An interview with Michael Rother

· Tuesday March 13, 2012

'Influential' is a term that gets thrown around a lot to promote touring artists. More often than not it’s simply a buzzword used to drum up interest in long forgotten bands (The Cranberries? Influential? Really?). In the case of Michael Rother, it’s pretty impossible to find a more fitting term to describe his career. Being one of the foremost luminaries of the 70s German krautrock movement, his work with Kraftwerk, Harmonia and most notably, Neu! has shaped the work of everyone from Iggy Pop and David Bowie (who he infamously turned down working for in his 70s heyday) through to modern alt-stars such as Radiohead and Deerhunter.

Chris Campion: You and Klaus Dinger were both some of the earliest members of Kraftwerk. What prompted you to leave? Didn’t want to play robot dress ups anymore?

Michael Rother: Oh we were long before the robots were around. Nobody was talking about robots when we were playing with Schneider. Though he was a very spiky character, so it makes sense he turned into a robot. I was a young musician so was completely excited to play music with those two guys. On good nights it was great music, like being taken over by a giant wave. But there was also a lot of quarreling, particularly between Klaus and Schneider. So I guess it was all just down to personalities. Klaus and me felt like we got on better as two people so we formed a duo and that became Neu.

CC: From the look of the poster it’s going to be a pretty Neu-centric event. What can we expect from your shows?

MR: It will be a combination of the spirit of Neu with some Harmonia tunes and some of my solo work. But it’s not a nostalgia trip. It’s more about how I feel about music today. It’s just as much about looking forward to the future as it picking up ideas from the past.

CC: Neu was never known as a live band and barely played shows in their heyday, is it good to flesh out these songs in a live environment after so many years?

MR: Oh yes definitely, Klaus (Neu drummer) was very disappointed when we failed to put Neu on stage. We recorded the first Neu album in May ‘71 and released it in early ‘72.  It was quite successful in Germany so there was a public demand for shows, which lead us to trying to play live as a duo. I remember I prepared some music on a mono cassette recorder, the simple gear that was all I had at the time. And I think the people at that time were bewildered. People at that time could not latch onto the idea of anything that wasn’t created on stage. To use samples, to use backing tracks. “That’s not true music”.  It wasn’t fulfilling for me or Klaus, but also the people just didn’t accept us. The music for me was not surprising enough. There just wasn’t enough to it. Just one guitar and drums it was too…what are they? White Stripes? (laughs) Then in the early 2000s when I toured as Hallogallo with Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) and Adam Mann, it was really a fabulous, a great experience to play with those musicians and with the technology that’s available now.

CC: It’s a pretty enviable situation

MR: (interrupts) Sorry just quickly, someone wrote that expression 'lucky duck' about a band playing one of the shows we’re doing in Australia. I liked that. I like ducks. They are after cats my favourite animal of all time. Sorry. What’s the next question?

CC: As a live entity you’ve continually toured and played live with different backing bands ranging from your own German krautrock peers through to …The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Is this your way of keeping your own music fresh?

MR: I don’t know it just develops like that. I just keep meeting bands and people. This has become more true in the past ten years. In the years before the internet I didn’t know what was happening around the world. In the 80s i didn’t know that artists like Sonic Youth or Stereolab were listening to our music or really anyone for that matter. I became aware of that years later when someone started talking to me about a band from America called Ciccone Youth (Sonic Youth side-project) doing a song called '2 Cool Chicks Listening To Neu' so of course I had to follow that up!