Touring the USA is a dream for virtually any band - yet few manage it. The Blue Angel Lounge recently did with curious results: international acclaim, but complete indifference in their native Germany.
The Blue Angel Lounge got together in 2006 in the city of Hagen, Germany. Initially, they seemed destined to follow the route of many of their contemporaries. While their two albums - channelling elements of shoegaze, psychedelia and more than a smattering of Joy Division - have been well received by fans, they've largely been ignored by the music press at home. Mel and Nils from the Blue Angel Lounge recently spoke to DW about their epic journey across America, their fondness for melodies and just what they think of the German music media.
DW: You spend a lot of time in Berlin, which is internationally well-known as a magnet for musicians. Does the reality match the hype?
Nils: Our experience has been that it’s always good to spend some time here, but I think you always reach a point where you decide you have to concentrate. So I think it’s actually an advantage that we don’t live in Berlin. We live in a small city in western Germany - Hagen - and there we have enough time to concentrate on our work.
Lots of bands based elsewhere in Germany inevitably move to Berlin, but can you make a music career work even if you live in a small town?
Mel: I'm actually on the verge of moving to Berlin. I'm a bit bored of Hagen, and the only thing I can do there is music. Sometimes if that isn't working out, then I feel really isolated. So it's nice to be in Berlin and experience other people doing their stuff.
Nils: But it's a thin line. On the one side you have all this stuff you can do but on the other hand you have to be careful that you don't give it away by partying all the time and losing control. I think some people are afraid of that.
Mel: Yeah, but we're not. I think we're quite disciplined. We're not really at an age any more where it's all about partying hard. Sure, it's fun to hang out at parties, but I think it's more fun to produce something.
You've just recently finished a U.S. tour with Brian Jonestown Massacre, which is a really big deal for a German band. How did that come about?
Mel: We are kinda friends with Anton [Anton Newcombe, lead singer of Brian Jonestown Massacre] because of the label, and he is really into our music. It's always a problem to get us over there because of the money. It can be pretty expensive. But I think we managed it pretty well.
How long were you there and where did you play?
Mel: Just over two weeks. Not very long but we played almost every day. I think we started in Texas, in Dallas. We also played in Austin, Houston, Portland, Los Angeles, Denver, Utah. It was a huge trip.
Even today a lot of bands still regard the States as the holy grail of touring. Is it really all it's cracked up to be?
Mel: Everyone always asks how it was. The first thing I remember is that it was exhausting. Sometimes you are driving 10, sometimes 20 hours between shows and then of course you have to play and be focussed. But the gigs were always great. We played in some big venues and in some quite historic venues like the Fillmore in San Francisco.
Nils: People think it's like being on holiday, but it has nothing to do with a holiday. You have a little bit of free time after the gig, but you're always so exhausted after 500 miles of driving. And to get up at 8 o'clock in the morning and drive again for the whole day. It's very, very hard.
One of the results of the tour is that you've received quite a lot of press attention internationally but are still more or less ignored here in Germany. How does that feel?
Mel: Sometimes we've been quite critical about that in interviews. For me it's a bit annoying, and it can be depressing too that we're doing stuff and we're confident about what we do, and no one pays attention to it. Maybe it's too different. They like importing the next Arctic Monkeys from the UK and pushing that, but I think if it's something new and it's German, they almost don't have the guts to do anything with it.
The Blue Angel Lounge on stage in Texas during their recent American tour with Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Why do you think there is this tendency in the music media to ignore German bands?
Nils: I think Germany has a totally different market for music. You know we have this Schlager thing going on and they make millions. It's not in the press much and not on radio much, but it's a very big market. I think German music is still very concentrated on itself.
Mel: I think Germany's always celebrating itself. You know, they don't want to change. It's always the same kind of lame stuff like Silbermond or Unheilig. You know, you just have to write cheesy music and put cheesy lyrics on it and it's OK. So long as it's listenable on the radio for mamas and papas doing their housework.
It does seem that Germany has an awful lot of radio stations playing pop from the 70s and 80s.
Nils: That's the way it goes in Germany. To have something on the radio that you don't have to pay much attention to. Just easy listening. I think German people are stuck in a way. Like stuck in the 70s and 80s; still listening to Nena and Schlager. This never changed. Even when something new does come along, they stick with it.
If I think about German music in the early 80s and bands like DIN A Testbild, Palais Schaumburg and DAF, German music seemed to have a very definite identity then, which I think is kind of missing now. Why do you think that is?
Mel: Yeah, I don't know why that is. I've thought about it a lot. I mean, we had good bands back in the day but it seems that the approach of doing something new has vanished. The kids right now are not really trying to experiment more. I think with the internet, people are looking for new stuff from others without trying to create it themselves. It just seems that there was more passion in music 20 years ago.
We can't really box you into one specific category, but for argument's sake, let's call you psychedelic shoegaze. How do you keep your live show interesting?
Mel: I don't know. We don't have a concept or anything. We just go on stage and play our music and we like it. We don't have a glam rock thing going on, we don't prepare anything, we have some projections but basically we just let the music speak for itself. It's cheesy to say that, I know.
Nils: I think the most important thing that keeps our shows interesting is that we are really interested in melodies. Our songs have melodies, you can remember them, they stay in your head and I think that’s the biggest thing that separates us from other shoegaze bands. That keeps the concert interesting; if you have songs that can be remembered.
You have a very specific, quite heavily produced sound. Is that easy to re-produce in a live context?
Mel: We're not really much into effects. I think we know what we're looking for and the sound we want and maybe the combination between guitars and vocals. When we're recording, I know what we want, but sometimes it's hard to explain it. When we're in the studio with the producer and trying to explain what we want to have, it's always quite hard for us to put it into words…
Nils: He's basically trying to say is that we don't have any clue what we're doing!
Interview: Gavin Blackburn
You can hear more from Nils and Mel in this week's edition of Soundscape 100 (link below), or to hear them play live, you can stream three exclusive tracks from their recent session at Berlin's 8mm Bar using the links below.