Dieter Meier Talks

The voice of synth pioneers Yello on his new live show and solo album, and why he hates computers

Dieter Meier Talks

The voice of synth pioneers Yello on his new live show and solo album, and why he hates computers

Yello are rightly considered one of the cornerstones of modern dance music. The tape loops and synth experiments of Boris Blank created a whole new language of music - but all of this would have gained little attention were it not for the commanding, occasionally lunatic baritone of his partner Dieter Meier. The Swiss born Meier is one of the most unlikely pop stars the world has seen - born into a family of millionaire industrialists, and enjoying stints as a factory owner, a professional poker player, and a conceptual artist, all whilst maintaining the suave demeanour of an international playboy, Meier is far more Bruce Wayne than Bruce Springsteen. After some years spent pursuing his business interests, Meier has finally returned to music, releasing his debut solo record -  'Out of Chaos' - at the age of 69. Never one to embrace the ordinary, 'Out of Chaos' has seen Meier collaborate with maverick techno artists Apparat and T.Raumschmiere, producing a work that exists in a bizarre hinterland somewhere between lounge jazz, heartfelt balladery, and synth pop. Like Meier, it's a unique proposition, and one that Londoner's will be able to see performed live at the Jazz Cafe on September 16th...

You’re coming over to England to play in the Jazz Café - are you nervous finding yourself back on stage?

No, because I have already toured with the band for quite a bit. We’ve done over 25 gigs. I had another live band when I started this project and after the production of the CD I started to work with the musicians that co-produced the CD so it’s a different sound. With the new band I’ve done 10-15 gigs, I don’t know exactly. Of course performing is always a challenge but I’m not really nervous any more, I have quite some freedom in the music that we play. I sing the songs quite differently each time so I don’t have to follow a very strict line. I have a lot of room so it’s nice. The first 5 concerts when I started this I was rather nervous because I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull it off, it’s a lot of music and a lot of lyrics. There’s 100 minutes on stage.

Have you been performing any older Yello material or are you sticking to the new album?

I’m sticking to the new album, we’re not performing Yello songs. i’m working on a new album with Boris right now for Yello but we’re not using those songs - it’s a totally different concept. What I’m doing now is sort of a classical thing, I’m singing with my guitar and making a fool of myself and not knowing where I’m going with my songs. Before that project I was able to write songs because the process here is totally different. To me, Boris’s sound paintings are like music for a film that does not exists that only emerges in my head and I hear the music. I hear these themes and characters and atmospheres and then I have a very easy time creating my persona within Boris’s songs. Obviously I do not have one identity, there are many identities. I’m more like an actor in Boris’s sound dramas.

With Out Of Chaos you worked with T. Rauschmere who’s not known for making this kind of music. I wondered what drew you to working with him in the first place?

Well he was really coming in with his electronics. It’s an important part and the band is quite inventive, using acoustic instruments in an untraditional way - it’s a fusion of analogue instruments and electronics. They’re a very important part on the CD and also on our live mix.

So is he playing live with you as well?

Yeah, he’s on tour with us. You’ll see him in London!

Apparat was involved in the albums production as well - was it very important to you to have this electronic edge to the solo work?

Absolutely.

And you didn’t feel the urge to learn how to play the synths yourself?

No, I played a little bit of guitar but I’m not good enough to do this on stage. I was never interested in playing synthesisers, I’m not a technical guy - it makes me nervous. I can’t even handle a computer, I refuse to use these machines. The only thing I use is an iPhone but that’s as far as I go.

I think it might surprise a lot of people that the singer from Yello doesn’t use a computer.

Well it’s just not my thing- and also I have my secretary who handles things- and I see so many people going bananas when they have such a machine, you always have to answer people. Everybody sends you something and I just don’t like the idea that anybody at any time can put things into my mailbox. I don’t like that, I feel like I have intruders around me. When you’re using these machines you have an obligation to react and I have almost a phobia of even opening letters, I don’t like it, I don’t like people sending me stuff because I then have to react. I have to take into consideration what people are trying to tell me and if you are a little bit of a public figure you get an incredible amount of nonsense, I had to change my phone number because too many people knew my private phone and I got all kinds of crazy SMS messages and phone calls and I don’t like this.

Do you think the world has suffered from this kind of deluge of information and communication?

Well I think it’s sometimes quite crazy. I have a lot of things that I’m doing, I have an operation in Argentina and a little chocolate factory being built for the extraction of the cocoa bean. Sometimes I say to my collaborators “instead of sending these messages back and forth on the computer, why don’t you take a phone and then in 2 minutes you have everything clear?” instead of do that, no, maybe that, blah blah blah back and forth ten times before they figure out what they want to do. I think the phone and the voice is so much more effective. It’s done and you feel it’s a bit more personal. Most people think it’s a new world but I think there’s a lot of time wasted with these machines. You become dependent on always being available and people at any time can send you stuff. It’s a new way of living but it’s not my way of living.

There seems to be somewhat of an irony here, am I right in thinking that the early Yello productions were made by music being sent back and forth, rather than you being in the same place. Did I just make that up or is that right?

Yeah, but these were the glorious times of music cassettes. I would get a cassette from Boris to dive into his wonderful sound paintings as I lived in all kinds of places in the world and for a long time I had these cassettes with me and it was a source of inspiration for the songs, lyrics and characters based on Boris’s soundtrack.

You mentioned the chocolate factory and your interest in Argentina which makes me want to touch on something else. You’ve always had wealth in your life, a lot of musicians have the desire to make money as a conscious or unconscious driving force behind their music but you’ve never had that, presumably. Do you think that, in some ways, makes your music come from a more honest place?

In every area of art it doesn’t really matter what kind of reasons you have to create something. Some people are very money and success driven, they operate like this, and some people are very freedom driven because they don’t need it and they create rubbish. I’m the other way around. I had a hard time - as a youngster I went to university and I wasn’t really interested - finding myself, finding something that interested me. The first thing I picked, which was very liberating for me, was experimental films because in this area you could create images when you had this movie partly in your head and you start to realise that you’re not confronted immediately with the result. As a young artist I had huge expectations in what I was able to do and then I was confronted with reality and I collapsed and gave up. I never finished anything, I wasn’t able to really concentrate on anything but with this wonderful 60mm camera that I had at the time I could realise my ideas without seeing them. It took 3-4 days until these films came out of the lab and for me this was like Christmas. It was like somebody had given me something and I had not a lot to do with it. To this very day I have a tough time being confronted with what I do. For my manuscripts I still use typewriters, I’m working on different short stories and so forth. They look like a totally chaotic painting by a fool because I do corrections of corrections of corrections, it never ends. The great director Kieslowski said that for him the movies never finished it’s just the moment that’s been taken away from him. I was very much like this, I would never have finished a song for Out Of Chaos if this friend of mine, who is my manager now, hadn’t booked venues all over Europe. I didn’t have a band, I didn’t have songs and he said “Dieter, you’ll be playing in the Berghain, all these great venues, people are interested” and I couldn’t let him down and I had to finish these songs. Without that pressure, I would not have finished them. I was sitting in Argentina alone with my guitar and I was fiddling around, desperately trying to find songs for about a month and nothing happened. I would have given up and thought I was’t able to do this but then I had to continue because these venues were already booked and within one week these songs were just appearing like mushrooms out of the ground when the rain comes. For me it was a wonder. It feels like somebody else had done this, it wasn’t me.

Do you think there was a cohesive inspiration behind the songs on the album? Is there a particular feeling that you think people will take away from the record?

When I fiddle around with my guitar, I have no idea which direction to go and then suddenly when I sing along in a non-existent language - somewhere between Swahili and Cockney English - there is one line that inspires me that can be the macrocosm of a situation. From one line things start falling into place but it’s all accidental, I’m not sitting around with the idea that I want to express something. These songs just happen and then they are there, it’s not that I have a message first and then I translate this music into the music. There is nothing there and then suddenly there is a song and the song happens out of the blue with no concept.

You’ve always, to my knowledge, sung in English - was this a conscious decision?

Yes, my English is quite OK and for me I have more distance to what I write. It is an artificial kind of language for me as it’s not my mother tongue so I can use this language like an instrument. This distance gives me more freedom. I have written some lyrics in German sometimes, it happens, but I prefer English. If my Italian was good enough I could also write in Italian, it’s not really to do so much with English but it’s to do with the language which for me is artificial and allows me distance.

Were there any particular lyricists that you think inspired you?

Absolutely. I grew up with jazz, all these major eruptions of ideas that lasted a very short time, maybe ten years. For me this was an incredible inspiration, not as a musical inspiration but as a creature it showed me the way to freedom. This music was so individual, the great musicians who really found themselves in what they did, that this approach opened the door for me to try something else. Not necessarily as a musician, definitely not as a jazz musician, it was just an incredible inspiration. A new world of expression which was not traditional, it was an eruption, waking up all existence. All the great guys from Theolonius Monk to Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley... These are the heroes of my youth. The biggest inspiration ever in my whole life.

And when you found yourself playing with people like Afrika Bambaataa in the 80s did you see any lineage running from Cannonball Adderley or someone like that running right through to him?

He opened up for us when we played live in New York, I think it was in ’83, and I was absolutely fascinated because he and his scratch boys were creating wonderful music, it was a fantastic experience. But we were not influenced by it- Boris was never allowed to play an instrument as a boy so he created music and rhythm from whatever he could find in his mother’s kitchen or whatever made sounds. He started to record these sounds and make tape loops and this is how he created his instruments and started to play these instruments so rightly he’s being considered the Godfather of techno because he did it when nobody did it. He didn’t do it with the idea of being an avant-garde artist, he did it because he wanted to create songs and moods, even pop songs, but as he was not playing an instrument he had to find his own way and it was really the mother of creation for what he did. If he would have been a well-trained guitar player it would be much more difficult for him to find himself and to pick out his inner being and individuality and not just be a virtuoso guitar player. You see many musicians who are incredibly good at their instrument but they never found themselves behind the facade of virtuosity. They’d learnt too much to think.

Just to close up I want to go back to your live performance coming up, I was wondering if there are any particular favourite songs you’re going to perform? Is there anything you look forward to singing in the gig more than anything else?

Not really, it depends on my mood in the evening. Sometimes when I go through the titles of all the songs before the concert I think “OK  I’m starting with this because it’s good at opening up and I feel very secure with that song” and then it turns out not to be my favourite. Every evening is very different, I do not have a favourite song as such, they are a little bit like my kids. I like them all for who they are.

'Out Of Chaos' is out now. You can Buy tickets for the Jazz Cafe show here

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