Members: Christian Büdel, Philipp Hager
Interviewee: Philipp Hager
Occupation: Multi-instrumentalists, composers, performers
Current release: ZEMENT's Rohstoff is available from Crazysane.
Recommendations: You should check "Red On & Subrihanna", an audio visual music project which two very good friends of mine run. Sabrina & Philipp, the people behind it, also did the fantastic artwork for our last two records together. Their last single "Waters" is a beautiful piece if music and video art.
I would also like to recommend the last album of two other good friends of mine. Their band is called "Hildegard von Binge Drinking" and their last album "Infinity" is an album full with never ending songs.
If you enjoyed this interview with ZEMENT and would like to find out more about their unique take on krautrock, visit them on Facebook, Bandcamp and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Music was there all the time. My two grandfathers played some instruments, Clarinet, Saxophone, Accordeon and stuff like that, also one of my uncles. My grandparents, whom I grew up with in the same house, were very musical people, they sang in the church and played with small chamber ensembles. They listened to songs on the radio and I was singing and dancing in the kitchen of my grandparents to those radio songs when I was a little kid and some songs from cassette they played for me.
Later, I played around with some toy-kid instruments and took accordeon lessons for some years, learning sheet music and all that stuff. When my teenage years began, I had enough of that and I began to play drums and bass guitar. Christian, my bandmate from ZEMENT and I had our first punk-band back then too, we were 14 years old I guess. We never made it out of the rehearsal room, but it was a lot of fun though.
From then on, I´ve always played in bands and did musical projects with different friends with different musical approaches, I've also produced some electronic beat music at home here and there during the years. Early influences were definitely punk and hardcore music, I loved that energy and anger about it, which fit perfectly with my own feelings as a teenager. A little bit later underground rap and electronic music was getting more important for me.
I always loved those aspects about music, that you could lose yourself in it. Daydreaming and all that. Just floating away from the everyday struggle, but as a political statement. Dreaming of a better place and world, working on my own little utopia together with my friends and family. Actually, that social aspect about making art and music is also very important to me. Get together with friends and create something, meet other people, set something up in a D.I.Y approach. That was and still is awesome to me and drives me to keep on with it!
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I've always listened to a lot of different music since my early childhood. I was and still am a huge music fan. I think when you start making music you always have some idols in mind, which you want to imitate, often subconsciously. Everybody starts with imitating others and I think that's a good thing, because when you know how other people create and play their music, you can work from then on to find your own way and what works best for you to produce music or art or whatever. This phase of imitating is important to learn how things work and some things not.
Basically, the idea to create something completely new and unique and those genius ideas in arts in general aren't how things work I think. We all sample from the past. It's all cut-up. We all took things from the past and maybe re-new them, put new things and aspects to it. We don't live in a space where we can block influences out, which does not mean that you can't find your own voice. But it's always your own voice with influences from the past, which you can hear or see here and there. On that ground you create something new.
It takes some time to find your own voice and your own tools and styles to articulate yourself as an artist. It's important to try things out, maybe you will fail and then work on something new. I tried out different ideas to express myself as an artist and musician, using different tools to do so. I sometimes failed to find another path which felt better than the one before. It's the same with life and art I think.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
You know, I'm a white cis male person. I had a lot of privileges when growing up and still have. I try to be aware of that in my everyday life. Of course I had struggles in my life and still have, but not in that kind that they were existential and systemical.
On the other hand, I can see inequality and discrimination nearly everyday, because of the fact that my main day job, besides being an musician, is as a social worker. With my work I try to support people and families in difficult situations in their everyday life. A lot of these people are not white and male. They struggle all the time, this society lets them struggle, often because of just what they are and from which background they came from. Nevertheless they are strong people who fight for their rights and their family. That's inspiring and I try to support them in their fight and to get a better life, even if the system sometimes does not let them.
So, what can I learn from that for my personal life and identity and how does this influence run back in my music? The answer is: Don't take yourself too seriously! Of course my life and my struggles and parts of my identity inspire my music, but I try not to make them bigger than they are in my art. Otherwise it's just getting too pretentious.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
To find the right way to express myself with the right forms, I would say. I tried out different kinds of instruments for example. In the past, lyrics were very important to express myself as an artist, in the last years they haven't been that important anymore. They're getting more and more important again now and that's interesting. It all depends on the state of my life I currently live in, the music I listen to at that time and what I would like to express and to whom. Often you don't need words to express yourself I think.
Over the last years, with my band ZEMENT, we've tried to communicate just through sound with each other and with our audience, no words needed. Sometimes the topic and what you want to express need words. So maybe there will be more lyrics on upcoming ZEMENT releases. We will see. I try to free myself from conventions or genres boundaries. I always try to create music more intuitively now and not so much with my "head" and a huge concept. The concept often came afterwards, when the music of one project is nearly finished. Often it comes "naturally", I just have to wait, just have to be patient. That's the way it works best for me.
It took me some time to get to this point. It took me some time to realise that different musical projects need different forms of expression and to use these different tools and forms to express myself in different ways and nonetheless staying "me" all the time.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I´ve always been searching for the "new", soundwise and creatively and so my tools of expression changed over the years, starting with drums and guitar, to producing music on the computer, to using my voice as a medium, back to guitar and synthesizers and using no words to express myself anymore.
As I mentioned before, it depends on my current life at this moment in time and often the kind of music I am listening to. As a teenager, I listened to a lot of punk music, so I wanted to play in a punk band. And I did. Then there came a time when I wanted to do rap and beat based music. And I did. From that instrumental underground hip-hop music I came to other instrumental music like so called classic krautrock stuff, which I knew before, but I really only came to appreciate it a little bit later. It was new to me to just express myself without words, just with sound. But it was awesome to understand the freedom that brought to my music.
So, then we formed ZEMENT and so on. That's the important point about those so called D.I.Y. ethos. Just do it. No master class needed. We will see what comes next.