By Alexander Laurence
Photos by Danna Kinsky
The Notwist started out as hardcore punk band in Munich,
Germany. The original members are Mecki Messerschmidt (drums),
Markus Acher (vocals, guitar) and Michael Acher (bass).
The Notwist, in 1989, submitted a demo recording of their
song, "I Don't Want To Sell Myself" to a Bavarian
radio contest. International notice would take many years
By the mid-1990s most of their records were being released
in the USA by the Zero Hour label. They were an unconventional
band influenced by punk and electronic music, much like
their heroes Sonic Youth and Wire. Martin Gretschmann (electronics)
joined the band in 1997. The band took off with the release
of Shrink (1998) and especially with the hugely popular
Neon Golden (2002).
The Notwist additionally play in the spin-off groups: Potawatomi,
Village Of Savoonga, the Tied & Tickled Trio, Toxic,
Console and Lali Puna. They also write soundtrack music.
I spoke to Martin Gretschmann on the last date of their
tour this February.
Notwist (1990), Nook (1992), Live (1994), 12 (1995), Shrink
(1998), Neon Golden (2002), and Different Car and Trains
AL: Most Americans have taken notice of The Notwist especially
after the release of Neon Golden. But you have been around
for a while. Did you tour here before?
Martin: We did tour here actually. We had this label here,
Zero Hour. They released 12 and Shrink. We toured between
1996 and 1999 in America. Every show was for like ten people.
It was totally crazy.
AL: Where are you from?
Martin: We are from Munich. I am more from the countryside.
We all come from the same city. We all went to school together.
That's how we met.
AL: What is that city known for?
Martin: It's just a boring city in Bavaria. It's very old
and old fashioned. There are twenty thousand people living
there. We are from a place that is almost an hour from the
center of Munich. People travel to work there. There is
some industry there.
AL: When did you form the band?
Martin: I wasn't in the band at the beginning. I first
played with them in 1995. Then I joined them in 1997. I
know that they formed the band in 1989.
Back then; they were still an indie rock or punk rock band.
Were they still playing that music when you joined?
Martin: Yeah. They
were about to change anyways. Different things came into
the sound, like jazz. It went into other directions, not
only because of me, and all the electronics, but they wanted
to open up the sound. We have done five albums. There is
a live record done before I joined and the others are not
really satisfied with it.
AL: There are four members
in the band now, and you play with another person live?
Martin: Yeah. We have another guy from Berlin who plays
guitar and keyboards. He has his own band.
AL: Does the whole band live in Berlin now?
Martin: No. I don't want to go live in Berlin. I want to
stay where I am. Where I live is very boring on one hand
but I am very comfortable there. I was born there and I
like it. It's totally slow. It's very different than a big
city. You can concentrate better.
AL: How do you do the songwriting in the band?
Martin: Actually we all do songwriting in the band. Markus,
Micha, and me all do songwriting. For Neon Golden, one of
us would start a song, and then they would give the file
to another person. We edited some strings. We got in the
studio and discussed it. It was like starting from scratch.
One of us would take it home and work on it. Then we would
AL: Has technology influenced the work in the past few
years? I noticed that when you came off stage after the
sound check, you grabbed your laptop computer.
Martin: Yeah, it has made things easier. There are some
things that weren't possible before and are now possible.
Just taking files home and working on it at home. That was
impossible before. We all use Logic audio.
AL: The Notwist seems really popular now. Years ago, only
ten people showed up. Now it's a sold out tour with pretty
good-sized venues like Bowery Ballroom and The El Rey.
Martin: I don't know. It's totally amazing. We are astonished.
We don't know how it happened. But it has happened and that's
AL: What other bands do you like? Do you have any recent
influences in the past few years?
Martin: We like a lot of bands. Each of us like different
bands. We do share some musical taste. But it's a totally
wide range of music. For myself, I am really into early
indie stuff like Slint and Sonic Youth. I also like some
recent stuff like Mogwai and Low. I listen to a lot of electronic
music. There is a lot of club music in Germany.
AL: Do you follow the DJ culture?
Martin: Yeah. I also DJ myself. I am not really spinning
records. I am doing a DJ laptop set. It's something between
a live set and a DJ set, because I play my own songs but
I mix them with other songs off records. I have everything
on the computer. I am into the club scene as well.
AL: Did you ever go to Love Parade?
Martin: I went there once. I was only there by coincidence
because I was playing the day before. I spent the weekend.
I didn't really go there. I have never been interested in
Love Parade. It's a mess. Most of the music is not my style.
On the days of the Love Parade, there are some clubs that
have cool lineups at night. It's crowded and too much like
a carnival. There are good underground clubs in Munich.
I like the underground scene in Barcelona. I have lived
there for a few months.
AL: What about other styles of music?
Martin: Micha and Markus listen to a lot of Jazz music.
Markus is really into old country and old reggae music right
now. I like that stuff too. Markus is constantly buying
records on this tour and the past few years.
AL: Are there any good bands that you played with recently
that you have liked?
Martin: Themselves. They are great. It's amazing to watch
them play and it's fun. They played with us on this whole
tour. They are great people. I like all the Anticon stuff.
Over the years we have played a lot of festivals and we
have played with many bands that we don't like. We do like
Sonic Youth. We played with them at Hurricane that is a
big festival in Germany. The Beastie Boys and Bjork were
the headliners. We opened for Sonic Youth in London last
AL: When I think of some of that music, I think that some
of the audience smokes a lot of pot because it is psychedelic
Martin: We get asked a lot if we do drugs or smoke pot.
I do sometimes. But the other never did and they don't.
People often make the connection. They think that drugs
influence our music, which isn't the case. It's okay. It's
just like drinking beer, and why not? In Switzerland, pot
is legal, and everyone smokes pot. They are so slow, and
they are almost falling asleep, so they might be okay without
the pot, because it often seems so boring to play there
because everyone seems so tired and bored.
AL: How do the audience usually react?
Martin: It depends on our mood and the country where we
are playing in. The audience is very different. Switzerland
is calm. But we played Istanbul two years ago, and we sold
one hundred records there, because there are no records
there. The people were going mad. They had signs. They want
us to play this or that song. Even in Germany, we play places
like Hamburg, which is more of a media city, and people
are too cool. Then when we go to Cologne people go totally
mad. The more south you go, the wilder about the music the
AL: Have you read any good books lately?
Martin: I just finished reading Death In Venice by Thomas
Mann. I also like some American authors like Paul Auster,
John Irving, and T. C. Boyle. I am also fond of the writer
Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I am not good at remembering names.
AL: You watch a lot of films then?
Martin: We watch a lot of movies. I just saw The School
of Rock. That kept us from being totally bored on the plane.
Two of my favorite films for the last year were Punch-Drunk
Love and Adaptation. I also really like City of God. I have
saw Lost In Translation. I will have to get the DVD when
I get back.
AL: Are you influenced by the idea of movie soundtracks
and have you done any soundtracks yourselves?
Martin: Yeah. We have done some stuff for German films
in the past year. This German guy wanted to make a documentary
of us making Neon Golden. We agreed to do it. We had been
doing it for three months already. He was following us around
and when we were recording. He shot one hundred and fifty
hours of footage. The documentary was just shown on German
television. It's really cool. He doesn't have an off camera
voice. There are no comments. It's just watching us. This
film got really good feedback. He did a documentary about
the swimmers in the English Channel who go from Dover to
Calais. We did music for that. He is doing a third documentary
about an author writing a new book. I am going to do some
music for that. We have done some other soundtrack work.
AL: What is Console?
Martin: That is me.
AL: How did you choose the remixes or the people who did
Martin: Four Tet did a remix of Notwist. I don't really
know him. Markus knows him. I made most of the Console remixes
of Neon Golden because I was bored. Loopspool is another
friend of ours who also did the artwork for the record.
AL: So "Red Room" was a song that was left off
of Neon Golden?
Martin: It was a b-side of "Pick Up The Phone."
AL: When are you going to do the next album?
Martin: We are going to start in the Autumn probably. We
haven't done anything yet. I was busy touring for Console.
Markus was doing the new Lali Puna record. It's a band with
a girl singer. Markus writes some music for it. It's on
Morr Music. It's very good. They will be doing a tour. They
will be playing in America too. After they finish that we
will do the next record. The Notwist will be playing some
European festivals this summer. All the bands need some
space and time.