Faithful friends and musicians Jan Müller and Rasmus Engler wrote a recently published novel “Vorglühen”. Meet the new authors in Berlin.
It can be tolerated in the quiet and cool room of the Ullstein Verlag. Other than that, it is an almost unbearable day in early July with temperatures approaching 35°C. The day before, the scorching sun prevented my planned visit to Dinopark Germendorf. There are tocotronic images of the video “I Hate It Here”. Guitarist Jan Muller is now seated in front of me, completely relaxed, in a “Guided By Voices” shirt, and next to him is Rasmus Engler.
The latter looks a little unsure and often looks down on the floor. Perhaps it was the age difference of nearly ten years or simply the fact that Yan and his band knew these interview days by heart. Lest we forget the podcast “Reflector” in his recommended interview. Revealing one’s soul and one’s thoughts is not for everyone. Rasmus is a musician, not a medium. He played drums for Gary and Herrenmagazin, and with independent artists from Hamburg such as Lennart Thiem (Twisk) he also published several DIY zines such as “Die Tobende Mumie” or “Transzendieren Exzess Pop”. Jan and Rasmus have known each other for a long time – also through joint band projects such as Das Bierbeben – and years ago had an idea for a book together. At the time of the interview, “Vorglühen” was new to the printer and waiting for delivery.
Rasmus, Jan, you have known each other for a long time through joint ventures, I guess even through a communal apartment in Hamburg?
Rasmus: We met in 1997 at the Rolling Stones party.
Jan: With the Rolling Stones? No, that was in 1998. But I’m pretty sure of it.
Rasmus: No, no, 1997. I’d even bet there!
January: All right. What?
Rasmus: Um, a Rolling Stones ticket?
January: No!? Do you really want to go there again?
Jan: So just bet like that?
Jan: Well, well, we got to know each other in 1997 or 1998 (that was actually 1998, editor’s note). Rasmus moved to Hamburg and I was already living in a shared flat on Talstraße 24. A roommate moved and Rasmus moved in 1999.
Wasn’t actor Robert Stadlooper the next hire?
January: Become the next tenant! Rasmus, did you live with him later?
Rasmus: Yes, exactly. and Christoph Stoll (singer of the band Netrada, founder of 2n Rec). Don’t forget that either.
From what I heard he’s also planning a book?
Jan: That’s right, you can probably say that now and we also have a literary agent with Daniel Wechman. This is how I contacted him because Robert gave him my contact details.
“I’d rather be alone”
Rasmus, we were very young when I started the Hamburg school. So where did your interest come from at that time?
Rasmus: It’s all fiction. I would like to stress that this is not exactly our personal story. I just find it interesting to deal with an untested 1:1 time. So I’d say 1994 was chosen purely by chance.
Jan: Well, but this year was before the tipping point. Shortly thereafter, Tocotronic and many other Hamburg teams gained this kind of attention all over Germany. In “Vorglühen”, the band is just being formed and has already achieved its first hits. Hence, of course, the term “preheating” because it occurred shortly before this event.
Rasmus: When I think about it, that was also the pre-cellular era and the internet wasn’t a big deal. It was a completely different reality of life, and we brought it back to our minds through the novel. What is it like again when the characters in the novel don’t talk to each other for a brief period on their cell phones or are inaccessible all the time.
Yes, in a way thanks to the internet, you’ll never be alone these days. Jan, up until now you’ve always been surrounded by people in a squad and flat post and with Rasmus you now have a co-author at your side for this novel. Could it be a certain fear of being alone?
Jan: No, not at all! I love being alone and I love it, it was like that even when I was a kid. Although I had many friends when I was a kid, I really loved playing with the Smurf group myself. Then the guys came back and wanted to go out and play. At such moments, I wished for this solitude.
As far as the creative stuff, I naturally love what we have in common. Rasmus and I have done projects together, some seriously and some just for fun. So I’m glad this book has been set up with him now. Many have asked, almost in surprise, how this co-writing works. But this is of course a very logical and natural continuation, because we often started creative projects together. Developing ideas together is so much fun!
“It’s nice that the time has come and nice that it’s over”
Who actually wrote the first sentence of the novel, and perhaps there were differences as a result?
Rasmus: Indeed, the first chapter of Chronology and its creation was not the first at all.
Jan: In the end, you no longer know exactly which sentences are coming from. We always sent them to each other, read about them and changed something. So I can’t remember which one of us came up with certain ideas or sentences first. Do you feel the same, Rasmus?
Rasmus: Yes, absolutely. Recently my friend asked me, “Who wrote this passage?” Then I was moved in vain.
Jan: It was really fun once when I explicitly complimented you on the character of Frau Balsac in the novel, and only then did you remember that I originally designed it.
Rasmus: Jan also sent me a part which I did after that, but then I also left some of his own expressions in it. It is completely intertwined.
Are there people familiar with the book who only understand close friends, acquaintances, or family? There are bound to be familiar characters in your bubble.
Jan (smiles): We allow ourselves to be inspired.
Rasmus: There are also characters that some people think: Come on, you totally made that up! You can certainly recognize some of the characters and we’ve had some situations that were similar, but not exactly.
Jan: Many immediately assumed I had written the great autobiographical novel, and it is important for me to say no. It certainly reflects the zeitgeist of the time, but we were more interested in the story itself and the funny, tragic, or bleak things. Also, it wouldn’t be enough for me to just fully take over the things that have already been tried.
Yesterday I stumbled upon this documentary “We’ll Never Meet This Young Man Anymore” about Jean on YouTube…
Jean (smiling at Rasmus): Ah, we have been deciphered!
or not. But you can give me the key again later. “We’re Not Young Anymore” is a time of discovery and rebellion, similar to the book, but it ends with the assumption that we’re here now. But do you really reach a point in life?
Jan: Ideally, you never quite get anywhere. To me, arriving feels like standing still. I don’t want to take this situation. Of course I can’t deny that at 51 I’m already an adult. Everyone has different ideas of what this growth looks like, especially in light of our activities.
Coming back to the decoder just mentioned. What exactly would I unpack?
Rasmus: Well, I don’t know either!
Jan: If you look at this documentary again, you will definitely notice a pair of twins that may or may not appear in the novel in a similar way. This is just a simple tip!
The story takes place in the past. Is there no danger of glorifying and hiding some things in an imaginary way?
Jan: I think it was a great time and the current situation in the world isn’t all that nice. From this point of view, of course, everything was carefree and we lived in such a small world. With the book we put a loving monument to this time period. Or what do you think, Rasmus?
Rasmus: Nice that the time has come, and nice that it is over. (Laugh)
January: Stories like the one in the book transcend time, too. It still happens that a person moves the center of his life to another city, has problems with his job, studies or training, or is not lucky in love. Something like that is not time-bound. “Vorglühen” could have played at a different time and was still working.
that’s right. When you’re young, you’re always on the move. When I was in my early twenties, I had to leave the dreadful county of Siegerland and go to Heidelberg. From there and then later to Duisburg.
Jan: What’s nicer? Duisburg, right?
Absolutely. It was very hard to stand the view of ugly Heidelberg with its obnoxious industrial factories, but I really enjoyed the scenic and attractive scenery of Duisburg. But were there also story ideas that got scrapped again after that?
Jan: First you had to find a language for the book. There were places where the character was no longer cohesive and you had to talk about it. You may feel humiliated for a while and throw her overboard in disappointment. But then you have to pull yourself together and see that the other person is right sometimes. Our editor Marion Wechman, of course, took one last look at it, and it didn’t suddenly change much, but he did give very accurate advice on how we can still change something.
The last question, because you always emphasize what you and your soulmates have in common: have you finally merged into one?
Jan: I wouldn’t go that far!
No vacations or movie nights together?
Rasmus: Oh yes! We watched this GG .Allin documentary together that day!
Jan: Right, but not that American documentary! She was from Denmark (The Allins, editor’s note). It’s about GG’s brother Allin and he’s really very touching and doesn’t use the clichés of Hater Of The Nation. He came from a very difficult family, with a violent fanatical Christian father. His name also comes from Jesus and his mother later renamed him Kevin. Make sure to check it out!