I had no idea how an interview with someone like Friedrich Liechtenstein could start. I felt kind of bashful when we started the Zoom room. Then he appeared, asked the first question before me: “Where am I?”, and then explained what he had done the night before: had had a lot of fun at a fashion show. All my concerns vanished suddenly, and I felt my intuition confirmed: Friedrich Liechtenstein is a truly colourful person.
You started your career as a puppeteer and actor. How did you end up making music?
In 2002, I had a big crisis in my life, both personally and artistically. I realised that I should reinvent myself, and decided to be a popstar. I will only wear white suits on stage and sing, so I thought, and say goodbye to the constant stress in the theatre. There used to be some difficult times, but then my popstar career kicked off then. It has been going well for the last eight years, actually.
Where does your name come from?
While I was an actor, I used my birth name, Hans-Holger Friedrich. Then by the time of my transition to popstar, among many other things I also needed a new name. I got it from my son Franz Friedrich, who is a writer. We noticed that almost all artists whom we like use some kind of stage name. I’m attracted to mystical ideas about the magic and power behind names, and I felt I needed something long. However, while Liechtenstein is a long word, it refers to a tiny country, squeezed from all sides by enormous neighbours.
Does your past determine the way your concerts work? Do they have a lot of performative elements?
I still identify myself as a performer, first and foremost, no matter whether I play with a band or alone. I always check myself from the outside. Music is important, but I’d risk to say that the performative elements are even more so. Sunglasses, suits, dancing, a little theatre show on stage, or even something profane: like there was a time when I set up an afternoon nap hall in the theatre. I also worked for advertisements, which is not typical. Overall, a popstar career could be something trivial, but through my performance, I make it work like a snow globe that needs some shaking. My concerts are cheesy, the audience can laugh a lot.
Are your lyrics also like that?
They are critical, but in an ironic, amusing way. This is also in my DNA. I grew up in East Germany where irony was part of everyday communication. It worked better not to hit the table directly but put something on it which has multiple layers of meanings… Some journalists call me ‘the grand master of irony’, which I appreciate and thank very much. Irony is not cowardice, on the contrary: it is an intellectual work, and sometimes an ironic depiction is much more precise than a realist-looking one. Anyway, listeners who don’t speak German but English, like many in Hungary, can still enjoy some of my English lyrics. You can play around any language. Like some years ago, I was commissioned to write a song for a Gillette commercial, and that’s how “Shave the Monkey” was born. It was indeed used!
That sounds like something that you can interpret in several ways… and choose the one interpretation that you prefer.
Exactly! Similarly, I have a song called There Are Too Many Bearded Men – that also has a political dimension. You can start with all those bearded hipsters and reflect on current cultures/fashions of big beards, but you can also arrive at a certain point of admitting that a human is nothing but a shaved ape. That’s what I hope to express with my concerts. There is good music, yes, but the songs also grow out of out-of-the-box feelings and thoughts.
Who are the members of your Trio?
With Arnold Kasar, I have been working for a very long time, on both solo and group projects. We helped each other through various crises and he knows my songs by heart. And Sebastian Borkowski kind of saved us: at a concert he spontaneously joined us, and that’s what we were in fact looking for: a very talented and trained saxophonist. However, this band isn’t continuous. We don’t arrive with a tour bus but on our own. We meet, rehearse, play, and then go back to our individual lives and projects. Playing the songs is the way we communicate as friends.
You mentioned the saxophone. Does your music sound jazzy?
Yes, jazz-like, pop-like, but even pure music can be ironic. Sometimes Sebastian plays the saxophone and we almost die from laughter. We create a very special atmosphere with this music that I can’t explain; you really need to come and listen. Otherwise, as all members of this Trio have other ways to earn money, we have a huge artistic liberty, and that means a lot of fun, too. We don’t improvise a lot, the concert mostly consists of clear, pre-written music, always addressed to the local audience. Yeah, it is in fact quite difficult to label it with one single genre.
How do you feel about your upcoming concert?
I’m so happy to come to Budapest! This time I will come with my children. I remember from my own youth, though, how lovely it felt to sleep on the Margaret Island under the stars. I love how the streets smell in Budapest: people cook with lots of onions, smoke lots of cigarettes… It will be so great to dwell in it. Also, that will be my first visit in the Müpa. I’m so much looking forward to get to know this awesome-looking place. You should trust your first impressions, and I can tell that mine about Budapest was indeed very nice.