Since his early beginnings in the Neue Deutsche Welle group Palais Schaumburg, Thomas Fehlmann has always taken an avant garde approach to music. His early solo releases explored New Beat before shifting focus to increasingly more techno and ambient productions. Notable collaborations along the way have seen him pair up with former bandmates Moritz von Oswald and Holger Hiller, as well as work closely with Sun Electric and The Orb since their fledgling years. He has been an official member of The Orb since 1995, and it is his influence that can most clearly felt on the techno direction the group has taken on some of their more recent albums. The Swiss born producer’s own material is of an impeccable quality, and indeed it seems that as he gets older so his mastery of his music grows. As Fehlmann and Orb founder Alex Patterson gear up for their tour commemorating 25 years of the group, LWE reached out to ask Fehlmann about how he and Patterson work together, what it was like working with reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry, and how it felt being back on stage with some of his old Palais Schaumburg members after nearly 30 years. He also treated us to an hour of some of his most recent musical purchases, a supreme mix of house and techno that makes up our 171st exclusive podcast.
Download LWE Podcast 171: Thomas Fehlmann (63:52)
01. The Orb, “Fussball” (Deadbeat’s Champions League Dub) [Cooking Vinyl]
02. Dark Sky, “Voices” [Mister Saturday Night Records]
03. The Mole, “How I Understand” [Slices of Life]
04. Osunlade, “Camera Shy” (Justin Imperiale Remix) [Yoruba Records]
05. Baaz & Iron Curtis, “K.M.S.” (Soulphiction RMX) [Office Recordings]
06. John Tejada, “Somewhere” [Kompakt]
07. Alex Burkat, “Ammadomyownthing” [Mister Saturday Night]
08. Kyle Hall, “Crushed” [Wild Oats]
09. Michael Cleis, “Mir a Nero” [Pampa]
10. Zander VT, “Trying Some More” [Bpitch Control]
So you are going on tour with The Orb for the 25th anniversary very soon. How did you originally meet Alex and become a part of the group?
Thomas Fehlmann: In 1989, in his capacity as A&R man at EG records. Alex was the first to be interested in the new sounds we were producing in Berlin. So we met and the relationship took a special spin on the very first day when he took me out to Shoom that night and introduced me to the then evolving Orb family. It mainly led to our continuing collaborative relationship but one of the results of that hook up also paved the way to the No. 1 dance tune “Moving” by Marathon (Moritz von Oswald’s project during those days), then also the first 12″ by Sun Electric, “O’locco.”
The last few Orb albums have been you and Alex on your own. Will it just be the two of you touring or will you be joined by other musicians too?
We might be joined on special occasions by some of the original collaborators but yes, it will mainly be Lx and I playing the gigs. We feel very confident together after spending many years together developing new Orbisms and expand old ones and find the well is still bubbling nicely.
How do the two of you typically work on an album? Do you get together in the same studio or send files back and forth to each other?
That Orb “touch” we can only achieve when we work together in the studio. We always hang in there together until the final mix is done. We never exchange files.
Can you tell us a bit about the sessions for Orbserver in the Star House? Had you met Lee Perry before you got together to do the album?
Lx has met him before but for me it was a fresh and memorable meeting. We clicked as soon as we played him some of the ideas we prepared to work on. It was a bit risky since we didn’t go for a classic reggae direction but plain nuts to aim to create something beyond.
Was he involved with the production side of things as well or did he stick to the vocals?
Well, his presence had a distinct influence on the production, since we developed new beats as we went along. He opened up to our working style, joined the team spiritually but also contributed quite a few percussion parts and hinted at spots where he felt the bass for example could be enhanced. The percussion bits were mostly recorded at our evening bonfires whilst he was banging on some logs and sticks.
You’ve been involved in music over four decades. What do you think have been some of the biggest evolutions for you in your own music over the years?
The most singular evolution took place trough the changing conditions in the studio. I think I only really found my own voice through the independence and affordability of the production means.
How do you usually work on music? Is it something you schedule time for and make sure you do it or do you have to be in the mood to get in the studio?
Comme ci comme ça.
What was it like playing again with your old band members for the Palais Schaumburg shows last year? Did you find you could still relate to the music in the same way?
I was amazed how well it worked for us and to our big relief apparently didn’t make a dated impression on the audience. Quite a experience as well to blow the trumpet again and play all keyboard parts by hand. In all honesty, I’d like to have a second life to explore the Schaumburg route further.
Can you give us a list of five records someone should listen to (not your own), to understand where you’re coming from musically?
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew
Captain Beefheart, Trout Mask Replica
Love Inc., Life’s A Gas
Beach Boys, Smiley Smile
I read a great piece on you talking to Madlib the other day in which he was saying how he doesn’t pay much attention to new music, but it was clear that you do. What releases have you really been enjoying lately?
I’m lucky enough to have quite a few close allies whose work continually excites me. Mark Ernestus’ work as a producer with Jeri Jeri in Senegal is hands down the most impressive stuff I’ve heard in a long time. Theo Parrish is an artist I check every release of and his connection to the soul and the earth I just adore. Wolfgang Voigt’s recent conceptual works are a strong source of inspiration to me whether the records are fun to listen to or simply serve as audio proof of barrier crushing extremism. Oh yeah, and I do like Madlib too and Jan Jelinek’s work and…
What can you tell us about the mix you put together for us?
It consists of new 12 inches I bought in recent weeks and reflects my ongoing search for the perfect beat with a lighter, nevertheless soulful touch.
What can we expect from Thomas Fehlmann and The Orb over the next year?
There will be a new 12″ of mine on Kompakt in October called EYE/TREE (Kom 282) and Alex and I have this epic piece called “Moonbuilding” in the works for which I hope we soon find a handle to get it finished. And there’s of course plenty of other dreams…