For the current episode of the monthly column ‘Netzmusik‘ of german magazine Stadtrevue I interviewed portuguese Singer-Songwriter Walter Benjamin. Walter was a fantastic interviewee, meticulously answering all my questions, and because his music is really beautiful I had many of them. Anyway, as more or less usual the interview became quite long and due to the limited character count in the printed edition only snippets of the interview appear in the actual article.
As usual, I post the full interview plus links of Walter’s releases here in my blog.
You can listen to Walter Benjamins current album ‘The Imaginary Life of Rosemary and Me’ on Bandcamp, but download (7,92 Euro) is only available via Amazon and iTunes. A CD is available via Pataca Discos (11 Euro). The album is licensed under CC-BY-NC, which allows to legally share it for non-commercial purposes.
Before we start with the interview, let’s listen to one of Walter Benjamins songs, ‘Airports and Broken Hearts’, first in a studio version …
… then in an acoustic solo version …
… and last not least one more song called ‘High Speed Love’. Both tracks are taken from his latest album ‘The Imaginary Life of Rosemary and Me’.
The full interview with Walter Benjamin (for ‘Stadtrevue Netzmusik #06′)
I realise you license most of your albums under Creative Commons. What does legal sharing of your music mean to you? Is CC just an easy way of licensing and promoting your music or does it mean more to you?
It is a bit of both. I used to be part of a netlabel called Merzbau and we distributed music for free under CC because we were dreamers and wanted to intoxicate Lisbon’s music scene with different stuff. I personally think people should be able to sample my music and do interesting stuff with it, creation leads to more creation. CC is great because it makes distribution easier, it is what actually allowed netlabels to start releasing stuff legally.
I now started a digital label with some friends in London (www.romanroadrecords.com) and we are selling our records online, which is a different philosophy. We’re struggling to get our music out there while we have to pay a rent, food and our studio. Fun times.
My new album was released by an independent portuguese label, though. It’s called Pataca and they have been releasing awesome stuff, one of the bands (You Can’t Win Charlie Brown) even played SXSW recently and I use members of Julie & the Carjackers as the core of my band. Check them out!
Tell me a bit about the production of your album … to what extent has life between the diverse cities of Lisbon and London influenced you?
It has influenced me a lot, a big part of the record is about that distance. The basic tracks of the album were recorded in a beautiful analog studio in Lisbon with my drummer (João Correia), bass player (Nuno Lucas) and some other friends. We did the basic tracks there and then I brought the sessions to London where I finished overdubbing and mixing in my own small studio. It was a funny process because in Lisbon I had access to all these amazing instruments, a grand piano, a Hammond Organ, amazing guitar amplifiers, vintage drum kits, etc. and London forced me into a lot of restrictions, which is also great.
Tell me about the role your friends played with regard to the production your album and how they affected the music and arrangements.
I am very lucky and have very talented friends. My drummer and bass player are amazing musicians and the three of us laid the foundations to the songs together. They are so tight and they make it very easy to record with them. I played most of the guitars and keyboards and then invited some friends to do other stuff. I love having people around and get their creative input. Singer-songwriters Márcia and Francisca Cortesão (Minta & The Brook Trout) did some amazing vocals, Duncan Brown (Basement Jaxx’s sound engineer) and Nick Mills played horns here in London. My beautiful friend Jakob Bazora helped me a lot at the final stages of this album, we’re both trained sound engineers and I borrowed his ears countless times. I thought I was going crazy.
Besides (indie)pop references mentioned in the press release, which traditional musical influences would you name?
I am influenced by all the music, from The Beatles to The Beach Boys, from Bach to Serge Gainsbourg, The Doors, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen to LCD Soundsystem, Animal Collective, David Bowie and many others. And a lot of new portuguese music.
Will you continue to release music under Creative Commons with Roman Road Records – or do you, as with the Gelfin Brothers EP, return to traditional ‘(C) all rights reserved?’
That’s a good question but we’re not sure yet. I suppose it will make sense for some releases in the future and it is something we have to decide depending on every single project we release.
What do you think about the new kind of hybrid labels such as Error Broadcast (featured in an earlier episode of Stadtrevue Netzmusik) – they offer both free or so-called ‘redux’ digital downloads, but also sell physical releases on Vinyl and digipak-CD’s … something you could image with Roman Road Records as well?
Yes, for sure. I have to say that I am very interested in vinyl and do value the physical releases a lot. The problem is that we’re still operating on a very small scale and digital releases is our only viable option for now. It will also be interesting to explore the way we do our digital releases a bit more with the inclusion of videos and other extras with the download. Why not? Digital packaging could also be turned into something interesting and exciting. iTunes is quite dull on things like that. We’re operating using Bandcamp to distribute our music and it is quite cool because you can download high quality mp3 or even lossless files. It is important for us that the records sound good, we want to be a label that really cares about the sonics of our records. It doesn’t mean we don’t like lo-fi stuff though, we do.
Your professional background is sound engineer? Is this job to be understood as a ‘day job’ helping you to earn money?
I moved to London in 2008 to study sound engineering. I still do some production work in Lisbon and play there regularly but my main job is, indeed, as a sound man in London. My label friend, Jakob Bazora, is also a sound engineer and that background really helps us with the production of our records and the way we work with other artists. I also studied music so both worlds really complement each other very well.
Is ‘Walter Benjamin’ is your real name? Or am I right your moniker has something to do with the german philosopher …
I did steal the name from the german philosopher. My first gig in Lisbon was in a book shop and many people thought they were going to see this talk about the great (and real) Walter Benjamin and not just some guy with a guitar. There was me sitting with my yellow hat and singing some songs. Most people don’t seem to mind, I chose the name while I was studying anthropology in Lisbon and his story really captured me. He tried to escape from nazi prosecution. Lisbon was his destiny and from there he would be able to flee to America. He committed suicide because he wasn’t able to complete his journey. The day I chose the name I stumbled upon a book called Passenger Walter Benjamin and thought it was faith. I bought the book and here I am.
But anyway, I have to say that I used the name but not anything else. I just build a completely different character with the same name and changed the german prononciation into english. Don’t mean to explore philosophy in my songs or anything like that. I think of the name as a quote as if it was a band’s name.