Name: Ameli Paul
Members: Franziska Ameli Schuster, Paul Valentin
Occupation: Vocalist, multi-instrumentalist (Franziska Ameli Schuster), multi-instrumentalist, sound artist (Paul Valentin)
Current release: Ameli Paul's Beyond Reason EP is out now on their new and very own Meiosis imprint.
Book: Michael Ende - Momo
Piece of music: Portishead - The Rip
Book: Max Frisch - Gantenbein
Piece of music: Nils Frahm - Them
If you enjoyed this interview with Ameli Paul and would like to find out more about them, visit their instagram page.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Ameli: It became obvious to me that I want to be a musician pretty early. Both my parents were music teachers, so music has played a predominant role in my life from birth. I learned the violin first, then piano, then drums and finally found my purpose in singing. Paul and I could have started a band in elementary school - if we only knew each other already back then. There are still some tape recordings of me singing and playing the piano from when I was 9 or 10.
Thanks to my parents I listened to a lot of classical music and french chansons. I had classical singing lessons when I was 13 and subsequently studied opera and jazz singing. Being a teenager I loved dancing, singing and listening to hip hop or RnB artists like Destiny’s Child followed by alternative rock and metal such as Deftones or Skunk Anansie. At the age of 18 I began going to electronic parties.
Paul: I’ve always loved listening to my parents singing, playing piano or guitar. Writing my own lyrics has always felt so natural to me. I even invented different musical alter egos that I felt close to and that I would write music for. Producing hip hop tracks together with my cousin was a big thing when we were 15. For me personally, music is absolute concentration, contemplation and getting lost. There is nothing in the world that lets me forget time or personal issues like opening Ableton and tweaking sounds. I could even forget eating the whole day.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Ameli: For me there were different musical phases in my life. Some day I wanted to be an opera singer, then I felt more close to jazz, world, pop, indie or electronic music. In each of those genres I found great artists who inspired me on my way. One day I decided that I don’t want to choose only one genre. Especially in singing I am always so excited to try new things, to play with friends of different music scenes and get fascinated and inspired by artists and genres all over the world.
Evolving my own voice is something that’s never going to stop. It keeps me going and will lead me somewhere I don’t know yet. Having my own voice is pretty close to believing in myself, being vulnerable and accepting all my sides. When the feelings of imperfection, self doubts, and my own experiences are flowing into my music, I feel like I'm playing my own sound. But I would say you are never totally free from external influences, from what you’ve learned and from your past.
Paul: Of course I mainly imitated bands and artists I liked at the beginning. The words I used, the movements, the style. The path to my own voice was not a straight one and when looking back there were also phases that I cannot identify myself with anymore. But still it’s what brought me here, so apparently it was necessary. For both of us it’s important to keep searching and never stop evolving.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Paul: It depends. Somehow music helps me to find my identity or gives me a hug when I am lost or not close to myself. Still I tend to produce a more self-confident sound when feeling comfortable being me or at least believing to know who I am right now.
Ameli: Mostly I am being creative and feel connected with my music, when I am struggling with my identity. It helps me to express and order my feelings. I know that from early on and I remember how singing with my parents before falling asleep calmed me down. Music means home, playing with my piano and singing in my room is grounding me and keeps me afloat. Last year (during Corona) though I also had really demotivated phases. I felt depressed and sometimes it felt wrong and naive to keep doing music although I had the strong feeling that this is exactly what I want to do with my life.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Ameli: Paul and I are really chaotic and intuitive in our creative progress. For us it’s sometimes challenging to focus ourselves on working on single tracks. As we started Ameli Paul, we just loved to play around, discovering sounds and getting lost together. The less we plan the more we are free and innovative in what we are doing. We want to preserve this open-mindedness and keep exploring our playground further, although structure and focus is also helping us to be creative.
Paul: Yes! Sometimes our challenge is to limit the scope of possible options and stay focused. I personally try to refrain from wanting to do a specific thing and instead see what comes to me by coincidence or flow.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Paul: Two years ago we joined a shared studio of friends, before that we were just producing in my bedroom. That was a big step - soundwise but also concerning work-life-balance. Of course new instruments and new plugins bring new possibilities and better sound quality, but sometimes I miss those days when I didn’t know anything about music production and only used my Zoom H1, a guitar and fruity loops. Still the Pro-Q3 by FabFilter changed a lot and I love the Valhalla and Soundtoys plugins.
Ameli: Coming from piano, it’s crucial for me to have proper keys. With this warm and natural sound I feel totally embraced evolving ideas. When the display of my old Juno G resigned, we treated ourselves to buy the Prophet Rev2 which plays an important part in our productions. Also using a suitable mic and varying my effect set-up is important to me in order to keep it interesting.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Paul: The switch from Fruity loops to Ableton was huge. Ableton allowed me to play live by combining different pieces of my music on the fly. Connecting it with my APC40 and a hardware synth helped me approach electronic music more intuitively.
Ameli: I figured out how to record and produce music on my own with Logic when I was living in Amsterdam 7 years ago. My first track was an arrangement of the song “The Sound of Silence” and I presented it in my class at the music conservatory. It just felt really amazing having built something on my own and people liking it. At the same time I felt a huge respect for all the producers with good mixing abilities. I noticed that there is so much to learn and how interesting it is to follow up with the process of music production.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I feel so inspired by jamming with different kinds of musicians. It can be really intimate and personal and you get to know others through their way of making music. Improvisation is being in the very moment, you have to speak up but also make space, listen carefully and think in the big picture. That also means feeling comfortable doing pauses.
More and more I get asked to add my vocals to tracks of other artists, this is so exciting and I love the challenge of evolving melodies to the ideas of others. For example Innellea asked me about a collaboration for the track ‘Lost in fades’. That was super fun!
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule?
Ameli: I am constantly trying to find a ritual that would help me start the day in a good way. Especially now, during corona I had to find other ways to fill my day, because I can’t play concerts.
At the moment that includes a little meditation session, a gratitude practice and not looking on my phone until after breakfast. We rarely show up in the studio before 11 in the morning, but sometimes only return shortly before midnight. In between we might discuss our current projects, doing songwriting, plan video shoots, have a call with our manager or just plug in our instruments and press record.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Paul: I would say our first official release ‘Worak’ on Underyourskin Records was a milestone. We worked really hard to keep the deadline and had to decide on the final mix while touring Greece. Looking back it was insane but worth it! Event-wise playing Fusion Festival for the first time or opening for Stavroz at Festsaal Kreuzberg were breakthrough moments. We anticipated those performances crazily and practiced a lot. Good memories, but looking back now they feel unreal, like from another life.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Ameli: I have my moments of creativity when I sit at my piano, usually chords and vocal melody come in conjunction. I often record those improvised sessions with my mobile.
Another way is to jam together, getting inspired by each other, getting impulses from the outside. Paul often sends me some rough productions and I would enthusiastically open Logic, turn on my effects and just go on an unpredictable trip. Of course it doesn’t work all the time. Especially when I feel pressured or uncomfortable.
Paul: I have my creative intuitions when being alone and getting this ‘tunnel vision’. Having a goal, like a concert or a possible release facilitates creativity, too. As well as inspirational encounters, consciousness expansion and feeling safe.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Paul: Interesting that you address that. Music is such a powerful tool to get in touch with our emotions and fears. As a psychologist I am super interested in those effects and already plan to integrate that into my work. With Ameli Paul we’ve already done some sound healing sessions, at Fusion Festival 2019 for instance. We started at 10 am, everyone sitting, waking up together and listening to the inner voice, guided by the music.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
This is a topic that we discussed a lot lately. We should be very sensitive in that matter, be more aware of and pay respect to the origins.We are big fans of the idea of remixing as an artform and thus inspiring each other and evolving things together. But it becomes an issue when privileged people steal samples from other cultures and capitalize on that. Even worse when they have religious or spiritual meanings that are not understood. It’s not okay to just take what we want. We should rather use our privileged position to amplify unheard voices and change obsolete structures. Cultural exchange and international collaborations are beautiful, but they have to be reciprocal and by mutual consent.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
All the overlaps are so fascinating. Senses guide your attention. It’s kind of obvious, but visuals and music coalesce quite powerfully. Imagine a dancefloor without lights. Listening in complete darkness sharpens our auditory perception, but still there will be some kind of smell or touch that will interact. Physical contact and music - the rhythm guides your movements - the sound can intensify or alter how you perceive contact. We also miss the physical feeling of bass a lot lately! Dance music is not designed to be listened to on laptop speakers.
Ameli: I think that people sometimes really need to be in this mood of forgetting everything around them and being in this very moment. And often people can find this feeling while dancing or listening to music. Overlapping senses means having a state of intoxication. To me this is a state, where I don’t think anymore. Where I just feel myself, the people around me and the music. Overlapping feelings. As a musician I always want to trigger exactly this emotion that everything is allowed, you are okay the way you are, you are here and it has to be like this.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Primarily music is our way to give back. When people write a message, telling that a specific song of ours comforted them in difficult times. Or when they cried during one of our concerts. It’s fulfilling to be able to evoke those emotions and support others like that. As artists we are role models and support an anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic attitude. Also we like to play at venues or festivals that are politically engaged - be it in defending open spaces for alternative concepts, promoting plant-based food or supporting the sea rescue in the mediterranian sea. But music is also allowed to just be music and connect people nonverbally.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Ameli: Music leaves more space for interpretation. A single sound or a little noise can remind me of something in my life, something that I experienced before or a deep longing. Music is built by little different pieces and every single piece can be filled with a picture, an emotion, a smell. Anything the listeners want to. This is very beautiful and maybe one reason why music plays such an important part in the lives of so many people.
Paul: Words can be very precise. But music has this quality to express emotions beyond words, beyond reason. When my father died I listened to one piece of music over and over (Ólafur Arnalds, Alice Sara Ott - Reminiscence). It somehow mirrored and absorbed my pain at the same time. Coming back to that piece rolls out the emotions again, but also tells me “it is how it is” in a way that I can accept. There are also words that offer solace, but on a more rational level.