After 21 years, singer/guitarist Jochen “Doc” Wenz is parting ways with Mannheim-cum-new orleans band Mardis Gras.bb.
The band formed in 1992 after ex-Guru Guru bassist Uli Krug visited Louisiana, experiencing the Big Easy first-hand. Returning to Mannheim, Krug was tasked with organising a May Day dance party. Dubbing himself “The Reverend”, he recruited two other musicians to help him recreate the sound of the bayou: singer/guitarist Wenz and drummer Erwin “Sir” Ditzner. Adding a brass section and DJ Mahmut along the way, Mardi Gras.bb have been together ever since. Until now. As part of The Doc’s farewell tour, the band jettisons the sounds of Fat Tuesday for an Ash Wednesday on Wednesday, December 11 at Lido.
How are you feeling going into your final shows?
It’s going to be a relief when the last one is over. On the other hand, I’m a little nervous. I don’t know how it’s going to feel after this. We’ve changed the structure of the shows: I’m more the special guest. The band is playing 24 songs, and I’m on stage for 14. The rest are instrumentals – the guys can show their musicianship and showmanship. This was important for me. I didn’t want to go full-throttle until the end. It’s better to make something that opens the curtain for Mardi Gras without The Doc.
Then what’s next for The Doc?
I’m a little scared of this vacuum that’s going to happen. In a way I always wished it would come. I could have carried on. But even if I would have done it as a hobby, there still would have been so much homework to do each and every week. There simply wouldn’t be enough space in my life to grow another big idea.
The touring schedule of the band must have been a huge commitment.
This is what made the decision so difficult. If I look back, the decision to part with Mardi Gras.bb developed over the last seven years. It took so long to go through this process until I could finally say, “OK, I made my decision and I want to do it like this.” We were touring practically the whole year long, like a 21-year tour. The music gave my life a rigid structure, like a spine. Music decided whether I could see my mother for her 70th birthday, or if I could see my wife one weekend or the other. When Mardi Gras was calling and said, “Listen, we know it’s short notice, but in four weeks you’re going to play a show,” if you had a date you were really looking forward to, then there was no such date. But this was also something positive because I got used to it, and this gave some sort of structure to my life. Now it’s going to be a funny experience for me after 21 years, that in January I’m going to be here and I can really think about “Oh, what am I going to do next Sunday?” For other people this is normal, for me this is going to be a whole different universe because now I’ll have to think about what I’m going to do with my spare time.
Are you planning to go straight back into making music?
I don’t know yet. Sometimes I’m a little disappointed with music; it’s not so much of a home to me anymore. It’s much more superficial than it was years ago. Somebody approached me after a show and said, “I enjoyed the show, I think I have one or two of your songs somewhere on my hard drive.” He wanted to make a compliment, but he just explained what has changed. If music really is important to you in life, you know exactly what records you have, exactly where you bought them. You even know what you felt the very moment you unwrapped them, how the cardboard smelled, maybe what you did on that particular day. To me this is something crucial and formative. With the loss of the physical product there’s also a loss of the meaning and worth of the music.
Is there anything in particular that you’re into right now?
Of course, but basically it’s acts who are more or less retrospective. Bonnie “Prince” Billy is great, and I also like this English guy [and former Exberliner interview subject] Jamie Lidell – he’s a really funky guy and a great musician. Also The Milk Carton Boys, Jack White, and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. I think these artists have to deal with the same problems we did. When you’re in a niche, there are just fewer people that are going to be interested, so you depend on their fidelity. People are getting more and more superficial, to the point where because you have tracks as a sound file you only have to listen to them for seconds.
People want an instant fix.
I come from the romantic idea of the album. To put together pieces of music that together are more than just 12 songs. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a concept album, but the idea of the album is something fundamental to me. This idea of just listening to one song of a band, or downloading a terabyte of MP3 data, not even knowing the names of the bands you downloaded, is a development that I find sad.
This seems to have been a concern of yours for a while. On 2005’s Introducing the Mighty Three (Hazelwood Vinyl Plastics) you stripped the Mardi Gras.bb sound back down to the core three members.
It affected the following albums a lot. This was an important experience, but it was just a little disappointing it didn’t work out, let me say, economically. People felt insecure about the album. Unfortunately, it put some damage to our career as a band, which was sad because I love this album. I don’t listen to my own albums, but every once in a while, I take out this little album and listen to it. And every time it’s an experience. There are so many gorgeous moments, little things interfering that are unplanned. The band is playing together in such an organic, flexible way. It’s incredible, especially as I don’t regard myself as too good of a guitarist. It was very disappointing that people didn’t know what to do with the album.
It has a unique feel.
But with this album we somehow committed a crime, because it was the only MG.bb album where you even had truly negative voices. My explanation is that here we were speaking so deeply in true American soil that people felt like this was almost sacrilege, where they said, “Well, this sounds a little bit like a bad ZZ Top imitation band trying to get more trendy.” But I think when I’m coming back to the music thing, it’s going to be with a similar, much smaller set-up, with maybe a very traditional four- piece band and with just analogue products. The problem is that I am somebody who really has to suffer in order to get active, to move.
Mardi Gras. bb Wed, Dec 11, 20:00 | Lido, Cuvrystr. 7, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Schlesisches Tor
Originally published in issue #122, December 2013.