(Attention! This interview contains a few four letter words, nothing horrendous but still. This is punk-rock baby!!)
The DONOTS can look back at a long and rewarding career. Still, they waited until their 20th anniversary to release a single in German, their mother tongue. The feedback from their fans was overwhelming and their tenth album was released completely in German.
They are currently touring Europe with Karacho and I had the chance to meet the DONOTS shortly before Christmas, backstage before their concert in the Viennese Arena.
I told them a bit about Global Rockstar, who we are and what we do, and I mentioned that Global Rockstar 2015 – the third edition of the world’s largest online music contest – just ended and the winner is Methedras, a thrash-metal band from Milan…
Not only! Second place is Ani Lozanova, a heavy metal singer from Germany…
The ballade is just third…
Haha! If thrash-metal is number one then the world is not so fucked up! (All laugh)
Whenever I have the chance to meet someone so successful in the music industry I love to ask about their own experience in regard to their career path…
Let me begin with the usual question: why did you become musicians and what would have become of you, if not music?
I think we became musicians out of boredom! We were bored teenagers looking for something we could do together. None of us could even play any instruments. We started at the youth center in Ibbenbüren, our hometown.
It was 1994 and somehow we liked the same music… we listened to Bad Religion, The Clash, the Sex Pistols, Nirvana – of course, back then nobody could avoid them – and we started covering these bands in order to get along with each other. We also started quite early to write our own songs… and they were not good! Not good at all!
There is this video of our first concert – awful! Once we played tennis against Die Tote Hosen at an MTV charity. Die Tote Hosen’s stake was an Echo Award, ours was this video, should we have lost they would have got it – and immediately published! Thank God it was a tie, we had to interrupt the game because of the darkness.
Where is the video now? Buried in the garden?
Hehe, yes, yes!
At the beginning it was very important to have this youth center, Scheune, that housed us. We had a rehearsal room at disposal and we feel like we played only there for the first ten years. There were music exchanges – with people from Holland or with other German cities… but the most important thing at the beginning is that you play! That you gather experience on stage and that the people can see you, live.
This is incredibly important, you can record as many albums or upload as many songs to the internet as you want … what must happen is that the people see you live. Because it is touching. It is something you cannot download for free, you must see it… this is exactly what we did at the beginning – like stupid – we played always in the same club!
You mean at the beginning one should focus all the energy and connections to play live?
Of course! We should also mention that our beginning was at a time where there was no internet. I made the booking for the band myself, I spent whole afternoons sitting around and flicking through British magazines. I looked for the biggest possible international band playing the smallest possible club. This was always the point at which a young band had a chance. For example: Lagwagon will play at a tiny youth center… I looked in the phone book or called the operator and asked for a fax or telephone number. Then I sent a fax, or called the venue and tried to get the person in charge on the phone
Hello! We are a young band and we would love to open for Lagwagon, you don’t have to pay us, Spritgeld (a token barely covering gasoline) would be nice, if not it’s ok… we would simply love to play!
Did it work?
Not often! But yes, sometimes it did!
It is always a statistics thing!
These were also the shows where we could reach new people in the different regions we were visiting – and I mean a lot of new people! Then we could afford to come alone next time and fill the small venue by ourselves!
Nowadays it is not comparable anymore, every band and every club have an online presence … if I were the owner of a club today I would just puke at the gazillion of e-mails saying Hey! We‘re the newest and coolest band!
To be successful as a band, of course, one needs talent…
Damn! That was it… (all laugh)
…what kind of character qualities make one suitable for a career in the music industry?
Endurance! Endurance is extremely important. And you must find your own path and stay true to that. If you make music like a flag-in-the-wind… people will notice! If you go what is hot at the moment? Ha, that’s exactly what we’ll do!… it just won’t work. You must find your path and then you must follow it.
You are always at your best when you do what you can do best. If you have to hide behind a crazy hairdo ‘cos you can’t put a song together, or if you spend more time in front of the mirror in the backstage that in rehearsing room… something is completely wrong! This is not how it works, it can cause a little stir for a while but will bring to nothing in the long term.
This is also something I always loved about the punk rock subculture: if you want to reach something, do it yourself. DIY spirit!
If you just sit around in your rehearsal room and wait, like in Wayne’s World, for Frankie Sharp of Sharp Records to pass by in his stretch-limo, accidentally the window is open and Oh, cool! A band is rehearsing! Let me see, I’ll give them a recording contract!… that’s not how it will work
We produced the first couple of records ourselves, we did the booking ourselves, and even today we’re quite the control freaks. It is not easy to work with us, even if everybody says that we’re a nice band. We are nice people and we’re easy-going but when it comes to our music we’re very focused and we want to know exactly what is going to happen with it.
Another important character quality is, one should never take oneself too seriously! You must take seriously what you do, never yourself.
Founded in 1994, first tour in 1998, the real breakthrough in 2001 with Pocketrock. In the meantime seven years have gone by. When was the moment you thought to yourself, I’ve made it!?
I hope it comes soon!! (All laugh)
I find this expression quite strange… what did one make?
Hmm… I don’t know how you phrase this concept in your head, but eventually the moment comes when one can say I am a musician! I make a living out of it!
I’d say – speaking for myself – I am not a musician… we are – however by chance – a band… but first we’re friends! Then we’re a band.
There was a moment, anyhow, when we had to choose between studying at university and keeping making music with the band. Both were too time consuming, with mandatory classes and all. We thought
Listen, we are very young, let’s put university on ice, it won’t hurt anybody, let’s try it for a couple of years, if it works it works, if not we’ll go back to school.
…and it worked well since!
Young bands ask us very often How can one become successful? and I always think What kind of weird question is this? My personal definition of success is the fact that we are five people that, after 20 years, can still be creative together and that have so much fun making music together!
Often young bands want to know How do I sell a lot of records? How do I get a chart-position? If these are the topics at the top of your list, as a newcomer, I’d say that you’ve started at the wrong end! First get out and play!!
If success comes, that’s a nice side effect, but it can’t be the aim of a band. Otherwise you’re one of those bands that – when a label signs you but says: play this music and wear this clothes – becomes a toy of the industry. And nobody wants to be that.
Last year, during Global Rockstar 2014, it came totally by chance to our knowledge that the winners of the Austrian pre-selection Laurin&Nico, due to attention generated by the contest – were in the charts in Japan! I believe you were successful in Japan without knowing too. How do you handle something like this?
It was the same for us! We learned about it by chance.
We were in New York, 2003, at the CMJ – a fair – and we wanted to check-in at the hotel. We had all our guitars with us and in the lobby a Japanese man approached us. He asked if we were participating in the fair, where we came from, what’s our name…
DONOTS?! Wicked! In Japan you’re famous! All the kids listen to your music, you’re on the radio!
Everything was in a broken English and after he left we commented to each other Did we get that right? What was that? Gibberish, it can’t be real!
Shortly after Ingo came to us Actually, I’ve been receiving mails from Japan recently – it was the beginning of e-mails and such – it looks like something is going on…
And, as a matter of fact, in June we toured Japan for the first time and found that we were really in the charts with imported CDs. The radios were playing us and we even had a little hit, all without our knowledge!
Then Amplify the Good Times was released and it jumped from zero to #2 in the international charts, it was so strange… Whitney Huston was one position behind us! Totally weird!!
A smasher. I don’t know how to push something like that, though… but we made good use of it…
We founded our own music label, Solitary Man Records…
To better pursue the market?
Actually, to release bands that were not officially imported to Japan.
Each time we were in Japan we searched record stores and realized that many bands were not officially released. Cool bands, like the Beatstakes, or Dover from Spain, they were always in the import drawer. At horrible prices!
We thought we could open a label in Japan to officially release bands that were otherwise only available through import. We have very short channels, we can talk directly to many bands. We released bands like Dropkick Murphys, Boysetsfire… all possible big bands up to Placebo. It was really cool!
For your 20th anniversary you released a single in German – your mother tongue – for the first time. A year later Karacho, your first album completely in German. Here in Austria, for the last couple of years, we have a kind of revitalization of Austrian music…
Exactly! Why wait 20 years and then sing in German? Is it Zeitgeist? The spirit of the time? German is in the air? Or is it you personal spirit?
We started making music in English because we all listened to Californian punk rock and at the beginning it was clear to us that we sing in English. It was natural.
It was also the spirit, back then, many punk rock bands from Germany sang in English. That’s how the scene was and we didn’t question it. Even if we had a lot of music in German in our records collections at home and we covered German-singing bands, Die Kassierer, Die Toten Hosen, Die Ärzte…
After 20 years we thought, let us try something else!
Yes, so that is stays exciting for us, as a band.
I am Italian and a very common comment I get is how musical my mother tongue is. I personally think that different languages are best suited for different music genres…
What happens to the music when you sing in another language?
We noticed that the German language is more direct, and consequently the whole record is more direct. German also has more polysyllabic words, this means you have more staccato, you can be faster with your vocals. I’d say the record is more aggressive than usual, more of a punch in the face.
We also recorded Karacho in English, for Japan and the USA. When recording the vocals it was freaky: the same song, with the same lyrics only translated, had two completely different settings in two languages! Some songs work better in German, some I’d even say in English. Some are not completely satisfying and it is really freaky, ‘cos it’s the same lyrics, only the language is different. Nevertheless it is a different approach!
English flows a little more, a bit like Italian which always sounds like one’s singing. And German sounds like someone is ranting at you! German bands, even when they sing about love, always sound very brutal. But for a punk band it is so right! You always have a latent feeling the music is spitting at you.
The pronunciation in German can almost be too direct, somehow it also sounds a bit stupid: if you sing too fast everything gets quickly packed and convoluted. One hides behind their mother tongue.
Could it be that the directness lies in the fact that German is your mother tongue and if you write or sing in English you always have a kind of filter in-between?
Definitely! In German you can’t fool yourself! You understand every word. It happened that the lyrics worked well on paper, then you begin to sing and it sounds like crap. There’s not much you can do, you must change it. But afterwards the meaning is not completely correct anymore… because in German it is more evident that the sense changed slightly. Your own mother tongue is less forgiving.
To go back to the question why German? It also simply happened. For our anniversary we actually wanted to release one or two songs and we wanted it to be something special. So we thought to do it in German. We went into the studio and the beginning was bumpy. In the end it was with the first track on the album – Ich mach nicht mehr mit – also the first one we finished, that we felt the breakthrough. Now we knew where we wanted to go.
Thank you, boys, it was a pleasure!
For us too!