Tuesday, 11 October 2022

THE CAN - Sounds, May 1970

Can recorded the mighty Monster Movie under their own steam. No major label showed an interest in releasing it, so they pressed it themselves in the autumn of 1969. This created a buzz in the local underground, prompting Liberty to put it out in February 1970. Here's perhaps the first major interview with a band member - Holger Czukay. It was conducted by Rainer Blome for the Cologne-based music magazine Sounds and appeared in the May 1970 issue. The translation is by me. 

How does your music differ from that of other bands? Probably primarily because of the somewhat unusual production process? 
Our production process is indeed different. It's not like a producer summons us into the studio at a set time and says, 'You can make your record in the time available'. We set up a studio in Schloss Norvenich near Cologne and only then did we make the record, without producers - we did it ourselves. Technically, of course, we're not nearly as well-equipped as the big companies. We can work with 4 tracks but not with a normal 4-track recording device, only with the help of tricks - homemade tricks. But the most important thing is that we have unlimited time. We work until the feeling is there, then make the recording. It helps tremendously not to have to work under constant time-pressure. 

Did you go into the studio with fixed ideas, or did everything just develop there? 
We go into the studio completely unprepared, nothing is written or planned beforehand. The studio is also our ideas workshop. 

There's a piece on your record entitled Mary Mary, So Contrary, for which The Can is credited. I also know it from an American folk duo whose name escapes me at the moment. Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing you of plagiarism, I'm more interested in how you work, where you get your song concepts from. 
Our singer, Malcolm Mooney, brought this song idea with him. It's an American children's song that we originally played straight, then made something new out of. But that wasn't really a 'concept'. With us a 'concept' only arises when a piece is already finished. We usually just start playing something - maybe one of us plays something he has previously thought about that he wants to play. Of course, the others don't know it and just play along with it. Since we let the tape recorder run, we may decide afterwards that it was valid, that it could be developed further by adding this or that, changing the harmony at another point or not. Or perhaps one person says to the other, 'Do this or that a little differently'... That is how we create the pieces. It's improvised teamwork, and occasionally what we have played spontaneously is the end result. 

So that's the playing process for your pieces. What do you then do with the recorded music? Is it manipulated technically, or do you just mix the tracks according to dynamics? 
First of all, Monster Movie consists exactly of the music that we played in the studio. Of course, we work with playbacks, but this method is only ever used from the point of view of whether it agrees with the ideas that arose while playing. 

Were the electronic effects on the LP created whilst playing? 
Partly, yes, but - for example - the buzzing noise that runs throughout Father Cannot Yell was added later. But we never use electronic effects for mere decoration. They always have a direct connection to the music. We don't care for gimmicks. Of course, listening to what we are playing, occasionally one of us finds that the sound has to be tweaked at a certain point in order to sound better. 

Your singer Malcolm Mooney (who is no longer with you) is from America. Could you tell us about him? 
Malcolm was originally a sculptor and has travelled over almost all the world. He always has a saxophone with him. Irmin met him in Paris in 1968 and shortly thereafter he came to Cologne and joined us as a singer. He's a natural, so to speak, because he had never sung before. He not only improvises the music, but mostly the lyrics as well. Even on You Doo Right, which previously had fixed lyrics, Malcolm changed his lyrics while recording. It isn't entirely true that he isn't with us any longer, because he's still part of our group. He got pretty sick and went back to New York. It may be that he comes back next month, or in a year. In any case, he remains a member of the Can. But in the meantime we're trying to find a replacement for him. 

Surely you don't literally mean that your current singer Lee Gates only works as a stand-in? 
No, of course not. Lee sings very differently, and our music changes because of him. 

I want to return to my first question, because you haven't quite answered it yet. How does your music differ from that of other bands? 
We don't set out to differentiate ourselves from other bands, but I don't think anyone drums like Jaki, or anyone plays guitar like Michael. It's like we talk a different language, even though we use the same words. In this respect, everyone from the Can is different from every other rock musician in the world. 

Where do you see your position as regards Anglo-Saxon pop music? 
I listen to a lot of things in order to inform us. We don't have any role models, though of course we like a few things. Jaki used to have role models in jazz: he wanted to drum like Max Roach, but that's more or less over. 

When an unbiased listener listens to your LP, it's tough. Someone who's only listened to English or American bands before will maybe discover similarities to groups like the Velvet Underground.  
Okay. Good. Then he discovers them. There are so many bands in 'new' pop that there are bound to be similarities. The Velvet Underground has a similar line-up to us, so why shouldn't the sound be the same? 

Do you think that records made by good German (or non-Anglo-Saxon) groups will stand a chance in the future? 
For sure. For example, I know that the first Amon Duul LP has sold well, and Monster Movie is doing very well too. The company has already sold more of them than it ever thought possible. Original music will always prevail, regardless of whether it is played by an English, American, Danish or German band. Maybe there aren't that many groups in Germany that are good yet, but it's probably only just beginning. Perhaps more publicity should be given and more performing opportunities created. It would be great, for example, if German promoters allowed German bands to open on tours by well-known American or English bands. It's definitely better than having third or fourth-rate bands perform just because they're from England. 

The playing opportunities in Germany are probably also limited because you can't play in most clubs. They're too old-fashioned, too small and without the right atmosphere. In what framework should your music be presented? 
Right, the existing clubs are old-fashioned. Nobody feels comfortable in them. The best are clubs like those in London, New York, San Francisco, Birmingham, Detroit, Boston and Chicago, or the Creamcheese in Dusseldorf. People need to be able to dance, watch movies, drink and move. Basically, the concert halls are shit because they're only built for classical concerts, with all the trimmings. 

The Can has existed since the autumn of 1968. Have you consciously refrained from becoming well-known? 
Yes, quite consciously, because we felt we first had to grow together as a group - that is, to be able to offer good music - before we presented ourselves to the public. We also turned down offers to perform because we wanted to be 100% happy with ourselves first. To put it bluntly, we don't believe in firing half-cocked. We only played in Zurich for three months in 1969 because we had the chance to take part in Max-Peter Ammann's production of Prometheus at the Stadttheater, which turned out to be a bad decision. Otherwise we have made film music for Peter Schamoni, Roger Fritz and Franz-Josef Spieker. 

You now have a pretty good group dynamic. Would a new man fit in? 
Actually, anyone can play with us. Even Roy Black [a popular schlager singer – RMJ], who would certainly sing differently with us. What's important is that everyone offers each other the freedom to do their own thing. For example, if Jaki had made a huge spectacle on his drums right from the start and dominated everything so that the others couldn't unfold, that would not have been possible. A new man would have total freedom, we would under no circumstances force him to work in our direction. Our music is too flexible for that. So a new man would inevitably change our music. 

Are you already working on a new record? 
Yes, we have recorded a single and one track that will be released on a Liberty sampler in May [Soul Desert, on Electric Monster Rock Show - RMJ]. This will also be included on our next LP, which we are working on. Of course, that won't take forever. We think it will be ready in the autumn. We're going to do some ideas that we've come up with already, things we've done before but haven't got on tape yet and want to finish. 

You have a production company called 'Inner Space' and have contracts with a Munich promo company and with Liberty. Does the record deal secure you an income? 
No, the contract does not secure us a fixed income. It all depends on how the LP sells. Our contract provides for at least two LPs and two singles over the course of 1970. We received a small advance, but that will be accounted for later. Our contract, which is valid for 3 years, came about like this: I took the finished Monster Movie tape from company to company for months. Either one of them said, 'It's pretty nice for a German group, but the Americans and the English do it better' or another said, 'It's very good but you come from Germany. You have to write a few hits first so that you become known'. Such are the prejudices against German groups in the German industry. At first Liberty was no different, so we then spontaneously decided to press the album ourselves. It was only via this detour that Liberty suddenly showed great interest. Liberty in England was also enthusiastic about the record and immediately offered to release it.

So a German pop group has it incredibly hard, no matter how good they are. What do you think of the idea of starting a cooperative of progressive German groups, as was recently attempted on the initiative of Tom Schroder from SONG in Mainz? Could that improve the situation? 
In principle, it's an excellent idea for German groups to set up a co-operative with a few organisationally talented people. With an over-arching presentation one could awaken listeners to the fact that there are German bands with something to offer. 

That would definitely be an advantage. But such a co-operative could also have the disadvantage of giving rise to a kind of sectarianism stemming from too great a national identity... The German Jazz Federation failed because of this. 
Of course, it would be shit if that happened. Such a co-operative should not act nationalistically, it should remain open to the international community. The only justification for such an association would be that it would contradict the prejudice that there are no good German groups. Once that has been achieved, it would no longer have any reason to exist.

No comments:

Post a Comment