Behind The Hirsch Effekt

Nils from the band The Hirsch Effekt on music videos, concept albums and Fridays For Future

Prog rockers The Hirsch Effekt release their fifth album 'Kollaps' in 2020. They are also shooting three music videos. We have caught Nils Wittrock, guitarist, singer and songwriter of The Hirsch Effekt, between video productions and rehearsal room and quizzed him about the album concept and the videos. Here you can find out what Greta has to do with 'Kollaps' and what the Hirschs think about playbacks and samples at concerts.

Hi Nils! The first question I asked myself was: music videos? And no less than three? Is not the heyday of music videos over?

I rather thought that, nowadays, you do not release anything at all without also providing additional material to watch. Some artists only create individual songs with videos instead of releasing whole albums. They only release singles, so to speak. We are taking a middle course: we are going to lift four singles from 'Kollaps', three before and one after the album release. By the way, strictly speaking there are actually four videos. Three classic videos and one pack shot video.


So, it was clear right from the start that you were going to make music videos?

Yes. Though it was sometimes a controversial issue for us, it was clear from the beginning that there would be moving pictures to go with our music. Already for our last album, we made two traditional music videos and a mood video using older live recordings.


Do you pay for the videos yourselves or does your label support you?

No, our label provides us with a fixed budget that we can use exclusively for video clips. And IMG STAGELINE also finances a considerable part of the videos thanks to an endorsement. Especially our label tells us, guys, you absolutely need music videos. And we trust them. They know more about marketing than we do.


Okay, but would you also make videos for your music if you did not have a label or an endorsement partner paying for them?

That is a good question. But the reasons for music videos are good and we are happy to have the opportunity to realise them. With videos, bands can serve particularly Youtube, Facebook and Instagram much better. That was our thought behind it. So, we do not simply shoot the videos because our label pays for it, but also because it is good music marketing.

“Music videos draw more attention and generate a further reach than simply saying: 'There you are, here is the first song, here is the SoundCloud or Spotify link, have fun.'”


— Nils Wittrock, The Hirsch Effekt

Did you create the concept for these music videos yourselves? That is, do you come up with the content and aesthetics or how does it work?

That varies. We made a performance video, a video with an actual plot and one where we just fool around in front of a green screen. We have split the budget between these three ideas. Then we did the fine-tuning with people who support us. We devised the performance video together with two filmmakers from our network. For the video in front of the green screen we just used a few props, everything else was rather impromptu. Especially Steffen Flügel, a true video and media professional, supported us in making these two videos. The story video was designed by the director himself. He is part of the Off the Road studios team, which might be familiar to some of our readers...

“Sure, we can come up with an idea for a video, but the detailed realisation? We need external know-how for that. We are musicians. You cannot do everything.”

— Nils Wittrock, The Hirsch Effekt

Has it always been the case that you deliberately handed over creative responsibility to someone else?

No, that was a learning process. In the past, we wanted to have more of a say in the videos, but that was not always good. I think, we had very good filmmakers for some of the older Hirsch Effect videos, but we were interfering way too much. That was a bit annoying for both parties. We were not always 100% happy with the self-inflicted final result.


How long does it take to produce these videos?

The story video is produced over the course of two weekends, during which I am not always present on the set. The green screen video and the performance video are shot and finished in one day each.


Of course, we are most curious about the story video. Can you tell us what it is about?

I cannot tell you very much about it right now, also because I do not know in detail what is planned yet. Basically, the protagonist is a little boy who lives alone in an apocalyptic world. This apocalyptic world in the video is directly connected to the song. The whole album is a concept album and the video picks up the song quite directly.


As you mention it yourself, it is a concept album again, so all the songs are more or less closely connected. What is the album about?

The whole album is an attempt to recount or at least describe the views of the Fridays For Future (FFF) movement. The concept follows quotes from Greta Thunberg. Accordingly, it is about doomsday scenarios and global warming in the broadest sense.


The FFF movement is a hot topic. In August 2018, the movement has attracted actual media attention for the first time. On the other hand, it takes time to make a concept album. How long have you been working on the album?

We started working on 'Kollaps' in January 2019. In August 2019, we were finished. Generally, we have always first the music for our albums, then the lyrics. While the first albums by The Hirsch Effekt covered very personal topics, the album 'Eskapist' from 2017 has already dealt with a topic that affects society as a whole, migration to Europe, and so does 'Kollaps' now.

When and why did you choose FFF as the theme of your album?

At the end of March 2019, the conscious decision was made. I remember pretty clearly that I was watching the talk show of Anne Will and saw this girl sitting there. I had already heard of Greta but I had not really concerned myself with what she was doing. But Greta had made such a strong impression on me on Anne Will's programme that I joined the demonstrations of the FFF movement afterwards. In Berlin, Aachen, Hamburg, Hanover. I talked to many people at the demos. And then I thought: are we writing about FFF now? Are we a political band with a political message? I preferred to put myself in the position of these young people.

“The album is less our own point of view; instead, it is rather descriptive. It is more documentary than opinion, at least that was the intention.”

— Nils Wittrock, The Hirsch Effekt

We also try to address the topic of climate sceptics, as neutrally and accurately as possible. Nevertheless, it will be clear to every listener how we feel about the FFF movement.


That is what I was about to say: you talk about a perspective and a neutral 'documentary', but the topics of the FFF movement are already part of your identity, right?

Maybe, but that is not what it is all about. We are not really climate activists. Greta and the topic struck a chord because I would have been deeply involved as a young person. Anti-materialism and critique of capitalism would have reeled me in completely as a younger person. At the same time, I asked myself: what will happen if I continue living the way I do? What if my grandchildren will ask me why we did not adapt in the face of climate change? The waste I produce, all that travelling with the band. The electricity that is blown at a concert. The FFF movement is an indictment of a carefree lifestyle, including mine.


Did you collaborate with someone from the FFF movement for the lyrics?

No. I thought about it, but that would have destroyed the descriptive nature and the necessary distance. That would be too chummy. We do not want to be the mouthpiece or perform at an FFF rally. We write about what happens. Everyone should form their own opinion from that, perhaps question themselves, change something.

“We do not say what is right on 'Kollaps'. We emphasise how relevant the FFF movement is through musical documentation. But we are not a political band like Rage Against the Machine.”

— Nils Wittrock, The Hirsch Effekt

Back to the album 'Kollaps': what did you find most exhausting about the production?

Songwriting was sometimes tough because we are rarely all in one place. But then we locked ourselves away in a holiday home in the country for eight days and brought everything together. That helps when all the band members live in different cities. The songs are mostly created via digital songwriting, only later we get together and try them out. At first without vocals, just as a preparation for the recordings.

“We have not rehearsed for upcoming concerts yet either. We will not do that until the album is finished. Then we will think about what we want to do live and what is possible.”

— Nils Wittrock, The Hirsch Effekt

Possible? So, you have songs that cannot be realised live at all?

Yes, we have some, one even as a single with a video. Those songs have many guitar parts or are with string instruments that we do not want to replay from tape on stage. That is always a question of balance. We sometimes have strings on the album, for example, which we also replay from tape in concerts, because everybody knows, that is recorded, there is clearly no cellist up there on stage.

“A second or third guitar track as playback at a concert? No. That interferes too much with the live character, that is irritating.”

— Nils Wittrock, The Hirsch Effekt

Who plays something like string instruments for your recordings? That is not part of the core band, is it?

We have a large network of talented contacts and friends by now. In this case, our sound engineer played the violin, our bassist Ilya played the cello.


The guys of The Bland went into the studio with three times as many songs as ended up on the record. Is it the same with you?

No, on the contrary: there are hardly any The Hirsch Effekt songs that we do not record. We know the order of the songs and roughly what we want to narrate right from the start. There are also no breaks between the songs, in the sense of standard intros or outros. The songs are so closely connected that they are, in fact, precisely the songs we record.

“There are no more changes to the songs during the recording process. We record a very precise demo before the actual studio time. Then we realise that professionally in the studio.”

— Nils Wittrock, The Hirsch Effekt

Nils, thanks a lot for the insights and good luck with the release of your new record!

The artists in our IMG STAGELINE family are dear to our hearts - and carefully selected. The virtuosity through a mix of odd beats, breakdowns and chaotically boarded guitar parts is what fascinates us about The Hirsch Effekt. The guys sound like an avant-garde mixture of Animals as Leaders, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Heaven Shall Burn and The Fall of Troy. The well-known blogger Matt Matheson even writes: “The Hirsch Effect opened my eyes to a new universe of compositional realities.” That fits!