RTL Today caught up with the musician behind the delightful new record All We Need Is Love ahead of her show at den Atelier this coming Sunday 3 November.
From the off, Stefanie Heinzmann proves to be a fun and engaging interviewee, flitting between fun and serious, gently ribbing me about my German pronunciations and regarding the challenges of being a pop star in the modern market, we discuss still loving Michael Jackson, the importance of honesty and learning to let go.
Her breezy way with conversations also means that, even if she's answered many of these questions a million times before, she doesn't let it be known that she is bored or trotting off stock answers.
This, perhaps, goes some way to explain why the likeable singer has proven to be such a success story across song and TV screen.
We spoke to Stefanie earlier in the year, some way ahead of the release of her current album All We Need Is Love and certainly ahead of the tour to promote it. Yet, even then, it was clear that the Swiss singer was determined, desperate even to get out on the road. "It's been four years since my last album (Chance Of Rain), so the first thing to address is why did it take four years?" Why indeed, it is easy in the faster, fresher, less patient times of 'shuffle' and curated playlists to swiftly become irrelevant. For Stefanie, however, the time was just not right. "I had some things going in my life, personal things, I was writing, we were playing, but the cycle for '...Rain' was not over and we were not yet ready."
"Now, it feels like a new start, it's really exciting. I feel, like, this new cycle is going to be very exciting."
By exciting, Stefanie also means hectic; "I've had, perhaps 80 plus interviews so far and many more are booked." Heinzmann is used to the spotlight, however intense it can get, and let's not forget this is a musician who was flung into the masses at a young age, winning a German talent show in 2007 with the tracks "Only So Much Oil in the Ground," a Tower of Power cover, and "My Man Is a Mean Man", a track produced specifically for her.
"You might get used to the way things 'work', but you're never really settled, there's always something new, new information, new ways...it's really intense."
Stefanie Heinzmann has played in The Grand Duchy before and her expectations are wonderfully uncomplicated, "I love to play in Luxembourg, I still remember the first time I played there, I was so afraid that no one would understand me because, I was not sure which language the audience would be speaking [laughs], god, I was so young. But now I feel like it is so nice to visit and perform there. It's such a lovely country and I hope that this time, I am able to see more than I was able to last time out."
Heinzmann's career trajectory has been steady, rather than a boom/fade, and she puts that down to "growing up with her music". Or more specifically learning to deal with the things that scared her in order to move past them. "At the beginning, when I was 18 or so, I remember being really afraid of interviews, I had no idea what they were at the time, or after...how they were [laughs]"
"But, you know, actually, it changed of course, with new music and new styles, but with this record it's been great. I've never spoken so much about the lyrics, the sense of it...the meaning of the record and that has been really nice."
It is clear that there is a more personal angle to AWNIL, and this is something that becomes more apparent the longer you talk with Stefanie. "This record is [pause] really [pause] honest, it details more on how I feel and the things I have done and I really want to share something with my fans."
Here, then, is another pointer as to why Stefanie Heinzmann is still in demand and releasing a fifth record...her fans. It's easy to say that an artist needs a fan base to survive, but to maintain a strong following over 11 years and though many guises and shifts in styles is no mean feat.
"Oh yeah, they [the fans], they get it! They really want to know what went on during those years between this and the last album."
Was it then, more important for herself to get these songs 'out' and be honest about where they placed her, or that the audience would react and connect with them? "I set out at the beginning with placing importance on just being honest with myself, to really get to know myself. I really had to ask myself the tough questions: 'who am I, really?', 'What do I want?' and that became the basis of the record."
The pop world has a history of building up the next big thing and knocking them down. It's also a tough issue to address, what with me being a middle-aged man, that Stefanie may look back on some of the initial promo materials focusing on dressing her as alternative pop star with a sigh and a frown. "There were a lot of insecurities, yes, something I have addressed on this record and elements of being afraid and feeling the fear. But, I really wanted the message to come through to be one of empowerment."
The message seems to be for her as much as for her fans. Stefanie won't reveal too many specifics, preferring fans to pick out the story threads through her songs but positive thinking trumps all. "You are great how you are. You know, so the reaction of the audience is something I hold dear to me."
There are two perspectives from this branching point, there are many who assume that musicians/pop stars should be content due to adulation and money...the archetypes of fame and fortune, whereas to paraphrase Depeche Mode, people are people, insecure and in need of comfort - was this something Hienzmann addressed?
"That's a really important thing to remember. You will see something or someone and consider them [singers/artists] as a package, and you think that you really know the artist based on what is being shown to you, but it's never what you think. Everyone I meet, and it doesn't matter which job they have, everyone feels insecure sometimes, or that, you know, life is hard...so, yeah, for me it was important to talk as a human being."
Reconnecting with her life path seems to be at the core of Stefanie's drive and the connection with herself is not mutually exclusive to her audience. "Talking to people about these thoughts, and feelings, you know, with family and friends, these topics are what connect people. It doesn't matter what age, which job, or gender, they all feel a sense of insecurities. We tend to compare ourselves to other people and often this comparison is not a fair one."
Going back to empowerment and especially with the way in which language has changed and the shift in certain terminology, how has Heinzmann seen the music world embrace musician over male and female? "This is a huge topic to cover, that of gender, and I think the only goal we should have is to avoiding separating into these categories: what a man wants, what a woman wants, a mother, a father, gays, lesbians whatever, we should address what the person wants, what a human being deserves."
"It should never be about what women deserve above all else, of course the redressing of balance is great but it needs to include everyone."
Stepping away from the politics, as we were in danger of taking all our time talking about this rather than the music, we turn to the collaboration with the German DJ Alle Farben for Build A House... "That one was really fun, we had the song written almost one year before it got released and we were unsure what to do with it [laughs] because, it was a song that doesn't really fit in with the rest of the album tracks."
After a few discussions with management, label bosses and the such, Heinzmann was pleased to find a solution, "I suggested trying out a DJ maybe and for me, and I don't just say this, Alle Farben is a guy who is producing electronic music in a warm way. We showed him the track and he liked it and we met shortly after in the studio. Then, about one and a half months later, the single was out and I really enjoyed that process, it was sort of spontaneous, yet natural."
What sort of music would we find should we have a quick look at Stefanie's phone, or peaked into her record collection? There could already be educated guesses, given influences and back-catalogues, but that which is released is not always the truest reflection of that which is enjoyed behind closed doors. "I like EVERYTHING. That is so TRUE. But where my heart starts beating quicker is absolutely with Soul music. Jill Scott, Joss Stone, Tower of Power and the Motown classics and Michael Jackson."
"On the other hand, I love to listen to Hip-Hop or even alt-rock like Incubus or Biffy Clyro...and then I like to be experimental and take in some electo-pop like Chet Faker...it really depends on how I feel. There's music for every mood, isn't there?"
Heinzmann's off hand remark about the king of pop brings us back to the topic about woke playlists, i.e the removal and blocking of artists considered 'offensive'..."This is a tough one, in one sense it's the 'music', you know. When I was younger I was always listening to music in our home, so I have the memories of that time attached to the songs of that era. The stories and the connection. It is about the person not the artist in that sense. But then, on the other hand when there are terrible things coming out about an artist, I feel like it breaks the artist a little bit, if you know what I mean. Shatters that illusion."
Music as being something timeless and free from controversy is increasingly rare these days and that says more about the secrets held for years, rather than the increase in access to stars and their 'peculiar' ways. "There are things with R. Kelly and Michael to an extent, and it concerns me, I have to say, to hear and read such things, I don't really want to believe that there are people like that."
"I feel with Michael, there is a difference, I mean he was a kid, as an adult, he was a kid....I don't know, it's very bad, but he changed the world with his music and I just really don't want these things to be true."
These point interests me, the difference between Jackson and Kelly, the basis of argument being that Jackson is more readily forgiven for his alleged crimes than Kelly. It's a dichotomy explored in editor Nathalie Lodhi's pieces here and here. Hienzmann's stance is a commonly held one, she is not condoning the behaviour or the despicable acts that have been levelled at Jackson's estate, more she is reluctant to give up the wonderful memories she experienced when listening to Thriller for the first time in a more innocent frame of mind. The music should survive, even when the reputation does not.
As we start to wind down our time, we talk about the differences between Stefanie Heinzmann 2019 and the artist from 2015, "When I did Masterplan (2008), I'd won a talent show, the label gave me a bunch of songs and they told me 'just choose 14 of them and we will record those', I found the notion hilarious...I was crying listening to the songs trying to whittle the down the list and then, wham, three weeks later I had a finished album. It was MASSIVE and SO fast. Now, 11 years later, I've had the time to think about it and I want to share love with the people. Share good thoughts and good feelings."
"11 years ago it was just about getting an album out, now it really has become my heart's mission."
There are 12 tracks on the record, the process of cutting down potential favourites is never easy, for Heinzmann this was a painful time, "[laughs]... yeah it was kind of painful. For this record we had over 50 songs and to be honest, it was maybe, yeah there 25 that were really easy to say goodbye to them [laughs], they just weren't very good [laughs] after that it became a struggle." Perhaps due to the insecurity popping up again or perhaps label pressure, "You have a good feeling for a song, it feels good and you think you want to take it and then something else takes over in production that loses a little bit. Or a lyric stands out, or a melody becomes stronger. It's a continually developing process."
The songs that were cut may see the light of day, though; "We may keep some for the next record, or just play them live, we will have to see - all I can see is that I am incredibly proud of the 12 we have on the album."
The video for one of the lead tracks from All We Need Is Love, Mother's Heart sees a digitally enhanced Stefanie ageing throughout the video, the idea was to address ageing and being comfortable in your skin. "We initially thought of getting in actors, or pictures from my childhood, or even my own mum for the video but, seeing as the lyrics are about the fact that, if they are lucky, everyone will get older, it made sense to feature me, and we wanted to show that you should be proud of yourself, be proud of who you are."
"You have this one life, this one body....and it's beautiful and precious thing."