Clueso’s new album Neuanfang presents his music distilled to the core. Songwriting post-Berlin Wall talent Clueso has performed a complete turnaround within the past year: “Neuanfang for me is a special album. Because I am questioning what I do without losing myself.”
We catch Clueso on the phone as he waits at Hamburg’s Savoy hotel for his driver. The German word for driver, ‘Fahrer’, sounds just like ‘Pfarrer’ (Father, or parson) on the bad cell connection and for a moment we muse on this absurd vision. “Not yet!” says Clueso. Indeed, the opposite is happening for him right now, namely a new beginning and a rebirth of his creative work which began 15 years ago with his first album, simply titled Text & Ton (Text and Sound). The long loop that has brought him to this year’s Neuanfang (New Beginning), is marked by his journey from post-Berlin Wall times in East Germany’s Erfurt to Cologne and back. In a way, it is creatively more attached to his early years than any of the albums in between.
Neuanfang stems from a complete makeover of Clueso’s creative life, which includes forming a new band and disengaging from his long-time cherished former manager. He says: “It was inevitable. I was ripe for something new and I wanted to have a grown-up attitude towards actually electing and employing my own manager.”
Sticking to your own true path without suddenly serving an industry or a market or indeed a need of your own fan base, these existential topics have a strong impact on the lyrics and music of Neuanfang. There is the song about Gordo the ape, sent into space feeling free and weightless but ends up wishing to simply come back to earth. This feeling mirrors CLUESO’s own emotional state during the past years when he often felt “an urgent need to lie down and sleep, right there on stage in front of 50,000 people”.
When asked about how the new album came to pass so quickly, he says: “In a way it was as if there was no break at all! People were telling me that I couldn’t just quit and do my own stuff without endangering the label. And after I had understood that, I gladly went to the Berlin studio to create some acoustic songs, something that had been on my mind for a long time. But soon into the process of creating Neuanfang, it became pretty clear that this album wouldn’t be an acoustic one. ‘Way too crashy’, as my friends rightly put it.”
With his newly appointed manager, Berlin-based Can Azizoglu, Clueso started working – and kept working, and working. “To me it feels like being dropped at the kindergarten and then never wanting to stop playing when you’re being picked up again in the evening,” he says. However, the glimpses of burnout during the last years have resulted in a sense for the importance of recreation. When asked what makes a perfect day, CLUESO states: “The perfect day for me is often the productive day following on a chilled out one. When I am fully in my power and can work from a well-rested mode, that’s what makes a good day for me.”
Clueso does not shy from expressing his meditations on social policies and the specifics of the downsides of capitalist society in his songs (“everybody wants to either be alive or at the seaside”). This fact inevitably poses a quick question about the result of the US election. His comment is plain and simple, in true Clueso fashion: “We need to concentrate on the children now. There is absolutely no sense in sitting down those voters on a couch trying to talk sense into them. Even with friends that would take me days on end!”
Does Clueso look forward to the upcoming tour, with 20 days of continuous rehearsing already under his belt and more to come until tour start in December? “Oh yes,” he says, “no worries, I am really enjoying the process with the new band members. No use to compare them with the old band of course, it is an absolute new terrain which we are mapping out together.” With two new guitarists, a new girl on base, a keyboarder and his former drummer Tim Neuhaus, the new band makes up six including Clueso and he likes to “hear when they start thriving and freeing themselves up and that’s what I intend to work with”. The original work on the album was done in the studio together with his producer Tobias Kuhn who immediately felt the pull of the rough and honest sounding voice of the new songs, as they were “screamed into the studio”.
Like many fellow artists, Clueso never feels alone while he is composing. “Sometimes,” he says, “it’s almost as if someone is looking over your shoulder when you write a song. And when you look at it later, maybe at a time when you feel a little down or exhausted, you think to yourself: ‘Wow, that’s a rather good song, I am glad I was there when it got made!’”
In his early years, Clueso used to rap and work with DJs. But today, even though he still raps in the privacy of his own home, he thinks of his songwriter-style music to be more lasting. “There are enough excellent rappers out there, so if I get to do some skits on stage or on my albums in between songs – that serves me fine and is enough.” He also writes poetry, a creative medium close to writing lyrics that has found its way into his photo book Clueso, Von und über (Clueso, From and About), a collection of works by his various photographer friends who have accompanied him on tour through the years. Friends in general are a big component in Clueso’s life and he likes to include them in his creative sphere as well. He tours with a crew that is largely made up of friends and says that, in the best-case scenario, peers of his own age are “healthy competition” or “positively contagious”.
Clueso has taken major steps in his career through taking part in the ‘Bundesvision song contest’, a TV format hosted by Stefan Raab of the Pro7 channel and ‘1LiveKrone’, an ongoing voting competition initiated through the Cologne-based 1LIVE radio station. What does he think of media-enhanced music careers and of music appearing on TV in particular? “Well,” he says, “for a start I don’t have a TV, it drives me crazy. I haven’t had a TV for the past 15 years and that’s why I am pretty immune to getting too excited about it. Also, they often have the worst of sound equipment, but I think it is still way more important to hear me than have me speak about my music. So, in a way, TV and radio are of major importance. People need to hear my music to truly understand who I am.”
The best source of understanding what Clueso is all about is of course to hear him live: The Neuanfang Club Tour starts on 11 December in Bochum.
TEXT: CORNELIA BRELOWSKI I PHOTO: CHRISTOPH KOESTLIN