Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I had two moments in my life when I decided to dedicate myself fully to music.
The first was when I was in high school. Inspired by a bunch of punk rock bands I spent most of my time in the practice room with my bandmates far away from academics. We toured in Germany quite a bit at the time and released a 10” vinyl, but the lifestyle was tough and when my first daughter was born in my early twenties, I entered drama school in Berlin in order to pursue a more solid and sane career.
Years later I traveled to Mexico, and eventually moved there, and as my Spanish wasn’t fluent yet, my acting career had to come to an end. I immersed myself in a rich music scene in Tepoztlan near Mexico City and this was when I developed a new passion to focus fully on music again. This time in a much more acoustic setting and also much healthier in a way.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I am not devoted to or influenced by particular artists, but there have certainly been fantastic and groundbreaking records that hit a nerve. These confirmed to me time and again how music is such a great thing to be dedicated to in its transcendent form of communication, and I have been encouraged then to dig deeper into myself and find a very personal expression. I do draw inspiration from my itinerant life; encountering different cultures, visiting new places, and of course from being in nature, but also I’m equally inspired by childhood memories.
It seems as if I spent the first 10 years of my life just dreaming and floating, and only as a teenager I became more grounded. Yet it feels like I am still processing a lot of these early dreamy journeys and surreal memories through my music.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I think the biggest challenge, but at the same time the greatest pleasure and creative freedom, has been to initiate Aukai from scratch. I began from zero, after having had a career of many years with another successful musical project with my wife, signed to a record label and with solid touring every year.
To record and invest in my debut album without any label muscle behind it, and not knowing if there will be anybody at all interested in listening to these quiet instrumental pieces was certainly a path marked by doubts and insecurities. But at the same time it felt so completely right and liberating to create only what I had in mind without the need for any other opinion to be considered.
What are the pleasures and challenges of working with other musicians?
For me there are only pleasures otherwise I probably wouldn’t work with other musicians. It’s that simple. I don’t have to, I do it because it is enriching, and sharing is an important vision for Aukai. Even if I am the one who initiated the project, run it and write all the music for it, it’s not a one-man show.
Most of the folks I invite to record on my records have been friends for years, I know them well and they know me too. Nothing makes me happier than creating music with love and with people you have chemistry with, and to be able to live some magic moments of mutual inspiration.
How would you describe your compositional/musical style?
I would say it is a complete mish-mash, a crossover, a fusion drawing elements from modern classical, minimalism and world music while blending it with a hint of electronica and even post-rock. There is no conceptual thought behind it; I am just doing what feels good to me, without setting any boundaries of genre.
As a composer, how do you work?
Usually, it all starts with one scratch melody or arpeggio pattern on the ronroco or charango, which is a mandolin-like string instrument from the Andes, the key instrument of most of my music.
From there I develop the piece instinctively. I try things out until they feel right to me. I often have a sense of where to go from this first draft, like an emotional idea that gives me some guidance to navigating an internal map. Then, I invite particular ensemble mates to add more things; I usually have a good sense of which player or instrument brings the piece further. Sometimes I have a clear idea how an arrangement part should be, and at other times we try lots of things, like brainstorming. I record it all, and then later edit an arrangement from the pool of many possibilities. A bit like cooking without a recipe.
Tell us more about your album ‘Game Trails’….
Game trails are animal paths created in the wild. As I live in Colorado in the middle of pristine untouched nature of the Rocky Mountains and love hiking and trail running, I often encounter these animal paths and hop on them. They can help you to navigate in wild, unknown terrain, they can lead you to an incredible place or you can also get absolutely lost; you have to rely on your instinct. I see this as an adequate metaphor for my creative process on this album, going inwards and exploring unknown terrains, inner places that were previously untouched.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
When people listen to my music and relate to it.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
When you have an inspiration and idea, a passion and love in doing it, just go for it.
Even if the circumstances don’t seem ideal, even if you are struggling with all these reasonable doubts and insecurities, just continue and keep up, it will always be rewarding. It may take time, patience is needed, but you can be sure to see the fruits from it one day.
What is your most treasured possession?
My ronroco. I call it my baby.
What is your present state of mind?
Trying to detach from all the plans I had for this year and just live with whatever will be.
‘Game Trails’ by Aukai is released on 28 August 2020. Game Trails continues to draw on the Aukai’s beloved instrument, the ronroco, to convey folklore, discovery and freedom. The dramatic landscapes of Iceland, the forests of Sweden and the Yucatan jungle all served as inspiration for its tracks
Aukai was born of composer/instrumentalist Markus Sieber’s desire to create music that could work in tandem with film, video, theatre and the visual arts. 2018 sees the release of his latest album ‘Branches Of Sun’. The compositions on the album also grew out of Sieber’s love affair with the ‘Ronroco’, a plucked string instrument from Argentina.