Put on a pair of headphones and turn off the lights. Press play, and close your eyes as the melancholy night-sound of the German instrumental band Bohren & Der Club of Gore fills your ears and casts shade upon your soul.
In 1988 in Mülheim an der Ruhr, in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, four musicians gathered: Thorsten Benning on drums, Robin Rodenberg on bass, Morten Gass on guitar and piano, and Reiner Henseleit on guitar. All previously members of various hardcore, death metal, and doom bands, they began to meddle with jazz and ambient styles, all while keeping their sound strictly instrumental. By 1992, they had come to call themselves Bohren (which translates literally to “boring,” and although it has an ironic association in the English language for a disappointed listener, it is actually a reference to the physical action of boring, like drilling a deep hole into the ground.) In 1993, they added “und Der Club of Gore” to their band name, as an homage to the ‘80’s Dutch noise rock band Gore, whose exclusively instrumental approach to music was a direct influence upon Bohren’s own style.
Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s debut album, Gore Motel (1994), featured a variety of sounds, including some distorted guitar and even an up-tempo track, but the majority of songs were brimming over with a very moody, dark sound. With 1995’s Midnight Radio, Bohren’s sound became even more dense, its eleven untitled tracks (each clocking in at 10 minutes or longer) sounding like a nighttime cruise in the grim streets of a city straight out of a noir film.
In 1995, Henseleit quit the band, and in 1996, Christoph Clöser was hired—but instead of continuing the band’s guitar-heavy sound, Clöser introduced the saxophone. Starting with 2000’s Sunset Mission, Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s style shifted fully into what is generally thought of as their signature sound: extremely slow-paced songs that are gloomier than a moonless night and denser than a black hole, with haunting melodies creeping through every track. By this time, Clöser was also playing Fender Rhodes, piano, and vibraphone, and Morten Gass picked up organ, vocoder, 8-string bass, synthesizer, and Mellotron. It was with the 2004 re-release of their fourth album, Black Earth (2002), on Ipecac Recordings, that they began to grow popular in the United States, and with each subsequent album, they’ve gained more and more exposure.
Recently, I had the pleasure to chat with Morten Gass about the music, albums, and creative process of Bohren & Der Club of Gore.
BLD: Many people attempt to classify Bohren’s music as anything from “doom jazz” to “death jazz.” Do you or the other members of the band have some kind of name for your sound?
MG: I remember in the beginning I described our music as “Tavernen Doom” (tavern doom). That is still okay for us.
BLD: How would you describe der Club’s sound over the years?
MG: Minimalistic, quiet and slow without distortion but a lot of bass. Music with a certain kind of heaviness, but not in a heavy metal kind of way. The basic recipe is still the same as (when we started playing) 22 years ago; we try to play very slow and quiet music in a jazzy, easy-listening kind of way. But of course, it is no real jazz that we play; (we’re perceived this way) by using all the classic jazz instruments. On our new album, Piano Nights, we were more focused on sound by using better studio equipment.
BLD: What bands or musicians were the biggest inspirations for der Club?
MG: Since the early ‘80’s we listened to extreme music. Bands like Hellhammer, Repulsion, Autopsy, Gore, Cocteau Twins, Sade, Martin Böttcher or Helge Schneider.
BLD: What are some non-musical influences on your music? (Any books, stories, or myths, for example?)
MG: Video games and nighttime activities.
BLD: The band has generally used the same instruments (keys, drums, bass, saxophone, and occasional guitar), and has more or less retained the same styles for quite some time now. Are there any plans to incorporate other instruments or styles?
MG: We always use some different instruments on every record. Since Midnight Radio, we use no more guitars. On Sunset Mission we used a saxophone for the first time. Black Earth got lots of Mellotron. Geisterfaust got no keyboards except the Fender Rhodes, and saw the (use of a) vibraphone and eight string bass, plus a fine housewives choir. For the next one (Dolores), an old organ, and so on. I mean there will be always some kind of small changes in style and instruments and music, but not too drastic.
As I know us, I am very sure that one or another new instrument will sneak in our sound again. At least this was always the case on our previous albums.
BLD: Does anyone in the band have musical ideas that you’d like to explore, but haven’t yet?
MG: We like the style of our music so very much. That is why we are extra careful with our musical formula. For example, we are big fans of techno and house music, and of course heavy metal. But we find it silly to integrate something like that into our music.
BLD: Has the band ever been approached to score a movie? (I think your music would make for an amazing soundtrack.)
MG: Yes, there were some. But to be honest, we are not so keen to write a soundtrack. Something like that means a lot of work, and especially a lot of compromises, so we’d prefer to save ourselves up for the right one.
BLD: On your 2011 mini-album Beileid, you have a song, “Catch My Heart,” the in which you do two very unusual things: covered another band’s song, and had a vocalist, the great Mike Patton. Do you guys plan on doing either of these things ever again?
MG: The Beileid mini-album was just something special in between two regular albums. We will stay an instrumental band until maybe one of us recognizes his own great voice.
We had this obsession to do a cover of a German heavy metal ballad. (When) our version of Warlock’s “Catch My Heart” became such a monster, Patton was just the only one we knew and in which we trusted to sing it properly. Plus it was a great honor to finally work with him.
BLD: Were there “themes” on any your previous albums?
MG: There is always a theme on our albums. Just to get in the right mood for the music. The theme, or the title of the album, comes before the writing process.
Midnight Radio was about lonely driving around in an urban city at night. Sunset Mission was about assassins. Black Earth was our graveyard album. Dolores (2008) was about pain. (The 2009 single) “Mitleid Lady” was inspired by the Chris Norman song. Beileid was fun at the funeral. Piano Nights, a bar at the end of the world.
BLD: So what was the story behind the “hand theme” of your 2005 album Geisterfaust (which translates literally to “Ghost Fist”)?
MG: The fist of a ghost is like our music. It’s a spectral kind of thing, but it can hit you full force in the stomach.
BLD: There’s a black and white photo of a very young Christoph Clöser on the cover of Piano Nights. What’s the story behind that?
MG: Actually, it is a very sad story. Teenage Christoph was forced by his parents to earn money for the whole family by entertaining people in front of the Cologne Dom with his piano magic. This was by the way in the early ‘70’s where no digital pianos existed. The poor guy had to carry the big upright piano all the way to the Dom on its little narrow shoulders, whether summer, winter, rain or storm. Not to mention that he and his parents lived in the eighth floor.
BLD: Does the band tour much?
MG: We play about thirty shows per year. (We’ve) got regular jobs. This makes touring difficult for us. So we do short trips, like three to five shows in a row. But we fell fine with that kind of situation. Touring gets boring and exhausting after a few days. Plus we are not the type of guys who “want to see the world” or are interested in cultural things and stuff like that.
BLD: Do you think the band will ever tour in the U.S.?
MG: We were there in 2009 for the first time. Under the right circumstances, we will come back, for sure.
BLD: Would you like to say anything else?
MG: Thank you very much for the interview, Barry. Stay happy.
Bohren & Der Club of Gore’s albums are available from major retailers nationwide.