From the apocalyptic endzeit of the past to the apoplectic zeitgeist of the modern era, Mona Mur explains to ReGen just how she remains such a vital force to be reckoned with.
An InterView with Mona Mur
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
After four decades, Mona Mur is proving as vital, vigorous, and vicious an artist as when she first emerged in the German underground scene of the early ’80s. Stradling the lines between experimental punk, noisy industrial, and darkly textured pop and cabaret, her artistic persona exudes equal levels of class, sophistication, and outright venom. All of these qualities can be detected on her latest musical offering, Snake Island, released on GIVE/TAKE and presenting a return to the avant-garde eccentricity of her earlier output, tempered by a modernist production flair and a thematic dissolution of the current social and cultural zeitgeist. On top of that, this year has also seen the ultimate release of the original Mona Mur Band, whose all-too-brief existence from 1984-1986 is the stuff of underground music legend; featuring members of Einstürzende Neubauten, Crime and the City Solution, Flucht Nach Vorn, and Stricher, with Raymond “PIG” Watts assisting with recording and mix, the band’s sole album, as well as the group’s live raw and vivacious onstage presentation can now be experienced by listeners thanks to Play Loud! Productions. Taking time out of her busy schedule, Mona Mur speaks with ReGen to reminisce on the impact and influence of her early years to culminate in her latest artist output, the effects of nostalgia, life during and after the pandemic, livestreaming, playing guitar, Trevor Noah, and more.
First, I must ask, how are you? How is your health?
Mur: I am as good as it gets. As a very physical person, when this pandemic kicked in, I immediately went into survival mode. I radically cut down alcohol to zero, intensified my Taekwondo training, which I do since over 30 years, practicing summer and winter outdoors on the Tempelhof Airfield. I avoid public transport; go by bicycle everywhere, eat very healthy. All this kicked in quite effectively. I cannot complain.
Let’s talk about your new album, Snake Island. You’ve explained that the inspiration comes from an island off the shores of Brazil where 20,000 poisonous vipers dwell. Would you tell us more about how you first found out about this island and the sorts of personal connections you felt that led to the album’s themes and creation?
How much of the material was directly influenced by the island vs. how much was already in the works when you came upon it?
Your last album, Delinquent was released prior to the pandemic in early 2019. Was Snake Island written and recorded entirely in the midst of the pandemic?
Mur: I can’t say that there was a clean cut break or difference kicking in when the pandemic started. I am constantly and obsessively working on music – alone, with Goldkind, with other friends and artists, commissioned works for films and games. I am blessed with my own studio where I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I enjoy this as a great freedom, a thing worthy to work very hard for.
In what ways do you feel the global situation affected your songwriting – either in terms of the process by which you write/record, or perhaps in the lyrical themes you approached?
Mur: It seems I always have been a sinister character because the world is a sinister place. My very first release, the “Jeszcze Polska” 12-inch in 1982, was about war, violence, death, betrayal, injustice, stupidity – war as a mystery, a curse, a built-in mass psychosis, a self-destruction sequence activated when the density reaches a critical point. War is one of my great themes throughout my whole life as a musician and composer. There is wrath, and there is also fascination. I have a sword fetish, and I do martial arts. I deeply despise violence at the same time. Many of the films I am hired to score for are about war and insanity. Tragic that all my ironic, pitch black songs in the end become real. I wish it were not like this. There is, of course, love as well. So, I do what I always do.
Apart from the guest guitar performances by Gary Schmalzl and En Esch, all of the instrumentation and production is by you and Ralf Goldkind, who you worked with on Delinquent. Would you tell us about your working partnership with Goldkind, how it first began and how you feel it has evolved to what we hear on Snake Island? What is the songwriting process like for the two of you? In what ways do you feel your individual styles are defined on the record?
On the record, you also perform a cover of Motörhead’s hit ‘Ace of Spades.’ As what is perhaps that band’s best known song, what motivated the cover – just something for fun, or do you feel it had a thematic connection with the material you’d written for the album?
Mur: Oh, I was crazy about that one. To me, this is a deeply existentialistic song with crisp, clear lyrics and statements. ‘The pleasure is to play/Makes no difference what you say.’ I started programming it as a minimal electronic version à la The Normal, but I could not resist playing these verse guitars on it. Then I had Gary Schmalzl bang a fierce solo down. Who could resist?
It has been said that Snake Island possesses a creative spirit akin to your roots in the Berlin punk and proto-industrial scenes, which you have also revisited with the forthcoming releases of The Original Band, recorded from ’84-’86. Aside from the recordings themselves, are there any particular experiences from that band that you feel are exemplary of the social or cultural zeitgeist?
You’ve worked with various musicians in and out of Neubauten, Flucht Nach Vorn, Crime and the City Solution, PIG/KMFDM, etc. over the years in various projects. What can you tell us about the Original Band as it existed and what led to its dissolution?
Why wasn’t the album actually released then?
Mur: Arrogance, ego, confusion.
Listening to those recordings – both from the Original Band and from the 2005 Berlin performance – surely, there is some maturity and development of style and performance since then, but what are your thoughts on the music you were creating then, the lyrics you wrote, the energy you felt when you first wrote them vs. now?
Have you found that your perceptions of it have changed since then?
Lately, nostalgia seems to have manifested in different ways – from the resurgence of certain musical styles to several artists and bands reissuing older albums, rerecording older songs, etc. What are your thoughts on this? What do you feel has been the key factors toward these looks back to the past?
Mur: I am not interested in nostalgia. I don’t live in the past. Copying old styles… I wonder why one should do this. I do appreciate very much the interest in my back catalogue and the meticulous work the good people of Play Loud! put into these releases. These vinyls are lovely items for those who cherish them.
During the lockdowns, you and En Esch had done some livestreaming. Now that it’s become part of the norm, what do you think of how livestreaming can be better utilized to advance visual presentation?
What do you think are the biggest difficulties with live performances right now? What do you feel artists, labels, venues, the industry as a whole should take away from the pandemic and use or think about going forward?
Mur: I have no idea. The entertainment overkill is over. The situation is very, very tough over here in Europe. We have a war right in our neighborhood… pretty close. People certainly have other problems than spending their money on concerts. They will need it for heating and energy. We will have to see every day what happens. It is devastating. At the same time, I just do what I always do… no other way.
What are your plans or hopes for touring in the foreseeable future?
Mur: I hope to be back in the U.S. next year for festivals and/or tours.
Aside from music, what do you enjoy most at the moment? Watching movies? Reading? Hiking? Driving in the country? Anything… what gives you the most joy?
Mur: Taekwondo training outdoors with my martial artist friends. Doing Reiki and Yoga. Going to the island of Fuerteventura again, shooting another video clip… really got into that! And yes, reading tons of books and watching tons of movies. Relaxing with Trevor Noah’s Daily Show; the only comedian in the world who is really funny, sarcastic, and charming at the same time.
Is there anything you’d like to add – anything we haven’t talked about that you’d like to include here?
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram
Play Loud! Productions
Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram
Photography provided courtesy of Mona Mur