Throw Me A Frickin’ Label Hack: Germany’s Oliver Kaah

By: Dan Lake Posted in: featured, interviews, listen On: Friday, September 28th, 2012

Oliver

Decibel knows you’ve got a metal wishlist 23 albums long and five gigabytes of Profound Lore records you still haven’t heard all the way through, but each week we like to give you the opportunity to tune in to a project that isn’t backed by anybody’s hype machine.  Because music is universal, expression is boundless, and even indie labels (whatever that means these days) don’t know everything, Decibel brings you Throw Me a Frickin’ Label Hack, formerly Bonin’ the Interhole, formerly Why Is This Guy We Don’t Care About Posting About This Band We Don’t Care About? (Fair warning: that last title hasn’t been abandoned as a very real future possibility.)  Fuck the system.  Record deals are for pussies and people with self respect.  Here’s Throw Me a Frickin’ Label Hack.

We live in an age when just about anybody can make a music recording sound good.  We also live in an age of blogs when just about anybody can publicly make dumbass remarks about what kind of age we live in.  But let’s focus our attention on the first thing.  Some elitist oldsters will argue this populist movement has stolen something special from the streamlined pathway that connects talent to actual product and publicity (and weeding out the wackos along the way).  The more egalitarian among us choose to interpret the shift as a way to eliminate chance positive encounters with label A&R, getting interesting music out to the people without any of the political haggling and budgetary constraints that have plagued the process in the past.

Antigravity by Munich resident Oliver Kaah exemplifies the outcome as well as any record of the past few years (value judgment withheld).  Dude wrote the album while still in high school, and according to his Bandcamp site (where you can hear Antigravity in its entirety), “all instruments [were] performed and recorded in Oliver Kaah’s bedroom recording studio.”  It’s a spirited electro-romp through one young German’s brain, one that has been wired to process confusion and agitation through a defiantly positive attitude.  Veer wide of this if you have music prejudices that must be observed or if you dislike Devin Townsend.  If you’re still reading then push up your glasses, take a break from optimizing your Linux machine, and listen to “Filter,” the Deciblog’s featured cut from Antigravity.  For a verbal foray into the mind of the music’s creator, read the interview below.

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How did you start playing music?

I basically started hitting things and singing while listening to old cassettes until my parents got me my first real drum kit when I was 8. From there on I just started learning other instruments as well without any plan. I started playing keyboard and writing songs (because I was too lazy to learn existing songs) when I was 12. I never stopped writing music since then. But when I was about 15 I went to a music school to improve my keyboard skills, so I got harpsichord lessons (because piano is too mainstream :p) and theory as well. A few years later I really got into recording music and tried to get gear together, also because of my band at the time, Synesthesie. And I recorded an album with them as a producer or something. And during that recording session I also recorded some of my own stuff and borrowed for that matter, a guitar and a bass somewhere and just started playing something. And that’s how I started to play guitar and bass. I figured if Burzum can do it, I can do it too! I really like learning new instruments and improving my skills. And there is so much to be learned. I could do that all my life!

What styles of music or artists really excited you and influenced you to create Antigravity?

I am always discovering new music, and new styles. And I think at the time I was just getting into electronic music, especially trance and such. There was one band from Sweden called Antiloop. They made an album called LP, which my brother had when I was a kid. And I think this got me into electronic music. And probably influenced me for the sound of Antigravity. But when it comes to actual influence, I don’t really know because I wrote the whole album in about a week as a “creative purging process“ to sort of let everything out regardless of what it is. But now in retrospect few names which might have influenced me come to mind: I think the biggest influence is Arcade Fire. Their album Funeral basically changed my life. I really love that stuff. I have such a weird emotional connection to this album. The songs just speak to me. I think I really got inspired by the vibe of that album. Boston also, and other 70s stuff as always (like Blue Oyster Cult and so on). Sigur Ros is a band that influenced me a lot also, in their approach and the simple beauty of their music. You don’t need to be complicated to get your point across and convey feelings. Neil Young is a good example of that too. I of course also have to mention Devin Townsend. Probably one of the most impactful music I have ever heard. And Devin really influenced me more in my personal life than musically: making me feel more positive, his music helped me go through some tough moments in my life. But ultimately through this influence on my personal life, my music has been affected too. In the end, most of the bands that might have influenced me for the album don’t sound anything like what I ended up recording. That being said, I think that when I write, and this is probably true for any songwriter, things which happen in my life have a much more dramatic impact on the stuff I’m writing than the music I listen to. And you know, I wrote the album a few months before graduating from high school, and it was the first time in my life I could possibly leave my father’s house, which is something I wanted to do for a long time. And it was the first time I had to make decisions for myself. So I had some hopes of improving my life in general. It was generally a very indecisive period in my life, and I think it shows in some of the songs.

What were your goals through Antigravity’s music?  Does the finished result match your vision for the music as closely as you’d like?

I didn’t have any goal for Antigravity. I wrote the album as a reaction to what [and how] I was writing before: I used to write with a very specific idea and concept and then filter a ton of creative content. At some point I couldn’t handle it. I was throwing too much stuff away and making stuff too complicated and the process was very exhausting. So I decided to just let everything out for a moment. I just wrote 14 songs in a couple of weeks. The ideas were just flowing and I was just trying to catch as many as possible. I used to spend years writing single songs, so this was very different for me, and I didn’t even have the intention of releasing it ever. And at some point, I realized the songs were easy enough for me to play every instrument, so I tried to get more gear and started recording. From then the idea was to get the best possible sound with the cheap gear I had. Even now I don’t think it could have been much better. I put a lot of effort in this project. It was very time consuming and not always compatible with my studies which I just started, but I tried to make the best of it. Actually even a few weeks before it was done there was no plan of releasing the material. I used to be very secret and private about my music and never show it to anyone. But I decided to release it at last, when I realized it was good enough to be heard, and when I realized that sharing music, and more generally opening yourself is really an awesome and positive thing. I realized I could actually learn from possible feedback and get better. Also I have connected with like-minded people.

What are your feelings about the blend of aggressive music with more relaxed or melodic elements?

For me music is indivisible. There are no different genres and styles in my perspective of music. It’s all just part of one big thing. So the heavy and the light aspects of music come from the same energy and same global sentiment in my eyes. And for Antigravity it’s just something that happened. I mean I really love heavy and extreme music; I really love uncompromised musical statements. For me it’s just about freedom and creativity: in the end it all comes down to representing what you are feeling in the most accurate way, and for that, all means are allowed, there is no cheating in music. Music is not an Olympic sport. If you are feeling heavy, allow yourself to be heavy, if you are feeling mellow, allow yourself to be mellow, but try to create music that resonates with you. I understand the usefulness and necessity for genres and classification, but that’s not how my brain works.

What composition process did you go through for these songs?

The process for Antigravity was something new for me at the time. Like I said, since I started writing music until this album, I used to have an idea first in my mind and then spend a huge amount of time filtering musical ideas to get something really specific that would fit with what I wanted to create. In fact I wrote a few albums like that, which I would like to record at some point. But it’s too technical for now. The problem with this process is that you are filtering a lot of ideas away, and that can be frustrating. With Antigravity I just forgot about plans and such, and I just let my creativity be free and see what happens. Somehow I felt like writing really simple songs, and Antigravity is what came out of it. I didn’t really expected myself to write happy and positive songs at all, since I wasn’t really happy at the time. I guess it came from some sort of desperate optimism. I remember I was reading a lot of Greek philosophy, and there was this one guy, Epictetus, and he was basically saying that happiness can only be found inside yourself, and that therefore nothing happening outside your own mind should affect your happiness. And I remember thinking that even though I wasn’t in a good place in my life, there was no excuse not to be happy. So I guess I tried this philosophy and ignored the shit going on around me. It was a bit weird, like forcing yourself to be more positive when you are not feeling like it.

What comes next for Oliver Kaah?

A ton of things. Seriously I don’t know how I am going to manage all these projects and continue with my studies. In parallel to the recording of Antigravity I wrote and recorded a second album, which is basically the second half of it. The style is very different though. I would say it’s a mix of post-rock doom and atmospheric metal. Very long songs. Lyrics in three different languages. The whole album is pretty much the opposite of Antigravity, and in a lot of ways it’s a reaction to Antigravity. I don’t have a name yet, but the album is almost ready and I hope to release it this year. Maybe in the winter. Aside from that I’ve been involved in a technical death metal project for a couple of years now [with] a friend of mine in which I play drums,. The project has [had] a few setbacks because of me going to another country and him being quite busy, but almost two albums were written by him, and we recorded a few songs. I hope to release an EP in a few months or so, so we can wait until we are ready for the actual recording. And here in Munich I have another project with a good friend, in which I play drums, guitars and bass. The music is melodic doom and my friend writes all the songs. We recorded one album, which is almost ready. We also shot a music video with his roommate as director. It was really great and the final result should be kickass. I’m also in the process of writing jingles for a metal show on the internet, but it’s still a bit secret. Apart from that I would really like to find musicians and go on stage  [to] bring the album(s) to life and share it with people. I have just so many things going on. Maybe I’ll have more time when I’m done studying.