Austrian artist Peter Zirbs has had a lot of incarnations over the years, and his latest, he feels, is most representative of who he is.
Having lost a feeling that he needed to pigeonhole his music, Zirbs has embraced more classical leanings, embarked on some collaborations including with former Archives man Craig Walker, and embarked on new EP ‘On A Beautiful Day’, which manages to be both quite dark in tone and occasionally euphoric. The perfect release, perhaps, for our times.
Single ‘Locked In’ is a particular stand out, exploring The Velvet Underground’s Nico’s period locked in an apartment, and feels oddly linked to today’s ‘stay at home’ world. I spoke to him about how things have changed, and his movement with the new record…
I think it’s fair to say your work under your own name is a far cry from some of your earlier stuff. Can you talk me through the musical evolution that got you to here?
I actually grew up with the duality of experimental/ synthesizer/ minimal music (Ph. Glass, M. Nyman, S. Reich, T. Riley, but also Yello, Art of Noise, Isao Tomita, Jean Michael Jarre etc) and on the other hand pop and rock music (big New Romantic and New Wave fan here! And also Disco from the 80ies) …
I’m a proper 80ies kid as I’m born 1971. So for me, there never was an “either/or” when it concerns musical styles. It’s not easy, but I try to bring both aspects into my music. I always loved experimental and artsy stuff, but you can find me on the dancefloor at 3am shakin’ it to a straight kick drum and a distorted 303 synth bassline, too. Sitting between the chairs for all my life basically!
How have you found your current incarnation differs from your work under other monikers earlier in your career, in terms of approach and feel?
Yes, it indeed does differ. I never had the courage to play my piano/ minimal/ instrumental stuff to other people, and it’s been my friends who encouraged me to do so. Until a few years ago, I thought that I have to fit into a stylistic drawer. The fantastic label Fabrique Records took it to a next level by almost physically forcing me to record my odd stuff (this was about three years ago), et voilà, a new Peter Zirbs was born … kind of.
Tell me a little bit of the story behind the two collaborations on the album.
The collaboration with Craig [Walker] happened somehow accidentally: Michael Martinek from the label met Craig in Berlin and played some of my stuff to him – and he liked it. I was pretty excited as I’m a fan of The Archive, so my goal was to write a tune that Craig really would like to sing.
I was lucky: He delivered some excellent lyrics and vocals! (it literally blew me away when I heard them first). Right now we started working on a second song, but that’s actually a secret and I’m not allowed to talk about it yet.
How did you encounter the interview that led to the vocal in ‘Locked In’?
I’m a huge Velvet Underground fanboy, and Nico’s biography is one hell of a rollercoaster: Being a TV- and model star in her younger years to become an icon of the not-yet-existing gothic scene while completely devastating her own life – that’s quite remarkable. But it was Craig who came up with the idea.
He read an old interview with Nico; she was talking about how she stayed in her old flat in Paris for nearly two years without going out (and while being heavily on drugs, but that’s not the point). So Craig came up with the “Locked In”-theme. This was at the end of 2019. We finished the song, and a few weeks later Covid-19 started its world tour. It was (and still is) spooky, how the song hit the spirit of what’s happening now.
Speaking of Locked In, presumably your live schedule is decimated at the moment. Is it possible to see that kind of thing as an opportunity? Have you been able to use the time productively?
Yes, I definitely see it as an opportunity. First, it suddenly was amazingly quiet in the city. No 100 mails per day, fewer phone calls, no cars on the streets. I had all the time in the world to go to my studio (nobody’s there and it’s ten minutes to walk from my flat) and do my stuff.
Sure; all gigs were canceled and I also lost some other jobs, but overall I caught myself thinking “this could go on forever, I like it”. (of course without people dying). It was a brutal reminder that most of the things we consider important are just habits that we never question. The quarantine had the effect that I (and many, many others) had to rethink our life goals and priorities. Also, I started to interact more with people via internet and found it quite satisfying.
Has it been strange how closely your music seems to fit with the kind of melancholy car crash that has been 2020 so far?
Absolutely. When I did my first album two years ago, I already was in that apocalyptic melancholic mood for a while. The reasons: how we destroy our planet, political madness etc. And back then I didn’t know what 2020 would look like!
It actually shocked me a bit, so my new stuff is still melancholic, but I try to blend it with a bit more optimistic and motivating moods. I don’t want us to sit in the corner and cry; I want to motivate people to focus on their goals and to reach out their hands to those who need it.
Your music seems really well-suited to film. How interested in going down that musical avenue are you after the work you’ve already done?
I already did a few smaller and bigger movie scores, but not recently. It would be fantastic to do more of that. I’m on it!
You have most of your success in the German-speaking world. Do you find there’s much difference in feel when you tour within your own culture and outside it?
Thing is that most people in the German-speaking world grew up with international music. English is the language of pop and rock music. So it’s totally fine to come up with English in lyrics. I guess it just doesn’t work the other way round!
When I was younger, I traveled a lot and even stayed a while in the UK. I immediately met cool people and fellow musicians. For me, it was the big, big world compared to dozy Vienna. Don’t get me wrong, I love my hometown. But it’s more like a museum for fine arts than a vivid place for contemporary culture. Fortunately, this changed a bit in the last ten years.
Was it a conscious decision to seek out English language vocals over German-language ones?
No, not really. It’s the language of pop music, and I assume that pop music taught me a good part of my knowledge of English.
Do you take any inspiration from the Viennese music scene, or are your perspectives a little more global?
There are more and more really cool acts from Vienna – the scene massively developed over the last years. But a big part of my inspiration comes from global stuff.
What are you listening to at the moment?
My listening habits are quite diverse: From old classics (Eno, Bowie, Debbie Harry, Laurie Anderson, Duran Duran, Trip Hop etc) to Neoclassic, but I’m also always up to interesting contemporary pop and rock music, as long as it has something special that is gripping me. And Post Rock/Post Punk! And a lot of guilty pleasures that I’m not gonna mention … for reasons 😀
What are your plans for the future?
I’m already working on my next EP, and it’s going to contain a few instrumentals. I want to try out new things (technically and music-wise); I need to experiment a bit more. But I know myself quite well: For sure the one or the other song will happen, too. You can get the boy out of pop music, but you can’t get pop music out of the boy!