Joe Hage - Illustration by Stefan Kutschera

Joe Haege – Illustration by Stefan Ibrahim

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending a concert of one of the many bands and projects that Joe Haege has participated in over the years, you probably don’t understand either why he’s still such a well-kept secret. Showmanship, musical crafts, apparently endless creative energy, a fairly productive network of companioned artists and musicians, as well as an unswerving sense for things some might call ‘hipster’ when it’s in fact the simple, and for a musician basic, yearning to stand out – it’s an impressive skillset for Haege to draw upon.

And just like it’s always been the case with his music, his not-so-new-anymore project WHITE WINE is simultaneously classic Haege material as it is an exploration of something more. Or, as the band itself puts it: ‘Rock music, with some cheap theater. Songs about being human that hopefully don’t feel like they came out of a preset of a computer program or songwriting manual.’

Back in 1997, when Joe Haege founded the legendary mathrock band 31KNOTS in Chicago and later moved their basis to Portland, he probably learned a thing or two about the dismatch of reputation and success. ‘Legendary’ meant of course that 31KNOTS turned into one of those bands whose critical acclaim was bigger than their sales. And honestly: With a band sounding like them, in equal share math rock, emo, pop, progressive and something post-something, how big can you expect to grow?

But that’s the thing about Haege, from 31KNOTS, over his involvement in MENOMENA, TU FAWNING and THE DODOS up to the current WHITE WINE situation: His interest is in the art rather than the appeal of it. So, the hard times of contemporary music industry is nothing that a project like WHITE WINE has the freedom to be concerned about, as they point out.

If we were trying to make a living from the music we make we would make really generic pop or techno. Everything is always changing and I’m only going to go mad if I try to pin down what’s good or bad about it. Of course, less people buy records or go to shows, so that’s not fun. All anyone can do is worry about themselves and trying to be a decent human being.

The White Wine/Vin Blanc line-up: Joe Haege and Fritz Brückner

The White Wine/Vin Blanc line-up: Joe Haege and Fritz Brückner

After putting out two solo records as WHITE WINE/VIN BLANC, the new album Who Cares What The Laser Says?, now released under the shortened name WHITE WINE, feels like a debut, at least like a fresh start. First, it’s not a solo project anymore as Haege’s longtime friend and sound man Fritz Brückner has been a part of it for a while now. And second, you can’t underestimate the circumstances under which this new album has been created.

Not only is there a third member and drummer involved now in the person of Christian Kühr. There’s probably also been a big influence on it by the fact of Haege moving from L.A., where he somehow ended up living, to Leipzig, into ‘a cheap appartement, next door to Fritz’s’. In the following, they started building up their own studio – the Haunted House Studios – and the ultimate result is Who Cares What The Laser Says?. A fresh start in Europe that worked out well but: Wasn’t it a bold move still? Not really, as Haege points out:

‘I was in my mid 30’s, my entire adult life focussed on music/acting/art. No kids, no girlfriend. I was living in LA, the crown Jewel of American excess, success, failure and synthetic life. How could I not jump at the chance to put the romance of Europe into a more realistic view while creating more music?’

There are moments on Who Cares What The Laser Says? that pretty openly recollect some of the L.A. negativity Haege hints at: ‘Dear L.A., I sucked your dick, I licked my lips, you cherished it, I must admit: I was enjoying it!’, he croons in A Drink & A 6 Lane Freeway. And all in all these new tunes sound so fresh, innovative and kinky that one is tempted to say that Haege’s vision for WHITE WINE probably really only now comes close to be fulfilled.

Cheap Sounds And Effusive Lyrics

The songs scratch the patina of pop centuries long gone while sounding – pardon the cliché – very up-to-date. And with their unbroken tendency to construct-deconstruct-reconstruct their character, they’re as unpredictable as ever. Samples chase hasty guitars and drums to the sound of the resting heart rate of Brückner’s bassoon playing and all and everything is trying to somehow catch up with Haege’s effusive lyrics. These aren’t arbitrary elements though, it’s all part of a bigger concept.

We searched for sounds that gave us some feeling of an alternate reality where the future goes a little wrong or gets a little broken. Or to let some sounds be intentionally cheap, because whatever is state of the art one day will sound dated and stupid in about 5-10 years (but then the younger generations thinks it’s cool again). It’s all so fleeting in the modern world. Why try to chase it?

And it’s not just the sounds: The themes of Haege’s lyrics are, despite all the mocking, very present and very reflective: ‘War, sex, technology, gender roles, the absurdity of life…You know, all the simple stuff. I basically try to take my little world of thoughts and feelings and throw it back at the unforgiving and disinterested universe and then grab some words from that pile of insignificance.’

Phew. Is there even room then for some old-fashioned hope and passion?

Joe Haege: ‘Well, I haven’t blown my brains out yet, so I guess ‘hope’ is in there somewhere. ‘Passion’ is the name of my favorite perfume.’

There are a lot of contradictions in and around WHITE WINE that you’ll probably have a hard time getting your head around but it all does actually make a lot of sense: The excursiveness of WHITE WINE’s music as well as the simultaneity of old and new, analogue and digital sounds and their strangely retro-futuristic appeal is a pretty spot-on characterization for a lot of us. We are struggling to find the things that really matter, are easily distracted, yearn for an imaginary, comforting simplicity of the past while digitally ‘preaching to the choir of social media’ – it’s all in there, it’s in all of us. So what the craziness of WHITE WINE essentially boils down to is, and let me quote them here again, ‘humanity in music: the madness, the fun, the sadness, the creepiness and the endless complications.’ Obviously, these guys are about to dessect us. And seldomly dessection sounded this refreshing, challenging and good.

Who Cares What The Laser Says? is out March 25th via This Charming Man Records and you should – under no circumstances – miss out on seeing WHITE WINE playing it live. Dates are listed below.

White Wine – Live 2016

23.04.2016 – AT – Linz – Indipendent Film Festival
03.05.2016 – CH – Geneva – L’Usine
04.05.2016 – CH – Lausanne – Le Bourg
05.05.2016 – DE – Karlsruhe – KoHi
06.05.2016 – DE – Nürnberg – Hemdendienst
10.05.2016 – DE – Mainz – Schon Schön
24.05.2016 – DE – Halle/Salle – Hühnermanhattan
25.05.2016 – DE – Dresden – Scheune
26.05.2016 – DE – Hamburg – Übel&Gefährlich
27.05.2016 – DE – Neustrelitz – Immergut Festival
28.05.2016 – DE – Erfurt – Kalif Storch
04.06.2016 – DE – Berlin – Torstraßen Festival
16.06.2016 – DE – Leipzig – Conne Island (w/Skeletons)
17.06.2016 – CH – Luzern – B-Sides Festival
18.06.2016 – DE – München – Milla (w/Skeletons)
19.06.2016 – DE – Erlangen – E-Werk (w/Destroyer)