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Odd Beholder interview: “We need to challenge the narrative of the heroic individual”

We talk to Odd Beholder’s Daniela Weinmann on the back of her brilliant new LP, ‘Sunny Bay’.

They say curiosity killed the cat, however in the art of devouring new music, the feline possesses an infinite lifespan.

And that curiosity sees us venture to Switzerland, placing us in the hands of Odd Beholder. The project of Zürich-based musician, Daniela Weinmann.

Prior to holding an ear and watching the video for the fantastic single, Transatlantic Flight, Odd Beholder was very much an unknown quantity. We always say it, but these are the very reasons why we do what we do on a site like this.

From here, the relevant reconnaissance played out, which started with Odd Beholder’s debut album, 2018’s All Reality Is Virtual. Weinmann unfurled the kind of intelligent pop music that crosses over into the worlds of experimentation. Not echoing the likes of, say, HVOB, but certainly holding firm in that sound world, Weinmann struck the perfect balance with a glittery type gloom.

With follow-up album, Sunny Bay, Weinmann has probably released one of the roughest pop diamonds in 2021. Not rough in the textual sense, but with so much music filling the creative vacuum, one would hope that something as good as this gains the relevant audience it most certainly deserves.

Sunny Bay is filled with ear worms that slowly light up the room. At times so good, one’s eyes could almost be rendered as freshly washed dinner plates (Olive Trees).

Alongside the atmospheric pop majesty of the aforementioned Transatlantic Flight – a song that Julia Holter may have written had she decided to emerge from the marshes of experimentation – Birds is a gliding pop banger but not in the natural sense. Its undercurrents of darkness give Odd Beholder’s music an edge that rises above many of her contemporaries.

Most of Odd Beholder’s songs carry a similar, brooding aesthetic (Disaster Movies the above mentioned Olive Trees, Cupids Foul Play), and the more time spent with Sunny Bay, the more it washes over you in the best possible sense.

With Sunny Bay hitting the virtual shelves at the beginning of September, we were fortunate enough to ask Weinmann some questions shortly after its release.

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S13: Can you tell us about the writing process to of Sunny Bay and how it differed from All Reality is Virtual?

Daniela Weinmann: “When I wrote All Reality Is Virtual, my life was a mess and I couldn’t focus – too much shit had happened. I made music to distract myself and to express my anger. Yes, I was angry and impatient. I struggled with figuring out how the songs should sound. I just maniacally wrote them down. Maybe because of this artistic unrest, I needed a conceptual approach. Thematically, I disciplined myself to write a concept album about digitalisation.

“When I wrote Sunny Bay I gave myself the permission to let go, to take a more personal approach. I took my time and I let the songs ripen, even ferment. I needed to do something that would matter to me.

“Usually, that’s when things get a bit cryptical. What I really want to say can’t be fully transported with words, at least not in a direct way. It can only be felt. That doesn’t mean that the songs just came to me – I had to work hard on them. I rewrote the lyrics over and over until they felt right. I wanted the album to mean just enough.”

S13: How much do you think you’ve grown as a songwriter from album to album?

DW: “I haven’t grown an inch since I was 22. I’m still 1,63 m. Yikes. I’m sorry. What’s up with dad jokes these days?”

S13: (Laughs) Did you know Douglas Greed prior to working on Sunny Bay?

DW: “Yes, we have toured together. We are signed to the same label. Sinnbus Records thought it was a great idea to introduce us to each other by cramming us into an incredibly small car. It worked. We didn’t hate each other after that, and I think that’s a great indicator that producing an album together won’t kill us.

“Before working on Sunny Bay, Douglas invited me to contribute some vocals and lyrics to his last album, Angst. It was fun and interesting. That’s when I realised that he is a great sound designer – he knows how to make the bass both tangible and thick. And I was also impressed how he gets shit done. He is a very productive person. We also share some other interests like comedy, sci fi, watching episodes of Naked Gun (I know, I know!), sarcasm, radio plays, Eurodance, ambient music – and sad, sad songs. And last, but not least, he has a great wife, Schrödi, I really love hanging out with them. They are good people.”

Odd Beholder

S13: Did you always envisage being a recording artist?

DW: “I’ve never pictured myself walking into a studio, singing into a mic and then having someone else do all the editing. What I really like about contemporary music production is the democratisation of the recording process – good gear isn’t as expensive as it used to be. We record almost anything everywhere in an astonishing quality.

“I have always been drawn to the idea of the montage. I was fascinated by the world of film since I was very young. Since I was a child I recorded tapes – I wrote ghost stories and recorded them, sound FX and all. I also ran around with dad’s camcorder all the time. One anecdote that still makes me laugh is that I made my friends star in my music video as heroin addicts – with syrup in spoons and pale make-up – in my parent’s garage. We were barely 12. I also learned how to cut my videos around that time.

“I’ve recorded a ton of demos on all sorts of devices – and I’ve learned how to sing by listening back to my recordings. I also learned how to compose that way. So the composing, the singing and the recording have never been separate processes.

“As in envisaging myself as something in the future – I rarely did that. Why is everyone so preoccupied with the future? I think I have a neurological condition that ties me to the here and now. I never believed I could become an artist for real –  as making music a job – but that didn’t keep me from putting a lot of love and effort into what I did. I did it for the sake of doing it and not because I believed in my career.”

S13: Can you tell us about the idea and inspiration behind the video for Disaster Movies?

DW: “We have definitely been influenced by the experience of the lockdowns. In Disaster Movies, you see a protagonist that is vacuumed in a room full of life vests. She is connected to some sort of life support device and wrapped in sterile plastic. She is all alone in a ship, there seems to be no outside world. Over the course of the clip, she regains more and more mobility, more freedom. After being restrained for so long, she begins to frantically dance until the mysterious TV set  switches on and scares her into a second lockdown, into another vacuum bag.

“You could say that even though the Disaster the lyrics talk about is Climate Change, the video clip deals with the trauma related to the pandemic, the loneliness of it all, the shock, the fear.”

S13: I read that you live in a space with other artists. Is it important to preserve your own space within that environment so you don’t get too influenced by someone else’s art?

DW: “It is important to preserve my own space, but not because I am scared of being influenced by the art of my flatmates. I am an introvert and I need some me-time. It also takes time to reflect and to get to the core of a song, that’s something I want to do alone.

“The art my flatmates make is very different from my own – also in terms of field: some of them are writers, actors or curators. They run a concert venue, a hair salon, a feminist awareness group – it’s a heterogenous group of people.”

“My flatmates influence my art in other ways. They taught me how to garden or how to cook with locally sourced vegetables. They took me to the cinema, to exhibitions, parties, concerts and demonstrations, they lend me their books. So yes, they influence me as humans with interesting thoughts, great values and practises. And yes, we’ve collaborated sporadically, you can see one of my flatmates, Lena Steinemann, in the video for Accept Nature.

“On another note, your question indicates that being influenced by other people is something artists should avoid. I don’t think that’s true. I actually wish I would live in an environment of people whose work or field of interest is even closer to my own. All great inventions in pop culture are collaborative efforts, of that I am sure. We need to challenge the narrative of the heroic individual, the genius. There is a great interview with AG Cook about the emergence of Computer Music as a result of tight, collaborative friendships – I think that’s the reality behind most great artists.”

Odd Beholder - Sunny Bay

S13: How much does your political activism influence what you create as an artist?

DW: “If it influences an aspect of my work, it’s most likely my lyrics. The musical composition – which is at the core of the whole project – is unaffected, I would say.

“The biggest influence my activism has on my music is that I’m playing solo shows and that I chose a rather electronic live set-up. It’s a decision that allows to tour by train. For a small tour in Germany (let’s say, eight shows), I have to drive about 2,500 km (or more). I can save half a ton of CO2 if I travel by train. That’s a lot of CO2! Each one of us is technically only allowed to emit a max of 1.5 tons of CO2 each year – that means I would have already spent a third of my annual budget on a small tour if I would have travelled by car.

“But having said that: I don’t want you to hear my activism. Propagandistic art bores me. I need art to be a crazy space, a space for every feeling, even the weird and even problematic ones. It’s a space for questions rather than for answers – and that’s why I don’t think it is the best place for activism.”

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S13: What’s your take on the world of social media? I may be totally wrong here, but I feel as if the title of your first record is kicking against the online world. Do you find it beneficial or a hindrance?

DW: “Yes, you’re right. I’ve been disappointed in how the internet evolved – it has lost a lot of its utopian potential. I might have watched too many episodes of Black Mirror when I wrote All Reality Is Virtual. I guess it’s nuanced.

“The pressure on artists to create interesting content on a daily basis and maintain a public yet pseudo-private profile is really high. When you commit to making good music, that’s a full-time job. It’s also a full-time job if you try to become an influencer. Record labels pressure musicians to become both at the same time. It’s not hard to understand why this poses a serious burnout risk. Also, as an introvert, it embarrasses me to publish superficial stuff – which is why it takes me more time to create a post than other people.

“Yet again, after having struggled for quite some time, I realised that it can be also very rewarding to connect with your listeners. It’s great if people come to you after a show and want to discuss your lyrics because they have read them on Instagram. It’s heart-warming to discuss stuff with your fans and to interact with them on a personal level.

“In many ways, social media gave us a powerful tool to connect, share ideas and find out what matters to us collectively. It has enriched my life a lot. I follow many unknown artists and I find it rather exciting to be allowed to follow their journey online.

“However, as a business model I find social media dangerous and misleading. Facebook (Instagram) and Google (Youtube) are monopolies that somehow managed to fool us all into working for them without getting paid. They are selling our data to the marketing industry with the content that we create for free. They get to decide how their algorithms works without ever having to explain it to us. They also get to decide what content they want to push and what content they want to censor or hide.

“By making a simple business decision, they could technically delete all our profiles and erase our follower base. We grew dependent on clicks, likes and views which they have turned into some kind of currency within the cultural industry – but it’s a currency that can be switched off over night, at least in theory.

“What also bothers me is that social media is dominated by American companies that have displayed an arrogant and colonial attitude when governments around the globe have challenged them about taxes. At the same time, they are ruining the national news companies in almost every country and this endangers democracies. It has introduced us to the misinformation age during a very fragile era: conspiracy theories and populist content bloom on social media while we are facing climate change and pandemics.

“In all these regards, social media creates only an illusion of democracy and participation. But if we manage to regulate them and to install better guidelines, a lot of this shit could improve. I am sure. But we need to stop accepting their bullshit without putting up a fight.

Odd Beholder

S13: Can you tell us about the artistic landscape in Switzerland?

DW: “The Swiss alternative pop music scene is much more interesting than you’d probably imagine. There are a lot of small record labels that have great taste, such as A Tree In A Field, BlauBlau, Mouthwatering Records, Bongo Joe, Irascible Records, Red Brick Chapel – can’t name them all here, but they have signed a lot of acts I really, really like. The future is going to be even more interesting because in the big cities, we have a very international community. 50 per cent of the urban population don’t hold a Swiss passport (that’s another story, though) – I’m just mentioning it here to say that a lot of perspectives meet in these small towns. Which, I think, is a very fertile ground for new ideas to emerge.

“Switzerland loves music festivals. In every town there are people that are organising their own open air festival. A few of them are quite well-known, like the Montreux Jazz Festival, Paléo Festival de Nyon – but there are also very interesting underground festivals like Bad Bonn Kilbi (it connects radical artists like Lyra Pramuk, SOPHIE (R.I.P.), Michachu and the Shapes, Yves Tumor, Oneohtrix Point Never, Slowthai, Black Midi etc. with Swiss bands.

“There is quite a big rap scene in the French part of Switzerland and an extensive art pop / indie rock scene in the German Part of Switzerland. You may have heard of Klaus Johan Grobe’s disco-kraut. There are interesting electronic musicians like Dim Grimm / Dimlite (whose tracks you may have heard on the GTA game radio), Aisha Devi Feldermelder.”

S13: Are there plans to tour this year or at some point next year?

DW: “Plans are so 2019, aren’t they? I will tour when it’s possible. This winter, I plan to tour in Germany, maybe Italy as well. Also, I like chips, Guinness and rough weather. I wonder if I will ever tour in Britain? Brexit has made this dream even less likely. But who knows?”

Sunny Bay is out now via Sinnbus Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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