Danielle de Picciotto talks about her new solo album, “The Element Of Love”

On her newly released third album, The Element Of Love, Danielle de Picciotto continues to meld her voice and experimental soundscapes into a highly unique sound. This time around, spoken word gets emphasized over sung vocals, and the music is generally a bit softer. Again, Danielle has integrated her visual art, using a painting of hers as the cover and creating artwork for an animated video (“Beautiful Creatures”).

Danielle moved from New York to Berlin in 1987 and was the co-founder of the Berlin Love Parade. Among other things, she has been part of the bands Crime & The City Solution and Space Cowboys, has exhibited artwork internationally, and has released books. She currently also collaborates with her husband, Alexander Hacke (founding member of Einstürzende Neubauten), as hackedepicciotto.

In a phone interview, Danielle discussed The Element Of Love.

The Element of Love features more spoken word than your previous album, Deliverance. How did the making of it compare, in terms of your approach and creative process?

Danielle de Picciotto: I usually start with the music. I start composing the songs, and I usually do the electronic things first, and then I do the instrumental things on top of it. I listen to the songs and decide which ones are going to be instrumental and which ones are going to be spoken word, depending on the song. So I don’t really know what’s going to happen before I listen to the finished instrumentals, basically. And then, when I’ve decided which ones are going to be the spoken-word ones, I start work writing all the lyrics. This time, I had the feeling that most of them were more spoken words than actually sung songs. So that’s the way it became.

I think this time, I really felt like doing specifically the music in a very open way. I didn’t want to do anything that was really chorus-verse-chorus-verse. Before the pandemic started, I’d been doing a lot of spoken word events in Berlin. I was really getting into the spoken word scene here because it kind of exploded in Berlin, and I organized a couple of really big things here. So maybe it’s also because I was dealing a lot with spoken word that I felt like doing something that’s a little bit less constrained in that song structure. And so the music kind of turned out that way probably because of that. And then it was obvious that it was going to be spoken word.

You seem to do a lot of different creative projects. Did you focus on this album for a block of time, or were other things happening concurrently?

Danielle de Picciotto: I actually did it in a very concentrated time period because I finished the second graphic novel this year and it took longer than I thought because it included a lot of research. I thought I was going to be done by June, but I was done by late August, and the album was due in November. So, I could only really start in mid-September. It was a pretty intense couple of weeks because I basically had to compose, write the lyrics, mix and master it. But sometimes I like doing it in such a constrained time because it becomes very focused.

Did coming off the graphic novel have any impact?

Danielle de Picciotto: One song was definitely influenced by it, the German lyric one called “Nacht.” The graphic novel I wrote is basically about my time when I moved to Berlin in 87 until 95. So around the whole period of the fall of the wall and the development of art and music before and after. So basically, from the dark eighties into the more techno-oriented nineties. I was going through all these different photos and newspaper articles and things that I had written, and I discovered this one text that I had written back then. “Nacht” is basically night, and it was written after I was coming home from working in a club, and it was about how comfortable I feel at night and what night means to me. So that lyric, I thought, “Oh, actually I’ve always wanted to use this for a song.” So that took for the album. But otherwise, writing the graphic novel didn’t really influence the album because it was about back then, and the album is very much about now.

One of the main things I wanted to express in this album was a kind of reassuring atmosphere. Because it was during a time period when I was kind of freaking out here in Berlin because the conspiracy theories were growing so big. And I thought I’d really like to do something that musically, not only lyrically,, but musically comforts me. I like using really experimental sounds that I record, like field recordings of harsh sounds, of industrial sounds and stuff. And I only use that for one song, the “Solitude” song. Everything else I tried to kind of make a little softer, a little bit more harmonious with my instruments in comparison to the last album.

For Deliverance, you had quite a bit of your artwork as part of the package [the hardcover vinyl edition contained 24 pages of art]. Did you create a visual component to this album?

Danielle de Picciotto: Well, the cover is artwork of mine. It’s a painting. It’s a part of a painting that I did. It’s very simple this time; I wanted to concentrate more on the music. But the cover is a painting, which I just sold, actually.

Was it done specifically for the album, or was it existing work that you felt fit?

Danielle de Picciotto: I did it shortly before the album because I also had a really large exhibition. It was kind of a retrospective, and it was one of the last ones that I painted. It’s this girl, and she has these kind of spikes in her head, but they look like they could also be like a halo. So it’s a weird mixture, and she kind of looks at you in this kind of questioning way. It somehow was how I felt at the time that I was recording the album. So I thought that’s really representative of a certain atmosphere I’d like to have in my music.

The first video from the album features some of your artwork in animated form. Could you discuss that?

Danielle de Picciotto: Those are my latest paintings and drawings, and the song is called “Beautiful Creatures.” And it’s about me thinking that we’re all actually superheroes but we just don’t know it, and that we’re kind of caught in the mortal coil. And so the drawings are kind of in that gist, people carrying huge burdens or kind of being lost in a kind of weird surreal world. I have a really great animation artist I work with here. I have done a couple of projects with him lately, so I sent him my drawings and he animates them, and then I put them together into a video and send it back to him. It was kind of back and forth. It’s only half of the song actually; there are two more verses, but it’s so much work. I wouldn’t have been able to get it done in time. So we just did half the song.

Do you feel that the pandemic had any impact or influence on the album?

Danielle de Picciotto: Yeah, it was influenced by the pandemic because I’ve been in lockdown here since last March. We only had like two months, August and September, which were a little lighter where restaurants could open again. It’s been pretty intense. I wanted to kind of write lyrics about what’s happening, but in an abstract way, and also kind of try to find the beauty in spite of the madness. So I really tried concentrating on the idea that there’s beauty in everything, as crazy as it gets.

Have you been doing much with online performances?

Danielle de Picciotto: It actually really inspired me. At the beginning, in last April/ May, I did quite a few together with Alexander for our other band hackedepicciotto. And then after a while, you could tell that they were being swamped by internet performances. So we thought we’d stop doing that. But it’s really influenced me. I’m thinking of doing more, but actually more like a real show. Not only if there’s a lockdown; it kind of inspired me because I thought, wow, you can do so many things, like mixing art and objects, that you wouldn’t be able to do normally because it would just mean carrying around too many things for a tour. So I’m kind of working on that at the moment, and I’m planning to try and do something that’s like a multimedia show in my studio that I’m going to be streaming online for people. So it really inspired me.

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