One of the things that I like the most about trip-hop is its diversity. It leaves room for exploration (and freedom to apply the term to whatever I feel like). Discovering new horizons and making the journey so exciting that reaching the destination really doesn’t matter anymore – this is the feeling I get when listening to the music of this project with a beautiful and meaningful name Botany Bay. The band’s history is as adventurous as its music (which changes its stylistic course not just from album to album but from one song to another) and it hadn’t always been a smooth sailing. Stephan Kleinert, the founder of Botany Bay, talked to trippin’ the rift about his project’s difficult past, inspired present and hopeful future.
tipkin - The project has a pretty long and quite eventful story. I wouldn’t ask you to go over everything, but what would be your most favorite and least favorite moment in Botany Bay‘s biography from 1995 up until now?
Stephan - There are so many most favourite moments… it’s difficult to pick one of them. However, I think a definite high point was our concert at the Blue Shell Club in Cologne in November 2009. We played an audience of 300+ people, and such a number was unheard of for Botany Bay until then. I mean, on the internet we are constantly struggling to attract an audience, and suddenly there’s a cram-full club, dancing, enjoying and reacting to our music, having a great time, even singing along and giving this really fantastic response… that was quite something!
As for the least favourite moment – back in Heidelberg, when I started recording Grounded in 2003, I had great difficulties finding support for Botany Bay; at times I had the feeling that this town simply doesn’t want me to make music. I constantly had to fight for acceptance of what I was trying to do. Colleagues, co-workers, inmates, even close friends, they just couldn’t see the sense in it, in the eyes of most of them I was just wasting my time producing objectionable noise. Eventually, we really hit rock bottom when the landlord of our then rehearsal room locked in our instruments and recording gear and exchanged the cylinder locks because the day before we hadn’t agreed to the 200% rent increase he suddenly wanted. Said rehearsal room was a filthy, cramped little compartment without any sanitation or heating, and all of a sudden this moron asks a price which would have paid a luxurious two-roomed apartment… and there we sat, late at night, locked out, in the rain, in the middle of a down-and-out industrial area of Heidelberg, and I thought it was the end. I know it sounds kind of romantic now, but it wasn’t at the time.
But looking back, I’m rather proud of having survived the difficult time in Heidelberg. And as for said landlord… well, I’m sure that Karma is going to get him eventually. And that won’t be a pleasant experience.
t. - I think you picked a killer name for the band. How did the idea come about, and is there any significance to it?
S. – Actually there is. When we started the project in 1995, we took a world atlas and looked for a location that was as far away as possible; eventually we chose Botany Bay in Australia. For me, it’s still signifying yearning, longing for something distant and out of reach.
t. – Is there a way to get a hold of your previous releases? I’m really curious about Tales of the Bitter Seed.
S. – Ah, Tales of the Bitter Seed… I’d love to remaster and re-release that one! The big problem is, Tales… was recorded analogue on 8-track tape. I still have the tapes somewhere, but the hardware, all that analogue gear to play them back is long since gone. Also, with crosstalk and everything the sound quality surely hasn’t improved in the last 15 years. But an mp3 version of the original CD tracks is available via our Last.fm page. So if you’re curious, Last.fm is the place to look… but don’t be too surprised if it sounds completely different from the Botany Bay you know. By the way, we’re planning to play some songs from Tales… on our forthcoming gigs.
t. – Botany Bay has very diverse sound. Is this intentional, or is it a result of band’s line-up changing and new people bringing in their vision?
S. – For one thing, our approach of making music has changed tremendously over the years. When doing Grounded it was really just me writing the songs, constructing the arrangements, overseeing the recording sessions with the guest musicians, sending back and forth audio files via eMail… it was not until the final year of Grounded‘s five-year production time that Laura, our former lead vocalist, and myself actually recorded in the same room, simultaneously.
Beginning with I’ll Send a Postcard When I’m There, we started sharing songwriting duties and recorded a lot together, and that surely had a direct impact on the sound. Another change came when we finally started playing live – you get a totally different point of view when you start to consider what might ‘work’ in a live setting.
And now, with Steffi, our new lead singer, it’s once again a whole new situation, because we’ve grown fond of doing everything together and as ‘live’ as possible from the beginning: Jamming, writing down basic song ideas, developing those song ideas, writing lyrics… it’s quite different from what we have done before because now we don’t start recording ‘in earnest’ until we have a good idea about how the song works. And we actively encourage our guests and contributors to bring in their own vision –we’re very open to new influences, that’s what makes the whole thing really interesting. For example, Wolfgang – who has been our live guitarist since 2009 and has helped a lot to finish Stupid Summer Dreams – has now taken a very active role in arranging and co-producing some of our new material, adding his unique style to the songs; and Felix, our new bass player, has co-written the new lineup’s first single, “How Much Can You Take?”
But in the end, it’s mainly a matter of changing moods and changing conditions. I always aim to express my feelings in my music, and those feelings change… they have changed quite a lot in the last six months. Writing and recording songs with the new lineup is like a new beginning for us, with a lot of positive energy that transcends into the music – if you listen to “Take Cover” and then to “A Better Way” you can sense this emotional component quite clearly. I love both songs, yet they sound profoundly different, because they have their sources in different feelings.
t. - This is the question I ask in every interview – what do you think about trip-hop music, and how do you feel when your band is being called “a trip-hop band”?
S. – Well, I always found it rather difficult to define the style of music we’re playing, and I bet any artist is going to tell you that they’re feeling uneasy being pigeonholed… but as a matter of fact, although you’ll never hear me say, “Botany Bay is a trip-hop project and nothing else”, I quite like the trip-hop label, because it’s such a diverse genre. And it’s no secret I absolutely admire acts like Massive Attack, Tricky, Goldfrapp and Portishead.
I also like the term because there’s really no cheap, poorly performed trip-hop music out there… in contrast to genres like gothic, indie and wave (all genres we’ve also been associated with), where you have a huge difference in quality.
t. – Your music is available for free. Does it help making more people interested in hearing your music?
S. – Whoa. That’s a somewhat controversial topic. We have many fans from the free music scene who’d otherwise wouldn’t have noticed Botany Bay, and we’re grateful for every single one of them, because they’re all very supportive and encouraging. Some of them remain loyal to us from the time we first released music on the ‘net to this day – it’s a blessing to have such fans!
But – and that’s BUT written in capital letters – making music freely available on the internet is not a substitute for promotion. We learned this the hard way with Grounded. It doesn’t matter if you create something really special and sink all of your heart and soul and time and money and energy into it – very few people are actually going to take notice unless you permanently work on attracting attention, jumping up and down and yelling “hey! listen to this! here! we’re great! give us a chance!!” And, unfortunately, I’m notoriously bad at such things, not to mention that my day job and making music doesn’t leave me much time to act as the project’s carnival barker.
Furthermore, especially in Germany, releasing free music is a foolproof way to alienate some people and to get zero attention from magazines and commercial radio stations. Why? Well, first of all, we have a very common and stupid preconception here in Germany, that goes “you get what you pay for” – if we’re giving it away for free, it can’t be any good. Secondly, music magazines, commercial radio and the music industry form a kind of a symbiotic connection. Music magazine “A” writes about band “B” because the promotion agency “C” of label “D” pays for the reviews in form of advertisements; the more advertisements, the bigger the review. They’re all quite happy playing their idiotic little A-B-C-D game, and they won’t let outsiders play along. You see, the established media simply has no reason to care about free music, because they get nothing in return. It’s no market. We have it in cold writing from a big and popular German music magazine which is well known for frequently “discovering” and “supporting” new talents: “Sorry we don’t have any resources to spend on free music”. Well, that’s capitalism for you.
At one point in 2009, we were in talks with record company blokes who were interested in signing Botany Bay, and we were told, fair in the face and literally, “What’s free music anyway? Never heard of it! Is it even legal? Anyway, let me tell you, as long as you do this ‘free music’ crap, no one is ever going to take you seriously. You’ll get no reviews, no airplay, no nothing”. But in the end, accepting their offer would have meant selling our souls, and so we gracefully declined.
Well, I used to feel really bitter about all that, because I think we’re doing great stuff and, by comparison, there’s almost no one noticing; and because I think free music is a great idea, and people just don’t get it because the established media is actively keeping it away from them.
But eventually, and especially in the last six months, I learned that success doesn’t really matter so much, as long as the feeling is right; as long as we enjoy doing the things we do. At the moment, this is more the case than ever before. And I like the idea of free music. I like the idea of our fans not having to worry about blood sucking record company lawyers. I like to hope that one day, people will grow tired of the A-B-C-D game, they will realize what free music can do for them, the scene will grow, and more people will notice our music and support us. I know that might be wishful thinking, but it’s wishful thinking of the positive kind.
And with all the stupid economic-political stuff aside – every once in a while, we receive an email of someone who discovered Botany Bay on one of the free music sites on the ‘net and they tell us how glad they are having discovered us, how much they enjoy our music, and they really and vividly encourage us to go on… and that’s truly the best incentive I can think of!!
t. – What is Botany Bay up to now? Is the new single going to be followed by a new album?
S. – We’ll definitely release a new EP, maybe even a whole album. Steffi and me are getting along like a house on fire, and that very much helps the creative process. We have six new tracks and numerous ideas and bits and pieces… I just don’t know whether we’ll get it all done this year or in 2011. I mean, if we really do a new album, it’s got to be something worthy of following in the footsteps of Grounded, and that’s no easy task.
At any rate, we’re planning to hit the stage again in winter 2010; We are having a great time writing, playing and recording new material… and we can hardly wait to share our new material and our newfound exaltation with a live audience.
I can hardly wait as well, and you shouldn’t be waiting any longer and begin your journey to Botany Bay right now.
Free music for professional licensing Free music for professional licensing Free music for professional licensing
Official website of the band