wore my suit. Natural reaction, really, to
an assignation with Dieter Meier, the
suave, if unconventional, Swiss entry in
the sophisticated pop star stakes. You’ve
got to make the effort. I mean, I wouldn’t
have done this for Bryan Ferry, let alone Robert Palmer. Only Dieter Meier carries himself like a man who truly was born to spend half the year on a yacht at Monte Carlo.
It was a good move. ‘This I like,’ Meier purrs, giving my sleeve an unprompted fondle. ‘I’ve been searching all day for fabric like this: good Scottish fabric.‘ Phew. That‘s the trickiest bit over. A well-chosen cheapo from Burtons can win over even the son ofa millionaire Swiss banker.
‘Dieter’s very interested in fabrics,‘ confides Wendy K, who has been chaperoning him around the country. This is not a shocking statement. It would come as much more of a surprise to touch on a subject that did not engage Herr Meier’s attention in some way. During our conversation, he discourses on gambling, quotes Marx — twice — and namedrops Gurdjieff, Kant and ‘this super-gangster who’s now the Pope’. By day, or what passes for day in his sleep cycle, he handles lyrics, videos and vocals for Yello, plays a lot of golf and continues to make his own films. Snowball, his latest, will be released as winter approaches. The film after that will be ‘a very normal thriller with an interesting existentialist background’. Well, why not?
But wait. Before the interview begins, Meier must put out of his reach a glassful of salted peanuts, which he can’t resist nibbling. After admonishing himself a couple oftimes, he rises, walks to the end of the bar andplaces it on the furthest table. This accomplished, he returns and fixes his intense, bulging eyes on me again. We may continue.
So, the two years’ intensive work on Snowball excepted, is it impossible for him
to concentrate all his energies on only one task at a time?
‘It’s not my way ofworking,’ he replies, his English accented with a trace of South London. ‘I have a phone in the studio. I like to be interrupted. It makes it less important. Also, when I’m writing, I like to be on the phone and do all kinds of different things at the same time. For a long time. I thought it was wrong, I thought I should concentrate on one thing, but that is not my method. My approach is to be in the middle of a big mess.’
Despite or because of his working methods, Yello are a big mess alchemically transformed into a pop dream. Dieter Meier and Boris Blank — they’ve been called the Gilbert and George of pop — treat music like a giant sandpit, and the castles they build are fabulous edifices. Rarely has synthesised music sounded so alive and playful as in the hands of Meier’s publicity-shy partner Boris
artist hasto be an idiotand a revolutionary atthe
Blank, who creates soundscapes that Meier builds vignettes around, inventing personae to suit. They captured the dancefloor at the start of the 80s, and have produced some of the most distinctive, most provocative and wittiest hits since.
‘We are like each other’s producers,’ says Meier. ‘Boris produces my voice and I produce his music in a way. Would I feel uncomfortable about working with anyone else? I think so. yeah. Well, I don’t know, I haven’t tried. But it looks like Boris’s material is right for me because it’s directly leading to my way of making up stories.’
Wendy K appears with a glass of peanuts to replace the one that Dieter has banished to
the far side of the room. ‘See?’ he exclaims. ‘They keep coming back,’ and tucks in heartily. Before long. guilt gets the better of him and he places it out of reach on the next table. It’s not, however. so far away that he can’t stretch out for another handful ifthe urge overwhelms him. It does. We return to Boris.
‘Boris worked as a truck driver.’ Meier relates, ‘and he tried to be very fast on his tour so that most ofthe time when he finished his job he would run home straight away to his music. Always with a sandwich on the table. and in nine hours from 3pm to midnight. he would create one piece a day. Like someone who does a painting, it always had to be finished. Next day, he would listen to it in his truck for one day and that was it! Then he put it in a suitcase! When I met him. he had a huge trunk full of maybe 2000 pieces of music.
‘And he had lots ofaccidents, because he would always fiddle with sounds in his truck. He would record strange noises in the truck and would go down and — WHAM! — another one. He had three accidents in one week. Not bad ones, but he was always smashing cars; because he was not really thinking ofthe truck, he was thinking ofthe sound of the truck, of his music.‘
Listen to ‘The Race‘. one of Yello's biggest and brightest hits, and you’ll get some idea of the pace of Boris Blank’s delivery rounds. So, while Boris was fast making himself uninsurable, and going to San Francisco to seek out The Residents and interest them (successfully) in his work, Dieter Meier had, before they met in 1979, been building up a somewhat more conspicuous name for himself— first, under the cover ofstudying law. in the casino.
‘When you’re gambling.’ he says of his stint, ‘you’re like a junkie. It’s like being in the ring for fourteen hours a day. Everyone wants to knock you down and you want to knock everyone down. And this clear and
LE---“ 12 The List 28June — 11 July 1991