Interview with Jean-Heave Peron, founding member of German Krautrock band Faust- published in Sound Proof Magazine, September 2009
CL: Welcome to Canada! Canadians can’t wait to hear the sounds of Faust; we’ve waited so long, is the band looking forward to coming to Canada?
JHP: This is our first time coming to Canada, and as I am from France and France has a strong relationship with Canada, we are very fond of Canada, so it’s like going to the Promised Land. It is exciting to play in Canada, to Europeans Canada is mystical. We are interested to discover the myth of Canada, the endless land of forests and lakes, long winters, wood cutters, and extremely bizarre artists.
CL: The band has a very unique name, a reflection of the cultural heritage of members of the band, how did you come up with the name?
JHP: We wanted to create a distinct name, and came up with many German names, but they were only pronounceable by Germans, and we wanted a more global name. Finally after a long night one of the members pounded their fist on a table and called out Faustus. Faustus is the German folk tale of the man who sells his soul to the devil for short-term gain. We felt like we were selling our souls to the music industry so it was a perfect fit, we decided on Faust and it was perfect, it made sense, and was pronounceable by everyone
CL: As a group, Faust was only around for a few short years, yet the group left a lasting legacy. What happened in the ensuing years after the breakup of the band, things seemed to be very quiet for a while.
JHP: Well we really started around ’70 with Polydor, but by ’72 our relationship with them had deteriorate and we were kicked out. We signed with Virgin in the UK right away, but there were artistic and fundamental differences and we were kicked out again. We never officially toured again for a long time, but we did a lot of underground events, concerts, festivals, Dada events in the South of Germany, playing the music as it was meant to be heard. We did have to take jobs to pay for families and costs of living because we were no longer on a label, but we were and have been making music ever since, just not so mainstream.
CL: It seemed that from early on, Faust paid particular attention to the cover artwork of the albums, and to the packaging of your albums. Bands such as New Order have also been known for their attentions to packaging, but how relevant was this aspect to the bands image?
JHP: As a group we were very interested in the message of the music both inside and outside. This was the age of the LP so there was room for proper art, proper covers. The first impression of a band was from the image on the album, if the image was no good, uninteresting then people wouldn’t explore the music, the band. The dimensions of the album, the art, was it a good cover or not? It was all very important. In the beginning, during our Wumme commune days we were very hands on with all aspects of the design. It can be seen in our first couple of album covers. After we returned to mainstream society we didn’t have the same amount of time to focus on the covers, so we basically lost control over the overall design, but the first covers were entirely directed by Faust.
CL: How did the band come up with such a unique sound and texture of music?
JHP: Faust was a group made up of members from various regions of Germany and Europe. Each member had their own musical sensibilities and regional sound and this was reflected in their personal sound and style of playing. There were Dada ideologies in the rhythm section, other members were focused on the technical aspects of the music, such as the creation of the “black boxes”, the special effect pedals that were connected to each member of the band and their instruments that let us improvise. We came together and experimented and it all worked to create something unique, something different, and distinct.
CL: Faust was a key member of the Krautrock movement, what exactly was this movement, what were its ideologies?
JHP: In the late 60’s, early 70’s Europe was engaged in a state of social, political unrest, destabilization. There were heavy political, social upheavals against authoritarian rule felt in much of Europe. Young people were expressing this unrest in art, in fashion, in music, in activism, in all countries, Germany especially. In general the youth wanted to react against the past ways of doing things. Faust ourselves didn’t want to rely on the Anglo-American way of making music; our sound was a rejection of that musicianship.
In Germany the new generation growing up after world war II was trying to react against the enormous sense of guilt and shame that had been placed on Germany, no other nation has had so much guilt put on their shoulders as Germany had. The entire world is built on blood, genocide, killing, but Germany was made the scapegoat. There should be great sympathy for German folk, there was a whole generation doubled over with guilt. Krautrock was a reaction to the guilt, we were born after the war, we are German and have an immense cultural treasure, and we have emotions, feelings. Krautrock attempted to place distance between the rich German culture and this painful part of their history while at the same time creating something distinct, something new.
CL: Where do you see Faust in respect to the Krautrock movement?
JHP: Faust was always on the edge of the movement. There were scenes in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Dusseldorf, and each had their own characters. Faust was very fortunate that the industry catered to us and gave us the ability to live in retreat for 2 years in complete isolation, making music, making instruments/ effects/ exploring the far realms of music making live. It was a magical time. We weren’t really accepted then, a curiosity, but people accept us now. But we don’t give a dam about history or the past, we aren’t serious about music, we do it seriously but we’re not serious about it.
CL: Very few bands are so fortunate as to have such a music focused existence as you had during your Wumme commune days. Perhaps you could describe it a little bit.
JHP: Basically we were approached by someone from the label looking for a band. A band was hastily put together and we cut a demo in the studio in 2 days and submitted it. The label really liked it and wanted to sign us, so we decided to go for broke and make some demands, we figured that we had nothing to lose. We wanted to be fully free to create music; we didn’t want to have to worry about food, housing, bills, etc., and to have our own studio with an engineer. Much to the shock of the band, our demands were accepted. We were given an old school in Wumme with its own studio and an engineer, Kurt Graupner. Days and nights were spent making music, with no distractions, there were no women only dogs, and it was all a blur. So very intense and rewarding, yet painful, hard, full of brainstorming, emotional crisis’s. But then it was over. The label, Polydor, demanded a product, and the band gave a demo, Faust Clear. The reaction was mixed, part of the industry liked it, others didn’t, it was too avant-garde, the label wanted the German Beatles, so the second album that was produced was more accessible, but the 1st was the best, the truest.
CL: What has been the lasting influence of Faust?
JHP: There has definitely been an impact on the music scene. At first we were treated tongue-in-cheek, even the name of the movement Krautrock, dictates that. But very soon the critics, the experts realized that there was power in the music, it was influential. That influence can still be felt and heard today, the younger generation is rediscovering, still dancing, that’s the best evidence of relevance.
CL: What is the audience for a band that has been around for over 40 years?
JHP: 10 to 20 years ago our audience was middle-aged male intellectuals that wanted music for the brain. But we make music for the groin, for the whole body and now our audience is much younger, both men and women, it’s very exciting. I wish it had changed sooner as the energy of the band, our strength, our wildness combines with the energy of the audience to create something magical, special. It is very satisfying now.
CL: What kind of music is influencing Faust now?
JHP: I am very bad with names so I can’t be specific, but I would say all kinds of music, we listen to everything. I organize a music festival in Germany each year and listen to lots of different music and there are just so many good bands, musicians, music out there. But why don’t they get the exposure? There just aren’t enough places to expose all the great music that is out there. Basically we are interested in anything that is audible, visual.
CL: At this point in your career, what are the goals of Faust?
JHP: We’ve reached the point where we’ve said much, had many different line-ups, even now there are 2 factions, but we don’t communicate with the other faction, we respect each other, but there is no reunion, Each of the members of our band have solo projects, lives to lead, but we are very satisfied with the achievements of Faust, it’s such a great feeling when I hear my children talking to their friends about me and what Faust has acheved. There were always doubts,” what have I done with my life? Is this right? Is this juvenile bullshit?” But hearing the kids talk about us, with pride, means this was right, we are accepted and enjoyed by others, the energy that went through me from the music, the art, I was a vector for this magic, so we have achieved everything we hoped for and more.
CL: As a band from another age in the annals of music history, what are your thoughts on the digital revolution?
JHP: What is, is, what is right is good. It’s silly to stand against digital technology, we cannot work without it. The digital realm has changed everything, making music, selling it, listening to it. I can listen to all types of music now through the internet, throat singing from Mongolia if I want. If the technology is used properly it is fantastic, but it can be abused, like people sitting solitary in a room, chatting with people but not really communicating, or seeing anybody, this isolation is dangerous. The music industry must rethink and reorganize itself, but a record label can’t put a knife to the throats of musicians anymore.
CL: Ideally a musician wants to live by the proceeds of their music, but in this age of “free” music, that has become increasingly difficult. What ultimately is the importance of the music, to be heard or to be sold?
JHP: The most important thing is that the music is heard, whatever happens, happens after the music is heard. Dancing, war, money, it all comes after hearing the music. Emotions are captured through art, it vibrates outside of us, and music has to be made, shared, and heard. I would not play just because of money, if some person wanted to pay a hundred thousand Euros to pay for something I didn’t agree with I wouldn’t play, but I would play for free in some small unknown venue if the motivation is correct, payment is deserved but not as the sole motivation.
CL: As the consumer looks to venues like ITunes to purchase their music, many are now buying single tracks instead of entire albums. Are album endangered?
JHP: The world is zapping through everything, life, relationships, music, and singles are taking over. Albums are endangered because people aren’t taking the time to listen to albums, it’s all speed, speed, speed, and we need to refocus our lives and goals.
FAUST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY EXCERPT