Roosevelt Proves Germany's Pop Is As Good As Its Techno

Roosevelt | © Brian Vu
Roosevelt | © Brian Vu
When thinking about German music, classical greats like Bach and Beethoven, infamous R&B duo Milli Vanilli, and David Hasselhoff’s “Du” come to mind, but most often its all about techno. It’s not hard to understand why: Berlin is considered the techno capital of the world and the city hosts some of the best techno clubs anywhere. However, the global rise of groups like the electro-folk duo Milky Chance are showing a different side of the country’s musical pursuits. Enter Marius Lauber, aka Roosevelt, whose self-titled debut could prove to be one of the most important in the next evolution of pop music.

Blending the best bits of disco, indie rock, synthpop, and Balearic house, Lauber’s LP emerges as one of the few truly feel-good records in a year that has produced stellar albums week after week. However, that doesn’t mean its 12 tracks aren’t without their contemplative — even somber — moments. But, Lauber is clearly a fan of “dance the pain away” as a life model, pairing introspective lyrics with a flurry of danceable production. There’s a certain laziness to his vocals that works like a snake charmer, always handsome and warm. He sticks to four-on-the-floor without giving into the pitfalls of EDM, each song swinging into the next without a hitch. It’s smart dance pop at its most clinical.

Speaking with Lauber over the phone, we discussed the various music scenes in German towns, chatting with The xx on Myspace, and pop music’s obsession with love lyrics.

I know that you had played in some other musical outfits like the rock-based group Beat! Beat! Beat! prior to Roosevelt. What inspired the change from your rock and indie sounds to writing dance music?

I think my teenage years, in retrospective, very much feels like a big playground in the way that I just tried out a lot of things. Beat! Beat! Beat! was just one stage of that. Before I was playing guitar and singing in a band, and then I played bass in a band where I met the guy that I was in Beat! Beat! Beat! with, so a lot of different combinations.

When I moved out from my hometown and had my first apartment in Cologne I just tried producing my own stuff, and it was more out of curiosity how it would sound. I guess all the years before that helped me learn how I didn’t want to sound. It was important for me to do a lot of styles just to navigate into my own style. I think that’s why I was quite sure when I started my own music what kind of style that I wanted to do.

What differences do you notice in living and the music scene between Viersen, Cologne, and Berlin?

I mean, Viersen was inspiring in that way that there’s no music scene at all. Which can be great, also. There was nobody else doing music. A couple of cover rock bands, but that’s pretty much it. That was inspiring in the way that we felt quite isolated from bigger cities. And even now in Cologne, it feels good to come back [to Viersen], to a relatively smaller place, and do your own version of things — to not be too much influenced by the bigger scene. It was always helpful for me to come back after a tour or after festivals to a smaller place.

That started in Viersen, and even in Cologne there wasn’t a huge music scene and I never really tried to do a certain sound of the city. And I don’t like that. The exciting thing about Cologne was that the music scene is so small… like, it has a really healthy vibe because things get mixed up and people from all different genres just hang out with each other. I think Berlin can be great if you aim to be in one music scene. The techno scene is obviously great in Berlin. But for me it was always just more fun to be around people who do different styles of music, and that’s why I really like Cologne.

Coming from a smaller hometown myself, I have found that those areas often tend to produce really supportive music scenes, as well as some of the best music out there, and it seems to be because there is a lack of distractions, so we have no choice but to engage in creative activities like music. Would you agree with that sentiment?

That’s exactly what I mean. A lot of the creativity that I had in my teenage years came from pure boredom because we didn’t have anything to do. And I mean that in a really positive way because you can just get distracted in a huge city, like you said, and the view you have in a smaller city looking up to big bands coming from bigger cities just gets you motivated, and also gets you motivated, at some time, to play in such a city. I think you wouldn’t have that feeling if you didn’t grow up in New York City, for example. You still want to be part of it, but you don’t have that… I don’t know, what’s really motivational for me to aim to go to these places is my music.

Going to a show in Philadelphia or New York City when I was younger was always a really big deal for me.

I think I still have that in me. I have that same feeling when I go to a bigger city now and play a show. I don’t take that for granted. I still feel like I’m coming from a small town. It’s quite healthy for your feeling on tour, I think.

Absolutely. On the other side, growing up in a small town can really limit what styles of music you are exposed to. I think that was definitely situation for both of us growing up, however, with streaming services today so heavily dedicated to discovery, do you think this is a problem kids growing up in small towns will continue to face?

I think it wasn’t because I didn’t have any possibility to get to the music. I grew up in the time… and it’s really a difference of five years or something, when I speak now to people five years older than me they completely grew up in a different way of experiencing music and sharing music. I really grew up in that mentality to just put things up on Myspace and discover things on Myspace, and then Facebook came. The mentality was there to be connected to all kinds of people around the world. I remember when we were 16 or 17, we were writing messages with The xx on Myspace. That was way before they went really big, but it was normal for me.

So it really wasn’t the limitation of not getting to the music, it was just that Cologne made a big [impact] on my musical education. I think that’s — as much as I would prefer to grow up in a smaller city — I think that it can be quite important to have people around you, showing you new things. I was aware of the music before, but people in Cologne really shaped the way I experienced it. Dance music is something, I guess, you have to experience in the right environment. It’s not just some indie rock or some folky LP that you can hear in your headphones. And that’s why these two years, 19 and 20, when I was in Cologne kind of shaped my view on electronic music.

I tried to do some really dance-floor tunes in the beginning, but I pretty much knew from the start that I wanted to do my own version of it. It wasn’t really a new thing to combine guitars and electronic music at all, but for me it sounds really new; it sounds like a big step. It took about a year to find my own style and then I went for it.

Roosevelt © Marc Sethi

Looking through the lyrics of Roosevelt, it’s almost entirely discussing falling in love, being in love, or breakups. Are there any specific events that happened to you during the process of writing this album that spurred this, or is this just a topic you are comfortable discussing?

I guess it’s just a topic I feel comfortable writing lyrics to, and I like to keep it really abstract. In retrospective, it wasn’t really planned, but a lot of the lyrics are about a certain passing of time and to accept change in a few things. “Moving On” is a good example. A lot of these things are not really love-related, but are about accepting a shift, a certain change in your life. I guess for every mid-22 to 24-year-old person, in general, it’s always a topic.

It relates to a lot of things, and I write my lyrics in that style that maybe I think about a specific topic, but… for example, it’s even about seeing your high school friends go in different directions. I think that I also really like typical, cliche love lyrics. That classic love, it’s something I really enjoy writing.

Why do you think pop music hinges towards the topic of love gained and love lost so frequently?

I just read that interview with James Blake that was about the lack of communication in younger people right now and I could really relate to that. It’s never really been easy, but I think it’s getting harder to express feelings, in general, as a young adult. Maybe music is still the really good way to express yourself on that topic.

Do you see this mixture of melancholic topics and danceable beats in your music as therapeutic?

I guess you could say so, yeah. The dance element was never really hedonistic. Dance music has always had a different emotional layer to me.

What do you mean by that?

The simplicity of a 4/4 beat just has a certain magic and good intention. I always liked songs that create a certain dance feeling, but used that feeling to express certain emotions and not just have it as a thing to make people dance. To open up through the physical aspect a certain emotional layer. A perfect example would be LCD Soundsystem.

You just released your cover of Womack & Womack’s “Teardrops.” What makes it one of your favorite tracks?

I’ve said a lot about that album. I kind of always — in a way, what I said about that last question — liked music that had a dance-floor appeal, but the lyrics were really quite sad. I never thought that was a weird thing, I thought it fit perfectly. “Teardrops” has a really wide range in that sense in that it has this uptempo, disco beat and the saddest lyrics ever. You really buy the heartbreak of the singer.

I started playing it live without plans to release it, but we played it so often that it just made sense at some point. And after the release of my version of “Teardrops,” we played two shows and we realized that the people already know the track even better.

What’s up next after this November leg of European dates?

After the shows, actually, we’ll go back to the studio. Just write new material, I have some stuff in the really early stages. I don’t have anything finished yet, but I can’t wait to get some new gear — I just bought a new synthesizer today — and get into a deep writing session.

What are your favorite places that you have traveled to and the places that have presented the greatest culture shock?

The biggest culture shock was definitely in Jakarta — we played there early last year, I think — just because it doesn’t have anything to do with the Western music scenes. It’s just something completely different. The people were really, really nice, but at some points you kind of felt you were part of a zoo or something because you felt so strange, or that those people felt you were strange. It was just a weird experience, people following you around all the time. I don’t think they care if you’re a big rock band or not, as long as you play a show there and from another part of the world, they think you’re superstars.

And I’ve just always loved to go to Barcelona to play shows. We played in June at Primavera and now we go back in December, and I’ll probably take some days off there. The city just has something that I really love.

If you had to leave Earth today, what would your “blastoff song” be, AKA the last song you listen to on this planet as your spaceship takes off?

Oh, that’s a hard question! I needed to prepare for this one… How about “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins. I just saw his performance on Fallon with The Roots. I would take off when the drum solo comes in. That would be a cool move.