Oskar Schuster is an instrumental musician based in Berlin, who mixes neo-classical influences with electronic vibes from the present to produce exquisitely moving music. His third full length album, “Tristesse Telescopique” is set to be released on September 4th. This newest release is a testament to his ability to evoke a deep poignance in listeners with a darker and more electronic theme than his previous works. In anticipation for the release of “Tristesse Telescopique,” we interviewed Oskar Schuster about the album as well as his artistic views.
To give listeners some background on yourself, how did your musical career begin and what was your first inspiration to professionally pursue music.
OS: I guess everything began when I started to play the piano at the age of six. Later, as a teenager, I got inspired by a friend to compose my own music. I composed a lot of music in different styles throughout the years but it took me around ten years to finally make the decision to pursue music professionally and create something that I thought was good enough to release. I was already 26 when I started to work on my first album „Dear Utopia“.
Your new album that comes out in September is called “Tristesse Telescopique,” translated from French as telescopic sadness. Could you describe the meaning behind the name, how it came about and how the songs of the album capture the essence of the album?
OS: While my first two albums were more about capturing the magic and wonders of a dream world, with the new album I wanted to express the emotions of looking back into the past, full of magical and wonderful moments as well, but paired with an intense melancholy, always being conscious about the fact that those moments have vanished forever. I had this picture of an old telescope in mind which enabled you not to look through space but through time, into your youth and childhood or even further back into the time of your ancestors. That’s how the name of the album came about. It’s about the sadness you experience when looking at something beautiful that is out of reach and that might fade away into oblivion at any moment.
Considering that you are German, why did you choose a French name for your album?
OS: It just sounded best in French. Also, I have this concept of naming every one of my albums in a different language. The first one was in English („Dear Utopia“), the second one in Dutch („Sneeuwland“) and now it is French. I guess I’m just in love with foreign languages.
Additionally, many of your previous song titles vary from Icelandic to German to Dutch. What significance do you find in the language of the name of each song?
OS:I search for words and combinations of words that leave a lot of space for imagination – therefore I often use languages that are quite uncommon. I want to avoid clichés at any rate, so I hardly use english words because they tend to be overused and overloaded with meaning for most people because most people understand English. I also like to use names, especially female names or names of cities and places. I like the fact that names usually are very old words whose meanings we don’t understand anymore and don’t even think about most of the time. That gives them some kind of mysterious quality.
Sounds of ticking clocks, typewriters, and old machine parts, mixed with soothing melodies seem to be quite characteristic of your music. It all meshes so perfectly. What has inspired your style of music and how would you best describe your style?
OS: I listen to so many different kinds of music and I guess I take inspiration from all of them a little bit. I don’t remember exactly what it was that gave me the inspiration to use typewriters and clocks and the like. I think it was just some random video on YouTube, of an unknown band playing a live version of their songs using a typewriter as beat. It is really hard for me to describe my style or genre. My music doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. It’s probably something in between minimal classical music, electronic music, musette music and catchy pop music.
Many of your songs feel like lilting journeys into the past. They seem to eminate a poignant and heartfelt sense of nostalgia and reminiscence. What images or feeling do you try to express or convey to listeners in your music?
OS: In the end I don’t try to express anything, I just create things that come out of my subconscious mind and that I find beautiful. Afterwards I start to analyze them. Jacques Brel, one of the greatest french chanson singers and writers, once said „on raconte ce qu’on rate“ (freely translated: „you invent the stories that you fail to experience in reality“). I guess I just try to do exactly that with my music. Tell wonderful stories and inspire emotions that I would have liked to experience myself but couldn’t so far and probably never will. Naturally, this also always lets some kind of melancholia and nostalgia shine through the music.
What does your music mean to you, both the process of making it as well as the emotions captured in it?
OS: One of the reasons why it took me so long to start to pursue music professionally was that I never could decide if I’d rather become a writer, a painter or a composer. For me, music is just one of the ways to express myself. I think you can express the same things with a book, a painting or a film. One of the (very pragmatic) reasons why I finally decided to focus on music was that I felt it was much easier to gain enough money for a living with music than with writings or paintings – at least if you don’t want to do any commissioned work which I never wanted to, I always wanted to be completely free in my art and not do it as a job. With music you can reach more people because listening to music is part of nearly everybody’s day-to-day lives.
In your last album, each track seems to melt into the next. There is a definitive wholeness to the album, furthering the sense of harmony that each individual song produces. In making an album, what do you find to be the most important aspect that differs from producing an individual song or EP?
OS: For me, an album is like a book and the tracks are the chapters. They need to melt into each other and form a story together. Usually I have certain elements in the music that are similar in each track of the album – on a deeper level than just the instruments that are used. But actually this happens mostly automatically and I only find out afterwards when analyzing my compositions.
Overall, what did you most enjoy in the making of this third album of yours? Also, how does “Tristesse Telescopique” compare to your previous two albums in terms of style or character?
OS: To be honest I never really enjoy making an album, I’m never satisfied with the results and the process of working on it can be quite painful. Of course there are good moments, when everything works the way I want and I’m even amazed at what I created at times, but they are rare. This one was especially hard. But it was similar with the last one. I hated it in the end, I only started to like it when so many people told me that they loved it.
In terms of style and character, I think the new album is a bit darker and more electronic than the last one.
On your website, it says that you produce everything yourself, from the music to the music videos to the images that come with each album. Being a completely self-made artist is an amazing feat that is rarely heard of now. What importance do you find in continuing to take on all the tasks of music production yourself? What are the greatest challenges in taking on all of these processes?
OS: Sometimes it can get overwhelming to do everything on my own. I’m actually thinking about changing that a little bit, trying to find a few good people to work with. But having control over everything is really important to me. The greatest challenge is that often I find myself doing all those things and having only little time for the things I really want to do, i.e. composing music.
It is quite uncommon nowadays to find any solely instrumental musicians. Where do you think your music fits in, in the current generation of listeners and fellow musicians?
OS: I’m no expert, but I think there has been kind of a renaissance of instrumental music within the last ten or fifteen years or so, if you look at EDM music on the one hand and „neo-classical“ composers like Nils Frahm, Ólafur Arnalds and Yann Tiersen on the other hand. Especially piano music seems to experience a renaissance – in the 80’s or 90’s kids wouldn’t listen to piano music normally – at least from my experience. Nowadays it’s really different, young people seem to be much more open to this kind of music.
In addition to being a unique musician, you seem like a very philosophical thinker, with your songs conjuring up feelings of deep thought and reflection, as well as the fact that your cat is named Kafka. What is your philosophy on music and/or life? Also, how do you see philosophy, music, and art in relation to one another?
OS: I often think that with art (including music) you can get closer to some kind of truth (truth is a difficult expression though) than with philosophy. Traditional philosophy is limited by the logic of our language, as is all of our rational thinking and therefore all science. Everything we experience, we experience within the limits of a certain predefinition of reality which I believe is formed mostly by our language and its logical structure. I think that animals who don’t have language experience things in a very different way than we do. And I think that with the help of art and its metaphorical way of expressing things, we can kind of „trick“ our logic and get into different, more archaic spheres. Our dreams work in the same way by using symbolic images and metaphorical stories to express feelings. But you cannot really „translate“ it back into our logical world – that’s why I believe it doesn’t make any sense to „interpret“ poems or art, in general. Art is always so much more than its interpretation. It’s really enough to feel it, you don’t need to understand it rationally.
Finally, is there anything you would like to share with your followers and fans around the world? I know that for one, I am curious as to what type of music you regularly listen.
OS: I would like to thank them first and foremost for listening to my music and continuing to follow and support me. Because that makes it possible for me to continue to create music and art which is so important to me. As for the music I listen to regularly: this comprises very different genres of music. I can name some of the artists that are very dear to me: those include bands like Beirut, Sigur Rós, Radiohead and of course The Beatles who kind of started my love for music. Also french chanson from the 50’s and 60’s by Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens and Barbara; classical music, especially by Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann. There’s few „mainstream“ pop artists that I really like but Lana del Rey is one of them. Also some hip hop acts like Die Antwoord. And lately I love to listen to Nara Leão (a Bossa Nova singer).
We would like to thank Oskar Schuster for his insightful and revealing answers that illuminate the amazing artist behind his melodious music.
His new album and previous works can all be purchased here.
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