What art form changed your life

Christian Friedel: "Magdeburg is not an easy audience"

Since Michael Haneke's award-winning film “The White Ribbon” (2009) he has been in the A-League of German cinema, followed by “Russendisko”, “Elser”, most recently “Zuckersand”, in autumn he was on the TV hit “Babylon Berlin” to experience. But bread work was and is the theater for the 39-year-old. During his engagement at the Staatsschauspiel Dresden in 2011 he founded the band Woods of Birnam with four musicians from Polarkreis 18 (“Alone, Alone”). Since 2012 his band has accompanied Roger Vontobel's “Hamlet” production there. The fact that William Shakespeare is always a source of inspiration is proven by the two albums "Woods of Birnam" and "Searching for William" as well as the name of the band, which comes from "Macbeth". In 2014 they delivered the title track to Til Schweiger's film "Honig im Kopf" - the band's career highlight so far!


Christian, what does “Grace” stand for? It represents the grace of life. "Grace", on the other hand, can also be a name for a person. We have described it in such a way that it is a very life-affirming album, despite the sad underlying tenor.

With the sad basic tenor you mean the loss of your mother, it was the reason for "Grace". Not an easy step to make that an issue. How did the band accept your idea? That was a discussion about whether to publish something like that, because in our society we actually never talk about death. But then I got more encouragement from people around me to publish it. My mother's personality was cheerful. She liked to laugh, like to dance and that's something I wanted to reflect in the music, so by no means a darkly grieving album. My mom visited us when we were recording our debut album in Berlin and at concerts; the band knew her. Of course, it was important to them that it would still be a band album. So we dealt with loss - everyone has already experienced it at some point in their life. We also deal with our own youth, childhood and our first musical influences. The boys became fathers during this time and that is something that the album also reflects in its compactness - life is in a flow and goes on.

With the lyrics you give deep insights into your inner self. I feel it is a gift to have this art form, through which I can express myself, through which I can reflect. The challenge was to do it in English. So I wrote the lyrics with Duncan Townsend, a singer-songwriter. That was very pleasant because I could tell him what I wanted to tell with my words. As a native speaker, he put this into phrases and words that I would not have been able to do with my limited vocabulary. So the lyrics got their own poetry.

A collaboration that you definitely want to continue? Oh yes, I can imagine that very well. Elton John, for example, has had a copywriter who has been writing the lyrics for him for decades. Regardless of the transfer into English, you have to have talent. And I think I'm not that great a copywriter myself.

Did writing help you overcome the loss? I think so, but you deal with the loss of all your life. That shapes you deeply. Texting is a small step in talking about it, in order to be able to accept it over the years.

Has it changed your view of life? I lost my father at an early age. I think that every turning point in life - tragic as well as positive things - shapes, changes and expands life. Ultimately, you have to find a way for yourself, accept it, in order to draw strength from it. If you can do that, it makes you stronger.

“Grace” was planned as the second album, now it has become the third. “Searching for William”, the second album, was a theater project. We put that in between because we had the opportunity to do it in Dresden directly at the theater. That's why we left the production process, which had already started, a bit behind.

You write: "Grace represents an important new step in the band's history". Which one? Do you want to break away from the theater band image? In any case, as much as we love the theater, we don't just want to be perceived as a theater band. After the debut album, which still mixes both worlds, it was important for us as a band to make an album that works independently and that helps us further musically. For us, "Grace" is an important album because it works without theater and presents us as an independent pop band.

In any case, you have audibly changed and developed in terms of sound technology. Definitely! On the debut album, we wanted people to hear that we were a good live band. And with the current album, it was important to devote yourself to intensive production and live performance: working in choirs, in overdubs, and also wanting to create sounds and beats that you can't do 1: 1 live can implement. Ultimately, to think more electronically.

Influences of the 80s / 90s are clearly audible. Everyone has their own story. I grew up listening to music in the late 80s and early 90s, and I'm glad I wasn't a New Kids on the Block fan, but a Roxette fan. I heard Tori Amos very early, discovered Radiohead, Björk is one of my favorite singers, but also Faith No More. You can certainly hear some of these influences in the songs. The boys also had influences from Sigur Rós and Coldplay. We are all big Radiohead fans. We also listened to a lot of records during the recording because our producer O.L.A.F. Opal is an absolute vinyl nerd. We then sat together over good food and played records from the 70s and 80s.

Magdeburg is of course part of your “Grace” tour. The Moritzhof is a home game and a great memory at the same time. You mean because we played one of our first concerts there when we weren't Woods of Birnam, but Christian Friedel and his band. That was in the spring of 2011. Of course, I hope that we have gained a wider audience since then, people who also come for the music and want to hear the album. I'm really looking forward to the concert, even though it's not an easy audience. Magdeburgers are inherently critical. But once they threw your heart to you, so did you. Ultimately, I also have this quality in me. I keep catching myself that, whether at plays, films or concerts, I like to have a slightly critical eye myself. But when I notice that they can do something, I respect them very much and I am enthusiastic.

Will we also hear hits like your hymn “I'll Call Thee Hamlet”? Of course we'll have it with us, it's our best-known song so far. In addition to old songs, we will also play a few previously unreleased songs.

You are not only a musician, but also an actor and theater director. How does this symbiosis affect your work? It is of course great when areas that interest me connect with one another. The theater gives you the opportunity to make music without limits. With “Grace” I already thought in the pop context: you have to focus, you mustn't get bogged down, you can instrument in a wide variety of ways; but it would be good if it didn't diverge too much.

With the thriller miniseries “Parfum” directed by Philipp Kadelbach, one dares a balancing act between fiction and the present. In your opinion, did it succeed? Yes. The series takes the essence of the book, but also works independently. It plays in the now, is very exciting, very atmospheric and of course tries very hard to keep up with the international competition.

What attracted you to take part in “Perfume”? Above all, I was attracted by this secret of this figure. I always look for projects where I have the feeling that these are exciting characters and sometimes they have a secret that is not immediately recognizable in the script. Of course, I was attracted by the transformation. It was incredibly fun to transform myself into this outsider, the slightly overweight, shaggy, sad clown.

Which directors do you particularly value and how was the collaboration on “Parfum”? I made my first film with Michael Haneke and I can definitely say that he is a role model and mentor for me. Of course, you cannot compare all of them with Haneke, as he is very special in his film language. I found working with Philipp Kadelbach on “Parfum” extremely great, because Philipp has an incredibly good instinct for working with actors on situations. I am currently working on “Babylon Berlin” with Tom Tykwer, Hendrik Handloegten and Achim von Borries. I am a huge fan of Tykwer. I would have played the chair from the left in the series. I am basically very open and can only recommend everyone, both in front of and behind the camera, to show this openness. And I can only recommend every TV editor to be more courageous in the line-up than is often the case on German television.

You say German films need more courage. He needs more courage in financing. There are enough brave people, brave scripts, great writers. But projects are always financed that can in principle also be refinanced. That includes those unspeakable, romantic comedies that go up and down the cinemas. The audience must be made aware: We can do genre too! We can do great series! We have great actors, great directors, great writers! That must be promoted and it will now be. But I think what is called innovative comes too late. You always have to be careful not to lose touch. I'm glad that great series are now being shot, such as “Parfum”, “Babylon Berlin”, “Dark” or “Bad Banks”. I hope that this continues with great other projects.

You live in Dresden, but keep coming back to Magdeburg. What drives you My roots are in Magdeburg, this is my home, which is close to my heart and always will be. The city has such an intense history. And when you look at how this city suffered in the 30 Years' War and World War II, it hurts your heart. I carry the story inside of me, it sure is a reason why I keep coming back here. On the other hand, I think culture is harder to do here than in Berlin, for example, but of course it's not impossible.

Berlin is the keyword. The destination for your future center of life, you say, is Berlin. Since I was a child, Berlin has been a city where everything seems possible. That is the attraction of Berlin. You just get everything. You have incredible networks there: actors, directing. Or take the music: there are so many great musicians who come and work there, with whom you can work, realize yourself and get ahead. That is of course the big promise Berlin makes.

And Magdeburg? I've been working for a long time so that we can show our Shakespeare theater project here at the Schauspielhaus. Let's see.