INTERVIEW: Mouse on Mars [Part III]

The third and final portion of the Globecat interview with Jan St. Werner of Mouse on Mars is here. In Part I, Werner talked extensively about the formation of the dynamic electronic duo, and in the audio-only Part II, claimed that The Love Below was better than Sgt. Peppers. In this final portion, this excitable uber-producer talks about the future of electronic music, how he first met Stereolab, and almost regrettning not signing to Virgin Records. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mouse on Mars ...


You’re such big fans of collaborations. I remember reading a story about you guys and how you just sent in your first demo to the label that Stereolab was on, saying “even if you don’t like what you hear, thank you for signing such great artists” -- and, of course, it wasn’t too long after that before you began collaborating with Stereolab.

We sent this demo, this tape to Too Pure [the label], saying “can you pass it onto [Stereolab]? We really appreciate that band.” It was honestly the only [label] at that time that was trying something that we were interested in on a musical level, which was like music made by a band -- it could even be like one person or two -- but producing music that was completely ... I don’t like the word “hybrid” ... I think you know what I mean. It was music that could’ve been -- it was just “otherworldly”. [Just] a completely different proposal of music; as in, like, not retraceable. […] But it was still [thought] of as music from a band within an indie context, but I think it was like an explosion because it was very subtle, it was very ambient, very melodic …

But that was something where we felt ... because some people had heard our stuff -- even some labels in Germany -- and honestly none of these people understood what we wanted to do with this music. Everyone said like “If this is supposed to be techno, this is really wrong. I mean, what do you want to be: do you want to be a band? Do you want to be producers? Is this meant to be ambient, ‘cos it’s much to neurotic and there’s much too much happening and too many weird sounds and too many changes?” [Everyone] was like, “you can’t chill on that stuff” and everything was wrong. It was not a band. So when we stumbled across [the label], we thought that this is something that we should get in contact with just to see what they think of it. I mean if they had an idea of how we should deal with what we had done -- ‘cos honestly we were a bit desperate! -- ‘cos we just didn’t get any good feedback on what we did. [The label] was just listening to the thing and got back to us and said “We want to speak to you. We have no idea what you’re doing there, but we would like to speak to you -- but could you send us a proper demo first before we get together? What we received had some technical problems -- still, we want to hear it properly.” OK, we sent them another tape -- which was exactly the same thing they had heard in the first place -- [and] they said “It’s making mistakes and it‘s the same! Something must be wrong with your master.” Anyway, we said “No no! This is the way it’s supposed to be: like a long gap in the middle and all these kind of weird sounds inbetween, like, bass distortions” -- all things which were really taboo at that time. And then they came and they came and hung out with us -- these people from Too Pure [Records] -- and basically signed us; and we knew this was the right label to be at. Later we met [Stereolab] when we had an interview date at a café when our album [Vulvaland] was about to be released. Yeah, it must’ve been 1994 -- and they had an interview date for their album at the same café -- and this is where we met the first time. So that is the story about that. [Laughs.]

You’ve been labeled before as an IDM [Intelligent Dance Music] act, and you were talking earlier about the changing state of music. Being in the throe of it all, what do you see as the current state of dance music, and -- more importantly -- where do you see it going, especially in this age where anyone with a MySpace page can put out an album?

Well that’s a lot of questions in one. First, I think dancing has nothing to do with electronic music. You can dance to everything you want to dance to. Yeah, if you’re really scared, you can dance to everything you want to dance to. I think there’s a lot of “dance” music that is really not using any electronic elements and especially now, like, if you see in the past five years, so much ethnic music -- especially in Europe or East Europe -- has really replaced techno in many places. It’s probably something that’s not so practiced in the U.S.; it is definitely here, and it is definitely in Berlin: you have a lot of, like, gypsy bands and ska bands and bands with really high speed rhythm sections [and] incredible brass arrangements that people go mad listening to. So if we speak about techno and electronic music, that’s a totally different arm, and of course that is linked to technology very closely, and technology is all moving in steps, I would say. There are sometimes like incredibly big steps [being] made in a very short amount of time, and then suddenly it seems to slow down. And then things suddenly accelerate again on a totally different platform. So I think [that] once you want to understand history a bit or draw conclusions from what you know concerning the future, you really have to think and assemble bits that are not obviously linked together -- I think that might help you with an estimation. I don’t think any linear prognosis will lead you anywhere. [Laughs.]

That’s the thing: if you speak about electronic music, I think yeah, the most interesting bits for now have been made in the 90s. I think the reason [is that] the past couple of years have been about content -- even dogmas, even like certain traditions which you accept to belong to or not, or you want to deal with or not -- but far less [in terms of] technical things. I think the technology ... it’s just there. The iPhone: it’s nothing big anymore. I mean when I started making music, to own a sampler was an amazing thing, really. And if you think about what’s possible now, yeah: think of your iPhone -- it’s all in there. So what do we want to talk about? It’s nothing to talk about! And the rest of where creativity comes from ... wow, it’s like an endless field of discussion. There’s not much electronic music that I really enjoy listening to. I’ve never really enjoyed pure contrasts or very streamlined ideas of like designing biographies or works of art or works of music. I always like the mix and I like the impurity and I like the way things kind of leak out and become uncontrollable. And unfortunately electronic music for a long time was very predictable and very controllable and there was a whole industry around it -- and still is! [They] want to make it -- keep it -- very predictable, let’s say. But fortunately things will always change.

OK, one last question: so far in your career, what’s been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what’s been your proudest accomplishment?

Biggest regret ... you mean like not signing to Virgin Records or something like that? [Laughs.]

If that’s a legitimate regret, then by all means!

We did regret [signing to Virgin] at some point, but in the end, again, we thought we did the right decision because we stuck to the people we really trusted and we knew who we wanted to work with -- yeah, no regret there. [Pause.] Wow, it’s really hard! In a way, I sometimes regret being too honest and not being like “cool enough“ or “business-like”, you know? People who sometimes can really make decisions very cold-heartedly, like, very precisely deciding what is best for the future ... and Andi and me are nothing like that. We’re always like “let’s waste what we have and just throw out ideas and see.” I think sometimes it would’ve probably been better to hold back a bit and being a bit more cool and maybe, I don’t know, waiting with things a bit more -- I don’t know. Actually, I think we would do the same stuff again. And then the biggest, best thing we’ve done is exactly that: just not regretting anything. Like pretending it’s all fine: I think that’s all it always is. Even now, the music industry is just down and nothing really works and we’re just pretending it’s all fine and it’s the best moment ever to be creative because no one can tell you what’s right or wrong anymore! There’s no Next Big Thing and no record label that dominates your creativity. You just do what you want to do and you just throw out your stuff on MySpace or maybe you want to be the one who has like the most MySpace profiles ever -- you can do that, it’s fine! I know people who just open up MySpace profiles one after the other. [They] just pout out the music there and don’t mind if anyone is ever going to listen to it or would ever buy it -- they don’t’ even think about records or all that stuff.

I love records. I think I’ll keep on doing records until I die. I like that. I like the object and I just love it. So I think yeah, we’ll keep on doing that. And for the rest? Just trying to stay being a team -- like a baseball team or something. I think I’m a good catcher and Andi’s a good pitcher. He is a Coen [and] I am the brother.


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