Question N°1: Peter, where would you locate yourself within the synthwave scene?
Well, I kinda see the scene as something similar to the breakfast club. You know, with Pertubator being the tough quarterback and Mitch Murder as the Beaux that every girl from school adores. And don’t forget the incredibly gorgeous head-cheerleader NINA who is also president of the poetry club. And in between there is me, in the last row. The nerdy & kinda weird exchange student from Germany. Why? Well, basically you could combine that with a portion of the rebel from the actual breakfast club. The only difference being that I did not get slapped at home. It would be like everyone talking about Van Halen’s guitar solos while I’d rather prefer the music of classically trained guitarist & composer Ray Lynch. So basically, Deep Breakfast Club. Lol.
Question N°2: Do you actually expect people to get that ray lynch joke?
Nope, not a single bit…
Question N°3: Well, then. When did you realize you wanted produce music in general?
Well, my mother forced me to take children’s ballet and piano lessons, when I was young. For the ballet lessons I am kind of thankful, but regarding those piano lessons… I got kicked out, since I never made my homework. Or rather because one day the teacher finally discovered that I could not read notes.
And then came the 90’s.
It’s not that I did not like big butts. No, I cannot lie. And yes, I did the buffalo stance, as well. But somehow I totally lost my interest in music when shit got from bad to worse – men with a ‘short dick’ got discriminated by women with obviously more than 10 fingers. And in the end everything was, well, still Dre.
But let’s be serious. When I was 15, I watched DJ Shadow performing live on German late night TV. It was in 2002 and before he had released his epic “The Private Press”. I was simply blown away, since I never heard this kind of music before. After that I got my hands on many different records by Portishead, DJ Krush and Massive Attack etc. In the process, I decided I had to make music myself. And to me it was clear that I had to combine the dark and deep Trip Hop kinda feel with my passion for my mother’s 80’s records.
But to be honest, I am far from being obsessed with this decade. I do love Movies like Blade Runner, Weird Science and the Breakfast Club. But it’s not that I stuffed my entire house with 80’s artifacts. In fact, I am happy that I do not live in that decade, when I never could have afforded to make music the way I do. I cannot even play a fuckin piano. What I deeply and sincerely treasure about the 80’s is rather its Zeitgeist, at least in its early years. For instance, Gary Numan with Cars was the first song on TOP OF THE POPS that was made with Synthesizers. And it was in 1979 and basically ‘long’ before all that overly hyped Depeche Mode crap. Gosh, I really hate Depeche Mode. But I love and adore Vince Clarke… and Gary Numan, lol.
Anyway. Even my beloved Depeche Mode youngsters did something that I admire, nowadays. You know, they just did. ‘Synth Britannia’ is not only one of the best music documentaries I ever saw, but also the perfect example for the 80’s Zeitgeist. There were no fuckin genres, no boundaries, no nothing.
And another key point is that to me it seems like everyone wants be a fuckin soul singer, nowadays. All this RnB crap is really getting on my nerves. I mean what happened to women AND men, singing in a crystal clear high register? Yes, it also has something to do with vocal production & processing, but still. And on top – there is no interaction between the music and the vocalist, anymore. Music has become a mere bass-vessel for over-auto tuned vocals.
All it takes is some ‘epic’ 4 to the 4 floor beat with a ‘fat bassline’ and over-pronounced ‘Kick’.
Keep this in mind! When you arranged your next ‘Banger’ (most likely in A minor & consisting only of 8 bar loops), you need to over-compress your ‘fat mix’ (especially the side signal) so it becomes ‘super fat’ and ‘in ya face’. And right after you made it impossible to distinguish anymore between left and right (since all is right in your face, remember) it is crucial to wipe out anything that’s left in terms dynamics. Pfff, Dynamics… Nobody wants that shit anymore. Transients are a thing of the past. What we need in 2017 is the FATNESS. And to make your ‘banger’ even ‘phatter’, it needs to be limited to the max.
It only makes sense, you know. There is soooo much competition out there. So, you somehow need to be heard. That’s why it’s crucial to make the waveform of your song look like a black brick. Only this way there is a slight chance of a super famous DJ dude (who plays the music of others – people tend to forget that) adding your brick to his collection of bricks.
Sorry, I got carried away.
Question N°4: What made you want to start producing italo?
Actually, the Italo Disco influence came quite late.
In fact, I would love to travel back in time to see my younger me’s face if I told him that in 15 years he would be making music that sounded like the music his parents used to listen to, when they were his age. At that age I used to attend (school) parties where the cool Hip Hop crews from school ‘performed’. I guess I would have jumped right off the school building, if I had learned about a future passion for Toms and Wavetable Synthesis.
Peter Zimmermann himself was born in late 2014. I cannot tell you how or why. I also had not been making music, for several years. And then, totally out of the blue I told myself – let’s frackin do it!
Oh wait, I remember. I think a driving inner force had been some long swelling desire to understand how Italo Disco works in terms of composition & production. And in the end, I figured it out.
Question N°5: How is your Italo different or similar to original tracks from 1979?
That is an interesting question. Well, the early Italo actually resembles the late ‘Disco’ Genre, but Italo soon developed into a direction of its own. Basically being caused by the flood of new synths and drum machines, in the early 1980’s. Myself, I would locate ‘my Italo’ and the typical Peter Zimmermann sound in between 1982 and 1985.
But giving an actual answer to your question, I gotta admit that ever since I started making this kind of music the goal was not to make Synthwave, you know. It was making music that sounds like the real deal. To make people believe that the music was actually produced in the 80’s.
Question N°6: Why did you pick the name “Peter Zimmermann?”
To be honest, there is no long story, 80’s related childhood memory or anything special about it.
I simply wanted something that sounds German, a bit stiff, uncool and does not imply what kind of music I actually make.
Question N°7: Who are some of your main musical influences?
It comes as no surprise when I say 80’s music. But it ranges from Italo Disco over Cold Wave to the darker parts of New German Wave aka Neue Deutsche Welle.
One non 80’s band, which you could most likely see as one of my biggest influences, is The Knife. When their debut album going by Deep Cuts came out, it basically changed everything for me. That was in early 2003 and I was deeply impressed. I mean it was so unique and different. I was astonished how someone would simply make something, so much out of time and out of place.
Question N°8: What music do you listen to outside of electronic genres?
I mostly listen to traditional Japanese Koto music, but only to artists from the late Edo era. There is nothing like a good ‘bwewoing… kridliki bwewoing…’ in the morning or right after lunch.
I also adore Peruvian Pan-Flute-Post-Punk.
Question N°9: Oh wow, really?
No. Not a single bit.
Question N°10: How do you approach creating a song – what is your process?
Ha! I really had to give this some thought. And in fact, it is always in the same manner. I never ‘jam’. I rather leave the jamming to real musicians. In every single case I already have something in mind that I then start with. Might it be some chords, a drum pattern at a specific tempo or some simple notes for a possible Bassline.
The bass notes are later what I build the track around. I always start by building bass progressions, main chords and riffs with a piano. And when I like it, I start to replace every piano track with a specific sound I have in mind. The drums are what come last by adding tons of variations, extra percussions and shit.
To me it is crucial to start building an arrangement, as early in the process as possible. Ableton gives you the freedom of a completely free and unrestricted workflow. And for me it led to only sticking around in the session view, where you can easily sketch stuff. That is basically what my music stayed, when I first started using Ableton. Sketches. It took several years and a lot of frustration to realize that. These days I have quite an efficient workflow, I would say. Merely 25% of my time I spend on writing the song and rest is basically pure audio craftsmanship.
Question N°11: Do you have any special production techniques?
I like to make a secret out of that, a bit. But let’s say I avoid using modern or rather obvious modern equipment. To me, that would be instruments and effects that sound way too digital in a sense of being way to clean. For instance, any spectral multiband super duper delay plugins, convolution reverbs or synths with crazy new synthesis. It all sounds way to flawless to me.
I mean, Dave Smith is a true god in what he does. But I don’t really like the sound of his newer synths. The quality is superb, of course. But even with turned of filters & effects, the oscillated sound feels too processed to me. Lol. Way too analog, in a way. I know that so-called warmth is what everyone wants, but I prefer to add my own degree of warmth.
I think a part of my personal sound is to use reverbs as little as possible. I always prefer to stack analog delays upon each other over just a single reverb. Technically a reverb is zillions of tiny delays, but I simply like to keep my stereo field clean.
I also like hard panned sounds with an extreme left and right. And Delays. Shit. I really do love delays.
Question N°12: What are some of your favorite synths?
Oh, that’s though, since I like all kinds of synths. You know, big synths, small synths, ugly synths, sexy synths or even yellow synths. Yes, ugly yellow synths are the coolest. But what I like the most are blue synths. And I am a real sucker for German synths. Then come British & Japanese synths.
Ok, let’s be serious again. To me, a superb synth has a characteristic sound, but sounds cold and maybe a bit thin, with the filters and effects turned off (if possible). This way I can form or sculpt the sound on my own rather than only use it. You know? I think it’s like cooking yourself, instead of going to Japanese restaurant.
And in the end it’s always a matter of taste. Or how big your wallet actually is.
Question N°13: Your work seems to have a focus on romance – is this a byproduct of italo or a part of your aesthetic?
You think so? Interesting. I admit that there is a certain romance in my music. But more like a yearning desire and nostalgia instead of romantic love. I guess this impression could be the byproduct of my friend’s vocals. I always leave even the writing of lyrics to my vocalists. So the romance is more like their doing than mine.
But leaving the vocals aside I would rather say that the focus of my music lies on trying to express some sort of co-existence between intoxicating ecstasy and crippling agony.
To me, my music is basically like walking through the city, completely naked. Due to people not knowing the context, they simply do not realize it.
Question N°14: Your new album is labeled “Part 1” – when can we expect “Part 2?”
Some time around summer 2017, I would say. But it all depends on how fast I get used to my new studio & set up.
Question N°15: Do you have any future projects in the works besides part 2? Any non-italo projects in the future?
Lol. It’s so funny to hear that question or rather the italo-relation. I mean, if you carefully listen to Part I you can hear quite a lot of different styles that I have taken influences from. From a production point of view & I think from a musical side too, I will always keep a certain amount of italo disco influences.
It has been the goal to blend that Italo Disco ‘groundwork’ with other styles & influences from that era, right from the start of making Part I. Like electro funk, Miami freestyle, (German) New Wave & Punk.
I want to go on with this for Part II.
Lol, again, since the next step will be finishing my live program. I won’t be performing my music live, since, let’s be honest – nobody wants to hear or even dance to that crap… But I have received tons of booking requests from all over Europe, the US and even Japan regarding my Italo Disco Sets. So, I gotta give people what they want – One Night With Peter Zimmermann.
I think I will finally get my first book published – ‘The 101 of becoming a cynic’. As a cool and cynical goodie it will come with a tiny inflatable ivory tower.
Yeah, that’s basically it.