2015 saw the release of two musical works that both deal with humanity’s most peaceful state of mind: sleep. While British composer MAX RICHTER considers his eight-hour-long composition SLEEP a lullaby, Andreas Spechtl of acclaimed Austrian independent rock band JA, PANIK delivers an exploration of intermediate stages such as half-sleep and the break of day/nightfall in terms of eight songs that form his solo debut album Sleep. Now, six months after the release of Sleep, Spechtl gives occasional concerts in cities like Berlin, Munich, and Vienna that reveal the beautiful musicality of the record’s complex structure and sound. NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION editor Chris met Andreas Spechtl at Kantine Berghain in Berlin in order to talk about his debut album, playing live, and sleep as such.
More than half a year after its release it is the right time to state that Andreas Spechtl’s first solo album belongs to last year’s most wonderful records. The LP of SLEEP contains a wide range of beautiful and mysterious sounds and creates a calm, yet powerful atmosphere that allows for a listening experience both vivid and hypnotic. At first glance, this collection of eight quite individual sounding tracks might leave its listeners a bit puzzled. Still, it is one of those records that becomes accessible by repeated listening. The more often you listen, the more there is to explore. The songs are carefully and neatly composed. Small pieces of lyrics are sung over recurring sound patterns, field recordings, and samples. What first appears to make a rather minimalist impression turns out to actually be quite a complex, multi-layered soundscape.
From Kamasi to Kendrick and beyond
It is somewhat hard to imagine this record being played live on stage, so how should this work? ‘The idea is to work quite freely with all the material and to play more like a remix or a dub version of Sleep. Each live presentation of SLEEP will be different. This might be quite a jazzy approach’, Spechtl explains. Just like the nature of Jazz is a complex one, Specht’s solo record cannot be matched to one particular genre. However, free forms of Jazz might have been an influence: ‘I have started listening to Jazz. I like KAMASI WASHINGTON who was featured on KENDRICK LAMAR‘s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ but I also listen to older stuff like John Coltrane’, states Spechtl. However, he would not describe his music as any kind of Jazz: ‘Very often I tried to work with only one chord and this is very unusual if it comes to Jazz’.
How exactly do you plan to transport Sleep to the stage?
Andreas Spechtl: The first time I played Sleep in front of an audience there was only me using lots of computer samples and a saxophone on stage. However, we now succeeded to completely ban the computer from our live set and I will play with two additional live members. Chris Imler might only play one snare and cymbal but he will also make use of lots of pads to create rhythm. Rabea Erradi, on the other hand, will add saxophone and bass to our live presentation and then there is me playing keyboards and guitar. I will also loop certain sounds. This is quite a free form of doing it live, sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.
It is quite interesting to realise that while the record Sleep is carefully planned and constructed, its live realisation is almost work in progress. Andreas Spechtl and his band use additional video footage of colourful forms and underwater scenarios to support the multi-layered vision of the record’s sound. The only bizarre thing about the Berlin concert is the place where it takes place. The impressive architectural complex that is called Berghain is an environment where every weekend night turns into day. The parties that are taking place in this extraordinary place deliver the message ‘Stay awake as long as you can’ as opposed to Spechtl’s record that can be understood as a manifesto for the comfort of sleep. ‘This is true’, Spechtl acknowledges, ‘my record is the complete opposite of what the Berghain stands for – but maybe this is also why it perfectly fits in here’. And quite rightly so, this contradiction works out.
Andreas, how did you come up with the idea of doing a record about sleep at all?
AS: Throughout the years I collected a lot of stuff on my personal hard drive that I did not make any particular use of. Right at the beginning of last year I started to get through all the material and only then did I realise that a lot of it features a common theme, that it sleep. So I began to explore this theme both musically and lyrically and chose the right songs to work on.
There is a lot of material lying around so I first had to choose the appropriate songs and then I started to work on them.
The lyrics on Sleep are minimalist and they are all sung in English. Was it hard for you to limit yourself to a small number of phrases and sentences? Considering that most of the songs you do with JA, PANIK feature a whole lot of lyrics this might have been a challenge for you, right?
AS: Yes, that was a difficult thing for me. If you decide to only use one sentence then this sentence really has to work. Once I planned to create an album consisting of instrumental music, not using any lyrics at all, but I could not do it. There has always been a point in time where I thought that I had to sing something. So, in the end I was not happy with the result. Chances are that I am possibly too much of a pop musician. (laughs) You have to know that I really like to sing. I really like doing it.
Sleep comes quite close in terms of creating a record full of instrumental music. Despite the difficulty you described, is this something you would like to come up with in the future?
AS: Yes, absolutely! But it is not as easy as you might think it is, especially when you usually write lots of lyrics just like I do for JA, PANIK. You should always be satisfied with what you do. I have already tried some things that did not feel right in the end and then you just scrap the idea. It might seem odd but sometimes you do something and then it does not feel like it is you, although you are doing it so of course it is you. (laughs)
Speaking of lyrics and vocals, the field recordings that are being used on Sleep include speech as well. How did you decide to choose the right passages?
AS: Well, I recorded lots of stuff and immediately took some notes. Some of the recordings took half an hour or even longer and then I cut out pieces in order to finally get less and less. Originally, it was planned to include more of the recordings on SLEEP. However, now there is much less that I used but I think what is finally used appears to be very concise. Also, I checked whether these recordings would fit in terms of rhythm and pitch level. Doing these field recordings was intensive work. You really had to sit down, listen, take notes…
At what time of day did you record the songs for SLEEP? Was it possibly late in the day?
AS: I recorded everything late in the day and often I would record after rehearsals with JA, PANIK and also very quietly at home. Sometimes it was indeed very late and I was tired and then my aim was to see how this state would influence my body as well as my ability to create songs. You play drums differently, for example. You just do things differently in such a state. It was like an exploration of myself, really.
It becomes obvious that Spechtl is fascinated with the idea of half-sleep, meaning that state of mind ‘when you are still being able to perceive but at the same time already drifting into that other world’, as he explains. This is also the way he thinks the record works: I guess the record really works at the break of day just as it does when night falls. The whole record might be about intermediate stages’. Therefore, it is no surprise that he currently enjoys short naps during the daytime:
‘Afternoon naps should not take any longer than one hour. But if they do, I think they are both physically and mentally refreshing’.
There are also uncontrolled or unconscious things happening while we sleep, like dreaming. Do you have recurring dreams or even nightmares?
AS: Yes, I have one recurring dream since I was a kid and I can also have nightmares. Bad dreams are the ones that appear to be quite realistic. I do not dream about monsters that are haunting me. Most of the time they deal with specific problems of my life. Also, I am a heavy sleepwalker. This happens quite a few times throughout the year with different effects. One time I found myself outside my flat in front of a neighbour’s door.
I have never sleepwalked as far as I know but when I was a kid I happened to talk a lot when I was asleep.
AS: Ah, no, I don’t do that – at least I have not heard about it, yet. (laughs)
Sleep is out via staatsakt/caroline international.