Interview: Captain Capa

Captain Capa - Photo by David Zilk

Captain Capa - Photo by David Zilk

It’s the night before an important performance and Hannes Naumann and Maik Biermann, the two fresh-faced 24-year-olds who make up German indie electro-pop duo Captain Capa, are sitting cross-legged on a sidewalk in Neukölln, Berlin, detailing their 10-year history of playing music together.

“We [essentially] discovered music together,” Naumann said, explaining between sips of the gin and tonic in his hand how he and Biermann, friends since primary school, have been musical partners for a longer time than Captain Capa has even been around.

Although the duo formed the project four years ago, their collaboration predates that, going all the way back to garage punk and emo bands a decade ago.

But as Naumann elaborated, the two had their coming-of-age when they exited adolescence, and many of their friends pursued paths other than playing music. This was the turning point: shortly after, the two discovered electronic music, and attempted to incorporate that into the kind of music they already loved.

“The thing with our music is that we love indie music…and we love like American emo stuff from the late 90s and such, and we just try to combine that with club beats,” Naumann said. “I think it works pretty well for us.”

However, he said that they began to marry the two genres without a clue of how to do it.

“We tried playing electronic music with absolutely no knowledge at all,” he said.

Thus far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive for Captain Capa, who is playing regular weekend gigs in support of this year’s “Saved My Life,” the follow-up to 2009’s “Tonight Is The Constant.” Both albums are filled with songs about pop culture, on topics ranging from video game characters to television show references, general themes which reflect the attitude the positively energetic members have in life.

Naumann, who sings in English, said that singing in German – which the band did try out once in the past – makes him feel self-conscious, whereas in English, he can forget about the meaning of the words and get lost in the songs themselves.

“In our music, the voice is more instrument than a language,” he said. “Every part that we write does make sense to, does mean something to us, [but] when I sing in English, it’s like I’m a different person, it’s like I’m playing a role.”

That disconnect is important for him, in part because it helps him focus more on performing itself, something which both members admitted is their favourite part of being in a band.

“The moment we can play our songs, it’s just fun for us,” Naumann said, referencing how even the worst day can be made better by going on stage and feeding off the energy from the crowd, regardless of its size. “The best part is making a song at home, then…performing it live and [seeing] how the audience [reacts]. And if [it’s] a song you spent a night on at home in some emotional state, and you see people singing it back to you, that’s like the most beautiful feeling in the world. It really is. It’s great.”

Biermann admitted that there is still a risk for live shows to be boring, but only when the two play the same songs consecutively, night after night, or if they don’t consciously attempt to play them slightly differently each time.

Although the two are currently on a break from writing new songs, instead preferring to enjoy pushing the new album, Naumann said that they are already thinking about ways in which they will approach a third album. Ultimately, however, he said that the music often is shaped on its own, in ways they don’t exactly intend.

“What happens with you as a musician [is] all the new things you learn, all the new influences you get, that does change,” he said. “So I guess there is a big big difference between [each album] technically and songwriting and emotionally, but we never said ‘we have to do this.’ It just happened.”

The songwriting approach for the band is similar as well, with both Naumann and Biermann typically in charge of a particular aspect of the songs’ formation.

“So basically I’m building the basics for a song based on an idea I had while showering or buying some milk, and then Maik comes along,” Naumann explained with a laugh. “Maik’s more of the trying out kind. So he takes the guitar and plays and waits ’til something magic happens, and sometimes it does.”

That something magic seems to be a common theme for Captain Capa, and whether it is that, or something else, they both admitted they have been particularly lucky from the start.

“We’ve never ever really crossed any major difficulties. You know…everything we’ve done so far has been pretty pretty lucky,” Naumann said. “It has been pretty good to us, because we started making music and immediately we met the right people who said ‘wow, this is very interesting, let’s do something together.’ So we are floating into a network of artists and label guys who’ve been supporting us from the start.”

In spite of how quickly things happened for the two, they both are careful to stay grounded and not take things for granted. In fact, aside from a grievance or two about all the driving that their positions entail, neither Naumann nor Biermann had a single complaint about any aspect of their lives in Captain Capa.

Instead, they expressed what might be their biggest fear – that the bottom would drop out and they’d be left without their music.

“I could imagine that the hardest part would be if this all stops immediately. Like, imagine from one day to another, no one wants hear your music, no one wants to see you evolve, no one wants to see you [improve],” Naumann said. “I just imagine it as a big hole I don’t want to be in.”

But if the past is any indication, luck is on the side of Captain Capa. And if Faraday was truly right, then Captain Capa will remain a constant.

Captain Capa plays tonight at Admiralspalast in Berlin, as part of Berlin Music Week, competing with eight other artists for the New Music Award 2011. The show begins at 18.00.

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