. It is a mishmash of different impressions and situations that we collected in our lives and which we believe are worth sharing.
One song – “Naked Thoughts” – contains the line: “We are waste in the ocean.” What’s does that mean?
Matthias Schinnerl: That can be waste, that can be waves. I’m not an English native speaker, so sometimes it’s hard to pronounce words in English beautifully. But they always carry a meaning. The idea behind it: Whether it’s waste or waves, it’s a force in the world. If you see the whole thing as an ocean, we are a small part that also carries a lot further. Whether it’s garbage or whether it’s just a path we’re on. Or if it’s the wave itself that just keeps pushing. The text has often been interpreted as being “super socially critical”. It doesn’t have to be, it can just be an intimate togetherness.
And in one song of the EP you used a poem by Emily Dickinson. How did this selection come about?
Matthias Schinnerl: Emily Dickinson was a very interesting author, a poet. She was a strong woman and on the other hand her poems are enchanting. We also like to find an approach that spans generations. We cover connect a wide range of things from tradition and history to the present day, and maybe into the future.
Many thanks for the interview!
Jürgen Plank (translated from German by David Dempsey)
Alpine Dweller live:
30.03. El Gomhouria Theatre, Kairo (EGY)
02.04. Yellow Umbrella, Kairo (EGY)
06.04. Opera House Alexandria, Alexandria (EGY)
08.04. Cairo Jazz Club, Kairo (EGY)
12.04. Opera House Damanhour (Damanhour (EGY)
20.04. Rudolfstrasse – Ob`n, Linz (A)
21.04. Kunsthaus Nexus, Sallfelden (A)
22.04. Ladenbergen, Bergen (D)
23.04. TBA, (D)
24.04. Cube Club, Düsseldorf (D)
25.04. Kulturcafe Lichtung (D)
26.04. Links neben der Tanke, Chemnitz (D)
27.04. Lesecafe Odradek, Leipzig (D)
28.04. Culture Container, Berlin (D)
29.04. Donau 115, Berlin (D)
30.04. Gärtnerei, Hildesheim (D)
01.05. Passage 46, Freiburg (D)
02.05. Wohnzimmer, Lustenau (A)
03.05. TBA, Innsbruck (A)
04.05. Kulturhofkeller, Villach (A)
05.05. TBA, Graz (A)