Markus Apitius
Feature by Willard Manus

BUSY DREAMERS is the fourth album by Markus Apitius to be reviewed in Lively Arts. It is, like the others-–“In God’s 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 “Going Out”.

“Call up your friends because it’s

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.

Q. Where 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 haven’t changed that much over time. One of the first big concerts for me was taking part with the school choir in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The part with “Will lightning and thunder…“ impressed me immensely. I still think Bach’s stature as a composer can’t 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 I’m 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 hasn’t 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 wouldn’t 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: Robert Gasper

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. It’s 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–-man’s 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, I’m 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.


Busy Dreamers: