Some artists take their title literally. We all know that ethereal things happen when musicians merge their work with art, but the real magic lies when they’re still able to keep it accessible enough for the general public. The resulting songs touch listeners in vastly different, but still meaningful, ways.
For Helsinki’s von Konow, creating a personal brand of “art rock” was as much about cleansing his palate as it was reinterpreting what inspires him. “I came up with the idea of completely liberating myself from the traditional form of a rock band,” he says. “This allowed me to broaden the sound and to expand the boundaries of storytelling by sheer music.
“Influences and associations started to flow free and so my songs became a synthesis of them and my own insights. This mixture draws a picture of myself. Fragments and moments of life are filtered through me into complete scenes. And this is what any art really is about.”
His new album, Lieder, takes listeners on a roller-coaster ride through heartbreak and triumph and plays with the duality of light and dark to form a full-spectrum musical experience. While some discs are better suited for your car’s CD player during rush hour, this one deserves to be enjoyed in a sleek Eames chair with a scotch on the rocks.
We chatted with von Konow (first name: Marko) about the method behind his madness, his cheesy side, and the process of building a cabin from scratch.
You call Lieder your journey through music. What was your very first musical experience and your first favorite band?
Though it may sound very ordinary, I have to say that the Beatles were very much present even in my early childhood. My big brother was a big fan, and he was playing their music all time. So I, too, was hit by the Beatles.
Then came classical music, and even the musicals of the Sixties, later glam rock, especially David Bowie, and the gloomy beats of the Eighties, just to name a few.
Your sound is so complex and layered – and thoroughly artistic. How do you start to compose? Is it on a basic instrument or do you begin with a whole arrangement in mind?
I start with lines of melodies for the vocal and separate instruments which I [then] place in a sketch of a picture or landscape that I have in mind. Then I fill in more elements and sounds.
Now that I think of it, I realize that the process is actually very similar to painting on canvas. This kind of visual or cinematic feel appears to be the main theme throughout my work.
Would you ever consider doing, say, an acoustic album, just to shake things up for your fans?
Oh yes, I’ve had that in mind. I think that my melodies stand alone very well, too. I’ve also considered doing stripped-down versions only with horns or flutes and strings, for example. If you listen carefully to my songs, you can find many melodical themes hidden in the arrangements.
You divide your time between Helsinki and Portugal. How do these very different places inspire you in their own ways?
It is all about light. Portugal is filled with it, and Finland is dark and gloomy most of the year. My music reflects the contrasts of light and shadow – musically, narratively, and emotionally.
Can you tell us what it was like to build your house from scratch?
You need to be very patient. I would not recommend it to everybody, but in the end, it’s very satisfactory when the world you’ve been creating is realized. It’s like completing a song.
Art is a big part of your background as well. Do you consider yourself synesthetic? Does your music ever have a visual counterpart, even in your mind?
It is exactly like that! I always see music and hear visions.
Every introspective rock artist has a cheesy side. What pop songs would your fans be surprised to hear you like?
That list is too long and embarrassing, but I must confess here that I’m a fan of ABBA. How cheesy is that? Equally cheesy is probably to admit that I know The Sound of Music by heart. Nevertheless, its musical score is undoubtedly ingenious: it covers the legacy of Austrian and German music from [Viennese] waltzes to Wagner.
When it comes to modern pop acts, I have a sweet spot for Lady Gaga. But now when I think about it, all these examples seem to have something similar to my own music. They all have a complex and grandiose quality and that’s what I am aiming at, too.
I’m already working on new material for the following release. A handful of songs are waiting for to be completed in the studio. So, I’m well ahead with that schedule. Also, I will be touring in Europe — dates to be announced!
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