Folk On The Road
Mensch Monique!: Interview at Cobargo Folk Festival
Mensch, Monique! were in Australia earlier in 2019, playing gigs, house concerts and festivals. I caught up with Jule and Georg at Cobargo Folk Festival to find out how musical and family life had been treating them since the days of The Beez.
We spoke under a blazing sun, with welcome shade from the café marquee, perched
precariously on milk crates, sipping on ginger and lemongrass over cubed
ice (just brilliant on a baking hot day).
Bill Quinn: How long has Mensch, Monique! been going? What are you doing? How is it going?
Jule Schroder: Well, actually, Georg and me, we have been playing since 2007.
BQ: And how about music?
JS: Exactly! Playing music! (And we’ve been playing together longer than that!) But I was in a band called ‘The Beez’; for such a long time.
BQ: The Beez? Can you spell that? I’m not familiar with this band.
[If you can’t pick up the irony in that sentence, go to https://overheardproductions.com/?s=The+beez where you can read just one or two articles about this band by the authour over the past decade.]
JS: Tee Hahr Eeh Bee Double Eeh Zsedh. We were one Australian, one American, and two Germans.
BQ: And one of the Deutshes is now Australierin!
JS: That’s right. Deta got married to Rob a long time ago and now she’s got her spouse visa.
So, anyway, I was playing with The Beez, being busy. And there was just no point [after the birth of first child]. We couldn’t play gigs. Or we could, but it was just too hard.
So when I left The Beez in 2014, we said, “Let’s write some songs together”. And why not in German? And that’s what we did!
And it just takes a long time. You know, we’ve got two kids now. But we do it in our own tempo. Our own speed, you know? And we love it!
BQ: That’s very interesting that you do your songs in German, with English being the lingua franca for the world, the language that the majority of the planet understands. Tell me about when you perform in Germany. Is it 100% in German? Or do you mix it up a bit?
JS: We mix it up, but it’s really interesting because I talk to a lot of musician friends from Germany, and we came to the… schluss? … conclusion that we just HAVE to write songs in German because it’s our language.
It just doesn’t make sense that we only write songs in English, because that’s not our language.
And it’s a bit hard to sing in German, I must say. And what is really interesting for me is, because I write most of the melodies, I don’t think in German when I write the melodies. I can’t do that. It’s really interesting.
BQ: It is! Let’s use some old language here: a lot of West Germans would have been schooled in English, but you came from the East, didn’t you? Was there as much a focus on learning English in the East?
JS: No. There wasn’t. No, no, no. We had to learn Russian. But Georg and me, we were 11 and 12 or maybe 13 and 12 when the wall came down. So that’s probably when we started learning English, I think.
BQ: Wow! Are you serious? Because you’ve got an incredible ability to speak English for someone who’s only started to learn after the magic age of 11. What was the process of your learning English?
JS: I think, to be honest, it’s probably music. Because you’re just so familiar to the sounds, and you learn the words.
And then after school, I spent a year in London. I was an au pair girl, and I really loved that. And I studied English at university, so I should be speaking a leetle bit of English!
BQ: Back to the music. The last time I was in Europe was 25 years ago this year – mostly in the Netherlands – and I would ask the Dutch, why are you singing in English? You’ve got such a beautiful language.
And they would say, no, it’s such a harsh language – which I don’t find at all. Do you find in Germany that people want to sing in English? Or is there more a push to sing in German?
JS: People would really prefer to sing in English. And I think that’s nonsense! Because it is true; German is pretty harsh, and it is not the most beautiful language to sing, either, I find.
But it’s the most honest thing to write songs in your own language because you can’t hide! And you really, really have to think about lyrics, the words. And I really try to find words – and sometimes I don’t like the word for it.
For example, we have the song about Biscaya Bay which is in Basque Country and there’s a German word bucht which means bay. And I’m thinking this word bucht, it sounds so serious. And then I’m going, well, that’s the word for it. I tried to find other words, but that’s the word for it.
* To get the full effect for non-German-speakers, it helps if you clear your throat as you say the word.
BQ: Straight away I’m thinking, Sitting On The Dock Of The Bucht!
JS: Yes, exactly! Yeah, that’s German for you!
BQ: What’s Mensch, Monique got coming up here in Australia in the next little while?
JS: We are playing another little festival in Victoria which is called the Burke and Wills Festival, which is lovely. And then just one more gig in Port Macquarie, with The Sauerkrauts – Rob and Deta, from The Beez.
And then that’s it. We’ve finished, because we’ve been playing, I don’t know how many shows. We’ve played maybe 25 shows, or something, maybe on the tour. Which is nothing to what we played with The Beez, but with two kids travelling, it’s a lot.
BQ: Luckily, in the folk world, you’ve got lots and lots of good babysitters around.
Now! We must speak to Georg!
Georg, you’ve been performing for a long time in different bands, in tribute bands and doing your originals. What’s it like making that transition to playing with your partner?
Georg Saßnowski: It’s really great, but I needed a long time – because I was always afraid of playing with Jule…
GS: I don’t know! I have no idea why. But, whatever! It’s the future, and I love it,
and it’s great, and it fits together, the two voices are just so close.
BQ: Ok, I just want to ask one more thing about the past. Your playing up to this point has been mostly electric, maybe a bit heavy, a bit harder, hasn’t it?
GS: Yeah, you’re right.
BQ: So now you’ve got an acoustic guitar and you’re doing stunning harmonies and singing beautiful lyrics, do you find it’s a bit of a mind-shift to do that?
GS: I don’t think so. I’m still playing the other stuff, the electric music. But I love to play acoustically because you can play everywhere; you can just play in a living room at a friend’s place.
And it feels organic. Is that the right word? Yes? It feels organic.
You don’t need so much equipment, all that stuff. Just your guitar and your voice, and that’s pretty much it.
I love it! And I have this beautiful instrument made in Australia: a Maton Messiah. I bought it in Melbourne six years ago** at the factory, and they treated me well. It’s a beautiful instrument. I don’t know if I’d have played acoustic guitar if I hadn’t had this instrument. It’s great. It feels so good. I have to play acoustic guitar!
BQ: Six years ago**, was that the last time you were here with The Beez?
** See the end of the interview for the edit on this timeframe.
GS: No, the last time was two years ago we were here actually. We played a few shoes with Mensch, Monique! Just a few.
BQ: On this tour, having had this before as a performer, how has it been this time with other people doing your sound?
GS: Oh, it’s pretty easy. I just go with the flow and try to adjust, like, “Oh, this guy knows how to do it”; and this guy… not really! So I just try to be relaxed and be gentle! You can’t piss somebody off, because it’s not worth it.
BQ: How’s it been, going back around to some of the same old venues, NOT as The Beez sound guy but as a performer?
GS: It feels really good, you know? I’m just happy! Happy days! The weather’s great. I’ve had a few surf sessions out there with the dolphins.
All the people are really friendly. Australians are just so relaxed. We’re just feeling good. It’s different to Europe, I think. So open-minded. We’re only playing folk festivals, maybe that’s why, I don’t know.
BQ: Yeah, there are some closed minds out there, I can tell you.
GS: We’re happy. We met the nice people.
BQ: So, two Germans, travelling around Australia with their children in a hire van. Wow. That makes you very, very, very common, I’m afraid!
GS: You’re right!
BQ: However, the good news is you don’t have a car to sell at the end of this trip because I’m not buying another one from you! That van I bought off you in 2012 at the St Albans Folk Festival is now long gone. Probably scrap metal!
GS: 2012? Then it was seven years ago since I bought the Maton guitar in Melbourne.
[So noted for historical accuracy. These things are important for future biographers and the records of ethno-musicologists.]
Read all about the further adventures of Mensch, Monique and much more, including tracks from the album at: