Parov Stelar mastermind Marcus Füreder speaks about his first steps in electronic music, the art of sampling, theme parties and he explains why Etage Noir started a booking agency.
Interview by: Jakob Buhre Date: 2013-12-10
Marcus: Yes, very much. Art in general is always hard, I guess. You need to prove your staying power. You have to get hit in the face a few times if you want to stay in the ring.
Marcus: When I was just starting out I submitted songs to around 50 record labels. I received enough rejections to wallpaper my entire bathroom.
Marcus: They all say the same thing: “We’re not interested…but we would like to keep your materials on file” (laughter). Though you know, when I listen today to the tracks I did back then, I probably wouldn’t have responded at all.Still, in the moment you are so convinced of what you’ve done that rejection is hard to take. It’s in those situations that you decide whether you want to stay down, or keep dancing.
Marcus: Yes, of course. I had been studying art and suddenly I was making music. My friends didn’t take me seriously. When I played my first tracks for them two weeks later, their response was “Hm, yes, well….” (laughter). But you have to endure it; it’s part of the growth process.
Marcus: Thank God that rarely happened. I was only really unlucky once. It was five or six years ago at a festival in Munich. 10,000 people were expected, but nobody knew about it. In the end only 29 people showed up. It was pretty bizarre.
Marcus: I’ve been interested in this period for a while now. My album Coco borrows elements from soul, as does The Princess. For me it’s important to connect things; they needn’t be limited to jazz or swing. I would also like to sample pop music, but there it’s more difficult to obtain permissions.
Marcus: If you sample pop it’s not just about that one keystroke of a synthesizer – that I can do myself. You also want to sample things that are catchy such as vocal lines anyone can identify.
In contrast to the Marvin Gaye number I normally avoid putting the original song in the foreground. I take just a small portion and combine it to create something new.
Marcus: Even if I take a single line – “It’s a sin” from the Pet Shop Boy song, say – it’ll take a long time to clear. By sampling music from the 1930s I avoid some of these difficulties. I’m not as interested in the vocal phrases or hooks of the 1930s as in its style of recording, whose sound can no longer be reproduced today.
Marcus: We tried. We’ve been trying for years but nobody feels responsible for it. We hired two law firms with expertise in this area. But it was impossible. Every place we turned people told us, “We can’t help you.”
Marcus: From what I hear in the charts, no.
Marcus: Not always the songs on the current charts. But sometimes people simply don’t know when samples are being used. I have to admit that in the beginning I didn’t realize that all the Daft Punk albums – with the exception of the last – were based on samples. If you visit the website WhoSampled.com you can see who sampled what. This question plays a much bigger role than most people think.
Marcus: Yes. But I haven’t been happy with what they are doing, so I’ve yet to give permission. Honestly, if I like what somebody is doing, I would say: Yes, perfect. Do it.
Marcus: When it comes to creating sounds – yes. It’s too easy to take a sample and then put a beat under it. My approach is more complex. In a single song sometimes I end up with 200 or 300 audio tracks that add up to something new. That’s what makes it so exciting to me – that something new materializes.
This year I talked about Electro Swing with a former German big band leader, Paul Kuhn, who described it has something mechanical.
Marcus: They don’t, but what was swing? On the one hand, the word swing was a technical description; one the other hand, the practice of swing was a lot more. It was an attitude toward life, a lust for life. I think this aspect should play the bigger role. And whether this swing really exists in the music… I mean, it is called electro swing, not swing. It has its own right to exist.
Marcus: Not consciously. Swing to me is less important than groove. It has to have a good groove. If it does, the groove might also swing. But I’m less concerned with the swing genre than the old recordings. Their feeling, the old microphones, and how the people played back then – this you can’t reproduce. We could also call it electro museum – it’d be the same to me.
Marcus: I don’t come across this very often because we skip the Electro Swing parties. We’ve rarely played one.
Marcus: We played at the HMV Forum. And, yes, there were some people who dressed up. It was a welcome change. It brought color to the crowd, which was really nice. But I never had the feeling I was playing at a theme party.
Marcus: Sometimes they seem like that. Limiting myself to such parties wouldn’t be enough for me, personally. I can’t bear to see another phonograph. I’d prefer a synthesizer, but you can’t have the one without the other.
Marcus: Pop music has always been important to me. I never wanted to go in just one direction.
Marcus: Yes, that happens constantly. I’ve lost some big hits this way (laughter). It’s bitter: suddenly the screen is black, and then stays that way. But you also learn from these situations. Now I have seven hard drives in my studio. Whenever I get the feeling I have a good song, I start backing up regularly.
Marcus: That would be the same like a pianist that says: I’m going to quit the piano and play trumpet. Sampling is an instrument. You have an unimaginable treasure trove of material that you can use and transform into new things. I play the computer; that’s my instrument. It’s not a question that would occur to me.
Marcus: That’s right. Sampling is not the main part of my music. I don’t work like Fatboy Slim, who used only samples. I have to write my own song first – the bass line, the melody, the synthesizer, the drum programming… The sampling is just the song’s finishing touch, so to speak.
Marcus: We have a tape lease deal. It’s a creative musical partnership that allows us to stay independent. Because Universal trusts us, we retain our freedom. Parov Stelar has been growing for 15 years, and it would be stupid if someone came and said: We have a totally new model; let us tell you how it works. Universal has confidence in us in creative matters and accepts our decisions. At the same time they give us advice. The two together makes for good synergy.
Marcus: This is partly true. But if you want to build a company… Parov Stelar has become a business. I can’t go on tour without a tour manager, without somebody who assembles the drums. At some point there were 25 of us. Sure, in the beginning I was tinkering with beats in my kitchen, which is a funny story, and I‘d still be fine with doing that. But then things grew, and we needed 25 people to make it work. And to run such a company you need a banker to do the numbers, someone who stands outside the party and says: Decisions need to be made. At the same time, we need to preserve certain freedoms. But you can’t generalize about a major record label in this regard; it always depends on the deal you have. Not every marriage remains happy. But I also know a lot of people who are happily married.
Marcus: This would be the case had we signed an artist contract. But the contract we have now is different. We get to remain Etage Noir.
Marcus: We don’t want to grow just for sake of growing. Rather, we want to continue to focus on quality. We want to remain a small family and take good care of the people in it.
Marcus: That’s right. I think we had some 3.800 requests for Parov Stelar in 2012. We could have played ten times a day. Because we couldn’t meet demand, we thought it would be nice to say: Parov isn’t available, but we can offer you someone else who suits your budget. That’s how we came up with the idea. We didn’t say to ourselves: Let’s start a booking agency.
Marcus: To be honest, not that much. I guess the personnel costs are higher than the bookings fees we earn. If there weren’t some idealism behind it, the project would be doomed to fail.
Read this interview in German on planet-interview.de