ZEMENT | Interview
Hypnotic grooving, instrumental ‘krautrock’ from Würzburg, Germany. Tune in and drop out! Clearly, Can is a major influence, just like Ash Ra Tempel, NEU! or Cluster, but more in the context of approach and attitude.
When and how did you all originally meet to form ZEMENT?
Philipp: Actually we met a long time ago at school, when we were 10 or 11 years old. We’ve been friends since then and had a punk band back in the days, when we were 14 or 15 old. We hang around together a lot and did some noise in the rehearsal room of Christian’s father. This musical socialization was very import for us, not only musical wise, but also because of this DIY punk approach. It was fun! The band existed only for 1 ½ year, but our friendship continues. After that, we continued to make music in different bands and projects, tried out different musical styles and ideas, but no longer together in a band anymore. But we’ve always talked about making music together again and how this could happen. So, in 2013 we started to jam in our rehearsal room and tried different ideas. From the beginning it was important to us, to not limit ourselves and just see where this can go. It took us a while to check some ideas and find a sort of musical framework in which this band can take place. We improvised a lot and it felt very good. Musically we’ve still understand each other very well, so it becomes increasingly apparent, that we want this band to be an improvisational duo with references to Krautrock, Noise, Psych and New Music, sound wise. We tried different instruments, effects and ideas, a lot of them went in the trash, haha. But after a year, we were ready to play some shows and want to play live. So we did our first private show in the end of 2014, the first public show in March 2015.
What does the name “ZEMENT” refer to in the context of the band name?
“ZEMENT” is clearly a reference to other bands like “Kraftwerk” or “NEU!”. This factory thing is important too. Our music works like a factory sometimes. All those single components come together and in the end, you will have a product, which comes out at the end of the assembly line. This product could be our songs, metaphorically speaking. On the other hand, cement is important to built things and we want to built musical worlds… to drift away or and float around.
The other reference is, there is a theater piece by Heiner Müller, which is called “Zement”. It’s quite good and an interesting piece. I saw it a few years ago and had read something about it around the time we needed to find a name for the band. So I came up with it. We did a list with some names and ZEMENT sounded best. It made sense for us to name the band ZEMENT, especially in combination with the music we make. Besides it sounds quite good!
“When an idea works for us, we try it out in different versions and forms”
What’s the songwriting process with ZEMENT like?
Mostly one of us came up with an idea and we jam around with it. In this way we can see if this idea is a good one or not. An idea could be anything, any sound on guitar, drums, a pattern on the synth or just a field recording sound. Sometimes ideas come to us while jamming around. When an idea works for us, we try it out in different versions and forms. Then basically the idea lead to a theme, which is the basic loop, which every song of ours contains as its basic element. Then we improvise around this loop. We do this quite a lot of times actually. So, we more and more get an idea what this song is about. At this stage we start to play songs live, to test how they work in the live setting. Then we bring it back to the rehearsal room, cut something off from it, put another idea to it and so on. And then a song is ‘ready’ to be a song in our repertoire. I say ‘ready’, because our songs are never ready. They are always in progress, because they never sound the same. Only the basic loop and rhythmical pattern is similar, on top of it we put improvisations, which sound quite similar, but they never are. This leads to that, that each songs has different lengths and different melodic structures, different synth patterns and guitar melodies… every time. You can get, that this is this particular song, but you hear a different version every time we play it.
Can you share some further details how your latest album ‘Klinker’ was recorded and released?
‘Klinker’ was recorded at IronBar Studios in Darmstadt / Germany by Lolo Blümler. Friends of ours, Hildegard von Binge Drinking recorded their latest album at Lolos studio and we like the sound of it a lot. They told us, that it was fantastic to record at IronBar Studios and Lolo did an awesome job and helped them a lot to push their sound to a next level. So, we asked Lolo if he would help us with our new album and he said yes! We are very happy about that fact by the way, haha! We went there for 6 days overall.
Process wise it was like this, that we recorded the basic tracks, drums and the basic loop live together and did the rest with overdubs. That was quite new for us, but it worked out pretty well. We had the chance and time to produce individual instrument parts and tried out different versions and different gear, to check what could work best. We could use the whole analog set up of effects and processors at the studio, which led it to another level. Those analog Space Echos, wohooo! Haha! Anyway, Lolo had a huge impact on the sound, without butting in. We mixed it together with Lolo in the studio and Felix did the mastering in Berlin. In fact, we are very happy with the result!
The album was released by Sunhair Music, a small label from Würzburg, Germany. Horst, the guy who runs it, is a friend of ours and runs a record shop in Würzburg, called H20 Records, too. He puts up shows in the Kraut and Psychedelic scene and it was a perfect match from the beginning. We like it when everything stays in family and when we can do an album together with friends. At Sunhair we can bring in our ideas and Horst implements it. We came up with the idea for the artwork for example, which was made by Philipp Dittmar and Rebecca Schwarzmeier. Horst said, yes, great idea and we brought him the finished artwork and album and he took care about the production process and the wholesale. Everything has turned out quite good so far.
What would you say influenced you the most? Have influences changed during the years?
Personally, we have a lot of different influences. Starting with punk and post-punk, not only musical wise, but rather approach wise, to Hardcore, to New Wave, to Jazz, Folk to Techno and all sorts of so called experimental music, Minimal Music for example. I’m a huge Terry Riley fan! We listen to a lot of classics, Bob Dylan, Neil Young or even The Beatles. Christian is into this 60s, 70s Psych-Rock thing. All those influences flow into our music I think. I heard a lot of Rap and Electronic Music at some point of my life. That whole sampling culture had a huge impact on me and my musical work and how I make music, my musical mindstate. Also the whole DIY / Counterculture Punk thing. So, all in all, fuck those categories, haha!
On the other hand, for us as a band, the whole so called Krautrock bands were a huge influence to our music. Bands like Neu!, Can, Kraftwerk, Ash Rah Temple, Tangerine Dream, Cluster, Harmonia, Embryo. We heard a lot of their work around this time when we started ZEMENT. But also some new bands like Camera, Föllakzoid or Cave. On the other hand there are bands like Animal Collective, Battles or Oneida, which had or have an impact on what we do. Then we have some classics, like Frank Zappa, Jefferson Airplane or Grateful Dead, combined with bands like Talking Heads or Devo, to name a few. Furthermore there are a lot of great musicians and labels who have an influence on our music. There is a band from Belgium, called RAZEN for example, I’m a huge fan of their music! Another new influence is this whole Techno, House and pattern-based music thing. I think you can hear this influence on the new album and we will try some more of it on the next one.
What about ‘Zement:Werk’? How would you compare it to Klinker?
The first big difference between ‘Zement:Werk’ and ‘Klinker’ is, that our first album was mostly recorded live. We wanted to capture the live feeling that we had at live shows on a record. Those whole jam-thing was more present in our music around this time. There are a few synth and percussion overdubs on it, but the rest was recorded live in one room. The other thing is, that ‘Zement:Werk’ was more Psych-Rock I would say, than the new album. The guitars are more present and more dominant on it and there are more straight drum patterns on it as on our new album. Maybe this has something to do with all those influences I mentioned above. On ‘Klinker’ the synthesizers are more dominant and you can hear the development to more pattern-based musical structures in our music, without loosing this psych-guitar thing. The guitar has only another function, so to say. More like a synthesizer, she floats in and out and plays more pattern-licks than Rock-Riffs.
The other thing is, that ‘Klinker’ arosed more in a production process than ‘Zemet:Werk’, as I mentioned above. Name wise we kept the ZEMENT reference with ‘Klinker’, because ‘klinker’ are the stones which came out in the production process of cement, they are a product of a cement factory, a ‘zement werk’ in German language. You can see them on the front cover oft the new album.
There’s also a recent single: ‘CaO*MgO’.
Yes, ‘CaO*MgO’ is the last song on the new album and was the first single. It was released in June 2018 by the Nuremberg based label VERYDEEPRECORDS as a 7” vinyl single. On side A you can hear the original song and on side B you will find a remix by our friend Philipp Dittmar aka Red On, who did also the artwork for ‘Klinker’ and runs the VERYDEEP label together with Stefan Rölle. There is also a video for it by Keine Zeit Medien on our YouTube channel. You can see a lot of Zement in it!
You also released a tape with live recordings from Portland.
Those are not live recordings from Portland actually, would be nice if we had played in Portland, but unfortunately not yet, haha. We played a show in Reutlingen, Germany in 2017 and the guys at the mixing desk recorded the whole show and gave it to us a few weeks later. We liked the sound and how we had played the songs on this day and how they came out on the recording, so we had the idea to put two of them out in a way. We talked to Philipp and Stefan from VERYDEEP and they liked the idea and said “let’s do it”. So we did it. The tape was named after a cement brand, Portland-Cement. The fact that Portland is also a city from where a lot of great bands came in the past, made it easier for us to name the tape PORTLAND. On the front cover you see a cement sack, with Portland cement in it. The tape comes in a sack, so you get a real cement sack. Blimey!
Would you say there’s a certain concept behind ZEMENT? How about behind individual release?
Yes, as I mentioned before, you can find this whole cement theme in all our releases. Every release has another cement theme as its base and another concept. The songs on our first album are named after the components of cement, the songs on ‘Klinker’ are named after the different ‘klinker’ firing stages, so every album is a conceptual album about different cement themes, haha. And there are a lot more topics! I would not say that everything was planned in this way, sometimes it happened accidentally, such as the Portland tape. We talked a lot about this Portland thing in the last years and then we just say: “OK, let’s name the tape ‘Portland’.” Sometimes other people came up with stupid puns and we fool around with those ideas. On the other hand it all makes sense in the end, to name an album ‘Zement:Werk’ and ‘Klinker’, because it fits perfectly to the music we make, I think.
What kind of equipment do you use and how important it is for you in terms of music making?
Christian plays a regular drum set and I play guitar with some effects, two amps and synthesizers. I think the most important pedal in our whole set-up is the loop station, because the basic loop sets the basic theme of the song and is a really important fact in our music. Through this pedal runs the rhythm guitar and the synth bassline. The loop is also the metronome for Christian. He plays his drums to the rhythm guitar and the bassline. On top of that comes everything else. The solos and the other patterns. Maybe it’s like in jazz, we have a mode and a basic theme and on top of it comes the improvisation.
The synthesizer becomes more and more important in our music and we already have some ideas to change some components in our set-up, so that all the different instruments can come together more and more in a technical and rhythmical way, but that are some future plans.
Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with over the past few years?
Oh, good question. We played with a lot of bands in the past few years. I loved to play with Föllakzoid, because I like their music a lot. It was great to play with Warm Graves, because they have a unique sound and the concert with them was our first public show. We played a lot of shows with Hildegard von Binge Drinking, who are also from Würzburg, friends of ours and our rehearsal room buddies. We have always a great time together and they are very hard-drinking guys, haha. We played with Datashock, also friends of ours and I like what they do musical wise. We played with a band from Japan, called Sajjanu, and had the time of our lives with these guys at Öttinger Villa in Darmstadt. We played a tour with our friend Exchampion, which was a great time too. We played with Fabels from Australia in a small village near Nuremberg, not so much people showed up, but we become friends during the evening and kept in touch. We played a show with The Spacelords and became friends. In this way we became connected with Marcus, their drummer, who recorded and mixed our first album. We played shows with Vibravoid and Giöbia, which were also really cool evenings, Vibraviod played the best and longest “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” version I’ve ever heard, awesome! Uli from Bird People did a show for us in Vienna and that night went quite long. We were on tour with Miira lately, also friends of ours. This is that what I mentioned before, that’s what it’s all about: meeting great people everywhere, support each other, become friends, meet again, building independent structures and have a good time between all this bullshit!
What are some future plans?
We’ll play some more shows within the release of ‘Klinker’ and then we will write new songs for a new album. Next year a Remix-Tape of the ‘Klinker’ album is planed and maybe some other tape ideas, but that’s still work in progress. So watch out!
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
A lot of! To much to mention, haha. But I will try. There’s a band called Miman from Norway, they released an album called ‘Ulme’ which I really like. Then I can recommend everything from RAZEN (read our interview), as I mentioned before. Really great ensemble. On of them, Ameel Brecht made a beautiful solo album, called ‘Polygraph Heartbeat’, it was released by Belgium label Kraak, really great. Lots of other releases on that label are exciting. I’m still a huge fan of Oneida, they released a new album called Romance, which is great. You need to check out the other stuff the band members did. Then, there’s another guy whose music I really like, Günther Schlienz, great synthesizer ambient stuff. And a friend of mine runs a small tape label called Otomatik Muziek, he releases some interesting left field stuff, worth to check out!
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Thank you for the interview and take care!