‘Yes, it’s Baum, just Baum’. So says the Bandplanet profile of Swiss acoustic rockers Baum (Christoph Baumgartner and Marc Hemantha Hufschmid). But anyone who has ever listened to Baum’s intensely personal, passionate music knows that it is anything but ‘just’ Baum. Baum are true craftsmen, combining wonderfully rich, textured melodies and lyrics with acoustic guitar wizardry. After releasing a number of albums with award-winning alt-rock band Outland, Baumgartner took the solo singer-songwriter route in 2011 with the release of his debut album ‘Music For My Landlord’. Now joined by Hufschmid on drums, the duo recently spent a month in New York recording material for their latest, as yet untitled album, to be released in October 2012.
You are just back from a month in New York recording your new album – you lucky thing! Tell us a little about the recording process.
Yeah! We recorded the last album at The Cutting Room Studios in New York, and that was already a really good experience. Then a friend of mine recommended the Jungle City Studios, which belong to Alicia Keys. They are completely new studios – last autumn they were awarded Best Studio Worldwide for their great design (Louis Vuitton wallpaper and everything!) and sound. Amazing. They’ve got a very old EMI recording desk, which was used to record all these great bossa nova records in Brazil, and the sound is so warm on it. The skyline is incredible, the space is breathtaking. We were hearing things like, ‘Oh, we can use the penthouse on the 11th floor tomorrow because Madonna just cancelled, she’s going to be here next week instead’. There was Usher, there was Kanye West, Swizz Beats…
The interesting thing was that we started to feel the pressure to do a good job. We felt like, ‘oh god, we’re Swiss, we shouldn’t fuck it up now’. But we had a great experience; the atmosphere was so friendly and warm. We had Yoed Nir, who played cello on the last album, as well as Adam Levy again on electric guitar. Annakei, who did vocals on the last album, played piano this time. So the old crew was more or less back together. And Uri Kleinman, who is an incredible bass player, nailed 10 songs in one night session, quite incredible.
So would you consider moving to NYC?
Well, we are in the process of getting artist visas for Marc (Hemantha Hufschmid, Baum’s drummer) and I. At the moment we can record over there but we aren’t allowed to play there – not even for free. As long as there is a bar open and they are selling drinks then we are part of a commercial event, and that’s forbidden. That’s why we are taking care of the artist visas now, because it will give us the freedom to play there for the next three years. I love New York, I love the energy, the people, the work ethic, everything. The main thing about working in NYC isn’t just the commercial chances but also the inspiration. The city is full of music, and the tradition and culture of music. It’s a 24-hour city.
Where are you at with the new album now?
Wow, that’s very Swiss!
<laughs> Yeah, but actually I just like the sound. It’s not that I’m very connected to the Swiss Alps. There are instruments that I like just for the sound of it. She (Eliana) started playing the alp horn when she was 6 years old, in a very traditional way. Then she discovered that she wasn’t really interested in playing the alp horn like that, and she moved over to playing funk and jazz on the alp horn. She’s doing pretty well in Germany and the States now, and she lives in LA part-time. She’s just finished a South American tour. I’m looking forward to seeing what possibilities the alp horn has for Eliana, what darker, more emotional sounds we can get out of it, and what projects we can work on together. So we’ll record that in a couple of weeks.
Yoed has a very good friend called Yael Naim from Paris – she did a song for Apple. Hopefully she’ll be on the album as well. I love her voice. So there are one or two songs that we want to have her on as well. We might go back to NYC in May or June to record another two songs. So there will be 10-12 songs on the album, and hopefully it will be released around October.
So making music must be a full-time occupation now?
The regular question you get in Switzerland is, ‘Oh you’re a musician…but what is your proper job?’ For most people it’s just an ambitious hobby. But once you realise how good your idols are, you just want to get better. I think there’s just no way that Marc and I could consider doing music as just a hobby, it’s too important, and it’s too time-consuming. My grandfather was a blacksmith, and he worked hard physically. Musicians don’t really work in that purely physical sense. In New York, Marc and I were standing on the balcony having a cigarette and I realised how mentally exhausted I was, which was actually a cool realisation. With the last album I had a producer who took care of everything. But now that Marc is in the band, we decided to produce this album ourselves. I wasn’t sure if I was ready. But with all the talent we have on the album, and hearing the progress of it, you can start to see how it should come together. And when that day came, we were wetting our pants, because there was such a big possibility of fucking it up. But we just did it. We asked the engineers to be very honest with us, because we wanted to achieve an international level with our material – if it wasn’t up to scratch we did it again and again. But luckily we found our way through the whole thing. The whole atmosphere of New York helps, it is so inspiring, people are always pushing you to do better, and there are so many good opportunities.
Licensing music for film and TV seems to be one of the new revenue sources for musicians now.
One of the guys who played on the album recorded a song for a movie last autumn, a Universal production. He got a paycheck for one million US dollars. And it’s not even the title song. So now people are like, ‘wow, movies! TV!’. When you start thinking like that, there are more possibilities. You can be brave, and add say, more European things into the song, like an alp horn, because it gives the song a sound that people don’t expect. If a song goes over 4.5 minutes it’s too long for Swiss radio stations, but it might be suitable for a film or TV. So radio isn’t the only market musicians can look to now. Although radio is cool, too. Last Saturday I was buying some soap in Lush, and I thought, ‘Hey, I know that song…’ and then I realised that it was ‘She Smiles’ from my own album. I was really flattered. It was a big moment for me, especially because I don’t usually listen to radio at all.
So on a commercial level, you start to think about movies, or TV. The chances we get here in Switzerland, even if you have a song in say, a TV series, you might get perhaps a maximum CHF 7000 or 9000. Not that that is a small amount, but when you compare it to what you can get overseas, well, it’s a big difference. A Swiss TV series will only be shown here in Switzerland, but an American show will be shown in Turkey, Germany, Switzerland, and so on. If selling music for film/TV helps me to get some of the money back that we spent on the albums, then that’s good.
How hard is it to be financially viable as a musician these days? How do you do it?
Selling CDs, concerts, the usual. That’s why I’m so big into playing overseas. Switzerland is a small market, and it’s divided into language areas – it’s very hard for someone from the Swiss German part of Switzerland to make it in the French/Italian-speaking part, and vice versa. Having so many cultures here is a beautiful thing, though. But once you have played in all the main places in Switzerland a few times, well, you need to start to look further. I think that the effort that you have to put into being successful in Switzerland – the level of say, Stress, or The Lovebugs – is the same amount of effort and that you have to put into achieving success internationally.
So you may as well look overseas because the market is so much bigger.
Yeah. But the main thing for me is that the international market is just so much more fun. The main thing about making music for me is meeting people – I just love meeting people, I love food, I love landscapes. It doesn’t mean I don’t love Switzerland, but there is so much more out there. Making music in the way I do means I have the opportunity to say, go to Japan to do a release tour there. Or live in NYC for 6 months. If music is the key to the world out there, then I’m happy doing that kind of music. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, making music feels like the perfect job.
I still have to work as a freelance ad writer here in Switzerland, but that’s ok because it helps us to do more or less whatever we want to do. On the other hand, it would be nice to be able to completely focus on music. Music has become a necessity, not a luxury for us – if you want to achieve goals like your personal idols have, you need to put in as much time and effort as possible.
Speaking of personal idols, who are yours? Is there anyone who you would really love to collaborate with?
There’s one person that stands out from all the rest – Peter Gabriel. He has just grown and grown as a musician. For me, he’s close to perfection. He’s an inspiration, everything he does is so unique. Marc and I really admired ‘Scratch My Back’ the album of cover songs he did with The National Czech Orchestra, which had no drums, no electric guitars – everything was naturally played. We said to ourselves, that’s how we want to do it, no keyboards, so samples, just natural.
Then there’s Elbow – I’d easily sell my mum to do something with them. Not sure how she’d like that, though.
Have you thought about going to the UK and doing things there?
Well, I’ve already played five tours in Ireland, but we might do a proper CD and single release there later this year. But it’s all a bit going down over there, so I don’t know. I played a couple of gigs in London and liked it. One of my favorite memories of those gigs was that the guy who was hosting the evening at the club – The Kashmir Klub, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore – introduced us by saying ‘Please clap your hands, we are so proud to present: Bum from Sweden!’ <laughs>. I said ‘Oh thank you, it’s so nice to be back in Germany’.
I’m looking forward to seeing you play at Zurich Openair this year. What other festivals are you playing?
Gurten as well. I’m really looking forward to it, I love playing live. That’s another reason why we want to get artist visas for the USA. For Zurich Openair it looks like Eliana Burki will join us, so that will be great – the first alp horn at Zurich Openair.
Is there any difference between festival shows and doing solo gigs?
Hmm. At festivals everyone is stressed out because time is so short – the change-over is only 20 minutes, you are constantly compromising on the monitor sound, and the lights are pretty random because there is just one guy up there pushing a couple of buttons. Festivals are more rock’n’roll in a way, you have to be super dramatic and give everything in a short amount of time. In a club situation you can actually create intimacy and atmosphere; it’s easier to connect and interact with people.
But I like the fact that at festivals you literally have no time to worry about the details, you have 45 minutes to convince people, people who standing in front of the stage who possibly don’t even know you – they are just waiting for the headliner. Sometimes it’s pretty hard if you are playing on a Sunday, and everyone is wasted after three days of partying. And I’m really hoping that it’s not going to be really hot – I can handle the cold, but not the heat. Our live shows are pretty intense and exhausting, so that combined with extreme heat, ugh. It’s challenging, but it’s part of the whole summer festival thing, stinky air, wasted people, bad monitor sound etc. You just get on with it.
So I like both festivals and club gigs. And I also like working in the studio, which not everyone likes. It’s part of the whole process, writing, arranging, recording, editing, mixing, and then mastering them – it’s like working on a picture, like painting, adding things to create a whole.
What’s on your current playlist?
Gotye. And, like everyone else, I automatically fell in love with Kimbra, her voice is bloody incredible. Bon Iver. Of Monsters and Men. Mumford & Sons. They’re great. In fact, there’s some influence from them on our new album.
How did you hear about Bandplanet?
Well, I saw it online, and thought it might just be another regular music portal or platform. But when I looked closer I realised it wasn’t. I also really liked the graphic design, the colors, the layout etc – that might sound really superficial, but that’s important to me. Everything was so clear and it everything was there. And then I got in contact with your CEO and he called back, which in itself was great, and we talked about the whole thing. After that I had a really good feeling. I mean, there’s so much stuff out there, there’s Twitter and Facebook and all that… in the end you still have to have time to write songs. With Bandplanet, it all looks good and it all makes sense. I also like the fact that Bandplanet feels more personal – when you are on Facebook or Myspace, you are just one of 2.5 billion bands or something like that. Bandplanet has a kind of family approach, I really get the impression that I’m part of a community, not on just another platform. So well done!
Thank you! And that’s exactly our intention – for people to feel like they are part of a music community. We take care of our own. And needless to say, we love having you on Bandplanet. Good luck with the album, we can’t wait to hear it.
Baum plays at Schüür, Luzern, 03/05/12; Rock The Village, Saarnen 11/05/12; HimbeerBlond, Altdorf, 15/06/12; Gurtenfestival, Bern, 14/07/12 , Zurich Openair, Zürich, 26/08/12.
‘Music For My Landlord’ is out now on Sound Service.