SPIEGEL ONLINE Interview with Michael Rother of Neu! 'I Wanted to Be Carried on a Wave Like a Surfer'
Forget Lena -- Neu! are one of Germany's most significant bands, having influenced acts as diverse as David Bowie, U2, Joy Division and Radiohead. Now Neu! is releasing one last, previously unfinished album. SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke to half of the 1970s duo about how it all started.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Rother, two years ago Klaus Dinger, your partner in the legendary Krautrock group Neu!, died. And now you have finally managed to release a previously unavailable album, "Neu! '86." Would this have been possible if Dinger had still been alive? After all, your differences of opinion were almost as legendary as your music.
Michael Rother: That's a difficult question -- also because Klaus is no longer here to defend himself. He was a difficult partner for me and for everyone in the team. When the albums were being re-issued in 2001, Klaus blocked a lot of the offers that Grönland Records (editor's note: the London-based label which re-released Neu!'s music) made in support of the albums. (German musician) Herbert Grönemeyer, who founded the label and who was running it at the time, gave us a lot of say in every department and Klaus exploited that. For him, it was about his artistic opinions but -- in my opinion -- it was also about an ego problem.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: While you were busy arguing with Dinger in the 1990s, illegal reissues of the Neu! records became popular all over the world. What was Dinger thinking, when he kept blocking the official re-release of the same music?
Rother: To him, the offers were not good enough. I saw it differently and would have been happy just to see the music become available again. And we had some very good offers -- for example, from Mute Records, the label run by Daniel Miller who discovered Depeche Mode, and from Universal and others. They all wanted to get the Neu! records that had been unavailable for so long back into circulation, but Klaus did not trust the people. He never realized that they were all fans of Neu! and not his enemies. Perhaps he felt bitter because there were certainly times in which interest in our work was minimal.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: When was that?
Rother: Record companies did not want to know us at all in the 1980s and the early 1990s. I think I dealt with that better than Klaus, who saw those rejections by the music industry as an organized boycott of him personally. He did not trust US firms because he suspected that they were out for revenge because he had once come out as anti-American. If you wanted to though, you could also see that earlier failure, the delay in the re-release (of the music), as a positive thing.
Rother: At the end of the 1990s we were surprised to be approached by Herbert Grönemeyer, a fan of Neu! and the owner of his own record label, who offered us near-perfect conditions that not even Klaus could refuse. For one-and-a-half years, Herbert concentrated completely on Neu!, which was obviously a godsend for us. If it hadn't been for his mediation, there would still be no Neu! records available today.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: And now, for the first time ever, your final album -- "Neu! '86" -- will be released officially.
Rother: It is the happy conclusion of a long and painful process. Without my knowledge, Klaus had released some of the recordings in Japan around 1995 -- but they were of poor quality and musically unsatisfying. It was important to me to re-work this chapter of the Neu! story and that's what I have done, over six months of the last year, and with the permission of (Klaus's) widow.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Neu! made music that has stood the test of time and that still sounds modern. A track like "Hallogallo" is as electrifying today as it was 40 years ago, and your music has inspired everyone from David Bowie to Radiohead. Obviously you never could have known that, all those years ago. So what was your original plan when you first went into the studio in the 1970s?
Rother: It's hard to put into words. Neu! never came off any drawing board. I can really only explain it with a few phrases. We wanted to go beyond boundaries and not get stuck on the small things. Klaus and I never talked about our respective visions, it was all non-verbal. But I still remember feelings and pictures that came to me during the musical arrangement of two of Neu!'s essential compositions, "Hallogallo" and "Für Immer." I wanted to be carried on a wave like a surfer, a wave that expressed a sort of endless shape. Forms that I knew from my youth from Indian and Pakistani music. These were musical forms that didn't end after three minutes but always feel as though they are going to carry on forever. For me, that was one of the core concepts of Neu!.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Part of the plan for Neu! was also to develop its own musical expression, an expression that did not come from the blues or from Anglo-American musical styles.
Rother: Naturally. At the time, in 1971, it was our goal to create something that contained no echo of music that already existed. Our music was only to refer to itself, and to my and Klaus's personalities. It was a very ambitious mission but from the beginning I had very clear ideas -- concerning melody, for instance -- about what would fit into the (musical) structure and what wouldn't. Klaus was similarly certain about his contributions. In that respect, we agreed.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: From the end of May onwards, you want to perform Neu!'s music live. What do you have planned?
Rother: I want to translate some of the basic principles of our music into a live performance. For the "Hallogallo 2010" tour, I will be supported by colleagues like Steve Shelley, the drummer from Sonic Youth, Aaron Mullan from Tall Firs and Benjamin Curtis from School of Seven Bells. These guys are great musicians. They are also fans of Neu! and my own music and they understand what I have in mind. However, Neu! cannot be recreated. Neu! was Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger. And that's over.
Interview conducted by Christoph Dallach.