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“I mean ‘perfect’… What does it actually mean? It’s a stupid word. Is there anything perfect in this world?”
Lambert is the kind of enigmatic pianist that scoffs at perfection. During his formative years of learning music he spent time on classical giants like Bach or Chopin before he realised he didn’t see much value in flawless recreation of the work of past greats. Instead of endlessly practicing the instrument’s most venerable talents of yesterday, he instead choose to make free-flowing compositions that conjure up cinematic imagery and evoke strong emotions. His music almost leans more to the world of contemporary pop and breathtaking film scores than it does anywhere else. On his last solo album, ‘Sweet Apocalypse’, his gorgeous tracks sounded like serene mood music that could soundtrack the end of the world.
For his latest project, Lambert has teamed up with Martin Stimming, a DJ, producer and fellow Germany native who excels in cultivating esoteric, electronic ambiance in his music. While the they occupy starkly different fields, those differences ignite their collaborations as opposed to stifle them. As two artists who exist on the fringes of the confines of their genre, they share a kindred spirit that manifests itself in beautiful, confounding tracks like ‘Edelweiss’. The album they made together, Exodus, is out now.
We caught up with the masked Lambert ahead of his and Stimming’s show on March 14 with Homebeat in The Sugar Club. Click here for more.
Martin Stimming has called your collaboration together an escape from both of your genre borders. Did you agree with his assessment?
Yeah, I found a lot of freedom trying out new ways of producing. Due to the fact that I was working with him, I dared myself to sample old sounds and work with my piano and make samples out of my piano more on an electronic basis. Very often what we used for rhythm can come out of samples of the piano. I also use my own words in the outro. I didn’t really sing it in the end, I just used a sample for each note and then I used that creatively on my keyboard. I gave myself some freedom to go some new ways with production due to the fact that I am working with Martin now. He also did the same. As you can hear, he uses very different rhythms and very different lengths of songs. In the end he decided about the length and the final result. I basically had musical ideas and he was, in the end, more of the producer. He decided what ideas of mine he could use and he did a great job ordering my ideas.
I heard that you became inspired to work with him after you saw a documentary he made called ‘perfection is for idiots’. What was it about that documentary that you felt resonated with you?
Perfection is for idiots… It’s not the right translation but it’s almost that. I thought, ‘yeah, I can relate to that because I also have the feeling that as soon as I try to make something perfect it takes too much time and in the end, it’s not worth it. It’s better than if you just leave it at 80 per cent. For the last 20 per cent you think you’ll make it perfect, and you use five times more of the time. Actually, I mean, I never thought ‘okay, that was really worth it in the end. Sometimes you overproduce it or the core of the idea even gets neglected. So I could really relate to that sentence and it was kind of a coincidence when he wrote to me a few weeks later on my Facebook page that he listened to my album. I said ‘yeah yeah, I checked out your work and you said something that I found very interesting’.
I think it’s interesting that you find that sentence so compelling. You first started out being classically trained and then you lost interest in that. Is that related to that? You didn’t want to just play the really big composers like Bach and Mozart etc, you wanted to move away?
I have to admit something. Of course, I have a classical education in a way, but mainly what I was interested in during my education with piano was improvised music and jazz music. Also I had to study a lot of classical music but I have never been in that position where I thought, ‘man, I want to compete with the big guys and be a composer and play like Bach some day’. It was never my interest. It was something that I had to do. It just happened from an early age because my parents wanted me to get piano lessons. My interests were from a very early age doing my own music and writing music.
You don’t really believe in aspiring to perfect music and I suppose that corresponds with you moving away from those figures I mentioned…
That’s what it’s about. If you play Bach and compete in this kind of scene, you know, it’s got to be perfect. Otherwise you don’t even have to go there. I see some perfection sometimes in my music and when I listen back to some stuff and say ‘woah, this is really perfect’ but it’s never that I see that during the process. It’s only when I listen to it a year after that it’s like, ‘oh, well this track couldn’t be any better, it sounds great’. I mean ‘perfect’… What does it actually mean? It’s a stupid word. Is there anything perfect in this world?
The album you made together ‘Exodus’ wasn’t really made in the studio. You just sent ideas back and forward over email. What was that process like?
Basically we did it for very practical reasons. I live in Berlin and he lives in Hamburg. I met him the first time when he invited me to his studio after we had contacted each other on the internet. I went there and we didn’t really talk. He wanted me to check out his piano. It was a really nice piano. I was supposed to play and he was improvising on the synth keys and we just improvised for an hour. By that time we hadn’t really talked to each other for more than an hour, we were just playing. After an hour we thought ‘oh, this is nice, we should maybe get to know each other and get a coffee’. We decided right on the spot that there is something of a connection between what he did and I did so we should continue working together. The only way of doing this was by sending it to each other. If you’re in the studio with more people there’s a very democratic process for every idea. Very often you don’t even have time to develop it because someone already has an opinion about it. I think we’re both very happy that we could deliver our ideas after we already said ‘okay this is something we really like’, you know?
Also what was great for me was that I didn’t have to take time out. I threw in so many ideas and Martin was the one who had to deal with that, to pick them out to develop those ideas and in the end sending it back to me. He would do something on top and send it back to me and then he would do the finalisation. It was a great process because that’s something I sometimes don’t enjoy, to make the decisions, but now all of this was done. I was very happy Martin took over that part.
Do you think your collab is something of a niche in both of your music worlds?
No I don’t think so because I don’t really find any genres for what we did, it’s not a piano meets techno record. It reminds me more of, which isn’t intended at all, but when I listen to it the beats and the atmosphere of the record it reminds me of 90s trip hop sounds.
Yeah I can get that, like Portishead?
Yeah something like Portishead or Massive Attack or this kind of groove and atmosphere. For me it’s much, much stronger than club music or classical music or whatever. Sometimes it feels like if you ask me about it, I feel more connected to that than any other genre. It wasn’t intended, we were just doing what we liked. It felt like we found a new language. We didn’t have to think about genres so much.
Your last solo album, a lot of the song titles are very bleak, like a dystopian world with piano music and drums. Are you trying to get across ideas or is it just about creating a mood?
The dystopian thing was that I was searching for something, or writing a soundtrack to a movie, that doesn’t really exist but I was noticing that the reason why we are interested in dystopian or post-apocalyptic things is that there’s somewhat of a romantic connection between this kind of topic, there must be. Otherwise I don’t know.
Why would people even think of the end of the world? Somehow if the system fails the relationship between people or whatever will get better. That’s sort of the romantic aspect of the apocalyptic stuff.
Are you optimistic about the future?
Am I optimistic? In a way I am but it’s kind of hard, you know? The news is making it very difficult to be optimistic.
You mentioned a film soundtrack. You talked about ‘Sweet Apocalypse’ being a soundtrack for a film that doesn’t exist. Is that something you would be interested in doing? Your music is extremely cinematic.
I already did some scores. The latest was for a Mexican movie. I did a German movie before and it was in the cinema about two years ago. So yeah I like to do that from time to time. I mean not very often with pictures. With me it depends on the pictures, they can be very inspiring or they sometimes can’t, it really depends.
You wear a mask on stage. What does that offer you, that alter-ego?
I feel like it gives me freedom to not represent myself. I think that can be a burden. You’re pretending like the guy on stage is the truth. That’s never the case because if you go on stage all you think about is ‘how do I present myself? What part of me do I want to present and what do I want to hide?’. For me, to avoid those thoughts, it’s much easier not to lie about it and say ‘of course, it’s a show’. I’m not the kind of guy to brush his teeth before I go on stage, it’s an act. Due to the fact I wear this mask I think I can for make mistakes and I wouldn’t forgive myself if this guy was me. I act differently I guess with the audience. I feel like it’s almost more interesting not to be myself and this whole being an actor thing is always kind of interesting.
Do you see Lambert as the whole of your musical identity or just a part of it? Are you going to be Lambert forever?
For the moment it feels great. I don’t do anything else actually. This is my life at the moment and it feels good. I don’t feel like I want to do anything else. I can do collaborations, I can do my own albums, I can work with scores. I do another collaborations with someone in Brooklyn and in England and it feels like I can do a lot of different music and work with a lot of different people with very different approaches to it and still be Lambert, you know? It can be a very diverse way of working. At the moment I don’t really see why I should do anything else.
Lambert & Stimming play The Sugar Club on March 14.