Dieter Meier is the instantly recognisable front man of electronic music pioneers Yello. Working in conjunction with producer Boris Blank, Yello have been responsible for numerous underground dance and pop crossover hits including ‘Oh Yeah’, ‘The Race’ and ‘You Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess’. However Meier is more than just one half of Yello. He is a film director, conceptual artist, company director and singer in his own right. Ever restless he recently started a new musical project called Out of Chaos, which is coincidentally also the name of his recent autobiography. I caught up with Meier in Berlin’s palatial Volksbühne to find out some more.
Tell me little bit about ‘Out of Chaos’. When did it begin?
It’s a very funny story…. A friend of mine, Anton Corbijn, is a photographer. As a young man he was interested in Yello and he asked if he could take photos during our video shoots and so he followed us to Cuba and into studios in Zürich. He did his wonderful pictures and when he was there one of the first times, he couldn’t believe that the Yello videos were so improvised. I had a technique which was quite unique – I used very abstract films like frescos as stage designs and then in front of these stage designs Boris and myself would perform. These performances were very improvised – the whole shoots were very improvised. So Anton came to me and said to me with this beautiful Dutch accent “..this is totally chaos!” and from that expression, because we always created something out of chaos, comes the title of this new band ‘Out of Chaos’. Because everything in my life really is always coming out of chaos.
You don’t strike me as a very chaotic person!
It’s always chaos! As an artist you’re entering new territories even though by now you pretty much know how you make a video or how you write a novel or whatever. The territory is always new and your territory always means in a very positive sense that there’s chaos. That there are many things that are unpredictable. That there are many things you don’t know and you always learn. For me, the only reason to do something is to learn something by doing it. I would never do something that I’m just perfect in doing. That is a reason to leave it [alone]. If you climbe a mountain and you know how to climbe this mountain and you know every step to go on the top of this mountain it gets very boring, so I’m always looking for a new mountain. To learn about myself in the world.
So what did you learn in your project?
That it is a real challenge to do something in the real time! You know when I’m in the studio we have a hundred takes. I can fool around, I can make a fool of myself. I can be a total idiot and somehow something comes together. When you perform live you are like a tightrope walker in front of the audience. This presence of life is very fascinating and for me very challenging because I haven’t done it in 40 years. So I learned a lot about discipline, about rehearsing and there’s still a big part of adventure and improvising during these gigs. I sing the songs differently every night but of course I can not make a total fool of myself and not know how I dance on that rope. So I have to discipline myself.
Yello is a famously “studio based” band
There’s two things. As a young guy I was performing with all kinds of rock and punk bands and in most of the case it was not rehearsed. I was improvising, using my voice as a rhythm instrument not as a singing voice. Finding new, non-existent African languages spontaneously and screaming in a way that could only have one gig every four weeks because my voice was definitely gone… When I sing with Boris for Yello, I hear the track the first time in the studio and I basically just sing alone with that track. Being like a child that has a little sing sing for himself. Things emerge from that process of live singing and improvising. So in the studio I’m not that far away from stage. The difference that I can take five hours for one song to find something.
What does Boris think of your new project?
He was a little sceptical at the beginning. For him it was not always easy to work with me as singer, because I’m not a professional singer and he is used to work with electronic instruments and not with musicians. These instruments they do exactly what he wants and I had to do what he wanted. We tried to imply some of me, of course. I had to escape what he had in mind because I have my own ideas and this escaping for him gave him that idea that this was “Out of Chaos” and not very professional. So he was a little bit afraid of whether I could really manage to do this. But then he saw the first concert we did last year with a two man band, then he was very pleased that I was obviously able to do this and now he loves it and he thinks that it’s great that I have a chance finally to do what i really like; to be a tightrope walker in front of an audience.
How do you approach the composition of the music?
I have all these songs that I play with my guitar. I sing them – I’m not writing notes and giving them to the musicians. So they hear me singing these songs and then we have a very good arranger who is arranging for the band and of course I recommend and contribute to how I think they should sound.
And you are exploring darker Lyrical themes?
The lyrics are much more important. I tell a little story as I like to tell people about little events that happened to me, to people, to life and such.
And how does your new musical project tie into your autobiography – they both share a name?
This is totally coincidental! I’ve been approached about biography’s or for some important person to write a biography of me, but I find they are often written out of a certain respect for what I did. And I didn’t like that at all! So this biography thing happened because I proposed to the publisher that I would do a visual biography with pictures and my own words where I could be ironic and humorous and talk about all the incredible luck [I have had] and how all these things came together.
That’s what I wanted to say in this book. For me the learning effect of what I’m doing is much more important then the working effect. The result is more the result of a Zen master who wants to learn about himself. Zen is not hitting a target – it’s about learning yourself. It’s complicated balance of living on the inside and not only living in paradise. To find out who you are on this planet.
Dieter Meier will perform Out Of Chaos in Berlin this Sunday, 18th March.
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Published March 14, 2012.