With “Breeze In Breeze Out” (Assim Records) RENEE MÜHLBERGER aka PRESSYES presents an album as colorful as it is relaxed, defying the daily grind. An album that eloquently tells of wanderlust and for this purpose plunders everything that the music pool has to offer: Pop from Tehran, psychedelic from Istanbul and fuzz guitar from 70s Cimeascope films. An album that makes you want to spend summery evenings and nights on the coast, and leaves you with the question whether it wouldn’t be better to re-assess your life and loosen up with a light breeze of melodic pop.
Could we say that the new album is about your musical preferences, but also about wanderlust itself?
PRESSYES: About wanderlust, absolutely. It’s generally the case with this solo project, even with the first album, that the wanderlust theme is very strong. I like to go on vacation, I like to travel, but when it’s not possible, like in pandemic times, I try to get into the mood otherwise. That’s where the PRESSYES project helps me.
Coast, Orient, balmy evenings and nights on the beach. Is that it?
PRESSYES: That sounds a little too much like a summer hit to me. You know that feeling when you’ve been on vacation, in Asia for instance, and suddenly you feel a kind of new kind of freshness inside you? The brain starts to think differently and you feel again more with your heart than you do when you sink into the usual daily grind. Or when you are outside for the first days in spring. It’s such a unique feeling, which is very important to me and I try to preserve, because, for me, it is also closely connected with creativity. I function best in the moments when I am in such a mood – in contrast to many other artists who write best when they are down.
One hears Turkish and Iranian pop, a lot of groove and fuzz guitars, 60’s West Coast harmonies – a lot of different influences. But it all comes across as if you’ve been doing it exactly the same way, for forever. But that’s not the case. You used to make very different music with the band Velojet, for example. You’ve come a long way since then. How would you describe your journey from Britpop to psychedelic pop? What tipped the scales? Getting hooked on the right drugs?
PRESSYES: (laughs) With the first PRESSYES album, I couldn’t reflect on it that way yet because I was in the middle of breaking up with the band that had existed for fifteen years. That was a phase where I was settling in and just doing my things. I wasn’t ready to think about it and reflect. With the second record now, I’m just realizing what the first one meant. And as you rightly say, it’s already a difference, maybe not so big in terms of the sound, but the subject is completely different. Velojet has dealt with my problems. That’s when I was still writing when I was feeling bad, and honestly, I was feeling bad a lot during that time. There was a melancholy and a basic heaviness that I couldn’t get rid of. This heaviness has gone with PRESSYES. It was refreshing to have time for myself alone. Time in which nothing much happened. Time in which I learned what is good for me, what I like and what I enjoy.
Because of the band dynamics and the dynamics of a scene, you fall into a certain expectation and try to make the right decisions. But at some point you realize that the decisions you made were the right ones for the system, but not for yourself. With PRESSYES, I do what I want to do, and that’s very possible on my own. When it comes down to it, from the beginning, PRESSYES was about getting rid of the Austrian mentality and turning more towards the positive.
How do you manage to do that?
PRESSYES: It’s ongoing, daily work. I meditate, which sometimes works wonders. The whole mindset changes that way. But of course, what you’ve been trained to do is also strongly ingrained in you. That’s why it’s a matter of making the decision every day not to focus on these things and to see more of the other. With a certain age, you then know best how to decipher where the melancholy comes from. You are much more aware, I know better what to do when the darkness comes – which has less to do with the music, than simply with growing up. Music helps. I’ve found that I struggle to produce depressive music because I just can’t have it right now. I prefer to work with music that has a positive vibe.
I interviewed Ian Fisher a while back, whose most recent album you produced. It’s a quirky connection that you wouldn’t expect: Here the self-proclaimed country boy, there the Britpop-bred psychedelic-pop freak with a flair for catchy melodies.
PRESSYES: I resisted it for a long time, but in the end it was a good thing because, despite the political message, we managed quite well to make an album like this. Critical, but not frustrating. The goal was to take a Leonard Cohen-esque storytelling approach and throw off the frustration associated with Trump & Co.
Whether it’s the country-pop stylings of an Ian Fisher or your psychedelic-pop stylings on the PRESSYES project, you seem to enjoy venturing into other musical worlds, don’t you?
PRESSYES: Absolutely. But for me as a producer or musician, I can only do stuff that I connect to – where something is happening with me emotionally. If that’s not the case, I don’t take it. If I don’t understand the song or don’t like the style, it doesn’t make sense to me. That’s a luxury that I’ve been able to afford so far. I always start from the emotional point of view. Of course, there can be negative emotions involved. I’m currently producing Sophie Lindinger’s solo album, which contains very dark emotions. My interest is broad: Including influences from other continents. I find Indian music very exciting, for example, and would love to work with an Indian singer, but unfortunately haven’t met one yet. There’s a lot of psychedelic stuff coming out of Turkey that I’m interested in, the same from Vietnam. Thai funk.
All of that is very strongly linked to vacation memories for me. That, as I said, is the theme that moves me. The Austria socialization is not very close to me as a person. I have lived in Vienna for twenty years, but I am not creative in Vienna. Songwriting takes place elsewhere. But in my apartment I have a kind of protected space, which I have designed for myself in a very un-Austrian way.
But even in Vienna, you can definitely have a lot of East Asian and Middle Eastern flavor around, right?
PRESSYES: Yeah, sure. I always try to participate in it, go to shisha bars, for example. But it makes me sad that you still feel these boundaries very strongly. In fact, when you approach people, you realize how easy it is to start a conversation. The fact that this is still the case in 2022 – notions of: you fit in one place but don’t the other – this pigeonholing, almost ghetto-ization – it’s still so pronounced. It’s different when you travel – everyone meets somewhere without reservation, and that’s exactly what I love so much about it.
How could one describe the basic mood of the album? A little bit haunted, but positive (almost childlike) throughout?
PRESSYES: I can’t judge it myself after tinkering with it for ages and the process has dragged on for so long. When you start with the drums, then add synths, write lyrics, then take a step back and start editing the drums and working with tape machines, it’s a journey. At some point, when the songs are done and I’m mixing them, I can’t tell what it sounds like. I can’t judge that until two months or half a year after it’s been released.
So, from a distance, some perspective comes, because your own creation slips away from you a little bit, and then it’s easier to judge?
PRESSYES: Exactly. Then I listen to it again normally like any other listener. I hope it sounds like it did when I wrote the songs. It was very light and summery then. But because of all the trial and error on it and the pandemic postponement of the deadline by a good year, I had too much time on my hands, and that, I think, is always very difficult – when you have the time to screw around with it for a long time….
Why? Because you get lost in details and thus run the risk of wanting too much?
PRESSYES: Because you’re constantly mixing new tracks into it, because you’ve tapped into the old ones, and it’s always fun to record new tunes. It always remains creative and fun, but the ability to judge whether it’s enough now is lost. I’m happy with it, I think it’s good, but I can’t really judge it yet.
The supposedly “simple” is often the most difficult thing. To make a certain music sound airy and light is hard work, but it mustn’t sound like that. The “summer breeze feeling” can quickly get lost the longer you tinker with it, right?
PRESSYES: That’s right. The work, the constant evaluation – it’s not an easy process. The last three or four months are not pleasant because you have to finish, but start comparing. There’s no band to weigh in with in a joint decision-making process, but you start comparing new mixes with mixes that are over a year old, and then when you come to the conclusion that the old version was actually cooler, it’s frustrating. That’s where the madness starts. That’s something I don’t want to do in the future.
“The most important thing in life is that it stays adventurous and fresh.”
Why frustrating? Because one considers the work invested in the meantime to be pointless? Because you’ve taken a turn in the wrong direction?
PRESSYES: When you work on it, you always end up convinced that it’s good. The very next day it’s different. Sometimes you’ve spent three days recording drums and synths, only to realize at the end that you don’t really need all that. So three days of work for nothing. The lost time is bad. That’s the reason for the title “Breeze in Breeze Out”. It’s about the lightness that I want more – making decisions, creating, and life remaining an adventure, and not the constant repetition of a dream. The most important thing in life is that it stays adventurous and fresh. That’s my basic idea. That’s what I’m fighting for.
Overthinking the important things on the beach, while staying loose?
PRESSYES: Nicely put. Yeah, that’s what it’s all about.
I think “Breeze In Breeze Out” is an “album, album,” meaning it’s an album that not only consists of good singles, but when listening to it all the way through, it not only makes sense, but also increases the listening pleasure. It’s only through the sequence that the full strength of the album unfolds. That seems almost anachronistic in times of Spotify and TikTok. Was that intentional?
PRESSYES: I worked on the songs individually and I have to say that the album was created relatively passively. I’ve just been very busy with other projects over the last few years. So it wasn’t necessarily clear what was going to happen and when – whether there will be a second album at all. I just let it happen. That’s why it took a long time. At the end, when I put the songs into a tracklist, I was already looking at what fits well together, because that’s important to me. I’m an album listener and a vinyl lover. I also cut a number that was already mastered and would have fit in well because otherwise the album would have been 44 minutes long. At 41 minutes long, the others sound better.
That was the thinking. I.e. I made sure, very pragmatically, that it works as an album and on vinyl, and therefore also ‘cheated’ in two places, because the stringing together of song after song was too much for me.
You mean the short interludes. They’re very charming.
PRESSYES: “Meditation Pt. 2” is three years old. The other one was an outro that I found and ran through the tape machine. Changes happen at the very end to make it sound more like an album overall.
It happened, when one tried to classify your album, like, again and again, the comparison to Tame Impala. You know and appreciate Kevin Parker’s music, I take it?
PRESSYES: We have a lot in common, of course: the instrumentation is very similar, although I have to say that I had most of the instruments before Tame Impala used the same ones. We already used the Höfner bass with Velojet.
“Life becomes a backup orgy. Where is the adventure in that?”
Was that a conscious decision to do everything yourself, more or less?
PRESSYES: The pandemic was characterized by postponements – there were a lot of recording sessions that were already scheduled but then had to be cancelled because one or the other musician was positive. That’s why I played almost all the instruments. Every edit, every mix, every video – everything is from my hand. But working on the music is only 40% of the total effort anyway. The videos were almost as time-consuming as the album, because I first had to learn how to film, edit, export.
Basically, I’ve done everything myself for PRESSYES, from the very beginning, even before Corona. If something appeals to me, then I do it myself and also nerd out, for example with the use of 16 mm cameras. Last year I was almost exclusively dealing with film, because it’s not exactly easy, but I’d rather buy something analog from the 1970s and learn how to use it. Then if you can do it, you can do it forever. With digital stuff, every year there’s a new plug-in or update. I don’t feel like doing that. I don’t do updates. I would love to work on my Atari from the 1990s, but unfortunately that’s no longer possible. But this dependence on backups bores me. Life becomes a backup orgy. Where is the adventure in that?
Thank you very much for the interview.
Translated from the German original by Arianna Fleur Alfreds.