With his second album "The Ocean" Philipp Nespital has produced under the name Smalltape one of the best German self-productions of recent years in the melancholic art rock sector. A full six years have passed since the debut album "Circles", during which Nespital, who comes from Neustrelitz in Mecklenburg, has developed enormously. As a supplement to our short feature here is a more detailed interview with the 29-year-old multi-instrumentalist who is responsible for vocals, keyboards, piano, guitar & bass as well as drums on "The Ocean".
eclipsed: Philipp, when your musical style is described, a name always comes up: Steven Wilson. How do you deal with this comparison?
Philipp Nespital: Of course, I would not do such a thing myself. But Steven Wilson is definitely in my musical DNA, because as a teenager I was a huge Porcupine Tree fan. But at the moment I don't hear it that often anymore. But being compared to him again and again is of course a kind of accolade.
eclipsed: You spent six years working on The Ocean. Should it be a concept album from the beginning?
Nespital: The complexity is definitely in the musical details. But I'm not a guy who sits down and says: "So, now I'm writing a new 'The Wall'. On the contrary, the challenge is that each song can also stand alone. A perfect song is more important to me than to span the big bow. But when the textual ideas came together, it was clear that I wanted to go the way of the concept album. It is important that you always keep a cool head throughout the years. That means not always doubting yourself, but also not always immediately finding everything great that you are so tangled up in. The direct feedback you get when standing in the rehearsal room with a band, for example, is of course omitted in such a project.
eclipsed: You play most of the instruments yourself, but you can still hear various guest musicians on "The Ocean".
Nespital: I've always wanted to write something for a string quartet, because that's the high school of composing. That definitely appealed to me. That's why new people had to come on board. The saxophonist was recommended to me and right at the first improvisation he knocked me over so much that I recorded him immediately. Live we were first a duo from 2014 on, after that we increased more and more, but every now and then we changed the line-up. But I hope that we can stay together in the core now and that perhaps we can also tackle the next album with this line-up.
eclipsed: Especially when it comes to production, you have developed enormously compared to "Circles".
Nespital: But it would also be bad if I still sounded like I did, because a lot has happened to me since then. Without wanting to talk down the debut: "Circles" was finally a kind of "feeling in" to this genre. There's so much more in "The Ocean" now, what you can see just by the time I spent on the whole project. "Circles" was still written and recorded within a few months. I still listen to a lot of music, that's very important to me, because only that way the ears can be trained and developed in production.
eclipsed: Let's take a look at the lyrics of "The Ocean". A bit cheeky: Are you already in the midlife crisis at the age of 20?
Nespital: (laughs) Ask my mother! When they heard what it was about on the album, I had to listen to some questions within the family. But seriously: I'm definitely not in the midlife crises yet, but I really think a lot about the things that happen around me. But that doesn't mean that everything on "The Ocean" is autobiographical.
eclipsed: The 15-minute instrumental "Kaventsmann" stands out not only because of its German title.
Nespital: Many of my songs carry a certain melancholy and heaviness, as already indicated. But this number had a bit of a rogue in it right from the start. And then at some point my drummer said to me: "Gee, that's a real Kaventsmann!" (the word also denotes a great wave in the sailor's language - the author)
eclipsed: Why don't you sketch out your musical career?
Nespital: The first influence I have to clearly mention is my parents, who had a really cool taste in music: from the Beatles to Dream Theater to Tchaikovsky there were some great things. I in turn infected my father with jazz later. In my parents' house music was listened to and talked about together a lot, there were joint concert visits. In retrospect, I'm really lucky. I started playing the piano at the age of four, but only the second teacher managed to teach us how to really enjoy playing. The school and youth time was then of course incredibly formative. I've heard so many things and discovered so many, that was madness. Back then I also listened to a lot of metal, which I still find exciting today.
eclipsed: When did jazz come along?
Nespital: As a teenager, you want to rock out as fat as possible. I also wanted to be a drummer at that time because Mike Portnoy was my big idol. But when I got my first E.S.T.-album (Esbjörn Svensson Trio, Svensson died in a diving accident on June 14th) as a present from a friend, I realized for the first time that jazz is a completely different kind of trick after all. When I was 16, I got a new piano teacher who also taught me jazz and improvisation.
eclipsed: Who influenced you as a producer?
Nespital: Steven Wilson, clearly. His style has absolutely shaped me.
eclipsed: What do you think of "To The Bone"?
Nespital: I really don't want to allow myself any judgment on that yet. I always cite "Insurgentes" as an example, which I found ultra disappointing at the beginning. But after six runs it really "banged" and since then the album is unmatched for me. That's why I'm still pretty careful now. But I find the development towards pop almost logical, if you look at its development. And that he can write really big pop numbers, he has proven again and again in the past.
eclipsed: How far did your studies or your current job influence Smalltape?
Nespital: My job as "sound engineer for audiovisual media" is officially abusive. I studied in Potsdam, Babelsberg and work as a sound engineer for sound design and dialogue editing in the film business. The Ocean" isn't about classical "sound design", but the creation of sounds itself plays a very important role. And of course the last few years have already had an effect, especially on production.
eclipsed: You couldn't convince relevant prog labels of "The Ocean"?
Nespital: No, unfortunately not, although some have given me quite detailed feedback. But for them, it wasn't mature enough yet. I have to admit, it did set me back a little. But then I just said, "Fuck it, I'll do it all myself." For the future, of course, I would wish for a cooperation. Maybe the time just wasn't right yet.
eclipsed: What are your next projects?
Nespital: Of course it would be a super-geiles thing if we could present Smalltape live more often, but I guess it will stay there for some gigs. Apart from that, I'm in the studio with my new progrock band Mt. Amber to record our debut album. With bassist Alexandra Praet and guitarist Christopher Zitterbart there are also musicians who can be heard as guests on "The Ocean" and who also support me live on Smalltape.
*** Mike Borrink