photo by: Stefanie Hempel
During the BAP summer tour 2023 I had the chance to meet with multi-instrumentalist Anne de Wolff
for an interview, talking about her career and current project.
rockfrank: Anne, your very first experience, artistically speaking, was with classical music following many years comprising instrumental education. At which time did you find your way into popular music, what triggered this development?
Anne de Wolff: At the time a friend of mine asked me, if I wanted to play in his band. There were rehearsals up in an attic, and I was hooked. Then, some time into that, a guy showed up at the bar where I worked as waitress part-time whilst being a student, and he put this record, Bob Dylans “Desire” right there on top of the bar. His colleagues were friends of mine, and he was looking for someone who could play the violine. I listened to the album and some of his stuff and thought “Great, I would so much like to play some other kind of music”. We played a lot of street music together, which forced me – as a classical artist – to practice improvising, the rest is history.
rockfrank: You are a multi-instrumentalist and master a variety of string as well as percussion instruments. You are also familiar with keyboard instruments. How would you describe your characteristics, which instrument makes you feel most comfortable?
Anne de Wolff: Obviously, I feel at home with the violine. I grew up with it. But I also really enjoy playing the Cello. Unfortunately, I discovered it a way to late. It inhabits this warm, beautiful, moving sound. The violine – for me – sometimes is just a little bit too clear or bright. I also like playing the guitar. But since I have the best guitarist at home (Ulrich Rode), and so this is kind of depressing (*laughs*). Still, I’m having a lot of fun with it, even with my more basic skills. I do like to turn to my tenor guitar, it’s tuned like a viola. That feels a little closer (to me).
rockfrank: The list of collaborations, be it with other artists, productions, joint stage performances or your participation on their albums, is quite long:
Anna Depenbusch, Fury in the Slaughterhouse, Gregor Meyle, Helene Fischer, Laith Al-Deen, Mark Forster, Rosenstolz or Johannes Oerding and, of course, BAP, - we will come back to one that later on – just to name a few. Which collaboration was the most challenging, became maybe your most valued experience?
Anne de Wolff: It is really difficult for me to emphasize the ONE thing. Really, it keeps being exciting and challenging. The first band that I toured with, Poems for Laila, that was kind of being in an evening soap opera, because I’d been listening to them quite a lot before. At the time I placed an ad in the paper and wrote: “I make myself available….” instead of “I’m looking for…” – just to make it sound cooler. And then Nikolai Tomás called, singer with Poems for Laila. I was trembling so hard talking on the phone to him, thinking “That’s playing all day long in my bar and I have all the records, it can’t be true that of all things he just now was looking for a violinist”. It really was an extreme moment, just like the beginning of my story with BAP. We’ve known Johannes Oerding for a long time, he even played at our wedding, he’s been working in our studio. One other thing that was very special, is my encounter with the band Calexico from Arizona. I had played the violine at a few of their concerts here in Germany, then flew over there meeting them in Tucson and played on various productions as their “little German violinist”. I thought “Now I’m standing here in a studio in the middle of the desert, different records on the wall, which I all have at home”. It was like a dream.The concerts with Bosse – as a guest player now and again over the years – they were awesome, too. There are those moments, I keep thinking “Crazy, I would have never dreamed of this”.
rockfrank: We are from a generation that grew up without smartphone, internet, and social media, had a tape recorder at home or – if lucky enough – a stereo system with a record player. What part do social media play for you nowadays in regards to your career? Is it even possible without YouTube, Instagram or Facebook?
Anne de Wolff: For me, as a “solo for hire – musician” maybe it would be possible without. I do have my own platforms, also, the studio I conduct with my husband Ulle, can be found on social media. We utilize it as a post-board, kind of a “newspaper on the wall”. But after all these years in the music business it probably could function without all that. Out circle of friends in the music world has become very wide over the years, you just know each other and you’re just asked. For instance, Reiner “Kallas” Hubert, an incredibly great drummer from Hamburg, he plays with Pohlmann, with Cäthe, Mark Forster amongst others; he doesn’t use social media at all and still has more than enough jobs. But I do think, for newcomer bands, I am experiencing this right now with my girl-band, the Joni Project, it is very important to have and take care of those channels, frequently updating and posting. It's sort of a blessing and a curse. On one side there’s the possibility, to present your work and to spread the word, on the other side the risk of totally getting lost in it, this online-crazy. Young bands have to be aware of the fact, that they also taking on some record label jobs, the promotion, all those things on top, although their main focus should be concentrating on the music. It’s very important to find the right balance. It is probably very wise to seek professional help, as soon as possible.
rockfrank: What advice would you give to young artists, who wish to get into the music business? They basically have to rely on social media.
Anne de Wolff: I do think, many if not all of them kind of have to use all that. There’s probably not the right solution available right now. Everything is happening so fast nowadays, changes more quickly due to the speed of digitalization. It’s very important to be able to distance yourself and not to rely on those networks for feedback but to merely think of it as a tool. Just now I listened to a great podcast by Judith Holofernes about “mental health” and the risks it bears for musicians, like burnout or psychological disorders. You have to be aware of all this. I would advice all musicians to listen to the podcast.
rockfrank: Was there ever a time of a real musical challenge for you, something you couldn’t implement / solve right away?
Anne de Wolff: Oh yes…I was once hired for a string-session for Tim Bendzko. I was waiting in the studio; sheets were handed to me and I knew I just couldn’t do it. I then told Hagen Kuhr, a great cellist and in this case the string-musical director: “Hagen, I don’t want the money, or just pay me less. I will play the basic from the second violine, but the rest…you have to see if you could overdub it with someone else who can do a better job”. These are very uncomfortable moments, and you really do have great respect for new requests, hoping to be able to fulfill the expectations. It’s the well know “charlatan-complex”, a lot of musicians have that. I myself especially fall prey to it due to the variety of instruments, which I all but play to perfection.
rockfrank: What profession would you go to college for today given the chance to do it over?
Anne de Wolff: I started by studying art history and theatre. But I am more a social, practical kind of person an find it a lot easier to learn in a practical way amongst others. I found it to be very exhausting to sit in lectures. To come back to your question, I think I wouldn’t study anything. If I didn’t have the chance to play music, which is – even after all this time – the most desirable profession I can imagine, because of its great community and because you can give away so much happiness, I would do something social, working with people.
photo by: rockfrank
rockfrank: Since 2014 you are, along with your husband, Ulrich Rode, an inherent part of BAP. It all began with a joint affinity you and Wolfgang Niedecken shared for Bob Dylan, which you discovered standing on a backstage parking lot after attending a concert of another band. Looking back, what kind of artistic added value does working together with BAP have for you?
Anne de Wolff: I have learned so many things in different areas, also in a human aspect. I am grateful that Wolfgang Niedecken is such a great boss who is willing to provide a lot of freedom for his musicians. You can be musically creative, there is a lot of room for instrumental parts and every night is a little bit different. Something like that is not typical for many bands, to be able to move around musically, have so much room for music as with BAP. While producing the last records which I did together with Ulle, I’ve learned quite a bit. In the earlier years I was sort of „limited“ in my head, afraid something might not be cool. But while working on these BAP albums with all those other great musicians of different generations I experienced how valuable aspects of the work of each and every one of them would be accounted for, for it to become a whole thing, a special piece of music, where ideally everyone can find him- or herself represented. I was able to develop as a person in many different ways, could try new things, didn’t have to be afraid of making a mistake or doing something wrong. You don’t necessarily have to be „cool“! You don’t have to please anyone.
A lot of people have a history with BAP, for so many this band is kind of the soundtrack of their lives. The audience follows this band so much longer than me and shared so many intensive experiences with them. We have the fulfilling job to accompany that feeling. With respect for the songs and the chance to find our own sound within the current cast, which now has been together for eight years. The horn players joined a little later.
rockfrank: In 2021, you, together with two friendly singer/songwriter colleagues, Iris Romen and Stefanie Hempel, brought “The Joni-Project” to life, with which you honor the great musician from Canada. You mainly focused on the extraordinary album “Blue”. How did the idea and the collaboration come about?
Anne de Wolff: It was Stefanie Hempel’s idea. She’s a Beatles expert, a great music fan and one of the people with the broadest knowledge in musical history that I know. An avid music listener. She was sitting at home during the pandemic (one must say, during Corona so much has happened, as bad as the whole situation presented itself otherwise. There were many good things that only had the chance of being created in the way they did due to the circumstances). Anyway, Steffi thought, she would like to perform the album “Blue”, which was released in 1971 and therefor had its 50th anniversary. And because Joni Mitchel being an extraordinary woman at the time, who in the male dominated music world held her own, Stefanie wanted to perform this very much only with women. She already knew Iris Romen from social media and was smitten by the sound of her voice. Stefanie and myself knew each other from Hamburg, crossing paths once in a while and exchanging a “hello”, nothing more. So, then Stefanie asked Iris, who responded in her Dutch dialect – getting goose bumps right now – and agreed right away. Then Iris called me and the whole thing was on its way. I have tremendous respect for Joni Mitchel. What a diverse and multi-generation musician.
This fall we will release our version of “Blue” onviny, CD and for streaming. We’ve been performing other songs by Joni Mitchel as well when playing live aside from the album “Blue”. It is so much fun. We do a lot of three-tone singing, which makes the harmonic approach a little easier, as we’ve been told. And we have 16 instruments on stage – everyone is a multi-instrumentalist. It’s a great event!
rockfrank: The last question is about your own personal taste in music: What kind of music would be playing at your housewarming-party?
Anne de Wolff: I would ask our BAP-drummer Sönke Reich to provide a playlist. Sometimes at night in our nightliner he likes to be the DJ, and he really puts together awesome songs. Other than that, I like listening to Indie-music like Calexico and Bilderbuch. My son, Jacob de Wolff, he makes music as well – pretty cool remixes if it needs to be more danceable.
Thank you so much for the interview.
Translation: Sandra B.