Patient, diligent, polite. These terms are equally appropriate for use in describing Florian Hofer, a singer/songwriter and guitarist who recently saw his debut solo album Reaching through to release in his native Germany and around the world. From the moment a song idea sprouts in his mind to the final touches added during production, Hofer is actively engaged in the songwriting process, invested nearly as much in a new track’s creation as he is in taking his next breath. On the heels of Hofer’s important solo release, Blues Rock Review called Hofer at his base in Hanover, Germany to learn more about the making of the record.
Your debut solo album Reaching was recently released worldwide. Congratulations! How does it feel?
Thanks. It feels so right; it feels pretty good. The second part of Reaching was recorded in 2010, and the first part was recorded last year, so for me it’s been a long time sitting on these tracks. But I’m still excited and I’m very happy that finally these songs will be released and people can check them out worldwide. It’s pretty cool.
Was it hard for you to keep the album cohesive, or did you find that writing over time worked well for you?
I was doing so much stuff in between. I was the guitarist for a couple bands and for a singer in California, and I was involved in a band project with different musicians, so I didn’t write those songs over the years. It took me a few weeks to write those new songs, and back in 2010 it was probably the same. Generally, I think there’s no need for songs to be written in a long process. Sometimes it’s good for a song, sometimes it’s not. All these songs were written and recorded pretty fast. It just happened that those songs were recorded in different time periods of my life. The process was pretty quick, but it still took a long time for those songs to see daylight for some business reasons.
I’ve read that Neil Young’s song “Heart of Gold” had a significant influence on you when you were younger. What is it about that song that drew your attention?
When I was probably 12 years old, I was sitting in my parents’ living room. My dad had this huge collection of records, and one of my favorites was this record by Neil Young. One evening they were out for dinner, and I was listening to the album and this song came on, and it just hit me so hard that I wanted to play the song myself. There was a guitar sitting in the living room, and I grabbed it and looked in my dad’s songwriting chart book – and there was the song. “Heart of Gold” was the only song by Neil Young in the book. It’s only three or four chords, so I learned it pretty quick. I realized I couldn’t really play the song so well, but the feel of playing those simple chords just hit me so hard. To this day, I think a good song doesn’t need to be complex or busy to be cool. Neil Young’s a master of melodies and chords and songwriting in general, and it’s interesting that I started playing music with this song, because it’s such a great song. It’s timeless. When we’re talking about songwriting, all these guys from back in the day had great songwriting skills, even Jimi Hendrix. He was a master of playing the guitar, and he had all these tricks, but if you break down those songs to the basics, you had a great song. Songwriting is a huge topic. I don’t want to bore you, but I could talk for ages about this because it’s so interesting, and there are no rules.
Considering the multiple aspects involved in music creation, is it ever difficult for you to figure out how all the elements merge together?
When it comes to my instruments, like my voice and guitar, then we’re talking about production. I have my idea – some kind of melody or lyrics – and then it’s a question of how I can bring my idea to life and express myself through my instruments. There are different methods. For example, today I had a rehearsal with my band. I’m not a big fan of jamming, but my drummer said, “Come on – let’s just do it.” So we jammed, and at the end of the day we had a new song. It’s really cool. In this case, the drummer played some groove, my bass player played some cool riff, and suddenly I had this melody in my mind for the guitar. With this guitar riff a melody for the vocal came. Things just happen. This is the beauty of making music together in a room: energy can just flow. Sometimes, for example on “Why,” this idea came to me on a plane while I was flying to New York to Henry Hirsch . There was an issue in the cockpit and we had to return to Germany, and I was scared. Suddenly, I had this melody in my mind, and when I began writing on this song, I remembered the melody and things came together.
Have any of the other songs you’ve written been inspired by your life experiences?
I think everybody has some kind of life event that affects him or her in some way. This event can be something like the plane or a problem, something beautiful or some love, or maybe even a beautiful day. Most of the time, music comes first for me. When the music is there, there’s already some kind of vibe or energy in the melody or in the chords. With this vibe, I try to catch the energy of the lyrics. Then I might think of some event in my life and write about it.
How do you stay nimble as a writer?
My approach to songwriting has changed so much in the last year, especially since I started working with Henry. I’m still learning so much. I think it’s a life-lasting process. Also, your taste changes, and I think a big part of songwriting is your taste in music. For example, a Led Zeppelin song is completely different from a Beatles song. As a songwriter, my taste changes with every experience in my life. On Reaching, the second half of the album is from 2010. I still love it, but I would write those songs differently now; as you see on the album, I recorded “Reaching” twice, once in 2010 and once last year. I just wanted to show that if I had the chance to record these songs again, I would probably do it differently. Then again, it’s how I felt back then, so it’s cool because I had a reason back then to record those songs as I did. But yeah, I listen to music: to practice songwriting, just listen to songs.
Who has stood out as a mentor to you through the years you’ve spent writing and recording music?
There was this drummer, Atma Anur – he’s a great drummer from the Bay Area, and he moved to Poland a few years ago. I think it was 2011 when I became friends with him. This was my first high-level experience working on this level. I think my biggest influence is Henry Hirsch. I wasn’t long in New York, but we’re still writing emails almost every day. He explained the importance of recording to tape and so much stuff about songwriting, but there are so many people I’ve been influenced by. Everyone influences me – even as we’re talking for this interview, by the end I will have learned something for sure.
I live in Hanover, one of the bigger cities in the center of Germany. Rudolph Schenker, the guitarist of the German band the Scorpions, invited me to his studio once and explained something to me about his general view on life, how to stay motivated, and to remember that it’s really important to follow your heart: to take all these things seriously, but to also have fun.
Let’s talk a bit more about Reaching. Do you have a favorite track on the album?
I want to say “Why,” but that’s my single – it sounds a little boring. But I think from the songwriting aspect, that’s my favorite song. I also like the song “Reaching,” the new version, but only because it was fun recording it. “Walk into the Light” is a nice song…I like all the songs. I wouldn’t have recorded them if I hadn’t loved them. But “Why” and “Reaching” stand out to me.
How did you celebrate the worldwide release of Reaching on February 28?
I had a pretty hardcore rehearsal. Celebrating, like a party? Not really. But I feel grateful and happy, and I wrote a great song, a great new song. We celebrated the day by creating new music.
Do you have a favorite memory that stands out to you as an artist or a music fan?
When I was maybe 19 or 20 years old I played in a cover band. We had our very first concert in a foreign country. We prepared: we played Mr. Big and Deep Purple and all this stuff, and we had this one song from Jimi Hendrix, “Foxy Lady.” We rehearsed, and the singer was late – I didn’t sing at all until that moment. In rehearsal I sang a couple words, just to mark where we were, but I didn’t really sing. A few days later, we were on the road, driving down to play in this cool club. We were completely excited: we went backstage, prepared, and came out onstage. There weren’t many people, but it felt great just being there to play. The Jimi Hendrix song was the anchor of our show, and for some reason, the singer just forgot the lyrics. Something happened to him where he couldn’t sing the song, so I decided to sing it myself. What can you do? There are all the people, they’re excited and you already said you’d play the song, so we played and I sang. It was the first time I realized I could sing – I had never actually sang before, I’d never even sang the whole song in rehearsal. To me, it was really mind-blowing. The next day, we packed up our stuff and the people from the club said, “Wow, you should really continue singing.” It just happened for some crazy reason. The singer couldn’t sing and I stepped in. Here we are six years later: singing is normal for me now.
What comes next for you?
I wish I could go on tour, but for some reason we still haven’t found a tour I can support. So I decided to spend my time working on new music. I will go to Copenhagen in Denmark in a few days. I found this producer/songwriter named Søren Christensen – Søren is the keyboard player of the Danish band the Blue Van, and he’s a great songwriter. My friend Henry recommended him to me – he put us in touch. I don’t have the budget right now to go to Henry in New York, and Søren’s a great guy, a young guy. Henry told me, “Søren is the only guy I can recommend who can understand you and who’s able to take your music to the next level.” I was immediately interested, so I wrote Søren and sent him some songs. He really liked them and invited me to his studio; I’m very excited to go there in two days. I’ll be there until mid-March. We’ll see what turns out: I’m pretty sure we can write some great songs.
My band just came from a little tour in Poland, we toured for about a week with four or five shows; it was a great thing. We’re becoming friends more and more, and we have so much fun together. I’m thinking of turning this solo project into a band, because this is what I really want to do: playing in a band, singing and playing guitar. I hadn’t found the right guys before, but I just moved to Hanover and found Till Schomburg [bassist] and Albrecht Bibas [drummer], and it feels so good to play with them. I think it’s time to make this dream come true.
Interview by Meghan Roos