Alexander Leonard Donat aka Vlimmer has been part of Last Day Deaf, before it even went online! Let me explain: Our very first release on Last Day Deaf’s netlabel (‘Loslösung EP’) was by Vlimmer. I also remember chatting with him 2-3 months prior to the site’s launch, and being trustful to my words. Let’s ‘land’ to today…, and forgive my “personal” tone, but have to thank this true music passionate and believer.
A few days ago I had the pleasure (the next day was a bit difficult due to lack of sleep) of chatting for this interview with Mr. Vlimmer about 3 hours on various topics, but without ever losing the main topic: Vlimmer. Make sure you grab a copy of the limited, handcrafted editions of EP’s ‘llllll’ / ‘lllllll’ (6 & 7), before it’s too late!
Welcome to the magnificent Vlimmer universe…
First of all Alexander, I’d like to welcome you to Last Day Deaf! Would you like to introduce the world of Vlimmer to our readers, and me? What is this project all about? How was it conceived, and why the name “Vlimmer”?
Hey Christos, thanks a lot for the opportunity to talk about something which is, at the moment, my favourite of all my projects, Vlimmer. It’s not easy to describe Vlimmer or to compare it to other bands or genres, especially because it’s really evolving from release to release.
In the beginning many put me in the darkwave field which has never been a genre which I was really into. For me, Vlimmer is a dark version of one of my favourite genres: Shoegaze. Then, I also find a lot of drone, kraut Rock and noise in it.
Vlimmer is about repetitive loops, mostly rhythmic, while there are melodic changes, singing, several layers of sound, it’s very atmospheric, dark – and I like a good chorus, too. So, I’m really kind of a dark pop person.
About the name: Because of the German lyrics I needed something that sounded German, too, but it’s actually a word that doesn’t exist. It comes very close to the word “flimmern” which translates: flickering or shimmering.
The first Vlimmer EP was released in November 2015 and it marked the start of an 18 EP journey.
Catching your last phrase, 18 EP journey, and then?
Well, I’ve been joking around about the idea of releasing a series of EPs with all letters of the alphabet, I don’t know, though. I’ve never been out of ideas, so when the time comes I’ll have something in mind. I will have about 2 years to think about that.
On February 10th, you are about to release EP’s ‘llllll’ / ‘lllllll’ (6 & 7). In what way do you think they differentiate from the other ones? Could you also talk about the limited ‘physical’ edition? Should we rush to grab a copy?
For me none of the EPs sounds the same. The first two ones are darker and have less ambition to involve something like a chorus. Then it changed a bit more into a more electronic direction. I began to realize that I had two basic ideas at that time: one was more of a shoegaze guitar approach, the other was very synth focused. With EP ‘III’ and ‘IIII’, which were released at the same time, I wanted to offer the listener a dark but diverse universe of atmospheric music. I’ve never had the intention to repeat myself so it was a challenge for me to create new songs which sound different but belong together. With EP ‘IIIII’ which was released in September 2016 I created something which I’m really proud of because it sums up almost all aspects of Vlimmer. The listeners’ reactions were amazing. Now, I hope to continue like that and keep it exciting for me, and, of course, for the listeners.
The previous limited edition box sets sold out quickly. It’s a hand painted wooden box. I love creating my own artwork, sleeves, boxes, I’m a fan of DIY culture. It takes a lot of time to create all the stuff but I think it’s worth it, the listeners have something absolutely unique in their hands. In these days it’s important to give music fans something that contradicts the download as format.
I feel ‘blessed’, or if you prefer lucky, to be one of the first to listen to your fabulous ‘double bill’! Related to the rest of Vlimmer’s releases, I could say that this one has a much more straightforward approach, regarding melody, structure, everything. Maturity?
Haha, “maturity”, I’ve been thinking about that term, too. It kind of happens whenever artists are busy writing songs all the time that their music gets compared, old songs with new ones; and mostly, it seems that artists and bands are wilder in their beginning and, yes, probably more mature after a while, I share this common opinion. Actually, I agree with you that the new EPs are different, more mature. There’s more melody to it because that’s what in my head. I love melodies, chord changes, diversity, surprises.
Maturity itself, I don’t know if it’s a good thing when it comes to music. It certainly doesn’t feel wrong creating music with Vlimmer that sounds different compared to the beginning of this very project. I prefer calling it “evolvement”. About the straight forward approach: It’s quite the opposite, the first 5 EPs were recorded in no time. Now, it takes me a lot longer: the mixing alone can be very frustrating, even. But that’s the way it is, I won’t be able to simulate the innocent first stage of Vlimmer where you just don’t give a damn about anything at all. When it comes to the music itself I agree with you. It’s more direct, has a clearer focus. Maybe that’s a result of growing confidence in this project.
One of the songs that really caught my attention is ‘Sonnenschwarz’. An epic, shoegaze, noise anthem, with some really interesting twists and sounds in the background. What was the main influence for this one?
Nice, that is my new favourite Vlimmer song! One of the main reasons for the existence of this song is my urge to create a song that feels like a panic attack, something that overwhelms you, like being hunted by a really scary creature, hunted through a dark forest at night. I was heavily influenced by a track that appeared during the end credits of the TV series “Paranoid” which I watched on Netflix some months ago. The rhythm totally struck me, made my heart beat faster, made me really nervous – in a good and bad way. I adapted it and added melodies, noise and singing. Honestly, it never took me longer to work on a Vlimmer song. The beginning was quite difficult, but at some later point the song wrote itself, as usual. I definitely want to explore this direction a bit more, to contrast the dazed, foggy Vlimmer side with more harsh sounds. Later, after finishing the song, I could hear a bit of HEALTH in ‘Sonnenschwarz’, but it wasn’t something I had in mind while recording the song. However, HEALTH are a band I really adore, they combine heavy music with melodies in an almost perfect way.
Speaking of HEALTH I really adore ‘::Disco2’…
I like it, too! I like that they explore two sides of their music. The noise and the dance side. Yet, I don’t know why their latest album, ‘Death Magic’, wasn’t the deserved breakthrough, it’s so incredibly good!
‘Veräußerung’ is another tune that caught my attention with the “Trisomie 21esque” vocal approach. Fan of this French legendary band?
I haven’t heard a single song by Trisomie 21, but I have read their name in Vlimmer reviews repeatedly. The same happens with Clan of Xymox. I understand they both make dark wave, right?
I once or twice went to YouTube and looked for songs of both bands because I was really curious if there was anything that reminded me of Vlimmer. In my ears it remotely did, but the difference is that I cannot hear any shoegaze in it while it plays a huge role for me.
In ‘Veräußerung’ I did try something different with my voice, I think that is pretty obvious. Yet, it feels very natural, not like an attempt to sound like someone else. It really depends on the atmosphere of the song. I mostly sing in a quite relaxed way but ‘Veräußerung’ needed something different.
Regarding production, instrumentation, -correct me if I am wrong-, I feel you have changed since your previous release. Please discuss….
The production has always been pretty lo-fi because I like it unpolished. I agree, though, that it has changed if you compare the first two EPs with the new ones. The voice was mixed very airy in the early Vlimmer stages, now it’s more in the foreground and opens up for some more bass frequencies which I had cut before. As for the instrumentation: I am trying to include new sounds, like slide guitars and keyboard brass. I also use the zither a lot more now because it sounds so creepy. How would you describe the difference?
I can see more ‘light’ and more ‘air’ into the compositions. Also, a much more polished sound and much detail in the background too…
Maybe, in the beginning I used a lot of reverbed layers which created one massive echo, while now I combine clearer sounds with delay and echo, so you have some sort of anchor, and not everything is swirling and blurry. Well, yes, light! You are right. There’s more contrast to it. The darkness becomes darker if you have light next to it. That’s exactly what’s happening at the beginning of ‘lllllll’ (EP 7). The opener, ‘Möwenmeer’, is calm, bright even, and when ‘Sonnenschwarz’ crashes in it really feels scary. The funny thing is, ‘Möwenmeer’ originally was the closing track. But when I put it in the first position it made much more sense. I love the contrast between the two songs. They are like two totally different brothers, one is the good one, the other has nothing good in mind.
“Jekyll and Hyde”?
I don’t know, in my case both “brothers” are melancholic, it’s not that they are as different as Jekyll and Hyde. It’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s too easy to narrow it down to the idea of brothers. Vlimmer just goes here and there, it’s not just two sides.
Cool! Why have you chosen to premiere every single song of this release to web-radios and webzines (including Last Day Deaf)? Don’t you think it spoils the fun, or the surprise of the unknown a bit?
For me it’s more like teasing the listeners. They won’t be able to listen to all of the songs in one row. Instead you need to wait for the next day until you can find out if Vlimmer is what you expect it to be. My goal is to surprise people and with these two new EPs I think that might work, the one way or the other. I will probably lose some listeners, and maybe gain some more. In general, I really like the idea to cooperate with people, websites, radio shows… It’s also a win win win situation – yes three “wins”: the listener gets to know new sources for their music, the radio show or website draws new listeners to them, and I get the chance to have my music broadcasted by stylistically different institutions. Also, I like the idea of the listener hunting all across the internet for new songs. It’s not that easy sometimes to find the song in someone’s mix.
Would you like to tell us about the ‘Loslösung EP’ that was our very 1st release for the site’s self-titled netlabel?’
Oh yes! This EP actually includes some of the darkest and most minimal material of Vlimmer. All of the songs were originally written for the EPs ‘lll’ and ‘llll’ but omitted when I chose to go in a direction which was a little brighter and more direct. Maybe that was the moment when the original Vlimmer – if there’s such a thing – emancipated and opened up. It’s not that I like this or that EP more but for the EP series I needed it to be brighter at that moment. I am proud that “Loslösung” is out there, too.
Fun fact: the exact lyrics of the songs on ‘Loslösung EP’ can be found in some songs of ‘lll’ and ‘llll’. That way you can even find out which song was thrown out for another.
How did the collaboration with Oceaneer happen? I find this the “less Vlimmer” release. Just wondering, if it would be better using your own name….
Until the release of ‘Meerheit’ there weren’t any piano sounds in Vlimmer’s universe. As I like this instrument a lot I thought it might be a good idea to try it out. Oneechan who is Oceaneer and I met on Soundcloud, had a little chat and talked about how much fun it is to work with other people for a change. We mostly made our own music without any other persons involved, yet there is a personal gain if you work together with someone: you cannot be as selfish as before. I am busy with collaborations all the time. There will be releases with Mad Masks from France and Thanatoloop from Chile later in 2017.
Yes. But why under Vlimmer moniker?
Probably because of the way I sing and also the German lyrics. It felt like a Vlimmer thing.
Cannot avoid this one since Vlimmer released are also tagged as kraut. Merely a few days have passed since the death of legendary Can’s drummer Jaki Liebezeit. How do you feel about this? Major loss?
After 2016, aren’t we all getting used to the fact that famous musicians pass away? Ok, but seriously, I have one Can album and one compilation of the band at home, and I remember liking them but barely listen to them, the last time may be 5 years ago, maybe even more. I know Jaki Liebezeit has a huge influence on a lot of people but as I’ve always been into the music of the centuries I lived or live in, his death doesn’t affect me. We all die one day, as bleak as it sounds. Let’s see what happens when musicians die which made music when I was in my 20s or 30s. I’ll probably feel pretty depressed then. In 2016, when all these famous musicians died only David Bowie‘s passing made me sad.
An out-of-the-box question now….If Vlimmer were a movie, a book and a place which one would it be and why?
If Vlimmer were a movie it would probably be “Donnie Darko”. What an intense diverse flick! A little sci-fi, far out there but on earth, dramatic, melancholic and a hint of humor.
As for a book I would say “Traumnovelle” by Arthur Schnitzler (in English it’s called “Rhapsody” or “Dream story”) as it describes how complicated peoples’ relations can be, it is disturbing and sometimes plays right in between two worlds, the real world and imagination.
Thinking about a place is more difficult. Maybe it is a place on a hill where you are hidden in between dark green trees and you have an impressive overwhelming view of a menacing metropole under you.
Closing this, at least, interesting conversation, which are your future plans for Vlimmer, and also for your label Blackjack Illuminist Records?
I want to further explore the world of Vlimmer and see where it takes me without leaving its cosmos. One of the most interesting aspects might be the idea of working on faster and harsher songs that create a claustrophobic feeling. Maybe, in some months or a year we can say that ‘Sonnenschwarz’ was the beginning of a certain Vlimmer phase.
As for the plans of my label, I want to release music by other people than me. Recently, I’ve released a fabulous drone/ambient album by Sana Obruent from California. It was a lot of fun putting effort into releasing music of someone else. I might get used to that.
Thank you for this one Alexander. A message for our readers by Vlimmer?
Keep an open mind, don’t be lazy when it comes to art, no matter how old you are there’s always time to discover new music.
Thanks a lot for the talk, Christos!
Photo credits: Dierk Pöther (1st & 3rd one), Ulrike Donat (2nd one)