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“I composed all of my pieces based on gut instinct”

Martin Nauer is one of the three nominees for the Prix Walo 2018 in the category folk music. The accordion player has been performing for more than four decades with the Ländler ensemble Carlo Brunner. At the 44th Prix Walo, SUISA presents the award in the category folk music and has asked Martin Nauer some questions in writing in the context of his nomination. Text/Interview by Sibylle Roth

Martin Nauer: “I composed all of my pieces based on gut instinct”

Martin Nauer has already learned how to play the accordion at the age of five. (Photo: Monika Nussbaumer)

A young Martin Nauer often rode his small ‘hog’ (motorbike) to Meierskappel in order to learn new fingering for the accordion from Walter Grob. He listened to his role models as often as possible since he learned all fingering and chords by ear. Together with Carlo Brunner, he founded the Carlo Brunner ensemble and thus created the foundation for his career in 1975. Nauer had a myriad of performances in Switzerland and abroad and contributed to several vinyl and CD recordings.

Martin Nauer, you have written several pieces for the Carlo Brunner ensemble. How exactly did these pieces come about? Were you given any specifications or were you given a free hand for your compositions?
Martin Nauer: In total, I have composed about 50 melodies. They are all registered on one of the many CDs which we produced with the Carlo Brunner ensemble. When it comes to my compositions, I have never received any specifications or tips nor did I have to adhere to any recommendations. I composed all of my pieces based on gut instinct.

You have been a SUISA member since 1976 and many of your compositions have been edited by various publishers. Could you enjoy a financially carefree life based on the royalties that you receive based on your SUISA membership?
SUISA member since 1976? How time flies! No, the royalties that I am due as a composer and that are paid out to me via SUISA do obviously not allow me to live a carefree life. After all, there aren’t quite that many compositions of mine and they are not played often enough to provide a lot of money based on the remuneration. The royalties are, however, still a welcome ‘top up’ with which I can enjoy the odd thing.

You took a step back from the Carlo Brunner ensemble at the end of 2017. Do you have more time now to compose your own pieces?
I do not exclusively use the time I have gained via my withdrawal from the Carlo Brunner ensemble for composing music. Yet, I still have strong ties with folk music and if I come up with a new melody or at least a sequence for a new dance, I’ll record the sounds onto a tape recorder with the open expectation that one day something might come of it. Since I cannot write or read music, I need help so that the new melody is then put down on paper.

What does the Prix Walo nomination mean to you?
The Prix Walo nomination is a huge joy for me and, at the same time, a great surprise. As a member in the formation and as partner of Carlo Brunner – for more than 43 years – I had the privilege to participate in Carlo’s success whenever he won a Prix Walo. And to this date, that has been the case four times. These awards have always meant a lot in terms of recognition for us ensemble members. The fact that I am personally nominated for the award this time, is really something I didn’t expect. As I said, I am very happy and I am proud that I was bestowed with this great honour by the mere nomination.

www.prixwalo.ch, Prix Walo website

The award ceremony of the 44th Prix Walo takes place on 13 May 2018 in the TPC studios in Zurich and will be broadcast live on Star TV from 08.00pm onwards. At the Prix Walo event, Swiss artists from various genres are honoured. It is the aim of the Prix Walo to promote the Swiss show business in general and young talent in the entertainment sector. SUISA sponsors the Prix Walo and awards the prize in the folk music category this year.
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“Each of us comes up with a piece of music or a melody once in a while”“Each of us comes up with a piece of music or a melody once in a while” One of the three nominees for the Prix Walo 2018 in the folk music category is the formation Ils Fränzlis da Tschlin. With their line-up consisting of Domenic and Curdin Janett and their daughters Anna Staschia, Cristina and Madlaina, they have been making music since 2014, loosely based on the “original Fränzlismusig” of the 19th century. At the 44th Prix Walo, SUISA awards the prize for the folk music genre, and has sent some questions on their music, creating compositions and their nomination in writing to Madlaina Janett, the viola player of the formation. Read more
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Martin Nauer is one of the three nominees for the Prix Walo 2018 in the category folk music. The accordion player has been performing for more than four decades with the Ländler ensemble Carlo Brunner. At the 44th Prix Walo, SUISA presents the award in the category folk music and has asked Martin Nauer some questions in writing in the context of his nomination. Text/Interview by Sibylle Roth

Martin Nauer: “I composed all of my pieces based on gut instinct”

Martin Nauer has already learned how to play the accordion at the age of five. (Photo: Monika Nussbaumer)

A young Martin Nauer often rode his small ‘hog’ (motorbike) to Meierskappel in order to learn new fingering for the accordion from Walter Grob. He listened to his role models as often as possible since he learned all fingering and chords by ear. Together with Carlo Brunner,...read more

“Each of us comes up with a piece of music or a melody once in a while”

One of the three nominees for the Prix Walo 2018 in the folk music category is the formation Ils Fränzlis da Tschlin. With their line-up consisting of Domenic and Curdin Janett and their daughters Anna Staschia, Cristina and Madlaina, they have been making music since 2014, loosely based on the “original Fränzlismusig” of the 19th century. At the 44th Prix Walo, SUISA awards the prize for the folk music genre, and has sent some questions on their music, creating compositions and their nomination in writing to Madlaina Janett, the viola player of the formation. Text/Interview by Sibylle Roth

“Each of us comes up with a piece of music or a melody once in a while”

Ils Fränzlis da Tschlin: “We are ambassadors of such pieces which got stuck during their journey through the ballrooms of Europe in the Engadine”. (Photo: Flurin Bertschinger)

The original Fränzlis from the 19th century were brought to life by Franz-Josef Waser who – due to his short stature – was called “Fränzli”. They played dance music and people were talking about the legendary Fränzlis all the way into the 20th century. The new Fränzlis were founded in 1982 by Men Steiner and Domenic Janett. Since 2012, their line-up consisted of clarinet, violin, cello, viola and double base. After the latest changes in their line-up – Cristina joined for the cello and Anna Staschia for the violin – the women are now outnumbering the men in the formation.

Madlaina Janett, Ils Fränzlis da Tschlin have been ambassadors for Engadine dance music. What is the ratio between traditional works and own compositions in your ensemble?
Madlaina Janett, Ils Fränzlis da Tschlin: If we put together a programme for a concert, we attempt to fill it about fifty:fifty with new compositions – by ourselves and other composers –and traditional dances. When we do this, we don’t pursue the objective to renovate or modernise tradition. We just want to have a nice dramaturgy in the concert which offers a lot of diversity and where we are able to surprise the audience every now and then with some unfamiliar tunes. When we play our music on dance occasions – something that’s unfortunately rather rare these days – traditional pieces prevail, since they are better to dance to than new compositions which have often been and are being composed for concert situations.
At this point, we would also like to comment on the key word “ambassadors of Engadine dance music”: We would not describe ourselves as such. On the one hand because we play – as mentioned above – only rarely at dance occasions, and on the other hand, because it’s hardly possible to say what exactly “Engadine music” is supposed to be. Our role models, the original Fränzlis of the 19th century, weren’t even from the Engadine – they were from central Switzerland – and played all sorts of music: from absolutely popular hits via operetta melodies to traditional waltzes. And if you investigate into the so-called ‘traditional’ songs a little more, you often realise that they have had a long odyssey through the dance halls of the entire Alpine region and that it’s absolutely impossible to say whether a piece had been created in the Engadine or rather in the Burgenland, or in Italy. So maybe we are ambassadors of pieces which have stayed behind after their journey through the dance halls in Europe and have been refined in the style of the local musicians.

How do you proceed when you composer new pieces? Your works have often been composed by somebody alone; do you have different approaches?
The approach of each individual Fränzli members are rather different: Curdin and Domenic compose and arrange much on behalf of the widest variety of instrumentation. The younger generation composes in a more spontaneous fashion: If you think of something, you write it down. For the Fränzli programmes, we usually do not have any specific pressure to compose anything. Each of us comes up with a piece of music or a melody once in a while. You bring the finished piece along or the fragment into the rehearsal and then we try out together whether it fits in with our formation or not. This is, by the way, the same approach we take whenever we incorporate works by composers into our programme who do not play with us.

The two oldest and the youngest member of the current formation are SUISA members, whereas you and Cristina aren’t. How so? Are you not involved in the compositions?
Actually, that’s merely a sign that Cristina and I were simply too lazy to look after SUISA matters.
The two compositions we’d each have to register would not really create such an immediate call for action. But that may yet happen …

What does the Prix Walo nomination mean to you?
To be honest: We’re still unsure how someone picked us.
We have – so far – associated the Prix Walo with the big show and TV world, with glitzy dresses and dirndl and not with a formation like ours which nearly always appears in small places, without amplifier and dressed in black.
But of course we are really happy that someone thought of us and and that there is a perception for us even though we do not conform to many of the requirements of the show and entertainment scene.

www.fraenzlis.ch, Ils Fränzlis da Tschlin website
www.prixwalo.ch, Prix Walo website

The award ceremony of the 44th Prix Walo takes place on 13 May 2018 in the TPC studios in Zurich and will be broadcast live on Star TV from 08.00pm onwards. At the Prix Walo event, Swiss artists from various genres are honoured. It is the aim of the Prix Walo to promote the Swiss show business in general and young talent in the entertainment sector. SUISA sponsors the Prix Walo and awards the prize in the folk music category this year.
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One of the three nominees for the Prix Walo 2018 in the folk music category is the formation Ils Fränzlis da Tschlin. With their line-up consisting of Domenic and Curdin Janett and their daughters Anna Staschia, Cristina and Madlaina, they have been making music since 2014, loosely based on the “original Fränzlismusig” of the 19th century. At the 44th Prix Walo, SUISA awards the prize for the folk music genre, and has sent some questions on their music, creating compositions and their nomination in writing to Madlaina Janett, the viola player of the formation. Text/Interview by Sibylle Roth

“Each of us comes up with a piece of music or a melody once in a while”

Ils Fränzlis da Tschlin: “We are ambassadors of such pieces which got stuck during their journey through the ballrooms of Europe in the Engadine”. (Photo: Flurin Bertschinger)

The original Fränzlis from the 19th century were...read more

“A lot of what we have in our folk music comes from classical music”

Dani Häusler is one of three nominees for the Prix Walo 2018 in the category folk music. Häusler started playing the clarinet already at an early age and is nowadays active in several formations. At the 44th Prix Walo event, SUISA presents the award in the category folk music and has asked the nominee some questions in writing. Text/Interview by Sibylle Roth

Dani Häusler: “A lot of what we have in our folk music comes from classical music”

Clarinettist Dani Häusler is one of the youngest recipients of the “Goldener Violinschlüssel“ (Golden Violin Clef). (Photo: Pit Bühler)

At the age of 11, Dani Häusler began playing the clarinet and the saxophone, and, shortly after, performed with his first band, the Gupfbuebä. He studied classical music and influenced modern folk music as part of the formations Pareglish and Hujässler. In 1987, Dani Häusler joined SUISA. He teaches the clarinet, is Director of folk music at the SRF (Swiss national broadcaster), lecturer at the University of Lucerne and he is a recipient of the Golden Violin Clef which he was awarded last year.

Dani Häusler, you have studied classical music and also arranged some classical pieces for folk music such as “Ländlerische Tänze” (“Country Dances”) by Mozart. How do the two music genres mix?
Dani Häusler: A lot of what we have in our folk music comes from classical music. Mozart dances can be taken over pretty much on a one-to-one basis. The difference does, however, become apparent during the interpretation – classical musicians perform in a rather cultivated manner whereas folk musicians do so more crudely. It’s in that difference where I find a great stimulus.

You dedicate yourself to both new and traditional folk music. How do the two styles differ and what do you prefer: To create new compositions or to interpret traditional works?
The “new” folk music is generally more challenging. Much of it is geared towards a concert situation. Traditional folk music rather celebrates cosy gatherings such as going out for dinner, drinks or dancing. You can compose in a traditional or a modern manner – however, the “new stuff” entails a bigger effort. Unfortunately I have not been able to do this due to a lack of time over the last few years.

You are the Director for folk music at the Musikwelle. What is the prognosis for folk music in Switzerland at the moment?
It’s good. But it always depends on where you look. The Schwyzerörgeli (Swiss diatonic button accordion) formations are booming like mad, brass bands have decreased massively. In general, it’s the audience that is mainly missing. Even though major events are on the rise, it gets increasingly harder to organise folk music evenings in restaurants.

What does the Prix Walo nomination mean to you?
I am very happy about it – but it won’t change my life.

www.danihaeusler.ch, Dani Häusler website
www.prixwalo.ch, Prix Walo website

The award ceremony of the 44th Prix Walo takes place on 13 May 2018 in the TPC studios in Zurich and will be broadcast live on Star TV from 08.00pm onwards. At the Prix Walo event, Swiss artists from various genres are honoured. It is the aim of the Prix Walo to promote the Swiss show business in general and young talent in the entertainment sector. SUISA sponsors the Prix Walo and awards the prize in the folk music category this year.
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Fränggi Gehrig: Traditional folk music as a basis for more complex compositionsTraditional folk music as a basis for more complex compositions The composer and accordion player Franz «Fränggi» Gehrig receives the FONDATION SUISA Award 2016. The annual recognition award granted by SUISA’s music promotion foundation will be awarded in 2016 in the category “new, current Swiss folk music”. An interview with the 30-year-old award winner from canton Uri on the prize, his musical work and the attraction of old and new traditional folk music. Read more
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Dani Häusler is one of three nominees for the Prix Walo 2018 in the category folk music. Häusler started playing the clarinet already at an early age and is nowadays active in several formations. At the 44th Prix Walo event, SUISA presents the award in the category folk music and has asked the nominee some questions in writing. Text/Interview by Sibylle Roth

Dani Häusler: “A lot of what we have in our folk music comes from classical music”

Clarinettist Dani Häusler is one of the youngest recipients of the “Goldener Violinschlüssel“ (Golden Violin Clef). (Photo: Pit Bühler)

At the age of 11, Dani Häusler began playing the clarinet and the saxophone, and, shortly after, performed with his first band, the Gupfbuebä. He studied classical music and influenced modern folk music as part of the formations Pareglish and Hujässler. In 1987, Dani Häusler joined SUISA. He teaches the clarinet, is...read more

New Jersey, just south of Berne

Polo Hofer receives the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 in the category “lyrics author”. Christoph Trummer writes in his guest contribution about the factors distinguishing the works of the award winner from others.

New Jersey, just south of Berne - Polo Hofer FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017

Polo Hofer, winner of the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 has found his way into popular culture and has translated rock and roll as a way of life for the German-speaking part of Switzerland. (Photo: Patric Spahni)

If you wanted to be brief, you’d say: The FONDATION SUISA Prize is a recognition award for outstanding creations. In 2017, it will be awarded to a lyricist for the first time. Polo Hofer was nominated for the award. What else did you expect the jury should do?

Of course, we’ll gladly dedicate more than just these few words to this worthy award winner and his works.

Those who were born after 1970 and grew up in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, are likely to find it hard to imagine their schooldays, youth and life in Switzerland as such without Polo Hofer and his songs and lyrics. Some of his works, ranging from “Bin i gopfriedstutz e Kiosk” (“Am I a blimmin’ kiosk”) to “Bim Sytesprung im Minimum e Gummi drum” (“For that bit on the side as a minimum a condom”) have turned into one-liners; you cannot possibly imagine everyday language being without them. Even those whose parents don’t even own a Polo Hofer CD can sing along to “Alperose”.

Song lyrics turned into popular cultural assets

These lyrics are now part of popular culture, in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, for sure. Since his early days with the band Rumpelstilz, Polo’s discography has been serving as a means to tell the story of a rather eventful Swiss history. The “Summer 68”, when (apparently) it was the done thing to travel to Kabul to smoke weed. The wild 70ies, years of upraise, with Rosmarie to Spain, free love next to the “Teddybär” (“Teddy Bear”). The dark side of dreams in the form of a “Silbernaadle töif im Arm” (“A silver needle deeply plunged into the arm”). And already then, dulled by consumerism, in full swing with the “Waarehuus Blues” (“Warehouse Blues”).

Polo’s lyrics are, sometimes, explicitly political: “Da isch nüt vo Grächtigkeit / So wie’s i dr Verfassig schteit” (“Um WAS geits?”) (“There is no justice / as it’s written in the constitution”, song: “WHAT’s this about?”). He does, however, also narrate world history as a personal story, when an old love affair finally gets a chance as the Berlin wall comes down (“Wenn in Berlin bisch”) (“When you’re in Berlin”). Plus, he criticises society with role prose, whose poetry stems from conversations at the regulars’ table in the pub, for example when the farmer’s son of the Lochmatt sums up the empty promises of a life in the bright city lights: «Lah mi vergässe bim rote Wy» (“Let me forget with a glass of red”). That’s popular in its very essence, but it also has side effects.

Sometimes the loud role of Polo National smothers the fact that he also has other qualities as a lyricist. For example, when he ponders about his own mortality in “Im letschte Tram” (“In the last tram”) or when he negotiates the literal sense of God, all the world and his brother in “I dr Gartebeiz vom Hotel Eden” (“In the garden pub of the Eden Hotel”) without getting lost in intellectual deliberations.

Rock and roll – translated for Switzerland

Some of Polo Hofer’s great songs are congenial translations: Tom Waits’s “Jersey Girl” into “Meitschi vom Wyssebüehl” (“Girl from Weissenbühl” – a Berne suburb), Todd Snider’s “Alright Guy” into “Liebe Siech” (“My dear chap”), and Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill- Box Hat” into “Schlangelädergurt” (“Snake leather belt”). With that, you find out about another one of Polo’s various roles, which make him so significant (not only) for music performed in dialect in Switzerland: He is a translator. Not only a translator of song lyrics but one of the most important translators of rock and roll and popular culture into our culture, into our customs and habits.

Polo Hofer has managed to turn desires, but also the lustfulness of the young with its pubescent obscenities, the rebellion against a stale and settled system, in brief: the rock and roll way of life for the German-speaking part of Switzerland into sound. D’Stüehl ewäg, mir sy giggerig u wei schwoofe (Get the chairs out of the way, we’re in the mood and want to dance). He was inspired by, and found some of his topics in the rock and roll catalogue of legends and brought it to Switzerland: We would probably not get into a ride with Bobby McGee on the highway, but hitchhike with Rosmarie from Paris to Gibraltar. Wyssebüehl is closer than New Jersey.

Polo Hofer as a central figure of our story has opened doors through which many others could pass, even if they didn’t even know his music at all. And now he receives an award for this work. As such, the FONDATION SUISA Award 2017 is a kind of “Lifetime Achievement Award”. We congratulate you from our hearts!

www.polohofer.ch

The FONDATION SUISA Prize is a recognition award for outstanding creations. FONDATION SUISA bestows this award to authors and publishers rendering outstanding contributions to the enrichment of the cultural heritage of our country with their creations. The award, valued at CHF 25,000.00 is granted in a different category each year.

Christoph Trummer won the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2011 in the category “Singer/Songwriter”. Our guest author was born in 1978 and grew up in Frutigen (BE). Apart from his musical activities, he is President of the Association for Music Creators Switzerland.

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Polo Hofer receives the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 in the category “lyrics author”. Christoph Trummer writes in his guest contribution about the factors distinguishing the works of the award winner from others.

New Jersey, just south of Berne - Polo Hofer FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017

Polo Hofer, winner of the FONDATION SUISA Prize 2017 has found his way into popular culture and has translated rock and roll as a way of life for the German-speaking part of Switzerland. (Photo: Patric Spahni)

If you wanted to be brief, you’d say: The FONDATION SUISA Prize is a recognition award for outstanding creations. In 2017, it will be awarded to a lyricist for the first time. Polo Hofer was nominated for the award. What else did you expect the jury should do?

Of course, we’ll gladly dedicate more than just these few words to this worthy award winner and his works.

Those...read more

Lyrics for a song: “Anything goes – if it has success”

The FONDATION SUISA dedicates its CHF 25,000 recognition award to lyricists of musical works this year. But what makes a song text a success? Guest author Markus Ganz in an interview with Jean-Martin Büttner

Lyrics for a song: “Anything goes - if it has success”

“Song texts usually don’t work on paper”, says journalist Jean-Martin Büttner. (Photo: Dominic Büttner)

Jean-Martin, what do you make of song lyrics including the line “A Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom”?
Jean-Martin Büttner: This is an example for coded song lyrics. “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard secretly deals with black drag queens and sexual practices, at least in its 1955 original version. To understand this, you got to know that the singer had a triple disadvantage: Richard was black, gay and from the South of the USA. The American political scientist, Greil Marcus, explained its amazing effect rather accurately in an interview. Even if they did not understand the lyrics, listeners would still be able to sense from the mere joy of Little Richard’s singing that it was about something naughty. It might sound strange but this is a central part of rock music – not because it says something but because it expresses something.

In its book “AWopBopaLooBopALopBamBoom” which had become a classic in rock literature, Nik Cohn wrote in 1971 that these words “summarised what Rock’n’Roll really was about” rather masterly. He also wrote that Rock’n’Roll lyrics were some sort of a “secret code of teenagers”. Youth culture is, however, subject to constant change. Does this mean that these lyrics are caught in their era?
I believe that this applies to each set of song lyrics and also for many poems. Only the greats such as Shakespeare, Rilke or Dylan can write lyrics which transcend their own era. These lyrics by Little Richard are clearly trapped in its time, albeit because it had to be coded into nonsense in order to escape the censorship of white radio stations. Ironically, this also holds true for explicit, vulgar and drastic hip hop lyrics which don’t omit anything. Calling women champagne bitches and writing hymns about your own sneakers wears off extremely quickly.

What significance has this song text by Little Richard retained?
“Tutti Frutti” is a historic text. But you also have to understand that Nik Cohn had an anti-intellectual attitude vis-a-vis the interpretation of Rock’n’Roll. And that his book was one of the first on rock music. I still love it today because he wrote in such a radical style. Nik Cohn, who was an Irish Jew and thus an outsider from the beginning, wrote sentences such as those according to which there were never proper lyrics in Rock’n’Roll. I believe that he meant this as a provocation but not just that. It was his way of attacking artists such as Dylan or the Beatles which, in his opinion, had ruined Rock’n’Roll with their textual cockiness.

Is the act of ennobling the song lyrics by the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan thus also a loss for the tradition of lyrics that have been pushed “ad absurdum”?
Not at all, luckily there is no institution that decides what is or isn’t a proper song text. Besides, Dylan himself has written surreal lyrics, which might well play on words and are funny but don’t really make any comprehensible sense, such as “Subterranean Homesick Blues” from 1965. In this song, Dylan – who never actually denied it – leans back on Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” – which is not far from Little Richard; Dylan was thus closer to Nik Cohn’s hero as the latter wanted to admit. Dylan even once said that his professional goal was to play piano with Little Richard.

“Poetry is always a vocal art, too. Poets recited their texts as early as in ancient times.”

Nevertheless: Haven’t song lyrics increasingly lost their original character?
Yes, the question for the meaning. I have always rejected the absurd notion that rock music had to remain music for the youth, something it had originally been. It has rather turned out to be a kind of culture which grows with its authors, has aged with them. Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen are or have been relevant way beyond their pension age. Besides, poetry is always a vocal art, too. Poets recited their texts as early as in ancient times.

Little Richard has – not least – provoked, something that has become difficult nowadays …
This gesture has lost its impact long ago. Lady Gaga is a good example as her provocations became such a major part of her marketing. Her final provocation, to show herself without make-up, shows how desperate she has become. Nowadays, it is rather heart-warming that David Bowie triggered a scandal when he said he was homosexual – and it wasn’t even true. Such shock effects, from Alice Cooper to Marilyn Manson, have worn themselves out completely. The consolation: Good music remains good.

In rock music, the lyrics depend very much on other aspects such as sound or phrasing, and only makes sense because of that. Do lyrics still have the same meaning as they used to have back then?
I don’t cease to be amazed how little attention people pay to the lyrics. It probably has always been that way. In fact, the Beatles mainly wrote trivial lyrics along the lines of “She Loves You”, even though their irony and their lyrical talent would have allowed them to do so much more at the time. It is interesting that especially within the hip hop genre lyrics play a central role, while the music is monotonous and repetitive. What also stands out is the development over the last decades where hip hop is no longer sung or rapped just in English, but, in Switzerland, for example, increasingly in German, Italian and French. In line with this development, it is only logical that the importance of lyrics has increased again. For example Peter Fox (Seeed): His solo album “Stadtaffe” [city monkey] is a hymn dedicated to his home town Berlin – and only because of the German lyrics, Berlin citizens could identify themselves with the song.

“Lyrics aren’t a school subject. It should be left to each individual what they make of the song lyrics.”

This example also shows that the background of a text is sometimes the prerequisite to understand it. But can an author really expect from his audience that it grapples with its song lyrics?
Lyrics aren’t a school subject. It should be left to each individual what they make of the song lyrics. A friend of mine has been a hip hop dance instructor for a long time. She did not realise that the pieces she used often contained misogynist lyrics, as she only played them to provide music for dancing. But that’s ok.
On the other hand, I keep noticing during concerts that due to the lack of knowledge of the lyrics misunderstandings pop up. A classic example which even US-Americans misunderstood is “Born In the USA” by Bruce Springsteen. The piece deals with the fate of Vietnam veterans but is full of ambivalence as it starts with a fanfare and Springsteen is shown on the cover of the album in front of a US flag. Left-wing message, right-wing chorus. Reagan only heard the latter and was enthused, Springsteen distanced himself in a peculiar mumbling manner. The record made him a millionaire.

But doesn’t something from the original message stay on?
Greil Marcus, whom we mentioned earlier, described in his essay why everything that Springsteen sings remains without any consequence. Irrespective of how often the artist sings about a broken family and the poverty in the USA, it was striking that nobody ever responded. This silence was proof that all of his statements remained without effect. How could it be otherwise? I have asked the comedian Eddie Izzard, whether comedy could actually change anything. He said: only politics changes things, that’s why he was standing for Parliament. If you want to change something, you have to change the law.

Writers of song lyrics often say that – by way of their texts – they are trying to trigger an association within their audience so that they can create their own stories from that…
An important role during the 1960s was the fact that black youths listened to James Brown who sang: “Say it loud – I’m black and I’m proud”. That was an instruction to a black identity – telling you that you could be someone who exists, who is important in the USA, because you get a voice – even if you are part of a minority.

He gave people courage to stand tall and self-confident…
Exactly, many song lyrics played an important role for the civil rights movement. Songs have always played an influencing role, also during the movement against the Vietnam War. Why, of all things, was it “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys that became a hymn for the GIs in Vietnam, even though this cover version only contains the story of a quarrel on a ship? Because the chorus says: “Why don’t they let me go home, this is the worst trip I’ve ever been on”. No wonder that this hit the right tone in Vietnam. Or: “Nowhere To Run” by Martha and the Vandellas was phrased as a love song, but became the slogan for left-wing protesters against the government.

A text can also receive a completely new meaning…
An example for this is the piece “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd, which has been redefined in South Africa among white and black pupils as a hymn against Apartheid. German cultural scientist, Diedrich Diederichsen once said, pop music was an open channel. The good thing about it: You can do what you like. If the audience decides that a song means this or that, then that’s the way it is.

“One of the most famous examples of a song which didn’t have any meaningful, serious lyrics initially, is ‘Yesterday’ by Paul McCartney. The original text for this song was ‘scrambled eggs, baby I love your hairy legs’.”

Many musicians have expressed themselves against Donald Trump in the last months, but up until his inauguration there were few explicit songs…
The English journalist, Julie Burchill, once wrote that nothing would castrate a political message as efficiently as a pulsing backbeat. Bob Dylan realised this quickly and ceased to create songs pointing fingers, he was well ahead with his thinking. His explicitly political songs such as “Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears” have aged in a worse manner than his songs which simply state a general unease against the war such as “Masters of War”. I think that great artists don’t think in weeks or years, and that’s why all great political songs are not specific. Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is a universal song, especially as humour and irony are added to it – something that protest musicians unfortunately include very rarely.

Many songwriters confess that their lyrics don’t get written until after the music has been completed. How do you explain that?
One of the most famous examples of a song which didn’t have any meaningful, serious lyrics initially, is “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney. The original text for this song was “scrambled eggs, baby I love your hairy legs”. Brian Eno mentioned during his press conference in Geneva last year that the majority of artists sing anything during their rehearsals, some sort of a scat song. From this emerges a chorus or a hook, from which the actual lyrics are developed. Many musicians use this process, for example Bono, or Mick Jagger. Writing lyrics, by the way, is also hard for authors, who are famous for their texts. Randy Newman for one said to me in a conversation that he wrote melodies with more ease than lyrics – the latter were a nightmare.

But aren’t song lyrics often secondary, and only have the purpose to carry the melody?
This can be deceptive as the example of ABBA shows. You could, of course, argue that “I do, I do, I do, I do” does not constitute song lyrics which belong into the Hall of Fame. But “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is a piece which sweetens a bitter message with an enchanting melody. The lyrics are about a divorce and is one of the favourite songs of Elvis Costello. “The Day Before You Came”, the last, desperately sad ABBA single, also combines an excellent set of lyrics with an extremely sad musical piece.

As we all know, many song texts pop up by chance, on the spur of the moment …
The most famous example for a song which practically happened by accident is “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple. To put it simply, the band was watching across the lake, how the casino in Montreux was on fire – and wrote a gripping, but actually rather descriptive song about the event in the blink of an eye. Bob Dylan sometimes falls into such a creative rush, too: He wrote all of his lyrics for “Time Out Of Mind” within two weeks even though the verses are rather long.

This is more the modus operandi of singer songwriters who reduce the story down to the bare minimum. You do, however, sometimes also find the other extreme with them, where the lyrics are basically simply wrapped in music….
You notice that when the lyrics overwhelms the music in such a way that the music becomes a pretext. In the case of a good songwriter like Dylan that’s another matter. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, for example, formulates a cascade of words – and still works because the language becomes an instrument of rhythm. The Beatles-Song penned by John Lennon “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” is the opposite of that: Despite its length of nearly eight minutes, it consists of one single sentence with variations. This shows how much freedom you have as a lyricist. There’s a great quotation by Max Frisch: “Anything goes – if it has success”.

«You must stop imagining that lyrics can be read: they don’t usually work on paper, they are dead.»

This could be used as the guideline for song lyrics about love, still the main theme in pop music. A love song can appear clichéd with respect to the choice of words, and yet work magnificently. What makes the difference?
An example how the same text can have a completely different impact depending on instrumentation and interpretation is “I Will Always Love You”. The song has not been written by Whitney Houston but Dolly Parton. And her original version dating back to 1974 is grand, even though the lyrics are incredibly trivial: The recording lives off the performance.

The same song lyrics can also have different meanings in different interpretations…
A good example for this is “You Can Leave Your Hat On” by Randy Newman. In its original version, this love song is lurking, the protagonist a stalker, you get scared of him. In Joe Cocker’s version, however, the song about a sexual offender turns into a hymn for sex and freedom – and as such, it was used for the film “9 1/2 weeks.”

The lyrics of two love songs can be nearly identical regarding the choice of words and yet one can seem corny whereas the other is captivating. Why?
You must stop imagining that lyrics can be read: they don’t usually work on paper, they are dead. One of the reasons for this is that the technique of repetition is important for song lyrics; texts by writers like Nick Cave look absurd on paper.
One of the great exceptions, however, are the song texts by Leonard Cohen. An explanation for this phenomenon is that he wrote three books and two poetry volumes before he entered a studio for the first time. He started playing the guitar because he thought he could reach a wider audience as a consequence. The magic of song lyrics usually appears when being sung, just remember Marvin Gaye’s “Hitch Hike”. His singing imparted a kind of lascivious elegance.

By way of singing the lyrics, it is also possible to break the stereotype of a text or add an ironic note …
Lyle Lovett does exactly the opposite in his song “She’s Leaving Me Because She Really Wants To”. The text in the title is coined by its typical irony but he sang it in a grizzling, absolutely non-ironical sounding country song. What constitutes the breach here is that he performs an unconventional text which is a persiflage on the genre, in a completely conventional style.

The songwriter and producer Roman Camenzind once said that you could write an authentic song text only in your own mother tongue ...
That’s a great thesis, even if there are examples that show that the opposite is true. In the case of Rammstein, I am fascinated by the fact that concert-goers sing along to the German lyrics, even in places like Mexico City or New York. Singer Till Lindemann once told me that the majority would only sing along phonetically and not understand the phonetic implications and play on words of “Du hast” – one of their song titles. English is treacherous in this respect, anyway. It’s like when you play the guitar: You can quickly get to grips with guitar chords, and it sounds alright. But then it gets complicated rather quickly. And that’s what you find in the case of lyrics of authors whose mother tongue isn’t English.

And in Switzerland?
We do have some amazing lyricists such as the songwriters Kutti MC, Endo Anaconda (Stiller Has), Kuno Lauener (Züri West) and Carlos Leal (Sens Unik); The reality in Switzerland is, however, that the dialect is rather restrictive in terms of the audience; the conditions in Germany are completely different.

If you want to live off your music in Switzerland you have to try to find a wider audience with an international language. Is this inevitably at the expense of authenticity?
Yello are a good example that using English can be a success. Dieter Meier has written many lyrics with Dadaistic nonsense, but his English is – regarding the accent and the humour – definitely very Swiss. You also feel how the personalities of the two shine through very strongly, something which creates authenticity. In a special way, the Young Gods are successful because Franz Treichler sings his English lyrics with a French accent; but it is his voice that’s important, not the lyrics. For me, these are the two most important Swiss bands because they have maintained their identity despite their international aura. Bands that sing French lyrics such as Sens Unik have more luck as they have an international language as their mother tongue.

Jean-Martin Büttner (born 1959) grew up bilingual in Basel (German and French). He studied psychology, psychopathology and English in Zurich and wrote his dissertation on “Singers, songs and compulsive words. Rock as a narrative form.” (the book with the original title “Sänger, Songs und triebhafte Rede. Rock als Erzählweise”, published in 1997 is sold out). In the middle of the 1980s, he regularly wrote for the Swiss music magazine Music Scene which was run by the interviewer Markus Ganz at the time. Since 1987, he has been employed by the Swiss daily, Tages-Anzeiger. He works as an editor for the cultural and domestic affairs department and is the daily’s correspondent for the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and Switzerland’s Parliament (Bundeshaus) editor. Since 2010, he has been writing on various subjects, including regular articles on music.
Recognition award for lyricists
FONDATION SUISA dedicates its CHF 25,000 recognition award to lyricists of musical works this year. Works in all languages will be considered. The entire works of the nominees will be judged, not just individual lyrics. All participants must prove that there is a relationship of their works with the current Swiss music creative scene. It is also possible that third parties nominate candidates. An expert panel will judge the submitted nominations based on the Award regulations. Closing date will be 24 February 2017. Further information, including the regulations and the entry form can be downloaded from the FONDATION SUISA website.
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The FONDATION SUISA dedicates its CHF 25,000 recognition award to lyricists of musical works this year. But what makes a song text a success? Guest author Markus Ganz in an interview with Jean-Martin Büttner

Lyrics for a song: “Anything goes - if it has success”

“Song texts usually don’t work on paper”, says journalist Jean-Martin Büttner. (Photo: Dominic Büttner)

Jean-Martin, what do you make of song lyrics including the line “A Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom”?
Jean-Martin Büttner: This is an example for coded song lyrics. “Tutti Frutti” by Little Richard secretly deals with black drag queens and sexual practices, at least in its 1955 original version. To understand this, you got to know that the singer had a triple disadvantage: Richard was black, gay and from the South of the USA. The American political scientist, Greil Marcus, explained its amazing...read more

“The FONDATION SUISA Award 2015 gives us a push for the future!”

The Duo Aliose receives this year’s FONDATION SUISA Award for its outstanding performances in the musical genre ‘variété’. Since the release of its debut album in 2009, Aliose have performed at more than 250 concerts, of which a third took place outside of Switzerland. Alizé Oswald and Xavier Michel met more than 10 years ago at a workshop for authors, composers and artists. The award winners provided us with a written statement on their music, composing, winning the award and their next album. Text/interview by Marcel Kaufmann, FONDATION SUISA, and Manu Leuenberger

“The FONDATION SUISA Award 2015 gives us a push for the future!”

“For three years now, music is our most important income source, especially thanks to Aliose. Copyright royalties make up significant share of that.” Alizé Oswald and Xavier Michel, winner of the FONDATION SUISA Award 2015, have been registered with SUISA since 2005, respectively 2006. (Photo: Amélie Blanc)

Alizé, Xavier, you are composers at the same time as performers of your own music. The FONDATION SUISA Award recognises your work as composers and lyricists. How significant is composing at Aliose?
Alizé & Xavier: Composing and writing the lyrics is very important to us. Even if some titles are the results of a cooperation (with Fabien Bœuf, Patrice Genet, Stéphane Gonnu), we do write the majority of the Aliose repertoire ourselves. The creative process is a major concern for us. We write the lyrics in our mother tongue, French, the language of our heart. It is multifaceted and challenging, especially when it comes to implementing it into music. It is the language in which we can express our messages and feelings openly and honestly, even if the audience might not understand French. Our experience abroad, especially in Asia and South America, was astoundingly positive and motivating: People do not necessarily understand what we sing, but they allow our music to touch them and feel the emotions which we would like to convey by means of our music. As a consequence, the melodies are important to us, whereas they do not play a major role in certain movements of today’s “chanson française” any longer. For us, music and lyrics remain in the foreground. We always look forward enthusiastically to writing and composing together, even if it isn’t easy – but it’s exciting!

You work as a duo. How does your cooperation work when it comes to composing?
Alizé & Xavier: We both love to write, we both love to compose. Compared to many other duos who clearly define their roles in a rather methodological way, we do not have rules. We’re open to all possibilities: Sometimes one of us writes the lyrics, the other one the music, and often it’s the other way round. It also happens that we only work together on the lyrics or the music. Sometimes we write everything, lyrics and music, together. That’s probably one of our strengths, because we do not let anything slip with the other person and do not accept any weaknesses. Our expectations are probably higher in a duo than working alone. Xavier’s literary skills are slightly stronger, while Alizé’s musical side is her strength. We complement each other, that’s a lovely thing. But we also often work alone or with other authors and composers.

You regularly compose music for other artists. How did that come about?
Xavier: Honestly, as far as I’m concerned, I preferred writing for other artists in the past. I regarded myself as a lyricist (and later as a composer), rather than a performing artist. But then I began to perform my own chansons on stage. The majority of what I write or compose is intended for other artists (Maria Mettral (and Thierry Romanens), Au hasard des faubourgs, Terre des hommes Valais, Mélanie René etc.), even if the projects do not always come to fruition….I also like to write a song for Aliose, which Alizé then performs on her own.
Alizé: I never imagined in the past that one day I would write for other artists. I only took hesitant first steps, only for a few people. But then I was very pleased to have the opportunity to write material for the album by Maria Mettral. I think it is great to be allowed to step into someone else’s shoes and to try to find the matching words for the artist who entrusts us with that kind of work. Apart from Aliose, I prefer working with Arthur Le Forestier (son of Maxime Le Forestier). We jointly deal with the lyrics and the music right from the start, until the chansons are finished. I find this extremely enriching and interesting.

What distinguishes the music that you play yourselves from the music you compose for other musicians?
Xavier: My possibilities as an artist are rather limited. I love to write pieces which I cannot sing because their different styles do not suit me. An example would be the music comedy “Au hasard des faubourgs” which has been running since October 2014. That wouldn’t be my cup of tea. I also like to write for “grand voices”. I may have a voice with character myself, but it has got its limits. When composing, however, there are no limits! It is important to tailor the music to the respective person. While this is difficult, it is also fascinating. The same applies for lyrics: Each word should suit the artist. We can write lyrics for others which we could never sing ourselves. That’s a great freedom to have. Nevertheless, it does require the signature Aliose by Aliose – people often recognise our style even when we write for others.
Alizé: If I write for someone else, I feel like a stylist who has to dress up a nice model. No stylist would wear the same clothes that she designed for her model. Of course I do have my own signature, especially when it comes to melodies. My “stamp” is recognisable, just like you recognise those of Coco Chanel or Jean-Paul Gaultier – on a different level, of course!

You are also composer members of SUISA. What advantages does membership have for you?
Alizé & Xavier: For three years now, music is our most important income source, especially thanks to Aliose. Copyright royalties make up significant share of that. Many of our pieces are used regularly. It would not be possible for us to collect all the remuneration ourselves from radio and TV broadcasts, concerts, reproductions in Switzerland and abroad. If you look at it professionally, there are the additional aspects surrounding social benefits, pension contributions etc. which are also important.

What does it mean to you that you were awarded with the FONDATION SUISA Prize?
Alizé & Xavier: It is a huge honour for us and we are really pleased about the Award, as it is encouragement for us at the same time. Our profession is interesting and we are aware that we are lucky to be able to live off our music. It does actually mean that we have an awful lot of work, an unsteady income, complex management and unfortunately a rather under-acknowledged status. This is sometimes rather disheartening. The Award tells us: “Keep at it, your work is being appreciated, your work isn’t a waste of time, you are making a contribution to Swiss culture.” That’s really important to us. We have been very active in the French-speaking part of Switzerland for a few years now and the Award gives us the necessary encouragement and uplift to continue, to increase our efforts and to include the German-speaking and maybe even the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland in future. We regret that there are cultural barriers between our linguistic regions and are grateful for all encounters and all kinds of cooperation, from Zedrus, via Bastian Baker and the Rambling Wheels, to Greis, and we are limiting ourselves to the Swiss here. We would be glad to build some bridges there. Consequently, the FONDATION SUISA Award 2015 means a lot to us and gives us a push for the future!

You have been working on your new album in Paris in April. Can you tell us something about that?
Alizé & Xavier: A Duo with Paul McCartney! Joking aside: We have been working on the third Aliose album for a while now, and the majority has been recorded in a studio in Paris. Unfortunately it is yet a little too early to report on any scoops, as some things are still up in the air. What we can confirm at this stage is this: In the past, we have done everything via our production company Biinôme ourselves. This might change. Maybe we find influential partners for this album so that we can release it not just here in Switzerland but also outside our borders.

FONDATION SUISA Prize
www.aliose.ch

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  1. Musy Jean-François says:

    Félicitations les jeunes !
    Nous allons sortir les massues pour fêter ça !!!
    Croc Magnon
    Nax City

Leave a Reply

All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

Your email address will not be published.

The Duo Aliose receives this year’s FONDATION SUISA Award for its outstanding performances in the musical genre ‘variété’. Since the release of its debut album in 2009, Aliose have performed at more than 250 concerts, of which a third took place outside of Switzerland. Alizé Oswald and Xavier Michel met more than 10 years ago at a workshop for authors, composers and artists. The award winners provided us with a written statement on their music, composing, winning the award and their next album. Text/interview by Marcel Kaufmann, FONDATION SUISA, and Manu Leuenberger

“The FONDATION SUISA Award 2015 gives us a push for the future!”

“For three years now, music is our most important income source, especially thanks to Aliose. Copyright royalties make up significant share of that.” Alizé Oswald and Xavier Michel, winner of the FONDATION SUISA Award 2015, have been registered with SUISA...read more