Interview with Patrick Wagner of Gewalt 

Photo by Jana Edisonga

Two years after releasing their debut album, Paradies, Gewalt are back with a new single, ‘Trans / Monika in Scherben,’ and have announced a second studio album to be released in 2024. The Berlin/Vienna quartet consists of 808, Helen Henfling, Jasmin Rilke, and Patrick Wagner. Wagner had previously been in the band Surrogat and ran record labels before stepping away from music for over a decade. Henfling encouraged him to try creating new music, and Gewalt was born. The group has a noisy, post-punk sound that, while incorporating electronic beats, always maintains raw power and intensity. During a Zoom interview, Wagner discussed the new single, his return to music, and more.

Could you talk about the creative process behind the single? Was it different from past work?

Patrick Wagner: Definitely, because it was for a movie. So, it was like we were told to write a hero theme and a vulnerability theme for a trans person. So it was really hard to get into this whole theme. None of us is a trans person, so we had to kind of somehow [think] like how it might feel. And we talked to some people. So that was really interesting. And we really shot it from our hips, as we say. So we just went into the studio, wrote it, and recorded it. And we wondered that it turned out to be kind of hit-ish. So that was kind of different compared to the work we did with Paradies or stuff we did before.

So was that the first time you’ve done a project where someone else was giving guidance?

Patrick Wagner: It was the first time; because we are doing the whole score for the movie. So it’s the first time we did something like that. It’s really interesting. And the movie totally turned out differently than we thought. We thought it’s very much about this Monika figure, but it’s more about the impossibility of the society to deal with people that are different, from all sides. And this pretty much matches to the whole Gewalt idea of making music, of being different, of doing things differently to other bands, and to have a different approach to any aspect of a release or of being as an artist.

You mentioned you did the whole score for the movie. Could you talk more about that and how that relates to Gewalt?

Patrick Wagner: It was quite interesting because you get from the director something like, “Oh, well this should be a bit like Morricone” or whatever. You think, ‘oh, well I’m sitting here at my laptop, and now be Morricone. No.’ And then I start always thinking, what does it mean, Morricone? So it means it’s slow, it means it’s half-time, it means it’s wide. And then I try to translate what this would mean in a Gewalt perspective. How would Gewalt produce stuff like that? And in the end, there are a lot of beats and a lot of different things, not just drone sounds. We work a lot with nature sounds on our records and we try to do things differently.

Did that process influence your overall working process at all? Do you think it impacted what’s going to emerge with the upcoming album?

Patrick Wagner: Not really. We try to see every song as the master of the work because it all relates to the beats. And when we do the beats, it’s not like, ‘ah, we want to make a punk rock song or a post-punk song,’ we always look differently. I mean, on the last record, that’s my favorite example, because we always have those really heavy themes, like the impossibility of life in general, and it’s always very top-heavy, very emotional. And I had this idea, why don’t we do kind of a Gewalt party song? And then I thought, who’s really good in doing party songs that are not stupid? And then I came like, ‘oh, Prince really did good party songs’. And then we made this beat that felt a bit like Prince. I mean, we are not Prince, so turned out to be totally different but the feeling we kind of hit. And then I thought about the lyrics and I was like, what are those people like James Brown and Prince singing about? Okay, they are just singing about fucking, like in all the songs, it’s all about fucking, all the time.

And then we’re like, ‘oh, but in Germany, no one has ever done this. No one has ever done this song. This, it’s kind of like it’s a taboo.’ And I was like, ‘no, let’s do this.’ So we wrote ‘Jahrhundertfick,’ it’s really about you meeting someone in the club and what you say is, ‘give me the fuck of the century.’ And we did this, and it turned out to be kind of like when we play. It’s a party song within this Gewalt world and it works and it’s totally different to Prince. So it has this Gewalt ethos, but it makes something else. And this is how the song is in general, how we do this. So we fail on; we point out, oh, it would be great to be ‘ba ba ba.’ And then we fail on that. And it turns out to be a Gewalt song, but the song is the master. So we can take a trap beat or we can take a metal thing or whatever. This is why we love working with a machine, because you’re not dependent on the style or anything. You can do whatever you want. That’s pretty cool.

As you have international audiences, are you thinking consciously about the fact that people outside of Germany are not going to necessarily understand the lyrics?

Patrick Wagner: That was definitely a big change last year because we toured in the US for 10 days and we played like 50 shows outside of Germany, in the non-German speaking countries. And that changed a lot how we see it as a whole. Because in Germany we always have this problem that the people come to the show and they are forced to get the intensity, to get the dance of the beats, to get the whole sonic pressure of the guitars and everything. And at the same time, they’re forced to understand every word. I’m very precise in my articulation when I’m on stage. So you must understand every word even though it’s very loud. It’s quite often that people in the audience are dancing at the same time. They are crying while they are dancing pogo.

And at the same time, they’re writing in books or in their phone, parts of the lyrics. And this is all happening together. So when we play outside of Germany, it’s partly the energy, ‘Oh, okay, they know it’s serious business, like Einstürzende Neubauten, whatever.’ It’s serious. It’s intense, but it’s all about the energy. And we felt like playing a lot of shows with this energy and the energy coming back and not the top-heavy stuff and not this weird mix of emotions you’re forced to see on stage. You’re like, ‘Okay, why are those people doing this?’ And so we felt that we now focus in our writing. And “Trans” is maybe a good example for that in our writing, on the energy part, just on the eruption of things and less on the ‘How Patrick’s feeling about the world.’

What is the status of the new album, Doppeldenk? What can we expect?

Patrick Wagner: We’re working on it. We are going to fully record it in January. So this is always a mix of writing and recording that is much more or less the same. This is how we work. We are not like, ‘oh, let’s practice this for a year.‘ We have this weird thing, like the New York art band Pussy Galore had ‘no, no, we are going to practice on stage.’ So we are not like ‘we are in the practice room for a year.’ And then you do the practicing for the recording and then you go on tour. So we try to avoid this because we don’t want to spend that much time. And I think that this perfectionism that’s right now in the music industry, technically, as musically with the help of AI you just need time and then you can put any song together that’s totally perfect.

We think that’s so super boring. And that’s one of the reasons when we play, especially when we played in the US, we played with so many bands and they all reacted to us like, ‘oh my god, I forgot, I really forgot one pure thing. This energy, this rage, this true rage. Not the playing of all those emotions. The real thing. We forgot. Shit. We spend time with our pedal boards.’ They realized we don’t have one, we just have like two things there. That’s it. This is not important for a good show. This is another part of why all this stuff sounds to me quite the same. And so we try to be very direct, to be very vulnerable. Things can not work, it’s all okay with us.

As someone who has a lot of experience in the music industry, what are your thoughts on the current role of singles?

Patrick Wagner: Okay, that’s a good Gewalt question because when we founded ourselves, we decided whenever we have two songs, just record it somehow. And then whoever wants to put it out can bring it out as a seven-inch. And we had the same deal for all the labels who did it. So we did it on seven different labels and brought it out. Now it’s the 11th seven-inch we brought out. And at the beginning, when we did this five years ago, people were like, ‘Oh no, you cannot tour without an album. You cannot make a career out of it.’ And we were like, ‘Okay, then we won’t, that’s fine with us.’ But it turned out that we played way more than most of the other bands and we did not get stuck in this. ‘Oh, album, promotion…’ So just whenever we did something, we brought it out. And now there’s an album also, but we still do this seven-inch thing. And it relates to the digital world as well. It’s a song, you put it out, put it somewhere, people like it or not, the algorithm jumps in or not.

But we are not this ‘Oh, collecting and Oh, make three different colors of everything.’ I think this is all bullshit. This is boring. So we are not about this. It’s just like, ‘oh, this is a good format. Bring it out. It’s fast. That’s good.’ And it relates to the moment when we created it. Let’s bring it out and not wait one and a half years and have a marketing plan or whatever.

I’ve read about the beginnings of this project and how you had been away from the music industry for a while, but could you talk about what brought you back into music?

Patrick Wagner: Oh, that was my guitar player, Helen. Because I hadn’t played for 12 years and I had really bad depression for four years where I was just staring at the wall at home. And so she kind of got me out of there. I’d really forgot that I ever made music before. I’d forgotten this part. I had cut myself off, and she was like, ‘Patrick, why don’t you play guitar? Why don’t you write songs?’ I started thinking about it and then I came to this conclusion that I’m really afraid of writing lyrics because with my first band, I was kind of famous for my lyrics and I had a lot of followers. It was not big time, but for a lot of people I was important and was a big influence for them. So I was afraid of that. And I was afraid of the stage. I was afraid of failing, of being bad. And she was like, ‘Let’s play.’ And I was like, ‘Do you play something?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, I never play guitar on stage, but I can play.’ And then we played together and found our first bass player and we said, ‘okay, when we have five songs we can all play, we go on stage.’

So we practiced five times, had five songs we could play. And then we played a sold out show in Berlin because all the people wanted to see how I fuck it up. But it didn’t happen. It turned out to be good. I dunno why. So it kind of worked and it appealed to something and then we just thought, okay, let’s go on. And in 2018, two years later, Jack White, his management called and was asking us if we want to go on a support tour with him. So with this band, everything, it seems like everything comes out itself. If someone would’ve told me … we played this summer in Paris, a crowd of 500 French people, like not the German diaspora, it was 500 French people, half of them were singing along to “Es Funktioniert.” And if someone would’ve told me five years ago, I would say this won’t happen ever. So this is a beautiful thing about Gewalt that somehow it comes together.

And we have no control, chaos control, we have no control about this. I don’t want to have [control], this is another thing we don’t want.

The latest single, “TRANS / MONIKA IN SCHERBEN,” can be purchased here.
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