Interview: Mikroboy

Mikroboy - Photo by Anabell Ganske

Mikroboy - Photo by Anabell Ganske

German indie-pop band Mikroboy may be known throughout Germany as the Saarland representative for last year’s Bundesvision Song Contest, but although the band’s lead singer is initially from that region, Michael Ludes, 30, now calls Berlin his home.

Ludes, who has been living in Berlin for the past three years, said that as a musician, he finds it to be “very inspirational.”

He first began playing music at a young age, while growing up in Neunkirchen, Saarland. Beginning with the piano, he took lessons for a few years, but found them to be boring, as young children often do.

“I begged my mom to buy me a guitar,” he recalled. “And then, she did.” He was 12 at the time.

Since then, Ludes has been writing and recording music, although he readily admitted that he never actually learned much about the notes he was playing. To this day, he insists that he only has a surface-level awareness of music theory.

“To be honest, I never learned playing the instrument quite well, so I’m not a good instrumentalist,” he said. “I’m more like a songwriter.”

Ludes explained this, saying that he is more concerned with the way things sound and how those sounds fit together than the way those sounds are created.

“I just figured out I like melodies a lot,” he said, giving name to his obsession. “Everything I do in life has something to do with melodies.”

But that much is already evident in the music Ludes creates. As a writer, he has a penchant for tight-fitting tunes and catchy indie-pop lines. And even his lyrics, which are in German, meld surprisingly well into the structure, rhythm and flow of the songs.

As an actual music project, Mikroboy has been in existence nearly a decade. But the origins of the band itself are relatively recent, all things considered.

After years of writing music as a solo artist, Ludes decided to join forces with the more musically-inclined of his friends in order to take his music to the next level.

“I always wrote music but I never played it live,” he said, explaining that the band gave him a forum to perform his songs.

Additionally, he made it his goal to select musicians who were better trained than himself, hoping that their understanding of music would pick up where his fell short.

“I just have something in my head and I try to figure out how to get it on paper,” he said of his songwriting process. “I don’t really know what I’m doing and I don’t know how the chords are named that I’m playing.”

But bandmates Steffan Müller (bass) and Tobias Noormann (drums) fill in the blanks for him

“[They] tell me, ‘Now you’re playing C, and now you’re playing a D,’” he said with a laugh.

While working with other musicians has been rewarding in many aspects, Ludes did say that there were some challenges he personally faced in transforming his solo project into a band. Namely, he had to take songs that were written with synthesizers and transform them into something that could be played by a three-piece rock band.

“We had to rearrange them,” he said of the versions of songs already in existence. “Actually we first recorded the new album and then we went to the rehearsal room and then played the songs for the first time.”

Yet having toured for the past few years as a band made Ludes feel much more comfortable when it came to writing the band’s second and newest album.

This album, “Eine Frage der Zeit,” which comes out today, was created in a process entirely dissimilar to that of the first album, in that Ludes had the idea of writing the songs for a band at the forefront of his mind throughout the whole process.

“It’s completely different, because when we recorded the last album it was just my solo stuff,” Ludes qualified. “[This time] I already had the band context in my head so I knew I had to write songs for a band, not for myself, and that’s a big difference.”

When it comes to writing songs, Ludes said that although melody is a huge factor in all aspects of his life, he still regularly doubts himself and his ability to write something others will like.

“I’m pretty insecure all the time. I don’t know anything about my songs and about if they’re good or not. I just can’t rate them,” he said. “I listen to other people and if they say it’s a good song then I believe them.”

But speaking comparatively, he said he is able to track his own growth, which encourages him. Listening to his old songs, he said he can see exactly how he has matured as musician.

“That’s the only way I know that I’m getting better,” Ludes said.

Speaking to the actual songwriting process, Ludes said that the music itself always comes before the lyrics.

“When I’m going to write a song, when I’m going to write melodies, I just let it flow,” he said. “I do not think about it very much. I’m just sitting at home and have myself a glass of wine or something, and just start.”

He’ll then put the song aside for a couple days, listen again, and decide what to add to the structure. This is when the lyrics come in.

“And [the lyrics are] more about what happens in life and what happens around me, what happens in my own life,” he said.

While writing lyrics, Ludes explained that they are undoubtedly personal, but he always hopes that they’ll transcend the personal and relate to others somehow.

As for what inspires him, he shared that it is usually when he is sad that he writes.

“I almost only write when I’m kind of sad or upset,” he said. “[But] I’m not only writing sad songs when I’m sad. You have to be sad getting to know what’s good in life, and then you can write about good things too.”

And while he admitted that his natural disposition is often sad, Ludes said that overall, there isn’t much about the musician life than he takes issue with. But if he had to choose one aspect, it would be the issue of finances.

“It’s only so much money. I’m struggling every month to pay my bills and it’s like some kind of shadow is hanging over your head,” he explained. “I’d really really like to enjoy it more but often I can’t.”

In particular, he lamented the inability to have a steady job to return to, because life on the road requires him to work short stints at various places.

But again, he was quick to point out all the good things that counteract the frustrations.

That said, the facet of being in a band that Ludes thrives off of the most is the interaction with fans during a live show. While he loves writing music, it arguably comes more from a sense of need to express himself than anything else. But playing a show and seeing the faces of people in the crowd is what provides him with a sense of gratification, because of the instant feedback.

“[When you play, the crowd gives] you some kind of energy back and you can take that energy and bring it back to the people,” he said of the cyclical, almost symbiotic relationship and interplay of energy within a venue. “It goes round and round.”

And while feedback about the album hasn’t been something Ludes was concerned with in the past, right now it is one of his primary interests, because of all that he invested in the newest album.

“For me, I think it’s the best and actually the most personal stuff I ever did,” he said, listing it as his favourite work to date. “I’m not the most confidant guy in the world so if I am confidant about something, I think maybe it’s good.”

Mikroboy’s second full-length, “Eine Frage der Zeit,” is out today through Embassy of Music. It can be purchased on iTunes or Amazon and includes 12 tracks, totaling 45 minutes of music. Mikroboy will tour Germany in the Fall in support of this album. Tour dates can be found on the band’s Facebook page.

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