Interview with Martin Hall made by Kai Grothaus for the German magazine Dark Spy (#51, February 2013)

This interview was made in relation to the German release of the Martin Hall album If Power Asks Why featuring the two classical musicians Andrea Pellegrini and Tanja Zapolski.

A wonderful greeting to you. How are you?

– All things considered, I would say okay.

Please introduce yourself to our readers.

– I’m a Danish singer, composer, musician and writer who made my debut with the post-punk band Ballet Mécanique. I don’t think our first album The Icecold Waters of the Egocentric Calculation made it to Germany, but a fair amount of my electronic solo records from the 80’s did – Relief, Cutting Through and later on Random Hold. Don’t know if these titles ring any bells, otherwise so be it. However, at the moment I’m primarily working with classical musicians, particularly the singer Andrea Pellegrini and the pianist Tanja Zapolski with whom I have recorded the new album.

What can you tell us about this collaboration?

– It’s very wonderful to work with such great musicians. Andrea’s voice is fabulous. She’s a quite Wagnerian figure – her pose and dark mezzo-soprano go well with my songs. Combined with Tanja’s virtuous capacity as a pianist it allows me to write music that I would never be able to perform as a solo artist.

Your new album „If Power Asks Why“ comes out in a few days. What can the listeners expect?

– A quite theatrical experience really. It’s a series of piano-based “hybrid lieder” you might call it, nine new songs all characterized by a high degree of sombre drama. Titles such as ”Dead Horses on a Beach” and ”Hope is a Lack of Information” might give you a sense of the lyrical nature of the project. The songs aren’t very optimistic, rather passionate objections against any standardised parameters of desire – a safe haven for allergic souls. Whether you’re into avant-garde music, dark wave stuff or Weimar Berlin, I think there’s a chance you’d like it.

Your music seems very classical. What are your musical roots?

– I grew up with equal amounts of Stravinsky and Sex Pistols. Both artists broke new ground at the time of their arrival and although their backgrounds and talents might be very different, they both had a massive impact on modern culture. Being a teenager in the post-punk era I really had a great musical education via artists such as Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire as well as record labels such as Les Disques du Crépuscule. There was a strong urge to communicate through music in this pre-internet era, a great interest in the wider artistic endeavours of any subculture, past or present.

Tell us something about the basic concept for “If Power Asks Why”?

– The album is driven by a strong sense of repulsion towards mediocrity. It’s a statement against cultural confinement. The full quote of the title is an old Aleister Crowley phrase that goes: “If power asks why, then power is weakness”. Obviously this is a quite controversial statement, but when it comes to personal desires and longings you can’t really reason with urge. Reason only acknowledges itself and that presents a lot of limitations to a happening life. Through conflict we define and shape ourselves. The title is basically a salute to life.

Could you tell us something about the members of Pellegrini/Zapolski/Hall?

– Andrea Pellegrini is half Italian, a great singer and a very proud character. Tanja Zapolski is half Russian, an amazing pianist still in the making. And then there’s me … a kind of lost poetic soul, I guess, writing his desolate songs about alienation and disgust. That’s the short version.

On YouTube you can see a video called “MILFs, Cum and Schopenhauer” from the album. What is the context between these three words?

– The song is a textbook example of a postmodern sexual delirium, a media-induced panic attack. You’ve got this person at a party who’s really sick and tired of what’s going on around her and basically she’s just saying “give me anything else than what I’m in the middle of”. She’s flooded by images from pornographic films, male standards of sexual behaviour and old Schopenhauer quotes and she’ll take any alternative that offers itself to get out of the situation she’s in. Often sex becomes a last resort to avoid either boredom or panic.

Your videos are black-white and very classical. Would you say that your music is more classical?

– This particular album might be, but it’s really just a set of basic songs performed in an operatic fashion. I love the drama of the opera, this sense of “no, things are not okay and now I’m going to come at you with all I have”. In the world of opera you don’t accept a broken heart, you want to annihilate your rival. It’s all completely over the top, but in many ways it’s a more accurate description of how a person might feel than a lot of pedagogical nonsense. I’m sorry to say, but neither art or love is very democratic – it’s all about will, emotion and personal desire.

Are there any last words you want to get to our readers?

– Not really. That’s what I like about you asking the questions – it takes the responsibility off my shoulders.

We thank you for this interview and wish you all the best.

– Thank you for the attention.