Darkly abrasive cabaret goes in-your-face electro/industrial as the dynamic duo of Mona Mur and En Esch speak with ReGen about their music on tour and what surprises they have in store for the future.
An InterView with Mona Mur and En Esch
By: Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
For five years, the duo of Mona Mur and En Esch has become one of the most audibly dynamic, musically intriguing entities in the modern underground. As both have attained much acclaim over the past three decades for their various projects and musical incarnations – Mur having worked with members of Einstürzende Neubauten, Yello, and Republika, while En Esch is most famous for his work in KMFDM, Pigface, and Slick Idiot – the two have collaborated to create a sound that is not easily categorized. The pair’s first album, 120 Tage: The Fine Art of Beauty and Violence presented a style as seductive as it was venomous, adapting the works of Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill with their own electro/industrial predilections to make for a uniquely abrasive form of dark cabaret. Do with Me What You Want followed, comprised of more of the duo’s original compositions and creating a more singularly modern sound that was as much grounded in the danceable appeal of new wave, the belligerent attitude of punk, and the experimental textures of industrial. Having toured as Slick Idiot featuring Mona Mur in 2010, the divergent styles of the two projects came together for an unsuspecting audience, delivering a virulently sensuous blend of atmospheres that would culminate in this year’s tour with Promonium Jesters. During this tour, Mona Mur and En Esch spoke with ReGen about their time on the road and the process of bringing balance to their musical eccentricities. As well, they provide some hints about upcoming collaborations with F.M. Einheit, Mur’s further involvement in sound design for computer games, and upcoming albums. Exciting news indeed!
How is the tour going?
EE: Yeah, it was on the lower east side of New York. The tendency is the same. It’s like every city has its very specialized clubs with a very intense crowd and some rather smaller clubs, stage, and kick some ass and it was like mayhem, in a way.
MM: Absolutely, yes. It was.
The last tour you did – or rather the last series of shows you did, though it was not a full tour – through North America was with Hanzel und Gretyl. How did this tour compare in terms of the presentation of the new material and performing with Promonium Jesters?
EE: We did a few – we did three or four shows.
MM: We did three shows with Hanzel und Gretyl in Canada, in Toronto. It was only those gigs. We couldn’t say it was a full tour, but they are obviously our beloved friends and we really appreciate what they do. So, that made sense together and it was it.
EE: We were hanging out in New York and were going to play on some stuff in the future, possibly.
MM: That’s right.
EE: So, we have an overall feeling it was different and better, in a way.
MM: It was better, in a way, I would say. Yeah.
EE: It was more specific and, of course, Promonium Jesters did a wonderful job to open up for us and present us and present the attitude to the world that we didn’t want to fit in to like any other genres.
MM: That’s right. I must say Promonium really make such a nice difference to all these cliché…
EE: Goth bands.
MM: I don’t want to blame any people, but Promonium just don’t care about any clichés and I really love the dudes for that; not musically, not where their outfits and appearance are concerned. I really dig that. Check them out, definitely.
EE: That’s really great stuff, so it’s the new things with the young hippies who don’t give a shit, actually, and doing industrial music.
MM: Yeah, and they do their own thing in a very strong do-it-yourself attitude in a good way. Like in this film Network. If you know this movie, like ‘Let me pass. I must confess.’ This music is like this kind of mission of introducing a strong ethical thing to the world that is like beyond this genre’s and this music business’ clichés.
EE: Promonium Jesters and I were traveling together and they were good support.
MM: We are really friends, I would say. They support us.
On the last full tour, there was a clear division between the two projects and how they were presented, but now Mona is actually singing for Slick Idiot. How are you incorporating the two projects into the same set this time around?
EE: We did not all the time, but we did it for the three years.
MM: Oh, you are right. I get confused.
EE: The matter of fact is that it’s two projects of mine that we’re both involved in, so it makes a lot of sense. I’m the mutual person here, so that’s actually holds it all together.
MM: I love the Slick Idiot music.
EE: I wanted to be on tour with Slick Idiot, but I also wanted, of course, a show of Mona Mur/En Esch work and we had done two wonderful CDs, two full-length CDs in Europe and even licensed in the US and in Canada. We could have like a remixes, so there’s a lot of activities on that side, too, even more than Slick Idiot right now. Slick Idiot is getting shows internationally. There is plenty of activities on the Mona Mur/En Esch side.
MM: And I’m singing backing vocals for Slick, so I feel quite close to Slick, too. I really adore also this unique musical style and that’s why it’s a pleasure to learn this material and I’m able to present this year and I’m very thankful for that.
EE: So, we cover a lot of levels. We cover Slick Idiot songs, classics and new, and we cover Mona Mur/En Esch songs. Good stuff and there were also old KMFDM songs. There are just a lot of good things and we have a lot of aspects to the show. And if people are in town, they’re going to love it. People tell me how happy they are to see us and that they grew up with the music. It’s almost like I feel like a missionary, you know what I’m saying?
The first Mona Mur/En Esch album featured a very dark cabaret sound, while the second album was more electronic and presented more of your original material. How does the mix of the two styles work when coupled with the Slick Idiot material?
MM: For this tour, we have chosen, I would say, more of the new Mona Mur/En Esch material and the more electronic based rather than like the German, Brechtian, Weimar cabaret thing. We cut this for this time a little bit out. We just chose more of the floating or a bit more danceable tracks to make it more fit into the Slick set so that it goes together. For this time, I would say. Right?
EE: Yeah, yeah. It makes a lot of sense I mean, the really big factor is obviously the length of the set, you know, and how many songs we’re going to play from each project amounted to I think, like, five KMFDM songs, seven Slick Idiot songs, and five Mona Mur/En Esch songs, or something like that. So, it’s like a little portion thing, but I wish I could play the whole entire songs we have down and all the people involved I have down and we would play for four or five hours.
MM: That would be a lot.
EE: I don’t know, maybe even longer than that. I like to rather play long than not. Other people tell me different.
MM: I’m sorry. I’m just the opposite. I would rather give the people a little less than they desire so that we meet in the middle of that, a little bit.
EE: Yeah, you know, I want to be Bruce Springsteen.
MM: I never played in the old days longer than 50 minutes. That was like how Throbbing Gristle got always under an hour. That was the law. Of course, that was a small joke, and I guess we found a good solution for that.
EE: You know, we shift stuff around according to the reaction of the crowd, after we see old friends who come to the shows. So, everything is possible. We even take suggestions, if there are any.
Is it true that you’re currently working with F.M. Einheit on some new material?
MM: Oh, yeah. We spent another recording session in March for 10 days with F.M. in the studio, and yeah, that’s the next thing I really dream of and we all are very excited about it. Yeah, we definitely have progress and we’ve got some, we have five rough mixes down already and six things more. We have so much material that we think about splitting it even, because there’s one more literature based thing which also has to do with a Brecht prose poem. And there’s more other song based material we recorded. So that would be the next thing we really concentrate on. We very much look forward to meet F.M. again in September/October.
EE: Yeah, I think October will be. It is a great honor to work with him, of course. I’ve known him from 1985 from KMFDM from playing when KMFDM opened for Einstürzende Neubauten. He also produced ‘More and Faster,’ the KMFDM single in 1989.
MM: I was obviously working with him in ’82, so I’m just really freaking happy that we got back together. I cannot… I have no words for this, honestly.
EE: At this point, it’s like a very unique collaboration that creates a sound that hasn’t been there yet. But we’re not sure how to release it and through what format.
MM: We’re certainly not putting it out on a CD right away because we are tired of seeing the stuff on all the download servers way before it is released. We will not do this with this material. Absolutely not! We think about other forms of… maybe multimedia forms. We cannot be too specific about this at the moment, but we are sure we are absolutely not ready to put this out like this.
EE: Yeah, we are like very proud of the material and it would be heard sooner or later, obviously, but you know, it aims to, let me say, at least a different crowd, a different purpose. You know, it’s more like theatrical productions, but it still has like some really catchy songs also.
MM: It has a punch.
EE: Of course, but it has real songs, obviously. It’s not only, like, noise from back to front. It has lyrics and flow.
MM: You will hear it.
The Sucksess album was released in 2009 under your own Itchy Records label (now rereleased on Danse Macabre). As it’s been three years, are there plans in place for a new Slick Idiot album?
EE: Well, as a matter of fact, it’s about 10 to 12 songs I have in the making. There are a lot of songs that Günter I just jammed out just a few months ago here in Canada. I was planning, actually, to finish a classic CD, like a ‘Best Of’ plus two new tracks for this tour, but there were some glitches and some hardware failure and some other problems, you know. So, I couldn’t finish it and so there will be a new album, I would say, at the end of the year. But I will put that classic album out really soon and it will be a ‘Best Of’ album called Classick that has new versions of old Slick Idiot material, one KMFDM cover, and a couple of new songs at least. And there is enough material for a new CD, but I am not sure how long it will take to develop that and put it together. The production is mostly the most time-consuming aspect. Writing the song takes five seconds. To produce it takes five years, sometimes, you know.
As you’ve now done two albums together and have continued to tour, with Mona joining Slick Idiot this time around, are there plans for her to contribute to the new material?
EE: There is one Mona will definitely do vocals on the KMFDM cover, and there are other plans to have her involved.
MM: We will obviously… if I’m invited, it will be, of course, a pleasure to contribute to this because I love Slick Idiot and this eclectic approach. So, absolutely, if there is an opportunity.
EE: I’m saying she will be on the cover of the KMFDM song and she will be on a different other song, one of the new songs for the Classick CD. There will be still new material in the long run; it is definitely possible if I spend the time and Günter and I find the opportunity to actually get it together. But it’s the neighborhood we have here between Mona, Günter, and now Ethan Mosely, Dan, and those people… we never run out of ideas it seems like. We can produce for the rest of our lives; new material, at least.
MM: Oh, yeah. The creativity is not the problem.
EE: It’s more like marketing the stuff, putting it out, producing it, and finalizing it is the hard part; not making it.
You’ve spoken about touring with Promonium Jesters. What is it about their music and their approach that you feel complements what you do?
EE: His approach is to look into certain new Promonium songs he could co-produce so to speak, but it’s really early to tell, but there is mutual ground we have here. They have a really nice setup here and, you know, like 24-track analog machine. There can be a lot of things done. Also, of course, a fully-fledged computer rack and stuff.
MM: There’s a lot of talent here, actually. There’s potential that we would love to use more and it’s a great area and wonderful place here to work. So, we hope we can make use of that in the future.
It’s been quite a number of years since Mona has had a solo release. Are there any plans to produce a new solo record just under the Mona Mur name?
MM: Yes, actually, there are plans of doing a quick and dirty ‘Mona Mur sings western songs’ album that I already recorded. Yeah, you look very astounded now, but this is certainly not an original Mona Mur solo album what I’m talking about. Actually, the idea came from the moment Lee Hazlewood died in 2007. I was invited to an evening tribute to Lee Hazlewood in Berlin in the Bassy Cowboy Club. That’s a freaking awesome crazy cowboy club in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, and there were wonderful songs like ‘Some Velvet Morning’ for instance. So I said, ‘Yes, okay, I will play,’ and I played with Sebastian from Noblesse Oblige on guitars and another good friend of mine, Christian Saint Claire, on drums, and I was playing the keyboards and singing myself. And the place was packed and the whole evening was wonderful, and I just discovered some material like a song, for instance, ‘The Nights.’ Have you ever heard about this song?
EE: It’s a Lee Hazlewood song.
MM: It has a kind of native Indian theme and so that never went out of my head and recently I decided to record these songs just as I played them live with these two guys. In a so-called quick and dirty style with a like micro Fender guitar amp, in my place, actually. And that turns out to be hot. People seem to like it. There’s also another song from the Warsaw album, ‘Paintings,’ which was never released in that form, but I was invited to play this also live last December when the original producer and Polish friend Grzegorz Ciechowski at the tenth anniversary of his death day in Warsaw and in Torun was this concert with his old band. He’s a really big super star still in Poland; it’s like Jim Morrison and the rest of The Doors still alive. He’s like a poet and national hero still in Poland, so it was a big honor to be invited to play this song and the original on this very deep concert evening in Torun, a big celebration. And also we recorded this. I’m producing this in the same western style kind of thing and I have these four songs now recorded.
EE: The western sound means she doesn’t want to use electronics or programs.
MM: No electronics. It could be played live right away, on the spot. Electric guitars, of course, so don’t mix it up with unplugged. It is not unplugged because I love electric guitars, of course. No wonder So there’s like dirty punk funk western style electric guitars on trashy thrashing drums, acoustic drums, my voice, and a little bit of keyboard I am playing myself. Yeah, this is what I… I plan on doing some more songs and, like, blast it out into the world in fall. That’s what I’m going to do; and the Einheit/Esch/Mur thing. This is like my agenda mainly for fall besides some computer games projects, but this is different thing.
You mentioned being involved in computer games projects, which many underground electronic artists delve into. What can you tell us about your work in the field?
MM: That’s right. Yeah, the last thing I did was obviously the Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. At the moment, I’m holding lectures about this. I was invited to the GDC, the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco in March, but this is not about conventional music. This is really about interactive audio and sound design, which I’m specializing in. I was also invited to DICE in Stockholm, who do Battlefield 3, to hold a lecture on the work I did for Kane & Lynch 2. So, I get a lot of attention for this work, which is like between music and ambient sound design, noise, and that really stresses this interactive thing. It’s not like delivering stereo mixed tracks of music to the developers and then saying goodbye. This is really more visceral. It really gets deeper into this systematic, interactive engine thing. And I have some offers for fall, but I cannot talk about this at the moment.
Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share?
MM: At the moment, we get assaulted by dangerous mosquitoes here all of a sudden.
EE: It’s good to hear from you, man. It’s nice to say we’re going to be looking forward to another 16 gigs.
MM: 16 concerts in Canada and then nine gigs in the U.S., I figure.
EE: So we will be having a lot of traveling, of course, see different places. We’re going hold court in L.A. after the middle of August. We’ll stay there for a couple of weeks to see old friends and get in touch with everybody, like Skold and those people.