For over 14 years now Monochrome constantly dwell between the corners of punk and pop music. Being too chameleonic for the mainstream pop culture and too calm for the punk rock community might be a lonely existence for a German band, however with their latest output "caché" on Stickman Records at the beginning of this year’s summer Monochrome made me smile once again. While singer Marc Calmbach used to be busy with his cultural studies, Helm Pfohl and Marten Thielges of Monochrome took some time to answer my questions. Thank you.
Were there any changes for you since Monochrome left Trans Solar and joined the Stickman roster? I mean when I first heard that Monochrome will put out a record on Stickman I thought that Stickman will put you in the position to attain more people with your music. Now, looking back on the last two years it seems like Monochrome play only few and small shows and magazines like Intro or Spex for exemple still ignore Monochrome.
It's all a question of your point of view. The facts are that after the release of "éclat" we played more shows than ever before - not so much in Germany, but mostly abroad. This is of course related to the release in France, it is also true that we attained attention of many more people with our music than ever before – we didn't expect this, because it has never been an aim.
We didn't leave Trans Solar out of financial reasons, it was just high time to make a change in the musical and structural relationship to our label. The move to Stickman has been a success in these terms.
Yes, we embrace playing shows in dense and crowded clubs with a close connection to the people coming to the show. Obviously this is the situation we feel at home with, without all that "we are the band and you are the audience" kind of thing going on.
We have received great reviews for both of our last two records in many different magazines, of course also in Intro and maybe some day again in Spex. Two years ago we had a track on the Spex compilation CD, maybe they're still listening to that and are unable to get their minds off to write something on our recent work. No problem though, we pardon them for being slow. Although it is, of course, nice to see our record getting good press and having effusive feedback on all of our releases, it is of very little significance to us. Above all it is great to see that people truly perceive what we are. It means more to us personally to get an article in an independent fanzine as opposed to a big music magazine, we never seeked width more than depth.
On „caché“ Monochrome once again have a new female singer. Why did Lisa von Billerbeck leave the band and who is the new face in Monochrome?
We were very fortunate to have Lisa von Billerbeck stay with us for the time around "éclat". Though she has her life and heart in Berlin and there were various reasons for us to move on. It was really difficult to get together to write, record and play shows, because of the rather long distances between us. At a point we decided to go our seperate ways and we believe this turned out to be for the best of both of us.
We now have Kate in the band, met her through a mutual friend of ours who sensed that she'd blend in perfectly. It's remarkable that Kate is from Stuttgart and we never noticed her, but we are not all that connected to the local music scene. The curious thing is though that it always seems to be the exceptional musicians and artists that find their way onto our records. Once again „caché“ manifested itself as an open concept, i.e. with electronic sound enthusiast Frank Wildermuth, who hardly ever listens to electronic music or Ekkehard Rössle, jazz musician and lector who adores the sound of amplified guitar strings. Singer-songwriter Miss Kenichi contributed her voice to two songs, as she had done before on „éclat”.
In times of the „éclat“ release the members of Monochrome were based in Berlin, Basel and Stuttgart. How did you manage to work efficently as a band like writing new songs for example? I mean it only took you two years to come up with „caché“. How is this geographic situtation now?
This question we get asked a lot. Our guitarist Helm moved to Berne in the year 2000. So we`ve been a "long distance band" for over eight years. In the meantime, it all just feels natural to us. Everybody plays his or her part bringing ideas to the table, we meet up every couple of weeks and get our songs and ideas together. We can hardly remember what it was like to have a regular band practice on a fixed day of the week, but honestly, we don't really miss it. Getting to see each other is way out of the routine and in this way there is a high expectation on really getting something special out of it. This hasn't really changed over all those years, right now we're spread out over Stuttgart and Basel. The first recording session for „cache” was scheduled for Stuttgart at the end of the year we released “éclat”. From there on we did a couple of sessions, also some days in Basel, each putting three or four songs to tape and thus got „cache” together spread out over about a year.
Is Monochrome as a band based one a defined concept?
There is no actual concept. There are however common visions and objectives, in particular of a musical nature. We believe less in defined concepts as in the idea of something vivid, always revolving, that grows with you and your experience. It's always been important to suspend existing musical boundaries and find our place between the disciplines - be that on our records, in our artwork and appearance or in a personal way. We see Monochrome and what we experienced in all those years as the starting point of all other activity outside of the band. Without our personal development our band would have been unthinkable, whether it be Helm's work as a designer, Marc's doctor thesis or Marten's studio.
It's a vicious circle: we cultivate and push and respect our talent and commitment ouside of the band and gain massive creative input through this. On the other hand, it is just this circumstance that will keep us from doing the band exclusively. Our individual development is extremely important to us and in the end there is very little time to spare.
Monochrome started as Dawnbreed and has their origins in the punk / hardcore scene. Is Monochrome a band with the goal to convey some specific content?
We started Dawnbreed in 1994, with three of the original members still playing in Monochrome today. It was a time in which something like a new wave arose. We did not see punk/hc as a traditional custom, but as the soil for something completely new. Our roots lie in this movement and the verve for its cause, but less in a specific scene or grouping. Over and over, we scandalised in many points and were never regarded as a polite partner for interviews. In contrast to other people we are still around at the present, maybe also because we often did not follow the latest trend or never forced ourselves to what Joe Public considers to be successful. A path well worth taking, with all of it' inherent consequences. We don't see ourselves as a retro-band or as part of a "class of 1994" that desperately will not let go of a corporate feeling and value system that was never there in the first place. What remained is an attitude - a way of coping with what we do: asking questions and not giving answers - that does not only show in our existance as a band, but also in aspects of our personal lives and work-related fields. Categorisations get us bored, visions never do. The specific content of our band is not a long list of predefined views that we've portrayed for the last 14 years. It is an open structure with defined corners and controversies and the rest is in a steady state of forward motion.
We are happy to find many people from yesteryear that are on a line with us. Like us they have moved ahead in their lives and it feels good to meet these people at our shows, some even bring their kids, so we'll be around.