Innode – the Austrian-American trio comprised of Stefan Németh (synthesizers), Steven Hess (drums) and Bernhard Breuer (drums, drum synthesizer) – is releasing its much-anticipated second album, “Syn” on Editions MEGO. It’s been a while since the release of its first album, “Gridshifter” (MEGO, 2013), and in that time, shifts have indeed occurred. Although the original concept of rhythm and noise assembled into precise, minimalist constructions carries through, the new album has a more organic and acoustic feel, as well as more expressive passages and micro-melodies. Arianna Fleur sat down with bandleader STEFAN NÉMETH to find out why this shift occurred, how the group of three finally merged into one, and what exactly took so long.
First of all, it’s been a pleasure to experience this album. Second, when was “Syn” actually officially released?
Stefan Németh: Thank you. Well, the digital form was released a few weeks ago. However, the vinyls haven’t arrived yet, and that’s what I consider to be the true release. So, officially: not yet. But I just got news that the pressed vinyls will arrive on April 26th.
Initially, with the first album (“Gridshifter”), Innode was a kind of experiment – but, one that turned out so well, that you decided to form a proper band out of it, which brings us to the current release, “Syn”. Can you speak about the shift of process and approach between the two albums?
S.N.: The 1st album was planned as something of a solo-project, where I would invite certain artists to add some drums. At the time, I was playing a little U.S. tour with my solo stuff. And Steven heard I was coming (note: Steven Hess is a Chicago-based musician), and he just wrote me out of the blue and asked if could he play drums. And at the time, I just knew of him, but didn’t know him. That was the funny thing. But I thought, ‘wow, that’s a nice way, to just ask someone per email if we could meet on stage!’ Which we then did. (laughs) I mean, usually I’m not that spontaneous, but he had a good approach. Since then, I’ve been playing with him and it just worked. We started to record occasionally when we met in Europe. So I had material for some tracks with him.
How did Bernhard enter the equation?
S.N.: Our collaboration is a completely separate story. There was an exhibition that we both played at, having to work with certain sounds from the artworks. And from that, about 2-3 tracks developed, which was a kind of starting point. But it was never really planned to “play together”. Rather, I had proposals for tracks where I wanted to have some drums added, and I asked various musicians to contribute. When the album was finished, we were invited to present it at musikprotokoll, which we then did. And out of that, suddenly I realized: OK, Bernhard and Steven – they know each other and really like playing together, and the energy on stage is good. We played a couple shows, and it just felt right. You know, you have these moments sometimes. And from that point on, things came together. In fact it was Bernhard who said he thought it would be a good idea to capture this live energy onto a record (which is more complicated, technically, than to just create some fragments where others add to it). But, it was true that it somehow created something, which I couldn’t do alone. You know, if you play live in the studio, especially with two drummers, then something happens between them – something spontaneous, even though music is so rectangular in a certain sense. But it’s hard to add these spontaneous elements afterwards. It just has to happen. It was a good idea from Bernhard.
If you play live in the studio, especially with two drummers, then something spontaneous is bound to happen
Not only the working process and structure of the band has changed over time, but also the music has shifted – “Syn” is more acoustic and expressive.
S.N.: I think that’s because of Bernhard’s proposal, which I really liked, which was to really play together with Steven in live sessions in the studio. So, not multi-tracking, but really interacting in real time. I think this brought in some acoustic information, which sounds more organic. It’s hard to put it into words, but you can feel this spontaneity somehow, even if, at the same time, it’s so controlled. I mean, it’s always about decisions – you can choose to erase, suppress or replace acoustic drumbeats with electronic ones because, perhaps, it sounds more exact or ‘fat’. But I also find it bizarre – why do we go to the studio if we’re just gonna just hide it?
You write on your platform Sonotope that “’Syn’ has arrived after some silence”. So, why the silence?
S.N.: One of the main reasons was that I furthered my education in the Netherlands – scientific illustration, while also working. Essentially, I didn’t have time for anything else. The 2nd reason is that the process of making an album is typically a long one, for me, and for us. I’m not a fast worker in general. I mean, I think it’s been 7 years or something between the albums. It’s terrifying! (laughs) But I think for a while it was okay to leave some space, because after the 1st album, we played quite a lot, including some really nice shows and festivals. And after this, I somehow had the feeling it’s good to step back from things a bit, because I’ve been making music now for a long time. And after a while, you just know everyone. It’s like a big family in the electronic music world. I think it was good to step back a little and see or do different things.
Why do we go to the studio if we’re just gonna just hide it?
As far as I know, you are not only a musician, but also a biologist. In general, do you think that by having another occupation, and not relying on music to make ends meet, your relationship to music and the creative process is changed?
S.N.: Yes of course it affects my personal approach to making music, because I have the big advantage that I’m somehow free in it. I don’t have to deliver or do anything that anyone else expects of me. And I don’t have to make money with it. At the same time, I have the greatest respect for anybody who can just live from making music, but I also know how difficult it is. I mean, my situation was changing over the years. I always did music, and I also always had a laboratory job as well. How much I did of each, has shifted over time. So I know both aspects. But, for me, it creates some freedom. The disadvantage is, of course, that I don’t always have so much time to do music. On the other hand, when I do make music, I can be picky about how or where I play, which isn’t always the case for musicians. Anyway, all in all, I’m satisfied with the way things are for me.
Do you think that taking a break from music, or having some kind of objective distance from it, helps aide the creative process?
S.N.: Of course it helps that I don’t have to feel forced to do an album every year or few months or so. I couldn’t do that, to be honest. It would be too much. I think I would run out of ideas. And it would limit the options of how you record things, and how much you want to dive into the whole project. I mean, of course 7 years is extreme. I don’t need that much time between each album. But, still, a bit of a gap is good, I think.
How did the composing and creative process work for “Syn”? Did you all bring in ideas equally?
S.N.: Everybody contributed the way they wanted to. For example, Bernhard sent me some kinds of “electronic sketches”, like complete arrangements with electronics and his drum kit, and I found he somehow imitated the way I’m doing my synthesizer stuff, but sounded even better than me (laughs). But basically I took the structure and filled it with my own sounds. So on some tracks there is more from Bernhard and on others, more from me. And Steven mainly added his drumming, but also there was a lot of sampling going on, because I had all the recordings from the trio sessions in Berlin years ago. Steven also made some field recordings, which added a certain atmosphere, especially on the last track: “L” which refers to the “L-train” in Chicago.
I don’t have to deliver or do anything that anyone else expects of me
How was it working with Nik Hummer as the sound engineer for the album?
S.N.: I really enjoyed working with Nik I have to say. I mean, this became very important to me in general. I prefer to work with people where the chemistry is there on a human level, including mutual respect. I enjoyed the process, because he added something which I couldn’t have even thought of beforehand. I mean, he dives into the detail, which I/we do too, on another level. He has another vision. Or he hears something from his perspective, and this adds elements which are a little unexpected for me sometimes. And to be honest, I’m searching for this more and more. Working with Bernhard and Steven is the same. I love that they took my material and added their own suggestions. We don’t have this ego problem among us. So you can give away your material and someone works with it, makes a proposal or maybe even criticizes it, and this isn’t a problem. And I know this isn’t a given. Sometimes, it can be like roosters fighting against each other. You know, I am always open for input from someone else, where I can be pleasantly surprised, and suddenly the work goes in a new direction. And with Nik it was just like that. Not only can he really form and bring the sound into shape, but, equally, he has a very honest reaction to things, which I appreciate a lot. But he can also be incredibly enthusiastic. I like this a lot.
The album is very dynamic, each track having a very different feel than the next. Was that a conscious decision for the album as a whole?
S.N.: We didn’t have any sort of ‘complete concept’. There were a lot of things that didn’t make it to the album. It was an equal decision between all of us whether we put tracks on or not. So, for example, some of the suggestions I made didn’t make it, which is good. It enriches the album. You hear how Bernhard has a different music background to me, which I appreciate. You also hear the difference between the trio sessions, and the ones as a duo. We tried to glue this all together. And I think it’s probably good that it’s not just one sound.
What about Editions MEGO – what is your relationship to the label?
S.N.: Editions MEGO was basically my introduction to this sort of music. It really goes back to the mid-90’s where Peter (Rehberg) (note: Editions MEGO founder) was doing his Club Duchamp in the Blue Box. I think it was every Wednesday, where either he, himself, or others were spinning records – like, really weird stuff. Some people really hated it! You know they just wanted to get a drink, and it was a small bar. (laughs) Basically, the first MEGO records were really like a completely new world for me. And although there was a lot going on at the time, this was the thing that was the closest to me. It’s still an honor to release on Editions MEGO because Peter releases exactly what he wants there. There are no compromises. And I think there is mutual respect, and he doesn’t expect me to do anything I don’t want to do. And, just musically speaking, MEGO represents something I feel close to. I think it’s a good home for the album.
I prefer to work with people where the chemistry is there on a human level, including mutual respect
How have you seen the Austrian electronic and experimental scenes change or develop over the years?
S.N.: I mean, generally, things have changed a lot. Vienna was a very different place in the 90’s. I think that’s because back then it was not international at all. On the other hand, it was very creative, I have to say. We were just trying out things, with no agenda in the back of our minds. So, ideas like, ‘maybe I should do it like this or that, because maybe it will give me more exposure’ – they didn’t exist because you didn’t have exposure anyway. Then, a couple years later, there was even a hype around Viennese electronic music. So, you’d play at electronic festivals and people would come up to you and say, “Oh, you’re from Vienna?!” It was a real bonus, in fact! People were coming to shows just because of the reputation. It was weird! (laughs)
It’s hard to find people working in this way anymore – not looking towards the end goal, but focusing on the process.
S.N.: Yeah, I see it simply with the output. I’m surprised how people can produce so much. I just couldn’t do that. It also of course limits a certain complexity in the music in some cases. I think, though, it’s also a matter of age. If you start to make music now, you are born into a completely different biotope. Your parameters are completely different.
So, the foundation of the band was live music, which you then brought into the studio. So, where do you see the music on this new album ending up, ideally or realistically?
S.N.: Of course we want to play live. But realistically, I don’t know. Everything is so vague at the moment. Maybe we can play in fall, but who knows what happens then? The wish is surely there. It’s also about meeting friends, actually. I’m looking forward to seeing Steven again. I’m currently working on the live program, which is a bit like working into the void. Besides this, I don’t want to have such a huge gap between this album and the next.
MEGO represents something I feel close to – I think it’s a good home for the album
Do you see this album more in a regional or international setting?
S.N.: I see it internationally. It was always my intention, that its impact is a bit more outside of Austria. I actually just heard that it’s getting licensed in Japan. I’m really happy about this!
What about the video you created for “Rote Wueste” (“Red Desert”)? It has a very vintage feel to it. Why?
S.N.: The simple story is that a friend of mine was supposed to make a video, but he had to finish a big documentary, so he didn’t have time in the end. So I was looking around and found some old material on my hard disk, from my time in Brazil in 2006. I digitalized it a while back, but I never knew exactly what I would do with it. I had an initial idea for the material, but it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to follow through with my original concept. So I just made the footage and stored it for years. Then recently I played some sequences and thought, ‘hm, this somehow works’. And then I even realized the connection between the title of the track “Red Desert” and the footage – Brasilia (where it was filmed) is actually built on red soil! So it really fit – not only the graininess of the sounds and the super-8 footage – but also literally. It was the first video I ever made, actually.
Thank you and good luck with the release!