Samuel Rohrer Q&A

photograph by Camille Blake

Welcome to Magazine Sixty, Samuel. Let’s begin with the art of drumming. Who inspired you to start playing the drums, how would you describe the process of learning to play them and what is your favourite drum kit to play on? 

My father took me to Jazz concerts and festivals from a very early age. I heard lots of great drummers which were my first influences, like Max Roach, Paul Motian, Elvin Jones or the African master drummer Adame Drame. Later on I was influenced by Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette or Jon Christensen, Jaki Liebezeit or Tony Allen.

I got in touch with improvisation from the very beginning and I had a great teacher as a teenager, who challenged me from the beginning and shaped my taste and flexibility. He was also the one introducing me to Billie Brooks, who was teaching at the Hochschule für Musik in Bern at that time. I was lucky to have people around me who were able to challenge and inspire me from the very beginning.

Regarding the instrument: there is no such thing as a favourite instrument to me. The great thing with drums is, even though the few main elements often remain the same, you can create your very personal instrument. I created some kind of hybrid electro-acoustic drums over the past couple years.

Tell us about the meaning behind the title of your tantalising new album: Hungry Ghosts? And tell us about the cover art?

I was looking for a poetic way to name the forces who nourish the behaviour of our sick capitalist society, drowning ourselves in greed and materialistic foolishness. Now we have to deal with a globalist elite on top, who wants to control everything. 

Making us believe it is for the good. How can it be good if only a few make all the profits? It is all getting extremely out of balance.  I like the idea of ghosts sitting on our shoulders and make us repeat our unreflected behaving. The majority of people doesn’t choose, they follow. People are obsessed by ideologies of a sick system they’ve learned from, from an early age, to then judge and silence those who want to help us to think independently and critically. My best teachers in school were always the rebels, those who didn’t give a fuck about the system, and probably lost their job at some point. Those who told us stories about real life out there, those who helped us to become self-thinking beings. There were not many of those storytellers, those people who expressed themselves through experience and not only from books. I could go on forever… everything becomes more and more distant from our nature and from real experiences. It all leads towards becoming a fully scannable consumer, easy to control and manipulate. If standing up and being critical is treated as a crime by the majority of people, this alone should be the final call to understand that we are completely on the wrong path.Being a critical thinker is only tolerated in a certain frame, whoever steps out of this norm is pushed into corners. This is very dangerous. Give people the feeling they have the right to speak up, but only to a certain degree and only when it fits the narrative. I´m very much into simplifying life. Less of everything, slowing down, wondering, exploring, going deep, cutting down our needs. I don’t mean to take away peoples rights to do what they feel is right for them, it’s the opposite. To go into awareness and away from running after an outdated idea of living means to give people the possibly back to choose again what really matters.

Since about seven years I work with Ian Anderson/The Designers Republic for the artwork of my label. After a while I understood to fully trust him, he always creates a small piece of art for each release. I love how he creates a high quality overall picture of the label and still gives each album a very unique character, which tells a little story of its own.

Can you talk us through how you produced one of the tracks from album? Where did the initial idea come from, how those ideas are translated into musical form and arranged as a finished piece? Do you have a set routine for making music, day or night?

Most of the tracks on the album were recorded in a “live” setting, so they were finished the moment they were played. The sounds were chosen carefully beforehand, the rest is improvised. The outcome and character of each track then really depends one the moment.Even though I wanted to make an album of mostly live performed tracks, a piece like Oxygen Beat was reworked, after I had only a skeleton of a song. How a piece normally becomes what it is in the end, is a process of cutting and editing. I have 100s of hours of music, from there I choose the parts I like and decide if it needs more work or if it´s finished the way it is. Something feels finished or not, asks for more work or it goes to the trash bin. There is a moment where I get obsessed with ideas, from that point on I work day and night. 

Do you feel music has (or has lost) the power to change society in broader political ways or does it just effect the individuals who encounter it? Should music seek to do that in the first place? Does musical atmosphere have as much to say as music with words?

People can only change themselves, music can inspire and empower individuals to create space for that change. It can support a movement. But since everything becomes a big business for a few, music can easily become empty. I think everything which becomes an industry over time is losing its original power and meaning. Music as an art form does shape a society of course, if this is cultivated, but I am not sure if this is happening right now. Rather not.Music without words is a nonverbal language. I know we don’t need words to speak through music, to be understood and even heard. Of course words can easily lead a direction. I guess good lyrics are naming something without making it small, to leave space for imagination. Same goes for sound.

Electronic music you can also dance too can often feel over programmed and clichéd. What does the physical act of drumming drum bring to the creative process of music for you?

In terms of production, I guess since I always have this idea in mind, that I will play drums or percussion on top of a baseline or a melody, I need to feel it physically, besides hearing something interesting in terms of sound or intellect. I have to feel it really, it has to inspire me to play with it and it has to generate ideas.

If we talk about the recent album, I am looking for combinations of sounds which inspire me to play with. Something that could stand alone but also works in combination with acoustic drums and cymbals.

Should music always aim to move forwards? How does nostalgia fit into your thinking about music culture and the idea of continuously re-editing old records?

Life is about change. So is music. Now is always the sum of everything. If we are able to create something that is truly coming out of all we are and all that surrounds us, we create something which is timeless. I guess the mysterious is what makes music unique and interesting, no matter the tools or where it comes from. 

You can´t create something now without including all what happened until here. No matter your awareness. Everything is part of the sum. So yes, I’m kind of nostalgic, but not to recreate but to be aware of what surrounds us here and now, which would not exist without the past…  

Arjunamusic Records has been here for some ten years now. How have you seen the music industry change since that time both in positive and negative ways? How do you see the future for recording artists?

I think it’s extremely important to keep on going and do what you need to do, whatever that is. But I am absolutely aware that it will get more and more difficult. I think many don’t want to realise where we are heading and they pretend that everything is ok. We stand in front of extreme challenges as humans and this will affect everything, worldwide. We are in the middle of that process. The digitalisation started to do extreme damage to the music market a long time ago. Now we can see the same happening more and more in many other sectors as well… it is important to stand strong and insist, but it will be a challenge for sure. 

As long as you make music for the sake of it, nothing can get into your way.

photograph by Julius Gnoth

And finally. Is music a never ending journey?

In my opinion yes, if you transform and reinvent yourself. It’s absolutely crucial to me to do that, otherwise I just start to repeat myself at some point. The pool of music and ideas is endless, but you have to move around and look at it from different standpoints. To move away from the established helps me to reach out to different ideas and get inspired again. The difficult thing is to create that space where you can allow the unknown to take more space than you usually would. It is often uncomfortable. But I think being an artist means actually exactly this to me, to remain open and create space.

Buy – Hungry Ghosts

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