I'm starting a new series called I'm Obsessed. I can have an addictive personality when it comes to music–really good songs can get a few thousand plays in my iTunes. One of those musical acts in particular is Madrid one-man-band, Al Berkowitz. As a long time Nick Drake fan (see "From Mom's Record Collection" for more evidence) when I first heard their song "How could we get ourselves lost?" I was hooked. As a side note, if you like Al Berkowitz on Facebook, he shares really great music like The Cardiacs and Soft Machine.
Since 2006, they've been combining soft psychedelia with folk, jazz, french guitar, and more. Ignacio Simón, producer, composer, and only member of the musical project, says his tastes are changing. This October Simón decided to pack up and move to London because in his view, in Madrid, "you can easily turn thirty having done or achieved nothing."
Their latest album actually released two years ago, A Long Hereafter / Nothing Beyond, received high acclaim in Spain but was only rereleased this year. Now it's available for you to listen and read about how Simón doesn't like writing lyrics, loves Nick Drake (extra points), and why he's running as far away as he can from Madrid.
How long have you been making music?
Well, I started writing some classical composition for guitar, piano and synths in my teens, but never had a formal musical education until later. Then I became an awfully megalomaniac youngster and recorded some ambient stuff like “Traummerstzung!” and worked on some electronica and live electronics projects such as Elektronische Gulag and Simon Aschenbach. Al Berkowitz Band kicked off in 2006 as a five piece band commanded by Al Berkowitz in Madrid… and currently is a one man band commanded by me and settled in London. As Al Berkowitz, I’ve released two studio LPs, three Eps and some singles and live recording during the last six years.
What kind of music would you say you make?
Difficult question…There are some folky tunes, some experimental music and some others related to psychedelia, lounge, jazz or ambient. Currently I’m working in a contemporary classical score for a film and I’m about to release four simple piano pieces. I used to label my music as psychedelic folk, but things have been changing quiet much lately.
I hear a lot of Nick Drake in your music, has he ever been an influence to you?
Yes, definitely. “Five Years Left” is one of my all time favorite albums and I start playing acoustic guitar just because of it. “How could we get ourselves lost?” is me copying Nick Drake, but I’m not such a good singer. I don’t have such a good string ensemble, either. Anyway, I admire him both as a musician and as a lyricist. If a should name a perfect song, that would be “River man”
How do you usually write lyrics? Do they come from a personal place?
I don’t usually write lyrics and I must admit I don’t enjoy doing it. I’ve got tons of songs with no lyrics, because I’m not one of those men who keeps a Moleskine on their pocket just in case they find some inspiration. But every once in a while I write whatever it comes through my mind and see what it happens. Then I try to make up a song from it and start seeing something. Then I keep changing and adding things constantly until the day I record it. It usually takes me months until I finish a song and this part is always my less favorite one. Anyway, I think I have managed to write a bunch of good lyrics.
Why are you moving to London?
London looks like an exciting city where something seems to go on all the time. Madrid is a dead city with no interesting music scene and no one interested in creating or supporting different stuff. Madrid’s contribution to history of music is none, so I better run away from there. Nevertheless, is a good place to get drunk.
Does Spain influence your sound?
Maybe it does. It’s difficult to know. I became obsessed with deep rural folk scene and maybe you can notice it when hearing “The Frenchman and the Rabbitman” and I often use some Spanish guitar techniques. I’m more keen on Cuban or Brazilian music, anyway. But all in all, I Iived so many years in Spain and composed almost all of my music there, so I guess it definitely made an impact.
Has music always been in your life?
Yes. And hopefully it’ll always be.