The Demonic Minds of the Notwist
As any good priest will tell you, the devil can take many forms. But in the case of the Notwist’s new album, The Devil, You + Me, the devil is simply a character. "Our singer Markus [Acher] was inspired to write about a friend’s film, which is about a couple moving to a little town, and nobody likes them and they don’t like the people much either. So finally they move out again,” explains the Notwist’s lead programmer Martin Gretschmann. "In the lyrics, for the town, the devil is the couple, even though they probably aren’t really bad people. It just shows how the devil is everything you can imagine.”
The Devil, You + Me marks album number six for the long-running German outfit, who first dented the North American market with the 2002 glitch-pop cornerstone, Neon Golden. It’s also the band’s first record in six years. During the gap, however, the band members by no means had idle hands, (because we all know whose playthings those become). The core three — Gretschmann, front-man Markus Acher and his brother Micha — immersed themselves in a variety of other musical projects like Anticon-affiliate 13 & God, Console and the Tied & Tickled Trio before turning back to the Notwist. When they did, they found themselves sucked into the Notwist’s latest offering of avant-lap-pop for an exhausting two years, and in turn delivered one of their most ambitious, and darkest, musical statements thus far.
"The Notwist have always been our band where we do most of our experimentation,” Gretschmann says in his thick Bavarian accent. "It’s the band where we try out different sounds, different instruments and different recording techniques. This all takes quite a lot of time, so it always takes us so long to finish what we start.”One of these experiments involved the band recording their mix of organic and electronic instruments in a large warehouse-like space near their hometown of Weilheim, rather than in a conventional studio, a move that allowed the band to be more direct with their songs and each other. The more open surroundings also helped the group craft what Gretschmann calls "more open structures,” where the songs go far beyond your typical pop configuration and "where you can’t really tell what is a chorus or what is a verse.”
This unconventional approach to highbrow pop stands in stark contrast to the band’s beginnings, where in the early ’90s they once embraced cathartic rock’n’roll aggression, breakneck four-four times and vocals that held little of Markus Acher’s current vulnerability. But as Gretschmann explains, "the Notwist started out with this hardcore and punk thing that was not only all about the musical style but a lot about personal politics and the way you deal with and fight against the commercial aspects of the music business. And I think a lot of these attitudes are living in the Notwist, for example the DIY thing and taking care that you don’t lose yourself in any rock star shit.”
However, with The Devil, You + Me, the Notwist may have lost themselves to other dark forces. "I think the darkness people hear has something to do with the last few years where a lot of sad things have happened to certain friends and relatives,” Gretschmann says. "Certainly Markus thought a lot about this when writing the lyrics, with many of his friends having to face bad diseases and death and other negative stuff like that. There are surly devils following the Notwist. You can’t really control that. But what is the devil? That is something you have to find out for yourself.”
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