The Late Call

by HRM on January 9, 2012

by Franziska Knupper

Johannes Mayer of The Late Call talks to HRM about sounds, lyrics and silence.

It is always hard to write about music. It is complicated to describe certain sounds and the emotions they trigger. To explain why a melody makes you want to dance or laugh, why a particular instrument reminds you of a season, a smell, a past memory.

“It is fascinating how one tone can make people cry,“ Johannes Mayer from The Late Call says. He sits very motionless, contemplates for a moment, adds shyly: “Well of course I don’t know if that also happens when I play.”

During his concert I did not see anyone crying, but the woman sitting next to me was smiling, seemingly unaware of anyone else’s presence. Johannes was playing at Die Wohngemeinschaft, an alternative music venue, café and hostel in the center of Cologne.

A tiny cell of tranquility and decorations of the 60s; an oasis of guitar sounds on a busy Saturday night when the whole city is awake and noisy.

When Johannes plays, he sits still. Only his left shoulder moves from time to time, and sometimes he glances out of the window when finishing a song. He seems detached from his surroundings.

The Late Call’s music is minimalist and simple, resembling the Norwegian Kings of Convenience. There is only one person, his voice and a guitar; only sometimes a piano or strings. Then some personal anecdotes in between, warm intimate stage light and a silence only disturbed by the frequent sound of people opening their beer cans. “I have to play that kind of music, everything else now is too loud for me,“ Johannes admits.

After his first two songs you start to feel at ease, adapt to the quiet surrounding and strip off the hustle of the streets outside.

Loss and longing, distance and aspirations, doubts and cruelty. The Late Call might not be sarcastic or witty, but their lyrics are bewitchingly honest: “I try to refrain from those typical lyrics you’ve heard a hundred times before, even though I would not be so presumptuous to say that I always succeed”, he explains. “I get inspired by many things. But even though I might sing about loss and doubt, it doesn’t mean that I necessarily have doubt in my real life,“ he points out, looking very serious, pressing his thumb on the table in front of him.

“Of course you always reformulate parts of your personal life but I hate that direct connection. I am very concerned about my privacy and don’t like the feeling of stripping my soul.” Completely unaware of it, he tenderly knocks on the wood of his guitar, fixes his eyes on an uncertain point in the back of the room.

Just like he does during his last song “Fribourg”. The woman next to me leans forward and again I see her smiling. I can’t stop looking at her, sitting there so motionless, her eyes fixed upon guitar, man, voice, the 60s decorations of the room. Until the doors open, voices, noise and life returns, and the otherworldly atmosphere disappears.

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