Interview Live Music

Landers – “it’s beautiful to play with musicians who take time to work with silence and space”.

Landers have been gaining quite a reputation around the Berlin music scene as a band who mean business. Their live performances transcend the emotion they've captured in recording and leave audiences craving more. This is a rare band that clearly care more about the output than the outcome - they seem to care little for commercial success but rather focus on the integrity and intensity of their music. Being led by a poet and artist with two jazz trained musicians on bass and drums alongside has no doubt helped them maintain this goal over the past couple of years. We sat down with the Dubliner and two Berliners who make up Landers, who detail with equal parts calm and passion about how they started, how and why they do what they do, and where it may be going.

Let’s kick it off at the beginning. Who are Landers? How did you come together?

Christopher: Without getting too bogged down into it I came to Berlin in 2011 and I’d done a lot of music back in Ireland, had been doing shows on and off before I moved here. And then I was in a couple of different music projects. I even did a movie as well. Spent two years making a movie here called Black Hole Berlin which was at the Shebeen Film festival. I was enjoying music more in the background but I was writing a lot of poetry for about three or four years.

I didn’t lose hope with music but I certainly wasn’t in the mood to create (anything). So I was quite lost with music to be honest with you. I slowly got myself into electronic and ambient music at the time and I was trying to find something that would make me in the right mood to write again. So I was kinda finding sounds for around a year on guitar and, yeah, that kinda evolved into me realising that I had something to feel again with music.

So I had a selection of sounds and maybe a couple of songs here and there and I asked Dani (Colombian artist Daniela Elorza), who actually does our artwork, who just said “hey listen, just do music again, come on – you can do it!” And I was like, “oh hey, yeah I’ll do it”. It’s actually the truth. She pushed me to reach out a little bit. Someone told me about Max, who plays drums and we had a coffee at Modular one day and I told him these exact words “I’m totally lost and I’ve no idea what’s gonna happen and I don’t really expect anything to happen – do you wanna play and jam?” and he was like “yeah, let’s do it”. Then I asked him if he knew a bass player per chance and he said he did – Paul.

Max. Yeah, Paul and me go way back. We are both from Berlin. We went to the same school and we started to play music at the same time and then we soon started playing together in bands. So that was our connection. If ever I needed a bass player or he ever needed a drummer we are each others’s go-to guy!

From left to right: Paul Breiting, Christopher Colm Morrin and Max von der Goltz.
© Daniela Elorza

When did the three of you first meet all together then?

Christopher: Pretty much the day before New Year’s Eve at the end of 2018. We had a jam basically. It really was an incredible moment ‘cos first off we weren’t hating each other! We liked the vibes. But at the same time I realised I was dealing with two people who came from the Jazz Institute who were quite experimental, very open minded too sound-wise and I was really, really into that. Coming from a poetry point of view it wasn’t contained or it wasn’t contrived and just trying to write “songs”. Even though I tried to bring in “songs” at the beginning but by March 2019 we were coming to terms with that that it may be different. First, in my mind, I was just gonna ask these guys to come play my songs but I quickly realised “no, this is much bigger” and I was able to let go of the fact of being just a songwriter on my own doing my own thing. We opened it up completely and wanted to share it all the way which was great for me, personally. I was able to let go of control really ‘cos when you do music for a long time you’re kind of hesitant to go into things as easily anymore but I felt a lot of freedom with the two guys.

Paul: I can only speak for myself but I think also for you it was the case that it felt really free, like these first days playing together. I can’t even point out what it was, or what it is, but it is super rare. I have rarely experienced it playing music with other people. Like it’s really quite something that you meet people that really it’s a given space that you feel like you can contribute what you can and it’s good and inspires the others. It really was a unique experience, even those first few times we met. Especially us (Max and Paul) coming from a school which wouldn’t have these elements at all.

Christopher: And I’m coming from a place where I can barely play my instruments! I’m really more into words and images and stuff like that so it’s paradoxically really working well.

Max: I think like, for me, we really quickly built up the trust within the group that none of us felt judged. That opened up so many things that we could try. We still do. We sometimes go places that we never went before, like “wow, what did we just play there?”. And that (feeling) is unique as Paul said. To just try things together and that sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

Paul: I kinda have the feeling that you brought that into the band. But it’s maybe something that evolved from the three of us playing together. Like I really learnt a lot about minimalism. About limiting yourself and being really selective about choices. Being aware of the choices you make musically. What is too much, what is enough. How little can it be. These are all things that evolved so much between the three of us. You can also hear that, I think. We have these really simple songs that are just two chords but I think they really transport such a strong feeling regardless.

Aidan Floatinghome recording the band at KAOS
© Christopher Colm Morrin

And these songs were recorded earlier last year already?

Christopher: What happened was an old friend of mine from back home, Aidan Floatinghome, we asked him if he would record what we were doing. It wasn’t planned as a release. We just wanted to put ourselves in a room for three days and see what happens. This was back in April 2019. We had practically nothing then, just the bare bones of songs to be honest. We spent three days at KAOS and those three days were really incredible moment for us. We had planned several things but they didn’t happen the way we thought they would. So there were a lot of these moments, all recorded live, with a very limited amount of microphones. We ended up changing a lot. Clear Blue Sky was totally rearranged for example as we were running out of time and wondering what are we gonna do and we tried six versions with loud drums and thought no, just bring the drum machine in and just put the poem over the sound and we just split it up in different parts and that was it then – in the moment. Bear in mind we had only known each other four months at that stage.

Paul: We had wanted to record something, we had wanted to capture that moment. And we did. (laughs)

Clear Blue Sky is very ambient, then Nothing to Say (Part 3) feels like a quick decision then to pare down that tone?

Max: Yes, but it was also realising that we had too much going on. When we got in that room, it was intense. In a creative way. It had a natural flow and we had this opportunity to give everything a shape and we were on a similar level that gave us the opportunity to make decisions which wasn’t possible before that’s session. The fact that we were in that room for four days gave us that strength to make these decisions.

Paul: And also to throw in earlier what you said about minimalism, I also think we did that more so in the session with Clear Blue Sky like with “let’s not actually have drums there”. It was fun with drums but it doesn’t need drums. Let’s reduce this to almost nothing happening in the song.

That indicates that members’ egos aren’t an issue in the band?

Christopher: For me, I remind myself through this thing to always remember when your ego is just talking way too much – just breath, relax, remember what you should feel. For me, I keep forgetting what’s important to feel and the music that we do reminds me very much of what to feel. One of the main things to do is to take myself away from it – my ego – and allow softness to come in. It’s the delicateness of things, ‘cos we are three sensitive guys. It’s all very emotional, if I’m being honest. Whether it’s rehearsing or a show it’s always extremely emotional. Which is soppy in a way but no, it’s important. To stick to what feels really good. I don’t know if we could ever be some cheesy rock band or something. What it comes down to really is pulling the right chords into the heart.

The KAOS retreat in Schöneweide
© Christopher Colm Morrin

Any common influences musically that you bonded over?

Christopher: We have have our difference influences but I’m a big Mark Hollis fan from Talk Talk and it was really beautiful to work with two musicians (here) who really take time to work with silence and work with space. It’s just a philosophy for me right now in my life – more space!

Paul: I think we all have our favourite things and I think the others share that and appreciate it but we all have very separate big things for us. But we don’t have that one band we all love – I think!

You mention this longing of space and between Clear Blue Sky and Heart is in the Land half of your tracks released thus far reference nature in their titles.

Christopher: Say with Clear Blue Sky, it’s more me just dealing looking out my window for a year as I was going through depression at the time. Isolation was going on a lot in my life and looking out the window was something that I felt had a nice calming effect. Heart is in the Land then was this kind of reach or effort to always to reconnect to something more grounded. Feeling so lost that subconsciously these themes – land, sky and nature – all help us feel a little bit better in our lives. They’re really just words about feeling lost. Lyrically, I have to admit that the lyrics I write are quite sad.

So do these lyrics then start first as poetry or during the recording process as a reaction to how the music is developing?

Christopher: Yeah, they are poems. Both those songs started as poems.

Did you have a vocal melody in mind for these so before recording?

Christopher: No, not with Clear Blue Sky. I don’t think I had a melody, no. It came with the influence probably of Paul’s bass. I may have. I can’t quite remember and it doesn’t really matter in the end ‘cos it’s again about getting over the fact of who owns what. It’s about getting to the point of feeling collectively good. That’s really it. That’s the beauty of playing in a band where you’re sharing all the way. Nobody owns anything anymore – it’s just all for the greater good.

© Camila Berrio

Both EPs were recorded at the same KAOS session then?

Max: What happened was we had these few ideas with we went into the warehouse with and we ended up with a lot more songs than we expected and then we weren’t sure really how we would end up releasing them. Or if we even would. We let a little time pass and realised that we actually really liked these recordings, they were so raw. They are from the early stages of our development yet there’s something special in them.

Talk us through the mixing process so long after the fact, as it were.

Paul: We spent quite some time figuring out the mixing as a lot of time had passed since the recording that of course our ideas and visions of what we’d wanted had changed . So, we worked on them, doing overdubs, improving the things that weren’t perfect. So, what was funny was that whatever we did we always ended up going back to the original takes. We might’ve felt excited about the new mixes for a couple of days but then we’d realise they didn’t transport that original feeling that we had felt. We really always wanted to commit to that first take in that recording session and how important that moment was for us as a band. Even with all the imperfections in there, we still really liked it.

Christopher: There are two more EPs to come yet from it. We split them up like that.

Paul: In the end we had so much material we thought to release it all but not at once but take our time.

So can we expect to hear then Nothing to Say parts 4 before then getting parts one and two, Star Wars style?

Max: There will be a part 4 coming actually!

Paul: But one thing about the releases was to show the two worlds that we have within the band. (On the first EP) Nothing to Say is more out there somehow and Clear Blue Sky is more of a “song” in that it has more of a format in a conventional sense.

Max: We really wanted to combine these two extremes that we’ve worked on. Bring them together.

© Christopher Colm Morrin

Heart is in the Land from the new EP brings the listener almost immediately into a space of contemplation and without lyrics.

Christopher: That’s the thing. I love songwriting so much. That’s my background but what the project has shown me is that instrumentals and landscapes are a huge part of it. Just as important as the “song”. Sometimes lyrics though get in the way, weirdly enough. We found it difficult in the beginning with the two worlds.

Paul: We didn’t wanna just go with one aspect of our sound.

Do you split the rehearsal process as such so, between the conventional format and then letting loose?

Christopher: Depends on the mood. We are rehearsing for a show at the moment. Whereas the first rehearsals we did were like three hours of just forty-five minute pieces each of just jamming. These long passages of time and we were exhausted by them. It’s heavy but after listening back you realise it’s actually interesting stuff. I hate to reference things but Dirty Three were a big band of mine that I loved. Those kinds of movements that I enjoy instrumental-wise. Less songy like.

Max: These explorations really help with inspiration. And to shape a band’s sound. Because we really have this situation where everything is possible and sometimes great ideas can happen. Even if it’s just a moment that passes and we never play it again even spending time doing that helps the band find its sound. It’s really essential.

Christopher: Sometimes I have this desire to just do experimental shows, not knowing what we’re gonna do at all. An hour set completely improvised. A big part of this thing is being in the moment and not knowing what you’re gonna do at all is a great thing. I’m tempted to just let it be completely free in the future.

And you have an online show coming up this Saturday?

Christopher: We were due to play a couple shows at Petersberg Art Space but due to the latest restrictions we will be streaming now from our rehearsal studio instead. It’s just the way the times are.

Live at Bar Bobu in Friedrichshain before lockdown
© Camila Berrio

How do you respond to the positive feedback that listeners and critics have given to your first EP?

Christopher: We are probably too involved with ourselves to mind what is said (positive or not). I mean, a quote from somewhere isn’t gonna change really what we’re thinking. We are deep in search, in the middle right now of a tunnel and digging deep in terms of what we’re doing next and that’s all that matters really. Even though to be honest with you we don’t have a clue what we’re going to be doing next! The uncomfortableness of choice is with us and maybe that’s somewhat unnerving too! If we were some indie rock band in Dublin trying to get PR we might be worried but because we don’t think that way, the openness is part of it. We are looking for more experimentation, more ideas, more angles and that’s it. It’s not about writing a hit pop song. It’s about playing together and seeing what feels good.

Max: It’s about keeping that feeling we had from the beginning, that freedom.

Paul: I remember we did a weekend session (recently) where we jammed and went very experimental and that direction felt great. And that can only happen when we don’t know what to do. It takes energy but we enjoy that.

Back to basics again then, is the band name influenced by the aforementioned calling to nature?

Christopher: I had the poem, Heart is in the Land, and I asked Dani what do we call this thing? We listened to the song and she asked me “what does it feel like to play with the two guys?”. And I said, “it feels like I’m coming down a little bit and just landing, coming down onto the ground feeling safe and good with these people”. Which is one of the most enjoyable feelings in the world. That groundedness. And she was like “what about Landers?” and it stuck. You could say she’s our spiritual manager!

And Daniela is responsible for the artwork too.

Christopher: That came about after she went to Peru and took photos of landscapes and she had done a lot of photos there and she discovered that at the end of the reels of films there were these mad colours coming through. That’s where the idea of the EPs’ imagery stems from – the death of the roll of the film.

Max: We are so lucky to have her on board. She’s so committed. She’s made all the cassettes handmade for the two EPs now too.

They look great, they even feel great. Anyways, thanks guys for taking the time and best of luck for the upcoming show and releases.

Band: Thank you!

The Just Thinking EP cassettes – designed by Daniela Elorza
© Daniela Elorza

Landers’ second EP Just Thinking is now available for streaming on Spotify and for a limited run the EP can be found on cassette over on Bandcamp.

Landers play this upcoming Saturday evening at 10pm Berlin time and info on where to stream that show can be found here.

Cover image by Daniela Elorza.

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