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Electronic Pop Songs: an interview with Wave In Head

Wave In Head

Wave In Head is a one-man Synthpop project from Germany. Heavily influenced by the electronic sounds of 80’s, Wave In Head’s songs are deeply personal, echoing the sonorities of that decade with a contemporaneous twist.
Having started in 1993 as a hobby, Wave In Head went through a maturation process which allowed a first release, the “Rarely” EP, to see the light in 1999. This EP was followed by the promo-CD “Criminal Ballad” and live performances in Germany.
Since 2001, Wave In Head have been signed to American Synthpop label A Different Drum in which their CDs “Time to Speak” and “You” were released (as well as several singles) and have also performed live outside of Germany.

C.B. – Can you tell us something about the beginnings of Wave In Head, how and why did you begin to make music? Why Synthpop?

When I was a teenager I began to have musical ideas. At that time it was completely impossible to build up a studio over here in the east of Germany without having “connections”. So I had to wait until the circumstances changed. And in fact they changed. All I had to do now was to save money for a good synth and other devices.
In 1993 I finally started to build up a small home-recording studio and recorded the first “real” songs. Soon I though about finding a band name and that was the point when WAVE IN HEAD was founded.
The reason for me to start with the music was the fact I was filled with ideas and it felt good to release them that way. I just have to make music, so I guess doing it right is the best way.
Why Synthpop? Well I am a kid of the 80’s. I was influenced by Depeche Mode, Erasure, Kraftwerk and so on. I guess that might have been different if I where 10 years younger. In that case may be I would have started with Techno or Hip-hop. I don’t know.

C.B. – One of those inquisitive questions: how do you ‘build’ your songs? Music first, lyrics first or both evolving at the same time?

Oh, there is no solid rule. If the lyrics occur to me first, I just start with the lyrics. If I find a certain sound structure during a programming session, I begin with that structure. I don’t remember a single case when I started with everything at once. Something always comes first: the melody, the mood, the words, whatever.
A certain idea is nothing but the entry to another composition process. The music grows under your hands and you can’t say how or why.

Wave In Head

C.B. – I suppose you don’t live of your music, how do you coordinate music creation and ‘real-life’ (especially live-performances)?

That’s super hard work. Especially the preparation of live-performances takes a huge bunch of time. I have to steal time every now and then to coordinate everything without going crazy. Meanwhile I built up a personal priority system. I had to accept the day has only 24 hours, and that I am unable to fulfill all expectations. I can’t answer every email nor can I say ‘YES’ to any request I get. I guess the trick is to focus on the music or on the things you really want. I’m getting better at it, I suppose.

C.B. – Where do you get the inspiration for your songs? Given the nature of Wave In Head’s lyrics, I’d wager that personal feelings and issues have a large influence but what about more external factors?

My every day life delivers enough inspiration for another 1000 albums. A lot of good things happen as well as a lot of crap happens. And some of it is worth a song. I rarely make whole songs about external factors like the bad weather during the summer holidays or about the dying forests in south Germany. And I don’t write about politics. I like scientific topics though. I often wonder why a certain thing happens a certain way, or why a certain person makes a certain decision at a certain point. Of course I am also inspired by things which inspired some millions of musicians before me, the “dog-died-yesterday- wife-left-me blues” topics.

C.B. – Who and what would you refer as musical influences? Are there any particular music styles or bands that you feel were crucial in the development of Wave In Head’s sound?

Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Erasure and others have had a crucial influence when WAVE IN HEAD started, and I still like 80’s electronics. Nowadays I am influenced by any good music. Any song, any structure which makes it to reach me has an influence to my music and my approach. There might be a basic thing in my songs which makes them typical for WAVE IN HEAD, but I don’t want to produce a bunch of albums with one and the same sound. Development in my eyes is more than finding a way to technical perfection.

C.B. – What’ve you been listening to as of late?

Oh wait… Kay Cee “Beg 4 More”, Martin Gore “Counterfied 2”, Funker Vogt “Red Queen”, Garbage “Version 2.0”, Cara Dillon “Cara Dillon”, some scene samplers and some CDs from other Synthpop bands. I plan on buying some more music next week. I hope I’ll find something interesting.

C.B. – What is Wave In Head live? One of the problems that many electronic musicians have to face when playing live is managing not to sound like they are simply singing to pre-recorded music; how do you try to avoid this kind of pitfall?

In a lot of cases I had not the trace of a chance to avoid exactly this kind of pitfall. Especially abroad it can be impossible to bring the whole setup and a keyboarder. You might need working admits when they catch you with a keyboard and a mixer. And in most cases I can’t afford to bring a band with me. It doesn’t pay off. So you try to work with friends from the label, who play some additional stuff on their keyboards live. Normally I play some easy parts myself and Gerold, from the band Leon Glock, controls all other devices during a gig. And when I say easy, I mean “easy”. I can sing but I’m a horrible keyboarder. But I’m a good programmer and producer. So I mix pre-recorded material with real time controlled sound-scapes and stuff. In 2004 I will work together with a video/3D artist to combine the music with a visual performance. Also I plan on more live instruments. Like theremin-like synths and light sensitive vocal effects. It’s a question of money, so I won’t start with everything at once. And I still have to find a working concept for live performances abroad.
I guess it’s a special electro-music problem that you have a lot of stuff nobody can play, because the electronic music is more and more a constructed thing. Only a few bands manage to play perhaps 50% live. Even then you need some excellent musicians to do that. And excellent musicians are expensive. Good, if you have such in your band, bad if you have to hire them. Perhaps it is just a question of the right concept. Erasure concerts for example aren’t played live, but the crowd is happy nevertheless. May be the point is you have to make it to communicate with the people in front of a stage: that makes a gig (a-)”live”.

Wave In HeadC.B. – Even though your second album, “You”, was relatively recently released (on the American Synthpop label A Different Drum), do you already have any ideas or projects for future Wave In Head material?

I am already working on the third album. I won’t say anything about the release date yet, but I can say there are a number of songs in an advanced stage. And of course my personal aim is to deliver an album which is better than “Time to Speak” and “You”. Both have had great reviews so far, but I am far away from being satisfied with what I’ve done so far. When everything goes right, I want to collaborate with other talented bands again, like I did with Empire State Human for example.

C.B. – How did the opportunity to be signed up to A Different Drum, one of the most popular American Synthpop labels, come about? Has it opened doors for Wave In Head, especially in terms of creative collaborations with other artists?

In 1999 I got in contact with Todd Durrant from A Different Drum. I remember a friend recommended A Different Drum and some people dared me to send music to them, what I did. At that time Todd mentioned he likes my singing, but the music should be developed a bit more. After a while I sent the “Criminal Ballad” promo CD and I got the offer to sign with ADD. At the same time I got that offer from 3 other labels too. In fact I already had spent 1500DM for checking the contract of another German label. But the contract from Utah and all I heard about ADD was too convincing.
Being with A Different Drum has offered me the opportunity to meet and to work with a lot of other artists. The newest example is the Real Life US-release of their new album “Imperfection”. I will do a remix for it. Or better I’m doing it, it’s almost done. When I was a teen I was impressed by their hit “send me an angel”. I never thought I would ever collaborate with them in any way. I still get offers from several labels, but I feel right in the ADD-family. And I like the people behind that label.

C.B. – Do you have or are you involved in other musical pursuits/projects apart from Wave In Head?

As mentioned above I did a lot of musical work together with Empire State Human. We’ve become friends. I also produced for Leon Glock, a band from my hometown Magdeburg. Gerold, the head of the band, helps me as a live keyboarder. They will finish another EP or album soon. I did remixes for a lot of bands (No Comment, Red Flag, Cosmicity, Human Decay and many others). I want to work with Backlash in the future. I love their musical approach. We have talked already. I hope it’ll work. The Management of Sarah Noxx was in contact with me about a collaboration. There is always something going on beside WAVE IN HEAD. I do not plan on being part of another music project though. I think I can only have one identity. I don’t have time to pursue other musical aims anyway.

C.B. – There are downloads of synth material in the Wave In Head site, do you also work in building and developing synth software?

I developed synths and devices for the Reaktor platform. Dash unfortunately went out of business, so I stopped doing that. There are thousands of good synthesizers available now, so there is no need to do that anymore. I still develop synths like that, but I don’t finish them or bring them to a stage, where they can be used publicly. It’s way too much work. I just develop them for my own needs. And even that is less and less necessary. Due to the open architecture of software sequencers and its modular approach, you can reach almost every imagination you want. The limit is your fantasy.
Native Instruments have published a new library for Reaktor, which was pretty good. Good enough to temporarily stop the sales on Dash. Dash Synthesis did not survive. I hope William Kalfelz (the founder) is well nevertheless. I know he moved from Brazil to Canada to live by software and Plug-In production and distribution.

Wave In Head

C.B. – What is your perception about audiences for Synthpop music? What kind of person listens to Synthpop?

There is no typical age. No typical thing at all except perhaps the black clothing. Even that is fading out. Synthpop fans look normal (except in Germany and some European countries) and have any age. Synthpop itself has wide borders. American Synthpop is considered as “Dance-floor” over here, while European Synthpop varies from synth based Wave to super experimental electronic music. Actually I’m not THE specialist to explain that, but I think Synthpop can have so many different faces, that it might be one of the next big things. May be with another label on it, like “Electroclash” for example, which sounds to me like the early 80’s Synthpop, when Kraftwerk had their first impact.

C.B. – Do you feel there is such a thing as a ‘Synthpop scene’ in Germany? And abroad, any particular countries in which synth and electro-pop music are relatively popular music styles?

There is a scene in Germany and in other countries too. Since Depeche Mode came out with “People are People” in 1984 it had never ended. Over here we have 3 or more big print magazines about electro music and similar styles like Synthpop/Electro-pop. I found out that many of my fans are not part of that scene. Funny, isn’t it?

C.B. – How do you see the current trends in an 80’s revivalism and all the ‘electroclash’ hype affecting Synthpop music (old and new)? Do you think it can make audiences more aware or that, in the end, Synthpop will be tagged as ‘electroclash’?

For the kids Synthpop may appear as Electroclash. I think the 80’s revival thing is good, because a lot of new artists show up and try to re-invent the electronic pop music. If you follow that line you will get to the “real” Synthpop or electro… bands, which made music for years and reached a completely different and probably hard to reach stage of development. That might give them the chance to get heard. I don’t worry about the label “electroclash”. If you say it often enough the people will get it one day that you do Synthpop. It’s far more important to find an entry to the minds.

Wave In Head

C.B. – Is there any particular piece of advice you’d give to people that are wondering about trying their hands at the creation of electronic music?

Do it, because you love it! Don’t do it for the money! That won’t make the music better. And for those who are about to build up a studio: don’t believe in technique too much. All you need for the start is a computer, a sequencer with some Plug Ins and a MIDI-keyboard. A lot of good tools are freely available in the net. You don’t need to spent a million to be able to make good music. The best tracks are made with less efforts.
When I started, I had to invest, because good sounds couldn’t be created cheaply. Today even the free software synth Plug Ins – stuff you get as a gift for free on some websites – have an incredibly good sound, much better than the top notch hardware of the 90’s. It’s up to you to arrange that potential.

C.B. – We’d like to wish you best of luck and thank you for your time in answering this interview. Do you have any final requests or comments?

Thank you for spreading the word! I wish you best of luck too. A hint for those who want to know more, I have a website at www.waveinhead.de. You can find my complete history there, can order a free promo CD or listen to samples of my music.
A happy new year to everyone!

Relevant links

Wave In Head

— interview by Miguel de Sousa; graphics from Wave In Head website, used with permission and edited by M.. (December 2003)

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