Back in May, Aydo Abay’s on/off side project KEN celebrated the 10th anniversary of their iconic second album Stop! Look! Sing Songs of Revolution! NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION sat down with the ex-BLACKMAIL singer on a sunny day at Aachener Weiher in Cologne between lots of Helene Fischer fans rushing through the streets and a huge fitness group exercising in the park to discuss, well, a life in indie rock/pop. Consider this a beginner’s guide to one of Germany’s best kept musical geniuses.
During the past five years Aydo Abay has been quite busy. After releasing his third album Yes we Ken with his on/off side/main/side project KEN, he did soundtracks and participated in radio plays and, incidentally, formed his new band ABAY with Jonas Pfentzig of German indie pop band JULI. ABAY released their first EP Blank Sheets in late 2014 on a 12” coloured vinyl, featuring songs of Abay’s various musical projects he had done over the years. Still, the busy musician has remained an insider’s tip of the German indie rock scene until today. This might finally change with his new band ABAY whose first full album will be released in early 2016. Having celebrated the 10th anniversary of KEN’s second album Stop! Look! Sing Songs of Revolutions! earlier this year, NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION met Aydo Abay to reflect on his work with KEN, the Facebook campaign to release a 10th anniversary vinyl of that record, his new band ABAY, and pop culture in general – only to give you a proper introduction to Aydo Abay’s life in indie rock/pop.
In May this year the second KEN album Stop! Look! Sing Songs of Revolutions! celebrated its tenth birthday. When did you listen to it for the last time?
Actually, I listened to it three or four days ago when we had to finish the master tape for the production of the vinyl release. The record has its moments. There are some things I’d do differently today, though.
Speaking of doing the record, do you still remember the writing and recording process?
I remember it very well. KEN was something I really wanted to do back then. At the time it had been four years since our last album came out and I thought that it would be nice to record something new. So we went into Guido’s [Guido Lucas] studio and did the record within ten days. This is probably why the album stumbles at times but that also makes Stop! Look! a document of its time for me. I wouldn’t consider it a classic, though.
Did you plan anything in advance or did the writing and recording of the album happen spontaneously?
We didn’t plan anything in advance for that particular record. Back then I had just finished promoting the latest BLACKMAIL album and I immediately wanted to do something new. There was no time to think. We got together, had fun and recorded the material. That’s it. We also recorded I am Thief – an album that consists of cover versions. We had this concept to cover songs to get some inspiration. I think this worked out well.
The cover compilation I am Thief and Stop! Look! Sing Songs of Revolutions! shared the same release date. How did the idea for an album full of cover versions come about?
I’ve always liked doing cover versions and I find it exciting to see what comes out if you do your own version of a song that I already consider a good track. Originally, we didn’t plan to release the album and the cover compilation separately but the record label came up with that idea. In my opinion, a separate release wasn’t really necessary. Of course some people like the album, but I would have preferred I am Thief to be a bonus disc for that KEN record. This would have been fine for everyone, I guess.
The SUGABAES cover Stronger was the only single for that double release.
Yeah. I had a difficult label at that time. My management had the idea to release Stronger and thought this would chart. Later on, we were planning to release Wake City off the KEN record. However, the record label didn’t really want to pay more than 100€ for the video clip because they had already spent a lot on the Stronger clip. So this is why the release of Wake City never happened. It’s a sad thing because it’s still quite a good song.
Here are NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION’s 10 reasons why you should (re)-discover KEN’s iconic album Stop! Look! Sing Songs of Revolutions!, especially on its 10th birthday vinyl release
- The 10th anniversary vinyl release features a beautifully designed gatefold cover.
- Re/Discover Abay’s soft spot for creative song titles, including The Dragon with the Bleeding nose, Babycrutch, and hiss panic
- Listen to the planned but never realised single Wake City which remains an indie pop/rock gem
- If, the track with the shortest title on the album, was featured on a Musikexpress compilation disc in 2005 and is the perfect representative for the album’s energetic, melancholic tone
- Aydo Abay’s voice belongs the most recognisable ones in German indie/rock pop. It’s melancholic, energetic, and haunting.
- Ken are true pioneers and used a saxophone on the track Feelia – way earlier than the Killers did on Day & Age or M83 on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming respectively.
- You’ll get an insight into what German indie rock/pop sounded like during the historical decade of British indie rock. It still sounds as fresh as back in 2005, right?
- Revisiting Stop! Look! makes you probably rediscover KEN’s cover compilation I am Thief which was released at the same day. So this gives you even more tracks to listen to.
- You’ll hear extraordinary lyrics just like ‘So I take another trip to the middle of the earth/ Got my demons in the back if I get hurt/ Well, the mission is to save the rest of the universe’
- Last but not least: The record’s just damn good. Go figure out yourself.
‘Video clips are works of art and they’ve always been important’
With your new band ABAY you’ve already done cover versions of ABBA’s I have a dream and Scooter’s Always Hardcore. You also shot video clips for both songs. Do you consider video clips still relevant today?
In my opinion, video clips are works of art and they’ve always been important. Nonetheless, money plays a certain role if it comes to producing music videos. We have lots of ideas for good videos but we also need the money to realise them. That’s why our recent videos look quite unpretentious. However, it’s easier to do video clips for cover versions. It’s like you only need some pictures because ultimately it’s not your own song. If it’s your own song then you either represent yourself or the song itself with a video clip. Therefore, we need a bigger budget to shoot video clips for our very own songs. Still, I do watch video clips today and I’m glad if there are good ones out there – and there definitely are.
Apart from video clips which are being streamed all over the internet, has it possibly become less and less possible to present your work as a musician on television during the last decade?
I don’t think that this has changed a lot during the past ten years. There are still some platforms where you can present your work as an indie artist, so to speak. However, these programmes aren’t as popular as in, say, the States. Over there, a band like FUTURE ISLANDS plays a song on a Late Night and gets popular overnight.
Last year KEN also planned to release a collection of cover songs on 7” singles. Is that idea still on your list?
Well, it’s our plan to realise that idea. However, this takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. So we need some more people being involved to make this happen. It’s nice that there were enough people, so that we were able afford the costs for a Stop! Look! Sing Songs of Revolutions vinyl release but it takes a bigger crowd to finance a project like a series of 7” cover singles.
‘We didn’t want a crowdfunding campaign. We wanted to do it ourselves’
Speaking of the Stop! Look! Sing Songs of Revolutions! vinyl release, you didn’t start a crowdfunding project but asked your fans on your Facebook page to get involved, paying for the LP in advance. This worked out well.
Yeah, that was fantastic. It’s quite extraordinary to have a group of people you don’t really know paying for something in advance and sharing a collective happiness for what’s about to come. It makes you feel good and I liked that. It’s a fantastic feeling. When the first emails were arriving I thought that it’s amazing that this really works out as we explicitly didn’t want to include a crowdfunding campaign. We wanted to do it ourselves, having full control of the whole process of realising the production of the vinyl. We felt really connected with the people who participated.
It’s the first time in ten years the album came out on vinyl. Is mobilising fans on Facebook to pre-finance your releases something you would consider doing again?
Well, the time felt right to do it that way. We are currently about to finish our debut album with ABAY but we aren’t allowed to release it until early next year. So it was like a gift that some people were asking me if it’s possible to release Stop! Look! on vinyl as it celebrated its tenth anniversary this year.
So it was not your own idea but the fans were really asking for a vinyl release?
I only posted ‘Happy Birthday, Stop! Look!, it’s nice that you’ve been there’ on Facebook and the lots of emails arrived asking for a vinyl release of the album. I’m a true vinyl lover and I’ve always felt angry that the album didn’t get a vinyl release back in the day. The record label didn’t want a vinyl release and thought that it wouldn’t pay off. Fair enough. However, it’s nice that ten years later things have changed. Also, planning the release of the vinyl gave us something to work on. It’s amazing. The vinyl of Stop! Look! Sing Songs of Revolutions! looks truly beautiful. It even has a gatefold cover.
So now that the production of the KEN LP is completed, will you primarily focus on your work with your new band ABAY?
Yes. I originally founded KEN to work with lots of different people. However, it turned out that KEN would become more and more like fixed band. For now I have stopped producing music with KEN to let people go and let new people come to participate in the future. The original idea has always been that different people meet up to write, record, and ultimately release some music. That’s why we are called KEN, referring to CAN, who had the principle to meet, record, and release. That idea got a bit lost over the years. That’s why I’ve just formed a new constellation of KEN. However, I will concentrate on ABAY’s debut first. After that, KEN will probably return to the studio.
For every of the three LPs KEN featured a different line-up. Is writing and recording music with the band a democratic process?
Once the right constellation of KEN is found, yes. Beforehand I try to find the right people. I need to have the feeling that it works out personally and musically and that it will result in an interesting outcome. Personally, I consider it a lucky state that I’m in. It’s quite luxurious if you can work this way. And I like it this way because that’s how I like to work. On the one hand, the fixed concept surely has its advantages. On the other hand, the lose concept of KEN keeps things fresh and always results in new input and output. You sort of surprise yourself what comes out of it at the end of the day.
The last KEN record Yes we Ken, released in 2010, sounds more experimental, electronic, and diverges from the classic 3-4 minutes pop song formula at times. Was it your intention to emancipate yourself from BLACKMAIL with this album, being recognised as an independent artist? It also has quite a programmatic title, referring to the presidential election in 2008.
Well, this has surely been an issue. I was very angry about that last two years with BLACKMAIL and I felt relieved when we finally parted ways. However, it might have been a bit childish to consider that somebody might care. I guess nobody did. Thankfully, the record has much to offer. And it was not a statement of hatred against any of my ex colleagues. It even includes two potential hit singles that didn’t become hits in the end. However, there isn’t any other song of mine that has sold that well to the film and ad industry than Get a Life did.
‘I’m a great admirer of pop music’
Every KEN record includes the attempt to write the perfect pop song. On Yes we Ken this endeavour resulted in Get a Life. ABAY, on the other hand, announced doing post pop. What does that mean?
I’m a great admirer of pop music. I do like the perfect pop song, I do like the well-written and meaningful three minute pop song and it’s still my endeavour to complete such a song. However, something inside of me struggles to do so when I’m close. When it comes to post pop, we were looking for a term that doesn’t apply to three minute pop songs by, say, the BEATSTEAKS. Our idea was to define pop in our very own way, kind of creating a terrain where we could do what we really wanted to do. I guess this didn’t really work out with the upcoming album. It’s pretty much a pop record.
Did you already finish writing and recording the debut LP?
A few months ago I thought that we’re done. However, there are a few things we would like to change now. I rewrite some of the lyrics and next we will record the vocals for the songs. Even when these things are done we would still have the chance to improve the record. I am not a native speaker, for instance. I do sing like it comes to my mind and I have to follow my feelings. So this time we really have the chance to make the record sound as perfect as we can before it gets released in January or February next year. It’s a new situation for us and we really appreciate it.
“The songs mature like wine”
So ABAY and KEN follow completely different approaches when it comes to the writing and recording process.
Yes, ABAY works completely different as opposed to KEN. I’ve been working with Jonas [Pfetzing] since 2012. Since then we have continued writings songs, we did soundtracks, and ultimately formed and reformed ABAY. We discarded material and did everything new. It took a long time until our first EP [Blank Sheets, released on 12” vinyl in late 2014] came out. Jonas accepts me as I am and we succeed to realise my ideas. We work and develop together, and that’s great.
So the record matures like good wine?
Yeah, maturing is good. Five years ago I would have probably thought differently. But the approach to stop working on material only to come back to it anytime later and to start working on the same songs again is a good ideal. The songs mature like wine.
Does that mean that with ABAY you have found your musical home, so to speak?
No. Personally, I feel like I’m 20 years old at the moment and also the record sounds like that. The sound of the LP shows that we’re trying things out. Actually, I’m already excited about our second album. At this very moment we’re still in search for our very own sound. We have lots of influences and all of them are captured on the debut album.
You’re probably somebody who is really interested in not feeling home, going on and on, developing, checking out for new things to happen. It might bore you to be part of a band who follows the same procedures over and over again.
Yeah, that’s what happened with BLACKMAIL and that’s one of four reasons why I left the band. There was no improvement. Every new idea was scrapped. And if you aren’t able try out new things it stops making fun. But you’re right, I like to be in search of something new.
Is there something you’re particular in search of with ABAY?
I’d like to find our individual sound. Speaking of BLACKMAIL, I’ve always appreciated that we would get together and the songs immediately sounded good. That’s not the case with ABAY. However, I would like to have this experience with my new band. I don’t know if it’s going to get boring then, too. But we’ll see.
‘We work really hard to create good music’
Although you appear to be a busy musician having done different excellent and also successful projects over the past 15 years you have sort of remained an insiders’ tip. Is it your aim to reach a broader audience with your new band and its upcoming album?
Of course it is and I don’t want to play in front of ten people although it’s something that still happens. It’s nice to get some recognition for what you do. Primarily, I do this all for myself but always with the thought to get something back. I don’t want to become the next Helene Fischer. But it’s nice to start a project like the realisation of the Stop! Look! vinyl and not having to beg for only 50 people to participate. We work really hard to create good music and this is rarely done in Germany – even though some excellent new German singing bands have turned up in recent times.
You’re also playing some live gigs with ABAY this year before the album comes out. This month you’re supporting INTERPOL, for instance.
Yeah. That’s just amazing. It’s not like we were asked to support INTERPOL but we told our management that it would be ace to play with them. Jonas is probably the world’s greatest INTERPOL fan. Some time ago we were looking for a booking agency and one agency offered us the opportunity to support INTERPOL on their German dates in August. Now we also have a booking agency. It’s great that our wish will come true.
Do you plan your own headliner tour with ABAY?
Yeah, we do. However, we would like to play some more support gigs first. We will probably do our own tour in January and February next year.
Speaking of (newly emerging) German singing bands, we also had a feature about them on NBHAP. Is there any band that you would recommend?
I like what’s going on around DIE NERVEN, especially the first KARIES album [Seid Umschlungen, Millionen] which is really good. It could have been a KEN record. Also, the latest album [Krieg & Krieg] by VIERKANTTRETLAGER blew my mind.
You can buy Stop! Look! Sing Songs of Revolutions! by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org
ABAY LIVE 2015
15.08.2015 – BERLIN – DE – UFAIR FESTIVAL
17.08.2015 – DORTMUND – FZW (W/ INTERPOL)
25.08.2015 – WIESBADEN – SCHLACHTHOF (W/ INTERPOL)
26.08.2015 – STUTTGART – THEATERHAUS (W/INTERPOL)
29.08.2015 – BERLIN – PURE&CRAFTED FESTIVAL