Chirgle Freund, Marlene, Klaudia Schiff
Marlene Marder interview by Jason Gross (May 1998)
'Hotch-potch, Hugger-mugger, Bow-wow, Hara-kiri, Hoo-poo, Huzza,
Hicc-up, Hum-drum, Hexa-pod, Hell-cat, Helter-skelter, Hop-scotch'
'A spectre is haunting Europe,' wrote Marx and Engels 150 years ago. They could have also been talking about another phenomenon that swept across Europe and America some 20 years ago. Punk rock turned up in the seemingly unlikeliest places outside of London and New York. One of them was Zurich, Switzerland where a small group of women found something liberating and exhilarating in this music that drew them into joining in on the fun. From about 1978 to 1983, guitarist/singer Marlene Marder, bassist/singer Klaudia Schiff and a revolving cast of cohorts put out a handful of singles and two albums (Liliput and Some Songs, with the LiLiPuT CD coming out in the early '90's collecting all of their material) first as Kleenex then later (after a lawsuit) as Liliput. Though the records were only available in Europe, they made a big stir in England where their records made the charts and the media were interested in 'the new Slits.' Kleenex/Liliput were wild, funny, almost child-like in the way they played, wrote and sang- the lyrics to "Split" printed above is a prime example.
Though the original LiLiPUT CD and the albums are not in print anymore, Kill Rock Stars reissued all of their material in February 2001. There is also a book available from Marlene from 1985. It's a diary made from the time that the group was touring as well as loads of press clippings/articles. It's called THE DIARY OF THE GUITARIST MARLENE MARDER, KLEENEX/LILIPUT (which says it all). It's 230 pages, written in German but there are a lot of interviews, articles, pictures, lyrics and fan letters in English- well worth it for any fan of the band. You can contact Marlene for details about how to purchase this at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you write her just to tell her how much you enjoy Kleenex/Liliput, this will make her happy too.
Supreme thanks to Urs Steiger and Reuben Cervera of Razor and Tie.
PSF: How did Liliput get together? What made you want to start a band?
Fun! I was listening to everything- blues, rock and roll. It started with the punk scene which came over from England. It's the old story. We were fed up with the old hippie bands and then the Sex Pistols came over and blah, blah, blah. We thought it was great fun and it was very easy to play so we did.
It was a small scene where everybody knew everybody. The only punk bands there was Kleenex and the band I was in (the Nasal Boys). The other girls knew each other already while I was in another band at the time. I played in the first punk band in Zurich but I played saxophone there ('77). I was playing with all these guys and we had this one or two gigs and no one heard the saxophone but it didn't matter- it was just for playing, for fun. You weren't allowed to have a saxophone in a punk band at the time. The guys were trying to become famous- they had a record company that said 'no saxophones in a punk band.' So I said 'forget it.' But they weren't the ones who became famous! (laughs)
Then I decided to go with them (the girls) in a week and they had two songs. They needed a guitarist. I used to play guitar when I was a teenager. So I thought it might be more fun to play with the girls on guitar where you HEARD the guitar than to play with the guys on the saxophone and nobody listened to it. (laughs) I liked these two songs very much. I said 'that's the kind of music I can play too,' with only two chords.
PSF: Was it a conscious decision to have a group of all women?
Well, yes and not really. We weren't in this 'let's form a band and go on' because we were just friends.' The guy who was a guitarist in my old band had played with Klaudia (Schifferle, bassist) and Lislot (Ha, drummer). Then they had the first show and he played the first two songs with them. But in the meantime I learned the songs also and two others. After the show, he was fed up and the audience wanted to hear the four songs again ("Beri-Beri," "Ain't You," "Hedi's Head," "Nice"). So I told him 'give me your guitar, I'll play.' So he left and I went on stage and that was the beginning of Kleenex. They had their own band and it was just really by chance- I was there at the right time.
It was really like this punk thing where you just play these three chords and that's it. We did that. In the beginning, Lislot didn't know that you can tune a drum kit. We played like this for a year, without tuned drum kits or a tuned bass or guitar. The guys I think were more ambitious so they didn't want to play with us because they thought (in low voice) 'well, the girls, you know...' The men behaved at that time like they didn't want to play with us. For us, it was OK not because we said 'we're the greatest!' We just did as we could. Not serious in the beginning.
PSF: So even when the band started in Zurich, there was an audience there for this music?
Oh yes. When we started, we just had the four songs and we played for our friends. It wasn't like it was staged for an audience. So we played the four songs in fifteen minutes and they'd say 'go again! go again!' so we'd play the songs again for four hours. It was such good fun that we thought 'maybe we should find out a fifth song...'
PSF: How did the group come up with songs?
In the beginning, it was me because I was the only one who knew three chords. I made a harmony like D, G and A and a melody. But we were all new on our instruments.
PSF: You started with local label, Sunrise. How did that happen?
Friends. They thought it was it would be nice to do a single and that was it. We just thought it would be fun to do the single with our four songs for our friends- the same four songs that we would play at gigs for hours and hours and hours until we get tired.
Then one friend went to England with this single and somehow John Peel got the EP and he played it on the radio over and over. Rough Trade heard it and that was the contact. They asked us to do two songs on one single. The single was done and they were very pleased so they organized a tour for us in England. It was a great thing. We didn't expect that at all. It just went on and on.
PSF: What kind of reception did you get when you came to England?
The audience was GREAT. I was suprised. In Switzerland, it was just friends and we would read about us in NME and the single went on the charts. We just looked at it with great eyes- we had no idea about the music business. We were on a tour package with the Raincoats and Spizzenergi. It was a great experience.
With these bands and Gang of Four and Lora Logic, who we all met, they were all part of this English scene. We were familiar with them- they did the same things (as us) with different sounds but it didn't matter. It was the same kind, the same idea. I felt very familar with them. I still have friends from the Raincoats and Mayo from Red Crayola. These are friendships for a lifetime and I think it's very great.
PSF: The band went through in a lot of line-up changes. Why was that?
We're all human beings. (laughs) Differences in what the band wanted to do. For some girls, it was too much. We were too famous or something else. I don't know. Difficulties in what the music should sound like. Personal stuff.
PSF: A lot of the lyrics were nonsense words/languages, semi-english. What was that about?
'Cause we are talking Swiss-German. That's our mother tongue. In that time, there wasn't hip-hop or rap in your own words. Our English isn't that good. It's a foreign language. It was nonsense anyway! (laughs) We had one or two songs in German. But these bands now have rap songs here in Swiss-German and I think it's really good. For us, English was the language of music but we couldn't talk English so... We tried.
PSF: The band changed names from Kleenex to Liliput. What's the whole story behind that?
The Kleenex (tissue) company processed a letter from the law. In the beginning, we were just in Zurich, Switzerland and we never thought that we would go abroad. Then in England, the Kleenex company found out about us and they didn't like it for us to have their name in connection. They said we had to change our name or otherwise they will call Rough Trade to destroy all the records and we couldn't sell them anymore. We had to pay thousands of Swiss francs for this so we had to decide to change the name. Also, our singer (Regula Sing) left and then we thought it doesn't matter that she left. We just had to find another singer so we had to get another name. We just found a new name in 24 hours. Maybe we thought we were city indians or small like Liliput, little girls. It's not a bad name anyway.
PSF: It took a number of years to get the first album out. Any reason for that?
The money maybe. I think that we weren't THAT interested. But it's very expensive to do an album. Our friends made it possible. For the first singles, we paid on our own. Everybody put the money in. For an LP, it's more expensive. Rough Trade asked and they paid so we did it. Also, because we had these changes. That's why it took so long.
PSF: What do you think of that first (self-titled) record?
I still like it. It's a change because it's a different area, a different time. We were more serious. It wasn't Kleenex with the four songs. We knew a bit more about the music business but not about studios. (laughs) We took a chance. We had the time (then) to do this. In the beginning, we didn't have enough songs to an album. Maybe Iron Butterfly could do that but not us- they filled an LP side with one song, but our songs where between 2-3 minutes and we didn't have that many songs.
PSF: During this time, did you find that there was a supportive scene in Switzerland for what the band was doing? Did other bands like Liliput start up?
We had great support. In Zurich, it all started with this youth riot ('80). There were a lot of band which were tougher than we were. I think everybody thought it was OK, what we did. There weren't that many bands who started up but maybe they said 'they did it maybe we can do it.' When we started, we had a rehearsal room in a factory and we shared it with other bands. They wanted them to listen to us and what we thought of their music. Sometimes we took them with us to support us at concerts.
I was a bit older than the people in the riots. But it's a small town and there were these political questions and we had to say what we thought. So we got involved in it and we were interested in it.
PSF: Do you think this was reflected in the band's songs?
Yes, I think so. We didn't have songs like 'Fuck the System' like other bands had. We sang like 'la, la, la' and 'di, di, di.' At the end, it was also a political message to our situation in this town. Everybody saw this. We didn't throw stones and smash windows. We stood there and played songs. Like "Eisiger Wind," it was like 'icy wind' was in this time and it meant this situation in the town. I think we were very political, looking back. That's my personal view. I never go to violent demonstrations but I see what's going on. So I think maybe it's better that I could write it in a song with some words. Though it sounds like nonsense words, it always had to do with the situation.
PSF: What other kind of elements were important in the songs?
It was just life. Very simple. The life we're living, this band, going on tour suddenly and to read about you in music papers. Everybody knew more than yourself.
PSF: As Liliput got international attention, did that effect the band at all?
No, because we were always a step behind. We read 'Liliput is a sensation' and we'd say 'Oh, we are? We must be if they say so.' (laughs) We learned this from the media. For ourselves, it was never sensational. For example, Greil Marcus wrote about dadaism with us. I had no idea about it. I knew this had been in Zurich but I never made the point for Liliput to have this. In the end, I guess there is a connection because I read it in many books. (laughs) At the time, I didn't see that. If dadaism was around in France and I didn't live there, it wouldn't be a connection. But because it was in Zurich and we lived there, they thought it may be a connection. Now it's in every article about us so there MUST be a connection. But we didn't feel that way then.
PSF: With the second (last) album, how was it different from the first album?
Well, there were new songs. (laughs) On the second album, we had more people on guests for piano and drums. We didn't say 'this song was a hit so let's play a lot of hits.' There was more experience behind it in the time in your life and working in the studio and working on the songs. More feeling, I think. I don't know if I prefer the second one better.
PSF: Why did the group break up after that?
The idea from Rough Trade Germany for the second album was for us to tour. But then Astrid (Spirit, singer) got pregnant and that was the end of the group. The classic end. It was her decision, she wanted to be 100% for the baby as she had been 100% for the band. So, that was it.
From the time of the last album, Klaudia and me wanted to stop the band because we were a bit tired with going on tour and everything. It was Astrid who said 'let's do another album and Rough Trade will pay for it.' I thought it was OK as long as she did the business. I did it all the time (before) and I was tired of it- with the record companies and the money. So she said 'we have to do it.' So we had to go on tour and organize this and so on. Then she came to us and said 'Now I'm pregnant. Sorry girls. Goodbye. Don't ask Rough Trade Germany- they put all the money into it and didn't get it back.' I wasn't really disappointed. It was kind of an end.
PSF: What were you doing just after Liliput broke up?
I started a record store with some friends. Urs had the Off Course label for a long time and he was the one who got Kleenex to do the single first. Now he's up in the mountains snow-boarding with a clothes shop. In the shop, I sold records and did book-keeping. After we split the band, I worked with them and had a good time with the new music and new stuff.
Later, I had a band later on called Danger Mice, from '89 to '92. That was great fun. That was a good band. By then, I had experience and we were three women, old ladies doing rock and roll on stage late in the night. At the end, it was too much, it was too old, doing the same thing. I'm not Tina Turner. But this band was really fun, not serious. We did it for our pleasure and there was no ambition to be famous. We played every weekend in Switzerland. It was hard rock and we were just crazy girls.
PSF: What did you do after this band?
I started my own agency. I worked for Swiss groups and organzied tours and festivals for international bands. In the last two years, I've worked at a jazz club with promotion and administration and driving the bands to the airport. I think without Kleenex I wouldn't be at the point I am at now.
PSF: In the '90's, a collection came out with all the songs from Kleenex and Liliput. How did that come together?
I made it. It was my idea. I had all these tapes and things so I wanted to have everything on a CD. Then I could put all my collections out from tapes like a big finish. (laughs) I felt good to hear this. There were a lot of songs that I said 'Oh! They're not too bad.' I didn't know that before. I think Klaudia made nice pictures for this (the sleeve art work).
PSF: Do you ever get the urge to play again?
No, I'm just not in the mood. (laughs) If someone asked me to join them, maybe I would but I'm not saying 'oh, I need a new band...' I'm not going to hang ads in music stores, looking for musicians.
I'm happy now with my new work. I made a great decision- 'what am I doing with my life?' I had to think about this. I thought that the music was over so I had to find something new to do with the same energy and motivation. I now work with WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature). I do their house magazine and freelance for now. I'm going back to school soon to study pollution control.
I found that culture is one thing and what I'm doing (now) is another thing. But I found that these things are really close because I'm meeting a lot of people that I knew before so it's not a crack between these two professional. It's a logical way if you're fed up or finished with culture, then you do this kind of work.
PSF: How you look back at the band? What are you most pleased about with Kleenex/Liliput?
I think it was a good time. It was long and important time in my life. I wouldn't be at this point now without the band. What I'm pleased about it now is that I can still be interviewed about this group! (laughs)
See some of Marlene's favorite music
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