Interview With Felix Gebhard
"I Always Wanted To Start A Band Like Zahn"
Zahn is the fresh new instrumental (noise) project of Chris Breuer (ex-The Ocean, Heads.), Nic Stockmann (Heads., ex-Eisenvater) and Felix Gebhard (live-Einstürzende Neubauten).
I got to know Chris through the press work he does for various bands. He has now organised an interview with guitarist Felix for me.
Influences from sludge and post-rock characterise Zahn's music. Some of you might also find some borrowings from the avant-garde niche. With their imaginative riffs and grooves and an incredible sense for abstract patterns and perfect rhythmic interplay, Chris, Nic, and Felix create their own thing on this base. Bone-crushing drums and psychedelic sequences sprinkle sugar on top and illuminate their fascinating sound world.
Zahn delivered a grandiose debut
They released their fantastic self-titled debut album on August 20th. I had the honour of listening to it in advance and still do so extensively. Because (I can tell you that much already): It's pretty genius. Following my interview, you will find a sound sample in form of a music video.
"Zahn" – Zahn's debut album
According to the band, the song "Pavian" is a study of the male species, human and/or anthropoid. The strange rites of alpha-male leisure activities and/or sports. The driving, rhythm-based track's recurring beat is a memorable invitation for you to listen to the rest of the album right away. You can find it on all known streaming services, and there also is a vinyl edition available.
A new supergroup
Peter Voigtmann (The Ocean) supported Zahn on drums and tambourine on "Pavian". Fabian Bremer (AUA, Radare) delivered the additional guitars and synthesisers. What can I say? Zahn is a textbook example of a supergroup.
Anne: How did you find each other?
Felix: In December 2019, Radare invited Heads. with whom Chris and Nic play and me (with the solo programme I played at that time) to join a concert in Leipzig. Because Heads. were taking a short break until their record release in April 2020 (which, of course, turned out to be much longer than planned due to the pandemic) at that time, they invited me to their rehearsal room to make music together. This joint venture worked so well right from the start that we decided to use this strange year 2020 to write and record an album together.
"We used the pandemic to make a record together"
Anne: What exactly is your project about? Do you follow an overall concept? For example, how did you come up with the name Zahn?
Felix: We haven't formulated a concrete concept. It is instrumental music. Does that sound like a concept? I think it was clear that all three of us want to make music that inspires us. Finding people with whom you can do that so quickly and easily as we did and who are somehow on a similar wavelength, or even the same wavelength, doesn't happen every day. That's why you're well advised to keep in touch with these guys. I've had a band like Zahn in mind for ages, but I just never found anyone I could do it with. Then these two guys picked me up and even had numerous song ideas ready!
We wanted our band to have a short and catchy name. So it was called Kran for about a week, then Chris came up with Zahn, and we thought that sounded better.
"It was great to record at 'Die Mühle'"
Anne: You released your first album, "Zahn", on August 20th. Congratulations on that! You recorded it at "Die Mühle" studios, where bands like The Ocean are always on location. I've seen some pictures of that location. It must be pretty impressive. What was it like to work there?
Felix Gebhard: "Recording the album at 'Die Mühle' was great"
Felix: It was great! Peter Voigtmann is one of the most relaxed people on earth, and he immediately knew how to capture our sound in the best way. The sound of the recording room in the mill is fantastic. Even before we mixed the record, I got compliments from several sides about how powerful the drums already sounded in the rough mix. The atmosphere in the mill is excellent. It's in the middle of nature. During recording breaks, you can step out of the door onto the meadow and stroke horses.
Anne: That really sounds like a dream to me. What are you planning around the release? Will there be concerts?
Felix: We are playing some concerts in October and November:
- November 5, Winterthur, Gaswerk, Hathors Noise Fest
- November 6, Z-Bau with MIIRA, Nuremberg
- November 26, Leipzig, Mörtelwerk w/Delving
- November 27, Berlin, Urban Spree w/Delving
Anne: You worked with a lot of guest musicians for the album. Felix Gebhard ( live-Einstürzende Neubauten) played the electronic parts for "Gyhum" and the piano for "Staub". Peter Voigtmann joined for additional percussion, and Fabian Bremer ("Pavian", "Staub") contributed guitar sound and synthesiser. Just like Wolfgang Möstl ("Zerrung"). Alexander Hacke provided the synthesizer sound in "Lochsonne Schwarz" and "Tseudo". The saxophone for "Gyhum" and "Akroyd" is by Sofia Salvo. It sounds like a gigantic jam session! Do you have to imagine Zahn as some kind of musical collective like The Ocean?
We are a trio
Felix: No, it wasn't a jam session. Zahn is a trio. After we recorded the songs, there were some spaces here and there that we wanted to fill with sound, and since we have so many talented friends with exciting ideas about sound, we asked them if they wanted to contribute something. Luckily they were all in!
Anne: Your music is quite versatile. You are mixing sludge, post-punk, avant-garde and prog. It sounds like everyone contributed their personal favourite sound. Is that so?
Felix: I think every kind of music somehow combines the musician's different styles. You know: The music that a person who makes music has absorbed in the course of his life. So since the three of us like various kinds of heavy rock music, if you want to put it that way, there is undoubtedly a specific intersection in the sound of Zahn. But beyond that, we all listen to entirely different things that don't necessarily sound like Zahn.
"There are always things coming in that aren't on my record player all the time"
Anne: What music, in particular, influenced you when you were writing your songs? Maybe you can name a few bands?
Felix: I can't speak for the three of us. I couldn't name any bands or musicians that would have been a particular influence in this case, or that would have consciously served as a template for my work. But, as I said, in my opinion, everything that you create is fed by things that you have received at some point. So that's where things come in that aren't necessarily on my record player all the time right now.
I listened to a lot of Television in 2020 if I remember correctly, and the last solo record by Sam Prekop. I also rediscovered The Replacements for myself and am gradually working my way through the complete works of Alice and John Coltrane, there are still a lot of albums I don't know. None of it has anything to do with Zahn, but some attitude or expression might find its way from that music into the way I play the guitar with Zahn.
The "Zahn" Vinyl Edition
Anne: You are constantly involved with music and meet all kinds of artists. How do you see it with the countless genres in which music is classified nowadays? Does that make sense? Jonas from Dimwind said to me the other day, "It seems to be of essential importance to assign your sound to a brand to reach a certain audience". I've never felt like I belong to a specific genre myself, but I think that's pretty obvious. If you want to reach certain people, you have to give your sound a name. Do you see it the same way? Or should there better be no genres at all?
"The genre names of the streaming services tend to be misleading"
Felix: I think it can sometimes be helpful to describe music in genres. For example, if I want to explain what kind of music Zahn makes, then "instrumental rock music" only roughly describes it. Still, my counterpart can assume that we probably don't have a ska song or a power rock ballad in our repertoire. You can explain further details from there. The genre designations of any streaming services that use them to send their algorithms on the right track to programme their users are, of course, often misleading and stupid.
Anne: One last question: Who came up with the idea of the bizarre milk jug on the cover? Does it have a special meaning?
Felix: Chris came up with the idea. I don't know anything about a special meaning. A bit of mystery must remain.
Felix Gebhard has been the tour keyboardist for Einstürzende Neubauten since 2014. Together with the German actor Jürgen Vogel, Marcus Wiebusch (Kettcar), Thees Uhrmann (Tomte) and Max Schröder (Tomte, Olli Schulz und der Hund Marie), he was a member of the fictitious Hansen Band. He also founded the band Home of the Lame (Grand Hotel van Cleef), among others and released various solo works.