Colour Haze Interview with Stefan Koglek: “Obstacles are Just Obstacles”

It’s not the longest an album has ever taken to come out. She Said — the 10th studio album by Munich-based heavy psych progenitors Colour Haze — closes the four-year gap since the previous record, All, was released. But isn’t Chinese Democracy, or Smile, by The Beach Boys, which finally came to light 37 years after it was first conceived. But it’s the longest stretch Colour Haze have ever had, and as guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek recounts in astounding detail below, the trio hit delay after delay in every step of the process, from the beginning stages of setting up a studio in their rehearsal space to record in to the mastering for the vinyl even now that the CD has been released.

Fortunate that they stuck it out, however. She Said (review here) is easily one of the best albums of the year, the double-CD accounting for Colour Haze‘s past even as it boldly pushes their sound to new places with the inclusion of elements like horns, strings, sampled beaches, etc. The chemistry between Koglek — who also runs the label Elektrohasch Schallplatten and so is in charge of not just making the record, but also releasing it — bassist Philipp Rasthofer and drummer Manfred Merwald has never been so potent or prevalent in their songs, as tracks like “Breath” and even the shorter “Slowdown” and “This” demonstrate. As Colour Haze‘s sound has developed to become focused on improvisation, the band itself has risen to the task of becoming ever more cohesive as a unit. She Said stands in a string of releases successful in this regard — you could go back to 2003′s Los Sounds de Krauts, but certainly the 2004 self-titled, 2006′s Tempel and 2008′s All captured the live dynamic between the players — but it stands alone in its creative drive and level of performance.

Further, the album proves Colour Haze‘s dedication to their form (not that it was necessarily in doubt — as I said, this is their 10th full-length, and one doesn’t get to that point without some purposefulness — but still). Koglek‘s tale of the troubles the band hit is long and complex — like a Colour Haze song, it also grooves — but what comes through at the end is that he and the rest of the band weren’t willing to compromise their vision of what they wanted the album to be. Four years and about 200,000 Euros later, She Said is the end result of a one-of-a-kind stubbornness. They could easily have gone to a studio, put the tracks to tape, mixed it down and been done. But they didn’t, and She Said is the fruit of those efforts. Constructed in the truest sense of the word.

I could go on, but the review was long enough — though I should mention that even in listening to She Said this morning while editing this interview, I heard sounds I hadn’t picked up on before; early humming at the start of the opening title-track — and while I could continue to ramble at length about the breadth She Said makes its own, you’re better off just hearing the story from Koglek himself (yes, he knows just how beautiful “Grace” is). This is easily the longest interview I’ve ever posted on this site, and I want to personally thank Koglek for his dedication not just to his music, but to telling his story as well. It is much appreciated.

Colour Haze are currently on the She Said XXL tour, which is discussed in the interview as well. Remaining dates are listed here.

You’ll find the complete 8,200-word Q&A after the jump with pictures from the studio (click any to enlarge). Please enjoy.

From the very start, it seems like She Said was cursed. Tell me about the problems you had with the studio and the delays in the recording. Even now something happened with the vinyl mastering?

Seen on the surface it really seems like somebody must have booked for us a consignment of the deluxe edition of all applications of Murphy’s law – the impossible included. This helped to develop a kind of fatalistic attitude towards things though – keeping up to try to do the very best and accepting at the same time this might lead to total failure. On another level all the resistances in the production always also opened a way to go further, to learn more. Sometimes it’s really odd of course to see things completely out of my hands going also wrong, even after the end of the production, like all the delaying obstacles in the CD production. That the vinyl doesn’t sound right in the first cut is a pretty common problem in comparison.

But I`ll tell what really happened. If the long passage below should bore you, dear reader, I apologise. Scroll down to read my shorter answers to the other questions. Summed up you could say it`s a completely stupid idea to build up a studio around a production and because this is so stupid we did it even twice, but there was no other way for us.

I try to give a condensed rundown of the history of the production (leaving aside the lot of smaller obstacles along the way) and hope not to annoy you with too many technical details. The basic situation was that we met with Willi Dammeier, with whom we recorded since Colour Haze, in late 2009 to talk about the next album. We all have regular jobs (okay, mine is Elektrohasch, not so regular…) and have to take holidays for studio and touring. Mani didn’t have the possibility to go again to Hannover for 10 days for an album production as his wife was pregnant at the time (Marlene was born in March 2010). So we had to find a solution to work on with the new family situation of our drummer (Now I`m becoming a daddy myself and Philipp just got married). My idea was to get a 4-track tape-machine (I thought I couldn’t afford anything else), record drums in Munich and then go on the 24-track in Hannover and record everything else there. To built up a complete studio on our own (of course a big musician’s dream…) was nothing I saw the possibility for if I wouldn’t win the lottery. But Willi suggested to get the same 24-track 2” Telefunken machine he has and record the basics live in Munich (as usual) and then bring the tapes to Hannover for mixdown – because even the most professional 2” tape machines (and the Telefunken always was the most expensive back then) are a really cheap buy today, which I didn`t know.

So the scenario was set to build up all the necessary gear to record in analogue in our rehearsal place. I`m not even discussing digital vs. analogue anymore – this is simply the way I want to record our music. High class analog = good sound. And foremost it`s a different, more musical process of producing an album. With a digital production you always end up staring on waveforms on the screen instead of listening. And there are not less, just different problems working digitally). So in late 2009, we started searching for the necessary gear (you don`t get that stuff around the corner) to have everything ready to set it up at our place together with Willi in April. I got my really wonderful 1989 Telefunken M 15a directly from Telefunken service in like-new condition (only 1,600h, with new heads) including all extras (Telcom noise reduction, Vari-speed, remote) for only 7,000 Euro (in today’s prices the new machine would be over 200,000 USD – and it sounds like this!). At least this baby never let me down or caused even the slightest problem during the 2,000 hour (!) of production – okay, enough, you see I simply adore this 250kg beast of best old German engineering ; )

Well, apart from the multi-track everything else caused problems. The new monitors arrived but the amplifier had three weeks’ delay, amp arrived and it turned out one speaker was broken, get a new speaker… Bought an expensive old Neumann Stereo-mic cheap, was broken, had it repaired, and in total invested the money for a new one. And so on. So the delays already started here and instead of April it became June until we had everything ready for recording. Unfortunately Willi then was so occupied with other projects, that he simply didn`t had the time to come to Munich, as it was the initial plan, and get everything working properly with us, doing all the engineers stuff, checking the listening situation, levels, signal paths, setting up the mics, etc.. . I had a little experience as a producer and in mixing but not in audio engineering. So there we stood, alone with an investment of already whopping 30,000 Euro (well: everything for the music!) in recording gear and thought – okay fuck it – let`s start!

Remember, the studio is our rehearsal place, the room is five meters high and the monitors and mixing console are second floor on the kind of balcony we built in the room. But it’s one room, there is no separate control room. Because of the insufficient listening situation at that point (and because of when you play at 112dB live (yes, we all use earplugs) and then listen back to what you recorded in matching loudness everything sounds good) we thought what we record sounds good. Well later it turned out it didn`t. Actually, most of the single tracks sounded great but it was impossible to mix them together. But more of that later…

We considered our previous recording process — you book a studio in another city for a week and go there and are completely occupied with nothing but recording – as ideal to get real focused and get done a lot in short time. Recording the basic-tracks (apart from parts of “Grace,” also on this album all basics were recorded live, like always) in the surrounding new family situation during our regular two-times-per-week rehearsals was a new situation. Also because everybody came exhausted from work and we had only three hours in the evening. So we started with the basics of “She Said” and after that “Transformation.” Both needed a whole month each. We were slow… So much slower than we thought… (actually we just calculated wrong: this month only adds up to not even two of our usual studio days in working time, that`s not too bad for a 17-minute complex piece of music you want to lay down live with precision and feeling all the way). Having our own studio we also want to record the most perfect version and get as good as we could, try to see how far we could go. That`s one reason why I fooled around with the mix of those recordings for such long periods in the coming two years — we had recorded really good versions and even better overdubs… With Elektrohasch, I’m freer about my time, of course, so I spent much more time in between in the studio. I enjoyed it a lot to spent days experimenting with backwards and vari-speed overdub guitars – a thing I never could have done before with the tired engineer’s face behind the screen looking at me in complete bewilderment and boredom. I was finally able to develop things for each song more in depth, to work out its essence more clearly. I could develop a track like “Grace,” which in the beginning only was a little tune on acoustic guitar I had no idea how we could go about it with the band. All this was new and the really great thing about having your own studio. It helped us to get closer to the musical level we already opened our horizon for with All.

We are in a building where over 100 ateliers for artists of all kinds are housed, mostly painters and sculptors, and so at the annual exhibition of the “Domagkateliers” in 2010 we discovered some prints on the wall by Barbara Herold which should become the artwork – this is the first record we had the artwork finished long before we had the master. We worked very hard and slowly in that summer of 2010, but with some fruitful and good results which had some qualities beyond what we did before.

Considering our previous one-week sessions to lay down the basics for an complete album, we thought four months is plenty of time to finish all tracks, but it wasn`t…

A first mixing session was already booked in Hannover for autumn. I brought the tapes with the then finished songs – and – something didn`t sound right. It turned out at first that the Telcom noise reductions of my and Willi’s machine were not matching, no details – this gets complicated… ; ) Willi fixed that but it still didn`t sound good. After the overdub sessions Willi was on tour then again, I was alone in the studio with Mario, our live sound engineer (to help mix the complicated tracks – remember: analogue…) – from what we heard and didn`t like, we came to the conclusion we must have room resonances from our bad rehearsal place sound. I went back home after two completely fruitless frustrating weeks in Hannover. I think the only thing we got done was recording the horns and Rhodes for “Transformation.” The piano in “Breath” and the session for “Grace” with the string quartet were scheduled for the second Hannover session in November. At least later it showed that also an experienced audio engineer like Willi can happen to make the same mistakes we did — parts of the overdubs had kind of the same sound-issues as our deranged basic-tracks — kind of soothing for my own stupid mistakes but adding to the overall problems of course. Strange it also happened to Willi, e.g. to record phase-reversed acoustic guitars, but we are talking about She Said! I went home, we recorded on and hurried up to finish the other songs and Philipp and I got together all our money to buy two GML-equalisers to sort out the mysterious resonance problem. Went back to Hannover in late autumn. And of courses the 10,000 Euro in Equalizers didn`t help. I mixed and mixed and mixed and mixed, endlessly – Willi again was on tour – it simply didn`t turn out right – I got crazy, depressed, frustrated, cried and carried on in overdriven stubbornness – two weeks – came home with nothing – even the mix of “Grace” that was finished in Hannover and sounded good there sounded like crap at home. I decided I need more time, I need the calmness of our studio at home to work out the problems thoughtfully. The studio in Hannover with the all-the-time come-and-go of all kinds of local musicians and hang-arounds, the ever-ringing telephone, which served us so well with the previous three studio records, was no longer a place where I wanted to be after these so frustrating weeks of fruitless work.

So Philipp and I decided to once again get together as much money as possible to buy the necessary outboard to have the least to mix at home. We already had an okay Amek Einstein mixing console which we bought cheap (and had resaturated not that cheap) to monitor the recordings. I wanted to finish the record for the Up in Smoke tour in February 2011 and it was already December. We bought equalizers and compressors and soldered cables. And the very moment we put everything together to have the set-up ready for mixing my Amek went “Bang!” and no sound came out anymore. Shortly before Christmas – where to find service? You have to know in building up a studio you not only have to assemble some gear (and find out where to get it), but also need some good technicians you can call to come over to repair whatever breaks – with studio-gear always something breaks, the stuff is complicated, special and often…old… Every studio owner can tell books about that (we didn`t know that back then of course. Why? The studios always worked when we were in…) – Through Willi we came to know two technicians in Hannover and one was willing to come down before New Year’s Eve. He repaired the desk and even showed us how we can improve it to great effect with some better chips… another 1,600 Euro for that repair. Production costs so far around 70,000 Euro. Ouch…

So I started mixing at home. I invested another four weeks trying to get “She Said” (the song) sounding right. But also with my desk and tape-machine where the rough-mixes sounded so good it suddenly didn`t work out, listening more closely for the first time in our place suddenly the same strange sound effects that ruined everything in Hannover showed up. But what was wrong?

Willi finally found some time to check in the digital backup of the multi-track tapes we made in Hannover and saw we had “phase-problems” – a-ha. This means the sound waves of the individual signals of separated tracks don`t run in line with each other, in parts even against each other (that`s phase reverse) – because the microphone positions of the several drum mics seemed to have been not set up correctly — this causes strange interfering effects — like single track tom one sounds boom, single track tom two sounds boom – both together go bibuiying. (For the audio engineers I have to add that both Amek consoles in Hannover and mine didn`t had phase-reverse switches for the mixdown section – I couldn’t try and hear…) Willi checked that and told me I had to phase reverse the snare top and bottom and delay the overheads and this should work out. Very much later I had to realise I completely ignored the phase-switches of the vintage Neumann preamps I used for drums (yeah why? I’m no audio engineer. Those tiny little knobs – better not touch) and actually it was even the other way around: the whole drum-kit was recorded phase-reversed apart from snare top and bottom (which to knot it up completely should have been recorded phase reversed). Well back to that point: So we needed expensive broadcast delays only to set the drum-overhead mics “later” or “farther away” in 0.1 ms-steps – to get the phases of the signals far out so they don`t “disturb” the direct signals of the individual drums. And we needed phase-alignment tools to shift the phase of an individual track until it matches with the others. But at first – tour… We needed to earn some money for the additional toys anyway.

At the Up in Smoke tour, we met Guido Apke in Cologne. I already drooled over the picture of the tube compressor Rockruepel comp1 Guido developed (and also ordered it after the tour). Guido runs Apke Tontechnik, which is one of the few companies in Germany who supply professional studios gear and also build studios, actually more for the bigger acts in Germany. Guido sent along a bunch of other nice tools to test. Nice. He also wanted to make a recording session with us, just for fun as he enjoyed our music a lot – which we did in May 2011, trying to lay down what later became “Slowdown” and “Stand In…” unfortunately that weekend we were tired and not playing good enough – Guido became a good friend since then and also made huge efforts and did a great job with the mastering in the end!

After the tour we checked for the above-mentioned necessary gear – again it took some time to get it. In between, I also bought an EMT 240 reverb plate, always wanted to have one, the cost counter going closer to six digits — wow, how did we manage that? That already has been far away from all sums I could ever imagine to get together in my life… Started mixing again, now as we know the problems it should be possible – and got completely involved in phase adjustments and shifts and equalisers and whatever, I mixed and mixed and “She Said” (the song) didn`t sound right still. After four or five weeks, I ended up with an only halfway listenable mix of “She Said,” phase problems were sorted out but I adjusted it to death – somehow we simply didn`t get it on, apart from the recording session with Guido, but even here we have been too tired…

We went off to Duna Jam in early June. After Duna Jam and with some input of the things Guido did with the rough mix of the recording sessions, I suddenly had a good start on the mix of “Transformation” and got to a good basic sound easily – this was to become the mix pre-released in the web last year but… my master tape machine – that`s the 2-track stereo tape-machine on which I record the mix I make on the console from the 24 tracks had issues due to its age, condensers… – finally, actually through the guitar shop who takes care about our amps, guitars, special needs etc. in Munich, ToneNirvana, we found a great technician in Munich. And we should have a lot of work in the studio for Werner Szugat the upcoming months … it can take weeks to get the necessary parts or schematics… master machine serviced and on with “Transformation” and over to “This” – but then again something at the mixing console was broken… waiting for repairs and parts… I tried to mix “She Said” again with the basics that proved to be working with “Transformation,” again weeks spent on the mix – in the end it turned out this version was not possible to mix properly, we recorded “She Said” again in a dense set of sessions shortly before the mastering date and I mixed the version down in three days. Not perfectly, but I wanted to get finished. Then issues about the sound of the console. Could sound better. We improved the console along the line we learned about in December (for the one audio engineer reading: exchanging op-amp chips, taking care of the wiring, cleaning switches, etc.) It was a mess of mixing, waiting, repairing, improving…

It was after another week of taking care of the Amek in October 2011, just when I finished the work on the desk. I was about to listen again only to music and not to white noise or crackling or whatever anymore. Starting the 2” tape and the desk sounded so smooth and warm suddenly, better than ever before. And the 30 minutes of the tape came to the end and suddenly – “Bang!” – full red level on two meters of the desk and the good electric smell of burned parts. Ok, that`s it. I had enough! – I didn`t want to work on anymore with Albert (the Amek Einstein) – I hated it and it hated me and I only had bought it for monitoring anyway and always wanted to install a better mixer when I could afford it after the production. (After the end of the production in August 2012 I finally sold Albert to Poland and from what I heard it works great there. Well, I invested over 8,000 Euro in what seemed to be a bargain buy once. Seems it was just the two of us who didn`t get along.)

Coincidentally, just that very day I had called up Guido again before I went to the studio. We hadn`t talked in months. So the next day I called him again and told him about my misfortune. To make it short: it developed I could buy the distributor’s two-year-old demo console of what has been my “if I win the lottery” dream mixing board just from the looks and the pictures I saw in the net when I did my first explorations about studio gear two years before – for a very good price (which was still the price of a brand new car). And later it should turn out to be one of the very best sounding mixing consoles built ever – a Rupert Neve Designs 5088. I decided to set the studio up complete new from head to the feet. Guido, though very busy, was really into building an all-analogue, really high-end studio, with the best sounding components possible. Finally a customer who hears the shit he hears – well, I do. I hear differences between cables and stuff. I’m into my music and its sound. It matters to me because the music matters.

For the desk I had to get a bank loan. Took a couple of weeks but I got it. The cabling and set up needed to be planned and soldered by Apke Tontechnik. I designed furniture for the desk and outboard, had to be made by a carpenter, a new floor for the rehearsal space to improve the sound and so on – Guido and I spent two days just measuring in the monitors so they finally sounded right – of course I didn`t get anything mixed before! The monitors were set up all the time as improvised as they`ve been from the very beginning, didn’t work out in the difficult sonic situation of our room’s upper floor – so we built the studio finally the right way – this took four months and we really hurried up!

In February, I finally started mixing again and quickly got “Grace” done, mixed “This” again (which was always easy), fooled around a last time with the unmixable “She Said” version and mixed “Transformation” again, which is my absolute mixing masterpiece to date – technically. A lot of the tricks I found and learned in the process and a lot of adjustments I got this actually totally ruined recording at least in the quite listenable state you can hear on the album. Not super audiophile, but it works. So “Transformation,” “Breath,” “Grace” and “This” could be saved from the old recordings. The last three were better recordings anyway. Only “She Said” and “Transformation,” which have been the very first and second of our own recordings, have been difficult to impossible. Of course as they are centerpieces on the album, I invested everything in them. Soon we also started recording. Through Guido I got the contact to Charly Bohaimid who is an international class recording engineer, well-respected technician and producer and we could book Charly to set up the microphones right for the last recordings. In all the time since we started we also made new songs we now wanted to see on the album, so “Rite,” “Slowdown” and “Stand In…” needed to be recorded. And last minute, we decided to rerecord “She Said” – we also improved the arrangement, added a new part, added the idea with the piano – for which I again went to Hannover with the tape one morning by train while Christian came down from one of the Baltic countries (forgot which, he had work there) by car and after four hours of improvising I took the last train back home with the piano on tape you hear on the recording.

So since the studio was set up properly actually everything went quite fast and smoothly – you have to see I had those difficult old recordings I wanted to save and in average also now I have been working only three days per week in the studio, only the last two weeks before the mastering I was working in the studio every day, one week recording overdubs for “She Said” and “Slowdown,” one week mixdown of “She Said,” “Slowdown” and the acoustic part of “Grace” (that one for the fourth time).

In the end this was a 200,000 Euro trip, which results in an album I can’t listen to anymore, though I know there is some good stuff on it. We have our own, now working studio, and we learned so much… about recording, about studio-gear, about producing and sound and foremost, about music. I annoyed numerous people by only talking about studio gear for quite some time and kind of have been out of the world for two years, only occupied with the label, the studio and the record. It brought us far over the limits of our financial boundaries and close to a nervous breakdown – but what a trip.

Uffz… was kind of therapeutic to write down all this once…

What’s the status of your studio now, and will you try again to record yourselves?

Gear-wise, the studio features a combination of some of the finest analogue gear around. We never had the possibility to book a studio which offers stuff like this before, I never even have been into one of the “big places” and now Philipp and me own it – gear-wise, as I said. After the tour (and before my son is born and needs my full attention) I want to invest in some last and least still necessary items, i.e. expanding the Neve to 32 channels. Still some technical here’s and there’s to be improved or fixed. But then we have a tool not only for our musical explorations for the hopefully to come decades but which can serve other bands, friends and artists as well. What you hear on She Said does not represent the studio’s possibilities yet. At least the high-end gear helped to bring the fucked-up recordings into a listenable state. For the future I want to achieve much more sound-wise. I`m learning…

This studio is a complete luxury toy throughout and I simply can’t ask for the rates matching the gear, also because of the not matching room. I`d rather use it to make art happen, helping other artists to get something great in the world, foremost within the Elektrohasch family of course. It won`t pay off anyway. So it should at least serve to bring beauty in the world…

Our room sound is okay now for recordings but is not really a studio yet. There is no separate control room. It`s small and totally stuffed with all our instruments and the studio gear – big enough for us, but difficult to get in another band for a recording session. For now the plan is to record other artists in Hannover and get the tapes for mixdown to the Colour Haze studio. We are starting to visualise (as also our contract in the Domagkateliers is limited) to build one last place with proper studio-surroundings, but it’s impossible in Munich to get a big space for a long contract with a reasonable and affordable rent. Well let’s see. It always started with visualising things. Through all these years we happened to achieve so much seeming impossible. So yes: We`ll be recording ourselves. Now it works!

Was there any point in making the album that you were ready to give it up? What was it that kept you going through all the delays and all the problems?

More than once I was completely ready to give it up. And often enough it proved to be wrong that I kept going on and on about the same thing, instead having a break and starting once again. As the production seemed to be confronted with forces beyond the level of this surface of existence I prayed to the great mother more than once, asking whether this endeavour was wanted or I should let go. I came to be completely ready to stop and question really everything in my life. But all obstacles always led to another level of solutions. It wasn`t just bad luck, we were forced to go further.

Another point is that instead of falling into grief I always tried to set everything in perspective. I`m deeply grateful and consider us very lucky. We are allowed to do this thing. We have each other and can make this music. We can play concerts and record and build a studio. If you happen to live in another part of this planet all this might not be possible. Therefore foremost I feel obliged to do my best to bring something positive into this world, to do my tiny part to make this miracle of a planet a better place. Obstacles are just obstacles in the end.

May lucky future generations look back in bewilderment on our hate and violence, our greed and short-sightedness.  ;)

Tell me about writing the songs. Hopefully that process was easier. How long after All were the songs actually written, and did you know going into making it that you wanted She Said to be a 2CD release? How has your relationship working with Philipp and Manfred changed over the years?

When we find some calmer weeks between concerts, we always go into improvising and from time to time we have a flow where new things pop up. “Breath” and “Transformation” were the first pieces after All we worked on in 2009. It often takes time in our process of “writing by improvising” to let the themes flow into a matching fixed shape. “She Said” came up pretty much at once in comparison in a few sessions in January 2010. “Grace” was a little tune on acoustic 12-string I was lucky to find in a quiet afternoon in September 2009. Then there is some stuff which we already started to record but didn`t finish later on. We have two or three unfinished things on tape. Some of them date back to 2008. “This” came up spontaneously during recording sessions in August 2010 or so. “Stand In…” and Slowdown showed up in 2011, “Rite” in early 2012 (and to our view now it is not really finished in the album version; looking back I think we should have polished the arrangement and groove of this a bit more) – and then there are other themes or songs I still have in the back – so this album was more a process and turned out different in the end then it was planned – which was the plan. With the two long tracks it was clear this is going to be a DLP but to make a DCD was not an initial thought.

About our relationship – well, the way we work basically is the same as it has ever been. The relationship with Mani is easy and always very good, though not too close, we don`t hang around with each other outside the band all the time. We don`t talk that much, we rather play. Philipp and me had difficulties with each other for a few years between 2005 and 2009, which caused one or two more critical situations for the band – but we finally got over this in the autumn of 2009 and have a very good and brotherly relation again ever since.

In terms of structuring the album, how do you feel having it as a double-CD affects the listening experience? Was it done to mirror the vinyl?

No. I saw the lot of material we had in the end. It was planned from the beginning to start with “She Said,” “This” and “Transformation” and to end with “Grace.” I´m not a friend of CDs running 70 minutes, to me this is tiresome. I`d rather have that portioned on two discs. So there was some discussion in the end whether to shorten a few of the ambient sounds and squeeze all on one CD but I decided it would work better on two discs.

How did the idea come about to bring in the horns on “Transformation” and the strings on “Grace?” What went into putting together those arrangements, and what did you feel they added to those songs? Did you know when you were writing those songs they would have the other instruments as well and close out the two discs?

This is rooted in a long development of our view on our music. The first years we have been mostly occupied to try to catch in a recording what we did live. We finally succeeded in this with the first analogue recording we did with Willi in Hannover which became Colour Haze. Later on, it developed more and more that live we kind of have to play a “Best Of” to an always growing and ever new audience. We didn`t want to fuck up any show, so we played it a bit safe to always deliver a satisfying concert for everybody. I admire bands like Motorpsycho who always play different sets and are always great. We are simply not able to do that.

You know, we want to give you something, at least entertain you if you can enjoy our kind of music. We don`t want to bore you with half-rehearsed attempts. We think the listener is more important than we are. A show doesn`t need to be fun for us, for us it`s work – we are tired, we are stressed, we are sick, we had a long drive on the crazy German Autobahn, our back hurts from lugging around tons of amps, the monitor sound is shit, we are not treated nice by the club, some asshole throws a beer can, whatever comes across with gigs… Don`t get me wrong, we are not complaining but on stage it`s hard to be good – that`s just how it is and you have to adjust to it.

We have fun in our rehearsal sessions (and of course some rare times there we really come to do… things…man… but this is only for the moments…) – a show needs to be fun for those who paid for it. This way more and more songs we recorded never or very rarely came to be performed live. We maybe tried those a few times but if the audience didn`t react well or we had difficulties to play them properly and get them over in a live situation. We stuck to those which worked. We also have to keep the live set rehearsed with our limited amount of time, two rehearsals of three hours per week, while we want to work on new things. So in the end, with the recording of All, our view on our music live and our music on record was split. These were two separated kinds of art. From listening back to older recordings, I also had to realise that keeping the recordings “honest” to what we did live was not always serving the song and therefore not serving the listener. When a song is new I sometimes hear a full orchestra in my head going along and don`t feel the need to add anything. But I learned to listen closer, e.g. listening back to “Stratofarm” on Tempel after a few years left me quite disappointed – the orchestra in my head was gone and left the song so naked. It didn`t get over to me anymore, I should have added something to the chorus and the end to give it a full blast, to really let it shine the way I heard it in my head when we laid down the thing.

With this setting, it was clear the new one should be developed completely as an entire studio album and I thought a lot about what it would need to really get over a musical theme, to play out what`s hidden in the notes. Of course we also improvised a lot and experimented (e.g. the backwards guitars) to see if something wonderful accidentally would come around the corner. But even the backward guitars in the intro of “Transformation” where already done deliberately (actually it`s the chorus theme of “Grace”). With “Transformation”’s heavy main part I always connected the idea of crashing waves when playing it, so why not mix some crashing waves in the background? And the triumph theme at the end was already a horn line when I only played it on guitar, it just had to be horns there. You have to know I`m not that much interested in being a guitar player, I`m interested in trying to be just a musician, the guitar just is the only tool I have to express what comes around musically (of course I love the guitar). A lot of the themes I play are something else in my imagination, strings, organs, trumpets… I don`t mean to have horns or strings in the recording just for the sake of it. It´s all very much on purpose to get a theme working. If it didn`t work I didn`t set it in the mix. And of course I`m aware I could be wrong and arrange totally overproduced bullshit as well – no risk, no reward.

“Grace” is a different story. Actually this song shows how music can evolve in an analogue recording process. I doubt it would have turned out that way if we did it in digital. The limitations of the analogue process brought us far out here and this piece alone has been as much work as you`d normally put into an entire album. This was only possible to be made in our own studio. Recording engineers often don`t have the perspective on music to develop it to that point, they want to be fast and effective, they are bored easily and will let you know one way or another. And studio time is expensive. You won`t spent 30 days just recording one song. You are limited in a regular studio. You are also encouraged because you don`t have to take care about a lot of things besides playing your music, but at some point this turns against you. And the studios I know are not intimate enough to really open up and develop new things, there is always a come and go of people, which can give you the right mood for recording a fast rock ‘n’ roll number but sometimes you just need a quiet focused day to develop something. Ah, having your own intimate studio can be a real benefit, a relief (if a millstone around your neck can be called a relief compared to the chains at your feet before). So I went into the monastery of our own studio.

I had this beautiful little piece (I mean, come on, it`s really beautiful, right? At least I think so) on 12-string – but how to do it with the band? And I was waiting since some time for a song to show up where strings would really match. Here it was the perfect fit. The chorus just cried for being pulled to heaven by strings going along. And I wanted it to be really psychedelic. So…

I started all by myself laying down a guide-track with the acoustic to which I tracked down a click-track – done with a miked metronome which I cut together by hand, punching in the metronome on tape in always changing speeds for the different stages of the song. Sounds completely nuts in the digital age? Well, the digital side of our studio was not working yet on the one hand and on the other: come on – this is a musical process! : ) Then I recorded the basic acoustic guitar. The piece is difficult on 12-string (doesn`t sound like, but the chords are really tricky), so I had to punch in myself all the time. I recorded separate tracks and bounced the best together. I left the end open – I left a lot open to see what evolves during the recording. At least for the end I already meant to punch in the whole band in a live recording. Then I recorded the regular electric guitar and tracks over tracks of backwards guitars and solo guitars with tape-echoes and guitars in different tape-speeds. All improvised. Over and over again. I mixed that stuff together on several stereo tracks in a process a bit like you would create music with a synthesizer.

Later, Philipp went in on his own and recorded some bass. What to do now with the drums? The beat of my guitars calls every drummer to go boom-butch-boom-butch… I wanted something else to happen. Another problem was, playing live, I`m always laid back to Mani on purpose. So to get it grooving to the click I made quite some efforts to play my guitar not on but constantly around the click – groove is nothing magic, it`s just more complicated mathematics of speeding up and slowing down in a fixed pattern. But it`s hard to get a natural flow against the stubborn nature of a metronome. When Mani had my guitars played laid back to the click on headphones he immediately was playing laid back as well which tore everything apart, of course. So in the end he had to play “blind,” only to the click without any confusing guitar. To get some more swirling beat going on I recorded four plain stereo tracks of the drums and advised Mani like, “now play only kick and snare.” For the next track it was only toms, for the next only backwards cymbals – without knowing how this would turn out in the end, we had a totally improvised process out in the nowhere. But it worked and we got the drum pattern of the middle passage. Then we practised to play the end of the song together and recorded that live with Roman Bichler (with whom and Tim Höfer [also involved] I had my first band – another closing circle) punching us in at the end of the swirling out-of-everything part. Then we organised a string quartet and Christian Hawellek wrote the beautiful string-arrangement. Went to Hannover with the tape, decided to record the first passage live with me on 12-string and the quartet all together in one room and to cut that passage to the later part in the mastering, instead of overdubbing the strings to the first part I also laid out in the recording and overdubbed the strings in the closing part. Man, recording with a string quartet live! That was great!

So the first time we assembled something as complicated with all those instruments in such a process, always aware to get it sounding organic and with a lot of built in “accidents.” Mixing this all by hand without any automation was another adventure. In the end, we composed a piece of music with the tape-machine. Composing not in but with the studio as its own instrument. Who’s done such a thing on tape since a long time?

Is that Duna Jam sampled at the beginning of “Transformation?”

Yes that’s Duna Jam, a 2009 recording of the atmosphere at the beach late at night after the show of Causa Sui and Black Atlantic if I remember right…

Any timeframe on when the vinyl will be out?

We’ll check about a new cut as soon as we are back from tour, either remastered for vinyl or cut in laquer instead of DMM – and as soon as the new cut is heard and approved the vinyl goes in print – it`s been such a long way these few weeks don`t matter anymore.

With all the time between albums, were you writing too during that period, or just concentrating on getting She Said together? Is there a backlog of new Colour Haze material as a result of the delay?

Mhm – I wouldn`t call it writing because we very rarely “write” things – the progression from minor to major in the quiet part of “Transformation” is maybe something I have actually composed on purpose, but normally we “find” a theme – and this always can happen as soon as we have a quiet moment for us to fool around. There is always some material that didn`t get finished, some ideas, licks and riffs – ready to be picked up in a session. But we only finish new material when we focus on it. This didn`t happen yet of course. When we are back from tour we`ll see to where we go. It would be nice to have a new and better record coming soon. As the nightmare of a studio became a dream come true, recording should be fun now…

You’re doing the XXL tour coming up. What goes into preparing for something like that? Have you ever done something of that scale before, playing three hours and having guests, etc.? What’s in store at the shows and even with three hours to work with, is there anything you’re leaving out of the sets?

Apart from the dimension which we already had on the Up in Smoke tour – nightliner, crew for management, merchandising, light and sound – all needed to make it possible, all has to be paid – this is all new to us. The idea grew after the tremendous success of the Up in Smoke tour. We deliberated how and what we could do better, how to give more if we do a single Colour Haze tour. How to trade back the lost intimacy of the small concerts we used to do. We already expanded in that direction, e.g. with acoustic sets with Mario, our regular live engineer, on sitar. Now Mario also has to take over some additional guitars, which works great so far. We wanted to have Christian Hawellek with us who played all the keyboards in studio since 2004 – but it`s just two weeks ago that Christian sent me a long list of how and to which concerts he could show up and to which not. He didn`t get enough holidays for the tour and basically would have needed to drive or fly to all the individual shows all over Europe after work, which he was willing to do! But this would cause a chaotic situation. Thankfully I could book Martin Bischof from Munich on shortest notice who really works himself into his parts now. Anyway it shows we underestimated the necessary time to catch up with our intentions and ideas.

At the moment we are occupied with rehearsing and hurry up to get the gear and merch ready for the tour. I just bought a Hammond M3 organ (Martin’s is broken but I always wanted to have one for the studio anyway, it’s one of my favorite instruments) and quickly had its basic electrics fixed for the tour. I managed to borrow a matching Leslie after I failed to buy two last week, and already have a Fender Rhodes. If we bring keyboards once we simply refuse to do it the cheap way! We have had our amps serviced, got new t-shirt designs, decided fasthand for colours, hope they don`t turn out too ugly, while having the high-tide of the She Said CD shipped out …ufffz… Everything kind of shifted to be ready last minute.

Also about the visuals and light show we had some short-term difficulties. Marco Menzer who normally does the lightshow for us became ill and has to be operated – our friend, filmmaker Hendrik von Bentheim, is hurrying to fill the gap about the projections where it initially was planned to create a combination of visuals done by Hendrik and projections. But it`s a real step on to start to think more about the concept of a concert even if we don`t manage to realise everything now. Again we are learning.

I don`t know if we really will play three hours. Can happen – this might be too long for the audience and us (as we play every night, it`s just extremely exhausting because our music needs so much concentration, our longest show so far was four hours in two sets, but that`s a long time ago). Splitting the set in two parts doesn`t make things better to my view. We hope to create a set which will have a pause for Mani and for me and has enough variety to be pleasurable all the way. We want to play every song of She Said and we have all the songs we did in 2011 rehearsed apart from “Mountain.”

Furthermore we will play “All” with additional organ, finally create a live version of “Turns” and I had this email vote going which ended pretty clearly – to our surprise – for “House of Rushammon.” We won`t play all of these every night and are also not decided if we fit in an acoustic part here and there, maybe we won`t even play “Peace, Brothers and Sisters” every night with all the other long tunes – a lot has to be decided spontaneously during the tour now. We are stressed at the moment but in a good mood and look forward to the tour very much – exciting! : ) I also hope my health problems — I just have, maybe an inflamed root of a tooth — will go away for the tour.

What are the tour plans for after these gigs? Will you do Roadburn or Desertfest next year?

Apart that we are already booked to headline the next Burg Herzberg festival, the biggest hippie-festival in Europe, nothing is on the schedule yet. Roadburn turned more into a metal festival over the recent years, devoted to the darker, harder and sadder side of music – no judgment! that`s just the situation – it maybe just wouldn`t fit anymore. No bad feelings – we played Roadburn three times already and I have only love and gratefulness for Walter. Otherwise the big metal festivals in Europe started showing interest in having us, like Hellfest in France which we played this summer. We already headlined Desertfest this year, maybe it would be odd to show up there next year again. But that’s all not up to us. Let’s see.

Colour Haze’s website

Elektrohasch Schallplatten

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4 Responses to “Colour Haze Interview with Stefan Koglek: “Obstacles are Just Obstacles””

  1. RAV says:

    Great interview.. I´m gonna appreciate the album even more after reading this!
    keep the good work with the site

  2. Eggat says:

    Wow, what a read! And what a monstrous journey!
    Thanks Stefan for pouring your heart out here. Looking forward to the vinyl :)

  3. Fish says:

    Wow, nice interview!

  4. The Viceroy says:

    Brilliant article. Stefan is a perfectionist and a genius, Colour Haze are a musical tsunami of unequivocal phantasmagory!
    that’s not a word, but i have a long and hard soul boner for this infinite music.
    thank you from my very essence.

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