Name: Jan Philipp Janzen aka Dumbo Tracks
Nationality: German
Occupation: Producer
Current release: The self-titled debut release by Dumbo Tracks is out via ITALIC. It features collaborations with Markus Acher (The Notwist), Portable, Roosevelt, Marker Starling, Julian Knoth (Die Nerven), Indra Dunis (Peaking Lights), Eiko Ishibashi, Julene and DJ Koze.

[Read our The Notwist interview]

If you enjoyed this interview with Jan Philipp Janzen aka Dumbo Tracks and would like to know more, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.

For many artists, a solitary phase of creative development precedes collaborative work. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your first collaborations?

One of my first collaborations was playing as drummer on two tours together with Owen Pallett (2005/6). It was my first tour outside of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and working with Owen and meeting other bands and artists on this tour helped me a lot to reconsider the work I was putting into my music.

The German scene back then was a bit stuck in self-imposed amateurism - a very important state of mind back in the 80s and early 90s though. On these tours, I realized that mastering an instrument is not a bad thing.

Tell me a bit, about your current instruments and tools, please. In which way do they support creative exchange and collaborations with others? Are there obstacles and what are potential solutions towards making collaborations easier?

With the project Dumbo Tracks, I started to use a modular system based on synths and samplers. It changed my workflow completely towards a more jammy way of composing. It didn’t affect my way of collaborating though.

It’s always more or less the same procedure: I send pretty basic beats / arrangements to the singers / musicians, and after getting stuff back, I go into detail.

No obstacles there concerning instruments and tools.

What were some of your earliest collaborations? How do you look back on them with hindsight?

Concerning Dumbo Tracks: The first collaborations were the ones together with Marker Starling and Eiko Ishibashi. I had already worked with both artists together with Von Spar. Eiko and Chris are extremely accurate and musical. I was absolutely sure, that I would get back something great.

I also collaborated with John Stanier (Cologne Tape). I literally learned to play the drums to the record Meantime by Helmet.

It was really a great honor to share a band with him. I also enjoyed very much the collab Von Spar did with Stephen Malkmus (playing Can’s Ege Bamyasi). He is such a great musician, singer and hangout.

Besides the aforementioned early collaborations, can you talk about one particular collaboration that was important for you? Why did 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?

The collaboration with Markus Acher was especially important to me because I’m such a long-time fan of his music.

In the early 90s I lived in Siegen (a provincial town close to Cologne), and subculture was a very important to feeling connected to the world. Notwist was a very important band for me - they were my peers back then and I still follow their music now.

I grew up with Markus´ voice in a way. It makes me very happy to hear his voice on “Everybody Knows”.

What are some of the things you learned from your collaborations over the years?

Besides work ethics, I’ve learned to be more relaxed and self-confident with what I do.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your collaborations? Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration?

Absolutely gaining. I feel so much more relaxed when I’m collaborating with others. It’s good to know that I’m not carrying 100% of the responsibility.

Besides that: After getting the parts back from the person I’m collaborating with, the song is somehow new to me again. That is a great feeling. It’s a way to enjoy your own music like it would be something new.

There are many potential models for a collaboration, from live performances and jamming via producing in the same room together up to file sharing. Which of these do you prefer – and why?

No preference here. I really like all kinds of collaborations.

What tend to be the best collaborations in your opinion – those with artists you have a lot in common with or those where you have more differences? What happens when another musician take you outside of your comfort zone?

It really depends. I cannot generalize here. It can work or not work either way.

Most of the time it really depends on the idea, the song, etc.

Do you need to have a good relationship with your collaborator? Or can there be a benefit to working with someone you may not get along with on a personal level?

Same here: it depends.

Take the collaboration with Portable. I never met him in person, but I think the track we worked on turned out to be great. Take the collaboration with Marker Starling on the other hand. He is a friend, and I loved that collaboration with him the same way I loved the one with Alan (Portable).

Some artists feel as though the creative process should not be a democratic one. What are your thoughts on the interaction with other musicians, the need for compromise and the decision making process?

I guess I’m one of those who doesn’t think it should be democratic. I don’t think that too much democracy in the process of building up a song, producing, and mixing is very expedient.

In a live situation, decisions between creatives often work without words. How does this process work – and how does it change your performance compared to a solo performance?

There is the idea of playing live with Dumbo Tracks, but I will do this on my own. I’m touring a lot with bands, so the idea of traveling on my own and making all of the decisions myself - rather than being in a band setting - is very intriguing.

Collaborating with one's heroes can be a thrill or a cause for panic. Do you have any practical experience with this and what was it like?

I’m too old to get into a panic because of awe. I really enjoy working with people whose work I love.

Also, most of the time, the more experienced the people are I’m working with are, the faster I get to the result I want.