Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Artist Interview: Namosh

photo: Melanie Magassa

The music of Namosh has a wobble that makes it difficult to set anywhere or define. The sound and presentation is highly refined, but there remains an unhampered raw creativity throughout. The pace and subject matter is immediately rewarding but still moves rapidly and expects you to keep up. While it never quite settles comfortably into place, it also never gets old. Like most good music and art, there seems to be a continual evolution as you get to know the songs, allowing room for the listener to interact and have a personal experience. Namosh now has three albums out and each is fully realized and unique. The danceable new Music Muscle is perhaps his most focused statement yet, but still retains the multifaceted quality that makes his work so relevant and enduring. Featuring his signature style beats, prominent bass lines and rhythmic, almost percussive vocal style. It is a funky, sexy, hilarious, uneasy, and brilliant record. I am so excited to share this interview with one of my all time favorites. Ladies and Gentlemen, Namosh:


When did Namosh originally take shape as a music project?

In 1999 when I moved to Berlin and borrowed my first Tascam 4-Track Tape Recorder. Before that I was actually painting. Especially painting to music or albums. At that time I also met this amazing painter called YAM. She had done 'Painted Pop Songs' but at the time we met she started painting huge mandalas.
Was there an artistic community that you felt connected to?

Yes, I think there were and are many communities. I couldn't tell you where to find them though, 'cause as it turns out I'm more the esoteric type. Like, I need to be alone to learn some things. Not always. I like the idea of an artistic community. But more importantly - there were and are deep friendships to other people who express themselves in creative 'sports' and you know you can be creative with a lot of things.

How has your gear setup changed over the years? 

In the beginning I only had a Tascam 4-track tape recorder, one microphone and a bongo. So I sang a lot and used anything to play rhythms or produce sounds. I think the best were two electric toothbrushes and a cinch cable plugged into the recorder. Basically touching the two ends of the cable to produce a buzz sound and a rhythm. The foundation of many songs on "Moccatongue" were made with a Jomox X-Base 09 and a MC303. The basic music on my first Mini-Album 'Namosh' from 2004 was actually recorded on Type 4 Music Cassettes. After that I used the Roland Digital 8-Track Studio. Before I used the laptop in 2004 as a recording and editing device there was no copy and paste or other editing afterwards. I had to mix it before I recorded it. And I had to play the instruments from start to end. For instance on Cold Cream you can hear that the percussions and claps are played live throughout the song, the bass line as well.

How did the new album, Music Muscle, take shape? It feels very much like a body of work, did you write all of these songs with the intention of them being released as an album? 

It started in the summer of 2010. I was working on the follow up to 'Keep It For Later' called 'Party Alone' which lays in the wine cellar and is yet to be released. So as working on one album came to the end, I started bringing in the next one. But it interested me more than having to deal with a label situation for 'Party Alone', which at that time seemed impossible for me to even think about. I avoided the whole thing by totally retreating into making another album that is called 'Music Muscle' now. I made many different versions and mixes along the way. With the arrangements on the album I wanted the rhythm to be telling a story that starts here and ends there. Less obvious repetition. Songs that include 'real' drums on the album used to be electronic beats. The drums were recorded pretty late in the process out of a fun idea with Daniel Raymond Gahn, who's the drummer on these songs. Yes, I made all these songs to be united on an album. 

Did you play the songs live while you were developing them or finalize everything first?

Yes, I did now and then play a few songs live. 

The song Soul Surviver has an especially funky sound. Does this reflect a change in the music you are listening to as well? Could you divulge any of the influences that might have pulled your sound in that direction?

For me it's been the other way around. I tap further into making music and go down this road or that and after I record something I get to know music that is related with what I just recorded. Like a family of music where a song is at home. And I feel like I'm not alone. In those seven years working on the album I had a lot of time to express my music more fully or sharper on different levels, also through the production. That's why at the end I realized mixing it myself was the only way. I really listen to all kinds of music. I love music. But usually the music I listen to is to take a break from making music. That can be classical music, kurdish music, and I still love Nico. I love how her music and singing became more and more middle-eastern.

Do you draw from artists outside of music as well?

I know it sounds cliche but I have to say Stanley Kubrik, Nikola Tesla, Bruce Lee.

I think there is a perception that dance music is sort of frivolous in general, but dancing is possibly the most basic and expressive fundamental response to music. What draws you to creating dance music?

Exactly that. It is as if something inside of you starts responding and you start breathing or moving to the music. Everybody does it as a child. It's like when you start moving with a song, you feel a certain unity. You would never do that to a song you don't like in the first place (well maybe a sarcastic dance). It's a way where your body lets your mind know something. Rhythm I noticed really early in my life and through it I came up with self-games like being spot on to the rhythm of the music. If it was walking to the beat or dancing to it, brushing my teeth. To magnify that element as a core in my music is I guess one reason why I love making music. I think that perception [of dance music being frivolous] is only a last echo of the generation of music critics etc. that grew up with the whole rock'n'roll thing is 'real music'. I'm so glad there is a whole new generation of music listeners who love what they love and won't let anything outside convince them if it is right or wrong to like it. 

What makes a good danceable beat? Are there some cliches that you try to avoid?

It's gotta be individual. And it has to make your belly move. Not thinking about the perception of others while you make it. We can feel it immediately as listeners. It makes us wanna give all our attention to it. Even if the whole song is produced to directly stimulate your genitals trying to make you feel as if you like it. Still - feeling that the music has individuality in it or feels 'real' or 'honest' can never be manipulated. 

You have a distinctive percussion style and prominent bass lines in your music. Is that the point of entry when you are writing a new song? At what point in the process do you write lyrics?

It really can be any way. It's my decision. I can grab lyrics I wrote and go from there. Or I'll take an instrumental and look for the right lyrics in my book. I love that actually. In the past when collaborating with other musicians, I would get an instrumental track, my job was to come up with lyrics and finding a singing melody and record that.

All of the songs on Music Muscle seem very complete without being overly glossy. How do you know when a song is finished? Do you ever have to back up and start removing elements or is it largely an additive process?

At the very end I throw out stuff or even mute whole tracks. It's like 'yes it would have been nice, but let's be honest'. A song really let's you know what it needs, how it wants to sound and when it's finished. Mixing is another story. I learned a lot about mixing. That was one field I wanted to master with this album.
What do you get out of being in front of an audience? What makes you feel good about a performance?

That I don't have to think throughout the time I'm performing. Just letting it happen and being dedicated. I get a sense of unity with the audience through what and how it's happening. What I really love is when the audience responds to what's happening in the music or performing wise. I think every musician or performer loves that feeling when a beat turns up, a bass-line kicks, a move is happening and the audience comes at you with a wave of 'woooo'. When the moment becomes totally fluent. 

What do you want the audience to get out of it?

Fearlessness, joy, inner strength for doing what they really wanna do. Feeling a sense of unity.

photo: Melanie Magassa
Do you go through any internal battles before or after a show?

I could if I would allow myself to. But through meditation I learned to bundle my energy for the gig. But you need to know your state of being. If I know I'm tired I jump around and wake myself. I have to adjust myself to the energy I have that given night or each show. I was surprised when I did a concert in Moscow in 2005 with high fever. It was possible to do the show. And I didn't feel more sick afterwards. 

It seems like if enough people get together to form an audience, at least one of them will be unstable and volatile. As a solo musician do you have to be more careful to avoid negative situations when you are touring?

That would have to do with one's own mood or signals you are sending out. If, for instance, I would only focus on the 5% that supposed to not function, for the sake of developing and learning, I could definitely find this one person in a crowed of 500 people who has the negative-fulfilling non functioning vibe. I think I never really had negative touring situations, also most of the organizers who booked me, kind of understood that I'm performing on stage and need a drum-riser in order for the audience to get me head to toe. 

Is performing and creating music in general a direct extension of yourself or do you have to flip a switch?

Yeah, an extension. It's my esoteric way. That's why I guess I need to do it all by myself. 'Cause it's not about: Does this work? Will people get it or like it? It became clear to me as key to use and when I do I feel synchronicity, simplicity and sometimes sexy.

While there is often a dark or uncomfortable element, Namosh albums are also very upbeat and funny. Is it important for you to cover a lot of emotional ground or at least strike a balance?

I think it reflects my personality more. Certain colors, moods... But also the album is a story or a film (to me). For instance on 'Moccatongue' I showed some kind of blueprint of what I'm all about. Many different emotions, moods. On 'Keep It For Later' I only focused on the non beat songs. Playing the rhythms through synthesizers. The songs were melancholy, soft. But With 'Music Muscle' I only focus on my version of dance music.

I read that Bjork chose your song Cold Cream as her favorite song of the year in 2005. Unless you are tired of talking about it, could you fill us in? Did you know that you were on her radar prior to that?

I didn't even think that a musician I really adored would get to listen to my song and let alone mention it. I always had a very close feeling to Björk as a music maker and music lover. I 'got' her on her first song 'Human Behavior'. So it was very enriching as a twelve year old to listen to Björk. And she was the next step to this superstar-system. As was Tricky and PJ Harvey. I 'got' her from her first song on. So it was crazy to get a signal with my first song from her. The label put a sticker on the 'Moccatongue' album "Including Björks favorite song of 2005". I didn't feel so good about that. Throughout the years I felt sad that I've never found a way to thank her. Ironically, in retrospect it seems as if I have already created my 'thank you' to her in form of an oil painting of her in 1999. The painting has yet to reach her. I would feel relief if it would.

It seems like you got your start right before a monumental shift in how people listen to music. What do you think about the current state of the music industry?
Fuck It! The whole mass tv-music casting decade has seriously fucked everything. Seems like no space for individual depth is regarded to an artist in the mainstream. But even that will change again.

Have you come under pressure to be more marketable or easier to catalogue?  

When  mainstream music goes to a certain direction or towards a sound, it's like as if it is the most normal thing in the world. I just happen to do things earlier than the general mainstream music industry is directing towards. That's why in the past I realized that mainstream labels would be to afraid to loose money and wouldn't know what to do with me. They wouldn't have anything to compare it with at the time being. I did have a few moments with people like that. Seeing them a few years later, after I played them songs for an album and being like 'See? Now even you can dig it'. But with that attitude you are easily come across as arrogant. When at the bottom line you just happen to realize, you are doing things earlier. I guess I wouldn't choose music if I wouldn't have the intention to create something that couldn't be there before. As everyone has got an individual fingerprint, why not translating that to creative sports. So with the new label Weltgast music, I was so thankful when they got it right away.

What is the role of an album today and the importance of continuing to release music in this format? 

It has to take me on a journey. With an album you are able to find a 'Moral of the story' for yourself. We love getting enchanted by stories. Not just chapters, scenes, songs or Giff's. 

How will the album be released? Is there anything else you would like to say about it? Where can people get it?

It will be released via the label Weltgast music as LP/CD/Digital and distributed via Indigo. UK release is June 8th. You can get it on all online stores or stream it on Spotify etc.

What is next for Namosh?

Finding the right booking agency or booker. Touring, more music-videos to songs off the album.  I'm already collecting the songs for the next album.

Thank you so much for the conversation, Namosh!

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