Deeper Directions: An Interview with Moderat

Back in 2013 KALTBLUT caught up with Berlin-based electronic project Moderat, ahead of their second album release, aptly titled II. Now nearly three years on, and the final part to their album trilogy has arrived – after much anticipation. Their latest release, III, incorporates a powerful intensity that is felt through the vocally charged work of Apparat as he takes us on an emotive journey. The nine track offering also lends itself to a spellbinding set of rhythmic beats from the Modeselektor bass masters, Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary. Energetically driven with a sense of melancholia, there is a depth to each track that is particularly felt in “Eating Hooks”, “Ghostmother”, and “Intruder”. As we come to what can be seen a final chapter rather than an infinite ending, III serves as the gateway to their true formation as Moderat, the band. Heading over to the Monkeytown headquarters we caught up with Moderat’s lyrical genius, Sascha Ring ahead of their World Tour.

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KALTBLUT: As we are taken on an aural adventure with your last installment to the album trilogy – let’s delve into a bit of nostalgia. How did Moderat initially get together?
Sascha: Ah, it was quite a long time ago, it was in the beginning of the 00’s, there was a festival for new emerging artists in Berlin. Gernot and Sebastian were playing for BPitch Control and I was playing for my label back in the day, Shitkatapult. We got along well, I think mostly we started being interested in each other because of technical nerdy shit. I was playing very straight forward back in the day with a laptop – 15 years ago that was crazy! They were playing really old school, with some kind of analog set-up and I didn’t know that world very well so I was interested in them. They were into my tech stuff – so we started nerding around and we found out that musically we had a lot of things in common. Our origins are all from the same kind of techno basement, early days thing.

KALTBLUT: How would you describe the Berlin music scene now compared to when you first started out?
Sascha: You know in a way it hasn’t changed dramatically, absolutely clubs are way more professional now – they are real clubs, they are businesses. Of course, it’s the same for us. Back in the day we were messing around and we started a label not knowing how to do it. Basically, now we have an office and people really know what to do, so everybody got more professional and grew into their jobs. That’s what happened to the clubs as well – but then again you still have that little subculture with clubs that appear here and there and then close again, where the kids party. That isn’t too different from what we experienced when we came here to Berlin for the first time. Also, I think even though the city (at least in my eyes) is much more polished. I mean I’ve been here for 20 years and it was like a grey shithole with ruins and lots of space in between where you had temporary bars in Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, you can’t imagine that these days. If you come to Berlin now from say the U.S or something it still has the same impression that I got 20 years ago – it’s just a huge playground and I think it’s cool that the city kind of keeps that somehow.

KALTBLUT: As the final part to your album trilogy how do you feel your sound has evolved across the three albums?
Sascha: Well, I mean obviously the gap from the first to the second was much bigger because there was more time in between. The way that we made that first album was different because we had to figure out a way to work together – we didn’t know before. Basically, we were just remixing ourselves, we weren’t really a band and it was only meant to be a one time thing. We were planning to go on tour for three months and afterwards it was three years. Nobody really expected that this was going to be a real thing that had a future. The second album had a completely different point to start from, we already knew that, now we work well together – we are some kind of band and we started writing in a different way. We wrote it together, we tried to be in the studio and make songs together and then this is just the path that we followed towards the third album and we just tried to make everything a little better – with a little more chaos involved. But soundwise, we were always trying to keep a certain sound because we were three very different people and we have to agree on the smallest aspects. The thing we have in common, that’s what that is – the sound you can hear and that’s why we always stick to those spacious reverb sounds.

KALTBLUT: Is this definitely the finale with your collaborative efforts as the combination of Modeselektor and Apparat and was there any reasoning behind keeping it to a trilogy?
Sascha: Nah, it’s not that we are going to stop making music. It’s just that maybe what we just talked about – about that sound, the concept and the smallest common ground that we have together. We’ve reached a certain end and maybe for the next one we will give the album a name finally not just a number. Who knows when that’s going to happen? Maybe it’s going to be more conceptual or whatever. We always talk shit like that, then we go to the studio and figure out that it doesn’t work to make big plans because everything is going to happen in a different way anyway.

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KALTBLUT: Your sound has such a depth and intensity that perfectly combines vocals with hearty beats, do you feel this third installment is the most powerful of the three in terms of both sound and story?
Sascha: It’s hard to tell because I’m quite close to it still. Well, from my point of view because I’m the singer and I have a different relationship to the songs because they’re personal. I guess for Gernot and Sebastian they’re personal too. But, for me it’s on a different level because I’m dealing with my shit in these songs. It is definitely different because I had this motorcycle accident before the tour for the second album and everything got postponed – I was at home for three months and my life changed quite a bit. I wrote a lot during that time and I was dealing with change and all that kind of stuff that’s highly personal.

KALTBLUT: So, that comes across a lot on the album…
Sascha: Absolutely, I think that’s why (for me at least) it’s a stronger album, it’s closer to me as well.

KALTBLUT: It’s been said in a past interview that you are more of a night creator and with your varied schedules what was it like getting this album together?
Sascha: 
Not anymore! It just doesn’t, I have to adjust. In a way you know, I still think even though you are collaborating with someone it’s good to have some time on your own to work on your own stuff. It doesn’t work to have three people in a room the whole time. At some point it’s slowing it down by talking too much – when it should be decided from the belly. Sometimes I would stay here late or sneak in during the weekends nobody is supposed to know because I was making changes. During the day we had five or six hours where we were all together in the studio and we made decisions that were important for all of us. Then we would split and Szary would go to the smoking room – we call it the smoking room because you open the door and there is a wall of smoke. We have another room, where usually I work with Gernot. At some point Gernot would go home and spend time with his kids. When they were asleep he would be working on his laptop and I would continue working through the night in here – so I can still be a bit of a night person.

KALTBLUT: Would you say that it has been a natural progression with your music rather than something that was planned from the initial beginnings?
Sascha: Absolutely, I would always say that because hopefully (at least from my perspective) that’s how my whole life works now looking back from where I started DJing hard techno – it’s a crazy contrast but there are like 20 years in between. There were lots of little steps, I think it just evolved somehow in some kind of direction. I guess it’s the same with Moderat, you know of course there are certain steps. When we announced the tour lots of shows were already sold out now we have huge venues and this is a step playing for triple the amount of people instantly but not exactly with a different kind of music so in the end it still feels like a homogenic procedure that’s still going on – it feels healthy.

KALTBLUT: If we’re talking lyrically, what kind of story do you feel this latest album tells?
Sascha: At times I was a little worried that maybe I’m giving that album a little too personal approach because there are three people involved and they also need to feel like it’s theirs you know. But, then again all of us have a different approach to it especially Gernot doesn’t really give much of a shit about the lyrics – which I could be offended by and think it’s ignorant – I’m not I think it’s great because that makes it possible for him, for example, on “The Fool” it was a completely different song idea and he just cut out a few phrases of the lyrics out of context and put them in a different song. That was one of his night shifts actually, the next day there was a completely new song – it’s a great song and it never would have happened if he worried about keeping the work in the right context. It’s important to have different approaches like that.

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KALTBLUT: I read that the idea behind Moderat was to imagine yourself sitting in a cinema and listening to an incredible soundtrack… If you could pick a film/film genre, would you have one that inspired the collectives initial beginnings?
Sascha: I’ve even made soundtracks for movies already. But, what would be the movie for Moderat? I don’t really know probably it would be some kind of movie with not too many words – that’s about it. I’m not one that has specific pictures in mind while doing that – even though I’m quite a visual person. Back in the very early days I was a designer but more on an analytic level. I did typography, which is kind of like little spaces between the letters, so it’s not so philosophical it’s more like the analytical visual thing.

KALTBLUT: With your tour about to kick off is there a gig you’re particularly looking forward to?
Sascha: It’s hard to pick one. For us it’s not common to play a lot in Germany, which is weird because we started as some international project. Slowly we started to emerge in Germany and now we have some impact here too – even in the charts. It also means you are branching out to completely different people that are not coming from the electronic world, that’s interesting. I can’t really tell that I’m looking more forward to a show like that because it’s even more of a challenge. I just can’t wait to start playing, we are just rehearsing at the moment and that’s a very new thing too. We’ve done rehearsals before but not real. We were like what are we going to play? Everybody was like fuck, and we just took it on stage and now it’s all completely different and really well prepared. It sounds so lame to say we are becoming more professional as a band but, in a way if you’re playing for 10,000 people you better be. Now, for the first time ever we have a backup system, which means if one computer crashes then it automatically switches to another computer and we’ve never done that before. We’ve already played 300 shows or whatever and we played them just with fucking laptops and when the laptop crashed there was a gap. Now, for the first time ever we have a backup system, which means if one computer crashes then it automatically switches to another computer and we’ve never done that before.

KALTBLUT: Has there been a particular time?
Sascha: Montreux Jazz Festival – that’s the only festival that has a huge history. The guy Claude Nobs who founded it started filming every show very professionally. He had a library of Led Zeppelin, Herbie Hancock, and Radiohead – everyone. Everybody played there and he had concert films of them. He invited us to his house when he was still alive five years ago and he had a big cinema – he would just sit there and watch those shows. It was there that our fucking system broke down and we had a gap of like 20 minutes in the middle of the show and our technicians were like eh what the fuck is going on and we went backstage and we were like smoking and drinking…

KALTBLUT: But it was covered up in true Moderat style…
Sascha: In the end it was ok I mean we were – I have to say we were smart because after a break like that what are you going to do? You play your fucking hit and get the people right away. And we were playing ‘Bad Kingdom’ and we started with the most significant noise in the song and then everybody was suddenly there

KALTBLUT: Can you fill us in on anything that’s set to go down at one of your shows?
Sascha: It will be a totally different show compared to the other ones for sure. Even if the last one had different sets of screens, it was really based on video stills and we told the guys that we work with on visuals (for 20 years) that we don’t really want that anymore. We want to be in front of the screen, so there is still a screen, but there is much more happening on stage. Much more of a dramatic flow of the show and we also change positions to mix it up for us a little bit. Finally, I’m in the middle as a singer and I also don’t have a desk to hide behind so I have to be a bit more of a front man which is kind of a challenge as well because that’s not really how I was born. Musically, it’s great since we have three albums now. It’s easier to make set lists because there are so many songs and we can play for two hours and keep it all interesting. We have enough material now, we are almost playing the whole third album – there are only two songs that we don’t play, and there will be a lot of previous stuff too.

III is out April 1st 2016 on Monkeytown Records
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All photos by Flavien Prioreau

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