My new EP „Biike“ was released yesterday. So I thought I’d tell you a bit about it and how it came about.
Of course, I had planned something completely different. A new album was in the making, and I had a relatively strong vision about what it was going to be.
But if there’s one thing I have learned in the last 40 years of writing, playing and producing music, it’s that music has has a mind and a life on its own.
When my wife Katja, our two dogs Candor and Buba and I set off to spend our winter holiday on the North Sea island of Föhr, I decided to take a synthesiser, a laptop and some cables and interfaces with me to sketch out a few sounds and maybe a demo or two for this album I was in the middle of working on.
Friends for life
On our second day on the island, I went shopping some provisions. While I was hunting for vegetables and noodles in a cosy little corner shop, a programme from the local radio was playing from the loudspeakers. It was about old friends – it told the story of two men from a North Frisian community who had been friends for 70 years. They met at school, then experienced all sorts of things together, were now both over 80 and still saw each other regularly.
At first I didn’t think much about it, but as I was walking Candor, my German shepherd mix, on the beach that evening, I thought again about the programme, I thought about my own experiences with friendships, short and long lasting, and it occurred to me: I would never be able to say about a friendship that it has lasted 70 years. Or 50. Or even just 30. I simply don’t have friendships that last that long.
And my thoughts went back to my formative years, to old friendships, and I remembered how very important they had been to me at the time. Candor and me walked and walked, and I told him about my old friends, and he looked back at me as if to say: „I don’t know what’s the matter with you. We’re here, I’m your friend, and I’ll always be“
When I came back to our apartment (a small cottage we dubbed ‚the lighthouse‘ because the switch for the exterior lighting had fused and there was no way to turn it off), I sat down in my little makeshift studio and improvised away – thus, the beginning of „Friends“ was born. I didn’t have lyrics yet, but the melody and the theme were there.
Musically, „Friends“ had set the mood for the sketches I would record and program in the following days; one thing led to and conveniently flowed into another, and the island provided me with plenty of inspiration – the stark yet beautiful landscape, the murmur of the waves, the songs of the seagulls and oystercatchers. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was as though the island wanted me to make exactly this kind of music.
Clearly, „Friends“ and its siblings were completely different from the material I had been working on up to our vacation, and I would have a hard time fitting it onto my new album. But I would deal with that when the time came.
Another big inspiring moment was on the evening of „Biike“, the tradition which gave my new EP its name.
„Biike“ is what the North Frisians call the annual burning of large bonfires to say goodbye to winter (or to drive away evil spirits, depending on who you believe).
In many places in Germany, such a custom would be turned into a tourist attraction with a bratwurst stand plus loud and disgusting music for equally loud and disgusting people.
But not so in the small village where we were staying. Here we could simply walk out in the evening to the clearing behind the little forest near the beach, stand together with the locals directly in front of the bonfire, drink some beer we had brought along and actually feel how all the problems of our times, the anger, the stress, the populism, the injustices, the selfishness, the bigotry, the inconsideration and the impertinence of the last couple of years were devoured by the fire and carried away by the wind.
At least for one single, glorious evening.
And as we stood there, I hummed to myself: „See the flames, see the flames, burning it all away“. That’s how „Flames“ was born.
On the penultimate day of our stay, I had 10 pieces of music: 3 songs that would probably one day receive proper lyrics, and 7 that would most likely remain instrumental.
I was so excited with the new material that I packed everything up and put it in a shared folder for my co-musicians to hear, even though I was still on the island. I wrote them a message and asked for their opinions, and back came… nothing. Not the following day and not the day afterward and not in the week afterward.
Unfortunately, this was symptomatic of a problem that I had been observing for several months now: the people on whom I depended for my various big plans, had grown less and less interested in collaborating and more and more caught up in their own plans and issues.
Of course they had every right to do so. And of course I know from over three decades of experience with music projects and bands that things like this happen when people do stuff together on a purely voluntary basis. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. But somehow this time I was particularly upset.
I won’t go into details here, suffice it to say that this was the week when it became quite apparent that, given this level of commitment, it was not at all realistic to dream of an album and a „Schall und Stille“ club tour; and so, with a heavy heart, I went in search of alternative comrades-in-arms.
Unfortunately, this search itself was an odyssey, and after two months of being put off again and again until next week by a total of four different people for all sorts of good and perfectly valid reasons (and being accused of passive-aggressive-nonmention-subtooting™ in the process), it finally became clear that there would be no album and no tour in the foreseeable future – indeed, more than that, I had the distinct feeling that this album didn’t want to be made at all.
After a period of applying generous amounts of self-pity, I stumbled upon the Föhr demos again while organizing things on my main studio computer.
I listened to them, and it struck me how well they stood on their own, and how little work would actually still be needed to make them into something that could be published.
So I sat down and finally wrote some lyrics for „Friends“. Combining the impressions from the island with my experiences of the last weeks, the text virtually wrote itself.
As I experimented with recording guide vocals for some hypothetical yet-to-be-determined future singer, I realized that I could actually sing this track without being ashamed of my vocal deficiencies.
This was a little miracle in itself, because after having had my thyroid out in 2018, I had experienced more and more troubles finding and sustaining pitch, and „Friends“ was (at least for me!) quite demanding.
And suddenly it dawned on me:
I could actually do this on my own!
Even more surprising, only a few days later, Suse – one of the prospective lead vocalists of another abandoned project of mine (a concept album about horses) – called me up and asked what I was up to; and if maybe I had a song for her to sing, she really wanted to sing something again.
Together we finished the „Biike“-EP in three days. Suse sang harmony vocals on „Friends“ and lead vocals on „Flames“, while I contributed lead vocals on „Friends“ and backing on „Flames“.
These were among the easiest, most uncomplicated and straight-forward sessions that I’ve ever conducted.
It still seems to me as though this EP was willing itself into existence. And I’m very happy about that, because the end result is something I’m very proud of; it reminds me of a wonderful time of tranquility.
I hope you like it as much as I do. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do next, but I imagine things will just happen.
Just like with „Biike“.
You can listen to and order „Biike“ here: