During Paléo Festival I had a great chat with Aris Bassetti and Barbara Lehnhoff, a couple who together form the Ticino-Canadian art-punk band Peter Kernel. They answered my questions about their hard-working band, their projects, their label On The Camper and so on. I took the chance to ask them some questions about the music scene in Ticino and Switzerland. Big thanks to them and to Niccolò Castelli for organizing the interview 🙂
The Liberation: Peter Kernel are much more than a music band, you also have other projects, you shot short movies, you wrote music for films and you also have your own label On The Camper. How do you manage to handle all this and what to these projects represent for you?
- Barbara: I think that nowadays if you want to live with music it means perhaps 10% do music and 90% do all the rest, so we do the management, the T-shirts, the videoclips, the label. And it’s the only way we can live with this. I studied video and Aris studied graphics, I think we’re lucky to have the “know how” to do all that surrounds what having a band today means. I think that if having a band meant do only music probably we wouldn’t do it.
- Aris: It wouldn’t be so interesting.
- Barbara: Yeah, it’d be more boring for us because we really like doing the stuff that’s around it.
The Liberation: OK, it makes sense.
- Aris: Yey, it’s almost vital to do all these things. With all the projects we do we try to give vent to all that we like.
The Liberation: Your third album Thrill Addict was released in January 2015, what did you do after this? How has the new album been received so far?
- Aris: Basically we’ve been on tour since January, we’re still promoting the album.
The Liberation: Without a break?
- Aris: Yes, I mean you go home for a couple of days and then you leave again. But more or less we’ve already done 70-80 tour dates. The intention is to continue to play for a couple more months. Also if we’ve already put down some small things, some small ideas, but that we don’t know yet if they’ll be for Peter Kernel or for Camilla Sparks, the other project we have, which is the electronic version of Peter Kernel.
- Barbara: It’s weird to think that the album was released in January because we worked so much on the album for a year and a half and the release date was for us nearly like say “Ok it’s over”. And then you just tour, you go on holiday, you just tour.
- Aris: well, holidays, the tour is not really an holiday (laughs)
- Barbara: No, but in the sense that you’re not really working on the record like you do beforehand.
- Aris: No, but when you go on tour you enjoy a bit the effort you put in the record beforehand. And effectively each album is difficult, in the sense that maybe there is a little bit more expectance because maybe the name (of the band) has been heard and so you always feel a bit stressed. And with this album we were a bit afraid because it is more quiet. But it was released and we had many positive feedbacks. We didn’t expect all this interest and from there many things started, a lot of dates. We’re really happy of how the album has been received.
The Liberation: You are a Ticino-Canadian band with a really interesting path if compared to other bands coming from Ticino or Switzerland. What did allow you to have success outside the borders?
- Barbara: Have success outside the borders allowed us to have success inside the borders. I mean that first we stepped the foot outside and then we came back little by little.
- Aris: I wouldn’t call it “success”, I mean, we worked hard to manage to live with this, and also to manage to be recognized as musicians. Because when in Ticino you say “I do music” it sounds weird.
- Barbara: But even now we’re not recognized as such.
- Aris: Indeed, not in that sense. It’s almost easier for us to go abroad and do this thing and then come back to Ticino. But yeah we worked much, much, much, 7 days out of 7 with a mean of 14-15 hours per day, behind the computer, in the rehearsal room and driving to go to the various places. Just to tell you, if it goes well we have one-two day of holiday a year. Also if it doesn’t seem so because when you see it on stage it all seems easy. But well we work so much to be able to do this thing.
The Liberation: Wow that’s really impressive! What do you think about the music scene in Ticino and in Switzerland in general?
- Aris: I think that Ticino changed a lot in the last 2-3 years, some things changed, there are some interesting places which just opened. There are bands which take themselves a bit more seriously and which are moving in a professional way, they go out of Ticino, of Switzerland and they tour the world playing with a good quality. I think the quality increased a lot. In Switzerland there are also many really interesting bands around… Some time you cross other bands around Europe and it’s fun!
- Barbara: I think that on the Swiss level Ticino is a bit behind. There is a music scene, a music industry in Switzerland and I think that Ticino doesn’t really make part of it. It is still very small, it’s a bit provincial.
- Aris: But something has been moving lately-
- Barbara: But on the Swiss level there is more…
- Aris: Yes, there are a lot of opportunities and interesting things in Switzerland that maybe people from Ticino don’t even know about, that’s it.
- Barbara: Yes, that’s the exact problem.
- Aris: Yeah, exactly!
- Barbara: A guy from Ticino wouldn’t even think that it’s possible to live with music. Whereas in the French and German there are bands living with music and it’s not an absurd idea.
The Liberation: How do you give birth to your music? Are lyrics or sounds first?
- Aris: We usually start from the sound, we put the voices really at the end. We start writing the music, the sounds, then you sing sounds on them, not even words. And then once you’ve built up a little more you go find those words which resemble the sounds you made with your mouth and when you track some words you have in mind some things you want to say and you try and build the lyrics.
- Barbara: Yes, in our band the texts are not the key.
- Aris: No, they’re not the main thing. We’re interested in a sound narration, tell something, even if you delete the words the tracks need to stand by themselves.
The Liberation: Aaah interesting! And do you have projects for the future?
- Aris: Yesss (laughs) try to do this thing as much as possible, I mean that in the end we do this thing to be able to be on stage because it gives us so much. You hope you can do it until you can bear it physically and mentally also. And we’ll see, I don’t know. It’s all so fragile. You don’t even know where you’ll be in a month that’s difficult to say. We’ll try to continue to do music, then I don’t know perhaps the shape will change or …
The Liberation: Good, you will have to wait and see then… Would you like to tell me a bit about your label On The Camper? What do you do?
- Aris: It was born because, indeed, starting from Ticino it was hard to have a voice outside the Canton’s borders. We wrote in Switzerland to find dates and they didn’t answer us, in Italy sometimes. But I really felt as if something big and strong was missing, so we contacted bands that we didn’t know personally but that we liked and we came up with the label. But really like that, it was a dinner and we said “hey yes there’s the label”. It was all born this way and then we found ourselves to sustain the projects that we like in Ticino and try to help them go out. Because then maybe we managed to go out first as Peter Kernel and this opened a bit the doors for the other bands on the label. And now we’re really interested in doing this thing, to take the interesting projects in Ticino and take the chance to use what we did and what we constructed in these years and give a certain visibility also to them because there are beautiful things.
- Barbara: Maybe in comparison to other labels we’re less productive in the sense that we help the bands in the 90% of doing music of which I was talking before. Maybe many bands nowadays are great musicians but they don’t really know about making videos and graphics or they’re not able to take group pictures. So with the label we technically help them to put the bands in boxes.
- Aris: To display them well in the showcase.
- Barbara: Because it’s not that we’re good to do editors and such like other labels.
- Aris: No, it’s not the classical label, which has a business model or such behind it. It’s really a thing like “we like that band and we want people to hear it so we help them”.
The Liberation: That’s great! Which are the bands that inspire you the most?
- Aris: Everything, it’s difficult to say because it’s really everything, and then it changes all the time. There are bands that when we listen to every time, they go deep inside you like Morphine or Quickspace, those things but it’s difficult to say, every period has its bands. Because we’ve been listening to all types of music, lately a lot of meditation music, I wouldn’t know what to say.
The Liberation: OK. You shared the stage with big bands like Mogwai and you played in many European and international festivals. How do you feel about it?
- Aris: Well, it’s interesting when you have to update the band’s biography and you add a dowel, because when you’re there to do the thing, yes you’re excited but you eh. But you realize when you put all the things together, when you see that you’ve done TOT dates, that you’ve been there and there. And then you say to yourself well I’m glad I managed to do what I like for such a long time and in so many places.
The Liberation: Yes
- Barbara: Yes
- Aris: And I met bands that we listened to… It’s weird because in the one hand you belong to that world but in the other hand you’re not really conscious. Sometimes you regain conscience of this thing, because we’re nobody but it’s fun touring and meet all these big bands sometimes.
The Liberation: I get it. Thanks a lot , I’m done with the questions!
- Aris: Thank you!
- Barbara: Thanks!