Thanks so much to Olaf, Gunnar, Siggi and Matthias for this great interview! The Groovy Cellar are an institution of German indiepop with many releases under their belt in classic labels like Marsh Marigold and Firestation. Actually they have just released their third album since starting as a band in 1991 on our friends Uwe and Olaf’s label Firestation. The new album is GREAT, I totally recommend it, and it’s called “Affordable Art for All”. You have to get it. In this interview we talk about the past, the future and the present of the band! Hope you enjoy it!
++ Hey! Thanks so much for being up for this interview. Just around the corner you have a new release. Your latest album! Tell me a bit about it. Would you say it’s any different to previous releases? And what are your favourite songs on it?
Olaf: Yes it is different in the way that it is more diversified.
And it has cover versions on it, something we haven’t done on earlier Groovy Cellar releases.
Siggi: Production wise it´s different to previous releases. I think it sounds a bit fuller and we even have a real brass section on a couple of songs.
++ Have you been playing much live lately? Are there any plans to tour or something else to promote the album?
Gunnar: We like playing a lot. Please invite us to Spain. We know you have a healthy Mod/Sixties/Indie scene there. I hear the Rubinoos where there a few years back and loved it.
Matthias: Cooper is great. Let’s go to Spain then.
++ The name of the album is “Affordable Art for All”. I like the sound of it. But I’m sure there’s a deeper meaning behind the title. I guess you are all for democratizing art, not just being a commodity for the filthy rich? And what’s the connection with indiepop, if any?
Olaf: A few years ago the British pop artist Sir Peter Blake issued his „I love London“ prints on recycled metal plates under the moniker „Affordable Art for All“. That was the idea behind it. The drawing on our LP is by an old friend of ours, the late Harald Fischer. It is called „Harold and Mod“, and if you want so, you can hang the record cover as a picture on your bedroom wall. Affordable art for only 14 Euros! And of course the title of the record echoes Dan Treacy’s 1980’s Whaam! compilation „All for art and art for all“ which made it even more intriguing for me.
++ The album is only released in vinyl, is that true? Of course you have put out a couple of 7″s before, and also CDs so I ask, is vinyl your favorite format? and why?
Olaf: Somehow the CD only format didn’t seem appropriate for me any more, as vinyl has seen quite a revival in the last years. But hopefully there will be a CD release of the record in 2014.
Gunnar: The combination of a nice big vinyl record with great (affordable) artwork and a download code is ideal. You can take something beautiful home with you and have something to carry around wherever you go. With a CD you can‘t do neither.
++ On this album you collaborate again with the Firestation label. How did you meet for the first time? And how has your experience being with them?
Olaf: We got to know each other around the time they were releasing their “19 Goldene Hits” compilation (pre Firestation). I remember playing on a festival together with Westway. Uwe, Olaf, Annikki and Jan have always been loyal to our music, so what else can I say than “thank you for your support through all those years”.
Matthias: Top guys, top label.
++ I have a couple of curious questions, is Mr. Magic from “Ask Mr. Magic” based in a real person? And what about “Emily Jones”? Also, “My Bavarian Town”, is that about any particular city?
Olaf: I used to be a Northern Soul DJ for many years. Almost everybody on the DJ scene of the 90’s used a pseudonym way back then. I decided on „The Magic Shoemaker“, the title of an LP by 1960’s psych band Fire, and because my family name is Schumacher. When I met my wife more than 10 years ago, she and some of her friends initially used to call me “Mr. Magic“. “Emily Jones“ is also a real person, but I won’t tell you who, as she didn’t want her real name to be used for understandable reasons. On the other hand I always wanted to write a song about a fictitious girl named “Emily“, as there are so many good examples in the history of pop music: “See Emily Play“ (Pink Floyd), “When Emily Cries“ (TV Personalities), “Emily Small“ (Picadilly Line), “A Rose for Emily“ (Zombies), “Emily Kane” (Art Brut) and so on. And then she should have an ordinary family name. Bob Dylan, Manfred Mann or the Bee Gees all sang about “Mr. Jones”, so I found it amusing to have a certain “Mrs. Jones” in a song, although I can’t quite remember if this unique idea was by me or stolen.
The Bavarian town is called Amberg, where I used to live with my parents a long time ago. I revisited it in 2008 for the first time after more than 30 years.
++ The band was founded in 1991 according to your Facebook page. How did you all meet?
Olaf: I met Siggi and my soon-to-become girl friend Claudia on May 3rd, 1987 at a Television Personalities gig in Berlin’s venue “Loft”. After the demise of my band Most Wanted Men we founded The Groovy Cellar. Following some change of personnel we recruited Matthias, who played bass in The Beat Godivas, loved the same bands as we did, and wore a Mod parka.
Matthias: There was that sampler I used to listen to back in the 80s, “Beat all the Tambourines”. Included a couple of songs by the Most Wanted Men. I really liked that early stuff, still do. “Hippie Girl”, “January” are real stunners. So I was quite thrilled to join the Groovy Cellar a couple of years later. I then persuaded that bloke I knew from the Artpress to join the band as a drummer, but that’s a different story …
++ You all have been involved with many other bands, care telling me in which bands you’ve all been during the years?
Gunnar: Matthias and me go way back to the 80s when we both were in The Artpress, a guitar power pop outfit which sadly only released one single in 1990. Ever since I have been trying to get away from him, but somehow it can‘t be done.
Matthias: Absolutely, Gunnar, the one who plays the sloppy drums, he sticks to me like glue. Sometimes it’s like that movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, the scene when George confronts Martha with a gun. I even call him Martha sometimes.
++ Your sound of course is very 60s influenced. What would you say are your favourite records from that decade?
Olaf & Siggi: It’s too many to mention. Our record shelves are full of 1960’s records, so where to start?
Gunnar: My Girl by The Tempations, Walking in The Rain by The Ronettes, The Beatles • Rubber Soul, The Bee Gees • 1st, everything by Goffin/King and Mann/Weill
Matthias: Bobby Timmons Trio – Moanin’ , Lee Moses – Bad Girl, Willie Tee – Walkin’ Up A One Way Street, Little Richard – I Don’t Know What You’ve Got But It’s Got Me, Tommy Navarro – I Cried My Life Away, Timi Yuro – What’s A Matter Baby …
++ Though you also seem to have a liking for 80s and 90s indiepop. You’ve played with many of the indiepop bands of this period. What have been your favourite bands to share gigs with? And why?
Olaf: The TV Personalities were one of our main influences of the 1980’s. So of course we were very proud to have the opportunities to support them. It’s the same with the Cleaners from Venus. Claudia and I were invited on stage to sing the Hollies’ hit “Bus Stop” together with Martin Newell and Dave Gregory (of XTC fame) on guitar! By coincidence both groups had this cover version (and only this one) on their set list.
++ Tell me a bit about Berlin. What are the best places to play or hang out and have a beer? Any other good Berlin bands at the moment?
Siggi: One of our fave venues is the “Schokoladen”, where we also had our record release party. Good sound and decent beer prices.
Gunnar: for Bands: check out The Pikes or the Rythm & Beat Organisation who is doing regular shows always with different songs and singers and sixties related mottos
++ Would you say the scene in your city has changed much from the 90s to these days? When was a better time for bands in Berlin?
Gunnar: We hear the the late 80s‚ with Indie/Guitar Pop being largely popular in West Berlin. Nowadays the scene is very relaxed and we even get some new blood from young hipsters who seem to come out of nowhere.
++ The Groovy Cellar was a neo-60’s club of the early 1980’s in London. Did you ever get the chance to go there?
Olaf & Siggi: Unfortunately not.
++ Years ago you also released some records with Marsh-Marigold, one of the best indiepop labels ever, lots of quality stuff. How did you end up signing with them?
Olaf: I actually can’t remember how we got to know each other (sorry, Oliver). Signing is not the correct word, though. We talk about independent labels, man!
++ But the first 7″ was on Twang! right? I don’t know much about that label. Who were they?
Olaf: One of the first independent labels from Berlin that had a go at beat and psychedelic music. Without Twang’s Mike Korbik probably half of the 60’s orientated bands in the 1980’s and 1990’s wouldn’t have released a record at all. His importance for the Berlin music scene can’t be underestimated. He was our Alan McGee!
Gunnar: Mike is still doing a regular online-fanzine „Guitars Galore“ which you can find here: http://www.twang-tone.de. He also still does mail orders of almost all Twang!-Releases.
++ Talking about labels, was there ever any interest by any majors?
++ And do tell me, from all your releases, what’s your favourite song to play live?
Gunnar: For me right now: „Where have all the good Guys gone“ from the new album
Matthias: “Emily Jones”
++ So far, after many years as The Groovy Cellar, what would you say has been the highlight of the band?
Gunnar: This band is a permanent highlight … but seriously: there are many great moments when you know each other as long as we do.
++ And aside from music, what other hobbies do you have?
++ And so, one last question, in the future, what can we expect from The Groovy Cellar?
Olaf & Siggi: Playing the Madison Square Garden with Bono and Sting.
Gunnar: not with Sting, no way. Did I mention we‘d love to play Spain?
Matthias: One of the rare occasions I agree with Gunnar.
++ Thanks again for the interview. Where can one buy your new record? Anything else you’d like to add?