“Honestly I always hated synthesizers. I never liked keyboard players, I thought they were the most yuppie and uncool looking guys in a band.” To anyone remotely familiar with his incredibly varied discography, Jan St. Werner’s confession would come as a surprise. From his solo work and side projects like Microstoria (with Markus Popp of Oval) and Von Sudenfed – a more ‘extroverted’ club dance project – to his renowned Mouse On Mars incarnation with Andi Toma, Werner’s music has consistently hinged on exploring the sonic possibilities created by synthesizers.
Ahead of Mouse On Mars’ Australian debut, Werner is in fine form, freely joking and discussing his output with a refreshing lack of pretension. Such an approach reflects the appeal of Mouse On Mars, as Werner and Toma approach their craft with a playfulness that belies the stereotype of the austere German electronic producer. “What Andy and me are doing, we create a very broad and very varied concept of music, where we can do very silly things as well as very complicated and very dense things,” Werner affirms. “What holds it together is there’s a certain ease in there, we do it for fun.”
It was perhaps this dynamic that prompted The Presets to approach the pair to remix their single My People back in 2008. “We met them at a festival in Scotland and they played the same stage we did. I think the music is quite different, but they like the mess we make,” Werner elucidates, with a delightfully self-deprecating turn of phrase. “A couple of weeks later they approached us and asked us if we’d rework a track of theirs, and we happily did.”
Discussing Mouse On Mars’ output as a whole is no easy feat; one can perhaps glean more from Werner’s description of music as a currency that can disarm even the most ascetic of characters, than from a deconstruction of any of their particular albums. “Music is always something that’s so incredibly charming and so immediate. Even highbrow, intellectual people, you can so easily get them if you play them a beautiful tune,” Werners tells me.
Reinventing themselves with every release, from the experimental overtones of Varcharz to the ambient-house ectoplasms of their debut album Vulvaland in the mid-‘90s, it is Mouse On Mars’ exuberant and often audacious approach to production (and life itself it would seem) that has seen the pair retain and reshape their salience as trends, and fans, come and go.
Werner explains the difficulties underlying Mouse On Mars’ approach to music quite succinctly, pinpointing the challenge as being “to make things that have been very intense and complex and time-absorbing sound like they were done without any effort at all.” He also reveals his delight in constructing “something that sounds like a light-hearted pop tune, that comes across like a simple, naïve melody, and to hide something in there so that when you listen to it repeatedly, you find a deep complexity… that’s something that Mouse On Mars has to offer.”
At this point, one should cut back to our opening, as Werner retracts his synthesizer slight in expounding the instrument’s role in the pair’s productions. “What a keyboard does, it provides you with a sound which can be so abstract and different from anything else that it’s a great tool,” he says. “You create an acoustic structure, and you really need to listen closely to do that. For me, it comes close to the most perfect form of making music”.
His approach to composition is tied to Werner’s fascination with early experimental music using tape. His tone becomes increasingly ebullient as he marvels at how, “with limited possibilities, producers could create incredible sounds just by speeding up or slowing down the tape, reversing the recordings or adding delay or reverb; really examining the possibility of recorded sound. That, matched with a possibility of really creating a new sound by adding layers of waveform – that is what makes music interesting to me,” he states. “Then the task is to make it all sound easy, not academic and heavy, and make all the work that you’ve put in, make it into something that comes across naturally and could even compete with the simple sounds that one plays on a guitar.”
Turning his attention to the future, Werner describes the forthcoming Mouse On Mars LP, due out next year, as a response to an offer from “the younger generation of producers, because they’ve really made things more wacky and ‘off’ again, which is really something we always liked about electronic music.” He divulges that listeners can expect “quite a difficult record” with lots of “of odd electro, dubstep sounds – but that’s something our music has always had, so it’s not that we’re really embracing a new interest.”
Werner adds that there will also be some pop songs on the album, but is quick to qualify this statement. “They’re pop songs in the Mouse On Mars’ sense; it won’t be like a Kylie Minogue pop song,” he laughs.
MOUSE ON MARS are in Australia for the first time ever, and play The Corner Hotel this Sunday October 31. They’re joined by Qua and Clue To Kalo, tickets from The Corner box office, 9427 9198, cornerhotel.com, consume.oztix.com.au and Oztix outlets.