Back in early January, I met with the Austrian pop band MOMO. A band that released their debut EP last month, and one I was not familiar with until they were recommended to me by fellow Austrian band Charlywood. A recommendation I was immediately happy with when I started to listen to their music, which is gorgeous.
MOMO has been around for a couple of years in various incarnations. In 2017, however, the band has come into its own with a now permanent and technically solid group of musicians that is producing some stellar music.
I met with the band over lunch at Cafe Aera; a large Viennese restaurant with a concert venue in the basement.
And one thing I liked about them immediately was the sense that they all like each other immensely too, and that this band of four guys were especially fond of Jasmin Motamen, aka Momo, lead singer, songwriter and the founder of the band.
So I asked Momo herself how the band initially got together, and how many changes they have made to get to where they are today.
“We’ve been together about two years. We got together in 2014. It was actually because I had to do an exam at university, and they were my musicians for my exam. So we got together for a totally different reason. And then I wanted to have a band and do my own songs, and I thought these guys were ‘cool’. So I decided to keep them”. And she laughed.
“But it also evolved over time with various musicians coming and going. For instance, Alex (piano player Alexander Heinrich) has only been in the band for two days. He’s a newbie. And the drummer changed a couple of times too. But now I’m confident that we will stay this way as it’s a really good group.”
For Momo, what is it like being the lead singer of a band?
“I’ve been on stage for about 10 years now, but I just reached a point like half a year ago where I actually let go of controlling everything and began to just do my thing, and then I actually started to enjoy it. I think it took me a long time. Because I’m such a perfectionist, and I have trouble letting go. So I’m always under pressure, especially when it comes to singing my own songs. But I finally realized the more I pressure myself the less the audience will like it.
Plus there was one time when the piano player changed, so we didn’t have anyone for two gigs, and then Fabian (Fabian Natter, the band’s drummer) was sick for a while and we had two new musicians in the band, and it was chaos. So I actually thought that concert was going to be terrible but, by letting go and just doing it, it was really good. That was the concert where I was loose for the first time and, from that concert on, I have been so relaxed.
But that’s so hard to do. Some people are born to it, and being on stage feels like ‘home’ to them. For me, it was really hard to get past it. And I think it’s extra hard for the lead singer, because you always have to respond to the crowd and be the front person, because that’s who the crowd concentrates on. There’s a wonderful thing about that, but it can also be difficult sometimes to get so much attention.”
What about MOMO’s songs?
“I started writing my own songs about six or seven years ago,” Momo replied, “but our debut EP is the first time I’ve recorded them. It’s also the first time I’ve recorded them with a whole band. And yes, that was scary.
Before this, though, I always limited myself. I always thought “My music isn’t good enough to record”, or I didn’t have self confidence. So I guess the most important thing was to get them out there, and to find the right people to do them with. Because that is so important.”
Met and interviewed the Austrian band MOMO (@momo.music.vienna) today. Very cool people, with some interesting things to say about what it’s like creating pop music in Austria. Interview will go up on LeoSigh.com next week. And looking forward to listening to this tonight. MOMO’s debut CD released just before Christmas. You can buy it at — https://itun.es/at/Zq9chb #MOMO #MOMOBand #AustrianBands #AustrianSingers #AustrianMusic #Music #PopMusic #IndieMusic #CD #EP #Debut #Wien #Vienna #Austria #IgersVienna #IgersAustria
Where did the money for the EP come from?
Any musician will tell you getting funding for an EP or an album is difficult. Doubly so in Austria, where fan bases are often small, and where record labels are only interested in artists that either have a mainstream pop sound or a classical focus. So where did MOMO get the money for its debut EP?
Momo, who is a primary school teacher and a singing vocal coach, funded it herself. “I had savings, and I did this low budget. It was a good price to record it, so that’s okay for now. But I’m actually kind of worried that I won’t have the money for the next album. So I have to get ideas about how to do that.”
How long did the five-track EP take to record?
“It took a while to work out everything with the band, to decide how we were going to play the songs, and do all the tuning etc. Then it took three days to record. But, I mean, it only took three days because that’s all I could afford (and she laughed). Still, I think it sounds pretty good for just three days.” (And I have to say that is an understatement. I’ve had it playing on repeat since I got a copy).
And what about the other musicians in MOMO? What are their backgrounds, and what are their thoughts on what it is like performing and recording as a small Austrian pop band?
Drummer Fabian Natter is in six bands. (Charlywood is one of them, which is where I first met him), so I asked him was being in so many groups a way of ‘hedging his bets’ — ie: joining many different things, and hoping one is successful?
He laughed and first answered, “Yes”, and then seriously said, “No. For me, it’s because all the bands I am in are totally different. I wouldn’t join another band that sounds like MOMO or Charlywood, for instance. I already have bands like that. If I join another band, it has to be something different. Otherwise, there is no point. But the ‘hedging thing’ is probably definitely right too” and he laughed again.
Matthias Waldthaler, MOMO’s guitar player, was the next one to comment.
“I started with Momo. We played a couple of years ago in a band together, but only for a short time. Then I started playing with her boyfriend, and so I met her again. That’s when I told her, if she needs a musician for an exam, I can do it. After that our music relationship and our style just started to develop. Then she started writing her own music, and I’m always interested if somebody is writing their own songs.”
What is it like creating music in Austria in 2017?
And as always happens when I meet Austrian musicians, the converstion changed to the frustrations of being a musician in Austria. A country many artists feel does not support them. Not unless they play classical music, and then the funding is seemingly unending.
As Matthias explained,“It’s a little bit of a problem in Austria that they don’t support their own bands, and when you don’t have so much support in the country then it’s difficult to get to the next step. The most important thing then is to go out and play in other countries.
Because, unfortunately, many people in Austria have the opinion that all Austrian bands are shit. (And this is something I hear from every Austrian artist I interview). But I play with a lot of bands, and there are so many good bands in different genres in Austria. But, instead of supporting their own bands, the people like it when a band comes from the UK or America. Then they are ‘cool’. But, if the band is from Austria, from the beginning they will not make it.
If you are suddenly successful in another country, though, then Austrians are interested. And that’s maybe a little bit something to do with the history of Austria. Before they were a big empire. Well known in the world. Now it is a small country, and their self esteem is not high.”
Alexander Heinrich, MOMO’s piano player and the new guy in the band, jumped in.
“And that lack of self-esteem is also to do with Germany. Because Germany was always two steps ahead of Austria. Now though Germany is not doing quite as well as Austria, so hopefully that will start to change? And t=it is also to do with history, I think. Because Austria was always about classical music. And even now, they want this old culture. They don’t want new bands. Because, after the Nazis, they want to go back to before that period in time, as that is what they are proud of”.
Matthias Waldthaler agreed, “Most of the tourists that come here, they come for the traditional culture. They don’t think there is a contemporary culture in the way there is the classical music, and so it’s ignored.”
But is there another way of looking at the popular music situation in Austria?
And it was here where bass player Thom Hierzberger disagreed. And I have to say it’s the first time I have heard an Austrian artist give an opposing opinion to the much agreed upon theme that support for non-classical artists is slim to none.
“I want to say something against that, as I think there is no better place to be a musician than in Austria. Because in the US, there is not so much support either, and the market is so big so you have to fight much more and work much harder.
In Austria, though, I think if you spend more time doing and less time complaining, you get your music out and you can do well. Plus I talk to musicians in London, and the salary I make when I play music in Austria is much higher than the salary I would make if I play in the UK or in the US. It’s much lower, much lower in those countries, so when jazz bands come here to play, for instance, they make more money than they do in their own countries.”
And Momo asked him, “Are you talking about getting paid for playing things like weddings or parties, or for playing a gig? Because the salary for creative bands – going out and playing their own concerts – is very low in Austria. Plus it’s hard to go out and get a job and play somewhere, and get paid for your creative work”.
The Thom Hierzberger way of looking at things — and he could very well be right
Hierzberger, however, has spent time playing in other countries, and also has friends that do, so he knows the reality of the situation there for musicians as well.
“But in other countries, you have higher costs, much higher costs, and get less money. If you even get money. So I don’t know why musicians here complain so much. Because my best friend lived in London for one year and the prices there are so high that it doesn’t matter if you get paid a good salary or not.
And the thing is, I’ve played with other bands that are a step ahead of MOMO, and so they get paid for gigs, so it is possible to do so. But you have to think bigger. And that is the problem in Austria as people are not used to thinking big.
Sometimes I have the feeling that this small country goes into your head and how you think. In America, it’s huge, and so bands think bigger. In Austria, it’s difficult to rehearse with a band like once a week. But I’ve talked with bands in California and they say, if they want to get out, they rehearse like seven days a week. And if you do that, your attitude is different.
In Austria the problem is, if I live here as a musician, I still know I’m not gonna die. The state is taking care of me. But in the United States, if you don’t do anything, you’re gonna starve to death, and this changes your attitude because there is more at stake.
In Austria, musicians like me play in 10 bands. But the best way really would be to invest all your time and all your money in one band. And here you will rarely find people who do this.
One band in the United States I know took a huge credit (loan), and they took a huge risk doing that. Then they said, “Okay, now we’re going to record something really good and do a tour.” And they were in debt for tens of thousands of euros.
In Austria, you will hardly find anyone who will do that. Say “Okay, I will lose 20,000 euros just for this one thing”. And I think this is the side of the coin that is hardly talked about. But we have to talk about this because, if you say it is difficult here, tell me where it is easier. Because in Austria, when I play a cover band gig, the relationship between payment and expenses is okay. In other countries, it’s not”.
And yes, he could very well be correct. Being a musician in Austria might be quite alright too.
More on MOMO
So what is next for MOMO?
Momo was pretty adamant about that. “To grow our fan base, and to really figure out what type of audience is going to be attracted to our music. And then funding for our next album”.
And you can expect to hear more about MOMO here on LeoSigh in the coming months. I love this band. Momo’s voice is gorgeous, her songs are beautiful, and they are one of the best Austrian bands I’ve heard so far. I think they are going to do very well.