Heligoland Interview



What does Heligoland mean? Who’s behind this name?

Karen: Heligoland is a real place. It is an archipelago off the coast of Germany, in the North Sea. We felt that our music had this quality of taking the listener to another place. Heligoland seemed so far away for us when we were in Australia, and this name of such a faraway place appealed to us.

Where do you get inspiration for your works?

Karen: Inspiration is being together and playing. It’s not something you wait for or you look for. You just get together and play. Something always comes.

Steve: When we’re playing together I’m always inspired by the ideas, sounds and melodies the others bring to the band. Inspiration to create and make music can come from many different sources and I suspect it differs for each of us. In terms of my own inspiration, I don’t really listen to music very much when I’m not playing it, so I’m probably finding inspiration in other places. I’ve always read a lot, am fascinated by history and love travelling, visiting new places, new experiences and meeting new people. Even though these things are not really musical, in some way I’m sure they’re influencing my creativity and shaping the things I make.

From the land of dreamtime to Europe – France. To cut a long story short…

Karen: To try and summarise, we left Australia in early 2007 to stay in Europe for 6 months. We were hoping to play some shows and maybe record something while we were there. We were only going to be here for 6 months, but we loved Europe so much that we decided to stay. We could never have imagined this would have happened, but that’s part of the fun in life not to know what happens next.

Your last 2 Eps were recorded in special and unique locations, can you tell us something about them?

Did they influence the songwriting and recording process?

Karen: We wanted to try a new approach with writing and it was hard to get us all together at the one time and have some continuity with writing in Paris. So we went to the French countryside and just devoted a week to writing and recording as a bit of an experiment. We were really happy with the first result, which was the ‘Bethmale’ EP and so continued the same formula but in a different location with the second EP ‘Sainte Anne’. It worked. It was great to discover a new place. It’s uninterrupted and you can just focus on the music. We are planning to do another recording towards the end of this year in another new location in France.

I don’t understand what exactly influences the songwriting. Maybe it’s the place, I am not sure. It’s one of those processes that just happen and I don’t need to analyse it – it just is. However, for me personally I do remember that the room we were playing in on the first EP was very dark and I felt like sounds were magnified and I felt very internalised and insular. The second place was in a big room with windows looking out to the river at the edge of the garden and a lot of light was coming in. I feel such good, warm feelings when I listen to the songs and I suspect this may have influenced me more than anything. I can be a bit sensitive to things like that and tend to absorb and reflect what is around me.

Heligoland, Bethmale1 Heligoland, Bethmale2

Steve: Sometimes it’s a really good idea to change your surroundings, change the way you make music, change the constraints, and step outside your usual way of doing things to challenge yourself a bit. These EPs were an attempt to do that. We’d travelled to somewhere we’d never been before with a minimal amount of equipment, set up and have seen what happened. The process was very important. The locations for the two EPs were both really different and I’m sure each location influenced the songs in different ways. The first EP ‘Bethmale’ was recorded in a beautiful location in south-west France, a tiny village surrounded by forests at the foot of the mountains with nature all around us. The second EP ‘Sainte Anne’ was recorded in the south-east of France in a very rural area, lots of fields and farms. The two EPs have quite different moods, ‘Bethmale’ to me feels very introspective and thoughtful, whereas ‘Sainte Anne’ feels much more open, optimistic and outward looking. I’m sure the location and especially the spaces we worked in had something to do with this.

Heligoland, SaintAnne2 Heligoland, SaintAnne1

Do you have any side project?

Karen: I enjoy working with other people and have been involved in a few projects. I contributed vocals for a song by Australian musician David Bridie, also for Australian band Season and I made an album with friends in Australia under the name “Kurosawa”. Recently I contributed vocals for a German electronic artist called Robert Babicz and his album will be released at the end of this month. I would love to work with other people. I am open to it and hope to do more – especially to do more with electronic artists.

Steve: In the last few years I have been playing bass with the Robin Guthrie Trio. We’ve played shows in the USA, Canada, Japan, Turkey, Italy, Spain and the UK and done tours in places I never imagined I’d visit, let alone play concerts. It’s been an amazing experience. I’ve also been working on an instrumental project called Emin Pasha with Heligoland’s guitarist Dave. A debut EP will be released very soon which I’m really excited about. A few years ago I played some shows with a French band called ‘à moi’ which I really enjoyed, great music and great people. I’m always open to working on new things so hopefully there will be some more opportunities to work with other people in the future.

3 people from the past and 3 contemporaries with whom you’d like to play or collaborate.

Karen: Ok, let’s have some fun. From the past I would say Robert Plant because he always seems to do interesting things when he collaborates with people. Robert Plant and Heligoland sounds pretty random, but I am sure it would be interesting. Durutti Column would be interesting to collaborate with, and lastly I would say Prince. For contemporary artists I think it could be fun & really interesting to work with The Field, Superpitcher or Popnoname.

Steve: That’s a difficult question because there are artists whose music I love, but I don’t really feel I’d want to collaborate with them because I’m not sure we’d have anything in common or I just really like the way their music is to begin with and wouldn’t want to change it. Having said that, I really like the idea and process of collaboration, and I’m open to collaborating with all sorts of artists if there was some kind of shared vision, an interesting approach or an idea that excites us. Some artists from the past: Michael Rother (Neu!), Wolfgang Voigt (Gas), John Martyn. Some contemporary artists: Markus Guentner, Stars Of The Lid, The Field.

Why music?

Karen: I love sound. It sparks the imagination. It changes your mood. It takes you places in your mind. Your mind responds instantly to sound by creating images and thoughts. Your body responds and you begin a journey. We pick up these instruments and make noises and express ourselves and respond to what is around us. It’s so strange and yet it feels so natural to communicate this way. With singing it’s the same. You just open your mouth and let it come out. You have no agenda, or intention and no concept that it’s really making the sound. It’s so weird because the sound you think you are making isn’t that at all. People hear you in different ways. So you just sing. You don’t think. You just do it. I have absolutely no idea of what I am doing sometimes. Only when the song is finished, recorded and mixed do I really hear it. And even after that, the way I hear it changes with each listening. That’s what I love about music.

Steve: I’ve always wanted to make music, it’s something that goes back to when I first fell in love with records and used to love listening to music for hours, just getting lost in it. I love the process of playing, working on songs and ideas and making records. As a way of expressing myself and communicating it feels very natural. The feeling I get when I’m playing music and just getting swept away in the sound is something I’ll never get tired of.

“We’ll find our place / We’ll know it / We’re trying to warm our faces / We’ll find our place / We’re working out our way” (July 14, Bethmale) …Did you find “your place” or are you still looking for it?

Karen: Maybe I found it. Maybe it doesn’t exist. Maybe I wasn’t even searching for anything. I could have been talking about hope, happiness, security, understanding, trust, intuition, balance, finding a good place to sit in the sun, working out the right amount of sugar to put in my coffee, finding a good rhythm in life. Anything and everything! I don’t completely understand my lyrics sometimes, but the meanings constantly change for me. Ambiguity leaves space for all kinds of interpretation and there is space for the listeners to hear themselves.

Jolanda Moletta e Paolo Bessé

“Nearness” Heligoland from French Kiss production on Vimeo.

Saint Anne