Affliction, tribulation and distress – that’s the words a dictionary might suggest you when you’re looking for a proper English version of the word ‘Drangsal’. And in quite a rare situation it looks like the German word remains the best option here. This name is more than just a word, it’s the alter ego of Max Gruber, although it seems impossible to detach the 22-year old German from his artificial character. The lines between them became blurry and DRANGSAL therefore seems to represent a feeling that is driven by its protagonist. With furious live shows, an impressive imagery and catchy first pieces of energetic new wave pop Gruber already built up a delicate buzz in the German music scene; one that is now aiming to attract a bigger audience on an international basis.
And if you take a closer look on the sound of Gruber you’ll find a powerful new wave/ post punk sound (or ‘brachialpop’ as he likes to describe it) that is packed with references to the history of that sinister subgenre, although the artist himself refuses to see himself as born in the wrong year. ‘I’m only saddened to have missed some legendary shows in the past,‘ he explains to NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION. Shows like BLACK FLAG with Henry Rollins as frontman, MORRISSEY‘s furious first solo gig in Wolverhampton in 1988 or basically anything PREFAB SPROUT are involved. The underrated band from Newcastle is the latest musical crush of Gruber as he confirms to us: ‘Prefab Sprout are where it’s at for me musically. My room- and band-mate Tim and I are literally obsessed with everything about them.’
The sound of DRANGSAL‘s forthcoming debut Harieschaim (out April 22) is packed with JOHNNY MARR-like guitars, dark Peter Hook-infected bass play and synthesizer patterns even TEARS FOR FEARS would have appreciated back in 1985. According to Gruber you’ll find lots of chorus, reverb, Poly-800 and Roland U-20 synthesizers’ on the LP. It’s a sound the musician and his band prefer while he never forced himself to use those specific elements.
‘I believe my music is just a sum of my many influences. There has always been great and bad music at all times.
State of the art nostalgia
Although Gruber is backed by a playful live band during his shows he’s still keen to call the whole thing a solo project as he explains that DRANGSAL is the result of ‘what happened, when first I decided to just press record instead of trying to sound like someone specifically.’ Just like the first single Allan Align the whole Harieschaim record is a perfectly produced piece of 80s nostalgia and a must-listen for all those who enjoy the pop musical glory of those past days. Nothing seems to happen by accident. Acclaimed German producer Markus Ganter (SIZARR, CAPSPER) took care of the fitting sound while legendary photographer Jim Rakete provided the shiny press shots.
‘I’ve finally reached a point now where I am given the chance to work with people I have always admired deeply. Markus and I have been friends for a long time before he decided to work on my music with me and it was one of the happiest moments in my life thus far when he did. Jim Rakete I’ve always loved for both his photography, involvement in the early and late NDW-scene in Germany and general persona.’
Gruber even managed to hire German actress Jenny Elvers for his first music video, right in time for her participation in the national version of ‘I’m a celebrity… get me out of here’ which even resulted in getting mentioned in Germany’s biggest yellow press media, the infamous BILD. All fitting for a perfectly staged image?
When me and director Max Wiedenhofer chose Jenny Elvers, we weren’t aware she was going to be in IACGMOOH, as she had sort of vanished from the public eye for some years. Be that as it may, I’m just a fan of many people and I’m eternally grateful to be getting to work with some of them, so I cannot say it’s, but an image-thing. I am terribly neurotic, though and would consider myself an utter control-freak, so the way I portray myself through collaborators, videos, imagery and the likes is important to me.
DRANGSAL wants to make a change and Gruber is clearly ambitious and confident when it comes to the goals of his project. He represents the new self-condidence of the German independent music scene that is currently trying to break the underground, whether it’s ISOLATION BERLIN (which we recently also introduced to you), DIE NERVEN or KARIES. He’s not forcing it but the performer wants to change the conception of German music on an international level, beyond NENA, RAMMSTEIN and Techno music. ‘I find Germany right now has more great artists and bands than ever’, he states and adds: ‘plus, I sing in two languages.’ And that itself works surprisingly well on the album itself. Gruber doesn’t want to limit himself by only sticking to one language.
‘Those that do are judged by those who tried and found they couldn’t do’
One could argument that the whole DRANGSAL idea is way too retro and slick – from the imagery to the sound itself and clearly Gruber prefers to reference the past more than he likes to add new elements to it. But hasn’t pop always been about recycling ideas? The artist himself couldn’t care less about critical voices as he states:
James Ferraro once said that if we can no longer take from the past, we are stuck in a constant future, which is blank. People – music-journalists out of all – sometimes tend to forget that it still takes a certain set of skills to even get to write, arrange, play, record, produce and release music properly, no matter what it has been influenced by, which really pisses me off. Skills lots of people do not possess, but: ‘Those that do are judged by those who tried and found they couldn’t do.’
DRANGSAL reached a happy point in his life which allows him to follow his own artistic vision in the way he likes it. ‘I’d rather be poor and get to do what I want to do now than be stuck in some 9 to 5 job where I’m being bossed around non-stop or go to university even’, he explains to us. He just goes continues with his stubborn ways while he already works on the Harieschaim follow-up because the album itself remains the purest form to experience music for Gruber:
I grew up being used to holding something in my hand when I buy music. The sheer haptic and experience of unpacking, then going through booklets, layouts, liner notes and other details that come with having an actual record – be it CD or vinyl – in your hands cannot be competed with by streaming and I am quite saddened that they don’t seem to have the same importance as they used to have, especially since I meticulously chose these things now and am happy to be getting to do so, anyway.
Still, DRANGSAL is a victim of the modern times and he’s well aware of this.
Streaming puts this vast landscape of music in the palm of our hands. It’s both a blessing and a curse. The transition to streaming happened way faster than labels and publishers could react to it, so for artists it can be quite hard being forced to just give people your music without payment because it’s just the status quo.
His music might be dark and filled with pain but the future couldn’t look any brighter for DRANGSAL. Throughout 2016 Gruber promises to continue in the same way, which means he is ‘not caring about what people may criticize about the first one, not caring about expectations and just continuing to do whatever I see fit, whatever makes me happy sonically.’ And that’s a life lesson that is as important as it is timeless, just like the sound of this crafted young gentleman.