Damo Suzukiís English is limited and has been cleaned up a little here, except in instances such as when he describes a man in a dangerous situation as ďugryĒ, (a hybrid of nasty and ugly) then Iíve left the not strictly correct but more expressive version in. If Ringo was famous for his malapropisms Damo has his own way of creating hybrid words. Another ďDamoismĒ (as I came to call them) is ďinterpressionĒ. And this is where Damoís strength lies as you will see; not in technique or skill, but in expression, of a purer energy-based kind, not caring about rules, form or technical correctness, but about improvisation and spontaneity. Damo remembers little in detail from the Can days and the interview is necessarily compromised by this, however, I think Damoís own view of creativity is just as interesting as a trawl through 70ís German rock, which to be fair has been covered thoroughly elsewhere, and so this is what we focused on. Damoís first love is travel and his lust for life shines through despite his serious problems over the years. All of this builds into a picture of a very positive individual concentrating on ďnowĒ and being in harmony with the world.
In light of the recently reissued Neu! albums, how well do you know Klaus Dinger?
I know his mother, I know his brother, I know the city he lives in...
Could you tell us a bit about your relationship, how you met, when you met, have you ever done anything musical together?
The first time I met Klaus Dinger was in the early seventies when he played drums with Kraftwerk at a TV show we played. Kraftwerk were interesting, maybe because of his drumming, Iíve never made music with Klaus though.
How did the recent tour dates go? Could you tell us a little about your highs and lows?
It was one of best shows I did in my life and also it was the most perfect day you can imagine. Everything goes how you want it to. Such a very rare thing. The gig was in Belgrade, I was very excited before and after the tour, playing in former Yugoslavian countries, I was madly happy that we went there and we played for people who have waited for musicians from west. Theyíre very thankful and they went back home with smiles on their faces. The bad thing was that Mandjao Fati, the bassist, couldnít get a visa in Croatia, so he had to go home. We did a show in Zagreb, Belgrade, Novi Sad, Dubrovnik, we improvised. We found domestic musicians for all these shows and it went well. The audience liked it, suddenly one of them is playing with Network...
How do you create music, you seem to have so few antecedents, you seemed to spring from the void! The closest thing I could think of is dada...
For me to make music is to create space (atmosphere) at the moment (time). So the audience is a very important factor. I believe music must be based on comunication, so I need an audience. In the last couple of years I have released several CDís from my own label, Damoís Network, which exists only to release my live documentations, all the tracks are recorded during the show. I make my music in a very natural way. The performances are not repeatable and only happen once. This is my music. My own personal music for my very exclusive audience. I call it ďInstant ComposingĒ. I did three shows in Japan, Spring 1997. The entrance fee included a double live CD of that night. It was a limited edition, the amount determined by the audience numbers. The covers were individual, I painted on a big sheet of paper and cut it into portions then used them as the covers for the CDs. I wanted to demonstrate that a day is never repeated and thatís the document of the day. Because I do believe this kind of music making is real and not influenced by the capitalist orientated world. So, I like to be free from the system when I make music. I never say Iíll NEVER go into a studio, it depends on the purpose. But I must say Iím a not the kind of person to repeat things over and over again and cut there, cut here. I love unique events, like a duel...
Tell us how ĎFuture Daysí ended up sounding much more relaxed than a lot of Canís previous work. It was described in Eurock magazine as ďtranquilized textureĒ. Thereís a lot of tension on Ege Bamyesi and Tago Mago...
ĎFuture Daysí is for me the best album I made with Can. Because it was very easy to quit from Can after that album. I wanted nothing from them after that. Musically I was very satisfied. It was a really good time to begin a new life. I like ĎFuture Daysí. Nobody else arrived at such a space. Itís just a new dimension. With that album I was really free, it was no longer neccessary to make music after. I was not really at the front with ĎFuture Daysí. This time I was right in the music landscape. It was pure magic.
Who out of Can have you kept in touch with over the years?
I was in contact with Karoli. Because we were not so much different in age, the same generation. Also, he was a father with two daughters, Iím a father also, but with three sons. In March 2001we played in London at The Scala together. I enjoyed playing with Michael, his innovative sound, there was no guitarist to stand beside him. He had magic in his spontaneous moments. I say his character is within his sound. He got into playing cello and violin later in life. I needed his sound so I was happy to have him at our London show. Jaki played for a very long time with the Damo Suzuki Band but I donít think I would play with him in the near future because our music interests are very different...
I feel reluctant to ask, but how do you feel about Michael Karoli's recent death?
You know, his last days we made a tour together. We're in Japan, he was happy to meet my mother. (Heíd lost his own mother a couple of years before). We celebrate his birthday spontaneously at my home on 29th April 1997. We did a US tour together in October 1998. Everywhere he stayed in the hotel and he was playing his violin all day long. Once we had to wait a long time to get back home at Kennedy Airport, NY, because of bad air traffic. He took his violin out and he played all the time. This result you may hear in the Network CD ĎSeattleí. He was really together with music. His life was music. His last performance was at the Cornberg festival in Germany. That time he was already very ill. One day before our show at this festival he was carried into hospital. But, he carried himself onstage. The doctor at the hospital was against him playing and it was a really dangerous situation. He appeared with air-pump equipment and we played at 1 or 2 o'clock in the night. Yes, that was the last concert for Michael. He was not my best friend in private life but when he played with me in a spiritual way we were really tight. More than friends. A spiritual brother. He was really a great sound artist. I learned many things from him. Everywhere I play he'll be with me on the stage. I miss him a lot.
Shamanism is what people liken your performances to...
Yes, there are moments Iím just losing myself and reaching out to the other world. Sometimes Iím a shaman. During our shows Iím very concentrated, I have contact with somewhere. I even feel that the voices I use are not mine at all. I think I have some contact with the other side. Do you know about Emanuelle Swedenborg? He travelled to the world after death, tripped to heaven, also to hell and wrote reports. He was there a couple of times. He was a very famous scientist. I think there is some connection between our life here and the beyond life. I make a live composing transmission, so every word I make is just an interpression of the moment, this moment, Iím very concentrated like a shaman with his contact to death and after.
It is rumoured that the name ďTago MagoĒ refers to a magician, is this true?
I donít know anything about this... I know Tago Mago is a place in Ibiza/Spain. Jaki made the title, he was interested (and still is) in magic.
How has the occult and magic figured in your life?
Iím not really interested in occult stuff. Itís very dangerous if you are deep into it. I like sunshine. I like happy people around... I like positive things and positive thought. Anything about the occult is very dark, wet cold. Germany has almost bad weather like England. Why not dream about an island in the sun? So, It might be one of the reasons I left Can. I live in hope tomorrow will be much nicer than today. Letís hope we a have face in front and our eyes keep the same directions!!
Who out of the German scene did you know at the time, Amon Duul, Faust?
I didnít have much contact with German groups at the time. I had much more contact with English groups like Hawkwind. I like people who are sympathetic. I didnít have any sympathy with the groups you mentioned. Chris from Amon Duul was OK. Chris once appeared at a Damo Suzuki Band show in Munich. It was good. Then I didnít see him for almost 18 years. But itís OK. I was not so much interested in ďKrautrockĒ, anyway what is Krautrock?! I never thought I made Krautrock. Can is not a category. ďKrautrockĒ belongs to nowhere. So thatís why I cannot answer your question correctly.
Punk and post-punk has acknowledged a debt to you and Can, Julian Cope, Johnny Rotten, The Fall...
Punk is not how music is. Punk is living style, provocation. Piss against the established society. Maybe the other members of Can donít think like me. I understand punk groups find sympathy in Can, sort of. With the Punk generation for me music ended and nothing followed. Only this techno thing. Please listen to anything like Peking O... is it Punk? No, it is something else.
How come the German scene came out with such strikingly individual bands? (Iím thinking of Can, Amon Duul, Popol Vuh, Cluster and Faust particularly).
At the end of the sixties Germans were still poor and wounded from WW2 and there was a chance to make something new which is not like American or English culture. Thatís how Germanyís music scene grew up. Germans are looser, also the Japanese (through the Marshall plan) came out cultural winners somehow... Up against Americanized society and on a search for our own identity...
What new music do you listen to?
Sorry I never listen to groups. While I make music with myself I donít have to listen to other stuff. Our music (with Can and also My Network stuff) you just canít compare it with anything else. The others sound just like product. All packed in fine package and looking like good taste. But inside, not deep. Oh yeah, donít talk about what the others are making...
Free jazz, Stockhausen and other avante composers were an influence on Can, could you tell us about that?
Surely for the other members of Can, Jazz and Stockhausen very much influenced the matter. Theyíre also Germans and some of them studied Stockhausen and played free jazz before they joined the Band. I was much more interested in music from other continents, and also religion. I saw many shamans... I just like to be myself... there was no idol I used to see (or wanted to see). Everyone must create their own life within himself. Nobodyís life can be compared with another. So, I donít need an idol and I never will be one. With Can, 30 years have passed. Many of them I cannot remember or I donít feel. Also Iím not really interested to talk about passed days which you cannot change anymore. And I would talk about that time with the perspective of today, not of that time. Canís time is an important time for me but much more important is now, and much more interesting. That time with Can I was just a hippy and didnít think so much. Also I was young, not really experienced about things, just easy going with life.
Have you ever been asked to a Can reunion? (Malcolm Mooney actually reformed with the band).
As Iím not really a member of Can thereís no comment for this question.
What did you do in the days after Can? I heard you went to Japan to become a businessman. If this is true, why the return to Germany?
Since Can I have actually lived my whole time in Germany. I did different kinds of jobs, such as streetworker, Hotel employee (receptionist, attending to tourists) exporting old-time cars, and now Iím working in an office. Iím kind of a specialist for sales and service, for spare parts of measuring instruments. I used to travel and I still love it, so a great part of my money I use for this. I go where no tourists go, mostly West Africa, or Asia. I love the Sahara. I go with a rucksack, alone. I love very hot and dry places on the earth.
Tell us about the years out of music...
For almost 11 years I made no music, I was absolutely out of music. Then in 1983 I made music again. These days I release a lot, I released 3 discs with Dunkelziffer, a Cologne group. It was a really amazing time. I had no contact with musicians. I lived together with my family. We had great times. For me, music is not that important (as other musicians think). Music is simply a thing which I can immerse my imagination in, my fantasy, my art and very important to my life!! Music is a tool. What is behind it though is living nature, this is why I make music. If you are getting into nature like a mountain, ocean, desert... If you go back to nature God is there. (Iím not saying god is nature). If you are living in civilisation, god is no longer there, the civilised human thinks he can do everything, they believe in themselves too much. But they arenít so happy. Because, in cities you cannot get harmony of nature and you donít even know your neighborhood. And you need drugs to gives you a kick. (The worst thing is alcohol, because you can buy it everywhere without any problem and very cheaply). Everyday I work in this society, so how nice to be out sometimes in the year, just away to the lonely places.
Are you collaborating with anyone now?
Actually the idea of Network itself is collaborating. Network has no permanent member except me. Every tour I change the members that we can make fresh music. All titles in the show are live compositions, (ďinstant composingĒ) that means we donít rehearse, just step on the stage and there begins our composing. Thereís no idea before we go onstage. The ďconceptĒ is just that we bake music of the moment with longing, passion and timelessness... the 3 factors of Network music.
You mentioned you were in contact with Hawkwind in the early days, could you tell us about your meetings with them? Did you ever jam with Hawkwind?
It just happened that we were contacted by the same record company at the time (UA, in the early 70ís). I visit Lemmyís flat often when weíre in London. No, we did not do any sessions or jam. Last October I made a West Coast tour together with Tommy Grenas who is a sometime member of Hawkwind, and our drummer on that tour, Brandon Labelle plays sometimes with Nick Turner. Hawkwind were very easy kids. Compared with German musicians of that time, I had much more sympathy with them. Lemmy had a Japanese girlfriend and he understood my wife. He had power and was a real speed freak... When he played in DŁsseldorf, he showed me his airplane on stage and PAís.
Were there a lot of drugs around in the Can days?
I donít know anybody of my generation who did not take drugs that time. With Can music was a drug, with Network also, music is drug! If you like to get high, I tell you to visit our gigs and listen into it... You donít need any kind of drugs! You can drink water or you smoke normal cigarettes... Still you can get stooooooned with Network!
I heard that you painted, do you still?
Itís a pity that I donít paint nowadays. Once I was living from painting for a short time, for instance when I lived in Seven Sisters, London 1969. I sold my pictures (which was not really interesting stuff, just kind of abstract stuff) at Green Park and in the tube and got money to travel to Germany. I painted a lot when I was in Wexford, the Republic of Ireland, before I moved to London. A kind of Pin-up painting style, dream girls! (ha ha). I donít have a good technique but I had my own ideas during the Can time. I discovered my own style which is not art, more comics, but not really comics. There is one poster for Can as well, which was hanging on the wall of Innerspace Studio. Iím intersted in the video art of Bill Viora and Astrid Heibach. I love Miro too. I wish to paint again but I think Iím painting at the moment in a different way with Network... I paint on space and time. My brush is more individual, everything is coming out a beautiful thing, ugly thing, light thing, heavy thing, peaceful, madness, cool, freaky, sausages, sushi, fish and chips...
With your experience of life, what advice would you give to younger people now?
Travel, this is best thing you can do with money you get from your job. Meet people who live at the end of the world, go places, get no information, just go there. Actually I have travelled since I was a teenager. My roof is everywhere. I take a rucksack, just buy an air ticket and have no plan at all. Iím not interested in seeing famous buildings or beautiful landscapes. No, Iím not interested in any tourist attraction. The important thing for me is to travel with native people, living like them and understanding them. I have visited about 60 countries on different continents. Everywhere I have been I have liked, even dengerous situations. But, I still like it... because, if you experienced it with yourself itís kind of a movie, a movie of your own. After a tour you can tell your friends all about your experiences. I mean, Itís a very important thing in your life that you can tell your own experience in your own tongue. Most of the people in this world are very passive. Information comes through the media and they believe it and then speak about things which have nothing to do with them, that they donít understand because they are getting second hand information. I went to Guinea (West Africa) and you must pay money every time you enter each village. One day I passed many many small villages and I was very tired about this system... Itís not for the money I payed as itís almost nothing if you come from western countries. Once I said ďnoĒ then this ugry man in military uniform came out with a machine-gun and put it at my neck... I was almost pissing in my trousers. After this happened I crossed the Niger river and on the opposite bank I saw a blind musician with his instrument sitting in the shadow, escaping from the hot sun. I asked him to play his music and told him what had happened shortly before, I wanted to have a good impression of Africa, but with such an ugry man I thought that my Africa would die in my head. I told him something like that. I donít know if he understood. But he played his instrument and sung with his deep voice. There was nothing around, just nature and sound, it was really great with his deep voice, and this voice melted into far nature. And a couple of minutes later, about 50 people were around me and everybody sung together! I was in the middle of a circle... It was one of best concerts I ever went to! One in the audience and 50 people to make music! A concert only for me! The same year I went to Northern Mali, I lived with a nomad (try to read ďnomadĒ backwards) for 3 days. He lived with 3 wives. He told me ďIn your life you need only three things... water... green... and... your smiling face...Ē
Are you still a Jehovahís Witness?
Iím a Jehovahís Witness no more, but I believe in their God and I do believe in the Bible, which gives me a way of truth. Also, itíll never die whilst the morals of today are changing and changing. There were really hard days when I had cancer in Ď83 (at age of 33). I did the operation without a blood transfer, I had a strong will to live. Before the 1st operation the doctor said that without a blood transfer there is only a 30:70 chance of living. Still I survived. I didnít take blood from others. The wonderful moment when I came back from the coma I saw the most beautiful scene in my life. Everything was so... living! I was really so happy that I could cry! A couple of years ago I heard from my former wife that at the time the doctor had told her that I would live for around 7 years more. Since then, already 17 years have gone. And you know I feel really goooood! If you see me sometime somewhere you cannot believe that Iím 51 years old. I feel like a fresh fish in water. Iíve much energy to do things which I never did in my young years. For instance going alone to the Sahara. Since this hard operation I take care of the time which we are always losing. I donít like to have any time just doing nothing. I like to feel my life with a loved person. So thatís why Iím really really happy to see an audience with a smiling face. Because ďliveĒ is the most important thing in your life. So, I keep on going with real ďliveĒ music and I do believe this way to make music is the best and only way that I can show you from the heart.
What influences have Japanese culture had on your music?
With Can I had no influences from Japanese culture. I never thought of myself as Japanese or any kind of nationality. After that I accepted that Iím Asian, from Japan. As a young person I didnít think about my own culture. Iíd rubbish it or try to forget it. I found out about good Japanese culture much later. Irmin and Holger knew much more than I did. Through them I started to listen to Japanese music like Bunraku, etc... We lost the second world war... Always the winner is right. So, as a Japanese man I had a much more complex thing, trying to be someone else (follow the winnerís culture). You can see much Japanese modern culture, even though it hasnít got much originality.
Traditional Japanese folk music though, for example do you know Gagaku?
Now I know many of those things and I know much more than my young days. I love Gagaku, No-Theatre, etc... Finally I reached my own culture... I went a very long way to find it. Even when it was very near to me. I was always searching for something so, I took a trip. If youíre young youíre not so much in yourself. It comes later that you build up with your own personality. Also you build your own opinions into everything. Iím sure if youíre young itís better not to have much information in your head, better to go out and feed with your own experiences and finally you can tell stories of your own.
Tell us about the interregnum between vocalists in Can. Tago Mago was the first album to feature you fully, (ďSoundtracksĒ was a compilation which also included some Malcom Mooney material). Were you aware of Malcolm Mooneyís style and did you try to carry it over in any way?
When I joined Can at first, that day in Munich... I never knew the group and I never knew Malcolmís vocal style. I was making street music and happenings and also searching for something which I couldnít get an answer to at that time. Later I heard pieces of Malcolmís... But it wasnít what I really wanted. I had experiences as a street musician improvising stuff. For me any kind of art is to push out your own energy from inside yourself. That means that this point where you make your music already must have its own kind of thing. So, I never thought Iím worse than Mick Jagger or Jim Morrison or anybody else of that time. I liked my vocal style much more than anybody else did. Itís Damo and itís just me!
What were your lyrical inspirations?
Not so much like other musicians. I was not born to write lyrics. My art is nothing to do with technique or text. It is complete energy. So, I began to sing kind of scat in my days as a street musician. Lyrics are so... theyíre something tight with the epoch and not really timeless. Especially if youíre involved in political texts. I do my own words when instantly composing. If you a hear a vocal part, this is Damo Suzuki. What I do is just imagine, if you see paintings by Joan Miro (my favorite) or some other sort of abstract you donít have to know how he painted or what the meaning is. If you see it you can feel it. You make your own experience, Iím not interested to bring you the answer, the meaning, the answer you must find within yourself.
What was the story behind tracks like Aumgn? Were you involved in any of the more instrumental tracks in Canís repertoire?
I played Mandorin on ĎAugumí and ĎPeking Oí. I played water and sandbag on ĎFuture Daysí.
Could you tell us about ĎMother Sky?í One of the finest Can tracks as far as Iím concerned, how did it come about?
Holger and Jaki worked on a tape from an idea of Irminís who had already seen the material from the ĎDeep Endí...
How did you keep the energy levels so high over such long tracks?
There are many pieces more than 20 minutes long, thereís much more energy inside. I left Can 30 years ago. Iím much more proud of myself now. And I have many more things in my head. I was just a stoned hippy at that time. I can tell you much more through my experiences. I think how lucky I am that I was never deeply involved in the music circus. I feel free from the industry. Have any stars developed themself? See them... drunking, drugs, super cars, big residents, parties, girls, sex... and theyíre doing all these same things all the time, even the same music. Itís not my life, all of this.