Empathy: About the songs (I)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Track 1: Koko & Kanzi

In 2013 I took part in class about animal cognition at university in Berlin. I learned a lot about the minds of apes. Koko and Kanzi kept coming up not as examples, but as jokes. As fascinating as they are, their leading researchers have become to close to the animals and have fallen to anthropomorphism. Therefore the experiments have lost their scientific value, according to much of the scientific community. So instead of admiring the animals, we laughed at videos of Kanzi cooking noodles and Koko looking indifferently at the cats she apparently loves. I instantly knew I wanted to write a song about them. As funny and sad as their story is, I do find them fascinating. I mean, Koko apparently finds human nipples funny. I seriously think even that tells us something important about animal minds.
The idea for the song stayed with me for some years before I actually wrote it. I watched every video about them, read every paper I could find and scrolled through blogs and comments by former employees. Then I first played it in 2016, during the tour for Head in the Air, if I remember correctly.
Kanzi enjoying some marshmellows

Track 2: My Friends

When I listen to other peoples songs, I usually have no idea what they are singing about. My lyrics tend to be more specific, telling stories that people can follow. It has taken me years to see this not as a weakness, but a strength. This song however was an attempt to writing something more stream-of-consciousness-like. It's literally just something I scribbled in my notebook while waiting for a train in Augsburg. I wondered for a while if it's even worth transforming it into music, but when I did, I liked the result. I started playing it in 2017.

Track 3: Ulla & Max

Katharina and I played a house concert at Ulla's chateau in a village near Bordeaux in February 2015. The building wasn't in the best state and Ulla told us, she gets all the energy for renovating it from her dog Max who understands her like no other soul. It was quite an experience - the endless February rain, the majestic old furniture and Ulla's stories about Max. I knew this would be a song.
Katharina and I tried to remember what exactly Ulla said and then put it into rhymes. I wanted the music to be fast and energetic, to reflect Max's personality. It ended up sounding more melancholy, but I hope I managed to grab some of the beauty of their relationship. We started playing the song in October 2015.
This song, along with Koko & Kanzi and La Michi, is what sparked the idea of an album about animals. I decided Bloodlust, which was originally recorded for Head in the Air, would fit better with these songs and I thought it would make a nice EP with four or five songs.

Katharina in our guest bed at Ulla's castle

Track 4: All Is Well

This song was a bit of a surprise to me. My friend Caro told me a story that circulated in the vegan scene, about a cow who hides her calf knowing that it would be taken away from the farmer. I liked the story, but didn't see how it would work as a song. Then one night, I walked home from a Sacred Harp singing with the Sacred Harp song All Is Well stuck in my head. Along the way, it turned into the guitar melody, you hear at the beginning of the song. Suddenly I knew how to tell that story. Once home, I found the melody in my mind transformed very well on the guitar (that's not always the case.) and the song was born. This was mid 2017.

You can read the original story, as told by veterinarian Holly Cheever, here: https://www.globalanimal.org/2012/04/13/cow-proves-animals-love-think-and-act/

Track 5: 27 Jahre

After playing a show in Braunschweig, I went to the Natural History Museum the next day. Next to a model of the giant Steller's sea cow, they had an audio installation with describing the hunting of the poor creature. The tone was a perplexing mixture of scientific curiosity and ignorance to the described cruelty. Maybe this could be a song, I thought. At this point I was still thinking I would make an EP. But almost all of the ideas that were a maybe at first, were a yes in the end.
I sent a mail to the museum asking where the text was taken from, and then got the book by Georg Wilhelm Steller from a library. This scientific description from the 18th century is what I sing in the song, with only minimal changes. After the first demo recording, I still wasn't sure if this was a good idea. But the song worked, when I played it live. It's dark and disgusting. My mum skips it, when she listens to the album.