Thanks to Uwe from Firestation Records for this interview. It’s no secret that Uwe is one of my good friends in indiepop so I’m very happy to interview him as he is a true indiepop encyclopaedia. I hope you all enjoy this interview, know a bit more about the premier German indiepop label and keep supporting it.
++ Hallo Uwe! How are you doing? You just released the new Der Englische Garten CD! I still haven’t listened to it, but arguing from the singles, this is a fantastic album! Tell me a bit about it?
Hiya Roque! I’m feeling well these days. Yeah, the debut album by Der Englische Garten was just released in germany a couple of days ago. We’re very happy about it, it took some time to get it out finally. It contain ten new tracks plus an re-worked version of “Junge Leute“ which was originaly released as 7“ single back in 2008. we’re just finished to promote the album in germany and looking now forward to receive some good reviews in the mags and airplay on the radioshows. Der Englische Garten hailed from Munich and contain members of such legendary bands as Die Merricks or C.L.A.R.K.. The band’s debut 7“ “Eine Neue Welt“ sold out within weeks back in 2007. It was the fastest selling 7“ single on Firestation ever! I fell in love with them from the start when i first heard the still unreleased track “Große Pläne“. To me they are sooo special, they brings back memories on such great bands as The Style Council, Bazooka Cain or Jim Jiminee. Feel free to check out tracks as “Heizdecke Am Strand“ or “Irgendwo Anders Hin“ and you will get a clue what i’m talking about.
++ Also there is a re-release of The Desert Wolves’ “Pontification”. This makes everyone so happy, because the Desert Wolves is one of the best bands ever! I’m wondering which is our favourite Desert Wolves songs and why?
Thanks for the great words on it, Roque! The Desert Wolves are in my heart since they released their first 12“ single. I have great memories on the day when i bought “Love Scattered Lives“ from a long gone record shop in berlin around 1988. i bought “Speak To Me Rochelle“ just a day after. I remember some people saying that Orange Juice was the perfect link between Velvet Underground and Tamla Motown, to me The Desert Wolves were always the greatest mix between Orange Juice and Motown, they had sooo much soul! I love this style!! In honest i have no idea what became my favourite track by them. Without a doubt “Mexico“ became dead important to me, it’s part of my life. It’s a song most of my friends can agree on, apart from it was a floorshaker on nearly every Ship Shape Club party in the early days.
It brings a tear to my eye every time I’m listening to “Desolation Sunday Morning“ and believe me, i don’t say such thing that often!
++ It’s very hard to interview you Uwe, you are like an indiepop institution, not only in Germany but in the whole world! But a story that is yet untold, is that one of Nollendorfplatz in 1998, when Firestation Records was founded. How did it all come together that Sunday afternoon?
The idea to found a label firstly came to my mind when Annikki and me hang around drunk at some kind of nonsens-party back in 1996. from the start we had no idea what do to, but the idea was born. Not much happend over the next two years. In summer 1998 we decided to start business. We asked our longtime friend Jan if he would like to join. He was keen on it from the start. It should have been a sunday in august 1998 when we met in a cafe around the Nollendorfplatz to make things fixed. The first thing we had in mind was to create the now quiet famous “The Sound Of Leamington Spa“ serie. It took us more than a year to release the first part of it finally. To be honest, the first release on Firestation was mostly made of the hands of Bungalow Records which passed us over a demotape by Bazooka Cain. I was kicked the first time i heard their songs, so i phoned up the band to find out if they would be interested to release something on an then absolute unknown label. Gladly they agreed, the rest is history, i think! It could have never been a better start for Firestation. Once the record was out we received orders from shops in Japan, so we could keep on releasing records without spending money on our own.
++ Was it easy to choose the name Firestation Towers for the label? Did anyone argue against it?
The name Firestation Tower Records was Jan’s idea! The three of us decided to write down the name everyone of us would have in mind for the label. I can’t remember what Annikki had on her sheet, but my idea was to name the label “Sunkissed“, stolen from one of my favourite songs by Friends Again. From the start it was a fixed idea in my mind to name the label after a song i was in love with. We let the lottery ticket decide about it. it was Tim from Mr. Dead And Mrs. Free who finally decided about the label’s name, me and Jan asked him to care for lottery.
Nowadays i would have written “A Matter Of Opinion“ on my sheet!
++ Since when did you start listening to indiepop? What was that first band that hooked you up? What came first for you, British indiepop or German indiepop?
I should have started back in 1985. not so sure which band kept the ball rolling but it should have been The Smiths or Aztec Camera. While at school there were two groups of people. The first was in love with bands as The Blow Monkeys, Housemartins, The Style Council, Everyting But The Girl or the bands i mentioned above. The Second part was listening to german or american mainstream. hip hop wasn’t that popolar back then. If so,there would have been another group of people. I started to became a visitor at concerts in november 1986 when i saw the Housemartins playing live at the Loft. This night still means a lot to me, I even lost my shoes, would you believe? Next up i went to gigs from bands such as the Bodines, The Chesterfields or The Brilliant Corners. Still a schoolboy i spent my free time at record shops most of the time. Soon after i went to england for the first time. It was some kind of Language holiday. i remember that i never went to the school, instead i’ve hang round in the recordshops of Hastings. It was greatest fun and i remember that one of the records i bought over there back then was “Do It On Thursday“ by Jim Jiminee. Back to your question, i should have say honest, that german indiepop didn’t meant anything to me back then, simply because i don’t know about it. Not so sure, but i think that i saw She Splinters Mortar support The One Thousands Violins around the same time, but what really kicked me soon after were the first albums from bands as The New Colours or Die Antwort.i couldn’t believe that there were even german bands around which plays the soundtrack of my life. Soon after i found out about bands as The Sheets, Die Bienenjäger or Die Fünf Freunde. Back then labels as Blam-A-Bit, Frischluft or Marsh Marigold were very important to me. Sure thing that Firestation wouldn’t had found without them! the most biggest influence for me were labels as Marina Records or Bungalow. Every release on Marina Records meant a lot to me and Bungalow Records were so fucking cool back then. The label’s style deeply impressed me.
++ A project that is still in brainstorming is that of a compilation of German indiepop of the late 80s and early 90s. Do you think that will happen? How do you remember that scene? What were it’s strengths and why do you think it’s not that well known in indiepop world? Any favourite bands from back then that deserve our attention?
To release some kind of german “The Sound Of Leamington Spa“ was born in the early days of the label. It was Peter Hahndorf who came up with this idea.
But to say honest, all i have in mind for it yet is a wantlist of bands which could be part of it. I created such list some years ago. It contains most acts from the Fast Weltweit label, obscure bands as The Pariahs, Indian Summer, Jelous Chaps or Kiss Me Twice. I would love to include also some bands from the neo-mod scene as Start!, Die Profis or The Saturday Boys. I believe that there are some labels around in germany which could be interested to release the Fast Weltweit-label back catalogue, so i don’t see that much chances to include any of the label’s bands.
For sure there would be also a place for indiepop acts which were around the late 90’s as Brideshead or Bazooka Cain.
If i can speak about a German indiepopscene than i would say that their highest became in the early 90’s when labels as Marsh Marigold or Blam A Bit organized great concerts and bands as The Sheets, Painting By Numbers or Die Fünf Freunde were on the road.
When labels as Apricot or Firestation started business in the late 90’s there wasn’t such a big scene anymore. For sure there were still people who took care for such labels but for me there wasn’t any consultation between the people any longer.
I remember that we once organized some kind of sightseeing tour with around 50 as part of an indiepop weekender. I don’t think that such thing would be possible these days.
++ Why do you think, compared to those days, that at this moment there are almost none indiepop bands in Germany? Why is this? Does it have to do with the pop labels? Apricot Records seems silent, Marsh-Marigold as well, and what about Marina Records? Seems you are the only one alive!
Oh, that’s hard to say. For sure there should be good indiepop bands around in Germany these days, but i don’t have any clue about them. Although it may sound silly, i even wouldn’t care that much about them. I don’t understand most of the current indiepop anymore, it can’t give me any thrill anymore. I love to listen to new band’s but most of the today’s music which i can find on blogs or in the magazines didn’t mean anything to me. Bring me the German answer to Skint & Demoralised an i will sign them from the start!
++ Nowadays you write the Firestation blog where you have shared fantastic stories about long lost bands and background information about you and the label. But a decade ago you were still doing fanzines. What differences do you see between these formats? Any advantages or disadvantages when comparing them?
Me and Olaf released our first fanzine in 1991. it was greatest fun. back then to see that people even spend money on it. We first pressed 250 copies of Smuf 1. it came with an flexi-disc by Sarah-Records band Brighter and was sold out in a hurry.
I wouldn’t sign most of the things i wrote back then but it’s still a nice document for me to find out how i felt those days.
Between 1993 – 2002 i published some issues of my own fanzine which was called Happy To Be Sad, named after an still unreleased song by The Servants. Can’t remember how many copies I’ve done.
On first view, I can’t see many differences between blogs and fanzines. Everything which was wrote will stay forever. I would love to post much more regularly on the Firestation blog these days, but there is sooo much to care about beside it, so there is no time left to write on it that often. I didn’t spend much time to watch blogs these days. Maybe i should, but i don’t care. It makes me tired to see some of them, the blogs owner include unreleased bands by their so called “favourite bands“ even without asking the bands about permission. This thing really pissed me on. Sometimes i think think that they don’t care about the music, all they are looking for is attention for something they don’t have any rights on. How silly!
There are people around who asked me to re-release this and that. When the record is out they don’t want to spend even an euro on it. I became so tired on those people, they want to get everything’s for free, we don’t need them!
++ Your most known releases are probably the Leamington Spa compilation series. So how did these shape up? And what part do each of the three labels behind it play? Any news about the next volume?
Peter Hahndorf (Claredon Records) and Sven Neuhaus (Bilberry Records) are both longtime friends of mine. It was Peter who came up with the idea to name the serie “The Sound Of Leamington Spa“, Sven gives me the most input on music beside my friend Olaf Grossigk. I will never forget that night when we first talked about spa 1. We’ve been through the bar’s of Bremen and end up in an really nice club around the Steintor. I had an big hangover from the night before when i saw the Jazz Butcher playing live in Hamburg. We were on our best and talked the whole night about the project. Before i found myself on the floor in the
next day’s early hours we decided about the line up for the first issue.
++ I’m going to put you on the spot now… you have to tell me who are the best or your favourite in German pop history in these subjects:
- Band: The New Colours
- Song: Annahmeschluß (Bazooka Cain)
- Label: Marina Records
- Fanzine: Happy To Be Sad / Hochverdichtet
- Gig: Die Fünf Freunde
- Dancer: Niels Fischer
- DJ: Ship Shape Club
- Mailorder: Mind The Gap
- Fan: Olaf Grossigk
- City: Berlin (what else should i say)
++ Tell us a bit of the upcoming releases on Firestation Records!
If things will be keen on us, Sound Of Leamington Spa 7 will be ready before the summer. This release is on delay since ages and i feel very sad for all the bands which are part of it.
These days I keep an eye to release as much 80’s stuff as possible. We hope to have an retrospective ready by Cherry Orchard in the near future and still looking forward to release the Jeremiahs back catalogue. Hopefully there will be a chance for it, so finger crossed. What’s on the plan since ten years is the retrospective by North Of Cornwallis, which are still one of my favourite bands ever! Maybe there will be finally a chance for it finally in 2010! so finger crossed for it!!
there will be another Firestation festival in Berlin took it’s place on 31 th of July this year. We will name it Popfest Berlin. There are people around in town which are not so keen on it, but once again, i don’t care about them. They asked me to ask them for permission in advance to organise such thing, would you believe? Not longer sure about those people.
++ What about the Firestation Singles Club, is there plans to continue with it?
Yeah, there were some plans the last year to continue the Singles Club. Catalogue number FST Singles Club 005 was hold for the debut single by The Soulboy Collective, the greatest German band since ages! Things took too long on it for various reasons, so we decided to stop business on the Singles Club. Instead we released the Soulboy Collective 7“ single at the end of the last year in cooperation with Fastcut Records in Japan, with the band’s debut album too follow soon.
++ Berlin is still a small city when it comes to an indiepop crowd, but things seem to be changing during the last years with people like Pop Kombinat! or Pop Assistants bringing indiepop to the city. How do you see this renaissance of the Berlin indiepop scene?
To be honest, i’m not so sure about this renaissance these days. Without a doubt Pop Assistants are doing a great job and i feel happy for them that they can organize some cool gigs these days. Andi and me meet up for a dj-set at my favourite football-bar the Schwalbe once the month. But i can’t seen any scene! Maybe i’m wrong and there is a big indiepop-crowd aroud these days in Berlin? I can only speak for me and my friends. I’m not living in the past and i feel good to know that there are people around which keeping care of indiepop these days but to be honest again i don’t want to be part of any scene anymore. Never been to Pop Kombinat, so i can’t tell anything about them.
++ I also know you are an avid collector, so would you recommend your favourite record stores in Berlin or do you prefer to keep them for yourself? I would understand!
Great question! Yeah, record shopping became one of the most important part in my life since the early 90’s when i became a record dealer. There are still a lot of shops in berlin which care for second hand vinyl. I love to visit those places with friends, although i should better care for shopping on my own. My favourite shops in town are Cover Music, Comeback, Rocksteady Records and The Record Store in Brunnenstrasse. I can also recommend Mr. Dead and Mrs. Free for new stuff. This shop was very very important for me in the early days and i still visit them on regular basis. If you have some free time you should firstly visit Cover Music. It will take you hours to go through the whole vinyl selection, but all my friends from abroad found some great stuff. I bought that Siddeleys 12“ for three euro just a couple of weeks ago from it. Maybe the best place for record shopping is the Mauerpark market which takes it’s place every Sunday. We’re selling records on our own on it twice the month. I stay away from it in the colder days, but there is still business on that market in the winter days. I can recommend this place for every collector!
If anyone out there needs further recommendations please feel free to contact me.
++ And what about gigs? I know nowadays you don’t go to that many, but tell me which ones have been the best you’ve attended!
I gave up on it since they banned smoking in some clubs two years ago. I’ve been to gigs twice the week at least back in the past but to be honest i don’t care about it that much these days, i rather like to hang out with my mates for some drinks instead. On one hand I’m feel sad to became tired on it but to be honest there are not much band’s around these days which i would love to catch up live. There are some gigs which are on my top-list, maybe it was the greatest for me to see Roddy Frame live in the mid 90’s. the Brilliant Corners gig at the KOB in the late 80’s was also fucking great. Not to forget the Housemartins in 1987 and Morrissey seeing singing “William It Was Really Nothing“ back in the winter days of 2006! i have also great memories on a Teenage Fanclub / Groove Little Numbers gig at ULU London which took it’s place in 1991. Groovy Little Numbers played with full Brasssection! What a great night!
Thanks a lot for your great question, Roque! I’m looking forward to see you again later this year!