After four years, two albums and a stint in New York, we talk to our September 2010 cover boy Monsieur Bonaparte and assess the changes before they’re homecoming show at Huxley’s Neue Welt on October 30.
Meet Tobias Jundt, the Swiss founder and frontman of the very multi-national, romantically provocative electro-punk garage circus band that Berlin has come to call its own. In person, he’s as warm and huggable as you’d expect from the fuzzy costumes that he used to regularly wear before this year’s self-titled album, his fourth, and the attendant “unmasking”. We met at The Barn, where he forced us to take a bite of his pastel de nata before any words were exchanged.
Here’s a picture of you on the cover of Exberliner in 2010, four years ago. What’s new?
Less fluffy hair, no black eye, still lots of kids’ toys. Berlin probably changed – everything changes – but it’s more me that changed. Berlin used to be a playground and I was still passing through, but now it’s been eight years and it has really become home. Not Heimat. I’ll always be Swiss, wherever I go, whatever I do, there’s always Swiss-ness I add. But this is where I live. It used to be: Where can I go play? Where’s the action? Where can we steal some horses? When someone is the kind of friend you can do anything with, then you go Pferde stehlen. I like that image a lot. So that used to be Berlin. And now it’s more like, where can I get something super yummy, super healthy? Berlin became the quiet as opposed to the wild and now the wild is whenever I go somewhere else, like St. Petersburg on Saturday. Okay! Let’s go steal some Russian horses!
You recorded your new album, Bonaparte, in New York – sick of Berlin?
I didn’t write anything about Berlin or connected to Berlin. I was living with this crazy old cat. That cat – it actually died the moment I finished recording the album – was meowing on every track. Then I met Andy Baldwin, this Australian engineer, and I just took over his studio in Brooklyn. New York was great; there’s a lot to write about. America is inspiring in general. It’s always pretty. You can photograph anything, even the sidewalks. Musically, it’s the same. It totally makes sense for everyone to go through an American period.
But every artist needs their Berlin period, too, right?
Of course you do, and I had mine. I came here in 2006, I did my Berlin trilogy, and it was definitely irreplaceable, crazy and magical. Those years were in the bubble – totally happening, but not watched too much. It was still what you might call underground. It was like being in a wild bubble of you-can-do-anything-you-want. It was great, but you can’t do this forever. I just needed to get out. You’ve got to start drinking carrot juice sometime.
… in New York? Where does carrot juice taste best?
The best way to find out is to go somewhere else. We get used to the freedom we create, which becomes our cage and then we need to get out of it for a while. And then: Please let me back in my cage; I love it so much in my cage! I really wanted to go back to my little Berlin cage.
You changed your looks – what else?
In the very beginning, I was very masked and now I am mask-less. In 2006, 7, 8… I was like a superhero. I had superpowers. Now I know I have these powers. I know I can just do my shit and that’s it. I want to go out there and play my guitar; as long as I wear my shoes, I’m fine. It’s all in the music, it’s all the energy, it just wants to make you dance. It’s always been the more challenging thing to just be myself. After seven years in a row, you can’t really distinguish yourself from the show. Being Bonaparte – back then, it was more like role-play. The costumes were more for myself, actually. Then at one point, people were like “Oh! The black eye!” and then it’s for them. I don’t want to walk around like a fluffy bear until I’m 50.
You feel pressure from your audience…
I did on the third album and you can tell. It’s never good, but you can’t choose when you’re under pressure. And you can’t fight constant change, even when the audience wants you to stay in a vacuum and sing “Anti Anti” forever and ever. That’s why I called this last album Bonaparte; I felt like I had arrived. At the moment I’m writing film music. Before I do the next Bonaparte album, this is what I want to do because it pushes my own boundaries a bit.
Having played in the Berlin playground for so long, do you have any advice for new musicians?
It doesn’t matter where you are. If you’re on the starting-out end of the scale, just play as much as you can. Play every night, more than once. That’s the good thing about Berlin; there’s still a lot of space where there are people. No matter who they are, just play for them.
If there is such a thing as a Berlin band, would you consider yourself one?
We’re always dubbed a Berlin band, but we’ve never had a Berliner in our band. Ever. In eight years. Well, maybe one of the dancers, I’m not sure. Of course we’re influenced by Berlin, but to me, Bonaparte was always more boundless. That’s why I really try to travel as much as I can. But I don’t have a problem if people say we’re a real Berlin band. Maybe we’re the “new Berlin”, but that’s the Berlin that you would bitch about, the artsy-fartsy Berlin, all these people coming here. People can say what they want, but to me, the approach was always bigger. First you take Berlin and then you take the world.
So yeah, I guess, we’re not going to move anytime soon. We can do an interview every four years now. Exberliner, the four-year series. But with less fluffy hair.
Bonaparte, Thu, Oct 30, 19:00 | Huxleys Neue Welt, Hasenheide 107, Neukölln, U-Bhf Hermannplatz.
Originally published in issue #131, October 2014.