I discovered Austrian TV presenter and music journalist Peter Schreiber four years ago, when I lived in Bangkok and was newly fascinated with Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst.
Schreiber was one of the journalists interviewing Conchita that occasionally popped up on videos I watched. A journalist I liked, as he always seemed so nice.
He was also one of the Conchita friends that appeared in an Austrian documentary filmed before she won Eurovision.
People I have tended to stay away from since my move to Vienna because, as a journalist, I don’t use an artist’s friends to get to them. Having contact with people that knew Conchita would always feel like that.
But I bumped into Peter Schreiber at Conchita’s astounding From Vienna With Love concert with the Wiener Symphoniker last month and, because I have always had the feeling he is an incredibly kind man, the day after sent him a message saying “Hey, give me an interview, and then let me pick your brain about the Austrian music industry”.
Because, frankly, after two years living in Austria, I have never been as frustrated with a nationality or a music industry in my life.
Nor wondered what on earth I was doing in a country that, after some of the odd experiences I have had here, certainly didn’t seem to want me.
A nationality, however, that I find endlessly fascinating. Locked away as they often are behind grumpy, unfriendly, abrupt exteriors that, when you get below the surface, actually cover insecurities just as bad as the ones I have as a paranoid writer.
And people that, if you do take the time needed to dig below the surface, are actually some of the nicest, most well-educated, most loyal, most helpful, most interesting and funniest people you will ever meet.
People with a biting wit, and a level of self-examination that, when you say to an Austrian “Jeez, you people are weird”, most will immediately respond “I know!”.
And me? I like that more than anything. Because I love weird, and I love people who can accept their flaws and then make fun of them.
So, I hit up Peter Schreiber for an interview. Because, not only did I think he was interesting, (he was!) but I also thought he might be able to help me navigate the Austrian music industry and Austrians better than I have been doing so far (he did!).
Peter Schreiber and #POP!
Besides, Peter Schreiber stood out above the Austrian crowd.
A show that is well produced, has some of the most interesting musician interviews, and with an interviewer (Schreiber) that looks for things in the artists he speaks to that other journalists do not.
Things that humanize that musician, and make them far more appealing to the people watching.
Of course, I still speak just 10 words of German so, even when I watch #POP!, I don’t understand most of what is being said.
But I see how Peter Schreiber relates to his guests, how comfortable they are, how they say things that surprise even themselves as the words pop out, and as they have more fun in his interviews than they do in most others they probably give.
And I always think he has an incredible gift.
A gift to be able to relate to everyone he talks with in a manner that is warm, friendly and kind, and with a respectful familiarity that makes you immediately feel comfortable.
All coming from a person who is genuinely interested in the people he interviews, and in their music, and who wants to make them look their best to the TV audience that will be watching.
A person who presumes everyone is “nice” until proven otherwise, and so he treats them as such. A person whose career goal is not to make himself more famous, but just to introduce to other people the music and the musicians he loves.
And someone who, the moment you meet him, you know this person is ‘good’.
Kind, considerate, respectful, loyal to his family and to his friends, and someone who genuinely wants to move through the world adding something positive to other people’s lives.
And yet, someone who also has a wicked sense of very honest humor about the country that he comes from, himself and everyone else he meets.
Peter Schreiber and Conchita
During my conversation with Peter Schreiber, the subject of Conchita was also obviously going to come up. He knows Conchita and her creator Tom Neuwirth well, and anyone that is familiar with Conchita knows I endlessly write about her.
But, as I always do when conversation about the Austrian singer pops in, I don’t write about anything much of what was said because that’s not why I am interviewing the person I am with.
And with Peter, as with all the people close to her, he is so fiercely loyal to Austria’s most famous person and so protective of her, he only commented about her when he knew my thoughts were the same as his. And that all of them were positive.
With Peter Schreiber, however, the thing that stood out about Conchita more than anything is that, as much as he is genuinely down-to-earth in his thoughts about Tom Neuwirth — meaning he sees both Tom’s talents and his flaws, and loves both as ferociously as anyone possibly could — he also has an intense admiration for Tom/Conchita that I have noticed in everyone that knows the singer well.
And that admiration culminated in a statement he made about Conchita/Tom that I will remember for a long time.
“That man is special. Then again, he has always been special. Right from the very start”.
Peter Schreiber — The Interview
(Let me say before I start — after sitting with this man for two hours, I am now an absolute fan. Because he is the nicest, sweetest, funniest, kindest, most humble person I have met in Vienna. Someone who makes you feel good about yourself, while still most definitely laughing at himself. And, man, he loves and understands music and the artists that create it!).
How did you get started in the music industry?
A friend of a friend asked me if I wanted to participate in a project a friend of hers was doing. With no money, of course. But she was looking for people who were interested in music, and asked if I would like to join.
Actually, what she said back then was she thought I was good looking, and I would look good on camera. (And he laughed)
“Well you are good looking”
But that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to be the one who was good with music. But yeah, then I remember the first interview I did there. I mean, I’d done some written stuff before and some website stuff, but this was the first proper interview and it was with Louie Austen.
Do you know Louie Austen? (I didn’t) He’s a Viennese singer. He’s one of the old crooners. He’s like Frank Sinatra, but he does it with a disco sound. He’s a really cool guy. He has a great voice, and I did an interview in his apartment. It was the first one I ever did.
And were you nervous?
Yeah, I was. But he was so friendly and nice, and I loved it.
So then I started doing interviews, and I really enjoyed it. Then, because nobody got money for this – it was a team of about 20 young people – less and less people were involved in it.
The girl that owned the show – it was always an interview with a band when they were playing in Vienna, and in between there was this female host, and one day she quit. And I was the only one they asked “Do you want to do it?” and I was like “No, I don’t want to do it, because I can’t even look at myself”.
But I was the only one available. So I did it, and this is how I got into presenting. I did it for about four years, without getting anything for it. But I loved it. I loved doing the interviews. So I put all my effort into it, and then I worked in the cinema to make money.
I did the music stuff for free all that time, but it actually paid off. Because I made a friend, and we found out we had friends in common, and she worked at W24 – the Vienna city TV channel – and we were doing the same kind of thing. She was doing the camera, and I was doing the interviews.
When they had a free spot at W24, she asked if I would like to join. So I joined, and it’s been 12 years now.
(And here he told me a funny story where, when he first started doing TV, he wouldn’t even let his friends or even his own mother watch him, he was so nervous about how he appeared on camera).
“Oh my God, I am sometimes so insecure. Back then, when I did the first TV show, I forbid people to watch it. Which is so stupid. My mother wanted to watch it and I said, “No, you cannot watch it!”. And I couldn’t even watch myself.
Nowadays it got better. But even when I started with #POP!, so I’d already been doing this more than 10 years, I was sitting on the couch with the remote, volume down, volume down, and then when I didn’t find the remote, when it was hidden somewhere there, I was stressed out when I couldn’t turn the volume down.
(Laughing)…How long have you been doing #POP!?
Two years. It was my 118th show last week.
And it’s good! Really really good.
Well, it’s been a long way to get there. I started out doing those shows – what do you call them, the shows you actually sell to someone, and then they pay you – I started doing that. Then I did some music stuff.
Later, I did a live infotainment show similar to Wien heute. Not what I liked, as I always liked music.
Then I had just a music show. It was called W24 Hits, it was the charts but chosen by the W24 team, which was basically me choosing 20 songs a week that were airing in two hours. It was great. I loved it!
But people don’t watch that. Especially if you put it on in the time slot on Tuesday at 14:00 to 16:00. So the show didn’t last very long.
Was it all Austrian music, or a mix of Austrian and international music?
It was international. A mix. Whatever I liked.
Then I wanted to do a different kind of show. With music, fashion and video games, me giving music tips and some event tips, and whatever else was happening in the city. That we created two years ago with #POP!.
That got cut a bit short, though, and now it’s known as a music show – with movies, and some tips.
So is #POP! your main gig?
Yep, that’s what I do. And it’s not watched by a huge number of people, because it’s a local show, which is the bad thing. But the good thing is I can basically do whatever I want.
Like last week, I did this 8-minute Conchita interview about the From Vienna With Love concert. You cannot air eight minutes of anything anywhere, but I had time so I did it. So that’s great.
Plus, I can choose if I want to interview this artist or another artist.
So nobody ever says to you “Don’t interview that person or that band?”
No, no. I’m very lucky.
And what do you want to do from there? Do you have goals on top of that?
I really want to go even deeper into the music industry.
Austrian or international?
Well, Austrian to start with. But I don’t think that’s the end of the journey. Because the Austrian music industry is really small.
I mean, I’ve got the feeling it got bigger recently. But maybe it’s just because I pay more attention?
No, my sense too is it’s getting more attention. Before Conchita, I had never heard of an Austrian artist. Ever. But I think because of her and the attention she got, and because Cesár Sampson did well at Eurovision, more people are paying attention to Austrian music.
Really? Because I think the Eurovision thing is something completely different. I mean, that’s not what I’m talking about with the music.
No, I agree with you. It’s completely different. But I think some people are not just looking at Eurovision music. They’re looking at Cesár and Conchita and then thinking “Hmmm, I should look at other Austrian music if these guys are so good”.
But do you think we have any international stars apart from Conchita? Is there anyone else making as big of an impact? Because I don’t see that many.
No, you’re right. There are a few that do well in Germany – Wanda, Bilderbuch etc – but no. And definitely not compared to the number of talented Austrian artists that should be getting international attention, but they’re not.
Sure. But, from my experience, I think sometimes it’s their own fault.
Oh, of course, it is.
You think that too? I mean, there are some bands I think are amazing! They have an album out, it will be so good, but then you don’t hear anything about them after that.
But I don’t think some singers and bands are interested in getting promotion.Or maybe not interested enough?
Because from my experience, if I can say that – I love discovering new artists, especially when they are from here. I’m not a big fan of like, if someone is big, okay let them be big. But that’s not what I want. I love it when you can show people that someone is good when they haven’t heard of them.
But then I will do interviews with artists I love, and they won’t even watch the interview, they won’t come early to a gig so I can interview them again, and they make no effort. And so it’s like “So….you obviously don’t want to…”
I mean, it’s the Austrian way. We are so laid back, but it doesn’t help.
(Laughing) So they’re obviously never going to get out of Austria, are they?
It’s just such an Austrian thing. We take so much time for anything. “Oh that’s a change. I don’t like that”. Yeah, that’s how we are. I see that in myself. And I don’t like it.
We always say, whatever happens in the world happens in Austria 50 years later (laughing).
So, who is your favorite interviewee?
Tori Amos. I love her. I’ve interviewed her three or four times. And she’s even more than you think.
(Pause here for me to die that I’ve met someone that has interviewed Tori Amos more than once — because she is a goddess).
I was so nervous at the beginning. I remember the first time talking to her, it was my favorite interview ever.
The first question I asked her…because she has spent the time since she was two behind the piano – “So, you have spent all that time behind the piano. What does that piano mean to you?”
And she looked at me, and she said, “Can I take my gum out?” (laughing)
And I said “Yes, of course”, and I was like “fucking hell, fucking hell”.
And then she said something like, “This place, surrounded by a circle of light, where nobody can intrude…” and so on and so on and I was like “fucking hell”. (laughing at himself, and how totally in love with her he was).
Then it was such a lovely lovely talk. We talked about how she sees the world different, now having a daughter. And how there are shops that she would never normally go in there, but now she is looking at the windows and everything seems different. It was such a lovely, lovely talk.
Then after that she gave me a compliment about how she enjoyed the interview, and this was like the best thing ever!
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Who else do you like?
I like totally different stuff.
I’ve always been a really big fan of Alanis Morissette. I love the smart women!
I love Sigur Rós from Iceland. I’m really into electronic stuff. There’s this man called IAMX. He’s from London. He was in the Sneaker Pimps, and he is so good.
Last weekend, I was at a concert for Roosevelt. He’s a guy from Germany doing synth-pop stuff, but really really good. Such a great voice.
And Massive Attack. Oh my God, I love Massive Attack!
I like all kinds of music, though. I like pop. I even loved Marilyn Manson back in the Mechanical Animals days.
As long as the music is good, I’m up for it.
If you were to recommend Austrian artists, who do you think other people should listen to? (And what follows is just a short list of the many Austrian artists Peter Schreiber loves, and thinks you should check out — and, I will add, he has a superb taste in music).