One winter night I hustled from my Gramercy-based office in Manhattan and descended downtown on the 6 train. Anxiously, I reviewed my notes about German trio Moderat. Moderat is the collaborative effort of Apparat (Sascha Ring) and Modeselektor (Gernot Gronsert and Sebastian Szary). In seven years they have released three albums, played countless shows, and constantly evolved as artists in the electronic community. On April 1st, they released iii, the final album in their musical trilogy. It is more than a pop album and it is more than one would expect from an electronic group — it’s a cerebral culmination of their artistic vision and convergence of their experience and influences.
EARMILK got the chance to meet up with them all at the dimly lit Hi-Fi bar in the Lower East side. As we sit and sip our vodka sodas Simon & Garfunkel's “Cecilia” plays over the speakers.
EARMILK: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. As we sit here in New York I’m curious, what are some of your first memories of this city?
Ring: I haven’t traveled much before and then I was supposed to play a very small show. I got dropped in Williamsburg and I just remember I was just running on my own through Williamsburg searching for the place. I haven’t seen much of the world and then someone drops you in Brooklyn and you’re like in the middle of it and your like is this dangerous.
EARMILK: When was this?
Ring: This was with Ellen Allien, maybe 2003 or 2002.
EARMILK: Williamsburg was a very different area then.
Ring: It was. It was really at the beginning of it so I was like, “Fuck, maybe this is ghetto and dangerous.”
EARMILK: Have you seen Williamsburg recently?
Ring: I’ve seen it now and I know of course of all those controversial things and the genrefication of it. We have a similar story in Germany with Prenzlauer Berg, which used to be the area where everything was going on with the bars, and the cool nightlife, and the artists. Now even talking about it to me seems ridiculous because now there is nothing cool about it anymore. It’s only upper middle-class heaven. Happy families with children. Williamsburg at least has some kind of a youth culture still.
EARMILK: So how would you say gentrification has affected the berlin music scene?
Ring: It’s just moved around I guess. It’s also a big city and there are all these places where everything can move to. But for us, now I’m 37-40, and at some point… we just stood into place and we continued doing what we did. For what we do now it’s also a good city because Berlin was just chaotic and very improvised. In the music business, nobody was trained at anything so you would just run a label with complete idiots. And now, finally at least there is a little bit of professional attitude there. In one side it’s kind of sad because the clubs of course they’re not as interesting anymore, it’s more like safe and it’s a business as well. If you want to work there, run a label, or whatever — now it’s a better time than before.
EARMILK: Y’all have Monkeytown records. Would you say those people are the ones that started in the Berlin music scene and kind of grew up and evolved with it gained their skills there?
Ring: Absolutely, it was just trial and error right? Which was an interesting time.
Szary: It still is.
Ring: But now everybody is doing it for quite a while so it’s much more effective.
EARMILK: So you’re about to embark on a world tour. How do y’all feel about that?
Gronsert: I’m excited of course. I can’t wait. But I’m afraid of the work which is between now and the tour. We have to rehearse a lot and play everything. We make everything new and the show is different now.
Ring: Actually we never rehearsed much so now for the first time we’re very serious about it and we actually prepare.
EARMILK: Is Pfadfinderei doing the art for this show as well?
Ring: They always do. We started as a collective basically and we still are. So the visual part is very important for the shows. We made that record to be able to play live again, to play more songs. We decided on tour to be able to make a record, to have more material to play live.
EARMILK: Was your live show something you considered when making this record?
Gronsert: I always try to take care… how are we going to perform this song? We usually kind of mix the songs into each other and at this time it wasn’t really possible to take care of this, to keep it in a range. This time it’s like up down up and down. Very fast, very slow. Yeah, I think this time this record is made for concerts, we have more stuff to play. I always had the feeling we don’t have enough material to play. It was one of the main reasons we decided to record a new record.
EARMILK: Will you be playing songs from your full discography on this tour?
Gronsert: It’s a mix of all the three records.
EARMILK: Will there be anything from your other projects spliced in there as well?
Gronsert: Oh no.
EARMILK: So we can’t expect a Thom Yorke collaboration at Primavera?
Gronsert: No. They play on a different day anyway.
EARMILK: You played 2010, 2014, and this will be your third time, right?
Gronsert: This year we’re closing the main stage. Which is an honor. So we are about to close the main stage after PJ Harvey. I think Radiohead is closing on Sunday, the last day of the festival.
EARMILK: Speaking on Radiohead and Thom Yorke. I know Modeselektor has collaborated with him on a couple of songs and you both have toured with him. How did that relationship come about? I hear a lot of influences of Radiohead and Atoms For Peace in this record.
Gronsert: I give you a quick answer. We are not watching Radiohead, they are watching us. So they steal from us. Not the other way around. If you ask Thom, when you have the chance, one day, and you have an interview he will say, “Yeah, you’re right.”
EARMILK: Did [Thom] first take notice of you with your record Hello Mom?
Gronsert: I mean, he got in touch after the first EP we released in 2001 or 2002. So we have a long time friendship with him by coincidence.
EARMILK: Would you say working with him as an artist has influenced you as artists and this record?
Gronsert: No, I don’t think so.
Ring: I think it’s just helpful to hear that they are struggling with the same things that everyone is struggling with…
EARMILK: Which is?
Ring: It’s always hard to make a record. And sometimes if you listen to a Radiohead record it seems like it probably was so easy and makes so much sense. But those records are the hardest ones to do. But you have to hear that from someone who does something like that to feel better about suffering the whole time. Everyone suffers who is trying to make art. It helps if people like that tell you that they feel the same.
EARMILK: So what was the process like in making iii?
Ring: I think the hardest part is the first of it all to like find out what the others are like at the moment. When you start making a record you have to check again where everybody is at.
Szary: Yeah, like synchronizing.
Ring: Find some place where everybody feels comfortable.
Szary: You don’t go into the studio and begin and go “Hey let’s go, let’s open the new Moderat session.” We know what we want. It’s just… research, try out, something.
EARMILK: I know this is part three of a triology. Did y’all have ideas to bring to the table of how you wanted the record to be?
Ring: We are all nerds. We aren’t from a songwriting background and nobody grew up with Bob Dylan or whatever. We just, we grew up with fucking techno and it was always about the sound. So that’s what is still the major theme when we start making the record. We are not classically trained as well and there is no way to express ourselves musically other than with colors and metaphors. First off all, we had to develop a language between us. We still keep a lot of the sound vision that we had from the first record. We want to have a lot of openness to it and have depth in the sound. We want to have everything a little cinematic. And then we always try to work against it that it doesn’t get too overdone, too big on purpose. I don’t know… it’s kind of a constant fight to strip down things again. We really only had a concept in mind and we go to the studio and the concept shows up while we’re working on it.
EARMILK: Would you say that your experience scoring films as Apparat helped influence the cinematic nature of Moderat?
Ring: I don’t know… If you’re working with the right director it can be very easy. Sometimes I just realize that the most obvious thing is the wrong thing. If you have a very sad scene and you kind of put very intense and sad strings underneath it’s just lame. So it’s always about contrast as well. And that’s something I also learned and take to… you can also use that knowledge in the studio.
EARMILK: In this album, you each contribute some backup vocals, like with Ghost Mother. Will you all be singing during your live tour?
Szary: Of course. For the new show we will invent new technical things. You know the old show, the Moderat show from before, there was three tables and three computers. We changed the stage set up, we have more instruments.
EARMILK: Are you in the midst of rehearsals and preparing that whole live show?
Ring: Yeah. We want a bit more control this time. More interaction and a bit more musicianship on stage. Not so much as playing the electronic pre-produced stuff.
Szary: The press button play.
Ring: That also is a new challenge to try and get us a bit out of the comfort zone.
EARMILK: We’re almost out of time. Is there anything about the album you’d like to add?
Ring: I read some of your questions, and um, I was kind of…
Ring: I was interested by the fact that you were asking if the motorcycle accident had some impact on the more introverted and personal lyrics. I can only say yes. It was some kind of a turning point. After that accident the tour had to be postponed and I was not allowed to ride motorcycles anymore. After that I stopped drinking — we played the whole tour, I was sober. My life started being very different. Not difficult, much easier actually. In this record, obviously lyrically that’s a big part of the theme. Every song tries to work out different parts of that but in a quite abstract manner. So it’s not too obvious and people can apply that to their own lives somehow.
EARMILK: This completes this trilogy, but what is next after this album and after this tour?
Ring: It’s very fresh. We just finished the record two months ago which is quite fresh for us. So we are still in the process of dealing with it and digesting it somehow so there is no way we can think of something else. Now it’s just important to get a really cool live show together because that is a big reason why we’re doing this. Then we’re going to tour the shit out of it. That’s why we like this kind of band like touring because it gets very intense. You play every day and as a perfectionist, it’s very easy to perfect what you’re doing. But it’s much more interesting than the DJ live thing.
Don't miss them on tour. See dates below.
Sun. April 10 – Copenhagen, DK @ Vega – SOLD OUT
Thu. April 21 – Poznan, PL @ Hala 2 MTP SOLD OUT
Fri. April 22 – Warsaw, PL @ Progresja – SOLD OUT
Sat. April 23 – Wroclaw, PL @ Eter Club — Tickets
Sun. April 24 – Budapest, HU @ Akvarium– SOLD OUT
Tue. April 26 – Graz, AT @ Orpheum – SOLD OUT
Wed. April 27 – Zürich, CH @ X-TRA – SOLD OUT
Thu. April 28 – Milan, IT @ Alcatraz – SOLD OUT
Fri. April 29 – Rome, IT @ Spazio900 – SOLD OUT
Sat. April 30 – Marseille, FR @ Cabaret Aléatoire — SOLD OUT
Sun. May 1 – Toulouse, FR @ Le Bikini — Tickets
Mon. May 2 – Bordeaux, FR @ Le Rocher Palmer
Tue. May 3 – Nantes, FR @ Stereolux – SOLD OUT
Thu. May 5 – Lausanne, CH @ LesDocks – SOLD OUT
Fri. May 6 — Lyon, FR @ Nuits Sonores — Tickets
Sat. May 7 — Basel, CH @ Volkshaus — SOLD OUT
Sun. May 8 – Stuttgart, DE @ LKA Longhoorn — SOLD OUT
Thu. May 19 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall — SOLD OUT
Fri. May 20 – Montreal, QC @ Metropolis – SOLD OUT
Sat. May 21 – Chicago, IL @ Concord Music Hall — Tickets
Sat. May 21 – Chicago, IL @ Concord Music Hall — Tickets
Mon. May 23 – Vancouver, BC @ Vogue Theatre — Tickets
Tue. May 24 – Seattle, WA @ The Showbox — Tickets
Thu. May 26 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre — Tickets
Fri. May 27 – San Diego, CA @ The Observatory North Park — Tickets
Sat. May 28 – Bradley, CA @ Lightning in a Bottle Festival — Tickets
Sat. Jun 4 – Barcelona, ES @ Primavera Sound Festival — Tickets
Sun. Jun 5 – Berlin, DE @ Velodrom — SOLD OUT
Sat. Jun 11 – Porto, PT @ Primavera — Tickets
Thurs. Jun 16 – Prague, CZ @ Lucerna — Tickets
Sat. August 13 – Bochum, DE @ Jahrhunderthalle Ritournelle — Tickets
Wed. Sep. 28 – Manchester, UK @ Albert Hall — Tickets
Thu. Sep. 29 – London, UK @ Brixton Academy — Tickets
Fri. Sep. 30 – Brussels, BE @ Forest National — Tickets
Sat. Oct. 1 – Amsterdam, NL @ Heineken Music Hall — Tickets