By Carl Begai
Like every other musician that has been fortunate to make a living from their art, German singer / songwriter Cynthia Nickschas found herself in freefall when the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill in March. As an artist that has made her reputation and her living on performing live, the forced cancellation of shows that had been planned for months was a kick in the teeth, and the fact nobody knows when concert venues will be open to the public again has a direct influence on her future. This is not how Cynthia expected to be celebrating the 10th Anniversary of her career.
Not at all.
“At first it was like ‘Oh shit, what about my job?’ because music is what I do,” she says, which comes as no surprise. “That’s my job. I guess you could say I was startled because all the gigs I had scheduled suddenly had to be cancelled. I didn’t know what to do, but once the shock wore off I got my financial stuff in order before everything else. I’ve been in debt before and don’t want to go through that again.”
That said, desperate times call for creative measures and Cynthia – along with her band – stepped out of her comfort zone for a livestream show in April. Not a big deal on the one hand considering so many musicians are doing the exact same thing, but Cynthia Nickschas & Friends is a unit that thrives on the energy of a live audience. Thus, there was the question in her head of just how well fans would respond to a performance via the internet from the showroom floor of a Bad Godesberg bike / scooter shop, supported only by her band, a technician, and her ever-faithful dog, Snoopy. Turns out it went over very well in spite of some technical difficulties, and the show was the trademark high energy performance her fans have come to expect.
“We had a great time, and it was really cool of the fans… they donated enough money so that I could pay my technician, pay my band, and still have something to live from. I’m very grateful for that. It was a really good show, and we’ve got the whole thing with proper sound and everything. I haven’t watched it all the way through because since that gig I’ve been pretty busy. We’ve been working on a songbook, we’re recording new music, and we’re going to release a live CD and DVD, although I don’t know when that will happen yet. And we’ve been writing new songs. If we’re done with recording before the end of the year maybe we’ll put something out. I’ve got enough songs but I want to do record it all together, I want it to be a band record, and it’s kind of shitty at the moment to be able to do that. So, until that happens we’ll prepare the material and put the songs together. We are recording stuff at Alwin’s (Moser / violin) place right now and it’s going to be pretty cool when everybody is involved.”
Something else that has come out of Cynthia coping with COVID-19 crisis is a brand new song, “Punkorona”, which will most certainly appear on the new album. She originally uploaded it as a live acoustic solo performance, then brought it to the next level during the livestream with her band. It is most definitely a punk song, which may seem on the surface far and away from what she normally does, but it still fits with her overall musical attitude.
“Yeah, it is a punk song, and my guitar told me so (laughs). I hadn’t really experimented with guitar tunings since last year when I was at a guitar boot camp, and I love the tuning I use for ‘Punkorona’ because I can do things that I can’t do with a normal tuning. I had that riff and I played it slow… and it was boring (laughs). When I played it fast it was fucking punk, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I think I played the riff for three months – over and over – and then the fucking Corona virus showed up. I was playing that riff again and suddenly I had that singalong part, and then it really was a punk song (laughs).”
A testament to just how skilled her bandmates are, the livestream was the first official band performance of “Punkorona” and they knocked it out of the park with barely any rehearsal time. Go to the one-hour mark of the clip below to see and hear for yourself.
“I love my boys for exactly that,” Cynthia says. “I walked into the room and I said ‘I guess I’ve got a punk song…’ and they’re all like ‘Okay, let’s go.’ And we only rehearsed it for about an hour the day before the livestream, without Z (Christian Zerban / saxophone). The other new song that I played during that streaming show (‘Wenn Ich Das Alles Könnte’) – just me and Doc (Stefan Janzik) – I wrote that two months ago and he didn’t have a chance to play it with me until that day. But, we’ve been doing things that way since I started playing gigs with him in 2011. So yeah, the guys are amazing musicians.”
Cynthia and her bandmates are a collective of jam-oriented musicians, making every live show different, and this spontaneous mindset is a big part of the songwriting process.
“I come up with the guitar and vocals for a song, and the guys in the band know how I think so they’re able to come up with the music. They’ll play me a bunch of ideas and I’ll say ‘Stop! That’s what I want.’ That’s the reason why some of the writing for new songs happens on stage. I’m kind of a mean person because I’ll write a song but I won’t tell them, and in the middle of a gig I’ll say ‘Okay, I’ve got a new song. Whoever wants to play with me, join in…’ (laughs). We’re not really a band that rehearses but it works. It’s like, just show up and away we go.”
“It’s also pretty hard to get the entire band together all at once when I’m writing new songs, so a lot of what happens on stage has an effect on how the final version of the song will sound. There are a few songs we’ve done that our violinist helped me with the arrangements, which was interesting because he’s the kind of guy that wants to practice and have every note just perfect, but he’s learned over the last four years that the band doesn’t work that way. He can write out the parts and maybe the other guys will stick to it, maybe they won’t (laughs).”
With only two official studio albums and an EP released in 10 years – Schicksal EP (2012), Kopfregal (2014) and Egoschwein (2018) – Cynthia does have plans to release at least one or two new songs in 2020.
“I’m going to release the Wohnzimmerversion of ‘Punkorona’ on Spotify, and the band version will follow. We’re going to release singles throughout the year because I don’t think putting out an album during the whole Corona virus thing makes sense.”
Asked to look back on her previous albums, Cynthia reveals that she’s learned a lot since the release of her debut. Mistakes that were made the first time out won’t happen again.
“If I could go back and change the first album, I would,” she admits. “I let people talk me into stuff that I wasn’t happy with, but I wanted to make an album, I was broke, and I saw a chance so I took it. I let people talk me into not having my band on all the songs, which is crap because I really like the second album. It’s me and my guys, it’s my work, it’s their work. We worked on that album together and I’m so happy about that.”
In a previous interview, back in 2019, we discussed Cynthia’s as-yet-unreleased songs written with English lyrics. The topic came up again during this conversation.
“I really want to put those songs out. I’ve actually lost a few because I haven’t played them for years; I didn’t bother to write them down or record them (laughs).”
Why not take one of them and put it in the middle of your next album?
“You think that would be a good idea? People have told me I should stick to one language on an album but I don’t know about that. I don’t have a lot of English songs so it’s not like I could release an album. Maybe an EP or, as you said, or I’ll put one English song in the middle of an album.”
Or, take one of your German songs and translate it to English…
“I’ve already done that (laughs). I have a song called ‘Mein Hut’ (from Schicksal) that I translated (‘My Hat’), and I also did it with one of my songs at the guitar camp that I attended last summer. A lot of the people there didn’t understand German and I wanted them to understand the lyrics, and those songs definitely sounded different from the original versions.”
Whatever the case (or the language), Cynthia will continue compose, recording and performing music regardless of whether the world is being plagued by a virus, a moronic American president, or an alien invasion. As she says in her song “Musik”, it’s both a blessing and a curse but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“If I’m not into music at a certain moment, if I’m not feeling it, I can’t write music,” she says. “If I have to play a show, that’s a different story, but there are days where I just don’t feel or see it, and other times I’ll play music all day. But, music is in me, and sometimes it’s annoying (laughs). I’ll be doing something as simple putting my laundry into the washing machine and I’ll start singing about putting laundry in the washing machine (laughs). It’s like, ‘Fuck! Stop it!’ but I couldn’t stop making music even if I wanted to.”
Check out Cynthia Nickschas via her official website: https://www.cynthiaandfriends.de/
Go to her official YouTube channel for more live performances here: https://www.youtube.com/user/cynthiaalive