Name: Sascha Blach aka Mansions In The Sea
Occupation: Songwriter, producer
Current Release: Mansions In The Sea's Terra is out via Winter Solitude.
If you enjoyed this interview with Mansions In The Sea and would like to keep up to date with the project, visit Sascha on Instagram, or Facebook.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I like the idea that some souls simply fulfill the role of artists. Just as others are teachers or healers. These souls have a deep urge to express themselves artistically - whether through music, poetry, films, painting or, maybe even, gardening (laughs).
It's the same with me, because I can't help it. I couldn't take the decision to suddenly stop playing music. It is independent of sales figures, likes or clicks. I simply have to make music.
It started in my childhood, even before I could play an instrument properly, that I tried to write my own songs and record them on tape. I basically don't do anything different today - maybe on a slightly better level and with a computer instead of a lousy tape recorder (laughs).
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I am not one of those artists who sees a concrete image before they begin. It's more like I let myself drift. Sometimes I have a vague idea in the beginning, sometimes not even that. I improvise a rhythm, a few chords or melody and let myself be surprised where it takes me.
My creativity comes into play during this game. The nice thing is that I can trust my creative side, because in the vast majority of cases something beautiful comes out of it. It's just that sometimes it's hard work with a lot of changes, and sometimes it almost comes out on its own and then in the early demo state it almost sounds like it's on the final album.
For me, songwriting is a kind of meditation, because it's a very concentrated state where the hours often go by very quickly.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I like to let spontaneity take its course and plan little to nothing. What I need is some time and quiet. Yes, and my usual working environment is helpful, of course, because I don't know if I could create well in a strange studio where I don't know my way around.
What I'll often prepare in advance are lyrics. I find it easier to develop vocals when I have access to text fragments. Research is not really necessary with the lyrics of Mansions In The Sea, as they are very subjective lyrics and not factual or fact-based lyrics.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I like to get up early in the morning and get straight to the music while everyone else is still asleep and nothing bothers you. That can be as early at 5 o'clock, even on weekends.
So the cliché of the musician who likes to work at night only applies to me if you consider early morning as night. That's also a great time to record vocals, because the voice is then rested and deep.
And of course, a cup of coffee is a must.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Not difficult. I think if you don't exert any pressure on yourself to write a great song from scratch, but just start with anything, it always leads you somewhere.
I like to start with a chord structure with a programmed rhythm and then improvise freely to it with guitar, synths or voice. At the end, elements that were at the beginning are often removed from the arrangement. It's like a big puzzle that becomes clearer and clearer.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music, or can they emerge from a place of their own?
As I said, they are often created before the music, but sometimes it's the other way around. Sometimes I have a concrete topic I want to write about, but I also like automatic writing, so that the subconscious dictates something. This sometimes results in texts that I don't understand myself at first, but which often make sense later on. Where they come from, I have no idea.
Where is the source of all ideas? Is it really our brain or are there deeper spiritual levels? I find these questions very exciting, but have no answer. In any case, the lyrics then grow together with the music until they form an inseparable unit.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I like texts that have something unfathomable. You read them and think, wow, I don't necessarily understand everything, but it sounds great. I like big, unusual images that are a bit like digging into the primordial ground of everything.
My aspiration is to write exactly such texts, but I'm afraid so far I've only succeeded to some extent (laughs).
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
I like to finish a song in its basic outline in one session, so that at the end there's a demo that's easy to listen to and contains all the important elements. I keep a lot of it until the finished album.
It's nice to capture the magic of the moment and preserve that spontaneity - even if a lot of it doesn't sound one hundred percent perfect.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
Yes, I can confirm that. Songs often take on a life of their own. That's why I prefer to go into the songwriting process as freely as possible, since too concrete ideas can tend to block things.
Sometimes I have the impression that songs come into the world through me - as if I were a medium for the music. I have a very strong intuition while writing, which automatically makes me do the right thing. It's not a process that involves a lot of thinking.”
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Yes, that's right. The whole story of Mansions In The Sea happened like this.
I originally wrote songs for The Halo Trees, my other band. But The Halo Trees are a rock band and somehow, all of a sudden, folk songs came through me. I thought for a long time about how I could integrate them into The Halo Trees, but at some point it became clear that I'd probably have to start a new project for them, which would stand on its own. I resisted the idea for a long time, because it is very hard to establish a new project in a new genre in today's music world. But ultimately, you have to give in to it because if the creativity is there, you have to follow where it leads you.
On the other hand, such a solo project, where I do almost everything alone, also has its advantages, because I can work alone very effectively and quickly. So a second album is already in the making.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Yes, like a kind of creative meditation.
However, there is something mystifying about this idea. I don't think artists are the more spiritual people per se, although I would be flattered by the thought. It also has a lot to do with craft.
You could also say, it's more like driving a car, which is completely automatic. That's why I often can't tell later how this or that song came about.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
When exactly this process is complete is a question of feeling. But the reality is that I have sat on many mixes in my life for much longer than on the actual composition. I think that's where the perfectionist comes through in me, the counterpart to the spontaneous Sascha, who is more active in songwriting. In the end, I change little things that hardly anyone hears anymore. But maybe I need the process, because in comparison there is always a difference in quality between the first and last mix.
That's probably the disadvantage of doing everything yourself, because with a little distance you always hear the details differently. But I wouldn't have it any other way. It often only helps if you put a stop to it yourself and commission the pressing.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
If, like me, you work alone and don't entrust the mix to someone else, I don't think that's possible any other way, because when do you really listen objectively? You always get used to a mix to some extent, so the only way you can get closer to a possible ideal is by resting your ear over and over again or listening to the mix in different environments.
I often have songs lying around for months and I touch them every now and then, but I also take care of other things like promotion, videos or artwork during this time. And there comes a point where I say to myself, now it's over, the album has to come out. It probably has a lot to do with letting go.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
It is inextricably linked. For me, a song is only finished when it's mixed and mastered, and I do that myself. I've learned this craft intensively over the years - with professional training, but also hundreds of hours of self-experimentation.
In the beginning - that's 20 years ago now - I mixed my music myself out of necessity because I couldn't afford a professional, but then a passion grew from it. And meanwhile I couldn't imagine not doing it myself anymore, because it's a big process for me from songwriting to mastering.
Ok, and I also like being in control of everything (laughs).
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I know the feeling of not having anything more to say within a style for the moment from other projects. With Mansions In The Sea it was more like I wanted to go straight to the second album and I'm already in the mood for a third album. Right now I have the feeling that creativity in this field won't dry up anytime soon, but who knows, maybe that's just my initial euphoria.
Now we have to wait and see what people out there have to say about it. Because my personal euphoria is one thing, but if it doesn't find an echo, it could be a hindrance to motivation. We'll see.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Yes, as at the beginning you are, if you are an artist at heart, creative in different areas. I definitely notice that in everyday life that I look at things somehow ‘artistically’ - I mean by that a certain aesthetic that is always important to me. And I also looked for other areas of art such as poetry, artwork and videos as additional forms of expression.
Nevertheless, it wouldn't be enough for me to just shoot videos or write poems instead of making music. For me, music is still the most intense form of expression.