Pieter Nooten: "To be honest I never listen to pop music"

nooten12-1-1_200pxEs war Ivo Watts-Russell, Chef des 4AD Labels, der Pieter Nooten und Michael Brook 1987 zusammenbrachte. Gemeinsam nahmen sie das Album "Sleeps With The Fishes" auf, mit Musik die ebenso dunkel wie schön und erhaben war und schufen damit einen der Klassiker des Ambients. Seine besondere Fähigkeit dichte, atmosphärische Musik zu schreiben hatte Pieter Nooten schon zuvor als Songwriter und Keyboarder bei den damals noch legendären Clan of Xymox unter Beweis gestellt. Xymox waren Pop, Dark Wave und Ambient zugleich - vor allem letzteres geprägt durch Pieter Nootens Arrangements. Nach seinem zweiten Soloalbum "Ourspace" aus dem Jahre 2006 legt er nun mit "Here Is Why", veröffentlicht bei Rocket Girl, ein neues Album vor.

Klang "Ourspace" in Teilen noch etwas skizzenhaft und zu sehr nach 90er Jahre Ambient ist "Here Is Why" minimalistischer, intensiver und wird von einer zerbrechlichen Schönheit geprägt. Vermutlich klingt Pieter Nootens Musik gerade deshalb so eigenständig, weil er sich aus dem Popkosmos komplett ausgeklinkt hat: “I never listen to any pop music I am afraid. Without wanting to sound presumptuous at all, -I cannot write or read music- I am more influenced by the depth and beauty of the simplest Bach fugue than by most modern ‘ambient electronica’..." Nicht verwunderlich also, dass "Here Is Why" eher wie elektronische Kammermusik denn nach gewöhnlichen Ambient klingt.
Im Interview gibt Pieter Nooten offenherzig Auskunft über die Entstehung seines neuen Album und - anders noch als bei seinem unruhr.de-Interview 2006 waren auch Fragen zu (Clan of) Xymox diesmal kein Tabu.

I like “Here Is Why” more than your last album “Ourspace”, because “Ourspace” sounds too much like 90s ambient for me (especially the rhythms). Please describe the process you went through creating your wonderful new album. 
First of all. You are right about Ourspace. It is a 90s sounding album because most of the tracks are unfinished material straight out of that period. Actually some of them are even older, so I guess Ourspace sounding to 90's is a compliment and I must have been ahead of the sound of those days... But seriously. Ourspace is not my favorite either. It has some lovely tunes and moods but -again- the tracks are half finished and never got further then that, which is a shame. Anka wanted a Pieter Nooten album on I-rain and this is what I could provide at that time. But still, I love listening to it and I am grateful she pushed me.

nooten-4_200pxHere Is Why is composed, produced and mixed almost completely by myself (Don Tyler helped me out on a couple of tracks and Maria Castro on Left Lonely). It wasn't an easy task. Not being able to use musicians, real instruments, outboard gear, proper studio mixers, engineers, producers etc etc was a hindrance and a liberation at the same time. This time I really had to overcome my insecurity and trusted myself to do the job. I had to stay very very close to the feeling I wanted to get across and not getting to much distracted by all the technique. Some albums sound great but soulless. I needed to produce an album with depth and as much human soul as possible, yet completely electronically manufactured. That was my struggle.

In my opinion “Ease Away“ is the most outstanding song: a stunning peace of music with a very intense and sad atmosphere. What does this song mean to you?
Thank you. You know what I had in mind with this song?: a real horn section playing the somber chord structure, a harp doing the sequences and just a single piano and double bass. Can you imagine how that would have sounded? I must try and perform it live like that some day. I love this track too, just because it is so minimalistic, in music, words and feeling. Live it will be played with the aid of a real cello and Yvette's gorgeous voice. The lyrics are about a lost love, how could it be anything else? A man is struggling with his anger, his mixed up feelings about a woman who committed adultery. He loves her so much that he is considering taking her back, despite of the pain and hurt. She is literally standing in the doorway. It's a very powerful moment and in our live show we have produced a gorgeous but simple video backdrop showing this dilemma. A short fragment is uploaded on facebook.

You work on “Here Is Why” with different singer. Where did you find all this heavenly voices? And what’s about Anka (Wolbert, ex-Xymox). I’m missing her voice?
First of all, Anka is not playing or producing any music anymore. You have to ask her why that is. I think it is a shame too. The vocalists I have used are all found on myspace. I just contacted the voices I thought would fit well with my music. I am very happy and very proud of the results. They are all fantastic singers with very cool, restrained techniques of singing. I do actually hate all these r&b voices we see and hear on tv and talent shows constantly.

I've read in an old interview, that you don't like your own voice very much. I disagree with you. I like your pleasant hushed voice and it is a good counterbalance against too much sweetness in you music. What do you think about it?
You are probably absolutely right. And thank you for the compliment. But what is wrong with sweetness in music? I agree, a Chopin prelude can be just to sweet and some r&b ballads do make you cringe. But here, in my music, I approached consciously a bit more of a poetic or esthetic way of composing, maybe a bit like Sigur Ross. Not being scared to touch that nerve, sentiment, melancholy, a sense of beauty that moves you. Pop music, and indie music in particular, is often trying to hard to be tough, muscular, even macho. Also, we live in chaotic times and society is hard and becoming more and more inhumane. I definitely do not want to be a part of that and my music had to reflect that.

You've written, recorded and produced this album nearly completely on a Mac Book Pro. The use of analogue equipment isn't an option for you anymore?

We have come a long way in 20 years. Everyone can produce fantastic music on a computer. It is a matter of talent, without wanting to sound pedantic. It was a real struggle to make this album sound warm and organic, I agree. But it IS possible. I do not want to look back saying that equipment in the past sounded so much better. What has equipment got to do with music? Gould played the Goldberg variations on a piano -not even that well recorded- but with what depth and emotion! You can play a Bach piece on any instrument and it will still sound stunning.

Your own label i-rain records (with Anka and Sophie) had fallen asleep fairly quickly. What were the reasons?

Bad sales and difficulties finding licensing abroad. Also we did not cooperate enough. My fault too.

You are working on a special live show for "Here Is Why". What are your plans to implement your figured and spherical music on stage?

Well it's going to be a very simple, intimate set up. Me singing and playing keyboards via de mac book, also routing some pre recorded audio channels. Then there is Yvette singing mostly harmonies but a few songs by herself too, and Lucas Stam on cello. We have also made a gorgeous video backdrop with the aid of famous Dutch artist Laser 3.14. The music will always be intimate, restrained and intense. I would prefer small theaters and seaters. I am no twenty anymore and would love to present a more mature image. This is not a pop concert.

In your biography you mentioned that you left Xymox 1990 due to growing internal musical differences. Whilst Xymox wants to stick to their 80s roots you wanted more experimentation and dance elements in the music. For Xymox the “Phoenix” album in 1991 was a break with their 80s wave sound. You also wrote some songs for this album (“Wonderland”, “Dreamhouse”, "All Fold Up"...). Was this development in the sound for you insufficient?
Absolutely. During that period my demos were totally ignored by Ronny. Worst of all, when they were approved, they got completely ruined on the mixing desk. I don't know how and why that happened but I was so shocked and disappointed that I just could not go on like that anymore. The demo versions of Wonderland, Dreamhouse and especially All Fold Up were absolutely better then the way they came out. I was disillusioned and felt opposed for the wrong reasons. Ronny wanted absolute power and turned into an all controlling tyrant, making sure his songs came first, even if others were better. At some point the record company wanted All Fold Up as a single and have it remixed, but don't ask me why, it never happened.

xymox_medusaYou wrote most of the songs for the debut album “Clan of Xymox” and quite a few for the 2nd “Medusa”, although in public everything was focused on Ronny Moorings who was very predominant as (self-declared) leader of the band. Was this also a reason for you to leave the band?  
Yes. It was ridiculous. At some point in an interview he started ranting on about his grandmother dying and that's why he named one of  MY tracks 'Clementine', implying that he wrote it. He did not play a single note in that track.

How functioned the song writing in the early Xymox? Was it done as band or contributed each member own songs for an album? What songs are in addition to “A Day”, “Stumble And Fall” and “After the call” from you?
In the beginning we did it all together. It’s true that most of the songs were distilled from my demos. "a day", "stumble and fall", "after the call", "equal ways", but also "louise", "7th time", "medusa" and "backdoor" are all my compositions. Also I contributed sample material and keyboards to other songs. Ronny did most of the guitars and wrote all vocals, later he got fairly talented in writing. Anka was also very creative, especially with sequencers and samplers and later songwriting. She also got very demotivated at some point. Her talent got totally snowed under by Ronny's rampant ambitions.

I've asked you about Xymox, because you announced the release of a new album with old demo material (also with songs of the Xymox period). What can you tell us about this album?

Ha-ha. I have indeed found all cassettes back. The quality is very poor. But, who knows. It is actually more of a threat to Ronny. You know the law of karma. Some day it all comes straight back to you. But I am not a vindictive person even though this guy has undermined my talent and I do feel resentment, I am sorry. But why end in this negative tone? I am very happy with where I am right now. I have found my definite style. It is my own. I do not copy anybody or anything; to be honest I never listen to pop music. I hope it keeps my material authentic and original. I would love to tour and share my music with an open minded audience. It will be wonderful!


(Clan of) XYMOX Biographie:
Teil 1: Subsequent Pleasures (1983 - 1985)
Teil 2: Medusa (1986 - 1987)
Teil 3: Imagination (1988 - 1991)
Teil 4: Metamorphosis (1992 - 2001)
Teil 5: Vaselyn, Hypercycle, Born for Bliss (Post-XYMOX)