Der Plan, a representative band of Neue Deutsche Welle, which had a great influence on the early Denki Groove. Moritz R®︎, the main vocalist and art director, has released his first solo album “Nach Herzenslust”(= To Your Heart’s Content). This work, which he describes as “a homage to freedom”, is a mysterious and laid-back pop album packed with exotica, Volksmusik, acid psychedelic and experimental sounds. On this occasion, Moritz named a Japanese musician Makoto Ori, as a partner of the conversation. In the 1980s, he was working as a member of a mysterious strange techno pop unit, PICKY PICNIC, and has remained in touch with him since the release of an album from Der Plan’s label Ata Tak. However, in fact, they have never met in person until Der Plan’s performance in Japan in 2020. “At that time, there was no internet and no video chat, so we were always writing to each other,” Moritz said. Forty years after listening to each other’s music for the first time, they began to talk about each other’s thoughts through the Internet, which was not available at that time.
From Japan to Germany: cassette tapes and letters across the sea
Makoto Ori: The first Der Plan album that I and my fellow (of Picky Picnic) listened to was “Normalette Surprise”. I was still a high school student at the time, and I didn’t even know the term German New Wave. It was avant-garde, but still very pop. It was as compact as music in advertisement, but very dark and humorous. I was attracted to that taste and came to want to make this kind of music. So I decided to make a cassette tape and send it with an English letter to Der Plan. That was 1982.
Moritz R®️: I fell in love with it as soon as I listened to it. I felt the same spirit and didn’t need any discussion. For us, The Residents from America, Der Plan from Germany, and his Picky Picnic from Tokyo share the same sense of value. The name Picky Picnic is also good. But have you forgotten to put K in PICNIC? What does that mean, a grumpy person?
Ori: I was a high school student at the time, so I didn’t understand English very well, and when I looked up the dictionary, Picky was explained as a synonymous of “noisy.” Noisy picnics sounded good to me. Then I decided to name ourselves as Picky Picnic. I was so excited to receive a positive response from Der Plan. Around that time, since we got an offer for recording of an album from a Japanese indie label, we were working on the 1st album “Ha! Ha! Tarachine”. The release of the foreign edition was also decided. Of course, I asked Moritz to design the album jacket for both the original and foreign version.
Moritz: Computer graphics were new at the time, and I used the Commodore 64 and the KoalaPad. The impression of Japan that I got from my first visit is modern, electronic, and computer-like. So I thought the computer-generated graphics would fit the image of your duo perfectly. Then I sent the artwork, and you decided to use it. Looking at it now, the resolution is quite low (laughs).
Ori: By the way, Moritz was absent when I went to the Ata Tak studio in Dusseldorf with a member of Picky Picnic.
Moritz: I was living in Hamburg at that time. The first time we met and talked was the last year’s tour to Japan.
Ori: Partly because of that, Moritz’s image was mysterious and artistic.
Moritz: Since I didn’t know much about you, I was not sure what you were like. But I remember you sent me a photo with the letter. Maybe you were visiting some world fair and a naked woman was lying behind you. That’s my image of you.
Ori: What was it? I don’t remember at all (laughs).
The 2020 concert in Japan: meeting each other for the first time
Ori: We met each other for the first time last year when you came to Japan, so we took a photo with everyone around. A lot of musicians I knew gathered at the venue. That’s when I realized everyone liked Der Plan.
Moritz: You know, our recent live show is different from the past ones. In the past, We used to use a lot of masks and cardboard-painted props because there was no video projection. Also, I was lip-synching because I wanted to focus on visual rather than music. You can’t sing if you wear a mask in the first place, and if you want to listen to music, you can put on a record on the floor. But on the new tour, I’m singing all the songs for the first time. It’s a big challenge for me, and this is the biggest difference from the past ones.
Ori: I remember your first show in Japan in 1984 was a kind of mocking live performance without playing any instrument. And I thought that’s exactly what Der Plan should do. Actually, I went to that show with my fellow. At that time, there were people in the art and fashion fields who loved new things dealt with at the legendary record shop WAVE, and I am sure that kind of performance was attractive to them. I had known from the internet that you guys were doing the live show in a way that you did last year. I loved it as well, and I was like, “that’s how you do it.”
Moritz: Did Picky Picnic do shows a lot?
Ori: No, only once. Since a manga artist Kiriko Kubo joined the group, we did a one-off performance in the event at Aoyama CAY organized by a publisher she was involved. For that show, we had two women in swimsuits lying down at the venue as part of performance. Do you think the photo you talked about earlier was depicting that scene?
Moritz: No, I don’t think so. Wait a minute, maybe I have some data so I’ll send it. (Moritz sent a photo on Zoom) Do you remember?
Ori: Oh, this is the one that my fellow sent just as a joke(laughs). A photo of us taken at Atami Hihokan (=The humorous sex museum located in a seaside town ). I was surprised that Moritz still had it (laughs). But the world of Picky Picnic is as tricky, surreal and humorous as that place is. And I think Der Plan also has the same taste.
Moritz: Yeah, I think so too. I love the song “It’s A Hysterical Place” from the album “Cynical Hysteria World”. It’s like a polka or a Disneyland attraction which makes you feel as if you are going through a mysterious world. I was just impressed so much. Half pop, half weird and dark world, which was my cup of tea.
Ori: I made that album as a theme of Kiriko Kubo’s manga. An amusement park is absolutely essential because it is a manga depicting the world of children.
Moritz: In relation to amusement parks, I went to Tokyo Disneyland with the members in 1984. It has the Enchanted Tiki Room, that only the original Disneyland in California has too; the other Disneylands don’t have it, but the one in Tokyo is better. That was really moving.
The creation of original music from our own culture
Moritz: When I first came to Japan, I became obsessed with Japanese culture. Watching a TV commercial at the hotel, I was like “this is exactly like Der Plan!” Another thing I strongly remember is the robot. I bought a dinosaur robot in Kiddy Land. It’s already broken, but it’s cool, isn’t it? The best thing is that it has a golden pilot in its head. The instruction says that this pilot is a doll, which is reminiscent of our origins. I thought it’s strange because it’s just a children’s toy (laughs).
Ori: Haha, that’s amazing.
Moritz: To be honest, I don’t know much about old Japanese culture, but I like modern Japanese culture including architecture, design and pop culture. I often listen to Blue Heron Radio, which plays Japanese music, and I also like Kabuki music. Interestingly, westerners in the 1960s and 70s said that Japanese people were just copying their culture. But that’s not true at all. I think traditional Japanese culture is really rich, which also influences robots and modern culture.
Ori: You have such a wide range of interests. It’s related to your new album, but Moritz’s works and music always have an exotic feeling that transcends continents. It feels like it does consists of more than one culture. That’s one of the charms of Der Plan, and I also felt it from your solo work.
Moritz: We can’t ignore American culture, including rock and roll, but I wanted to connect with the traditional culture of my area. So when we started Der Plan, we wanted to sing in German instead of English. I think it was the same in Japan, and so was Picky Picnic. Of course American culture is there and I was influenced by it, but I’m still trying to create something original by myself. I want to create music from my own culture, just as America created art from their own culture. I am sure you can feel it from Der Plan and my music. That’s the similarity between us, right?
Ori: I think we are the same in terms of making original things while always looking at various cultures. As an aside, after I had stopped creating music for Picky Picnic, I was performing as a bassist for rock bands such as Original Love and The Collectors, which embody the orthodox road rock and roll style. By playing that kind of music in the band, I came to have a clear view of what kind of music I had been inspired and impressed by when I first started Picky Picnic, and what made me decided to make music by myself. This experience may have been a great factor that enabled me to feel amazed by my own self. Francis, my solo project, is something closer to what I really want to do.
Moritz: By the way, my son’s name is Franz. It’s the German version of Francis. He was born in 2006.
Ori: Haha, I started Francis in 1994. Actually, this year, I will release the album for the first time in 27 years. By the way, why did you decide to release a solo album this time?
Moritz: The other members also released solo work, and there was a lot of unused lyrics and music originally for Der Plan. I was working at home during the lockdown and it just ended up with a solo album. One of the good things about solo work is that you don’t need to ask anyone what he/she wants to do. You make all the decisions yourself and you can enjoy it. “Silberner Manta” and “Dunkel Wars” were originally released as songs of Der Plan, and I also have a cover of Frank Zappa. Just for your information, “Wochenend und Sonnenschein” is a cover of the record I listened to for the first time when I was 3 years old. It was a popular song in Germany in the 1920s. So this album is very personal and conceptual. That’s why the title of it is “To your heart’s content”.
Ori: I was surprised at how many songs it has. Just as the other works of Moritz, every song has a slightly exotic atmosphere, which I love. The artwork is also interesting.
Moritz: If you look closely, you can see the rubber between the two faces, right? That implies that the mask is actually my true face and my face is actually the mask.
Ori: This is also Der Plan’s world (laughs). You put on and take off masks during the performance.
Moritz: I was talking to the members when I made the previous album. We were like, “we’re old now, so let’s take a picture of this old face like a mask (laughs)”.