Photo: Chantel Bann

We recently reviewed “Cartography”, the new record from solo instrumentalist Hinterlandt and wanted to find out more about Jochen Gutsch, the man behind this solo intrument project. A deeply thoughtful person, we’re sure you’ll find his answers fascinating.

(((o))): What are the origins of Hinterlandt, and what transformations has it gone through, both in personnel and musically?

Hinterlandt was founded as a platform for my musical ideas, to explore music and sounds without limitations or rules. Having played in a number of bands before, I needed a change, mainly to break away from the sound palette that comes with the traditional guitar-bass-drums format and from conventional song structures.

While most Hinterlandt recordings are solo, the live format has undergone several changes. At first I initiated an improvised collective with ever-changing members. Then I went solo and played songs with occasional vocals. Following that I formed a three-piece band with my good friends Felix Gebhard and Hilmar Voigt. Then I moved back to Sydney, and Hinterlandt has been an instrumental solo act since then.

While all these versions of Hinterlandt sounded quite different from each other, I guess the constant key characteristic is the love for expansive compositions that follow a narrative idea, a playful way of using unusual time signatures, and an uncompromising overall approach.

(((o))): You use a range of instruments in your recordings and performances. What gear do you use?

To be honest, I find gear relatively unimportant. I use electric guitars, effect pedals, trumpet and other wind instruments, percussion, a small sampler, software, field recordings, and some random objects as tools to create the sound I’m aiming for. However I wouldn’t like it if my artistic expression were defined or dominated by the equipment I use. Quite frankly I’m not very interested in technology. I believe it’s all about ideas and creativity – and if the technology can help you realise what you want to do, well that’s great.

In contemporary electronic music, it often becomes apparent that a certain “hip” sound used by a range of up-and-coming artists can easily be created by using the latest software or a VST plugin or similar. These effects wear off very quickly – think of auto-tune vocals or loop pedals. The fact that you own a Loop Station doesn’t make you a drone or ambient artist, even though it’s very easy to create an ambient piece with this tool. I believe it should be the other way round: If someone has the desire to create a drone or ambient piece, they can then experiment with the gear that allows them to produce it. In my opinion, it’s not what you use, it’s what you make of it.

(((o))): Your tech rider on the Hinterlandt website is very clear and concise and the requirements are small, although the impression is not one of saying; “I’m no trouble and I won’t get in your way”. Instead I get the feeling you enjoy not only composing and performing solo, but that you like to take that self-sufficiency to the highest level possible. What is it about doing things your way that is so important to you at this stage of your musical endeavours? Has it always been this way?

Yes, I deliberately keep tech requirements for Hinterlandt live sets small, and I do value self-sufficiency and efficiency. I’m pretty realistic, things need to be doable. I’ve been a great fan of SST bands like the Minutemen for many years, and it’s their “Jam Econo” spirit I embrace. Clearly my sympathies will always lie with a punk rock band playing with small amps and making the most of it – rather than an arena rock outfit pulling up at the club with two backline trucks. I guess I come from the indie school of understatement rather than overstatement. That said, I do care about the audience, the venue, the PA, the lighting, and especially the other artists I’m playing with.

(((o))): Why do you make and perform music?

Oh, this is a hard one. Why do some people get into acting? Why do others write poems? It certainly doesn’t pay the rent. Well I guess the main reason is passion. I quite literally love the activity of playing music and I’m a very passionate listener too. Music has always touched and moved me on various levels – it can be emotionally satisfying as much as it can be intellectually stimulating. In addition, I can use my music as a means of communication, I see it as a medium to express things I could or would not necessarily say with words. Like a language, a voice. I dare say I’m sending messages through my music, although I have no idea how people receive and decode them, especially since there are no lyrics.

(((o))): Describe the process of writing and recording a Hinterlandt song. What aspects of the music are more important to you or do you seek to emphasise, such as emotion, technicality, melody, rhythm, storytelling?

It’s a mix of all these things – I often write material when I’m away from equipment, like sitting on a train or similar. It happens in my head and basically it all falls into place at the same time. Then I try and nail it down by recording and arranging it on a computer, and that results in what you could call the “studio version” of the track. While I produce this version I keep in mind that I’ll have to play the piece live eventually. Once this version is done I break it all apart again in order to prepare it for the live set. Then I try and rehearse it, which can be difficult since I usually have multiple sound sources happening simultaneously on stage and there are various instrument changes. This is the current process – like all things in Hinterlandt it may change at some point.

(((o))): You were born in Germany and have lived alternatively there and in Australia. The word “Hinterlandt” is made-up; an English word of German origins (hinterland) to which you have added a “t”, possibly to play on the German pronunciation “lant”. This suggests humour, homesickness, or perhaps a view that distinction between countries is a distraction. Is there a particular place you think of as home, and how are your feelings and opinions of home, and more broadly society and nation, reflected in your songs?

I like the implication of the hinterland as a place away from the mainstream and the big city buzz. A place where things can grow and develop in peace and without too much pressure. I added the T to avoid confusion with other bands and because it looks like a family name (think Rembrandt, Leichhardt, Townes van Zandt etc.).

I’m not a great fan of borders, genres, nationalities and such categories. I hope that a person’s national identity is becoming a less significant part of their overall identity. The fact that I grew up in Germany naturally defines a part of my identity, but I consider Sydney my home at the moment.

Take my little family as an example – my partner is half German half Pakistani; she was born in Pakistan but grew up mostly in Germany. My parents are both German but the area where my mother was born is now Poland. What does that make our kids? They grow up mainly in Australia so maybe they consider themselves Australians – or maybe they don’t really care. Many of their friends are from similarly mixed backgrounds. I believe there will be many more stories like these in the future, and I consider the mixing of cultures enriching and a benefit for every society.

(((o))): What other non-musical influences play a part in Hinterlandt compositions?

For the narrative structure and composition, it’s mainly landscapes, novels, traveling, films and stories that play an important role. For the production, I’m trying to be an avid listener in my everyday life. For example, I try to learn from the sounds of wind, rain, the ocean, industrial facilities, and accidental noises from broken equipment and see how I can recreate them or blend them into my compositions. Furthermore, other art forms such as paintings, sculptures, public art installations, light-based pieces or media art are also inspirational of course.

(((o))): How would you like listeners to respond to your music – what would you like them to experience and feel?

I’m pretty busy creating all this stuff so I like to leave that part up to the listeners. I have great respect for the audience and they’re free to make of my sounds what they will. That said, I must admit that I do like people to listen without talking too much, just so it’s enjoyable for everyone who is there.

(((o))): Your upcoming record “Cartography” retains elements of your last release, “Migration, Motion, Movement”, such as the feeling of travel and the contrast of broad expanse with minute detail, yet they are arrived at very differently despite using the same instrumentation. For example the new record is less chaotic and has a more even flow. Is this a natural or deliberate progression in your style, or does it reflect changes in the things that inspire and influence you when you compose?

“Cartography” is meant to be more direct and concise – punchier and catchier than “Migration Motion Movement”. I have the feeling this new album is more mature, and it has a rather positive and friendly vibe despite the occasional use of heavy guitars and distorted beats. Funnily, I’d say the new album is actually more complex than the previous one, however I tried to cover up odd meters, breaks and such things so the overall outcome feels more accessible. I’m not sure if this is a natural progression but it’s certainly deliberate.

I usually change the overall approach and technical set-up after every album. Then I experiment until I find a new format. “Cartography” is the first album in a while in which I used mostly the same equipment as in the previous album. Maybe you could compare the previous album with a brainstorm session and this one with a piece of edited text, based on the same ideas.

(((o))): To what extent do you improvise when you perform live?

The live set I’m currently playing is one uninterrupted piece that goes on for around 45 minutes. Improvisation is an important part of this set, but the free sections are embedded in a very strict compositional structure. Working with unusual time signatures and unexpected breaks requires a rigid framework. I’m trying to create a sonic landscape in which the free-floating vibe of lush ambiences can co-exist with hard-hitting math-rock sections.

(((o))): How do audiences respond to your live performances?

Audiences usually listen, and they’re often sitting down. There’s no interval so I have no idea what they’re thinking during the set. People often talk to me later, and interestingly often use non-music references, comparing the music to a journey or a film rather than to other bands or musicians. I find this very rewarding.

(((o))): What is something readers should know about Hinterlandt that they won’t know from your website or facebook page?

Please come to gigs. Recordings are fine, but they can never live up to a live performance situation. And thanks for the attention!

(((o))): Thanks for your time.

Thanks for the well researched questions Gilbert! Big thumbs up to Echoes and Dust!

Posted by Gilbert Potts

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