I no longer felt trapped
“Welcome to the disco of inwardness” is how the label is promoting Masha Qrella’s new album, which is a beautiful way to describe her oeuvre. However this time this description does not quite fit because “Keys” on the one hand sounds very familiar and typical ‘Qrella-esque’ but on the other is quite different. For example, Masha has recorded and produced the record alone (so
maybe indeed, inwardness), however the songs push very clearly to the outside, into the open air, onto the dance floor and into the clubs. “Keys” presents Masha Qrella’s poppier side – which has always existed by the way -, bringing great melodies and moments of happiness. It is no wonder that Dirk von Lowtzow was dancing in his living room whilst listening to the disc, which is
what you will being doing too.
Keys” is your popiest and most catchy album to date? Has your work approach to music making changed? If so how?
I have always had great respect for first drafts of songs, song sketches if you like. Often I found them stronger than the “produced” songs and felt something is lost in the production process rather than being enhanced. Therefore, my first album “Luck” is also an album full of sketches. This is the beauty and what is special about the album, but at the same time it’s also something that you cannot easily repeat. My second album “Unsolved Remained” was experimental, involving collaborations with artists such as Rechenzentrum and generally more influenced by electronically generated music. After that I was more into the actual process of songwriting. In “Keys” everything comes together. I no longer felt trapped or lost in the production process, I could record multiple versions of a song without loosing the vision of a song and for the album on the whole.
Whilst you were in the development phase of “Keys” did you hear other peoples music and if so, who? Who influenced and impressed you at that time?
Hardly at all. If I am writing songs, I hear almost no music. The inspiration for songs actually comes from encountering people around me. But I have periods when I hear a lot of music. I think the sound idea of “Keys” is heavily influenced by the song “The Look” by Metronomy. I love this song, above all for the simplicity and transparency of the sound. Whilst I was asking myself who could mix my album, I checked who produced “The Look”. I was so surprised that Joseph Mount had produced the album himself that I thought: Sure, that makes total sense. So I´m going to do that as well.
To whom do you first play your new songs? Or do you keep them under lock and key until you think the album is finished?
My band often hears the early stages of my songs, also very close friends. My label I sent the album when it just needed to be mastered.
Which song from the new album is most important to you and why?
I cannot say I know really. “Ticket To My Heart” is perhaps an example of what had played a big role for me and to this album. It’s a love song and a snapshot, but also a love letter to the performance group Gob Squad, a questioning of roles and stereotypes, a change of perspective. “Keys” on the other hand is the melancholic, doubtful downside, perhaps the key to this album. “DJ” is a song about Berlin and my longtime friend Hannes Lehmann, whom I have known and with whom I have made music with since I was 16, and who is now again with me in my live concerts. So each song has its own story on this album and I’m grateful to be able to mirror what is a very important time for me.
In the video for “DJ” you are very present ? Did the director have to convince you or did you have the idea in common?
No, she did not have to convince me. I like being in front of her camera. I like the way she sees me. DJ is a tribute to the time the three of us (Hannes Lehmann, the DJ from the video, Diana Näcke, the director and I) spent together, an evening when we accompanied Hannes DJ-ing, the camera continuously documenting as if it were not there. Also I sat myself in front of a black rubbish skip for a short while and sung the song only once. First Take. I love that.The whole process was only possible and easy because of our friendship. Throughout the time spent together there is a familiarity, knowledge of the history and biography of each other. That’s the point in this song, which tells both Hannes’ and my story.
The DJ video will run at the New York City Independent Film Festival, how did this come about? Were you noticed or did you apply?
The director of the video has entered it at various film festivals. In addition to the New York City Independent Film Festival, it has, among others, also been accepted in the program of the Hong Kong Arthouse Film Festival. The combination of Film noir style, documentary narration, but also citing clear nods to films such as “Kes” (from the British filmmaker Ken Loach) and the reference to the English subculture Northern Soul ? are all in the melancholic sadness of the song, which actually tells of Berlin and the state in which one can find oneself in this city. This makes the song more universal, more readable. At the same time the video remains totally about Hannes and me. It’s just a great music video.
Was it clear from the start that “Keys” would be the album title? I find this a very strong image with the keys.
I briefly considered calling the album “Ticket To My Heart”, but I found “Keys” an even more powerful image and actually the more central song of the album, with the Berlin reference and also with the skeptical melancholic view. Also with regard to the cover of the album were there immediately several levels. Behind the individual letters of KEYS, through which one looks, it is as if there is a keyhole to 4 characters whose identity that will be revealed later in a video. Each song could also be a key to a story …
You produced “Keys” alone – what were the benefits for you? What did you do differently compared to in the past with Mina or Contriva?
The time with Contriva and Mina is now so long ago that I can no longer say really. It has not a lot to do with how I work now. I do enjoy working with other people, but in the case of “Keys” I had such a clear vision, that I did not want to get into the position of having to defend my vision of the songs in any way.
In the last Spex, Kerstin Grether holds a passionate speech for the band as a “gang” – you can sympathize with that? Is one as a solo artist self-sufficient or more autistic?
Bands are great. The “gang” I can more than understand. Also I have a special relationship with the bands in which I played in the past. The identification with the bands was even so great that I referred to it in interviews another 10 years later, although by that time the bands no longer existed and my solo albums have spoken completely their own language. I am impressed by the principle of “artist collective”, just as Rechenzentrum were or Gob Squad are. At the moment I would find such a cross-genre collective actually more interesting than an exclusively musical entity. As for the work as a solo artist – I love spending hours in the rehearsal room/studio and to be working on songs. That certainly has an escapist but not necessarily an autistic component. I can just close the door and then I’m alone with me and the music.
Kerstin and Sandra Grether have recently released a startling article on the shamefully lacking role of women in the German indie scene. They complain of structural sexism and the imbalance of male and female acts for example at festivals. What do you think about that?
It is true that, especially on the business side, there are many more men than women, and there are situations where this bugs me. For my first album however, I had a strong woman behind me: Gudrun Gut. I was not really aware of it. I thought it had to be like this. The subject of women versus men in music – for me was not an issue for very long time. When I started making music, I naturally assumed that I have the same access to music as the lads. With the second album I switched to Morr Music and in actual fact only men were working in the company. But it was the right label for me and the album at that time. For me it was primarily a different indie label, with which I had hoped, more coverage, especially internationally. But for me personally the support and enthusiasm that I had from by Gudrun Gut and Chrissie Kiefer for the promo for my first album was missing. It was only later that I’ve been repeatedly asked about the “inferior role” or the stereotype position that one has as a woman in pop music. These questions made me aware of the issue. But nevertheless it has not played such a big role for me for other reasons. I grew up in the East, and clearly there was sexism and imbalance, but growing up as a child you could also grow up completely different. My childhood was shaped by my big brother and his friends and my mother had everything else but a subordinated position in the family. I just grew up in the belief that boys and girls can do the same. Today I’m not so sure anymore.
You have made an album with Weill / Loewe pieces, making film music, recently you’re appeared at HAU with a song for Heiner Müller ? are there noticeable boundaries between indie pop and “E” music for you?
I like to get into other contexts; it inspires me. At the same time there is no real separation for me. I can’t be creative from a distant position, therefore I need to find something that concerns me personally and makes it to be my subject.
In a press release it says: “Qrella?s shyness seems finally To have disappeared” and “welcome to the disco of inwardness”. How do you feel about yourself? Shy or introverted? If so, how do you deal with it beeing a performer?
I like authenticity or better said – I think it suits me. Introverted moments are part of it.
What role does Berlin have on your work?
I was born here, grew up and live here. Earlier I would have said I love Berlin, but I don’t think I still do. But Berlin is intentionally or unintentionally always present and again and again a topic in my songs.