Q&A: Stephan Bodzin releases Powers of 10
With his creativity fully refreshed, the German producer delivers his first full-length album in over seven years.
Q&A: Stephan Bodzin releases Powers of 10
With his creativity fully refreshed, the German producer delivers his first full-length album in over seven years.
Born in the northern German countryside, Stephan Bodzin’s musical roots can be traced back to his earliest years—a time when he spent hours dabbling the studio with his father, an acclaimed experimental musician, and began composing music for European theaters. Over time, Bodzin has continually refined his sound, working on several high-profile remixes and releasing under various collaborative monikers with Oliver Huntemann and Marc Romboy.
As for his solo work, however, over seven years have passed since Bodzin’s last full length LP, 2007’s Liebe Ist—but now, feeling a new sense of inspiration, he’s re-entered the studio to produce another masterpiece, Powers of 10, immediately recognizable as Bodzin’s through its deeply melodic sound and hissing hi-hats. In advance of the album’s release, which can be streamed in full here, XLR8R spoke with the veteran artist to hear the inspirations behind the album, and how, after such a lengthy hiatus, he rediscovered his love for solo production.
Let’s begin with your latest album, Powers of 10. Was it the case that you wanted to release an album and tried to produce one, or was it just that you had the material and it fitted into an album?
Yeah, man—I am super excited by what’s going on at the moment. I haven’t been producing for about five or six years and I just felt inspired again last year, and I just had to follow these urges. I just had this feeling that I wanted to get back in the studio and I started producing music again—first the Singularity EP on Life and Death, then the Birth EP on Herzblut—and finally my baby, the album. I’ve had the idea to do another album for a long time but I hadn’t planned to do it now specifically. I just spent time in the studio and this music just came out. In the end it just became an album.
Can you remember the specific moment when you actually started producing material for the album? What was the first track?
The very first track was “Lila,” which is the name of my daughter. That was a very beautiful moment—it was an extremely emotional day and I finished this track very quickly. Because it was such an emotional day, I had to name it after my daughter, and that was the starting point for me. As soon as I had done that track, I felt all this inspiration coming back and I just had this urge to spend more and more time in the studio. I do all the tracks very quickly—I follow an idea and I have to finish the track within two days. After that, it gets boring and I cannot construct a production; I have to to be very intuitive.
However, “Sputnik” was a little different. I did these harmonies on a heavy, heavy hangover on a flight to Mexico City and, about half a year later, I returned to the harmonies and tried to complete them, because I knew they were something special. I absolutely couldn’t manage it, despite about 30 or 40 attempts, and that was a long process. I am fine with it now, but that was a long production!
And when did you actually finish producing the tracks for the album?
As a producer, I really need deadlines—otherwise I find it hard to focus, and so I set myself a deadline for the end of 2014. I booked a two month trip to South Africa with my family in January and February to ensure that I stuck to this deadline because I knew I had to get everything finished before I left. By the end of November, I had about ten or 15 tracks, but I had to be selective and I was happy with only five of them. So in December, I had five more tracks to do, and that was the moment when all the good stuff came out. I found myself super-focused in the studio; I was working really quickly without thinking too much. I was making quick decisions—it was really impulsive and that’s when I work best. The last tracks, “Wir” and “Ix,” were both done on one day, and I started working on “Singularity” on the 25th of December.
“At my age, I need two days to recover from a show, because I still love to party.”
One of the greatest problems for artists today is that they can struggle to find inspiration with such a heavy touring schedule. Once you realized you were going to produce a full-length LP, did you reduce your touring schedule?
Yes, and it was definitely necessary. When you are playing three shows a weekend it is very hard to find the inspiration. At my age, I need two days to recover from a show, because I still love to party.
“Singularity,” the album’s opening track, has been doing the rounds for a while now, and has been played by many leading DJs. When you produced it, did you expect it to be so well received?
Yes, to be honest with you. The first reaction was very good when I showed it to people around me—but this bassline is just a one-take bassline. I was recording it at the end of the day in the studio and I just couldn’t bring myself to go home without a result. Often these ones are the best, but I could never have foreseen such a success. I am surprised, and I am super happy, because it is one of the tracks that has the typical bassline attitude which I have been trying to put in all my tracks.
Besides “Singularity,”is there a particular standout track from the album that you’re most excited about people hearing?
I’ve been playing this material in my sets for a few months now, and I have had different reactions in different countries. However, “Zulu,” for me, will go down very well. It is more housey, and I always get a very good reaction when I play it out. I also think that the title track, “Powers of 10,” will be well received. With this track, I always get really intense reactions, although it is bit different so it probably won’t do too well in sales. For me, it is a very important track on the album.
The structure of an album is so fundamentally important these days—it’s a statement, a concept, much more than ten tracks thrown in with each other. Is this something that you struggled with, or was that very much in your mind?
That was what I did during the two months in South Africa. By the time I went there, I had finished all the tracks and I had lots of time to think about ordering the tracks. We had a lovely trip to South Africa with the family, visiting beautiful, remote places—and I spent some days compiling track lists until I just found this one, which I think gives a nice story. I wouldn’t really call it a journey, but it has to have some flow—just like a DJ set or a mix. You certainly cannot just compile the tracks randomly.
You’ve mentioned previously that you will normally produce a track within a couple of hours, but do you have an idea, or a sketch, for a track before you go in the studio—or do you just jam?
What I am doing a lot, as I did with the track “Sputnik,” is collecting ideas when I am traveling. These ideas will just be a bass drum or a synth line, nothing more. Sometimes in the studio I just don’t have the patience to work on the fine nuances of a sound—and with the headphones on while traveling, knowing I cannot finish the production, I invest more time in working on melodies. I collect this stuff, and then when I go into the studio I’ll revisit these ideas—and whichever idea hits me on that day, I will start producing on that.
“This is the big question in art, whether it be writing, painting or creating music: When is it finished? When is it enough?”
Do you have ever trouble letting a track go? When do you know it is ready?
I have to say that I know it in the heart. This is the big question in art, whether it be writing, painting or creating music: When is it finished? When is it enough? When is a painting finished? In my opinion, you just feel it. I can’t really describe it. Deadlines, for me, are very helpful for this—but it’s just a feeling.
I think an important role as a producer is to do as many things as necessary—not as many things as possible. Even though my productions are very detailed, I try to restrain myself from doing too much. I could continue adding stuff to the beat and perfecting the mixdown forever, but it becomes very boring—and at a certain point, it doesn’t get any better. I try to finish the track whenever I have a good feeling with it, because it it very easy to over-polish it.
And this is why you like the deadlines?
Yes. I need a deadline to be focused. It’s always been like this. I will always deliver the remix on the last day—never before.
Tell me about the name of the album. As far as I am aware, it is named after the book Powers of 10, by Philip Morrison. Can you elaborate on this?
I was just looking for an authentic title for my album. I hadn’t had the Powers of 10 idea for a very long time, but when it came to me it just stayed there until it became clear to me that I didn’t want to change it.
I am seriously putting a lot of love into my music—I find producing a very emotional process, and when I am playing it out I feel completely exposed because it is just a reflection of me. I was looking for a title that represents this and Powers of 10, the book, is really important to me. It is a philosophy, and it is something that has been part of my life for the last 25 years. For me it is a way of life and it keeps my feet on the ground, focusing on a good life without wasting time and energy on unnecessary thing.
And the track names are completely random?
Yes, most of them are completely random, but some have a meaning. “Powers of 10” became the title track very quickly because the production was different and it sounded to me like a journey. For me, it is the only one that fit the meaning of the book or the movie. But the rest is completely random—besides “Lila” which is named after my daughter. “Singularity” also has a slight connection to the fact that it is just one sound running throughout the whole track, more or less.
“During these periods of inspiration I completely forget about anything around me, and I just let myself go”
Many artists will chuck out LP after LP year after year, but it’s taken you eight years to release your second solo LP. Speaking to you and listening to the album, it strikes me that a whole lot of thought and emotion has gone into this piece of work. Would you agree with this, and where does this emotion stem from?
I really mean it when I say that music is part of me. When I was growing up, my earliest memories are listening to music with my father at his massive studio. We used to listen to music all day and night and I just grew up with that. If you cut the music out of my life, I think I would probably die. It is a very serious thing for me—it is utterly fulfilling. I really am not joking with this. I think this is why it took me so long to release another LP. I cannot construct music; I have to wait until I feel inspired. There is so much love and emotion in my work and I just didn’t think I could create anything new; I had to wait for the right moment. And last year was a very good time, and today is also a very good time. I am working on lots of remixes because it is such an intense time for creativity. During these periods of inspiration I completely forget about anything around me, and I just let myself go. This is stuff that I imagine a lot of producers say, and I don’t want to be arrogant, but it is a very intense process.
This intense inspiration isn’t there all the time?
Certainly not. I just go through sporadic periods of super-intense creativity. The motivation and inspiration I have now are things that have only come about over the past 12 months—and my music is coming out like never before. It’s like a snowball that is running down a hill and I just cannot stop it at them moment.
As a producer, it must be quite strange when you can’t find this inspiration.
Completely. I am super surprised right now, but it is absolutely amazing. I have been waiting for it for a while. Three or four years ago, I had thoughts that I was finished, production-wise, and was doubting whether I would ever create something which satisfied me again. Would I stop doing music altogether? But now, it all changed.
“Two years ago, my daughter was born—and I am pretty sure that opened up a new range of emotions for me.”
What do you think it was that reinspired you?
Two years ago, my daughter was born—and I am pretty sure that opened up a new range of emotions for me. Actually, one track [“Birth”] is named after the process of birth—and when I had finished that track, I could see kind of parallels.
Do you feel that those kind of organic inspirations have been key in your longevity as a producer?
Yes. I know it’s a cliché, but I am just doing what I love—and people feel it. I am only sharing stuff from the heart and people can sense that, I think. They can feel it and see it when I am performing.
Another thing that strikes me after listening to the album is just how original the sound is. The melodies and the hissing hats have almost become your signature. How did these signatures come about?
I was a very different person, producer and musician before 2002. I did a lot of commercial stuff and was earning good money, but I felt a need to redefine myself because I was super unhappy around this time. Business-wise, everything was very good but I needed to change. This was the time I was in the studio with Oliver Huntemann, and we were thinking very intensely about what we could do that was original and that would earn us money—and this was when the Rekorder project was born.
At this point, I said to myself that I wanted to begin producing tracks in one day maximum, instead of spending weeks on one production to try and make it a superhit. This idea was born and these quick decisions ultimately resulted in something that resembles the music I make now. We were into electro and techno at the same time and I think that has resulted into what I am doing now—it was this that created this signature sound, I feel. It certainly wasn’t planned.
You started off in collaborations before going solo. For a man who clearly invests so much emotional energy into his work, it must be difficult producing with another person. How does it work?
It works only with very good friends. It’s as simple as that. I cannot do collaborations with artists that I am not friends with, and I turn down lots of requests even though they are great opportunities. I just have to say no, because I am not willing—and probably not able—to produce the same quality or the same intensity when I am with people I just do not know know. For example, I have known both Oliver Huntemann and Marc Romboy for around 25 years so it is like having my brothers besides me. We don’t talk in the studio—we just produce and do our own stuff.
You’ve been a hugely influential figure within the global techno scene for years now, but you’ve maintained a very underground image, seemingly intent on staying out of the limelight. Is this something you’re very conscious of?
I don’t think about it, to be honest. It happens, and I am aware of it, but I am just doing music in a way that I love—and if it is recognized by the so-called underground, then I am very happy. I had my lessons in commercial music and where it leads, and I am not willing to go back again. I would never do a commercial remix because I would destroy my career, and also the niche that I am playing in. I am too experienced to do things like that.
You’re very first solo single was “Caligula”/”Marathon Man” on Marc Romboy’s Systematic Recordings. You’ve come a long way since then—do you allow yourself the chance to look back and feel proud of all you’ve achieved?
Holy shit, man—I was actually just playing “Caligula” in Kiev and it’s sill a superhit there somehow. I hadn’t played it for years but they were freaking out. I look back at my career and I am happy with everything after 2002. I don’t look back an further! I have reasons for doing what I was doing in the nineties, but musically-speaking I am happy with everything I have done after this time.