Interview: Stars for the Banned

Stars for the Banned - Photo by Maria Noisternig

Stars for the Banned - Photo by Maria Noisternig

For years, Robert Guenther has had one thing on his mind.

“I always dreamed about going to a shop and being able to buy my music,” he said.

Now, with the Sept. 30 release of his debut and self-titled album, the man behind Vienna-based Stars for the Banned is seeing that dream become reality.

“I’m really holding my heart in my hand with the music that I’m doing,” he said. “It’s a big step, without making my existence more secure, [and] making my music isn’t making me rich.”

But then again, Guenther was never in it for the money. He began playing music as a teenager, a hobby born out of a necessity to escape from the monotony of his small-town life.

“I grew up in a little town in Austria, in the West, surrounded by the mountains,” he said of his youth. “And it was boring.”

Although he was in bands from that point on, eventually he got sick of the democratic dynamic, viewing it as a lengthy process involving too much compromise, as well as an obstacle keeping him from creating the music he felt he wanted to make.

“It’s so personal to me,” he said, of his music. “I’m still not sure if I’m a happy person, but I know that I have my music, where I can put all my emotions.”

And so he took matters into his own hands, teaching himself how to record and produce music, and working with computer programs that would enable him to play live, and solo.

“[I’ve] spent the last three years intensely trying to get this project going,” he said. “It’s just what I have to do to be happy. It’s this disease that I just have to keep making music.”

His first lucky break came from supporting Get Well Soon, which began what Guenther referred to as “the Berlin connection,” as many of his musician friends, as well as his promotional company, are based in the city. From that point on, he was asked along on various tours, each propelling him further in his songwriting, albeit sometimes out of necessity to have enough material to perform.

Eventually, Guenther brought on additional musicians – Florian Steinringer on drums and Christiane Schuh on piano/keyboard – to perform with him live, but Stars for the Banned remained a solo project, with the responsibilities falling squarely upon his shoulders.

“I kind of present them a finished thing and they just have to interpret it a little bit,” he said of the way the three interact. “So it’s a good work flow.”

Of his personal songwriting approach, Guenther said that he rarely, if ever, shares his music with others for feedback or validation. However, this isn’t because of a self-assuredness he feels about his music; in fact, he readily admitted his music isn’t immediately accessible to most listeners the first or second time around.

“I doubt myself all the time. I don’t know if it’s good,” he elaborated. “It’s just unfiltered coming out, and of course it’s hard to find a point where you say the song is finished and it’s working, but I take my time and I arrange it in different ways. Suddenly there is this time where you just feel it.”

And just as the moment when a song is complete is unexpectedly concrete, so is the creative process.

“I think you can’t prepare when you’re creative,” Guenther said. “[But] there’s this feeling in your belly, where you just know when you sit down, you’re gonna find a melody.”

Because the album was three years in the making, with the final year being the most intense, Guenther admitted too much time spent around his songs can cause him to get sick of them.

However, he said the experience of playing live gives him the opportunity to reclaim the songs in a sense, as he and his bandmates are able to reinterpret the sound anew every time they play. Yet at the same time, hearing his songs and playing them again and again remind Guenther of how much of himself he has dedicated to pursuing his goals.

“I’m still pretty proud of [my music],” he said. “It’s a really honest thing.”

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