Interview: Caspar Brotzmann Massaker
These days I have written and finished all liner notes for these Southern Lord reissues and this was really a strange time trip, to look back on a part of your own history, reflecting on the mistakes I made, the no returns and for sure, the good moments. It is also strange to see the good and bad times I've had with this band Massaker.
With Southern Lord reissuing the first two Caspar Brotzmann Massaker albums, we caught up with Caspar himself to talk all about them, his memories of making them, the history of Massaker as well as his other musical projects both past and present and what he is working on next. These reissues serve as a timely reminder as to what a talent Brotzmann is both as the leader of Massaker and as a guitar player in general and it was a pleasure to speak to him and get an insight into his vast career.
(((o))): You are are reissuing your first two albums The Tribe and Black Axis. Does listening to them now evoke strong memories and what reactions do you have when you hear them today?
To be honest, Ingo Krauss, the owner and sound engineer of Candy Bomber Studios and who was the bass player from Massaker in 1995 for a long US and European tour did the re-mastering by himself. I went to the studio just for a few hours to listen to the sound he did and the sound was great. I am not interested in listening back to five albums from the past, because since last year I am more focussed on my new music and work with Bass Totem. But the other thing is, it is not that necessary for me to listen all these songs that I played with my band again. They are ringing all the time far away in my head and, often come close if I so choose to have that. It is pretty easy for me to remember those times. These days I have written and finished all liner notes for these Southern Lord reissues and this was really a strange time trip, to look back on a part of your own history, reflecting on the mistakes I made, the no returns and for sure, the good moments. It is also strange to see the good and bad times I’ve had with this band Massaker. To be honest, I could write a few pages on this answer alone, and I like this question a lot, but I’ll move onto the next!
(((o))): Are the albums remastered or as they were initially released?
Yes, all albums are newly remastered by Ingo Krauss, here in Berlin, in June 2018.
(((o))): What led to these albums being reissued now?
Southern Lord, to be more exact Guy Pinhas who runs the label’s European office in Amsterdam. He never gave up asking me, “Hey Caspar, do you want to come to Southern Lord?” I’d followed the 2017 Magma record, reissued by Southern Lord and I thought by myself this could be a good moment to move over on this label. In the early stages of our conversation I told them my truth, that I am a blues player, and asked if they thought this would be a good idea for them. This was a nice beginning between me and Guy, and today, it works really well.
(((o))): What was the reaction to each of the albums like when they were initially released?
You are funny, there were a lot of reactions. Let me think about how to answer this question. I guess the reaction of The Tribe, Black Axis and the other LPs was the curiosity to see the band playing live on stage. The daily usual music business with all the up and downs that come with it. Maybe a few promoters wanted to see what is the different between father and son.
(((o))): What are your main memories of recording The Tribe and Black Axis?
My main memories of recording The Tribe and Black Axis? For certain, the subway tube I had to taken to come to the studio. That was a long way through the divided West and East Berlin to record both albums in the Wedding FMP Studio. There was a nice moment with Frankie the drummer of Black Axis. I played the intro for the song ‘Black Axis’ a few times and this sound flashes him away with his typical smile, sitting in an open window with smoke and outside sunshine and blue sky.
(((o))): Like your later work, both albums have a definite abrasiveness about them, was that always your intentions with your music?
This has got a large background to me and is a very interesting question, maybe a key question. Please let me say something about this in a more open view. I did not have a plan before I played my instrument. The music is a reflection of how the moments unfolded in real time. I follow my instincts, my inside world without any certain calculations about my music or myself. I do not have an intention to be specially abrasiveness or anything else. I guess I follow my sounds and atmosphere ( maybe feelings ) if I play or practice, listen to my guitar and musician as friends.
You know, I move myself more like a painter and have many colours available. I guess also, that the most musicians I know put their emotions and feelings into the music they want to play. They have freedom to do this in music. Also I am more into praxis and people could describe me how ever they want to do it. By the way I am a learned carpenter since I was 18 years old. I am working with my hands, my instrument, my amps and speakers and for sure with people. I feel a little empty about an intentions like definite abrasiveness only because I do not sit there with my guitar in my hands and go in my mind to think about that my next playing should be like: not black, nor white, red, sweet, peaceful, war, rough, tough or intentions like definite abrasiveness. I am like a slow dark river in bad weather. Standing sometimes in heavy loud sounds sweating and smelling the heat coming from amplifiers and with that I try to follow what my hands and fingers are doing, try to understand what they need and what they want to do next. Especially if I am working on new songs.
For example, At the moment I practice in my kitchen at home, and play and look out of the window observe the world around me at the same time I am playing and suddenly I have this attention in what I am playing. Last year on an early summer day I made 3 songs structures in this way in a few hours. I often surprise myself. I have no idea how that goes. This all doesn’t matter to me, my task is to save the good moments, that I can remember. The melodies and accords to repeat. That is my main task and training to impress my guitar playing with my head and ears. That’s all. All other descriptions are from other people. For me it is not necessary to find words for my playing and describe my music in the past or future. There is no hit to me and I am not very good at selling myself. I would prefer to give my music all freedom you can find. Like it or not and let it run. I was young and tried to play loud guitar to find my way and how could I play in another way like Page/Blackmore & Hendrix and stay true to myself? I don’t want to live my life like a copy from other people. This was not easy. On one side Hendrix on the other side my father. How to come out of this? I was 18 years old and sometimes deeply depressed about my situation. Sometimes there was no light inside. In a hard moment I went to my mother, as she did the dishes and I told her how I felt. After a while she said “go and develop yourself forward like you are”. That´s what I am still doing today since. Her words at these times set me free from my all powerful heroes. I didn´t give up and found my way. Songs like Massaker’ and the album Black Axis were the result of it years later, to find my self made way and independence.
(((o))): Are there plans to reissue your later albums as well?
Yes, Southern Lord will new release 5 of 6 Massaker albums. They all already mastered by Ingo Krauss. The Tribe, Black Axis, Der Abend der Schwarzen Folklore, Koksofen and Home.
(((o))): How did Massaker start?
Massaker started 1986. I had a solo show behind me, a support act for Nick Cave, a long time ago in West-Berlin Metropol. Later we had a jam session in a practice space and the drummer let me play a few parts from this 30 to 40 minutes program and pick up the rhythm he could hear in it. That’s the simplified version of what happened and so Massaker was born by Eduardo Delgado Lopez on bass guitar and Jürgen Beuth on drums.
(((o))): Are you still in touch with all the former members of Massaker?
33 years later there is no close contact any more to every single one. But if that would be necessary I could find them all. I am still in contact with Eduardo Delgado Lopez and Danny Lommen and Ingo Krauss.
(((o))): Will Massaker ever release any new music in any form?
Bass Totem, that’s the name of my new music. I will release a few songs this year. I already did a short test studio session in the Candy Bomber Studios. I play the music and sound with my Sandberg bass guitar.
(((o))): You worked with Einsturzende Neubatens FM Einheit on the album Merry Christmas and Page Hamilton from Helmet on the Zulutime album. What are your memories of working with these great musicians?
I have known FM Einheit since 1986. I guess we shared at these times, a rehearsal space from MDK in Berlin. He was there to practice songs with Neubauten for a week. Since this time we have been old friends and it’s wonder that we sometimes play together. We have still an open idea to make a new record. Hopefully we will find some day time to make this happen. Page Hamilton was a big Massaker fan. I met him the first time on tour 1994. He invited Massaker to play a few shows with Helmet in Germany. Later in New York City he arrange a studio date for a few hours and we made a totally improvised quick jam and mixed it up. That was a high speed recording session called “Zulutime”. He phoned me last year to attend a Helmet show in Berlin SO 36. I couldn’t make it sadly, but we are in contact.
(((o))): You released the album Last Home with your father Peter, how was that experience?
You’re asking me to recall Vodka King. The outlaw session! I forgot the original title “Last Home”? For sure, there was a lot of vodka in Marin Bisi´s studio in Greenpoint in Brooklyn. The liquor store was just across the street. The improvised session and sound was good and we are both on Cynthia ( Vodka ). I remember the first song with overdubs was great. Peter and me liked the idea from Kevin Martin and his background from God as well as putting on shows by Napalm Death and Godflesh make a record together. There was not much Free Jazz in this scene. That was the reason why we said yes to Kevin Martin. I was nervous and after a few days playing with Peter the music was working very well. I think this music is music to play live. I guess this would be the better way and more fun to listen and look at where the music comes from.
(((o))): Did you ever collaborate further with your father?
No. This was the only time we played together.
(((o))): Can we expect any more material from NOHOME?
NOHOME. It is conspicuous with the word Home. Massaker Home, NOHOME, Last Home . . . .What´s coming next . . . Sweet Home?! I really don’t know what is going on with NOHOME. I have the feeling that I have to go back to my roots, to be true with myself. I feel much better in this way. It could be that this time is over for me to play here and there. I am pretty happy how it goes right now to direct my concentration and spirit on my new songs and playing bass guitar like a normal guitar. The Sandberg instrument is giving me a special handling for this new adventure and challenge. This sound is really important to me.
(((o))): What about your project with Massillon Pupillo from Zu and Alexandre Babel of Sudden Infant, will you be creating any new music with those guys?
I am into a new development. Massimo and Alexandré are really great guys and full of inspirations and human spirits doing their own things in music and working on their own ideas. Also I have to say that I am more into to doing one thing with all what should be necessary to work forward. I prefer to work that way.
(((o))): How did that project start?
Karina Mertin. She is the promoter from the Alarmé Festival here in Berlin with Louis Rastig. Years ago Louis Rastig organised the festival and invited NOHOME. Karina Mertin arranged this studio date with Massimo Pupillo and Alexandré Babel. We had a great time in these three days and surprised ourselves, because we didn´t know each other. I saw Massimo once in Petersburg on a festival I played with FM Einheit. That´s all. We worked like painters with music on this session.
(((o))): Are you working on any new music at the moment?
Bass Totem. That’s the name for my new music. I am certain to release a few songs this year. Maybe I will start with 2 solo songs. This music is more like an open idea. It is me playing solo, like a band and with guest musicians. The time will show how this will be in the end. I have a lot of new songs I would like to release soon and play live Bass Totem shows.
(((o))): What inspires you when you are creating your music?
I know this question very well. That’s the all the time question and also my all time same answer, maybe I am older and know how better to phrase it. My inspiration is the sound of an electric guitars, steel nickel strings and heating up amplifiers. The high level volume and the one and only, my guitar like an instrument. ( Bass & Guitar ) And for sure the people on this planet and other planets we can not see, and observations of people hurting and destroying the planet, what the most peaceful people would never do.
(((o))): Do you have any live dates planned at all in the wake of the reissues?
Bass Totem will be back on stage 2019/20. There are a few possibilities we work out with Southern Lord. I guess soon we can make that public. Bass Totem is playing solo and also like a band playing new songs and a part of the best songs from Massaker. We will see what is realistic.
(((o))): Did you tour extensively when the albums were released and what were the highlights of playing live around that time?
Yes, standard, we did the same like the most other bands also did. Release a new record and then head out on tour. We toured though the US and Europe many times up and down. I also was touring with other musicians and bands. Sometimes I jumped from one tour direct into the next one. Here lies what I believe to be one of the biggest mistakes I/we did as Massaker, we spent too much time on tour and not taking care of time for new development in music. This was an evil circle, because we constantly needed the money we got from playing shows. In the end I was burnt out. One of the best tour was 1995 in US and Europe with a good show in Roskilde.
(((o))): How did you get into music initially and who were your first inspirations as a musician?
You could talk to my mother and father. Me and my sister were born with music. The grandparents also made music at home. Normally you would say that the kids are bugging the parents, I could say with my sister, the parents were bugging the kids. ( smile ) For sure I know how to best answer this question, I’ll try to be not boring or repeat myself too much.I played my first concert with 16 years old in a youth centre. My trio called »Electric Blue« and later the »Caspar Brötzmann Band« I was 17 at the time.
The fascination of an electric guitar started around 14 years old with the song Communication Breakdown from Led Zeppelin on this record Let it Rock. Before that, when I was younger, I played on the piano and then on the acoustic guitar. One sidenote. I did not like Hendrix in the beginning, its a funny fact that nobody knows, and people never asked me about this – often it was just assumed that I was a fan from the beginning. They all think I known him very well. But the truth is, I started to play guitar without any idea about Hendrix. As I got older, I bought the record »War Heroes« with the song Midnight and I begun to be interested in this guitar player. The guitar solo in Midnight was what I was looking for. At this time, I guess I was 18 years old I had this record Isle of Wight. I didn´t understand this music at first, but suddenly a bit later it clicked and I consider it to be one of the best music and inspiration in my life today.
(((o))): Who is your favourite guitarist of all time?
(((o))): What guitars were you playing and gear were you using when you were recording the Massaker materials and do you still use the same today?
I start with a usual 50 watts Marshall amp and one cabinet, then two full Marshall stacks with each 50 watts and than each 100 Super Lead Series Marshall amps. The same like Pete Townsend, Jimi Page, Ritchie Blackmore and Hendrix and the most other rock and blues guitar players are used. My guitar is a Fender Stratocaster with a big headstock like in the 70´s. That is my classic gear I am still using today.
(((o))): What were some of the best shows you ever saw that came through Berlin?
Bad Brains, Iggy Pop, Killing Joke, Birthday Party, Bad Seeds, Swans, Neubauten, Sonic Youth, Atonal Festival and much more in the 80s. Then the Tekkno & Electronic music scene in clubs like WMF, Tacheles, Tresor and so on in the 90s. In the last years I saw shows from Depeche Mode, Rammstein and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. You know, whilst I had a break from making music in the past however many years, I spent the time learning how to write short and long stories, and I’m actually in the process of writing a story. But it is on the back-burner whilst I explore Bass Totem.
(((o))): What music have you been listening to and enjoying recently that you could recommend to us?
Listen to whatever you want and cross through everything. I did the same. Today I am going dizzy with everything on the internet, its too much and I find it really crazy. I am happy to stay home and play bass. That´s enough for me. But sometimes I go and look for example what´s going on with Slipknot, Hejira, Tool, Burundi and Navajo songs from the reservation and all sorts of different music and musicians are dancing in my mind. From second to second I could made a choice with a click. That´s really a roller coaster experience without any borders/boundaries. I have no favourites any more, there are so many good and different music you can listen and trying to hone in on something specifically could be too much for me. Thank you very much. You are well informed.