WHO LET THE PIANO OUT OF THE GHETTO?
I’m happy to see that the piano is back! And that it’s finally been released from its elitist ghetto – no longer confined to stuffy and overpriced concert halls. And, not only that, but that this new generation of composers and players – Nils Frahm, Hauschka, Olafur Arnalds, Arnold Kasar etc. – tap into aesthetics that happen to be very close to my heart, by referencing tropes lifted directly from contemporary Electronica. A new arrival to this group is Jan Wagner. If you’re into this type of music, then you better keep your eye on this man.
His debut record entitled “Nummern” – which just dropped courtesy of Quiet Love and Klangbad Records – hit that sweet spot between minimal, textured piano playing and the bare bones aesthetics of Techno.There are no beats to be heard here, but plenty of thick, warm arpeggios and synthesised textures. Less is definitely more here, and extreme dramatic turns happen with just minor changes in the arrangements. Time stops and dematerialises on you, in this droning, resonating haze – space expands and collapses. The piano speaks! That’s how it felt when I first fired off this release. And the whole thing is just brimming with emotion. And that’s probably the most important thing that you need to know about it: that this music is not a display of technical skill, but a clearly formulated confession of an artist who really has something to say. To find out more about this beautiful record, and the artist behind it, I reached out to Jan and picked his brain for a minute.
I heard that we’re neighbours?
Are we? Let´s have a coffee! Or better, a beer at Bierhaus Urban?
Accepted! Lets talk about the details after the interview. Now tell me, being that you are a Berliner now, what do you absolutely love about this city?
There are a lot of beautiful things about Berlin. Especially the variety of possibilities that you have. Walking through the streets of Kreuzberg is extremely diverse. On the one hand, you have these old occupied buildings and straight next to it a brand new penthouse. There´s an old lady living in the ground floor for over decades next to a young Techno DJ producing music all night long. The variety of people in one single house is so big. These differences make Berlin unique.
How do you think has living here influenced or shaped your music?
I´m influenced by everything surrounding me. There´s so much happening in the streets, so many different people and languages spoken. All this doesn’t have to affect me in a direct way, but I absorb it and somehow it touches me. Going out clubbing with all its facets, the people walking home glowing after a long night. Berlin can be pretty and ugly at the very same time.
You recorded Nummern as a series of diary entries, is that something that yo do daily?
No, not daily or on regular basis. Playing the piano is my way to express myself. If I haven’t played for a long time I start to get restless and a bit grouchy. The piano attracts me every time I have the urge to let go of something. I’m in the studio every day working on music, one way ore the other, but it doesn’t feel like working. It feels like something I have to do, and being at the place I want to be.
Is it true that if not for the meeting with producer James Varghese, who helped you with this record, this material might have never been released?
Yes, that’s true. I came up with this music for no one but myself. It expresses the feelings and thoughts I had at the time. James was the one who pushed me over the edge to release it. Our connection was pretty strong right from the beginning, so i played him some tracks soon after we met. Without any second thoughts, I just knew I’d value his opinion on my work just as he valued mine on his. In the end he was thrilled about it and convinced me that this is for people to hear.
Tell me a bit about this collaboration?
It’s pretty simple, actually. We were introduced by a mutual friend. Both of us knew right away that we’re totally in sync musically and we got to share what we were working on at the time. James just did Odd beholder at the time and I had just started on what became Nummern. He was my second pair of ears, it felt totally natural to get his opinion on things. After I finished some piano tracks I sent them to James and sometimes he added some tracks or even took stuff out that wasn't necessary.
These songs feel so calibrated, there’s just enough in there – never too much. How do you know when a song is finished?
At some point they just seem finished enough. Its hard to explain to be honest (laughs). From my point of view when I decide to leave a song, it is just right before being finished. Anyone who listens to it needs to fill this little space left with what he or she feels about it. When those feelings are put to the equation, the song really feels finished.
Will you be performing this material live?
Yes I will be playing live. The very first performance was at Faust studio, where I grew up musically. The sets will be altered slightly so I will be able to play it as freely as possible and react to any vibe while playing it. I’m pretty excited about this.
How do you recreate this intimate atmosphere while performing in front of people?
By trying to do the same thing live that I did while recording it: letting spaces and room for anyone to create his or her own intimate moment. Also the music will be accentuated by visuals from the guys of „Optic Notion“. It’s gonna be great, you should come! (laughs)