Camilla Sparksss: “A lovely Christmas present” | plus video

A former monk’s hermitage serves as the birthplace for new songs by Camilla Sparksss. To this day, the view over the lake landscape from there seems rather idyllic. Looking more closely, however, you realise that the landscape is cut in half by the motorway’s north-south axis and the runway of the Lugano-Agno airport. The same applies to Camilla Sparksss: things are not all as they seem at first glance. Text: guest author Markus Ganz; Video: Manu Leuenberger

The musician, born in 1983, shows a mellow and affectionate side during the interview – not her wild side we know from her stage appearances. She grew up in Canada, and her real name is Barbara Lehnhoff. When she turned 17, she moved to Ticino, where her mother has her roots, in order to study. Soon, she got to know and love the Ticino rock guitarist and songwriter Aris Bassetti, and started to play music with him under the band name Peter Kernel. Due to the rather favourable development of their musical activities, she gave up her long-term position as a film-maker with the Ticino television in 2012 in order to fully concentrate on music.

“Ticino, compared to Canada, is a really good strategic place to make music and go on tour”, Barbara Lehnhoff explains. “You don’t have to jump on a plane to get from A to B, as is the case in North America”. She also loves the considerably warmer climate which is important to her, not just for her physical comfort. “You can simply go outside at any time of the year and make a video or a photo-shooting.” Her old home country does, however, still influence her artistic vision to this day. “I grew up in a kind of Indian reserve, having a really strong contact with nature – rather different from Europe.”

Peter Kernel – electronic

It may sound confusing that Camilla Sparksss is “not so much a solo but rather a side project of Peter Kernel”. Barbara Lehnhoff emphasises that she co-composes the works for Camilla Sparksss together with Aris Bassetti. “We do everything together, 24 hours a day, and we also complement each other well when writing songs”. Aris follows a more melodic Italian style and is in charge of the arrangements. I’m more direct and my style is more punky”. This aspect can be felt more with Camilla Sparksss. The project was born out of the need to create some kind of an electronic version of Peter Kernel; not least in order to have to carry less equipment from concert to concert. “With Camilla Sparksss, the music is more playful and more fun-oriented. If we have an idea, we can immediately try it out on the computer.”

The source of a song is usually within Aris Bassetti’s guitar play, if he is looking for a melody. “We only decide during the songwriting process, for which project we will use the piece. If it is for Camilla Sparksss, we transpose it into an electronic song.” As soon as they want to try out any arrangements, they switch their apartment for a nearby rehearsal room. “We can make a lot of noise there, as it is in the basement”, Barbara Lehnhoff laughs. “When we write the vocal parts, we must be able to scream.” She describes the Camilla Sparksss style as hyper pop. “With regards to melodies and arrangements, these songs can be counted among pop. But to push the envelope like we do, that’s hyper – and that’s part of our punk approach.”

Girl power on stage

The songs really come into their own during their concerts. “The live performance is the reason for everything we do with the two projects. It’s only live on stage where our artistic performance can be fully achieved.” Camilla Sparksss offers a real performance which reminds you of a shrill show by a girl power project. Barbara Lehnhoff sings at the top of her voice and plays synthesizers to the rhythms of a drum machine while another woman dances to the beats. “The dancer represents the physical aspect of the drum machine – and is therefore sweating just like a drummer.”

Not least because of the many concerts Barbara Lehnhoff and Aris Bassetti have been able to live from their music since 2012. For some of their tours which led them as far as Canada and North America, they received support from the FONDATION SUISA. “It’s still tough to live off music”, Barbara Lehnhoff adds rather dryly. “And it’s really only possible because we do everything ourselves: videos, graphics, management, and our label On The Camper Records.” Since the two musicians don’t make pop in the commercial sense, they don’t get a lot of airplay and therefore don’t get a lot of money. “The SUISA settlements are usually like a lovely Christmas present to us”, says Barbara Lehnhoff with a smile.

www.camillasparksss.com, official website

“Where the music is new”

The value of the ideas of music creators is the centrepiece of SUISA’s work. For the brochure “Where the music is new”, five personalities and bands from various musical genres and Swiss language regions provide insights into their artistic creation process and their musical activities. Apart from Barbara Lehnhoff aka Camilla Sparksss, Carrousel and Marcel Oetiker have already been presented on the SUISAblog.ch (plus videos) and in in the brochure, edition 2015 (PDF, 8.17 MB). Barbara Lehnhoff and Aris Bassetti were, as the duo Peter Kernel, among the nominees for the Swiss Music Prize 2016.

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