Anja Huwe

Xmal Deutchsland’s Anja Huwe takes on our quick-fire questions

Photo: Jan Riephoff

Hello Anja! You haven’t made any music since Xmal Deutschland split in 1990, and now you’ve released two albums on the same day. You’ve been busy!

“We had lots of requests about re-releasing our earlier records. Finally, I decided, ‘OK, let’s give it a try’. It was a lot of work! Besides that, I started my solo project ‘Codes’, together with my friend Mona Mur, and Manuela Rickers, guitarist of Xmal Deutschland.”

The photo on the ‘Early Singles (1981-1982)’ collection is brilliant. Xmal always had such great hair!

“Well yes, the pictures from our very first single are just fantastic, aren’t they? I love them. Those were taken by Wolfgang Ellerbrock, who was the bass player in the band at one point. Before that, he used to work as a photographer. I always thought, ‘We have these funny haircuts, everyone has a different hair colour, why not have a photo?’. The pictures are so beautiful and so well done.”

I love the stories about your reluctance to front the band initially. Why was that?

“I’m not sure why, but for some reason I wasn’t prepared to be on a stage, performing in front of people, being the face of a band. I saw myself as part of a band, and I wanted to be creative, but not the focus. By the way, I’m not the only one – a good example is Liz Fraser, who was really frightened to go onstage. In the beginning, I was too, because if you’re the singer everyone looks at you! But it changed. You get used to it, and you can just be there and perform, which I did.”

It’s great hearing this early work again. How was it for you revisiting these tracks?

“I never listen to my very old material because to me, it’s like listening to rehearsal room recordings! They are recorded so simply. But it’s there, you know? It’s my story, it’s my history, it’s my past. I always move forward, I never look back. But I do understand why people like these tracks.”

Do you think the band gets enough credit for not only being goth frontrunners but an all-girl group too? 

“We never saw ourselves as goth frontrunners. We looked like that, but we always said, ‘We are a band, we are musicians, we don’t want to be labelled’. Being an all-girl band happened accidentally. We were all friends and enjoyed being together and having fun. I think the fact that we were good-looking, funny and had a certain kind of aura, maybe, it made guys often think, ‘Are they able to play?’. And we showed them that this is possible. ‘Fuck you!’ We just did it. That was very important.”

You’ve talked about being “haunted by the legend of Xmal Deutschland” since disbanding. What do you mean by that?

“Well, it’s pretty easy to explain. We split up, and we disappeared – and that made the band even bigger. It’s a very common thing – if you disappear, then people try to find out, ‘Where are they? What are they doing now?’.”

During the pandemic, you had a change of heart about your musical hiatus and ‘Codes’ is the result. It’s a great listen. Are you kicking yourself that you haven’t made music for so long?

“No, I’m not kicking myself. This was the right time to get this done.”

You can hear Xmal in there, but ‘Codes’ feels like a mature, grown-up version. Is that how you see it?

“I know you can hear Xmal Deutschland in ‘Codes’, of course you can. Simply because it’s my voice, and it’s Manuela’s guitars, which I love. When we started working on the tracks, I said to Mona, ‘If we go on with this work, I want Manuela to play the guitars’. Because I love her sound, I need her sound. It inspires me. No one plays quite like her. But we also have Mona’s electronic beats, which I like too.”

Isn’t it interesting how your musical fingerprint is uniquely you? What makes you sound like that, do you think?

“It’s just the way that I express myself. I can’t explain what it is! I have a certain way of singing, I have a certain way of phrasing things. I can’t tell you – that’s just me!”

The very first line of the opening track, ‘Skuggornas’, is “I don’t regret anything I’ve done”. Nothing at all? 

“In songs, I play with words, of course. I put things together. In my private life, I would say that to regret something is a very strong word. I would rather say, there are things that I would have done differently. But I don’t really feel regret. I rethink things. So no, not really.”

You’ve subsequently built a career as a visual artist. Your work is stunning and has been described as “music on canvas”. Can you tell us a little about that?

“I paint music. I have synaesthesia, so music and colour are connected for me. I use dots to get colour across as lines, nodes, sometimes melodies – colour is sound for me.”

Will there be more music from you? Has ‘Codes’ relit the fire, or have you drawn a line under music again?

“‘Codes’ was a very, very intense work over almost two years. It was a lot of fun, but it was tough. I very much enjoyed it, and I still enjoy going back to the tracks. I’m not sure what comes next. I wouldn’t say ‘this is it’, but I’m really looking forward to going back to art and colour. I haven’t thought about this! I don’t really make plans. Let’s see what comes next.”

‘Codes’ by Anja Huwe and ‘Early Singles (1981-1982)’ by Xmal Deutschland are out on Sacred Bones

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