15 Minutes - Michael Cretu in His Own Words
Virgin Germany October 5 1996
Below is a transcript of an interview Michael Cretu did in Ibiza prior to the release of Enigma 3. It appears as part of the Enigma 3 Interactive FMDV CD ROM Press Kit (VGP 000102).
Objectives of the new Enigma album
Since the first two albums were of a rather experimental character, I now intended to produce a more "middle of the road" one which wouldn't ask the listener to look for a meaning and think about it a whole lot. I really like that. With the track Third Of Its Kind, the album presents itself as the child of it's parents, the first two albums. Again, there are ethnic and Gregorian chants but the album has it's own identity. That's what I wanted to achieve; I just didn't know how to do it at first and so it's very interesting how things have developed. At first my inner voice or the mind of where-ever creativity comes from, created something completely different. Which was also good, and I had almost given up hope reaching my initial objectives. But when, after six months, everything started to crystalize, it finally corresponded with my initial ideas.
The video to the single
Again, this video has no references since nothing comparable has been done yet. I don't know anymore where the idea came from. I said to Julian Temple: "hey, listen. I hear women singing in trees and I see ice-skaters". It was his idea then to shoot the whole thing in a forest. From a certain point on, one inspired the other. The initial spark, so to speak, comes from me most of the times. It was my idea for instance with Return To Innocence to have the video run backwards. People always ask how I think of things like that, but I don't know. There's definitely less conscious thought than it might seem.
The three figures on the album cover sleeve
What I like a lot about this cover sleeve is the fact that it was incorporated in the video for the single. I hadn't experienced anything like that before. Also, I think those three figures are fantastic. Just like people imagined the "man-machine" a hundred years ago. And anyway, I like everything that's kind of Jules Verne. Also, those three figures go very well with Enigma 3.
How the "maestro" works
The time I spent actually working on the songs wasn't all that long. This was extremely obvious for me with this album. It takes much longer to sort of dive into the atmosphere of a single song. Sometimes I just go to the studio and listen to what I'm working on. And then, after maybe two hours when I'm really into the music I suddenly find the right sounds and words, make the right decisions and it all happens quite fast. But it takes a long time until I manage to forget the everyday and am able to really dissolve with this atmosphere. That's why I work at night. But then, I've always been an night person, even as a child.
Artistic advantages by singing himself
Even though I had sung every now and then when it was necessary, for instance when we couldn't find the right singer, singing normally got on my nerves. Funny enough with this album I had fun singing for the first time. The reason, though, why I did so much of the singing is because I felt that my voice best suited the mood of the songs. And, of course it makes things much easier if you do your own singing. I can try a melody with certain words and I can change it quickly if it doesn't work. If you have to call a singer in first, then everything takes much longer. There's two hearts in my chest, too. One, the judge, the producer really, the other the artist. It seems I'm able to flick the switch between the two pretty well and effectively still.
Gathering material for the new album
I could open a store for ethnic music with all the stuff hiding in my cabinets. Since Enigma 1, I listened to hundreds if not thousands of CD's, records, CD ROMs, samplers and so forth. And not even one percent is of any use in an Enigma project. This is all very tiring work and sort of grinds away your brains. People think I just come across a sound and add a rhythm and that's it. But I showed it to a few people and they just shook their heads surprised at how complex it is to construct and build a melody.
To make Enigma albums is something like alchemy, musical alchemy. In the Middle Ages, the alchemist used lizard blood, dirt and a brick maybe and hoped that it would all turn to silver in the end. Sometimes he would succeed and sometimes he wouldn't. And that's the nice thing about it: you're after a certain goal and the results are something totally different from what you had in mind initially. I don't think it's possible to make albums of this kind if you don't have an incredible flexibility of the mind. You need this ability to let go of a plan which is more than a year old maybe because you realize that something else is probably better. So very adventurous culture mixes come into existance such as The Child In Us, even though this one is quite innocent. Sanskrit chants take turn with Gregorian and Mongol chanting plus my own singing. And it all sounds organic and you listen to it and say: beautiful song. You don't rack your brains about the how, what, why and where. Once this is achived my work is right.
Global fan community
Eskimos, Japanese, Africans and Caucasians - why do they all buy Enigma albums? It is not like with many American groups who are very successful and sell maybe eight million albums in America but only one million throughout the rest of the world. Enigma is not regional music, it seems to work for everybody everywhere. Maybe it's something like original signals or codes within any human being so that they all respond to it, be they yellow, black or white.
I started playing the piano when I was 5 or 5 1/2 and I often faked a belly ache because I hated it at that age. From second grade on I went to some kind of music school. A kind of school which doesn't really exist in the western world, a typical eastern block type thing. There is normal classwork until graduation while they're watching you and your developments. With me, it was music I was trained to be a concert pianist. I finally found that kind of life terribly boring beause I didn't feel like playing the same 50 standard concerts for the rest of my life. After that I started conducting and after getting out of Romania, I finished my studies at the Frankfurt music school graduating in composition and conducting. Already during that time I had started to work as a studio musician and arranger. Then I started producing and kept moving in that direction. I'd always put my money in instruments and equipment so that soon I had my own studio. If you don't have your own studio and at four in the morning you have this brilliant idea you have to first call around and ask if anybody's got a slot for you and when and where and how. Oh well - then it's mostly gone anyway. As soon as I have the feeling of an inspiration, I need to work instantly.
Total recall (work ethic)
I usually work on seven to eight songs at the same time and thanks to technology all settings can be recalled at any moment. That way I create a certain distance, for instance, I have been working on a song for five hours or so and I feel I'm losing objectivity, so within 15 minutes I can continue work on a different song. That, practically, is the principle of work.
The possible single
At one point during my work, relatively early most of the times, possible single tracks start to crystalize. This may change until the last minute but I sort of know before the final mixes. Often I think something important is missing and when I'm able to find it then the song will be very good. Sometimes the missing piece will come to me sometimes it won't. Then I say to myself, well, it could have been a single, now it's not.
The current single almost prevented
With the new single, at first a certain part in the middle of the song was missing without which it would never have become the single. The chorus and everything else was fine and actually it was just a little thing. But sometimes the little thing is important because the rest won't work without it. In this case the second verse was missing and I couldn't think of one for quite some time. I had almost given up on it and thought, then we're going to have different first single. Maybe six months from now you will think of the missing piece and then this new version will be another single. And, when I least expected it suddenly the piece was there.
Where do the lyrics come from?
The triggers, I mean when I'm having fun and can say, oh, I want to know more, what could become of this song? - they vary very much. The same is true for the lyrics. I imagine a cover sleeve for instance and then I see these three figures and I say "Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi". Don't ask me why. This story happened two and a half years ago but it will always happen like this. You start working and in your subconscious computer the wildest things are going on. And suddenly you realize that the stuff you're doing goes perfectly well with what you actually intended to say. It was not that I said "Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi" - that's what the new album will be called. I only associated with the image. And then I started writing lyrics which finally lead exactly there. Otherwise this album would have a different title. I tell you, the ways of the Lord are unfathomable - or how does the saying go?
The searching side
I am an optimist and an optimistic realist. I think that life is the way it is. But I think about things a lot: why is life the way it is? That's the first step of the layman-philosopher. It goes well with the alchemist thinking on the musical side. I am an incredibly curious person. Not curious about what one neighbor tells the other over the hedge but I'm interested in historical stories and I read unusual things whenever I've got the time. If I went on a trip, I'd rather travel to Nepal or Kashmir than to the Maldives. I am very curious. This is actually a quite childlike attitude: why are bananas bent? And you can continue like this until you get to the most existentialist questions and I'm always looking for answers because it's interesting.
The mood of the new album
The drums are relatively muffled here, not as loud anymore as they used to be. There aren't so many nervous hi hats anymore, either. I don't know why. I kept switching down the high and middle pitches of the percussion, I just felt like it. There weren't a lot of thoughts about this, but somehow it got me closer to the mood within myself and I was able to express it better this way. It's all very natural proceedings that lead to the finished product. But only I can really judge this, since only I know what went on within me during all that time. You go and listen to something and you say: I like this or I don't, out of a feeling that one thing fits into the other. One is the lyrics, the other the arrangement and the third maybe the mix.
The quest for the groove
It was a long search for grooves and percussive elements which are not so usual, which have never been done this way before - without you noticing it all at once.
Cretu producing other artists
It depends on the artists. A good producer must try to transform the basic potentials of the artist to the best. He needs to emphasize the strong points and cover up the weaknesses. This is all very different with all the different people. I can't say, "you're just the instrument for the materialization of my own ideas". Sure, I have my "handwriting" and preferences but they come second. If it is positive to bring in a preference of mine without hurting the initial task, fine. But the artists are most important and they are the ones to be featured.
Young musicians looking up to Cretu for guidance
Particulary younger musicians respect me and try to take my words seriously. But it may very well be if I tell someone I don't know too well things that work for me, that these things may not work for that other person. Maybe what I tell them is exactly the contrary to what would get them closer to their goal and I will not have done them a favor at all. The goals and objectives are mostly the same ones but the roads leading there are always totally different.
Advice for young musicians and producers
Well, I can't really think of any concrete advice or precise formulas. I can only say that it's very very hard until you're up there and that there's far more to it than just writing a good song or doing a good production. That's not even half of what it takes.
Sandra as adviser
Basically, I only rely on my own judgement. But sometimes I ask Sandra's advice because she is a totally undogmatic listener. For instance, when I have two or three versions of a song which seem more or less equal to me, she's got this incredible instinct where she can tell me things that have always proved right.
There are always things I like a lot. Nirvana for example was the best in the rock sector since Led Zeppelin. People never expect to hear this from me because my music doesn't have anything to do with it. But to like something and to do it yourself, that's two different things. Another thing: Snap. I didn't even know that it was a German production. When I heard The Power for the first time, I said, look, that's the way rap music ought to be. That's it. To my great surprise, I found out a couple of months later that the two guys are from Frankfurt, Germany.
Transcription reproduced from Virgin Germany for private and research purposes only.