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17. January 2012
The first album by Louise Gold & die Herren Quarz has got it all: A trombone, a guitar, a double bass and a lead singer whose voice has been compared to those of jazz legends Jo Stafford and Peggy Lee. Throw in a unique sense of style and a passion for the sounds of the 40’s and 50’s and you’ve got a Berlin Quartett that has successfully breathed some life into the classic American swing music that this city can’t seem to get enough of these days. But Swing is more than just music, says Louise Gold. It’s an attitude.
Where did you get your love for swing music?
When I was growing up in Potsdam, I used to watch American musicals on GDR television. They would broadcast the repeats the following day and I would watch those, too. Afterwards, I would run into my room and write down all the lyrics I remembered – in phonetic spelling, because I didn’t speak any English. Then I’d secretly practice the songs in my room.
Which songs did you like best?
I loved Judy Garland and especially Doris Day. At some point, a GDR record label called Amiga brought out a Doris Day compilation. My mother waited on line for hours to get a copy. I listened to it over and over again.
Did you have an inkling back then about your future career as a singer?
I never really thought about it en detail as a kid, but I did feel very at home in that artificial, cheerful musical world. And it really sparked my creative energy, which I thought was great.
What about the GDR rock music scene? More of a Manfred Krug or die Puhdys kind of girl?
That never interested me. I worked with a lot of musicians over the years that wanted me to sing German lyrics. But I never felt comfortable doing it.
Do you remember your first performance?
I performed on a very small stage in Potsdam, singing cover songs, there was a guitarist accompanying me. Some songs were very serious because after my Musical-euphoria, I had discovered other things like Leonard Cohen and Kate Bush. Even later, there was a phase where I sang in a punk band. They were looking for a lead singer and I filled in.
When did you start playing your own songs?
I started playing my own songs after I moved to Berlin in the mid 90’s. Back then, I worked with a keyboarder, we called ourselves Recorder and played Trip Hop. We kept the project up for six years, played live shows and toured Europe. Then, the major labels started slipping into crisis so we never brought out an album even though we had enough good material. That’s when it kind of ran out of steam. I think it’s important for a band to eventually release their own album. If that doesn’t work, you start to lose your motivation.
Musical, Punk, Trip Hop – why so many different styles?
I used to be very shy. The idea of singing in front of other people was enticing and terrifying at the same time. That’s why I always looked for ways to sing on stage, because I wanted to practice singing in front of people. I also found it important to work with many other musicians because that’s the only way you can evolve.
Your current style is hard to define – Louise Gold und die Herren Quarz sounds a little like America in the 50’s, a little like Swing music and a little like Fräuleinwunder. At the same time, it sounds highly modern and very Berlin.
Our music is strongly influenced by Swing music from the 1930’s to 1960’s. I like that sound because it’s sophisticated and creative. There is a special aesthetic to it.
How does this style go with your past as a punk musician?
Pretty well actually (smiles). I was a rebellious teenager, I could play three chords and just wanted to yell out everything that was going through my head. It was just a phase.
Our entire world is becoming increasingly technological and digitalized. Is Swing part of an anti-movement to that?
I can’t speak for others but that’s not the case with me. I have loved swing music since I was a kid, I developed a very natural connection to it. It wasn’t like I told myself at some point that I’m going to start doing Swing because it’s hip right now. It just happened. I think that music performances and songwriting used to have a very high quality. There are few artists today that still have it, Amy Winehouse was one of them. She wrote very complex songs and was a great singer. The music scene today lacks that quality. Maybe that’s why I like Swing.
How long have Louise Gold und die Herren Quartz been playing together?
For three and a half years. We started out playing just Swing standards to earn money. Now, we write our own songs. We concentrated on the 30’s and 40’s first but we’ve since then widened the spectrum considerably. Besides the classics, we also play pop songs from the 40’s that Hans Quartz has composed. We have a small band with a double bass, trombone and guitar and myself as the lead singer. We also have a six-person band with a pianist and a drummer and a big band with eleven people.
The recordings for your first album originated in a special studio.
The studio is called Lightning Recorders and it’s located in Rummelsburg near the former GDR – Rundfunkanstalt on Nalepastraße. The studio’s owners love 50’s music and bought all-original equipment like the RCA microphones that Billie Holiday used to record her songs with. If you record a song using those microphones, you can hear even the tiniest noise, every grain of dust, the softest little feather. It’s amazing. But the best thing about working in this studio is that the band records every song together. Normally, a singer will sing his or her audio track over recorded background music. But here, we all record together at the same time. I found it irritating at first but I’ve grown to love it because the sound just gets this wonderfully lively note to it. And there’s hardly any editing to do later.
How did you come up with your new songs?
I write the lyrics first and then the music. Lyrics are extremely important to me, basically, they’re the most important aspect. “Boys are Heroes”, for example, is about observations I made while hiking in the Alps.
What did you observe in the Alps?
You might have heard of the two boys that wanted to climb the Eiger-Nordwand in the 1930’s? Well, only one of them made it. The other one died. My song tells their story. It’s set in an idyllic little mountain village. Two young climbers set out to the mountain, they have two girls waiting for them at home. But only one of the boys returns. It’s actually a pretty current topic. When I traveled to Schnalstal in Südtirol, I noticed that men there think very differently than men in Berlin – it fascinated me. They’re so charming and chivalrous but on the other hand there’s a very morbid mood amongst climbers. Some are very bold and go on their tours with very bad equipment. Accidents are no rarity. In many of the mountain cabins you will find little memorial cards for those climbers that crashed. They’re heroes in the eyes of the local population. I was fascinated by this distinct understanding of heroism and I let that experience flow into the song “Boys are Heroes.” It’s almost a didactic piece, sort of like a fairy tale or a legend, with many metaphors and lots of imagery. The boy who crashes. His mourning father. The crying girl.
How do you turn these images into a song?
The “Boys are Heroes” hookline popped into my head almost immediately. When I’ve found the melody to a group of lyrics, I look for a fitting chord. Then, I try to think about what will happen next. If I’m sleeping, the song will keep playing in my head, as if my brain wants to keep working on it by itself. Sometimes it takes a couple of days until the song is ready, sometimes I get it done much faster.
How does Berlin treat its musicians?
We play a lot of Clubs, but we also play corporate events like company parties or at weddings. The good part about being a jazz musician is that you always get a lot of gigs. Single concerts won’t bring in that much money, but you always have a lot of places to play. Berlin is crazy about swing right now, even clubs like Kater Holzig are hosting regular swing events. I think it’s because this type of music and the dancing that goes with it is more communicative than the usual fidgeting around you see in most clubs. And swing has a very special sound. It’s very cheerful and very elegant.
(Interview: Oliver Burgard)