"The cultural taste has to be tickled."
Interview With Phillip Boa
by v3rsus (December 2008)
v3rsus: You live in Germany and Malta, and sometimes you spend time in the USA. How do you see the current political and economic situation, and how do you perceive the mood of the people in Europe and the USA? Right now itís the car industryís turn in the economic crisis.
Boa: Detroit somehow reminds me of the Ruhr district. A lot of industries have been swept away there as well, and the thinking was always short-term, when I think of the steel industry. There are complete ghost districts and the people are disillusioned. I suppose that this is a situation in America that hasnít happened in a long time: that people donít have jobs any more. My sister has lived in America for a long time, she has never had a formal training, and she always finds a job. This newly learned unemployment, this experience, confuses people somehow. We are pretty much used to that here: an unemployment rate between 4 and 5 percent, and even higher ones between 10 and 20.
v3rsus: Since your sister emigrated pretty early youíve had a certain closeness to the USA for quite a long time. Have you noticed that the gap between rich and poor drifted farther apart?
Boa: Yeah, I see that, and thatís what is generally often criticized about America. But all this Anti-Americanism, thatís always been a little chic here. Iíve had many chances to get to know America, and I donít see it that negative. Here everybody always blames everything on America. Especially the left, which I belong to in a way, but moderately and more realistic, puts all the standard judgments on America, although the situations in Germany are exactly the same. The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger here as well. I would even say that in the last half decade it showed its negative impact pretty well. These are global phenomena. The Germans like to point their fingers at others, but after all they donít have it any better here.
v3rsus: After all German banks slipped into the crisis of the US financial market as well. In the end all companies operate the same, no matter if itís in Germany or America.
Boa: America doesnít exist in the financial world anymore. Thereís only the world. China is involved, and India, Europe and the USA, probably still as the strongest economic power. These are such complicated processes that a normal person canít understand them any more. In a way I have always envisioned that this financial system will break down at some point, because it never knew any limits.
v3rsus: The streets recently released the single ďEverythingís Just BorrowedĒ, TV On The Radio practically have a little media critique with ďDancing ChooseĒ, and NIN made a whole album on the current state of society and politics with Year Zero. Are these things that artists have to address to wake people up?
Boa: Thatís what Iíve basically always done. It runs through all my work. You can see my new single that way, if you want to, but my titles always have a romantic level as well. You can see and interpret the songs and images that way, but I write in a way that it isnít obvious or political, and most importantly not bitter or pointing the finger. In all my work I always encourage a total mistrust of the system. I donīt have any clichťs. There is no ďthe PDS and Die Linke are good, the CSU is on the very right and very bad, and in the middle is the SPD, which is kind of okay.Ē Those parameters are non-existent to me. I find the whole political party system absurd, in Germany as well as in America. Itís not about the needs of the people, but about being in the elite, no matter if left or right, in order to do the most for oneīs own benefit through lobbyism, always with the excuse of one's own convictions and ideals. You could call that hypocrisy too. The whole system is influenced by lobbyism, and thatís independent from the party. Itís the same in America. Then you see that Obama-story with the corrupt senator and suddenly Obama is Jesus and is praised here like Bono from U2 used to be praised. That canīt be accurate either. All the pictures are inaccurate. I always try to make it clear to my fans and to the readers of my blog (on boa myspace) , that they shouldnít believe anything, neither from the left nor from the right. They should always look behind the curtain.
v3rsus: Do you think it is a problem that Mainstream media is misinforming people and repeating the same stories over and over?
Boa: Media is corrupt too. If you look at the energy prices in Germany for example, there is an oligopoly of energy companies. The prices for gas and electricity are scandalous, but nobody here goes in the street and protests, although we practically have a monopoly, since the companies have agreements. No media outlet seriously attacks this monopoly, because they live on it. If a company like EON or RWE cancels the ads in one of the influential magazines or newspapers, then this magazine or newspaper has a big problem. Today the financial controllers rule, and not the editors or publishers. Thatís the way it is all over the world, with all things. Itís a form of lobbyism. These energy giants, or other industries, are unlimited in their power. They dictate politics that should be for the people. Those are all old thoughts anyway. There is nothing new about it, and everybody knows that. Itís still that way.
v3rsus: Do you think there are fewer platforms for culture and relevant information now than 15 years ago, or do you think the internet creates an adequate balance?
Boa: I do think the internet has the chance to work culturally against the one-sided media-show we receive. A certain freedom to write and express what you want does exist, which gets more and more lost elsewhere. The problem is that there are no real free spirits. There are not really people who are free of lobbyism. All the artists in Germany for example, I know that pretty well, are immediately corrupt. In my current blog you can read what I mean. There is nobody who really says what he thinks and who controls his output. No matter if journalists, painters, authors or musicians, everybody is sponsored or financially supported. Everybody allows big companies subconsciously, or consciously, to tell them what to do. There are very few artists who simply do what they want, because the sales would suffer. In England are a few who do what they want, like Radiohead or Mark E Smith from The Fall. In America I get that impression from Nine Inch Nails. Those are people who are not corrupt. They donīt believe the right and they donít believe the left, like me. First they donít believe in anything, and then maybe in the inherent good in people.
v3rsus: These days there arenít even any jingles anymore. That function has been taken over by pop music, and every band is selling their songs to commercials.
Boa: Iíve never done that. That is a devaluation of my work. Once you are in there, you will do it more often, and that corrupts your artistic performance, through the psyche and subconsciously.
v3rsus: When you started making professional music everything was about the Neue deutsche Welle.
Boa: (interrupts) No, that was before my time.
v3rsus: Not long before your time.
Boa: Thatís right. There was a void. Maybe that was my advantage, or my luck. At that time there wasnít anything. There was a total void.
v3rsus: Many times you have criticized the state of culture. Neue deutsche Welle was not very demanding, and in the 90ies pop culture had a new low that you addressed in your song ď1996Ē. Has anything changed in the last 25 years, since you started, or has mainstream just always been dull?
Boa: (laughs) Good point. Sometimes I think that the taste in music has always been shitty, but thatīs not accurate. The media system in Germany is supposed to be influenced by GEZ fees. Thatís what everybody pays who has a television or a radio, and they finance channels like ARD, WDR, or NDR. These channels are supposed to have a high cultural standard, and they should have speciality shows. But thatīs totally going under. Recently the HR cancelled the last two good shows that remained, and 1Live is getting worse and worse too. Basically you canīt turn on the radio anymore, because all they play is charts, or folk. When we started with Constrictor in 1986, our label worked, because everything was there. In every federal state was a radio station or TV station that supported our work. Thatís why we were able to run the label. For a while we were relatively big as an independent label. If I did that now, opening a little indie label, it would be an absolutely hopeless case. You donít have any opportunity to get your music to be heard. It would only work with print media or websites. And print media is getting more and more predictable. Itís basically just the websites.
v3rsus: Do you think people will get tired of TV and consumer culture some day, or do you think this acceptance will always be a given?
Boa: It will probably always be that way. The cultural taste has to be tickled. All these soap operas and celebrity shows, which even turned MTV from a music channel into a pretty dull entertainment channel, thatís the cultural standard, and everybody has adjusted to that. That isnít really a good cultural standard. Especially the public channels have the responsibility to do more, and to bring a little more culture to the people, which also includes music, than it is the case right now. The director-generals only look at the ratings. You canít do it that way. Then you mustnít collect GEZ fees from people. Public channels in Germany have a cultural responsibility according to the constitution. That makes it political again. Itís convenient for the elite from left to right, if people are satisfied, like a flock of sheep, with addictive celebrity shows and superstar shows. Thatís a pretty simple thought, but thatís the way it is. People sit in front of the TV, they have enough to worry about, and sooth themselves that way. But that canít be everything.
v3rsus: Do you think there is still a demand for the music industry?
Boa: Of course. The death of the CD, which is practically wished for by many Journalists, would be the death of all artists. Thank god thatís still working. For albums the downloads have practically not increased in Germany. They still only make a frustrating 4 percent of the sales. For all I care they could be 10 percent, but I like it when I go shopping somewhere and I get a CD or a book. Thatís how I see the future of music: like a book. Our next album will be kind of a book. Itís a little more elaborate and is called media book. A pretty booklet with many pages, nice packaging, and you get the impression you buy a book. Thatís the future of music to me. You canít let music die completely. If you take the budgets away from artists they canít make good music anymore.
v3rsus: Has anything changed since the music industry had its big crisis? Are labels more progressive?
Boa: I think that record labels talk a lot about the future, and that everything will be digital, but in all their actions they are stuck in the early nineties. I write about that in my blog as well. In England and America they are a little more progressive. There are artists like Jack White, or Nine Inch Nails, who do their thing, and then they go, like in the seventies, and say: ďHere record label, release that. In two weeks I want to see it at the stores.Ē Thatís the future. In the end the production of an album was cheaper than the marketing. Sometimes the videos were more expensive than the whole production of the album, and the marketing exceeded that. I find that absurd. Who still spends thousands of Euros on music videos, or 500 thousand Euros on marketing, thatís absolutely old thinking.
v3rsus: Where are you at right now and what themes are surrounding your current album?
Boa: I canít really tell you directly. Itís just stories, how I see them. The new album sounds like a soundtrack. The drummer who I wanted to work with, Jaki Liebezeit from Can, played on it. I wanted to work with him for over 20 years. Now it finally worked out, and he leaves a lot of room for the songs themselves, for the melodies and the sounds. Iím convinced that the songs breathe and that they have a lot of room. They are not fast like ďBurn All The FlagsĒ, but they are what I really want to do. There is a lot to discover, like in early days. If you put your headphones on you can discover a lot of things. The lyrics have my typical images, my metaphors that are somehow related to society and the current times. You can always see it that way if you want to, but the romance thatís in the songs, the desire that is always in my songs, and has to be in my songs, leaves other interpretations open. You can see "Diamonds Fall" that way, that it symbolizes the beginning of the financial crisis, or the title of the single ďLord Have Mercy With The 1EyedĒ. These are the images that are related to current times, but they are not bitter, and they are not supposed to be. Sometimes they are a little sarcastic, almost ironic, but the whole always has a romantic cover.
v3rsus: Do you think there is a chance for a counter-movement?
Boa: There is a counter-movement. All the indie music, if it comes from the heart, is a counter-movement. All the abstract arts.
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