Perhaps one of indie music’s most consistent and creative artists, Present Paradox is rumoured to be on the verge of releasing yet another full-length project, amidst plans to steer at full-speed into the world of live shows and touring.
We caught an interview with the songwriter and musician to find out more about his journey so far, how lockdown has impacted his creative pursuits, the new album, and what his hopes are for the future. Here’s how it went.
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Hi David, great to finally chat with you – thanks for the interview! Just to set the scene a little, where are you right now, and what have you been busy with this past week?
Thank you, Rebecca. I’m at home now. At the moment I’m figuring out how to perform some of my brand-new songs live. I set up my gear and try to remember the chords and notes. I want to link old and new songs together in a completely different way. But to be honest, that situation we are all in over the last weeks causes that I’m not as focused as usual.
That’s totally understandable, I think we’re all experiencing strangely similar feelings of distraction and concern…
For those who don’t know, how would you describe your approach to making music?
I think I try to get the best out of my limited abilities. I’m not a professional. There are limitations in the gear I’m using, in the way I can play guitar, sing and so on. But with every record I try to go one step further. And I’m always absorbing the music I’m listening to at the moment when I create the sketches for a new record. I guess that’s what keeps my music changing and gives me inspiration. And still every record is a sort of adventure for me. When I start I really got no clue where it ends. If you looked into the folders of my PC you would find an endless amount of sketches and ideas.
You have just finished a new record – what’s the concept behind this?
Yes it is finished. At the moment I care for a distribution and set a release date.
The new record isn’t a real concept album but it still has a topic which goes through all songs. Mainly it’s about entering a new stage or a new part of your life and you are not sure what is coming next. What happens when you open up this door? It’s like you look back and forward at the same time. From past to future. Maybe like the moment when you start a journey and you are sitting in the train and leaving the station. It starts moving and you know: Ok now I’m in here. I can’t ask it to stop.
You’ve mentioned feelings of uncertainty prompting you to write these new songs. It’s a feeling currently shared by millions, across the globe. What are your thoughts on settling an anxious mind, what works for you, and in what ways does the new music address or embrace these difficulties?
When you are a more anxious person not knowing what comes next can create a lot of trouble. It can let your fears grow. I had these strange sleeping problems for weeks after a lot of changes happened in my life. I was lying awake for hours. That was the time when I started to work as a freelancer and you know what it means to be a freelancer. You don’t know how many jobs you receive this month. You are constantly looking for a plan B. You ask yourself: Can I keep on with the things I love to do? And that’s the point where you should find a way to step out of this thought-carousel. To me that implies to translate those feelings and thoughts into my music and lyrics. Even if they seem to be pretty abstract in some cases. But they are born in these days.
There’s a certain industrial energy and intensity to this project. Does your imagination create visuals when composing these kinds of soundscapes, and is there a visual aspect to your live performance plans?
Oh, yeah definitely. I’m always daydreaming when I write new music. I listen to each step of a new track in a repetitive loop to find out how to develop the song in a certain direction. Again and again and again. I guess my brain gets bored during the process, so it just starts daydreaming. The odd thing is, sometimes those pictures reappear once I play the songs live on stage.
And yes, I would love to have some live-visuals on the stage. I’m constantly trying to figure out how this could work. But you know, my budget is limited. So I’m focussing on my performance on stage. I don’t want to hide behind my keyboard and guitar, that doesn’t work for me. I need to walk around, dance a bit. It’s a bit more like acting on a theatre stage.
What do you hope people get from the experience of listening?
Well, I think everyone connects in a very different way to music. So the only thing I can hope for is that they find a connection to my music. But that is beyond my control. I just put it out there on CD or into the internet and then it’s up to anybody to do with it what comes into their minds. If they just want to close their eyes or if they want to dance to it, fine. That’s more than I can ask for.
You have a decidedly recognisable sound, even from one project to the next – the production details, your voice, your writing. However, conceptually your mind does venture to complex and varied places. What would you say was the main difference in your state of mind back when creating The Rhythm Of Spring?
The year I did The Rhythm of Spring I really had a good time. I was enjoying a lot of things. It felt like spring to me and the decision to create an album centred around that topic was a fairly easy decision. As you may know, some of my albums are sort of concept albums and back in 2018 I said to myself: I will take these sketches here, create loops of them and create an album that let me dance. Which ended up in a cool dance video I did with my girlfriend. I think I kept the essence of The Rhythm Of Spring for my new album. All I learned from it in terms of production and the danceability. But honestly, to me it is easier to write lyrics when I have a main topic like in The Rhythm of Spring or in Space for Wishes. But I can’t do an album like this every time. It wouldn’t fit to the mind-place where I’m during the recording process.
What about A Cave In The Inside – how has your writing style or headspace changed since this first came out, and is there a particular thread throughout all of your projects, for you personally?
I wouldn’t say it has changed that much. It was created with the same portion of chaos as any of my albums. But it’s interesting that you mentioned A Cave In The Inside. This was the first album I worked with string instruments played by Maria Grigoryeva. From the first moment on, when I heard the results of her string recordings for my song Nightwalk I thought: wow, that’s mind-blowing.
You can hear her on the new record as well. Having strings on a few tracks really adds something to the songs and to the whole album. During the writing of A Cave I was really struggling with the direction the album should take. Nearly a writing blockade. Which was solved when I sat in front of a real upright piano and played the chords for Nightwalk. Same for the new one. This time a new software synth solved the problem for me. After I discovered this new tool, it was clear in which direction the album would go.
You’ve released 7 LP’s since 2013. What motivates you and keeps you returning to the studio?
It sounds a lot but these LPs are always six songs long. And that’s the trick. I fool myself with it and tell myself: It’s not a lot, six tracks, come on, you can do it again. Another motivation might be that I don’t have a real studio. It’s more a home studio and sometimes I’m recording outside in a rehearsal-room. But it never feels like going to work. Sometimes it happens that I hear something and I absolutely have to know how this specific sound has been created. Then I sit down in my home studio and tinker around. This often forms the basis for a new song.
You mentioned briefly that you’re thinking of taking a break from production and writing after this project, to focus on live concerts. What do you hope to gain from stepping away from composing, embracing purely performance, and how has the global health crisis impacted your plans?
That’s right. I get the feel I need to step away from releasing new music every year. I mean it’s fun but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it is just monotonous work. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing this. But producing your own music means: Hours and hours of sitting in front a screen, doing slightly changes with my equalizer plug-in. And don’t want to sit there in my room for too long. I get some serious neck pain over the time. So I have to move. To move on. And doing live shows is way to keep all these things moving.
I started to really enjoy the live part somehow. It’s so good to have a direct response from the audience to what you are doing. And it’s a good way to make Present Paradox a bit better known. But, as you are saying, yes the crisis does impact my plans. I don’t know if any of my concerts can take place this year. And next year it will be even more complicated to be in a pool with all the other amazing musicians whose concerts and festivals have been postponed as well.
Do you think the health crisis will have a lasting impact on the music industry, indie music in particular, and if so – what changes do you think or hope we can expect to see in the coming months and years?
Yes, nowadays indie music means live music. I mean, releasing music over the internet is a very good way, but there is so much out there. And so much good music that is unfortunately lost in the algorithms. You know, I can spend hours on soundcloud and listening to great music which just has a few 100 clicks.
To gain some attention for your music you have to go out, go onto the stage, playing as much as you can. But when some smaller local venues have to close, those artists won’t have so many spots. I really hope there will be some good solutions. But it will be different from before. I’m afraid those already existing gaps will grow. These gaps between the big and small ones.
Do you think we, as a species, are better or less prepared, mentally, to deal with crisis now than we were, say, a century ago?
That’s a difficult question. Well, I got the impression it depends on from which perspective you look at this. I’m listening to a daily podcast made by a German broadcast station together with a virologist named Christian Drosten. From what I hear I got the impression this crisis is the hour of the science. It’s just amazing what science can do nowadays and that is sort of reassuring to know they can handle this. But even they need time to get the best data and give the best advices. And I think those days when everything seems to crumble down, when restaurants and stores close, when you can’t work as you used to, when you can’t see your friends, those days are really tough to everyone. When you don’t know what is coming next. I’m pretty sure that would have been the same a century ago.
Back to your music: You’ve chosen a new method of release and promotion for this upcoming project – what was your reasoning behind this decision?
I discovered that the classic way of releasing an album doesn’t work out for me. The ‘classic way’ means: You announce your LP, you publish a single month before the release-date, you announce a tour, you release another single and so on. But Present Paradox has a different type of dynamic. I can’t set up a big tour, because I don’t have a booking agency working with me. The gigs are simply coming in over the year.
The same for the listeners. I don’t have a high amount peak of listeners on release-day. They come to my music over the year. That means to me I don’t have to put too much effort into this so called ‘pre-release-promotion’. The real work is coming when it’s out. And that makes totally sense to me.
I mean, I’m an indie or as some call it ‘under the radar’ artist. Copying release-strategies of the big ones just doesn’t work for me. That’s a lesson I learned during my last releases.
Do you have any other lessons you learned? Have your dreams or ambitions as an artist changed as you’ve gotten older?
Yeah, sure. I learned a lot. And I’ve become a little bit more realistic. That’s part of the game I guess. Next year, Present Paradox turns ten. 2011 was the time when I registered the name of my music project. Back then I was creating some sketches which never found their way into any of my records – for a really good reason. In these nine years I made some huge steps. I’m pretty sure I won’t do those big steps again. Even if you handle me out some big shoes. But on the other hand I still see a lot of things I want to achieve. To have a gig outside of Germany. Or having more guest musicians on my next album. Maybe include some more jazz or blues. Who knows. I don’t want to look too far now. It’s 2020.
If you could sum up your feelings about 2020 in a single sentence, what would it be?
I would say: I feel this high amount of tension and I don’t know what’s coming next. Stay safe everyone.
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