by Phil Freeman
It’s been 30 years since guitarist Caspar Brötzmann and his power trio Massaker made their debut with 1987’s The Tribe. He made four more Massaker albums: 1989’s Black Axis, 1992’s Der Abend der Schwarzen Folklore, 1993’s Koksofen, and 1995’s Home (a collection of re-recordings of tracks from The Tribe and Black Axis). He’s only collaborated with his saxophonist father twice, on 1990’s Last Home and as a member of the 10-member Marz Combo in 1993. He’s also worked with Einstürzende Neubauten‘s FM Einheit on 1994’s Merry Christmas, and with Helmet‘s Page Hamilton on 1996’s Zulutime. His last studio recording under his own name was Mute Massaker, a collection of instrumental trio jams that sounded more indebted to Jimi Hendrix than anything he’d done before; that was released in 1999.
Thus, it’s been a surprise to see him make a slow, somewhat tentative comeback over the past few years. In 2012, he formed a new trio, NOHOME, with bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller, both of whom played with Peter Brötzmann in the group Full Blast. Their self-titled debut also featured FM Einheit on two tracks, adding a junkyard noise element to their extended doom-improv workouts. He was also the subject of a 2012 documentary, the title of which translates to Brötzmann: That’s When the World is Mine.
Watch the trailer for That’s When the World is Mine:
Brötzmann’s latest project is a new trio featuring bassist Massimo Pupillo of Zu and Alexandre Babel of Sudden Infant on drums. Their debut release, Live at Candy Bomber Studios Vol. 1, features two extended improvised pieces. It’s available on vinyl and as a digital download. Stream it on Bandcamp:
Caspar Brötzmann answered questions via email from Berlin.
How did you get hooked up with Massimo Pupillo and Alexandre Babel to form this trio? Did you know them before?
Many years ago, I was playing with FM Einheit in St. Petersburg at a festival in a very big old cinema and the following night, he played at the same festival live on stage with Massimo Pupillo. I guess it was Zu, Massimo’s band at the time. I saw his bass playing and was fascinated by how cool and fast he jumped over his strings on his bass, and he looked like a good man. On the stage floor I saw a good spirit tired from long touring, playing a warm bass sound and a special self-made distortion.
A few years later, it could be 2013, Karina Mertin from About Now met Massimo after a show somewhere and suggested he should play with me, because she had the feeling we are both at a similar spiritual level. She managed the whole thing. In September 2014 I organized the Candy Bomber Studio in Berlin for three recording days and Massimo brought Alexandre Babel on drums to the session.
It was the first time all of us had met in person, and without any discussions we started to play and the recording machine was running for three days. All the music is absolutely improvised in a great and very friendly atmosphere full of harmony and respect for each other. The second day was the best one and I have to say, at the end of the session we all were surprised about what we played.
Has this trio performed live?
Two days later we played our first two shows, one in Berlin and one in Amsterdam. That’s all we did. To play on the A L’arme! Festival will be our third show, on 4th August 2017.
The album is Vol. 1—how much more material is there, and will vol. 2 be released soon?
We recorded long improvised tracks—too long for one record. Vol. 2 is set to be released In June 2018, by the Thomas Herbst and his record label Karl Records.
Other than Massaker, your music seems mostly improvised, but you are still definitely the leader—when you’re following, or responding to what the other players are doing, how does your approach change?
I have to disappoint you and ask myself, why should I be a leader? How come? I am definitely not a leader in this group. I am more like the “anti-leader.” There is no leader and in my opinion we don’t need and want to have a leader; and i guess it would disturb our atmosphere and understanding of each other. The three of us have our own space. That’s great and important. Let me say it again, we absolutely consequently improvised our first record just by listening without a specific plan. I feel more like a guest in this group and maybe we all feel like guests and painters with sounds in this group. It is a good thing. Nobody knows the next step and direction we will move to. I like that a lot.
For my own band Massaker it would be somehow OK to say I am kind of a leader. But this is another story and another way of making music. Massaker plays songs.
What gear do you use, and how much of your sound is gear-dependent and how much is finger techniques you’ve developed? Do you use nonstandard guitar tunings? If so, could you describe your approach to tuning, and explain what that gives you as a player?
Live I am playing two full Marshall stacks, 100 Watt Super Lead, depending on the venue size and my guitar is a Fender Stratocaster. The tuning is mostly standard, could be a half or full step deep as usual. Sometimes I change the whole tuning to a tuning unknown to me, named by notes. My ears let me know. Sometimes I tune in a double “D” both middle strings of the guitar. My pedals are an old Rat distortion (the thin big black box), a Vox WahWah, and a very old Boss Chorus from the ’80s.
My finger techniques: In practice I guess my feeling and sound starts in my hands and the way I press the guitar strings on maple wood. This could be like a singer and his voice. How much you edit your natural sound with amps and effects is up to you. There are millions of possibilities. The majority of my electric sound I do with the volume level straight on the guitar.
You first appeared on the scene in the 1980s; how do you feel the social and political atmosphere in Germany influenced your art, and do you feel that atmosphere is still present? Or is Germany a different country now? And if it is a different country, how does that impact German music and German art?
About Germany and Berlin: As a young kid without a guitar, maybe I had this understanding, I have learned in school about this colorful map with all countries and borders on this planet. I guess when I started to play the guitar I lost this understanding of painting borders on paper. My understanding jumped over all of that.
There was a good, special time in the ’80s we had for a few years with Blixa Bargeld and Nick Cave in this Berlin Risiko Bar and the sound of Einstürzende Neubauten and Birthday Party. I was young and at this time I met FM Einheit and Monika Döring and we still remain friends today. That time was full of different influences.
Berlin is still the best city for me to live in Germany and soon we will have four million people living here. Right now you can hear a lot of people speaking English on the streets in this area I live in on Prenzlauer Berg, and these people are not tourists.
At the moment, I think, what will happen to the world next, how close are we to slipping into a heavy disaster? I wish this were only my paranoia, but I guess we are in danger.
Are your other groups, Massaker and NOHOME, still together, or have they run their course? Is this your new direction?
Good question. I don’t know. We have a lot of new songs, spent around four years on new material, spent all our private money and now we’ve got empty pockets. So we can’t pay for a studio at the moment. In between Danny [Arnold Lommen, drums] and Eduardo [Delgado Lopez, bass] are doing their own thing. In these brand new songs Eduardo and me are both playing bass guitar. We will see what is coming up in the future.
NOHOME was only one good improvised live record and the band doesn’t exist any more. But I keep the name NOHOME for the future like an empty cover waiting for something I don’t know yet. We did a few international shows, good and bad ones. In the end it was a short and helpful experience for me.