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Jan Delay: 'I'm a Rock am Ring hooligan'

Jan Delay is among the most multi-faceted German musicians. 2014 marked his sixth appearance at the Rock am Ring festival. He tells DW why the event means so much to him and what's ahead in his musical career.

DW: What makes Rock am Ring special for you?

Jan Delay: It's always been my favorite festival - well, other than Splash of course. That's my favorite because I'm from there. I also think Summerjam is really cool. But leaving out the subculture stuff, when it comes to everything in one, Rock am Ring is the coolest festival with the coolest bookings. It's so multi-faceted. I've always loved coming here because I knew we'd play in the evening, and I could watch other bands.

Are you going to see another band today?

I would really like to see Slayer, but they're playing right before us, and I have to be backstage getting ready.

You seem fearless when it comes to other music genres and re-invent yourself on every album. Where do you draw your inspiration?

I get inspiration from all of the kinds of music that I draw upon. The key thing is that's the way to keep things exiting - so that nothing becomes a boring routine and you start thinking, 'Okay, yeah, I know this - have already done it.' On the other hand, maybe you could even say it's laziness because it takes a lot more out of you to keep working in the same style in which you've already done a lot of songs - to still be able to come up with something you haven't done or said yet. This way, things stay new and exciting.

This year's "Hammer und Michel" is your fourth album. Do you know what will come next?

Yeah, the next thing out will be the Beginner record. I've already been working together with those boys and done two records. But at some point, I had my solo songs done, and then I said: rock has to come first. But the next thing will be a Beginner album - a rap album.

Jan Delay and Annabelle Steffes

Jan Delay, pictured with interviewer Annabelle Steffes

When did your love of music develop, and when did you first come into contact with rock music?

My love of music was there from the beginning. My father is a musician, and I just grew up with my parents' awesome record collection that I also got to use. So, music has always been my thing. And that's also why I have pretty broad horizons - there was a Ramones album along the way. I really rocked out ot that. I think that was my first connection with rock.

This year, you're the patron of World Record Store Day. Do you think record stores need more support?

They need support because record stores are a great institution - including in a social sense. Stores like Saturn or Media Markt, which are now the only big places in Germany where you can buy albums these days - those aren't social settings where you like to hang out, talk to people or just have a coffee. That's what makes a little record store so great because there's a lot of passion, heart and warmth in places like that, and it's contagious. I spent my whole youth in record stores - without them, I wouldn't be here!

To what extent have people's music consumption habits changed? What do you think of streaming services?

I find streaming services bad because you earn too little as a musician with them. There's the example of Daft Punk. Their song 'Get Lucky' was clicked around 36 million times, and they got … I'm not sure of the exact amount, but it's a joke. Around 1,000 dollars for 36 million clicks! What can you say about that? It's not cool. As a consumer, I'm of course influenced by the fact that I'm an artist, and I don't use these streaming services anyway. I tried it once because I wanted to see how it works.

I can understand people who use them because it's so easy - you get to know new music, and that makes sense. But I think it's important for people to still have an idea of the value of art when it comes to music but also any other art form, including written things. You just have to see to it that people understand what they're hearing has value - that people spend their lives making it and earning a living from it. Streaming services ruin that. At some point, people will only be listening to classic albums on streaming sites because no one will have the time to record new classics - they'll be too busy working at the post office or delivering Amazon packages so they can give their families something to eat.

Jan Delay can look back on a long and successful career. When you look back at your early days, how does it feel?

(Laughs) A little tiny question with an extremely short answer. I can't answer that - I'd have to write a whole book. It's all messy, and I'm very grateful for it, but I never planned it this way. It was always just one album to the next, and - thank God - I always have had ideas and a flash of inspiration. That's really great, and I'm very, very grateful for it. How it all happened - I can't really say. It started in school. We would rap and go to jams every weekend. Then we had a tour and did our first album. Once I was finished with school, that's when the breakthrough came with the second album. And then the next one, and then the next one. It just happened.

This year, Rock am Ring is taking place for the last time at the Nürburgring because of a dispute between festival head Marek Lieberberg and the new operators of the racetrack. As a musician, are you taking a stance on this?

I have to do that because I'm a Rock am Ring hooligan and have played here so often. I really like the Lieberbergs and am of course on their side, no matter what. What all happened - I don't know who is saying what, who's right or who's lying. No idea, but I'm on the side of Lieberberg and Rock am Ring.

Jan Delay is known for mixing musical genre. His breakthrough came in the mid-90s with his hip-hop band Die Absoluten Beginner. In the following years, he made a name for himself as a solo artist, often reinventing himself from album to album - sometimes drawing on jazz and funk, like on his album "Mercedes Dance," or going in a rock-oriented direction on his latest release, "Hammer & Michel." DW's Annabelle Steffes met the artist ahead of his performance at Rock am Ring.

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