Returning to old friends for a new project...

nonkeen - Nils Frahm, Frederic Gmeiner and Sebastian Singwald - grew up together, made music together and played together as a trio for eight years.

They never intended to release the treasure trove of live jams that they had accumulated on tape but, twelve months ago, they entered the studio to mold a full album from those recordings.

Clash caught up with one of the group, the acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Nils Frahm, as the group began their one-off tour of the album.

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How did the album come to be released on R&S?
I listened to a lot of techno music when I was very young. I was a big trance head [Nils laughs]. Of course I knew some of the names on R&S and the label’s history really fascinated me. I felt the project was a good fit for the label. We didn’t think twice about it. They were the first people we asked when we had the masters. Twenty minutes later they said ‘of course! We’ll do it’. It was very easy.

Is the album as much an experiment in recording and experimenting with tape, as it is an exercise in live playing and improvisation?
We never really thought of making an album, the tape deck was just in the rehearsal room. We had some tapes, about fifteen or twenty and we had all the microphones and we were kind of lazy about it. We made the recordings over eight years. The only thing that we wanted to do in the room was to make a band and record louder music than you would do at home. It’s a desire you have as a solo musician. It was our hobby to just drink beer in my studio and overdub them on the computer. When all the tapes were full we would take them to my studio, drink and listen to the band and make notes. And so after many years we realised that there were so many cool moments, we thought we would mix them properly; rescue them as much as possible.

Was turning eight years of recording into an album a challenge?
There was a lot of tape noise everywhere. There was a good chance that something would be wrong with each recording. Sometimes the recording was good and the tape was bad. Very rarely, everything was just fine and those moments we kept. It came naturally together like that and suddenly we realized ‘Jesus! This is an album.’ Then we realised we could do something with it, much better than we were ever hoping for.

When you listened back, did you hear a progression in your sound?
Definitely, it was a beautiful progression because our rule was we don’t talk about the music we were playing. We would just say hello then we would turn on the recording device and just start. We would never play something twice; we would never do second takes. Listening to it, then we realised it was an album. We realised the potential of the band – we got inspired to play differently after each stacks of tapes. You could say we began to copy ourselves and we realised through the process of recording what we could sound like.

Can you still hear the improvisational spirit of the original recordings on the album?
It was an interesting process because the material was so rough sounding. Originally it sounded harsh. It seemed like we would never make it sound OK. After a while I got used to the crazy, intense character of the tone and I got to enjoy it. Now sometimes I even record in that fashion for my own stuff. Now I really know how to make good cassette recordings.

Your live performances are known for being dominated by improvisation. How are you planning on translating this album into a live setting?
That’s the trouble. Now that we have a tour coming up, we will prepare a few rough ideas. We have some skeletons, which we will improvise upon. Some will be from the album and some will be new ideas, which we have come up with even more recently. It might turn into a new experience. We have to be open to change.

You used so many different instruments and recording devices on the record. How did you decide what to take on tour with you?
We are still in the process of making the concert! I built an organ - similar to a church organ, a real pipe organ - that has to come. We are also bringing a Mellotron, a Fender Rhodes, two drum sets, various synthesisers, plenty of other percussion instruments, keyboard for the other guys… It will be a big mess on stage.

Sebastien and Fred are, of course, your childhood friends. Do you see this group producing more music together?
Of course I hope we will continue to produce music together but the real question is: do we want to make a profession out of it together. What the band really means to me is making fun. They have been my friends forever and we have always made music. It is something really personal and really special. I think it will have its time and will peak on this tour. Honestly, then I think that we will want to do the things we usually do.

Would you say the project and tour is as spontaneous as the music itself?
Yes, it is very spontaneous. When the album was finished we decided to do a little tour just to show people the project is real and where it’s coming from. We have never done such a great number of shows. But I also want to work on my solo material in the second half of the year. They also have a lot of other projects on their hands. I’m not sure what will happen. I’m totally open. Lets see how people react to it.

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Words: Alex Green

'the gamble' will be released on February 5th through R&S Records. Catch nonkeen at the Village Underground, London on April 20th.

Photo Credit: Julia Soler

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