Berlin-based singer-songwriter and producer Ingolf recently released his debut album, EXIL, a nine-track collection of evocative, retro synth-pop.
Artists appearing on the album include the English guitarist and producer Greg Bone (Kylie Minogue, Pet Shop Boys, Ronan Keating, Sting); Hans Christian. a German cellist and multi-instrumentalist living in the USA, who is at home in both pop and new age; session drummer Darin Mooney (Primal Scream, Gary Moore, China Black, Matt Bianco); Joe Dworniak (TAKE THAT, Let Loose, Transvision Vamp); Ulrich Heidel on piano; and the vocals of Christina Rotenberg.
Ingolf has been working as a producer and composer for over 25 years. In the ‘90s Ingolf had his first releases on techno compilations and produced some artists on his own label. In the early 2000s, he exclusively wrote music for television productions. In 2020 he ended his musical break and started working on EXIL.
Ingolf’s original idea was to produce an album that combines the influences of the ‘80s with the sounds and possibilities of today’s music production. In other words, to largely dispense with real musical instruments and give priority to synthesizers. This changed after Greg Bone became part of the studio project, the songs became a bit rockier with Greg’s guitar tracks.
After Darrin Mooney joined as drummer, it became clear that the album would take a different direction. The sound became more organic and livelier through the collaboration between the two artists, but also enough space was given to the synthesizers.
Tattoo.com spoke with Ingolf to find out more about the inspiration for EXIL and how he got started in music.
What inspired your latest album, ‘EXIL?’
The intention to go back into the studio after a long time to write songs was triggered by the very abrupt break-up of my long-term relationship. I hoped to be able to process this situation better and find my anchor point again with the help of music. It was not clear at the beginning that it was going to be an album. I just wanted to write.
Walk us through your mindset as you entered the studio to record the album.
At first, there was only the goal of processing. But when the first songs were written, it quickly became clear to me that it was going to be more than just a reappraisal. I had fun composing and writing lyrics again, finding sounds, and building musical worlds. After my friend Greg Bone joined the team, it was clear where this was going. We both got excited about each new song and tinkered with arrangements, organically finding the sound for ‘EXIL‘.
How did you get started in music?
My musical career began in my earliest childhood. I had fun singing. Once a month there was a hit parade on TV in Germany where I armed myself with a hairbrush to sing and perform all the songs in my own way while jumping on the sofa. (At least in my mind I was a very famous star.)
I started my musical career as a DJ at the age of 18. After a short time, however, it was not enough for me to just play music from tape and I got myself some playbacks from Depeche Mode and Billy Idol which I could then perform live. With this concept, I was able to tour the whole of the GDR after a short time. Writing my own songs was not possible at that time. At the end of the ’80s, I was trained as a singer at a music school and founded the first band Concession with some friends. This was followed in the ‘90s by some techno releases at EMI and the founding of our label Trend Dance Production. From then on I worked as a producer, lyricist, and composer and wrote music for television.
In 2020 I went back into the studio and started writing the first songs for EXIL.
Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction?
The sound evolved with the songs. At the beginning, I had the idea that the songs had to go in the direction of synth-pop, and dance, but with Greg, they became rockier and that’s how the sound of ‘EXIL’ developed. I’m glad that the sound has taken a different direction and I think that with the songs we have succeeded in creating a symbiosis that connects the digital with the analog world. The live drums by Darrin Mooney have also given the songs a nice groove.
Are there any special recording techniques you use in the studio?
I don’t really have any special recording techniques, maybe a special setup. I work a lot with effects and like to alienate sound, especially my voice. In ’Friendly Fire,‘ for example, the vocals became a pad sound. I also like to alienate the background vocals, let them run backward, or run them through a shutter. Experimenting with sounds probably took most of the time for the album and was a lot of fun.
What is your definition of tone? And has your tone changed over time?
Sound is pure emotion. You can express joy, pain, depth, and space only with sounds that directly affect the emotional level of the listener. If it’s paired with a great text, that’s perfect for me.
Over the years the sound has already changed, as there are always new possibilities and more and more wacky effects and tools for sound design. I remember that in the ’90s we recorded everything that came in front of our microphone with our first sampler. Then we looped the material or ran it backward, cut it, and so on. Today my sound library is so big that recording is no longer necessary and over the years I can also fall back on sounds that we made back then and make something new from them. But what was always important for me and still is that the song sounds perfect and has depth.
How do you keep your sound consistent on stage?
Since there are very complex sound compositions and guitar tracks in many songs that cannot possibly be played live by two musicians, we have decided on a playback system that plays drums and pads from the sequencer or as audio files. Everything that is technically and qualitatively possible will then come live from the stage.
What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media? What can you share about your writing process?
I often create a song by experimenting with sounds or playing a few harmonies that inspire me. Later there is a beat or another sound, maybe a first vocal idea. To find melodies I almost always work with a kind of artificial language that sounds English but only some of the words are really real, (maybe I should make my own language out of it like Klingon. In this phase, I don’t want to be restricted by words and so I can give the melody the opportunity to develop freely. Most of the time, the idea for the lyrics or the theme of the song is already born in this phase.
What is your definition of success?
I see it as a success when I manage to touch people’s joy with my songs or give them courage and support in difficult times. I know how important an artist can be to get through low points. If I manage to help people get through life better through my art, that is the greatest success I can wish for. Money is not a sign of success for me.
Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?
I don’t know if these artists are successful, I listen to almost nothing mainstream, but I can name a few artists I’m listening to right now that keep popping up in my personal playlist. Among them are artists like James Blake, Jamie XX, Rüfüs du Sol, Kiey, Coldrain, London Grammar,
What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Music videos? Live gigs?
At the moment there are two videos planned, ‘Friendly Fire’ at the end of the month and probably ‘My Love’ or ‘Wonderful Life’ but that’s not decided yet.
Since Ingolf started as a pure studio project and only later it became clear that ‘EXIL’ belongs on stage, I needed some time to find a guitarist. It would have been too complicated to go on tour with the studio musicians. A search has been successful and Charlie, a very good young guitarist, is now a permanent member of the team.
We are currently preparing the songs for the live performance and plan to start the tour in October 2023. We will try an experiment as street musicians beforehand. The idea is to test some things before the tour and see how people react to us.
A new album is planned for early 2024. Until then, there will certainly be one or two singles from it to listen to in advance.