Fritz Kalkbrenner - Spot On

Illustration by Stefan Ibrahim

‘It usually looks a bit less empty than how it appears at the moment.’ As FRITZ KALKBRENNER smoothly walks through the giant warehouse office at the headquarters of his label SUOL he points out to us where the tables and chairs are usually located. Just for these promo days everything in the room got rearranged for the figurehead of the Berlin-based electronic label with its distinctive love for soul roots (read more about it in last year’s big feature story on NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION). In terms of commercial success KALKBRENNER acts on a way bigger scale than, for instance, his label bosses CHOPSTICK AND JOHNJON or TILL VON SEIN. His last longplayer Sick Travellin’ entered the Top 10 in his home country and his tour sold out venues in quite respectable sizes all over Europe. Still, everybody under the roof of SUOL underlines the ‘gang mentality’ of the label. Only crew love is true love.

But here he sits, like a boss on a white table in a big office next to the Spree, right in the centre of über-cool Berlin-Kreuzberg. When I point out that the situation somehow resembles a classic job interview the musician smiles and replies: ‘Well, then I hope you’re prepared.’ FRITZ KALKBRENNER is a professional; friendly, polite and eloquent. Part of it might be also a direct result of his past since he worked as music journalist before his musical career. Asking him about the worst questions he ever got asked he thinks a while and then replies: ‘I always hate it when people start an interview with something like ‘Okay, well, let’s just tell us something about you’ as it clearly hints that they aren’t prepared.’

Of course, we try to do better. In the wake of his forthcoming third studio album Ways Over Water (Out on October the 17th) plenty of questions arise. So, NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION sat down for this special ‘job interview’ and tried to find out a bit more on the charismatic German producer with the distinctive voice.


To me it felt a bit like you’ve been constantly touring ever since ‘Sick Travellin’ came out exactly two years ago…
Yeah, indeed. It’s funny that you say that ’cause to me it felt that way too a bit. But on the other side, when you play – let’s say – 130 shows, there’s a certain habit and it becomes okay. You know, in terms of the whole ‘time’-aspect.

But did the life on the road changed your way of producing music?
No, not really. I mean, I’m doing certain sketches all the time when I’m on the road. I’ve collected about 30 or 35 sketches over the course of 2013 and in January this year I sat down and sorted a few ones out and started working on those where I felt real potential. I don’t strain myself that much. Sometimes I can’t help but to wonder about that. (laughs) Coming from an external position I can totally understand your perspective on the tour pensum but it’s not what I feel. I don’t know if other artist are lazier.

Well, sometimes there’s these artists who say: ‘Oh, I need to be on my own, write something in private and not in the rush of tour.’ You know, that picture from the lonely songwriter in an old log cabin.
(laughs) Haha, well that’s not that fitting for my sort of music. I can’t take a whole sabbatical year off. I mean, if you choose that sort of job you have to deal with the whole package or choose another job instead.

The life on the road seems to be a key element of your lyrics as well. Just take the first single ‘Back Home’ as an example. In which way did this influence your writing?
Well, it’s mostly coincidence, there is no masterplan. It’s not just about coming from point A to point B as there are plenty of other metaphorical aspects within these songs that play a significant role. Somehow I can’t get rid of it these themes.

Did the aspect of the word ‘home’ changed for you over the years?
In some ways, yes. But it’s not just about coming home and opening your apartment door but it’s also about returning to yourself as an individual. I mean, you play a handful of shows and then you tend to disintegrate at a certain point. You know, coming on stage while not really knowing where you actually are. The value of home changes, the whole back-pedalling. In our industry there are so many artists who don’t have a regular home. I don’t really understand how they are able to keep that going for such a long time.

One thing comes clear quite soon during our chat, FRITZ KALKBRENNER is indeed the laid-back and relaxed lad you might think he could be. It’s a likely aura of professional serenity that surrounds the 33-year old Berliner. Ways Over Water manifests that image in a musical form, delivering the producer’s well-known formula of smooth electronic house beats with a very soulful songwriting once again in a quite seductive way. There are no signs of stress sensible within these songs, they rather deliver a hypnotic feeling of concinnity. ‘There were moments when I reached my performance limit’ says KALKBRENNER when he’s talking about the past two years since the release of Sick Travellin’. But he also makes sure that he’s not a person that complains about his job. KALKBRENNER is an honest worker, believing his job is a blessing, never a burden.

‘The aspect of passion in my everyday life as a musician is mostly sensible within the live shows. It’s where it’s all compensated. Even when I’m already lacking of sleep in the course of the tour; the moment when the show starts changes everything and you’re right in the here and now, feeling the passion of the audience and their energy as well.’


To me the step from your debut ‘Here Today, Gone Tomorrow’ to ‘Sick Travellin’ felt way bigger like the one to ‘Ways Over Water.’ This album really feels like a natural continuation. Did you found yourself during the recording process thinking: ‘Oh, I think I’m repeating myself right here…’
Well, of course I didn’t want to produce a pure copy of the last album but in some way certain sounds and schemes just stick with me and I can’t get rid of them. (laughs) I mean, you can’t escape yourself as an artist.

I’m still waiting for the full band transformation of the FRITZ KALKBRENNER sound…
Oh, don’t get me started on this. Far too many people are asking for this. (laughs) At the moment I still feel as if the dancefloor concept might be a bit under-represented in the case I should decide to form a band. It’s a bit like with these synthpop duos that are away for a year, come back and had this strange metamorphosis where they saying: ‘Hey, we’re a real band now.’ And then the club foundation is missing and the whole formula doesn’t work the way it used to. Right now I don’t need to but I can totally see that happening in the future. A bit like Bryan Ferry in his later years. (laughs)

In a fancy glitter suit…
(laughs) Depending if it will still fit me then. But like I said, I don’t miss the whole ‘band thing’ at the moment. Far too many bands just do it for the effect and not for the music. Forming a proper band is not as easy as a lot of people think. I enjoy doing my stuff at the ‘effect table’ during a show and let’s be honest; most people in the audience don’t care about whether it’s a band or not as long as they’re having a good time.

Fritz Kalkbrenner - Photo by Vitali Gelwich

Photo by Vitali Gelwich

It’s no surprise that people tend to ask KALKBRENNER far too often about presenting his music with a full band in the back. It’s not just the size of the venues that would allow such a transformation, it’s also his music. Organic aspects are also sensible on Ways Over Water. Pass The Buck starts the album with a newly introduced brass ensemble and a funky grooving e-bass at the foundation of it. The easy-going Void delivers swinging guitar-play in the mixture with a grooving beat. In the course of the record the German slows down the tempo in the break-beat-driven Heart Of The City while singing a sweet little love song to his urban environment. A track like this or the experimental Front Of The World show new aspects of the artist and songwriter FRITZ KALKBRENNER. Especially the second one surprises this listener with a swinging afro beat and almost jazz-like trumpets in the background, showing a brave new and almost introspective side of the artist. In moments like these you can almost visualize the trumpet players on stage of his live show. Still, these are all dreams of the future. Somehow he can’t imagine himself right yet doing a Bryan Ferry on stage, leaving his beloved equipment and headset away. ‘I will keep the concept for the forthcoming tour’ he tells us while fans can expect a lot of new visuals within the show.

Still, mI can see that you still thought a lot about the whole live concept.
Yes, of course. I’ll keep it this way on the upcoming tour but I don’t know what happens after that? It’s also a question what elements you change during your live set. Shall I leave the kick drum out? Should I add a real piano in here?

Previous examples show that real drums usually take away a lot of a pumping ‘club beat.’
Absolutely. No drummer can kick that hard. (laughs)

Still, all in all it seems like the people really want a few more – let’s call it – ‘real’ elements within electronic dance music. You guys from SUOL are almost pioneers in that field. Do you see similar tendencies?
Yeah, definitely. I mean you can take everybody hear, from CHOPSTICK AND JOHNJON to our latest rookies, TENDER GAMES. We all share a similar taste for the classics of the soul, funk and r&b genre, despite maybe having different favourites when it comes to contemporary electronic sounds. I think in general, electronic music is just dividing itself more and more these days. Creating edits and everything is a big deal at the moment. You take an old hip hop sample, speed it up to 120 bpm and sell it as a club hit. I mean, there are whole labels who work that way. I think that’s the point where your love for the original reaches a certain limit. It’s like walking on thin ice at the moment. But I think in general there are no big dominators in dance music anymore.


Speaking of wisdom of age in the case of a man in his early thirties might be a bit exaggerated but KALKBRENNER truly is a down-to-earth guy who has no need to rush things in terms of his career. He rather delivers solid work on a continuous basis than aiming for a hype. Keeping the things slow and steady is subconscious but somehow also strategic decision. And it might help to understand the repetitive elements on Ways Over Water. Yes, it’s not reinventing the wheel, but it also doesn’t destroy the machinery at all as well. New elements like the brass section (noticeable in songs like The Sun) add a new layer to the musical microcosm of the producer, creating a quite enjoyable flow. And he’s already thinking about the future. ‘Real string arrangements’ he answers when asked what his next musical goals could be. ‘But not too much as it would kill the groove’, he adds with a smile. ‘I’m not RUFUS WAINWRIGHT yet.’ One thing remains sure. Despite all the buzz it looks like FRITZ KALKBRENNER will most likely find his way again home in the future as he plans to stick around just a bit longer.

[one_half last=”no”]
Fritz Kalkbrenner - Ways Over Water - Cover

[one_half last=”yes”]FRITZ KALKBRENNER
Ways Over Water

Release-Date: 17.10.2014
Label: SUOL

01. Easin’ In
02. Pass The Buck
03. Back Home
04. Fake Magic
05. Void
06. Pitch Perfect
07. Heart Of The City
08. Stranger In A Strange Land
09. The City
10. One Of These Days
11. Front Of The World
12. Three The Hard Way
13. Every Day