Name: Mathis Grossmann aka Magro
Occupation: Producer, drummer
Recent release: Magro's II is out via XJAZZ! Music August 26th 2022.
Recommendations: McCoy Tyner - The Real McCoy; Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly
If you enjoyed this interview with Magro and would like to find out more about his work and music, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, and Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started drumming on pots and boxes when I was around five years old. I played Beatles songs together with my mom who is a pianist.
Growing up in an artist family, I was surrounded by music a lot and listened to every CD or vinyl LP that I could get my hands on. I think I naturally was just very passionate about music from a young age on.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
When I listen to music, I feel different emotions and energies depending on the music. Through great music I just always feel really inspired and a strong positive energy. Then often I also want to do music with the same level of greatness.
Sometimes a great album can give me inspiration for weeks.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I feel like through years of practice in drumming and producing I was able to find my personal voice. I’m still constantly working on my craft and evolving.
Every level that I reach needs a different set of skills to continue growing. The period now brings different challenges than the period three years ago.
At a certain point it is not about technical execution at the instrument anymore. It is more about who you are as a person. Building a career is so closely connected to personal development. If you have for example issues with your self confidence, it has an immediate impact on your career and how others perceive you.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
Growing up in Germany as a white male, I don’t see a particular culture that I could identify with one hundred percent.
I feel strongly torn towards Black Music culture, however I could never identify myself with it completely - I also think that would be a little bit weird. So I decided to just absorb everything I love and let something come out of me and not just identify myself with a certain culture and style.
You could maybe say that my identity is to stay open in a changing and developing process.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Finding new directions while being based in the history and tradition of the musical styles I’m referring to.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I think a great artist has to fulfil both - originality and a certain level of perfection.
Learning the tradition is for me like learning words and sentences. When you have learned them to a certain level, you can start playing with them and continue to write history.
I also think you need to have a high level of perfection in your craft. However at one point you have to let go of it and accept what comes out of you. All great innovators I can think of have been based in the tradition and grown out of it.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
The drums are still my number one instrument. After that comes Ableton combined with a keyboard.
My strategy: Using them intuitively and when I reach a limit that is in the way of my goal, I work on it until I can move on.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
There are mostly two versions of my day: One is getting up very early to catch a train or tourbus. So that would basically be: Waking up, getting ready, catching the train, writing emails or produce during the travel, arrive at the venue, sound check, break, possibly Kriya Yoga and dinner, relax with the band or alone.
Version two is ideally waking up, sports, Kriya Yoga, practicing drums for a few hours, late lunch and break, then producing or office work and then relaxation or social activities.
Sometimes there are intense phases for example like mixing an album, where I do that most of the time for a whole day for a whole week.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
My creative process is basically about finding the right solution for the particular moment. I have no standard recipe besides just trusting my decisions.
For example: When I produce a song, it can be that I walk down the street and a melody comes to my head. I sing it to my audio recorder in my phone and then develop the idea at home in Ableton afterwards. From there I probably record some drums and add other musicians to it.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Most of my music I produced completely by myself. For me it’s just about the flow of energy and enthusiasm. If that is happening, new things can be created well.
When I’m alone, that is happening one hundred percent. If I take other people into my process, they must fit the energy. That happens, too, of course, from time to time. For example when I play live with my band, I feel that energy flowing also in a group.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
For me music is an expression of the current zeitgeist. I always try to take in aesthetics of the current sound into my music.
For example I love the 808 bass but would not simply produce trap beats for my music, but take the bass and mix it up with Jazz elements.
I think it’s great to look back and see the different music epochs and how different the sound and the topics were.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Music can express and trigger emotions in humans. Through that it also can be a powerful tool in changing or enhance how we feel.
In my life I had many moments, where especially live music changed completely how I felt.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Difficult question. I would maybe say, science is ratio related, music is feeling related.
Both are crucial to the human existence. They both describe life and the universe in their way. However they both are limited in doing so.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think it is not so different as long as there is creativity involved. You can do a lot of creative things with a deep level of passion and creativity. For example there are chefs that in a wider sense cook like John Coltrane played the saxophone.
Music is the tool of expressing myself intuitively. It’s my personal language. One main thing that I like about music is that you can express extremes. For example playing can sometimes feel like the edge of a cliff or swimming in a calm lake.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
We are super sensitive beings and a part of nature. Humans really tend to forget that. Animals can sense a lot of things, for example when dangerous weather occurs. I think our body senses and translates much more information than we are consciously aware of.
So also through music we are able to absorb information that is much deeper than we are consciously absorbing.