Apparat: From Pop Hymns to High Art


22 March 2019



In recent years, the German trio Moderat has grown from a cutting-edge electronic wonder to a widely beloved pop group. While expanding the live shows, Sasha Ring even got used to coming to the front of the stage and chanting the 'Bad Kingdom' chorus with the audience whether in a 17,000 capacity arena in Berlin, on a massive helipad in Kyiv, or at the iconic Glastonbury Festival.

Watching Sasha's metamorphoses as he switches back and worth between Moderat and his very own project Apparat is always a pleasure, but especially nowadays. “I was only able to make the record this way because Moderat exists,” he says about his new solo album. “Having a huge stage with Moderat gave me a setting for grand gestures and meant I could unburden Apparat from these aspirations. I don’t have to write big pop hymns here; I can just immerse myself in the details and the structures.”

Just as Autechre did in the 90s, Ring named his fifth album simply 'LP5'. In it, he stitched together a wide, elegantly balanced sound palette. It’s a full-fledged thing: through ethereal highs and deep dives the single storyline flows, the songs altogether bring to life one complex breathing entity.

Action-packed bangers with Moderat, energetic DJ sets, visionary works for theater and cinema — all of his achievements found a subtle embodiment in 'LP5'. Comma called Sasha on the evening before the release to find out more.

Tomorrow’s a big day, do you feel nervous?

I tell myself all the time that I’m not getting nervous about stuff like that anymore because now I’m — well, you know — experienced. (laughs) But I do get nervous. You don’t really analyze the record too much while you’re making it, you intentionally try not to overthink it in the studio because it’s counterproductive. But at some point when you give it to the record label and start doing interviews you notice that it’s out of your control now. You can’t change it anymore, you started a process that you can’t stop. So at some point you just say: “Okay, hopefully people are going to like it.” Because you never know. That’s my state of mind right now: I’m just hoping.

You chose abstract title for the album, wrapped it in abstract visuals — looks like you’re consciously trying to avoid any narrative frame, spoken idea, message that could be interpreted.

Yeah, isn’t it great for an interview? (laughs)

(laughs) Nice try, but I still have questions about it. Does this approach mean that you also chose to make music more unconsciously, with less control, less understanding of the endgame?

Yes, but not from the start. Usually at the beginning I have lots of ideas and concepts. For example, I’m always telling myself that this time I’m willing to do really straightforward concert record. And then I realize it’s going out of my hands, things start happening by themselves. Luckily, at some point I understand that I should just let go and celebrate it. When you’re working on a song, sometimes stuff just happens and you can’t really control it. And those are actually good moments in the studio. Sometimes half an hour later you ask yourself: “How the hell did I do this?”

This time I intentionally tried to make that happen, and when I got these moments I completely let go. This took me to all kinds of places. In the end, there’s a risk that it will be very hard to put everything together as one record. There are so many interesting things I like, so many things I want to do, and usually every song I make goes into a completely different direction. So, when I had enough ideas, I sat down and told to myself: “Ok, and now the serious part starts”.

The serious part is a bit like office work. You just go there and start putting the same sound design on every song, applying techniques you found on everything. This is how it becomes a record. Before, it’s just a bunch of weird ideas, and I let them go in all different ways.

I’m always telling myself that I’m going to do a really straightforward concert record. And then I realize it’s going out of my hands, things start happening by themselves

I hear lots of live parts on the album that are sampled or deconstructed. Do they come mostly from free jams or well-thought-out sessions?

There was only one really long jam. One of my concepts at the beginning was, for the first time in my life, to make a record that was played by a band in the studio more or less without any preparation. So we tried it — we went to the studio for two weeks, and we just jammed. And in the end there was barely any useable material. It was just a chaotic amount of gigabytes on the hard drive with different kind of stuff, and I was afraid to even open those projects. It was so messy and so overwhelming. That’s how I learned that I’m not really a jam session kind of guy.

But then again, after a little while I realized that even though there are no real songs, I can use this stuff as a sort of sample library. That was one of the most important revelations, because I understood that it could be a cool concept for the record — to construct it like a puzzle from all these little bits and pieces from everywhere. And lots of different bits and pieces came from that very first session, even though at the beginning I thought it’s just garbage.

Did you have any particular goals in mind in terms of sound?

Yeah. As I said, in the beginning everything is blurry, you just follow the flow, and you’re happy about anything that happens. But at some point you have to get serious, and it always starts with one particular song. You’re trying to get it work. It’s always about those songs that are really difficult and you make twenty versions of them, and on the nineteenth version you have an enlightenment. You try something and realize that maybe you can apply what you just did to all the other songs as well.

In this case, it happened with ‘VOI_DO’, the first song on the record. We had lots of parts for this one as well. We recorded jazz people, we had double bass, trombone, piano, different guitars. All these things didn’t make any sense together, and separately they also didn’t really work, it was very frustrating. So I started just getting a bit of double bass here, a piece of trombone there, and then guitars, and kind of sequence these things. And then I also mixed them up with a lot of electronic processing. That was a very interesting moment, because I realized I really want to do it with many other songs as well. That was a sound design for the record, in a way.

Apparat "LP5"

When you say “we”, you mean your creative pair with Philip Tim? What’s his impact on the record?

Philip is very important. I can’t work on my own anymore, I forgot how to do that because I’ve been working with people so much. At least I think I’d never really finish something on my own. It’s so much easier when at some point someone just tells you what to do next.

I mean, we’re not at the same room all the time. With Philip and me it was, like, I worked half a day, then we worked two hours together, and then he would do the rest. And whenever I finished my part, my five hours, he would come to the studio and I’d already be freaked out — “Ah, listen to this shit, it just doesn’t work!” And he might say “You know what? You have to mute this and put that part here.” And it sounds pretty cool instantly. So it’s really helpful to have someone with another perspective and fresh ears. Philip was very valuable for that. Also, he plays every possible instrument so for the time we spent together in the studio he was like my human sampler.

That’s a nice way to put it. Now let’s talk about some of the tracks. The first single, ‘DAWAN’, sounds more approachable than the rest of the album…

Yeah, that’s why we chose it.

So you made it like that intentionally?

Actually, I never really was a fan of singles, and especially with this record. I mean, of course these days for certain kind of listeners and all kinds of, like, Spotify playlist people it’s important to have strong singles. But the way I make music, especially with this record, in the end I really try to make an album. At some point I had sequence of songs, we would listen to them and realize: “Oh, the next one starts with piano as well, which is a really nice transition. But probably now the piano part on the track we’re currently working on is too long”. So imagine you do all these things with a lot of songs and then it makes a lot of sense as a record, but if you take the song out of context, maybe the piano part would be too short. Maybe they don’t work as well on their own anymore.

Still, it’s smart to have a thing like ‘DAWAN’, something that stands out.

From the label perspective, for sure, definitely. And of course such thing will make it easier for the people. But that in the end is not really my concern. When I do a record, it doesn’t necessarily should be easy.

Did you have live performances in mind when you were working on cuts like ‘HEROIST’?

It’s funny you mentioned it. We are rehearsing it right now, I’m actually in the rehearsing room. ‘HEROIST’ is a bitch of a song to play live. To answer your question, no, I tried not to think about that, because it’s difficult enough to make music in the studio. If you’d keep live performances in the head, it would become too difficult. Especially with electronic music, because you have to redo the songs for live versions again. In the end it’s only five people who have to play about 80 possible sounds. And ‘HEROIST’ is difficult also for another reason — and I had that through my whole career — whenever song has very electronic beat that is also combined with acoustic things, sometimes such song just doesn’t want to be sequenced, doesn’t want to be played by a drummer. I mean, I love to play with live drums, but for some tracks it’s more challenging.

Apparat in Kyiv, 2015. Photo: Alexander Dobrev

Last part of ‘IN GRAVITAS’ has a comparably straightforward dance beat. Feels like a very sudden transition after how the whole album evolved. Can you explain your intention there?

Yes, absolutely. It started almost as a joke. We had first part of ‘IN GRAVITAS’ which I always liked, but we didn’t know how to finish it. Then, during the session in the night I came up with this dancy beat — like, yeah, listen to that, it’s kinda funny, hahaha. Anyway, later I listened to it in connection with other songs again and realized that the record turns out sort of heavy, it requires a lot of attention from the listener. I felt like the record needed some kind of uplifting moment in the end. It’s a simple idea, reward for a listener for making it through.

There’s also a poem in the end, where does it come from?

Lyrics are from David Roeder who’s a friend of Phillip’s. I always work with other people for lyrics. I mean, I like input in any way, I love to invite musicians, lyricists. People send me over huge amounts of lyrics, although I might use just very little bits. In this case it was a shame, because this poem was really cool but very long, way too much to sing. And Phillip said “Why don’t we let David just record a spoken word part? You might like it”. He knew David’s voice. So that’s what we did, and it worked.

I memorized the lines “Statues erected to no one elected, children point fingers and objects fall down, reason dissected is what is expected, question mark lingers and objects fall down”. You’ve said that you tried to stay abstract with meanings of the album, but this ending sounds almost like a manifestation.

It is. In the end there isn’t much going on anymore. Just that poem, just the words. It’s a point where for the first time everything becomes concrete and focused. It’s specific for once. I like the meaning, it’s about renewing. It’s a good message for the final.

While preparing for the tour, is it challenging for you to make old songs fit the setlist?

Actually, yeah. Especially because I always try to play different interpretations of old songs to make them more interesting for myself. But my state of mind is all about new music. Especially with this stuff, you can really tell the difference in the material. My old music, even though it has lots of instruments, is still very repetitive. And new record has more unique parts and more space between the harmonies.

This is actually very rewarding for us as a band. Because if you need something to be played for four minutes and it’s the same thing, you can as well make the computer play it, you don’t really need a human. But these new songs are actually more fun to play with other musicians, they give us space for interpretations and improvising. I can really see these songs changing during the tour. It is harder with old material, I’m more attached to what it was at the first place.

Have you already thought about the visuals for upcoming tour?

I always loved to do visuals for most of my projects, but for this one I think it should be more about the music. So we’ll have a lot of moody lights, maybe even some kind of abstract screen, but it shouldn’t show any pictures or visuals, it’s more about colors and whatever. It should be stripped down to the music, not so much around it.

What’s your favorite piece of music gear at the moment? Something you’d mess around and lose track of time.

Funny enough, I’m still a bad guitar player, but for the first time in my life I can actually kind of play a guitar. Most of the time I was able to make sounds but I could never really play and sing at the same time or do any serious stuff. Recently I forced myself to practice more, and now I’m a better player, which feels wonderful. So right now I’m old school because I love my guitar and I’ll play with it a lot on stage.

When I do a record, it doesn’t
necessarily should be easy

When you have a break between rehearsals and preparing for the tour, do you listen to any music?

I’m starting to listen to music again. When I make music, I tend to isolate myself a lot, so now I have to catch up with all the stuff I missed last year. Most recent album I checked was “Lex” by Visible Cloaks, and I really enjoyed it. It speaks to me from a nerdy producer perspective which I always enjoy.

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