Interview: Tim Neuhaus & the Cabinet

Tim Neuhaus - Photo by Andreas Hornoff

Tim Neuhaus - Photo by Andreas Hornoff

Tim Neuhaus may be known in German indie rock circles as the solo artist type: a soft-spoken singer-songwriter who pens insightful, delicately nuanced pop songs. But the reality of the situation is that guitar is not his first, nor primary, instrument.

“I’m a drummer actually,” he said. “[And] I make my living as a drummer.”

When he was seven, Neuhaus began playing the piano, although initially, it wasn’t something he was particularly interested in. It wasn’t until three years later, at the age of 10, when he transitioned into percussion and finally began connecting with music on a deeper level.

“Music didn’t take over,” he said of his initial exposure to playing. “[My first piano teacher] couldn’t show me the fire in music, so I didn’t know until I played the drums that music would be [a] very intense love relationship.”

It is in this sense that he owes his second piano teacher credit for helping him find his musical niche.

“He was bored because I was bored,” he said, explaining it was this teacher who noticed he had an innate knack for rhythm and suggested he play drums. Neuhaus noted that he picked up on the instrument almost immediately and found his musicianship forming and growing exponentially.

He continued with drums, playing with bands in his hometown and eventually choosing to pursue music at a university. He studied jazz percussion, and ultimately decided to relocate to Berlin to put his musical talents to better use. Both decisions were influenced by the fact that he was the product of a town without much of a music scene.

“I had to surround myself with people who love music and make music every day,” he said.

Along the way, Neuhaus also found himself not only taking a new interest in the piano again, but also in guitar, which he taught himself to play. This dabbling in multiple instruments coupled with music instruction from an early age gave him a solid background in musical theory.

And in the time since moving to Berlin, Neuhaus’ interest in songwriting increased, to the point that it evolved from just a hobby into something serious.

“I noticed that I want to write again,” he said. “And then I turned into a regular songwriter I think.”

Because he is a drummer first and foremost, Neuhaus approaches songwriting with a rhythm-based mindset, something with distinguishes him from other songwriters.

“[It’s about] trying to bring good songs with rhythmical aspects together,” he explained. “And I tried to work on very spectacular rhythm songwriting.”

The result is a sound that Neuhaus emphasized isn’t at all akin to world music. Instead, he said he strives toward a sound that emphasizes percussive songs in the guise of traditional song formats.

What that means is he pays close attention to all the elements of sound and the interplay between them. At times, he will even perform with two percussionists.
However, it is much less overt that straightforward rock with overbearing drums.

“But the drumming was definitely always there,” he said. “And I think you can hear this in the songs. The drums are a very important part of it.”

Yet as someone who seems to always have understood and been surrounded by music, being a solo artist isn’t something that was without obstacles. In particular, Neuhaus said he struggled, not with writing and playing songs, but with discovering and fine-tuning his voice. He admitted that he wasn’t the best singer when he started out, and that was what he experienced the most criticism over.

That manifested itself as having to take a step back and realize that he couldn’t expect to be good at everything. Neuhaus also needed to recognize that his singing wasn’t completely representative of his musicianship. Rather, it was like throwing a new instrument into the mix, one that he had to learn from the beginning, just as he did with piano, drums and guitar.

“[I dealt with] allowing myself to be bad again, you know, and allowing myself to start something else again, which was sometimes tough,” he said. “You know, my ego was so big [as] a drummer…playing in bands. And suddenly I sang a song and then some people were critical about the singing.”

But he didn’t give up. In fact, Neuhaus attributed much of his personal growth and development to the fact that he didn’t give up or let discouragement hold him back.

This forging ahead eventually paid off. After releasing two self-made albums, Neuhaus’ music generated interest from indie label Grand Hotel van Cleef, which aided in the release of an EP and this year’s full-length, “The Cabinet.”

In actuality, “The Cabinet” was recorded three years ago in the comfort of Neuhaus’ flat in Prenzlauer Berg. The initial recording is something he described as “very very homey and quiet and lots of overdubs and lots of little ideas that you as a music maker love.”

However, the label wanted a slightly more aggressive live sound, citing Neuhaus’ initial recording as a bit too introverted.

So with a limited budget and a time constraint of five days, the band went to a studio and rerecorded everything: an effort that culminated in the album’s release this past January.

Already, Neuhaus is working on material for the next album, and said he makes an effort to do a little bit of writing every day. As for how often he produces a song, he said it varies.

“Sometimes it’s three songs a month. Sometimes it’s twenty ideas a month,” he said. “I feel really bad if there is a month where I have the feeling nothing really happened. In a way there is an urge to regularly try to work on something.”

But he does need to balance his time with other musical interests.

In addition to performing as Tim Neuhaus & the Cabinet (and sometimes solo or as a duo with the band’s drummer), he also drums with the band Hundreds, and used to be a member of Clueso. Where the latter is concerned, he still will record with them.

“That keeps it fresh sometimes,” he said, referring to transitioning between the different roles he takes on as a musician.

Unfortunately, those things are rewarding, but don’t fully pay the bills, so Neuhaus is also a member of Berlin’s Blue Man Group.

“It’s my daily job that I do…to fill my fridge,” he said.

Neuhaus insisted that the Blue Man Group is a supportive and fostering community of other people who are creative and inspiring, many who are also in musical projects of their own.

“I’m really happy that Berlin has a job for me, you know. As a freelancer it’s harder,” he said.

But he wouldn’t have it any other way. In spite of the struggles of being an indie musician, Neuhaus said there are so many things that make it worth it, most notably being a part of something.

“At the end of the day you are a group,” he said. “And when it comes to music, [there’s] nothing better than being a team, you know. In a creative way, playing concerts…this is the real shit.”

Tim Neuhaus plays an unplugged gig tonight at Badeschiff in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00 and costs €4.

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