Even in the rather conservative Vienna Concert House, he received standing ovations for this. His often intimate, sometimes harsh and always changeable sound was especially praised by critics of his latest album, All Melody. Frahm spent two years working on it, leaving behind his home studio and renovating a large studio to radio standards. And everything in it was then taken on a world tour, including a large organ. During this visit to his studio, Nils Frahm explains why his recordings often start with WD-40 and screwdrivers, how much humility is in the studio construction, and what gives him courage to continue.
We’re in a place that isn’t easy to describe. Outside the sun gleams, and in the studio it is rather dim, almost dark. Nils Frahm’s hands skillfully work the coffee machine. It’s a demanding, shiny, majestic apparatus. He creates two Café Cortados with routine aplomb. They taste different than anything that would be recommended at the train station or in the barista shop around the corner. Frahm smiles. “My favorite pastimes are things that are far from that which is homogenized. That’s even true of the milk I put in my coffee.” The way he says it, it sounds more like “being mindful of things” rather than “wanting the best.” Frahm: “I saw early on that running in the direction of where everyone is headed is not always worthwhile. I’ve done things in a similar way with many decisions in the studio. I don’t have a Minimoog here, no Fender XY; I don’t have any of those standards. Everyone has them. They all have a U 47. I don’t. For me it’s about telling a different story, unmasking an untruth: that you can only develop your power as an artist, only sound good, if you have this or that or work with this particular pre-amp. That’s nonsense. I don’t know what people are afraid of, especially when it comes to such banalities as vocal recordings. It’s all about one vocal take, and there are 1,000 great things you can do, not just the one. I’ve never set my studio up that way: waiting for this one thing. I prefer something that does not yet exist. Now I’m almost bored with the perfect studio. It’s of course a very characteristic radio studio, but also a step in the direction of homogenization and normalization.”
Nils Frahm gestures while the photographer looks for light. There isn’t much. Just small lamps, mostly indirectly and softly intercepted by wood paneling. Frahm nods and mentions Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s classic “Praise of the Shadow”; how light and shadow define the size and function of a room and create tension. He does not appreciate gratingly bright monotony: “Making music is better when it’s not so bright. You are more focused on your ears anyway. The chair in front, for example. It gets some detail from the light above and from the lamp at the table. If it was only lit by an overhead light, it would be completely unplastic. Boring.” How does someone who sees like this hear?