I have always wanted to write more songs, believing that the “pop song” is probably one of today’s most powerful and compact modes of communication.
However, I’m not a “pop” artist. And, I have not been gifted with what most would call a “good voice”. So, I endeavoured to find a way to create songs that would somehow allow me to be true to my artistic preferences, come up with a vocal sound that would work, and allow me to do it without feeling self-conscious.
Some years ago, actor and artist Keith Ikeda-Barry lent me a book by Keith Johnstone called “Impro”, which talked about the use of masks, both in terms of cultural history and the acting world. Shortly before making the album “Masked and Dreaming”, read a number of Joseph Campbell’s books on mythology, and something happened – I had found a way to take on a mask, to become a character, and explore facets of my expression that I might have self-censored in the past: “Masked and Dreaming” was born.
One of my favourite examples of this mode of working is the song “Zeppelin“. Here’s how it happened:
- I had recently seen a Kraftwerk concert, “Minimum-Maximum“. I was impressed with the power of this music – so simple, so very electronic, and yet somehow maintaining a sense of passion.
- I grew up in Germany, and one of the things we had in the house was a Mickey Mouse record player. Among the record collection was Herbert van Karajan’s Beethoven symphonies, Boney M’s Christmas album, some choral music, a “Bonanza” country album, and ABBA’s greatest hits. I rediscovered ABBA when spending time with my young niece and nephew. The sheer genius and sincerity of the songwriting, the high level of production, and the brilliance of the performance made a big impression on me. Well, Anni and Agnetha were pretty hot too.
- I lived in Japan in the 90s, and one of the places I visited fairly often was a library in Sendai. It was a very modern building shaped like a big airplane wing in the forest. I remember quite distinctly walking in the woods next to the building, disappointed with how “The Butterfly Effect” was too earnest. I was trying quite hard to come up with a “new sound” and suddenly the word “Zeppelin” came to my mind. I had a fairly clear impression of what that sound could be – and it’s nothing like the “Zeppelin” I’m talking about today. But, the title stayed with me.
- During one of the “30 Days” projects, I tried to bring that new sound into being. It didn’t work – but what did work was suddenly taking on a character: this eccentric German man making an advance on a silent, beautiful woman sharing a flight. Suddenly, the metaphor had become clear: it was a cross between that old Hochtaler commercial, German cabaret a la Marlene Dietrich, the romance of the turn of the century airship, and the influences I mentioned above. From that point onward, all I had to do was “follow the script”, have a sense of humour, play, and improvise it into being.
And, that is what I did.