Ahead of the release of their new album ‘Galvany Street’ on April 7 — which marks the end of their 10-year love-affair with their tech-house sound — we sat down with Booka Shade’s Walter Merziger and Arno Kammermeier to talk about the beginning of a new chapter and their new album’s direction.
‘Galvany Street’, then, marks a new beginning for electronic duo, who recently played a host of career-defining shows around the 10th anniversary of their breakout album ‘Movements’. During this extensive interview, the duo talks candidly about why now is the right time to change their sound, how they came to work with Craig Walker from The Archive, and what they’ve got in store for their new live show which makes it’s UK debut with a special show at London’s Printworks on April 7.
What’s the feedback been like on the album so far from those who been lucky enough to hear?
Arno: The overall reaction from the album has been quite good, interestingly enough, a lot of people who enjoyed the earlier Booka Shade albums — ‘Momento’ for example — they really like the new album, they’re very intrigued by this new sound. Also, the new album is a darker sound, and finally, for many people its great that we now have vocals in there too — so yeah the feedback has been good from those who’ve had a chance to hear it.
How did you come to work with Craig Walker — was there a previous history between you guys?
Arno: Yeah, the thing is we share the same studio space in Berlin. I have my studio in a place called Riverside and this is a collective of a lot of studios, mostly electronic people but also soundtrack people, bands and producers — so it’s quite diverse actually. Craig moved to Berlin two years ago and shortly after that we got introduced to him as he took a studio space there. Walter and I had been working on new material already for quite a while so we knew we wanted vocals but we hadn’t found the right ones really, so then Craig tried out something on one of the tracks and we immediately said yes, this is what we’re after — this is great for us, this really works.
Did Craig know who Booka Shade was before you all started working together?
Walter: Actually I asked him this yesterday, haha, I think he had heard ‘In White Rooms’ before, so I think he knew it before but wasn’t aware it was actually us. Of course, he knew who we are, and had heard of us before, but I’m not sure he was deeply into the music. But now he’s heard it in the studio when we’ve played him some stuff, like the old songs, so he’s probably got more into it now. He also came to one of the ‘Movements 10’ shows in November. And actually, he said “ah, ‘In White Rooms’ I love it, what a tune” so he was actually blown away by the earlier stuff. I kinda got the feeling it was a new song for him, but he had probably heard it before somewhere.
Arno: I think his family are bigger Booka Shade fans than him, and we gave him the new album to give to his family in America and Ireland, and he sent it to his brother who is a massive Booka Shade fan, too.
It’s quite a departure from your usual sound — did you have an idea of what direction you wanted to go before you started?
Walter: It was a long process because we knew after we did the Movements tenth-anniversary celebration that it was the time that we have to change something, so we had this feeling already. We actually had this feeling with ‘EVE’ to be honest, we have to move on and do something different, and like it always is, we wanted to achieve the aim of doing a classic album, but we don’t get to decide whether we’ve achieved this, it’s the consumer who gets to decide, I guess. In the end, the sound should be timeless, unique, and shouldn’t just follow a style that’s here for five months — and that’s quite difficult to find in your own voice. We’ve had a typical Booka Shade sound in the past and to start again with something different that represents you as a person and a composer can be quite difficult. But it was a nice journey in comparison to the ‘EVE’ production, which was really difficult for us — so it’s hard to get to a place where we can make a clear statement.
This time we opened up to collaborations with other people including Craig who gave us a lot of cool input and that’s when we knew we should go in a different direction and try to be somewhere in the middle; still have the feel of the techno/tech-house world and then go a little bit more indie — so we thought fuck it, let’s go for it, we wanted to do something special and we wanted to mix things up. I think it’s the most coherent album that we have ever done, and we are very proud of it, and that we found that sound. I wouldn’t say it was a painful experience in comparison to other albums we’ve done.
How long have you been working on it for?
Walter: Three years.
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The album is hugely different to what you’ve done before but it kinda still sounds like a Booka record — was this intentional?
Arno: It must be the production, early on we said to ourselves that it shouldn’t sound like old Booka Shade and the other thing was let’s not do techno. Of course, it’s the production that brings it all together, it’s the certain way we do things, the way things sound, and when we play it to people they say it sounds very new but also like Booka Shade. So that’s really nice.
Did you approach making this album in a different way now that you’re working with lots of different collaborators?
Walter: It came very naturally to say we shouldn’t use certain equipment because we used it so much in the past. Because we wanted to reinvent ourselves it wouldn’t be very clever to go the same path and use the same equipment — we tried to find a different way. We actually started using stuff in the studio that we hadn’t used for ages, because we were on the road so much most of the music was done recently has been on the computer using plug-ins — so this time we used all the keyboards that we had in the studio.
So one of the most important synthesisers we used the most on the album was a GP8000 from Roland. The first sound you hear on the album on ‘Digging A Hole’ is its signature sound, a very special sound that I haven’t heard in plug-ins before; it’s really different and it gave the whole album a new direction and then in combination with Craig Walker it suddenly gave us this vision it would be cool to have this indie feel with electronics. So this was an important keyboard for the us.
Also, a while ago, I bought on eBay a Yamaha synthesiser, it was actually broken YS200 — it’s mainly presets, you can edit some sounds, but it was the keyboard used by Stevie Wonder for ‘I Just Called To Say I love You’, but yeah it’s broken and it’s very noisy and it makes some really interesting sounds, as we’d rather try and destroy sounds than making them clearer — so there were some sounds in it that gave us another dimension, especially the brass sounds, especially in the beginning of ‘All Fall Down’. So basically we used a lot of stuff we hadn’t touched in the studio for a long time, and using hardware again was something that changed the way we worked on the album.
Would you say it’s the album you’ve always wanted to make, then?
Arno: It’s certainly the album we wanted to make for a good few years because in previous albums we had this feeling a change was on its way. Especially last year, which was a year of change for us because of personal reasons. So we felt we now have to make this step — so it felt right as we’d had the big celebration of ‘Movements 10’ and we had some fantastic shows that closed that chapter for us. The Royal Festival Hall, for example, and then you say “yes” it feels right to go in a new direction now.
How did some of the album’s collaborations come about with, say, Daniel Spencer & Yates?
Arno: Daniel Spencer is a young guy who was introduced to us by our publisher and Yates is an Australian singer who now lives in Berlin, the way it came about was we got asked by his label a while ago for a remix which we couldn’t do at the time, but we really liked his voice so we approached him to see if he would be up for a collaboration and he sent us some quite interesting, obscure vocals — and as we didn’t want something pop-y we got really into to them. Which you can hear in ‘Peak’, which is one of our favourite tracks from the album — it’s the album’s slow song.
What about Urður Hákonardóttir from GusGus — how did that come about?
Walter: This was actually Craig Walker, he’s a friend of Urður and they worked on something together at Riverside studios. For the album’s track ‘Babylon’ we knew we needed something completely different from who we had in the past, and it’s the most untypical Booka Shade song ever, and that’s exactly what we were looking for, we were looking for a teaser single on the album to say this is the new Booka Shade and it’s absolutely not what you’ll expect from us.
And that song came up, it’s not really like a song, it’s more like a session. and she was there with Craig and they listened to the music and that’s where the idea came for her to sing on it. They sat together and worked on something and sent it to us and we thought ‘wow this is brilliant’ — it’s a bit like these B-52s vocal parts and we loved it. I think, I hope, we can all play on stage in Berlin because Yates is in Berlin, Craig is in Berlin, Urður is in Berlin — so they are all in Berlin and that’s nice as we can bring them all on stage with us.
Tell us about the album’s name Galvany Street — is it a street in Berlin?
Arno: Galvany is a made up word really, when we were looking for an album title we tried to make a play on galvanising, which means the chemical energy that converts into electric energy, and we thought that’s the new Booka Shade. The street is a concert. So, you know, we are always travelling on the road whether it’s touring or our personal journey through life so this is how we played around with it.
Walter: It’s kinda that feeling of working together with people we have never worked with before, so it had a galvanising effect and probably the street is that road we had to take to get to point where everything makes sense — so that was the idea behind it, and for the handwritten font we wanted it to be simple, personal and the music is probably darker than what we’ve done before, if you remember the cover from ‘EVE’ it was bright, it was this pop-art style, and this time we wanted to go down a different route as the music is much darker.
Arno: Yeah, the font is really stripped back.
Was the album always going to be released on your own label?
We like to have control and over the years we’ve realised that control is really important to us. In the beginning, we set up the label Get Physical with our friends M.A.N.D.Y. — so we’ve got used to having control, so we didn’t really want to move away from that too much and give it to a big record label. We set up the [Blaufield] label a couple of years ago for our own music, so yeah it was always the plan to release it ourselves and we have a manager to help with this stuff, and we have a great agent for the live stuff and to be in control of your music is kinda our thing.
How will the new live show differ from a classic Booka Shade show?
Walter: So we’ll have Craig on stage — so that’s a big change. He will sing and we’ll play the new songs, and as you can hear it’s much more band-driven so we have drums that are more prominent than before, and of course we’re just three people so we can’t get rid of all the backing tracks — that’s just not possible, so we’ve got something running from the computer to be able to manipulate single tracks, and I will play all the keyboard parts so it will stay a lot like it was before: Arno playing the drums and I’ll do the keyboards — we couldn’t’ switch because I’m not a very good drummer, haha.
So, of course, we have a lot of vocals, so it’s not a full dance show, there’s more of a band vibe, with broken beats and stuff. But you never know until you actually perform it. Playing live is always a process so the set will be constantly changing but I think the energy levels in the show are really high and also with Craig on stage I’ve got a good feeling about the forthcoming shows.
So I take it you’ll be playing different types of venues this time around rather than more clubs show?
Arno: Most of the venues we’ll play at the beginning of the tour are mostly concert venues and that’s the direction we want to move towards. With club shows you’re playing between DJs, so it’s really difficult sometimes — so the decision to play more live venues is just the right decision I think.
Walter: So for the London show we’re making an exception as we’re playing at Printworks. Everyone has been raving about it, and it’s mainly a clubbing place so far, I won’t say late night clubbing because it finishes early — so we’re going to be one of the first bands to play there on the Friday [April 7]. It’s quite a bit like Berghain where Friday’s are band night and Saturdays are for clubbers. Again, we’re going to be the guinea pigs and try out this new venue where no one has played there like this. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the venue actually, so when we present our new live show it should be a really exciting experience for us and the people.
Booka’s Shade’s ‘Galvany Street’ will be out April 7, 2017.
The duo will be performing the album live at London’s Printworks on the same day, tickets for which can be bought here.