Munich-Born Indie Folk Songstress Henny Herz Talks New Single ‘Sister Blue’, Cultural Influences, Upcoming Album

You might not think a dining room of an old tavern in the sleepy town of Obergriesbach, Germany, would serve as the most inspirational place to record an album, but Munich native and singer-songwriter Henny Herz thinks outside of the box.

This was where she recorded her upcoming album, Two Colors To Combine, and her latest single “Sister Blue.” 

She did this while living with her band at the same time to further build chemistry. This meant they could record songs any time they wanted, and that’s exactly what they did.

The album was created during lockdown with the help of her band Nicholas Stampf (drums), Tobias Schmitt (bass), and Lukas Klotzbach (guitars), along with producer Maximilian Woerle.

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The song is accompanied by a live performance at Alte Zigarrenfabrik in Germany. It was shot by Joel Heyd and the audio was done by Daniel Mudrack.

We had the chance to chat with Herz to learn more about the new single, her roots, upcoming album, and much more.

So how has the year treated you so far?

Really good! Although I had difficulties finding my way at the beginning, I’m very grateful for lots of things that happened this year, we finally finished and mastered my album, had a successful crowdfunding campaign to press vinyls, and we played some really great gigs as full band in Germany – which was of course extra special after the long winter pause.

Coming to Montréal in June felt incredibly liberating to me, especially after these last years of being constricted and isolated. My spirit and my soul were restless from the long Covid winter. I’m really grateful to be here though, to be able to face this challenge of leaving my comfort zone which allows me to grow. I love Montreal, it’s like a bubble bath of inspiration that tons artists and creatives soak in. You never want to get out of the bathtub.

How did your creative process during lockdown compare to writing music pre-covid? How did you adapt to that change as a songwriter?

I guess the process itself hasn’t changed that much because I used to isolate myself to working on music. It’s when I’m the most focused and in touch with myself, which is essential for my songwriting. But with this long pause from playing live in combination with isolating, I started producing music in my home studio more intensely. In the beginning of the pandemic I was pretty paralyzed. I could not write even if I wanted to. So I pursued other things I love to do, like art, photography, reading, and practicing mindfulness.

Finally, when I had to write and produce the final project for my masters degree, I connected with the situation. Limited to my tiny room, I produced an EP about the story of my parents who had to flee the GDR in 1989. Through it I found parallels to my parents feelings of isolation and confinement. It helped me to process not only my family‘s history but understanding more of my identity. Overall, I could say the last years were shaped, on many levels, by the emotional work I did. The pandemic forced us, in a way, to spend time with ourselves and I feel all music I wrote since 2020 carries this sense of profound assimilation within.

You’ve got your new single, “Sister Blue,” out now. What was the inspiration and influence behind it?

I wrote “Sister Blue” for my sister many years ago, but since then I’ve done a lot of work on it so now it’s much more refined and mature. I feel like it has grown in the way my sister has and in the way our connection to each other has. To me she is a perfect example for the saying “still waters run deep” because she reminds me a lot of a sea that it is very still, calm, and deep blue.

Introverted people like my sister may be closed or shy, but they are very sensitive and deep. So it was difficult for her when our family had to experience very stormy times and we often felt like we were being rocked back and forth by dangerous waves. With the song I wanted to tell her: “I’m here for you, I support you, I feel you. I see you in your insecurity and your vulnerability. Look at how much you’ve grown and how strong you are now!“ 

What messages or feelings do you hope listeners take away from “Sister Blue?”

For me playing my music brings myself a sense of comfort and nourishes my own emotional needs. I hope the listeners can also connect with the song on a very immediate level, with its warmth and its soothing energy. “Sister Blue“ is like the sea to me; it starts calm and beautiful then swells like a wave only to calm down again in the end, finishing off with the line, “the sea is in two minds.“ So whenever there are stormy times in life or moments of self-doubt or fear because everything is too much, we can know that the swells will calm down eventually.

I see the song has an accompanying live performance. What was your vision behind this? 

Basically, I wanted to pick up on the sea motif visually and transform the studio into an aquarium with the help of projections and mood lighting. I gave our light operator complete creative freedom. We have this subtle wave-like light, that gives you the feeling that we’re gently moving from side-to-side in the water.

Let’s talk about your upcoming album, Two Colors to Combine, which I see is set for a 2023 release. What can you tell us about it in terms of overarching themes or motifs?

Colors can be made richer, lighter, and of course, be mixed. What if we thought of everything like colors; people, relationships, feelings, and even memories. In my head I also see sounds as colors. The album brings together – consciously and unconsciously – contrasting colors, both on a level of content and on the level of sound aesthetics: a pastel blue in the light and winding melodies and the airy grooves with reverb vocals, and in contrast dirty, distorted guitars and vocals painting with earthy warm tones. In the end, it’s about the blend and how these types of contrasts can create new shades and harmonize so perfectly together. 

On an abstract level, the album is about combining these opposites and paradoxes we carry inside ourselves. For instance, the angriness of a woman who is taking care of her father when care is an act of love, or feeling lonely and isolated but discovering in this isolation a new connection to myself or deep love for a friend. For me, Two Colors To Combine feels like an homage to our inner inconsistencies, these contrasts of our personalities, so I like to appreciate these ambivalences. We are not only “in two minds“ but in countless minds and roles and colors. We can use this idea to create and to share, so that others can see, hear, and connect to it.

You said that these songs coming out were inspired by your hiatus on the Baltic Sea. Can you talk more on what that experience was like?

The Baltic Sea is a very special memory from my childhood, and since I grew up in the south of Germany, the sea was in short supply. After a year of the pandemic and four months of lockdown, I felt like I was thrown upside down at home. We were not officially allowed to travel but I have a friend who lives there and asked if I could stay with her. I stayed for a week at her small and cute guest apartment right by the sea.

I would wake up every day at 7am, make coffee, and take it outside. I just had to cross a quiet street to get to a beautiful sleepy beach. Everyday I would sit right by the water with my cup and watch the sun rise in different shades of soft pastel tones. It was an incredibly peaceful place. There were no tourists in February, only the villagers walking their dogs. Also remarkable was that in this week I witnessed a complete shift of winter to spring. On my first day, I was walking on this bizarre snowy sand and surrounded by an iced sea and on my last day it was so warm and sunny and I smelled spring was coming. 

It took two days of adjusting before I became very focused on writing. Almost the whole time I was alone and writing, feeling all these ideas and collected fragments coming together organically. But sometimes I would talk to my host who cared for her ninety-five-year-old father suffering from dementia. And she also was suffering in a way, which was was tough for me to witness because she was sharing her anger and frustration very openly with me. Writing a song about this very particular story of their relationship felt like releasing these frozen, trapped feelings a little bit. 

In the end, the change of scenery, the new routine, and exploring of this place woke up my inner muse. The presence of the nostalgic Baltic Sea helped me to put my “constricted view“ into a new perspective: everything goes on anyway, regardless of whether we want the changes or not.

How has traveling and the different cultures of the world influenced your writing and perspective?

I deeply feel that discovering and having experiences is essential for my artistic work because it allows me to grow. As if I would pull myself out of my comfortable flower pot and transplant myself in a new pot so that I have more space for new roots. But first I need to adjust, I need to feel this new earth under me in order to understand it and maybe I can find a sense of home there. 

To be able to explore different places or finding different homes is a huge privilege I’m aware of. It shakes me thinking about that. That I can choose a home while others must find a new home or might never feel home somewhere. But it also makes me beyond grateful and humble, which also shapes my experiences so much. 

Being in other places, exploring other music scenes not only inspires my songwriting directly, but also indirectly because I am out of my comfort zone; facing challenges of living abroad and gaining new self-confidence. This also increases the feeling of wanting to communicate through my songs, because I expose myself to others and new mirrors (I like this concept of people are mirrors for us), which helps me to understand and reflect on myself better. I can try out myself and my music on strangers to see how they respond. And in all these places where I’ve been, Melbourne, New Orleans, New York and now Montréal, people can connect with my music and that brings something else to life: this sense of home I find in my music, in myself, so I can carry home everywhere and feel safe in a way.

What does success as a musician and songwriter mean to you?

I don’t want to define success the way our capitalist meritocracy does (which isn’t for sure always easy. There are moments when I forget that. Haha). For me, success as an artist is nothing measurable because it’s connected to a very profound feeling such as pride, gratitude, and humility. I experience these things when connect to me through my music.

For instance, when a stranger writes me an e-mail saying how my music is helping them through difficult times, or when I play a concert with my band where all the parameters are just right so we can engage with each other in a way that we are completely immersed in this act of making music and connected with everyone in the room. Experiencing this kind of connection is possible both from places I have been and in places where I have yet to go. I think that my success is because my songs speak this universal language of human connection.

What else might you have in store for the rest of the year?

I’m really excited to release all my upcoming singles. The next one will be “Weirdo“ on September 23rd, again with an accompanying live session. Then there will be two music videos that I’m very proud of. The first one is releasing early November for the song “Constant Flow.“ It’s a one-shot video capturing my friend Tabea Lankhuijzen (an incredibly talented artist from Mannheim) making this huge one-line drawing on a 2×2 meter canvas while I’m in the middle of it. It was so much fun bringing this idea to life so I’m excited for people to see it.

Also the other music video we have in the pipeline features another friend, the amazing dancer Amie Jammeh, with whom I created a dance choreography for the song “Sugar+Oxygen.“ This is the most intimate and vulnerable video I’ve done so far.

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