Christian Löffler has always been driven by a desire to be creative.
In his early teens he would draw and dabble in painting, trying to capture if not a specific feeling, then the essence of something. An ideal. Something profound. “It’s just something that I want to express,” he explains. “Still, today, it’s the same feeling that drives me, and it makes no difference what I use for it, whether it is music or paint.”
Graal (Prologue), his new project, utilises both, but it was not born solely of his creative urges. It also stems from frustration, and a sense that while touring he no longer had the mental space or down time to let his creativity flourish. From late 2017 into 2018, while playing almost every weekend, Löffler found it “really difficult” to make music. “I stopped forcing myself to create new songs,” he says of that time. “It wasn’t really working and wasn’t satisfying at all, so I just decided to stop trying and focus on the shows.”
Eventually he took a three-week break in Denmark, with just his family for company, and on returning home focussed on visual art – painting, drawing, and “some video stuff”, but absolutely no music. This return to his roots reminded him how it felt when he first started making music, and allowed him to “turn off my brain a bit, especially thoughts about what is possible or not”. In other words, it gave him freedom.
He had a series of “sketches” on his touring laptop – “little melodies, or nice lines on my synthesiser, that were born on the fly” – built over untold hours in hotels, layovers, and long drives while on the road. “Music is made differently when you are somewhere else than in the studio,” he says. “They were rough ideas; very, very open.” Freshly inspired, he set to work on these raw forms with this new found feeling of freedom, unencumbered by notions of what he thought new Christian Loffler music “should” sound like, a back-to-basics approach that also saw him return to the software he used at the start of his career – Logic.
“When I first started making electronic music, it took me one week to get a sound out of it. It was crazy!” he remembers. “But it was also exciting, like a new world opening up, and I had this feeling again when I went back to it.” The switch – Ableton has been his first choice for years – took him out of his comfort zone, forcing him to virtually “re-learn” how to turn the ideas in his head into sounds.
“Over the years, you slowly get into a routine. I had my favourite synth recorded, and if I wanted to shift an effect or something, I already had something prepared, and it worked perfectly,” he says. “So very quickly I got what I wanted, but it’s always a little bit similar. Going back, I had to focus on the basics again – not adding too many details or effects – and really think about what I wanted to do.”
The result is six, typically downtempo minimal tracks – “very focus and concentrated” says Löffler. They have a nocturnal feel, perfect for eyes-closed introspection, and it’s no surprise to learn that two of them – ‘Bird’ and ‘Refu’ – were conceived during late-night jam sessions in gardens underneath starry skies. That same, wide-open expansiveness is reflected in a relaxed, easy flow, each element given the space to breath and unfurl – at times, Löffler fades everything out except a muffled beat and subtle, barely-there synths, skeletal moments than nonetheless convey a quiet power.
Two tracks feature vocalists, both of which Löffler decribes as happy accidents. ‘Like Water’, featuring Mohna, began life as an instrumental piano piece, but was transformed by some vocal improvisations during a soundcheck for a Elbphilharmonie performance into atmospheric, spectral electro. Josephine Phillips, whose haunting Nordic voice warms the poignant ‘Running’ is “a friend of a friend”, and someone that he had always hoped to record with; when their schedules finally aligned, Löffler took full advantage.
Graal is named after the town he calls home – a windswept yet picturesque German outpost on the Baltic coast – and the rugged beauty and wonder of the area’s famed landscapes shines through the whole record. Löffler has always been influenced by nature and a sense of place, and he’s become a master at exploring space and amplifying the power of tranquility. Despite retaining what he describes as a rudimentary roughness – “for me, they still feel like sketches because I never really produced them out” – there’s a grace and lushness to all six that inexorably draw you in, wrapping themselves around you in a comforting embrace.
The record comes illustrated with a series of Löffler’s hand drawn sketches, stark, monochromatic line drawings of people and places. The austerity of the images perfectly matches the music; in fact, the drawings came first and served as inspiration. As with all his art, he was trying, he says, “to keep it simple. Mostly I focus on having one or two people, then a landscape, but it’s never really in detail; it’s more like something that comes out naturally and quickly. It’s the same with music; there’s an idea, and I try to catch it as fast as I can.”
Graal is, as denoted by “Prologue”, also just a prelude – a second, companion album will be released before the end of the year. The idea is for the whole project to have an organic dichotomy – while Graal was created on the road (Löffler likens it to a travel diary), the follow up will be a classic studio album, created in his home recording space. It will also come illustrated with paintings, not drawing, continuing the theme of more roundly fleshing out ideas.
“Much slower,” he says of this as yet untitled –and unfinished – sequel, “and a little more ambient.” But for now we have Graal, a bold gamble from an artist who needed to do something different, and one that has yielded rich dividends. “It definitely feels like going back to the core, to the essential feelings that got me into music and creating art,” he explains. “To just start over.” Such an approach has uncovered the magic at the heart of Löffler’s music, and what makes this enigmatic, astute artist so very special.