By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Alexander Leonard Donat has been a fixture in the German alternative music scene, as the owner of Blackjack Illuminist Records and as a part of several music outfits like Vlimmer, Whole and Fir Cone Children.
With Vlimmer, Donat released a double EP entitled ‘XIIIIII/XIIIIIII’ (16 & 17) on July 17, 2020 via Blackjack Illuminist Records.
Recommended for fans of The Cure, Dead Can Dance and Clan Of Xymox, the double EP involves the 16th and 17th installment of an 18-EP series that began in November 2015. It focuses on the story of a young man who tries to find out why he’s so damaged with a dysfunctional mind after a disastrous return to the present by way of time travel.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with Donat about the recent Vlimmer release and more.
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your double EP?
Alexander Leonard Donat – I could say that putting together ‘XIIIIII/XIIIIIII’ (16 & 17) was just like every time I release a Vlimmer record. I have got to admit, though, that I spent an unusually huge amount of time picking the right tracks and deciding in which order I would place them. I had 24 recorded songs for a 10-song double EP and wasn’t sure whether to choose the catchiest songs and follow through without deviation or do something that felt different compared to the preceding EPs. I even asked friends and my family which songs I should pick, something I usually don’t do. If it wasn’t for them, songs like “Kopfkante” and “Taubheit” might not have been included by me. Now, they are among the favorites among my listeners on Spotify and the EPs are a mix of my favorite songs and the ones others enjoyed the most. In general, it’s always exciting to see which songs people prefer once a release drops. Sometimes, probably too exciting…
Music Bugle – If you had the chance to chat one-on-one with one of your musical influences, who would you choose?
Alexander Leonard Donat – As I have had the chance to talk with a lot of my musical influences after their gigs and luckily, have never been disappointed, I’d go for the ones I haven’t yet and probably never will, as they are too big and out of reach – Deftones and Radiohead. I’d imagine that chatting with Chino Moreno might be a really laidback experience, while I wouldn’t be surprised if it were a little awkward with Thom Yorke. Nonetheless, it would certainly result into interesting situations at the least. I love being put into unpredictable environments. You always find out new things about yourself.
Music Bugle – What excites you about your genre of music?
Alexander Leonard Donat – That depends on where I see myself compared to where zines and listeners put me. People tend to classify my music as darkwave, post-punk and gothic, while I see myself as an indie rock, dream pop and shoegaze artist that just loves dark music. In the end, of course, it’s a mix of everything and it excites me to not clearly belong to one genre, but incorporate a lot of them. I guess, I might confuse many of the genre purists. That having said, I am always happy to come across bands that defy the genre codes and do their own thing.
Music Bugle – What song of yours do you find gets the most different reactions from people?
Alexander Leonard Donat – That’s a super interesting question which is not easy to answer. As I follow Vlimmer’s statistics on Spotify and Soundcloud, however, I’m always astonished at the difference of the songs that are played most often. I guess, I’ll never forget a comment on my very first Vlimmer song, “Schimmer,” on YouTube, where a listener stated that there was way too much reverb on everything, while some guy on last.fm seemed really happy to have finally found the sound he was looking for “for five years.” The song sounds miles away from what Vlimmer sounds like today, but to me it, was the perfect start and probably the closest to what my initial idea of Vlimmer’s sound was, before the listener’s reactions, to a certain extent, affected the way of writing all songs that came after the fourth of so far 17 EPs.
Music Bugle – What makes you proud about where you live?
Alexander Leonard Donat – Living close to Berlin is just perfect. The loud, crowded, exciting metropolis that offers cultural diversity and music gigs is just half an hour away and often, it’s like diving into an ocean headfirst when I enter the city. Whenever I leave it and my head is buzzing from another intense experience, I can rest at home with my family. Here, I can leave the world’s madness at the doorstep and recharge. I’m proud about Berlin’s openminded character. It’s as fascinating as it is fucked up, inspiring and new every time I walk a different street. It’s life at its purest.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Alexander Leonard Donat – Heavily, both as teacher and artist. I teach at an elementary school in Neukölln and when the German coronavirus numbers more and more rose in March, my colleagues and I knew that the lockdown would be declared any day. When it happened, we needed some time to adjust to the situation, of course. No one was prepared for this. After a week, I started teaching through my laptop and some of my students joined the Zoom meetings I offered. It was really weird in the beginning, but I got used to it and it even was fun at times. Unfortunately, with most students stemming from a socially challenged environment, many preferred not to participate. I still wonder why their parents weren’t more supportive. As an artist, especially as a label owner, the pandemic had a massive impact on orders coming from the U.S.A. which, until then, were at least second, if not, first in terms of numbers of orders. I’m thankful that many proceeded with their orders nonetheless and chose to wait until the German postal service is ready to ship to the U.S, again. I hope at the end of the year, the situation will have improved.
Music Bugle – Away from music, what’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
Alexander Leonard Donat – I’m a big fan of the Dutch football club Ajax Amsterdam and if you compare their away jerseys of the past decades with the colors of the hand-painted wooden Vlimmer boxes, you might notice some parallels. However, with the coronavirus taking over the planet, football really seems unimportant and I’m not as keen on a new season as I’d normally be.
Music Bugle – If you had the opportunity to go back to this past New Year’s Eve, what would you tell yourself about 2020?
Alexander Leonard Donat – “Man, forget about everything you have experienced before. This year is going to be a once-in-a-century situation putting you into a lot of awkward situations, situations you could’ve never even imagined in your most dystopian dreams. In 2020, you’ll find out embarrassing things about the people around you, probably even in your own family and among your friends. You won’t believe what kind of fucked up things will make their way into people’s heads because of a single incident that, eventually, will affect the whole planet. You are going to use a lot of facepalm emojis. Disbelief, total disbelief.”
Music Bugle – What has been the most productive thing you’ve done while in quarantine?
Alexander Leonard Donat – Strangely, but not surprisingly, in the end, I was less productive than before the quarantine. With my two kids and my wife at home all the time, there was less time for making music. Also, there were days where the whole corona situation dragged me down. Well, I spent more time on Netflix than in my studio, I guess. I would have expected a different turnout as well!
Music Bugle – What’s something you wish happened more in today’s music industry?
Alexander Leonard Donat – Financial support for artists that have to make a living from their music, fair payment by streaming platforms, listeners that keep an open mind and don’t skip from song to song. Listeners that value music and support physical releases.