by Willard Manus
BUSY DREAMERS is the fourth album by Markus Apitius to be reviewed in Lively
Arts. It is, like the others-In Gods Machine, Los
Angeles and Age of Straw-a remarkable work of art.
Based in Cologne, Germany, Apitius is a triple-threat artist, one who writes,
plays and sings his own songs. He also arranges and mixes these songs, thanks
to his technical skills. His lyrics, by the way, are mostly written in English,
a language he mastered at a young age.
Busy Dreamers, cover by Lucy Apitius
In BUSY DREAMERS he has bold and provocative things to say about the human
condition. As if dealing with zealots and dictators were not enough, mankind
must also cope with a sinister and devastating pandemic. The desire to break
free of those bonds and join in communion is expressed in a song called
Call up your friends because its
been much too long. We are going out,
we are going out now...
There is much more to say about this wise and gifted artist, but I thought
it best to allow him to speak for himself. What follows, then, is a recent
interview with Markus Apitius.
did you grow up and was it in a musical family? Did your parents encourage
you to become a musician? Or was there another person in your life who
gave you the encouragement and guidance you needed?
I was born in Voorschoten, Netherlands in 1961 and grew up in Cologne,
Germany. My parents were not married. I lived with my mom who loves music
and for most of her life sang in a choir. There was always music playing
at home, most of it classical. I vividly remember listening to Peter
and the Wolf, the songs from the Mary Poppins movie
or to West Side Story.
Music became really important to me around my 10th birthday. Suddenly
I did not want toys as presents but vinyl LPs! At the time, I was fascinated
by a group which was really big in Germany in the early 70s: The
Les Humphries Singers. They were a choir of around 12 people with
diverse ethnic backgrounds, mostly covering popular songs of the time
in the vein of the Hair musical and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Les Humphries himself played the piano which piqued my interest in the
instrument. We had a piano at home, so I tried to teach it to myself.
When my music teacher at school realized my sudden interest, he supported
me in multiple ways: His wife gave me piano lessons, I joined the school
choir and, together with a school friend with whom I was about to found
our first band, taught us music theory and gave us ear training. When
you are around twelve years old, you still pick up things quite easily,
so I benefitted from this education all my life.
Markus in his twenties, photo: Wolfgang Keseberg
Q. Who were your musical influences when you were growing up? Who are
they today-which musicians (and/or bands) do you most admire? Did
you study at a music academy-and if so, what was that experience like?
Interestingly, my musical influences havent changed that much over
time. One of the first big concerts for me was taking part with the school
choir in Bachs St. Matthew Passion. The part with Will lightning
impressed me immensely. I still think Bachs
stature as a composer cant be overrated.
Then I fell in love with the Beatles: Strawberry Fields Forever
for me is everything you can hope to achieve in a 3 minute pop song.
What I love about late 60s British pop is that anything was possible. It
was inventive AND commercial. To understand where Im coming from musically,
it helps to be familiar with these albums: The Who Sell Out
(The Who), The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Pink Floyd) and Revolver
(The Beatles). There was also plenty more incredible music by The Small
Faces, The Kinks, The Move, Procol Harum
What I took from that era is the urge to experiment, to not limit yourself
and to do whatever feels right, to be forever looking for new ways to express
your music, but most of all, to have fun while doing it.
After I had finished school I studied musical science which includes history,
ethnology and also a bit of physics. I wrote my thesis about the recording
process in the studio, simulating virtual rooms with reverbs and delays.
Q. When did you first turn professional? Were you writing songs as well
as playing keyboards from the start or did that come later?
In my twenties I took a break from studying when our band got a record contract.
We were paid monthly fees by the record company to cover our expenses. So,
yeah, for me that was professional enough. I never returned to pursuing
a proper career and stuck with music.
I really love to tinker around and have been recording my own songs since
I was thirteen, first on a cassette recorder. Later, I had two tape machines
which allowed me to overdub. Nowadays I can do all that with a mobile phone
if I want to.
I always wrote my own songs, first on piano, later on guitar as well. I
learned a lot from listening and covering other peoples songs: the
technique, chord progressions, even how to write lyrics.
Q. Has it been relatively easy for you to make a living as a musician/composer
in Germany? Have you ever enjoyed government support for your work, the
way German theatre artists do?
It hasnt been always easy financially, which probably has to do with
the fact that I really only do what I like. Sometimes I envied colleagues
who were able to have fun playing in a cover band, and thus making good
money, but I wouldnt have been a very convincing musician for hire.
When I started to write theatre music, I benefitted indirectly from government
support. If there was money available for a project, then there was money
for me. In the last two years, the government gave out scholarships for
projects to support freelance artists, which really helped.
live with Christian Vos (bass) and Matthias Ebbinghaus (percussion), photo:
Q. How unusual is it for a German composer like you to write songs
in English? Is there a local tradition of writing in that language? Are
you treated like an outsider because you write pop songs in English? Do
you also write songs in German?
It is not that unusual to write songs in English as most pop music is
written in that language. The whole Euro disco genre originated in Munich,
although the lyrics were not really memorable.
For me the language of the lyrics has to fit the musical genre. I think,
the reason that Italian works so well for operas is because of all the
open vowels in that language. You can write an opera in German, but then
you usually have to subtitle it to understand the lyrics, since the singer
has to swallow most of the consonants.
On the other hand, German works very well for chansons or songs in the
vein of Weill and Brecht or bands like Kraftwerk.
Nowadays the most popular musical genres in Germany are hiphop and hard
rock like Rammstein. Although personally, I find both genres a bit formulaic
musically with strong misogynistic undertones lyrically.
Just now I am working on an album with German lyrics and try to play around
with the sound of the language. Its not exactly pop music, but touches
on the atonal, Dadaist side.
Q. Is it fair to say you are a socially conscious songwriter, one who
is deeply interested in politics, current events, civil liberties, etc?
Has this always been the case with you or is it something that has taken
hold of you later in life?
Since I do not come from an average family with preimposed roles, I always
had a different perspective. I learned very early that everything in life
is political. To make society work, people have to make a conscious effort.
It does not run itself. People have to be involved to organize and shape
how we want to live together.
So I have always been interested in history and politics. There is no
coincidence that we are today where we are - it is all cause and effect,
frighteningly so. It is important to take nothing for granted and not
delegate your responsibilities to a higher being.
Q. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future-mans
fate, as it were?
I am frightened by the endless stupidity of some people who think it is
their God given right to plunder our planet. They hate science, experts
and rationality and seem to have a death wish which will cost us all.
Instead of making life possible for future generations, they prefer to
fight culture wars and tend to their grievances. Not since the 2nd World
War has democracy been so fragile.
The next few years will decide everything. To be honest, I would have
preferred to live in less exciting times.
Q. What can we expect from you in the new year? What are your plans
and hopes for 2022?
If all goes according to plan, this year will see up to 3 releases from
me. First, in April the Busy Dreamers album will be released.
Right now, Im working on an album with German lyrics which will
be called Farce. There is also another album in the pipeline
which will contain more new songs in English. Both will probably be released
later this year.
My hope is that we will be able to play live again coming this fall. Together
with two friends I have been organizing a concert series since 2005 which
had to pause for the last two years. We are busy making plans to start
again later this year. So, we keep our fingers crossed.