Max Raabe’s Teutonic Voyage

Published February 21, 2012

ABOVE: MAX RAABE. PHOTO COURTESY OF OLAF HEINE.

If the thought of what you missed by not attending Marilyn Manson’s wedding to Dita Von Teese has bothered you for the past seven years, let us enlighten you and ease your restless mind. What you missed, friend, was German singer Max Raabe performing with his Palast Orchester in a castle in Ireland.

Raabe established the Palast Orchester while studying music at Berlin University of the Arts in the mid-’80s. Since then, Raabe has released over 20 albums (mostly in German), toured the globe, and become a YouTube sensation thanks to his cover of Britney Spears’ “Oops! …I Did it Again.” If Raabe and his Berlin orchestra seem like a strange choice for Manson, it is probably because most things regarding Marilyn Manson seem quite strange. Really, it is remarkably fitting: Manson and Von Teese loved all things opulent, retro, and a little bit odd, and Raabe—with his fixation on the music of the 1920s and ’30s, whimsical humor, and slight resemblance to Christopher Walken—is all of these things.

We recently spoke with Max, who is about to embark on a US tour, via telephone about his new album, One Can’t Kiss Alone (“you’ve really got to have another mouth”).

EMMA BROWN: Hi Max, how are you?

MAX RAABE: Hello! I’m fine, but I hear you very badly. You are very silent.

BROWN: Oh dear. Is this better?

RAABE: A bit.

BROWN: I wanted to ask you about your new album, One Can’t Kiss Alone. I particularly enjoyed your track “I Can Kiss Myself Alone,” can you tell me a little bit about it?

RAABE: From time to time I write my own songs in the style of the ’20s, but with new words—themes and problems of our days, like sitting at home and nobody gives you a telephone call, cloning… Some funny songs about these themes. I wrote songs together with a composer about the relationship between man and woman, old problems, the endless themes between human beings in my own words. It’s a new idea of these songs. I am bringing one or two of them [on my tour] to the US, but the main repertoire will still be the music of the ‘20s and ‘30s.

BROWN: What in particular attracts you to the  ‘20s and ‘30s?

RAABE:  I have no idea. I completely fell in love with the orchestras of the ‘20s and ‘30s when I heard them for the first time. The old atmosphere of this repertoire touched me immediately.

BROWN: Your lyrics are quite hilarious; can you tell me who or what you find funny?

RAABE: [Songs from the ‘20s and ‘30s] have kind of a double meaning, not in all the songs, but the kind of black humor [that you find in] the repertoire of Cole Porter, for example. There’s a funny way to think about all these things, that is what so unusual compared to the repertoire of our days.

BROWN: But you do sometimes cover contemporary songs. I’ve seen you perform covers of Britney Spears…

RAABE: We are well known for our repertoire of the ‘20s and ‘30s and then if suddenly we [play] songs by Britney Spears, for example, it’s strange for an audience who knows us [and] our original repertoire. It’s a game for us to play. We are musicians and we have fun doing funny things.

BROWN: When you sing in English, do you write your lyrics in German first and then translate them, or do you start in English?

RAABE: Exactly. We brought this album [out] in German and we translated some songs into English. We have both the German originals and the English translations with the same orchestration on [this] record.

BROWN: People often lament that you there’s no such thing as a perfect translation and you always lose some of the original meaning. Do your songs feel different when you’ve translated them?

RAABE: It changes [the song, but] most of the time it works quite well. It’s always a different thing, but sometimes you win if you translate it into another language.

BROWN: Do you have a favorite track?

RAABE: Yes, I have 12 favorites.

BROWN: And you’re coming to the US soon.

RAABE: We are playing in Washington, Los Angeles and New York. We played at Carnegie Hall two years ago, but this year we are playing at the Metropolitan [Museum of Art]. I’m very curious about this hall. It is still a miracle for us to play in the US with this repertoire, because most of our songs are in German. I explain the meaning [of the songs] in English, but I think for an American audience to see what kind of music there is, they see an orchestra from Berlin and a singer from Berlin and they are surprised that we have a kind of humor and this is our biggest effect and this is still a wonderful thing for us, to come to the US, it doesn’t matter in which town.

BROWN: Is there a big difference in how you are received in Europe versus the US?

RAABE: I think the reaction is nearly the same. Of course we are exotic [in the US] than here in Germany, but the audience in the US is familiar with [our] repertoire; we have the same history of pop music, [and] in the ‘20s and ‘30s the music is very similar. That is why the audience feel comfortable with this repertoire, they understand it and it’s a part of our culture, both sides of the Atlantic.

BROWN: I heard that you played at Marilyn Manson’s wedding…

RAABE: [laughs] Yes, he invited us for his wedding concert. It was in Ireland, in a castle somewhere. It was pretty cold; the chimneys were burning. It was a very white, stylish wedding.

BROWN: Were you surprised when he asked you?

RAABE: Yes. I thought it was a joke. But he is a gentle and intelligent person. When I met him there, he said that he is completely in love with [our] repertoire, that would be the only music that he would accept for his wedding.

BROWN: You’ve done some film soundtracks as well…

RAABE: Yes. From time to time, but this is, of course, not our main job, we play concerts and that is our business. But from time to time a film needs or wants to have our music.

BROWN: If you could write a soundtrack for any film, which film would you chose?

RAABE: It is difficult to say what film would be the perfect film. I’m always open-minded and await what is coming.

ONE CAN’T KISS ALONE IS AVAILABLE NOW ON iTUNES. MAX RAABE WILL BE PLAYING AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART ON MARCH 3. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON RAABE, YOU CAN VISIT THE PALAST ORCHESTER WEBSITE.