In Conversation: The Notwist

Markus Acher discusses 'Close To The Glass'...

Long renowned for their mutating indie sounds, kissing the cheeks of electronica while keeping an eye on flirtations with post-rock and even hip-hop collaborations, German innovators The Notwist have represented a force for musical progression since the release of their eponymous debut LP back in 1991.

Presently comprising founders Markus and Michael Acher alongside Andi Haberi and Martin Gretschmann, the band’s new album is ‘Close To The Glass’, released via City Slang in Europe and Sub Pop stateside. Their eighth studio album to date, ‘Close To The Glass’ follows the highly acclaimed 2008 set, ‘The Devil, You + Me’.

Clash talked to Markus Acher about where the band finds itself in 2014.

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The Notwist, ‘Kong’, from ‘Close To The Glass’

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Lead single ‘Kong’ stands out on the record for its pace and energy. Was it chosen to be an album-preceding single as a kind of misdirect?

The first song released on the Internet, [to preview the album,] was [the title track], as we thought it sounds different from our last record, and maybe surprises a few people. ‘Kong’ is totally different from that, and that's why we chose it. [It’s also] maybe the most accessible of the songs. All the songs are very diverse, so there’s not really the one song that could stand for album as a whole, somehow...

The song’s got a great video, too…

It’s made by our friend Yu Sato, who is originally from Tokyo [but is now] living and working in London. He took the story of the lyrics and illustrated them in his own great way. The story is about me as a young boy imagining a superhero King Kong saving me from a flood which made it impossible for us to leave the house for two or three days.

The title track, ‘Close To The Glass’, seems to hint at the feeling of being on the outside looking in. Is that an idea the song is trying to convey? And if so, what was the inspiration behind it?

Yes, that’s true. But it also says that you never know if you’re in or outside of the aquarium. Somehow we all live close to the glass these days, spending our days in front of screens. We always think, we look at things, we choose – but with every move on the Internet, we're looked at, too.

Lyrically speaking, does the band still enjoy tampering with the dictionary definition of certain English words and putting your own spin on things? What are some of your favourite examples of doing this on the new album?

Through Adam ‘Doseone’ Drucker (Notwist collaborator on 13 & God, and member of hip-hop groups Themselves and cLOUDDEAD), I learned to not try to write ‘right’ English, but be aware of my limitations, and see them as a strength, too. I like the song ‘Casino’, where I was impressed by a couple standing in the door of a casino, with pride and dignity, quite drunk and happy. But you could also see, that's not a good way to live. I try to sing for them in this song.

‘Casino’ and ‘Steppin’ In’ are both acoustic-driven ballads, of sorts. Has writing vulnerable and readily accessible songs become easier or harder over time?   

For me, it’s very important to have a strong feeling about what I sing. That’s the case with both of these songs. But generally, I’m a bit bad in knowing if a song is more or less accessible then others. In a way, all of the songs on the new record are quite accessible to me – but I listened to them quite often, too.

Your last three albums are separated by six-year gaps. How does this lengthy time between Notwist LPs affect the writing and recording process, as opposed to the ‘90s when the band released albums in more rapid succession?

On our first records, we worked very different. Basically, we composed and rehearsed the songs, and even played them live before we went into the studio and recorded them live, with more or less no overdubs. Now we try all kinds of different ways to compose our songs. The classic way with the guitar at home, or with the computer, or with the whole band live in the studio, or with improvisations in the studio – and then we edit that into songs. That process takes much more time in the end. But also, the other things we do between records – music for films, radio plays and theatre; the other bands we play in; and our families – take more time now.

Are you surprised how often The Notwist is praised for the band’s ability to shift through musical genres, and are your favourite artists those whose sound morphs over their careers, like yourselves?

For us, our musical process is, of course, more natural and logical. We know where all the inspirations come from and what we’ve recorded in between records. I’m big fan of a band like Talk Talk, who made an incredibly big step to ‘Spirit Of Eden’, and again to ‘Laughing Stock’, and equally I absolutely love Sonic Youth, who could transform and change from record to record and stay compelling without losing their very special sound. You don’t have to change instruments and sounds and styles all the time to stay interesting. For us, it’s not a concept – it’s more because we are fans of so many different kinds of music. Personally, I’ve always liked mixtapes, eclectic DJ mixes, sample-heavy hip-hop records and musical collages – and this new record is a kind of tribute to this.

And what’s going to follow ‘Kong’, as the next single?

There will be something physical, finally, for Record Store Day – but I can’t tell you what will be on there right now.

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The Notwist, ‘Where In This World’, from ‘The Devil, You + Me’

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Words: Marc Zanotti
Photos: Jörg Koopmann

‘Close To The Glass’ is released on February 24th via City Slang (EU). Find the band online here

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