It is no exaggeration to suggest that Cologne-based producer Marius Lauber is one of Germany’s hottest live acts right now. Few musicians manage to not only land some success abroad, but play extended tours overseas and secure fans in countries like Mexico, Brazil and the US. It is even more impressive considering that Roosevelt is not a traditional band, but the work of a music producer at the intersection of disco-pop and electronic music. As we meet up with Lauber at his music studio in Cologne, just ahead of the release of his sophomore album Young Romance, we decide to not only talk about his own live set, but show him selected performances of other electronic artists and discuss their approaches to playing live. We sit down at his working desk, surrounded by his extensive collection of musical instruments: An arsenal of synthesizers are fixed to keyboard stands on the wall left of us, whereas on the right, his drum kit is positioned next to a lucid window facade. ‘This is actually the same kit that I recorded most of the drums on the album with’, he tells us. ‘I’ve yet to remove the microphones.’
Caribou – Leave House (live at Boiler Room x Dimensions Festival Opening Concert)
Roosevelt: I’ve seen him live a lot of times during that period – in fact, I even interviewed him when I was 20. They’ve managed to put together a very dynamic set, jamming a lot and stretching parts if they want. I’ve always liked how their set up is very compact.
What kinds of challenges did you face when you were starting to play your first tracks live, considering that you started out solo and only added live musicians later on?
Roosevelt: The first issue was finances. While I played my first concert with a band, I later had to revert to performing on my own when I was touring as a support act because it was not financially viable. Playing as a four-piece band now, it feels like a proper live set without compromises. I’m happy about that because the music is not electronic enough to be alone on stage – I’d like to reproduce live what I have on record and that only works with four musicians.
How has your feeling on stage changed with all those live musicians around?
Roosevelt: What has changed is that there’s more energy on stage and it’s being picked up by the audience. They can transform and reflect this energy through dancing or cheering and this, in turn, comes back to you, which is rare when you play alone.
Disclosure feat. Eliza Doolittle – You And Me (live at Radio 1’s Big Weekend 2013)
Roosevelt: We played right before them at MELT! Festival and I found it to be implemented quite cleverly. it’s actually rather consequential not to have a band with this kind of very electronic sound, since it would seem excessive. More is not necessarily better in a live setting – this set is very compact but sums up very well what they are doing.
How do you personally decide what elements from your songs you adapt live?
Roosevelt: When you hear a melody or a percussion element as an audience, you want to also see it. You can very well place synth chords on a backing track when somebody is playing piano, for instance, because it may be important for the track but is not apparent. You don’t want to take the audience for a fool – many people are familiar with those kinds of things. That’s why it’s important to me that the elements in the backing track never have priority.
You mentioned how the energy you create playing live bounces back from the audience. Has this subconsciously influenced you during the writing of your new album and did you think about it while producing the record?
Roosevelt: Not really, I guess it takes place subconsciously. Of course, over the years, you learn what a song needs to have in order to function live, but I hardly think about it while writing. In the studio, I work very impulsively – if you have to think too much about rules or recipes, it’s too late already.
You manage to create a continuous vibe throughout your set. When you select songs from your repertoire, do you make sure not to have any disruptions in your sets?
Roosevelt: It might be an influence from doing DJ sets. I’m not the kind of act where three or four danceable songs stick out, with ballads in between. My concerts are indeed constructed like a DJ set – I try to establish a flow so that it is continuous but still has some variety. You learn how people react to changes of mood, how much has to stay the same to maintain this flow.
In how far has this influenced the album sequencing?
Roosevelt: You get a feel for what would be the next logical step. You sometimes know that there needs to be a break at one point, or a build-up at another, it’s a lot about taking a breath in a way. It’s not that I tried to make a concept album – it’s still just a collection of songs, but it was always important to me how to put them together.
Moderat – Reminder (live at Electronic Beats Festival Berlin 2016)
Roosevelt: We’ve played a lot of festivals with Moderat – they were often headliner and we played in the afternoon. It’s a very reduced live show, but again totally suitable for the music. You very well sense the contrast between them: Apparat handles the organic stuff and the vocals, which meets the Kraftwerk-esque elements of Modeselektor. There is indeed some variation with respect to the studio versions that you don’t necessarily expect.
Considering that an act like Moderat hardly fulfils the traditional notion of a live band, what do you think constitutes the essence of a live performance?
Roosevelt: Well, it’s the whole package. With Moderat specifically, a lot of it is visual. But even someone like Dixon, who doesn’t do a whole lot of performance, can fascinate thousands of people with his understated attitude. It’s often wrong to think that you’ll impress people more the more you do. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – when the spotlight is on you and you do as little as possible, it can have a certain effect, which this performance shows in a way. That’s something you learn live over time: to not burn off energy but rather find your own style you’re comfortable with and which fits the music.
You probably had to work on this while playing live, right?
Roosevelt: Absolutely. In the beginning, it felt more like being kicked onstage and having to do it. By now, I have found my place and I feel very comfortable there. I’d like to organize it as a band more and more and I’ve been DJing a lot less because the focus is on playing live. You find your position over time.
Do you think that this aspect of playing live together will become more important as time passes?
Roosevelt: I already feel like the live versions sound a bit more energetic and powerful. I don’t think that people want to see a 1-on-1 adaption of the record but rather see that there’s a band playing and I try to consciously include more roughness and energy in our sets.
In the studio, you work alone, so you don’t have that kind of dynamic there.
Roosevelt: Not really, but playing live and working in the studio influences one another. It might be for that reason that there were more guitars on the album, because I realized that it works for Roosevelt when I turn up the distortion. It’s always good to have both perspectives – if I were only a producer, I would not have made the record like that.
Tourist – Run (live at BBC Radio1 Xtra)
Roosevelt: I really like this song. With some music, it’s very well-fitting to perform solo. I’ve seen a Four Tet live set where he did stuff with his mouse and keyboard and handled samplers and that works as well. As I said earlier, it always needs to suit the music and be authentic.
You had a couple of tracks in the past that had a bit more electronic elements. From your perspective, what changed when you arranged them for live performances?
Roosevelt: They have definitely come to life a bit. My productions used to be rather flat and a bit lacking in dynamics. My desire to have more interaction might have encouraged me to go a bit more into a band direction. Having a band very early on for tracks like Sea or Soleil, which were very loop- and sample-based, influenced me to use real drums in the studio, for instance. When I produced the first album, it was a smaller step to actually use a proper drum set and just send the takes to my drummer. Hence, the desire to play the music with a live band has indirectly influenced the production.
Chrome Sparks – To Eternity (live at Adult Swim)
Roosevelt: I know him personally. He actually visited me in my former studio in Ehrenfeld when he played live in Cologne. We worked on a track together for a bit, but at the end nothing really came out of it. I wouldn’t actually listen to him that much over the length of an album, however, as a sound smith and synth nerd I’m very much a fan of his. He has a striking instinct for sounds and those guitar-like sounds he extracts from his Minimoog were really impressive to me.
This is a very good live adaption, too. It’s pretty much free from techno-based vibes, it is electronic but has a relaxed feel, which leaves enough space for a drum set. I noticed on his Instagram that he has a system with triggers on his drums, which is cool as an alternative to a drum pad. It can actually pick up different velocities, which feels more natural when using electronic samples.
On the album, you had a feature with Washed Out singing vocals. Will we see you collaborate with other musicians in the future?
Roosevelt: The collaboration with Washed Out was really pleasant, though it was all done over the internet. The actual process in the studio is very intimate to me and I need to be alone for that. I couldn’t really imagine doing proper writing sessions with other producers in the studio, but I might be doing more vocal features in the future as it is very liberating to be working on a different voice for a change. It felt a bit more like doing a remix because you work a bit more freely.
Did you ever consider working for somebody else as a producer?
Roosevelt: I contemplated that a couple of times and there have been ideas to do it, but I just lack the time as I am constantly working on my own music or going on tour. I could envision doing it at some point in the future, though. Ten years ago, I actually thought I might be going more in that direction – it happened more by accident that I’m producing myself right now.
Roosevelt’s second studio album Young Romance is out now via City Slang.