The line crackles and I can barely hear Kevin to begin with. Skype interviews aren’t my personal go-to when it comes to speaking to an artist but Kevin being based out of Zurich and us sitting in balmy Mumbai and an even balmier Bengaluru, respectively – we weren’t exactly spoilt for choice. But, the connection cleared up soon enough and as Kevin’s soothing voice filled up the virtual line, we jumped right into it.
Kevin Wettstein aka Melodiesinfonie, a musician, producer and composer based in Zurich, has officially been active on the music map across Europe, South Africa, America, and dare I say, India, for almost a decade now. Down to earth and uncomplicated, his simple words belie the intricacies of his lush jazz & hip & hop pieces.
We spoke with him to understand more about who he is and what he does best.
I wanted to let you know there’s a lot of producers, DJs in India who drop your tracks when you’re out at a club and often we’re unable to put a face to the track. So, the purpose of this conversation is to somewhere make that happen and to try and understand you as musician and an artist.
MS: Of course. That’s nice. wow. I’m really overwhelmed. Happy to hear that like, people around the globe are digging my music. That’s really touching, yeah.
If you had to describe your music as a mood, what would that be?
MS: A mood! For me, it’s more a state of mind…peaceful, definitely peaceful. Grounded. Connected to the Earth.
You travel a lot? Being on the road, of course, but also personally? Can you tell me the country where you’ve played the most interesting gig and a country where you’d like to play in?
MS: Oh. That’s a tricky one. I’ve played many interesting ones. But, I think…a really important experience for me was in Turkey. In 2013, I played in Istanbul when I was 19 years old. It was very special. My first time in Asia in a totally different cultural environment. I spent 3 weeks in Kadikoy, an Asian part of Istanbul.
And while you were there, did you ever think of a certain place that you would like to play at but you haven’t yet?
MS: Of course, India! I was in touch with one guy. I can’t remember his name right now. But, he wrote to me on Instagram a few times. He wanted to book me for a festival in India. Unfortunately, it never happened! But, even if he doesn’t, India is definitely a place I need to and want to visit.
That’s exciting news for us as well. I really hope that it happens. Can you talk to me a little bit about your influences? Past or present artists that inspire you?
MS: I think probably the deepest source of my inspiration is being connected to nature. People call it God, the source, whatever, for me, this is spirituality! I spend a lot of time in nature on walks and swimming. This helps me connect with the Earth and gives me a lot of inspiration and space for new thoughts and patterns. The interesting thing is that I can’t produce when I’m depressed or feeling sad. And, of course, I have really important and deep friendships. Just conversations and sharing with them is really important.
There are tons of musicians in the past I’m inspired from – J Dilla, Madlib. The older I grow, the more music I listen to. All kinds of music! And, that’s the key. I don’t listen to just one specific genre. I listen and try to find inspiration in everything!
At this point, Kevin hesitates, clears his throat and continues.
My latest album is inspired from all the jazz I’ve been listening to of late, especially jazz from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I think it was a very special and open-minded time back then. Musicians moved from a more materialistic world view to something more spiritual…you have John Coltrane with a very deep message and you have like Lonnie Liston Smith, Pharaoh Sanders just to name a few. I think these guys have given me a lot of perspective about what music is.
It’s very interesting that you mentioned your album because I wanted to ask you – why the name ‘A Journey To You’? What does it signify for you?
MS: Ah, if you’ll allow me… on my vinyl, I wrote the text about the album. I think this text reflects my exact thoughts on the album and the title for it. I would love to read it if that’s okay?
We would love that.
Kevin clears his throat and his voice carries us through the text on his 2019 album, ‘A Journey To You.’ Inspired by erstwhile jazz pieces to Brazilian guitar, flute samples and drum influences, the entire album is a sublime listening experience.
MS: All the things we experience here on earth are fragments of the absolute reality that exists beyond space and time. It’s a journey where we all float like rivers through processes and challenges to grow in order to get deeper to the source. Music is a spiritual language connecting each one of us to that divine reality. Music heals the broken, awakens the unexplored places of our soul and has the power to touch people deeply, transform emotions and thoughts. For me, music has always been a very important spiritual aspect of self-expression and I truly believe that music is spirit created in unity. Behind all the melodies, rhythms and jams, there is something deeper. There is you. A you that is the source to unconditional of everything that leads us to our self. May this album lead you to you!
(embed the voice clip here)
That’s really beautiful. I find your music very spiritual, personally. What does spirituality mean to you? You can elaborate on it if you feel like but this text answers that to an extent.
Kevin pauses, an awkward silence ensues. I can feel him wanting to answer but searching for perhaps, the right words in English to articulate himself when we chime in –
I think you’ve answered that question quite beautifully and holistically.
Kevin decides to elaborate, nonetheless.
MS: I think the text perfectly reflects what I feel. I believe in this higher force that connects us and extends our horizons. Since I was 15 or 16, I’ve always posed myself the question: what is reality? what’s true? what’s love like? I tried to discover and read about all religions and philosophy…and now, I have my own eva-
Kevin hesitates here, trying to find the exact word to express his thought. I can hear the earnestness in his voice even as he thinks in German and speaks in English.
MS: Evaluation, my own idea of what spirituality means.
Yes, the text on your album talks about self-expression and the music becomes a mirror to that.
Can you tell me more about the process of the artwork for your albums; the overall aesthetic, how involved are you in the process personally?
MS: For the new album, the artwork was a really long and hard process. For this album and my 2016 album ‘Be Thankful’, Dylan Moore, a close friend of mine did the covers and the videos for the two sings – ‘Tuk Rueh’ and ‘Words’. He’s a genius! A musician, writer, poet, graphic designer…
Kevins voice trails off, marvelling at the myriad talents of his friend and longtime collaborator Dylan Moore before he continues.
MS: There’s nothing he can’t do! When I collaborate with an artist, I don’t like giving very specific direction. I want them to be free and express themselves. So, I sent him my album. He gave me a few examples of what the album art could be like, I wasn’t too convinced. I had a specific idea but it was hard for me to express it because I’m not a good painter. I just have an eye for aesthetic things. After weeks of back and forth, he sent a few drafts. I saw this one and was like…this is it! This is the perfect expression of the album, ‘A Journey To You.’ It’s the most beautiful cover I’ve had so far…it’s really something.
And, the video for ‘Tuk Rueh’ is absolutely stunning.
MS: That’s really awesome to hear. Even for me, when I saw it, I was like whaaat? The whole vibe, the colours. Even now, I hold my vinyl in my hand and it all feels a bit unreal.
Have you and Dylan toured together before?
MS: Sort of. We have a collective in Zurich called Boyoom Collective and from time to time we do some label nights with live beat making or bands…Dylan does the visuals for these live shows.
It’d be great to see you come down and perform in India the way you do back home, with your crew.
MS: Yeah, that’d be great for me too. I start touring this Wednesday for this album with my band – four people where I play the acoustic drum set, sometimes some samples but it’s really special for me to perform music with a band now. For six years, I was doing solo shows. But, with a band, the vibe is mind-blowing.
What would you say your favorite collaboration has been up to date? Someone you had a lot of fun with, someone you’d like to collaborate with again?
MS: In 2017, I was invited by a collective called Weheartbeat, they were bringing producers from Europe and the States. They brought in Evil Needle, Mndsgn, some other artists from London and we worked with artists from South Africa in their pop-up studio. For that one week, the whole experiment was surreal. To be surrounded by such creative men and women and to work with Mndsgn, in particular, was massive; he’s one of my biggest inspirations. Really cool guy, very humble…and this whole experience made me turn to music full-time.
You had a day job before you were a musician?
MS: Yeah, I was a kindergarten teacher. I worked with kids for 6 years!
Did you enjoy it?
MS: I loved it! It was my passion, everything was perfect. Really cool kids and I had a lot of freedom there. It was inspiring to work with children. Just their energy, their joy. In summer 2017, they had to close the school down because their funds got cancelled. After which, I switched to music full-time.
How would you say the sound for your last album is different compared to your previous work?
MS: The sound’s evolved. My last album was three years ago and in the interim, I’ve discovered more of myself in terms of music. Tried new tempos, new instruments. This album is more organic with a lot more percussion recordings and with other musicians like a flute player, trumpet player. It felt like we were working on an album. Before this, it was like, I’m making beats. ‘Be Thankful’ is more beat inspired but it has special moments – twists and changes; it’s not just loops.
With ‘Journey To You’, each song is a world it itself.
Kevin concludes in a nostalgic tone before adding –
MS: Have I answered your question?
Yes, you did. Thank you. What are your thoughts on sampling?
MS: Well, I don’t sample anymore. My older work was more sample based, especially these jazz beat tapes with the dollar signs. On ‘A Journey To You’, there are no samples. I recorded all the keys, bass, drums…everything. For the last two years, I’ve been practicing my piano skills and I had one year of music theory in jazz.
So, you’re going back to the roots?
MS: Yeah, definitely. It’s nice, you know? It’s a bit unfortunate though because a lot of musicians play instruments but have an arrogance about it. Although, they themselves were sampling in the past. Now, they judge others for the same. That’s not nice. How can you judge any kind of art? I started somewhere too, where I was sampling and that helped me discover new people, new music and now I am where I am.
So, it was a journey for you essentially. Wait, that’s a pun.
Kevin laughs; not evidently impressed with my admittedly terrible joke.
I wanted to speak to you about one of your older tracks – Tokyo. I loved the aesthetic of the video. Super lo-fi. Why the name ‘Tokyo’ and what was the inception of the video?
MS: I used to play a lot of shows in the past with Roland FP where I played a lot of samples live. Not pre-recorded; each live show was different. I had this loop with drums and guitars and I was going through all my SD cards full of samples and I discovered an old American record with a woman singing ‘Tokyo’ – it was called Christmas Singers or something. Super cheesy. I recorded the sample with the beat, pitched it high and it just matched perfectly. It sounded so special. I showed it to one of my closest friends, Nadim Abdel Hady, who’s a graphic designer, producer, video-maker, DJ, and told him I wanted something lo-fi, funny, freaky for the video. He came over to my place one day and recorded me eating noodles, the clips of which you see in the video. The drag racing is inspired by Tokyo Drift – the movies.
Kevin reflects on the (in)famous Tokyo Drift franchise here.
MS: Those are terrible films! But, yeah, Nadim is really into meme culture and the video was inspired by that. It’s hilarious to me!
I really enjoyed it personally. You’ve moved through different record labels for different albums? Is there a creative reason for that?
MS: Not really. I go with the flow. In 2016, my album that was released on Melting Pot released during the time I was living in Cologne and they’re based out of Cologne. It was huge for me because in the beginning of the beatmaker scene, the records they put out had a huge impact. Later, I was playing at a festival in Berlin and also working on an album with two producers there when I met the label chiefs at Jakarta Records and I asked them spontaneously if I could play a track for them. They listened to it and were in immediately.
You mentioned that you played a festival in Germany. Was that Melt by any chance?
How was that?
MS: Just, amazing. Just the line-up was wow! And, the organization. The festival isn’t on an island but it’s surrounded by water so I played by the water. I am playing this year in July too.
Do you have any other interesting gigs lined up this year apart from the tour?
MS: Some festivals in Germany.
And, India, if it can happen.
MS: That would be amazing.
You have a lot of tattoos. What’s the story?
MS: Each tattoo is connected to the world love. Sometimes, text, sometimes a design. Texts like ‘spread love everyday’ and another that says ‘thankful’ and a sign of absolute reality. For me, they are all fragments of love.
And, did you get inked in Switzerland?
MS: Some there, some in Germany, one in Istanbul, one in South Africa. For me, they’re like a diary of my mood, where I was in that moment.
Kind of like mementos of your journey.
Before we finish, anything you’d like to say as an artist about your craft?
MS: I want to encourage everyone to be true to themselves. Try to listen to yourself as much as you can. Take advice from others but reflect on it and try to extend your horizons through all experiences. Try to make a positive impact on the world. As, artists our…I don’t know the English word-
Kevin pauses here; trying to find the English equivalent. A long pause.
What’s the German word?
Yeah, no, wouldn’t be able to guess that.
MS: I got it! Responsibility. As artists, we have a responsibility towards society, even more than politicians; to change mindsets in a positive way, to really try and make a change through our art.
Thank you, Kevin.
Words by Alina Gufran