I met Nick Hobbs quite randomly at Tallinn Music Week 2017, and he kindly let me interview him about his numerous adventures in the music business.
How did you end up working in the music industry?
N: When I was sixteen, I heard music that inspired me greatly and completely changed my life. I had always listened to and enjoyed music and was a fan of certain things, but that one moment directed my life more and more towards music, without me knowing it.
J: What was the music?
N: It was a single piece called “Orange Claw Hammer” by Captain Beefheart, on an album called “Troust Mask Replica”. I heard a friend of mine play it and went “wow”.
J: So you didn’t really consider any alternative careers?
N: Not really, no. I wanted to be a biologist, but I didn’t go to university. My first proper job was a lab technician biologist, and I probably could have qualified to work in nature reserve, which was an ideal I had back then, but I didn’t. Instead, I got into working with music.
You have been in the business for decades. How has the business changed, and how has your view on the business changed?
N: I have changed by gaining experience. I have made a lot of mistakes, and I know more about music business in general. The business has changed and continues to change in lots of ways. Live music business, which is my main focus, hasn’t changed as much as the recording business, but compared to when I started, there are many more festivals in the business and the technical level of production is much more hi-tech. The principals are the same – sound, lights, music, people on stage – but the productions have got bigger. The lights have got brighter and they move more; the sound has got louder and more hi-fi in a way. There is an obvious trend away from conventional live bands, and there are now many more formats that didn’t use to exist, or hardly existed. When I started, there was no such thing as electronic music. There were DJs, but they weren’t a big part of the scene – certainly not a part of the live music scene. There was no overlap: a DJ worked in a club and played music for people to dance to, but you didn’t organize a concert with a DJ. That concept just didn’t exist yet. As I remember, one of the first DJs doing that was Fat Boy Slim. He was the first DJ star as a concept. Of course, there were blurry areas – if you look at, say, Run-D.M.C, they were also pioneers in the late 70s and early 80s. There was this hip hop thing where there was a scratcher – turntablist, in technical terms – and a rapper, the MC. Those combinations started in the early 80s, more or less. That was part of the movement away from bands: music could be played from either scratched records or, later on, straight from computers. There were no computers back when I started; I got my first computer early on, in 1983 or so. Before that, people didn’t have computers.
J: How did that change your work?
N: It doesn’t change the work directly, but it changes a lot indirectly – just like mobile phones which came after computers, and of course the Internet which came some years later. I work just as hard as I ever did. I always maximize my work hours, so it hasn’t liberated me in a way that I wouldn’t need to work as much. But it has enabled teleworking; I don’t need to be in the office, which is a nice thing. I can be anywhere on the planet. I’m free to work in a café in Tallinn and it doesn’t make much difference. Of course I need to be in the office sometimes, to see people and have human relationships with them, but it’s not essential every day.
J: So how much do you do remote work?
N: Quite a lot. I’m in Istanbul maybe two thirds of the time, one third I’m traveling. When I’m in Istanbul, I usually come to the office three or four days a week. The rest of the time I work from home. I might come to work later than other people, but then I work before coming to the office, or I might work late to the evening. It’s very flexible, and I try to keep the weekends free and do other things. It’s not really liberation, but it’s a big change. I’m a pretty tech-savvy person; I like hi-tech things and having the latest iPhone, iPad and computer. I get a pleasure from things that work well and quick, and I use the technology a lot. I don’t need to be in front of my computer, because I can check my emails on my phone or carry my whole photo collection with me on my iPad. I have an access to the cloud with almost my entire music collection which is 30,000 or more tracks on iTunes. This kind of stuff was out of the question before. It has integrated into my lifestyle, and I can do things in ways that I couldn’t have done otherwise. I do other things apart from music business as well, and those are all integrated: I’m an artist, I teach and dance… It all becomes one flow. I don’t separate my life into working and playing – it’s all one thing.
J: Do you think you work more than before now?
N: I have always been a workaholic, from since I was about twenty.
J: So maybe you just enjoy working more?
N: I have always enjoyed my work – not always-always, but at least since I was twenty. It has not been an issue for me, though I have had some other issues. For example, my eyesight has been getting screwed from looking at screens all the time. That didn’t use to happen. But I try to have my own therapies for my lifestyle: I make sure I get a lot of exercise, I eat well, and I’m really sporty. I keep myself in good shape to counter sitting in front of a computer. I also set aside time to have meetings with people – physical meetings in the same space, not just Skype meetings. I like brainstorming and exchanging ideas, things that you can’t do through a computer. I also like picking up the telephone and speaking to somebody, because it cuts through email change and it’s more human. You get different kind of information on the phone than when people are writing, though that depends on who you’re dealing with. Some people don’t want to speak on the phone, and some are horrible on the phone but a little bit better on the email. Those are business decisions, in a way. And then there’s friends – I’m not someone who likes to use Facebook as a primary way to maintain human relationships. I find that a bit weird. I like to see my friends; I don’t have too much contact with them unless I see them and spend time with them. I don’t call them much, and I don’t put things on Facebook saying “I had this for breakfast today” or “I did this today”. It’s a waste of time, and you’re not fully alive when you do that. That’s the big disadvantage of our IT lifestyle.
We get trapped in the world of inputs; we have so many sources of inputs that we are spending all our time receiving information, data and messages that we don’t really need. We are not giving enough time to living our lives. I try to reduce these inputs, so I’m not available on WhatsApp – if you want to call me, just call me on the telephone. I’m on Skype if you really want to get hold of me, but with reluctance. You can send me an email instead. Rather than being available on every possible channel, I tell people that these are the channels that work for me and more than this is too much.
J: What about Twitter?
N: I don’t use Twitter. I have a plan to use it, but have never got around to do it. I don’t use Instagram either. I feel that I’m over-connected already – I get too much information, too many mails, too many Facebook posts… It’s enough. I want to withdraw from that a bit and be more of a hermit – a data hermit, a bit of a recluse. It’s the same as going somewhere, and you can decide to take the bus or just walk. It takes maybe five minutes longer to walk there, but if you do, you’re more alive because you’re experiencing the city.
What have been the greatest challenges in the history of your company?
N: I have had lots of challenges. Business challenges happen when everything goes wrong. When things are going right, you don’t really feel challenged – everything’s just going well, things are moving and you’re making money. It’s when you have disasters that there’s challenge. Then you feel like you really just want to go and hide, but that’s not an option when you’re running a business. You don’t have the option to be depressed and take three weeks off.
J: What do you do then?
N: You just go “fuck it”. You get angry and then carry on. There’s nothing else to do. You could retire or change businesses, but normally people don’t do that. It’s much easier said than done. The times when I’ve been let down by clients are very difficult situations to handle – like when I’ve booked something for a festival, and two days before the festival the money still hasn’t arrived, or the festival has some serious problem.
J: How do you prepare for those?
N: You don’t prepare for them. You just try to predict them. We have learned from trial and error to try to choose our clients carefully and make them sign all kinds of things that make it clear what their responsibilities and obligations are, but it’s always a risky business. There are always things that go wrong, and sometimes those things are outside the client’s control and have huge consequences to the client, such as an act of terrorism. Then there are things that go wrong that are inside the client’s control but nobody predicts them, like if the ticket sale is much less than expected, or they lose a sponsor, or the headline artist pulls out on the last minute because they’re sick. You just have to deal with those kinds of things.
My worst experience by far was when I had a Czech partner and he managed to lose me almost everything I had. It was a lot of money for me. It was very painful, and it all happened very quickly, so I didn’t see it coming and couldn’t back out of it quick enough. My partner betrayed my trust, and when the losses came, he just disappeared and didn’t pay anything. I was left with a huge debt to pay. Then the same thing happened to me in a smaller scale in Italy that same year – I got screwed by two Italian partners, who were very happy to share profits but very unhappy to share losses. Those were tough experiences, so now I’m much more cautious about partners.
J: Has that affected your contracts?
N: Yes, we have much tougher contracts. I’m much more careful about getting into any partnership. It’s a pity, because I like doing things on trust and just a handshake. I don’t really care about written contracts. I’m oldschool and prefer to just go and do things together – then you don’t need to tie people up with it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that very often. There was also a time when I made what probably was a big mistake, very early on in my career, when I was a concert agent with a really strong roster. I could have developed that further, but I decided that I wanted to get into music management, so I gave up being an agent for a while. But being an artist agent is actually one of the best businesses to be in in the live music business; it’s much less stressful than being a manager or a promoter. Generally, from the business point of view, it’s a really good and interesting business and I was in a good position with a good roster of artists, some of whom are still around and famous. I kind of threw it away, because I didn’t appreciate what I had. I didn’t really understand the value of it. It was the mid 80s, and there weren’t any mentors who could have told me “hold on, you have a huge asset here and you should just develop it instead of changing horses”. But there’s no point crying over spilled milk.
J: What did you do after you had those accidents?
N: When we lost a lot back in 2010, we had a big crisis. I lost all the capital I had – all the liquid capital for sure, and some of the non-liquid capital. We cut some costs, but there wasn’t so much that we could cut. We also tried to diversify the business a bit. We tried to be careful and take less risks.
J: And sell more?
N: Well, we tried to turn the company into profitability, which didn’t really succeed. The company hasn’t made profit since 2010, but we haven’t made those losses either, so we’ve survived. I sold a flat I had in Istanbul – I wouldn’t call it an investment because it didn’t make any money, but when I sold it, I at least got the money back. I kept that money to keep the company going. That was okay, but then I no more had the money that had been something like a pension fund for myself.
J: So you need to work harder?
N: I don’t work harder, because I already worked as hard and smart as I could. I try to be as smart as I can be, but if I’m stupid, then I’m stupid. I’m just me. Of course I encourage the people I work with to be intelligent and knowledgeable and take initiatives as much as I can – and we have survived. We have got into some big partnerships; it’s too early to say whether they will save me, so to speak, but for the moment it’s okay. The last decade has been really tough for the whole music business in Eastern Europe. The events in Russia and Ukraine, the situation in Turkey, the collapse of the Greek economy – all of these things hit us badly. There’s the situation in the Middle East, too, as we don’t really have any business there anymore. It’s tough not just for us but also our clients and everybody else. We were booking festivals, which was a good business, but we lost quite a few of them because they had a tough time and tried to cut their costs by not employing us to do their bookings. We got hit by all of that at the same time – but we’re still here.
J: That’s impressive.
N: I don’t know if it’s impressive… but it’s something. I don’t know – it may just mean that I’m crazy.
J: Or in the right business.
N: I don’t think I’m in the right business. I’m in the business that I’m in.
J: You’re in the business that you know something about.
N: Yes, I do know something about it.
You concentrated completely on Eastern European market for a long time. What led you there in the first place?
N: I was managing a band called Henry Cow in late 70s, and they were politically very left wing. For whatever reason, partly because of a misplaced left idealism, they were interested in Eastern Europe. Somehow, the music they were playing resonated with many musicians in Eastern Europe so they had some contacts there, particularly Czechoslovakia but also Hungary, Russia… That developed into meeting and corresponding with people. Some of them became my friends, and some still are. From that, I quickly developed an interest in Eastern Europe. I traveled there for the first time when I was nineteen – something about Eastern Europe interested me, I didn’t really know what. It was exotic, and I couldn’t afford going to India or South America or somewhere like that. Eastern Europe was exotic and affordable. Then we had contacts with local musicians, and I also started working in Poland in mid 80s. Everything got mixed up together. It was interesting, and some of the music was very good. The people were very interesting, as people, because of the difficulties they had with making music about the times they were living in.
J: So it was more out of personal interest than business?
N: It wasn’t business, no. It became business after the fall of the Berlin Wall, sometime in the beginning of the 90s, but it never was planned to be. I never had a plan.
J: Do you have a plan now?
N: No… There is no plan – I just try to survive. Of course I try to develop the business, because that’s what you do when you’re running one, but it’s not a plan. You can plan when you’re sitting on a mountain of money and you go, “how do I spend this?” But if you don’t have the money and you’re just trying to survive, there is no plan.
J: Well, your plan could include building up that pile of money.
N: It’s not so easy – that sounds great in theory, but we employ a number of people and have certain overheads with no easy way to cut them. We are in a risk business, so we have to continue taking risks and making some level of investments.
J: What do you invest in?
N: For example, we have invested in the agency. We have started working with artists who aren’t making any money yet, but may make some in the future. Young people are the future of the company. Promoting concerts is also an investment, because you don’t know if they’re going to be successful. It’s always a risk investment. If you start an event yourself, you may not recoup the money for years – or if the event doesn’t become profitable, you may never recoup it. Those are all investments. The concert business is essentially an investment business because every time you confirm a concert, you’re making an investment. It’s not a steady business in that sense.
You book artists to festivals and venues. How do you evaluate the artist?
N: That’s an interesting question, and I don’t have an easy answer. I spend quite a lot of time thinking and discussing this question. Obviously, the old ways don’t work anymore. The old way was simple: you looked at the chart position an artist was on, the number of radio plays, how many records they had sold… That information was very useful. If the artist had any history in the market, you could look at how many tickets they had sold last time.
You could look at the hype and whether someone was on the front page of the NME. The principles haven’t changed, but the means have. First of all, record sales have become meaningless; streaming statistics is where it’s at if you want to know what people are listening to, but the statistics don’t tell you the same things as record sales do. It’s difficult to get hold of the statistics, and people don’t consume music in the same way anymore – if you’re just listening to music on your Spotify channel, you’re not necessarily relating to that music as a fan who would have bought the record. If you go to a shop and pay ten or fifteen euros for a record, you do it because you really expect to enjoy the record. Most people wouldn’t buy it otherwise. Then you take it home and listen to it, and maybe you like it, maybe you don’t, but you’re relating to the artist more – it’s something that belongs to that artist, you’re buying a piece of them. It’s more of a commitment. When you listen to something on Spotify, you’re not committed to anything. Just because you’re listening to an artist doesn’t mean that you’ll actually buy a ticket to a concert. The relationship is weaker. You may not even know what you’re listening to, because it’s like listening to the radio without a DJ. So, as a promoter, the relationship between streams and concert tickets is not clear.
Of course there are Facebook likes, YouTube views and other similar statistics which are useful. They tell you something, but not necessarily what you want to know. On YouTube, for example, there are bands that have videos with millions of views, but they don’t translate into tickets because all they have done is a good video. People like the video, but it doesn’t mean they wanna go see the band live. There’s something similar with Facebook. Your friends are liking something, and you like it as well; everybody likes it, but it doesn’t really mean you’re going to the concert. There are genres that aren’t as visible on Facebook, like, I don’t know – metal… classical music for sure. You have to judge things based on such things. That’s the game for every promoter and we all have to deal with it. That’s the information you have to access to make the decision of how many tickets you can sell. You might get it right, or you might get it wrong; if you get it right, you’re in the business; if you get it wrong, you’re in trouble one way or the other. You may overestimate, or you may underestimate, but either way you’re in trouble.
How to evaluate the artists is an on-going question; I don’t have the answer and I don’t think any promoter does, everyone is trying to figure it out. We use different sources of information we feel might help us make more informed decisions on which artist we should go for. Unfortunately, the live music business is constructed on an auction model where very often the artist agents or the artists themselves go for the highest price: promoter X offers 20,000, then promoter Y offers 21,000 so they go with promoter Y. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best show – the ticket price could be too high and they don’t sell enough, or maybe it’s not the right venue for the artist. Maybe their marketing’s not as good, or what ever.
A lot of times, decisions are money-driven from the artist side but actually neglect other factors, which may be more important in longer term. That’s a discussion you can have with artist managers, but the agents don’t care too much – they’re just milking their cows. Managers should care, but the shelf life of artists can be much shorter than it used to be, so the pressure is on everyone to make as much money as possible now, not in five years’ time. The artists could mean nothing in five years. That’s the business we are in, and that’s the change from what it used to be; it used to be more about long-term thinking or building a career.
J: Is it about having more artists these days?
N: There are definitely more artists – more agents, more managers, more songs, more channels… There’s a lot of “more”.
J: But less big names.
N: Generally, I think, there are fewer big names or fewer new big names. There are more, you know, comets – they appear, they rise and burn and then disappear.
J: Are you in the “comet” business?
N: Well, we are in the music business so you also have to be in the comet business, but it’s really tricky. This year, for example, Chainsmokers is a comet act. One, two years ago they were a club act, now they’re the winner act. Next year… who knows. So if you’re the promoter of a festival and you decide to have Chainsmokers because everyone is talking about them, the agent knows to put the price really high, and you’re taking a big risk because it might be too late by the time of your festival, or you might overestimate how it translates into ticket sales. These are the same problems every promoter has. There’s nothing unfair about that – it’s just that the market is changing and you have to be agile, sharp and quick about making good decisions. Maybe it helps if you’re young. I’m not young, but it doesn’t make that much difference because I employ other people. I want them to tell me, because I understand nothing about hipster music in a sense. Most of it, for me, is totally boring, so I can’t tell – I can’t judge. If I judged it on my own criteria, I would much rather go see an old rock band who are live on stage at least, rather than a couple of people sitting behind machines or just standing there not doing anything. What kind of show is that? But, you know…
What should the artists do to make your job easier, to help you judge
N: What the artists should do is start sharing streaming statistics, say, “in Finland I have 70,000 listens on my last album or single”, and that gives you some measure. But they don’t give that information. They could access that information – the only people who can access it are the artists themselves and the record company. It’s not public knowledge.
J: I could make it public, at least for promoters.
N: It’s their choice. Usually, it’s an obvious disadvantage to make it public, so they don’t.
J: But you would like to have that information?
N: Yes, of course I would like it. It’s like chart positions: if you know that artist X is the top of the charts, it’s concrete information. You know whether they’re number one for eight weeks or just one week – those tell you different things. But if you look at streaming statistics, you see how many streams they have globally, but not how many they have in each market.
J: But on YouTube, for example, you can see viewing times and all the countries separately.
N: YouTube is a bit more useful for information – except that it’s not the main source for most countries. Streaming is more important than YouTube.
J: But it’s an indication.
N: It’s all an indication of something, yes. But what it is an indication of is not so clear.
J: What about the comments, like if they’re asking for more?
N: That’s too much. I don’t read YouTube comments.
J: So the artist should pick some comments for you?
N: Well, I think that’s too micro. Maybe if you’re on the club level where you’re looking into bringing an artist in for the first time, then you see what hype and social media noise there is around a particular artist. That could be useful, because you see the tastemakers talking about a certain act, and that’s meaningful. But generally it doesn’t help, I think – that’s too much detail and nobody could possibly have the time to analyze it.
J: What makes a band easy to sell?
N: That’s too general a question – every act, not just band, is different. You have to look at them as unique things. Of course, there are many acts who share things in common, but each act is still different and unique and the selling points of certain bands might not be the same. For some, it’s their hit single or hit track on Spotify; for another band it could be their live show, or their video; some act could have a sexy singer… You know. Those things all mix up, and the combinations make each act different. You have to look at them case by case, and generalizations don’t help you too much. It varies from genre to genre: the criteria for hard rock are very different from the criteria for hipster pop. Hard rock’s credibility is on the live show, for hipster pop it’s how many streaming plays you have. For DJs it’s different again, and so on. You have to look at each genre also.
What was last year’s highlight for you in your business?
N: I guess, for business highlight, we had Rammstein in Wrocław. The concert was sold out. We didn’t promote it, but we booked it, and it was very successful; business-wise that was the most successful thing we were involved in last year. Then there was some other big stuff that wasn’t as successful, but was still good for us financially… I remember the lowlights a bit more than the highlights, because there were a few.
J: Do you want to talk about them?
N: Yeah, the biggest lowlight was that we had to cancel Muse in Istanbul, because it was two weeks after the failed coup d’état. Muse just refused to come there. It was a big concert with lots of bad economical consequences – for us, because we didn’t get paid, and for our client, because they lost money. It wasn’t really Muse’s fault; it was understandable under those circumstances. It wasn’t insurable either, so the client didn’t get the money back. So that was a lowlight. It wasn’t our fault and nobody blamed us, since there was nothing we could do about it – nobody expected a coup d’état. There were some other lowlights, but that one was maybe the worst. We had quite a few losses in Istanbul because of the security situation. But Muse was the biggest thing we lost.
J: Do you have any new plans to bring Muse?
N: No, they won’t come to Istanbul. It’s going to take years. No big bands are coming to Istanbul this year. For now, the Turkish market for big bands is over. Maybe it will come back next year. We don’t know.
J: But luckily you have other markets that you can concentrate on.
N: I wouldn’t say it’s lucky, but working in other countries is a fact in our business model.
J: Was it a conscious decision to go broader in Europe?
N: I’m not sure if I ever make conscious decisions. I just make decisions. They’re not unconscious, but I’m not sure what the “conscious” bit adds to the decision; of course I make the decision based on what seems like a good idea at the time. Then you maybe realize afterwards that it wasn’t a good idea, but at the time it seemed like one. Conscious decisions… I don’t know – we are a fast moving business, you have to be ready to spot opportunities and take them if you can. It might be a band you just accidentally bump into and think they’re really tight and have lots of potential, and you go for it immediately. You don’t wait for two weeks. If you wait, someone will be there before you. Generally, it’s like that. I can’t predict it – I might see a band tonight and think that they’re wonderful. I don’t know if that will happen or not. If it happens, I have to be open to it. Of course, you put yourself in situations where those chances can happen: by being here, by going to gigs. If you don’t do that, then nothing happens.
J: Is that your main reason to take part in music conferences?
N: No, I enjoy them. In this case, I was invited because I chaired two panels and did some speed meetings for Music Estonia. I enjoy the process. I like Tallinn because it’s not too big, and I like the people around here. Of course this is also good for networking and blah blah… Maybe some business will come out of it, but it’s not my prime motive at all, no. I could be staying in Istanbul and also be generating business; whatever I was doing, I would somehow be moving the business because that’s what I have to do. So it’s not that. I go to conferences because I enjoy it.
J: Have you found any new bands in Tallinn Music Week?
N: Yes, actually. I found two that I like. One is a Russian band with a really weird name, erm… Glintshake. They sent me a link to their video, and I looked at it and thought “fuck, this is brilliant!” And then I looked at another video and thought it was brilliant, too. They’re playing tonight, so I will go see them and get in touch with their manager. But they’re not commercial, so we will never make money from them. I might work with them because I like working on exciting projects, but they’re not going to make us money. To begin with, they sing in Russian – there’s no market for music sung in Russian outside of Russia. Zero. But they’re really brilliant. They’re like a cross between Talking Heads and – well, you wouldn’t know them, but Big Flame. It’s like speed funk, and the images on the video are psychotic. It’s really “wow, they are crazy, it’s great!” This is rock’n’roll, not making safe music for people in their armchairs. It’s exciting – a lot of music that I call “hipster” is boring because you go to concerts and people are like this… With their iPhones, taking selfies. And I’m like, what happened to going crazy? Where did that go?
J: So you like going crazy?
N: Yes! I also saw a band last night which I liked called Sheep Got Waxed, a Lithuanian band. They were fun – they’re kind of like post-jazz, you could call it, instrumental punk jazz. They’re good and fun. I don’t think I’ll work with them, because I would have no idea how to possibly sell them, but at least I like them.
J: Maybe you could recommend them in some situation?
N: Maybe – or I don’t know. I’ll listen to their records, and if I like them I could think it over. But I feel that we won’t work with them, because I don’t really see how they could go commercial from a very small niche. If it’s too small, then it’s crazy for us to get involved as a business; it won’t even pay its costs. But I might be wrong. This is just my feeling. It’s not about numbers, because when a band plays at a small club, I’m not interested in the numbers – I’m interested in the potential and I have to think what it is for that artist. I like them, but what is the potential? Like the Russian band – they are great, but they sing in Russian. What’s the potential of a great band singing in Russian? I’m not sure, I have to really think about it.
J: So are you going to go talk to them?
N: Sure, I’ll go talk to them to know more about them – also because if you’re taking on a project that might be difficult business-wise, you want to feel that the process with the band and the managers is going to be smooth. If not, then it’s not worth it and it’s just going to be a pain. It’s okay working with pains when you’re making lots of money, but when you’re working with bands that aren’t making you money, you want it to be smooth.
J: But you also value the musical output when you listen to new bands?
N: Yes – I’m in the business because I’m a music-lover. If I love the music, it’s great. That’s what I want. But I have sometimes said that there are two reasons to work on a project: one is because we love it, and the other is because it’s going to make us lots of money. Those two things don’t necessarily have to be together; if they are, then that’s great, but I also take on projects that I don’t love because they’re making us money. We have no choice. But we do also take on projects that we love, just because we love them. Those are the two criteria and you have to find a balance between them.
J: Can you share an example of a project that you just loved and wanted to take on?
N: Well, we work with two Turkish artists, for example, who are both really good live but very hard to sell. Then it becomes a challenge – what are we missing, why is it not working? Is it because they have no record deal? You, as an agent, try to understand what you can do more. You might fail and not get an answer and the band just fires you.
You’re a musician yourself. What are your plans?
N: I have made music almost all my life and will carry on doing it. I had two records out last year, and will have two more out this year. I keep doing as much as I can, and I would like to do more.
J: So what are the records?
N: One of the two albums that came out last year was a project that took a long time, by an Anatolian blues rock acid band with very political lyrics. It’s quite wild – good record, good reviews. The other one was an improvised music project that also took a lot of time to edit together. It’s an exceptional record that I call meta composition: there was a process of composition after the music was recorded. Next year, my album with Brel is coming out – I translated 26 of Jacques Brel’s songs into English, and they’re sung a cappella. I had never seen that done before and wanted to do something with Brel, so I decided to do my own translations and sing them a cappella. The album is nearly ready. The other album is a non-commercial record called “Hitler (rejoice for we are absolved)”, a project with some collaborators. It’s more like radio sound theater, I’d call it – I speak and act on it instead of singing, and I wrote most of it and worked with different collaborators to make the soundscapes. It’s a political project, my own little response to bigotry and racism in Europe today. The primary thing it has to do with is that I feel that young people have forgotten the Second World War – they think it’s ancient history. Part of the reason why extreme right, bigotry, islamophobia and all those things are on the rising is that Europeans are simply so disconnected from WWII. Brexit is an example of that: Brexit only makes some kind of sense if you imagine that WWII didn’t exist and if you don’t remember why the common market of the European Union was constructed in the first place. If you have no memory of that, then maybe there is a certain logic which I don’t agree with; but if you have the memory, then you see how important the political reasons for the EU are in response to wars on the European continent. It’s totally absurd to go backwards. That’s the territory of this particular project – but it’s very extreme, so artistically, it’s not going to reach a lot of people.
J: You seem to like to do extreme projects.
N: That’s the way I am. I can only do what I’m good at – or I can only do what I believe in. Whether I’m good at it or not is for others to judge. But I can only do what I believe in.
J: That’s a good way to end the interview. Thank you very much.
Interview transcribed by Annu Savtchenko