Violins Don’t Grow on Trees: An interview with Klaus Schulze biographer Olaf Lux

With around 100 albums to his name and a 50-year career, writing about Klaus Schulze’s output alone would be a major undertaking. But Olaf Lux managed to write the most in-depth book yet about both his music and his life. This interview is edited lightly for length and clarity.

Dead Electric: So how did you discover Klaus Schulze?

Olaf Lux: I was lucky to have an older brother with good and varied taste in music. He had everything from Pink Floyd and Genesis to Jarre, Tangerine Dream, and some interesting looking LPs from a certain Klaus Schulze. When my brother was at work, I snuck into his room and “borrowed” some LPs to play on my cheap kid’s player. And I loved that kind of music, it was so mind expanding and different from the usual pop music that my school friends listened to. But I have to admit I was more into Tangerine Dream and Jarre at first—the more melodic, rhythmic stuff, you know. I guess I had to grow a bit older to really “understand” Klaus’s way of music.

It’s funny, I had a very similar trajectory. When I was in middle school, I was much more interested in Jarre, mainly because his work was more pop-oriented and melodic. But in high school, something snapped and I was hooked on the more expansive, challenging work of Schulze. What Schulze albums were you exposed to first? And if you could recommend just one Schulze album to someone as a way of introduction, which one would it be?

My brother had four albums of Klaus: Irrlicht, “X.”, and both Body Love albums—the legendary 70s classics and still my favorites today. The first I bought on my own was Miditerranean Pads—a completely different style but I love it. Knowing everything Klaus ever did, it’s difficult to pick just one album to recommend. I guess it depends on the person I’m recommending it to. For someone with a soft spot for prog rock, maybe something with real drums like “X.”, whereas younger people may like Klaus’s more chilly stuff like Contemporary Works. If I have to pick just one it would be the really good sampler The Essential 72-93.

The Essential was my first official Schulze purchase. It was a great intro.

You talking about young people makes me wonder about interest in Schulze right now. It seems like there’s less interest in guitar-driven rock right now. Younger people are much more into synths. Have you noticed an increase in interest in Schulze from younger people? Or an increase in interest in him generally? Even though I’m 42 I’ve always felt like one of his younger fans.

Not really. You know, I am the admin of one of the biggest Klaus Schulze fan groups on Facebook (Deutsches Klaus Schulze Forum), and despite social media being a younger persons thing, most of the group members are older, like 40+. I think it’s hard to attract a really young audience without any airplay, videos, events, and concerts. Klaus is a studio artist now—he retired from the stage 10 years ago—and it has to be a weird coincidence to discover his music, although I just helped his record label MIG to set up some Spotify playlists. So maybe…

I have noticed, at least anecdotally, that Tangerine Dream seems to be much more popular among younger people now thanks to shows like Stranger Things, the popularity of modular synthesizers, etc. Hopefully Schulze is part of that interest.

So is your book the first one to be written about Schulze?

Not the first, just the best. 😉 There are a number of books about Klaus, but they are all outdated, biased, or simply not well-written. That was one of the reasons I started with “Violins don’t grow on trees”—I wanted an up-to-date biography, which not only sums up album names and equipment lists, but explores the stories behind the tracks, behind the making of the music. It took me five years until I thought it good enough to publish.

Schulze seems like a somewhat private person. Were he or his publisher/friend KDM excited about the book? Did they help? Or were you more-or-less on your own?

The latter. I did everything on my own —research, writing, editing, translation, publication, distribution. Klaus and KDM were not involved. I briefly considered, when I met Klaus’s sons Max and Richard, whether it should be an official biography, but I declined the idea. I wanted it to be my book, my point of view, my responsibility. But of course the connection to the family gave a real boost content-wise. Suddenly I had access to people around Klaus, who provided me with invaluable insights.

Have you heard anything about their reaction to the book being released?

Of course, I sent Max and Richard the first draft to see if they were okay with my writing—they loved it. Meanwhile Klaus has received his own personal copy, and on New Year’s Eve he publicly thanked me for the good work. I was overwhelmed with happiness.

Also, perhaps a simple couple questions but I’m curious: what was your favorite part about writing this book, and what was the hardest part?

It’s always fun to write about things not everybody knows (yet). Like little anecdotes or pieces of information, which haven’t been posted and shared 100 times before. On the other hand, I really struggled about the chapters dealing with Klaus’s personal issues, like his health or alcohol problems. But I am convinced those “negative” things have to be in a biography, otherwise it would be only worshipping your favorite artist. The hardest part work-wise was the extended appendices. Those page numbers drove me crazy…

As you mention in your book, Schulze was part of a generation of younger Germans in the late 60s who wanted to throw off the British/American rock influence and make something newa kind of starting from zero. How much of this was a conscious effort on Schulze’s part? Did he set out saying, “I want to do something the culture hasn’t seen before,” or was it more instinctual for him?

Oh, now we come to questions which should be directed to Klaus. Well, as far as I know, being a young musician in the late 60s you had very few choices: studying classical music, or practicing 24/7 to be good enough to play jazz, or copying British/US bands. Klaus had classical guitar lessons but was more interested in electric guitar and drums, so he joined some friends to play as Les Barons, a dance combo. But then two important things happened: his family moved back to Berlin, and Klaus was drawn into the underground scene around the Zodiak Club. A lot of coincidences had to happen in that club for so many legends to emerge: Tangerine Dream, Kluster (later Cluster), and Klaus Schulze. So maybe he consciously decided to do something new, but it never would have taken off if not for the time and circumstances—they were exactly right. Lucky for us.

Schulze has said that he doesn’t like looking back on his career much, but he has veered off in some fairly eccentric directions, particularly in the 80s and 90s. How do you think Schulze views his career? Does he have favorite periods or periods that he’s dissatisfied with?

An idle question. The past is gone, you cannot change it. And Klaus is very aware of his music being a part of this history. That’s why he always refuses to do reworks or remakes of his albums. Irrlicht was made without a synthesizer, just some old organ and a broken amplifier. And it is brilliant as it is. As are all his other works, they belong in that time period. For him, his albums are his children – there are no good and bad. I think Klaus is a man of the present and the future, he doesn’t think a lot about the past. Fans do this, artists not so much.

Yes, I’ve definitely gotten the sense, both from your book and from other interviews, that Schulze dislikes looking back. For me, the time period in which a work was made interweaves with the work in a way I find really thrilling. But I could imagine for the artist you could get too obsessed with the narrative arc of your work, or the mistakes you believe you made, and it could hinder your creativity.

Speaking of things that are interwoven for me, Schulze’s album art, particularly his album art from the 70s, is often inseparable in my mind from the music within. How much input and guidance did Schulze have on the art and covers that conveyed his music?

In the beginning, Klaus was completely responsible for the cover art of his albums. The Irrlicht cover he crafted himself from blue and red velvet. When he got in contact with the Swiss artist Urs Amann, he immediately secured all the iconic paintings we now know as classics. Then he met the Italian photographer Guido Harari, who shot the famous portraits for Moondawn and Mirage. Later, Klaus concentrated on the music and let others decide the presentation, usually the record companies.

What surprised you during the writing of itwhat about his life or work was unexpected to you even as a lifelong fan?

Hmm, it’s hard to tell now, what surprised me. You know, when you read everything about Klaus Schulze for years, even decades, there comes a time when you think you cannot be surprised anymore. But then someone tells you about Klaus’s wiener dog, and that it was actually his third dog. Didn’t know that before. Also that he was married three times. That needed some elaborate Columbo-work to find out their names…

Maybe Schulze’s weiner dog needs a bio of its own…

His name was Rowdy, the other dogs were labrador Synthi, and German Shepard Eddie (from Edgar perhaps?)

For the writing of the book, how did you approach listening to the music? He has over 100 albums, many of which are really hard to find. Has your collection exploded? Was there anything you simply didn’t find? Also, to build on that a little, did you find the sheer volume of his work overwhelming to parse and examine for the book? Or as a fan, were you just nothing but excited to dig in to so much of his music?

I already had everything from Klaus, so there were no gaps in my text, which would have been a no-go for me. A biography about Klaus Schulze but sorry, I cannot write about this album, because I couldn’t find it…? No way!

Of course his work is massive, but you are absolutely right—I was so excited about writing the book that I never hesitated. That’s the advantage when you do everything on your own—you have zero pressure, no deadline, no one asking about it. I just started writing, and five years later I was finished. What really overwhelmed me were the reactions of the fans—99.9% positive feedback. Only one guy criticized that the book would be too thick and heavy. 😦

Is this your first book? What’s your writing background?

Actually, this is my fourth book – and the second about Klaus, in a way. In my first two books I compiled all the poems and short stories from my youth —nothing worth mentioning, really. But then I wrote the novel “Sternentanz” (“Stardance”), a surreal science fiction story about a traveller called “Stardancer,” who with his companion the “Cyborg” is on a journey to find his lost love, the “Chromengel”…you get the idea. 😉 As it happens I just considered translating it into English…

Thank you again for all this. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Where can readers find you online—a website or any particular social media platforms?

You find me on Facebook, Instagram, and my book on Bandcamp.

This interview was conducted in conjunction with Dead Electric’s all-night Klaus Schulze marathon on March 19, 2021, Klaus ‘Til Dawn, on radio station KSER. You can buy Olaf Lux’s book Violins Don’t Grow on Trees: The Life and Work of Klaus Schulze here. Everyone who orders the book gets a free album of Berlin school music, Klaustrophilia, from artist Michael Brückner.

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