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Music

US rockstar Stephen Malkmus talks Krautrock

Pavement lead singer Stephen Malkmus recently played a 40-year-old Krautrock album at a small German festival with a band he hardly knew. He talks to DW about German band Can's album 'Ege Bamyasi' - and life in Berlin.

DW:Stephen Malkmus, you're about to perform Can's album "Ege Bamyasi" with neo-Krautrock band Von Spar. Who came up with the idea?

Malkmus: I think Jan Lankisch, who was the organizer of Week-End Festival [November 30-December 2 in Cologne], read somewhere that I'd listened to this record a lot. And also, it was the 40-year anniversary of Ege Bamyasi.

So the album came out in 1962. How'd you come across it in the 1980s?

It was on college radio in Virginia, I think. It was different than what I was used to hearing. I mean, I always liked groups like Devo and Kiss. Devo was a band that had a mysterious weirdness to everything they did - you didn't really understand it. For an American kid, Can was even more; it was really baffling. It was groovy and had some psychedelic Pink Floyd aspects to it that I understood right away.

I listened to it for a whole summer at my parents' house, just kept it on the turntable at night. It's a really good album to listen to at night because it's kind of round and warm sounding and has some jammy parts. But it's also kind of a spooky night-time record, I think.

And then I read that Can recorded a lot of it at night, so that makes sense.

Did that album trickle into your own music?

Yeah, there's a song called "Stop Breathing" on a Pavement album. It's got a very similar base line, a tribute to "Sing Swan Song," which is on the Ege Bamyasi album. But in general Can was a funkier band than I am. I never had a funky drummer exactly so we never really did these kinds of grooves. But the guitar playing is similar, understated.

How does Can fit into the Krautrock genre?

German band Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk went through a Krautrock stage

The big ones are Neu!, Can, and Ash Ra Temple - and maybe Kraftwerk before they went fully dance-sounding. And Ammon Düül, their original album. That's what I think of when I think of Krautrock. It's just hippy music from the 60s that was a German version. And there were a couple more avant-garde people involved in it. You know, it only takes a couple of bands to make something more than just a caveman boogie. Those bands managed to do that.

Was there an East German equivalent to Krautrock?

I've heard stuff from Czechoslovakia and Poland. I have one name, Lokomotive Kreuzberg, but I think they're West German, from West Berlin. In Poland, of course, they had a jazz scene, and there was a Hungarian band called Omega. They were psychedelic and pretty cool. I mean, they weren't German, but they were behind the Iron Curtain.

And life in Berlin? What strikes you as different on a day-to-day basis?

Berlin's a place where you can live any way you want. You can go to the Turkish market and get some cheap vegetables, or you can go to an organic place and spend all your money. Alcohol's very inexpensive in Germany, cheaper than water in restaurants. Food is also inexpensive at restaurants. People just like to have value, a nice meal - they just want to get full and get out of there. Lots of Vietnamese places and Turkish food.

Germans joke that there's a "customer service desert" in Germany. Has that affected you?

Where we live in Schöneberg, I don't really notice the customer service to be that bad. I've been to worse places, like Australia. In some areas of Berlin, like Prenzlauerberg or Mitte, it's not even really Germany anymore. It's some new thing, like Germany and ... a European city.

Bikes, trains, or the autobahn?

Berlin's great for bikes; it's flat. People don't wear helmets - that's a little risky. But since most of the people driving a car probably ride a bike, too, it's a lot safer. It's a great way to see the city.

My wife is kinda freaked out by the autobahn when we drive. We took a train here, but earlier we rented a tiny little Audi for the Documenta art exhibit. And you obviously have to be aware when you go into the left lane that someone's gonna be on your ass really fast. If you're spacing out you're in trouble.

Freeway near Frankfurt, at night

German freeways are a challenge for Stephen Malkmus

You have to watch out for speed traps here, too. You'll have a person driving like 200 kilometers per hour and suddenly they'll slow down to like 80.

You've mentioned plans to move back to the US?

I think so, probably in the summer. It's a hard decision to make, but we think - I don't know - the kids [daughters 3 and 6] are maybe happier there. We love it here. We have a great time. It's great for my wife. She's an artist; she has a lot of friends here in Berlin who are in similar situations. You're always stepping on an artist in Berlin. Stepping over them, or on them.

Stephen Malkmus is the lead singer and guitarist of the independent rock band Pavement. He also performs with Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.

Krautrock is the umbrella term meant to encompass the experimental and psychedelic music scene in West Germany in the 1960s and 70s. With the bands located across the country in Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Munich, the musicians in fact operated independently of one another. A few have stated publicly that the term Krautrock has no meaning.

DW.DE