As Dagobert is getting ready to promote his new album on the Berlin stage, it’s time to catch up and chat about songwriting, Schlager and meeting Audrey Hepburn’s ghost.
In March, Dagobert’s third album Welt ohne Zeit (World without Time) hit the shelves. Since the release of his debut in 2013, the Swiss-born Berlin-based electro bard has enjoyed a decent career, winning accolades to prove it. His beginnings, however, were more than tough – and also slightly supernatural.
How did you come up with thisn album title?
I read a lot of Lustige Taschenbücher [a German Walt Disney comic book series], and in issue 125 one of the stories is called “World without Time”, and Mickey discovers an entrance to the centre of the world in Antarctica, a doorway into a new world and its inhabitants. The earth’s core is a sun, gravitation is somehow reversed, and it’s always daylight. These comics have influenced me a great deal. Particularly this one, and I’ve always liked the title. I simply had to borrow it, though, my song is just about sex. However, the track captures the feel of the entire album quite well.
Your moniker is also a reference to a Disney character, the German name of Scrooge McDuck.
Dagobert is a terrible and gruesome person who experiences a lot of adventures because of his extreme weakness of character. He’s not a role model; I don’t want to be like him. I couldn’t care less about money. He’s passionate, though, and I’m intrigued by that.
How do you deal with the Schlager label you’ve been attributed by some?
I didn’t mind it at first, even though I hardly listen to Schlager myself. Over time, I realised, however, that I wasn’t taken seriously by those who labelled me as such. And I don’t really have Schlager fans. Whenever I was asked to play at ZDF Fernsehgarten [a German entertainment show], I was clearly the outsider. One of my biggest influences is country singer Hank Williams. His songs are very simple, it’s always about love, and it’s all very painful. Nevertheless, they are fun to listen to. I can’t play the guitar, and I sing in German, so it’s all a little more synthetic with me.
What inspired you to write this album?
Relationships and affairs with women, but the biggest and most important experience that I turned into a song was “Der Geist” (The Ghost). It’s about my encounter with Audrey Hepburn. At the time, she had already passed away. It was a proper apparition that fundamentally changed my life. She told me things that became like my Ten Commandments, I have truly taken them to heart ever since. It sounds strange, but it was a crucial experience.
You mean you dreamt this?
No, it was an apparition. I really met her. I was confused by it for a very long time. I’ve always wanted to make a song out of it, but it just didn’t work out. It took me 12 to 13 years to come to grips with it.
So what happened exactly?
It was in 2004. I was half homeless back then. I lived in a dark basement; it was very musty and stuffy. I spent my days walking around outside to make it more bearable. I just went there to sleep. I had already lived like that for one and a half years. I was truly becoming a bum and growing lonely. It was directly after my final exams, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do after school. I had already started making music but not very adamantly. One night, when I climbed down to my basement, Audrey Hepburn was standing in the corner waiting for me. Afterwards, everything was much easier for me.
What did she say to you?
It’s in my lyrics basically: “I’m in the same situation as you, no one shares their life with you. You are alone and you always will be. You will suff er forever. A life of solitude lies ahead of you. Accept it and take good care of it, so no one will corrupt it. Out of your pain, the beauty of this world will grow.”
How did you react?
I cried for a very long time. I was overwhelmed by it for a few years. It was good that it happened, though, and writing the song helped me to come to terms with it.
It took you a long time to write these lyrics then.
If I’m overpowered with feelings, it’s impossible for me to work or be creative. So, I only write about things from the distant past, processing experiences exclusively happens on a metaphysical or emotional level for me. When that’s done, I can write a song about it. To write, I have to feel good.
Dagobert Apr 19, 20:00 Lido, Kreuzberg