Ute Lemper drips style. The German-born chanteuse built a career as a stunning interpreter of the songs of Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht, stylishly reviving interest in the 1930s Berlin cabaret phenomenon. On her 2000 album Punishing Kiss, Lemper provided her own sultry take on the songs of Tom Waits and Nick Cave (among others) and revealed in their ballads a certain kinship with Weill/Brecht.
Lemper returns to Sydney next week, singing her own compositions for the first time. They feature on her latest CD But One Day and there’s more than a dash of cabaret about her first dabblings in original music. On the phone to Sydney Star Observer from her country estate in France, Lemper says the influences were more contemporary.
I was definitely inspired by everything I ever sang -¦ and I like the elements from music from that last 30 years, Lemper said. Also very much the rock, the jazz, from my upbringing in the 60s and 70s -¦ there was great stuff around when I was a teenager, including Pink Floyd, great visual, musical landscapes, wonderful words, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell.
Whether Dylan-esque or Dietrich-tastic, Lemper’s original songs express a longing often associated with her repertoire. What does she long for?
Basically I have a very harmonic life, Lemper says. I am a very happy mother, I have two wonderful children, I have a great partner in life, after a difficult divorce, I have for four years been in a very happy relationship and I do my music which I love -¦
But when you’re German, [you realise] the ultimate impossibility of holding your happiness -¦ she laughs. Goethe knew it already -“ as a German I can never be happy and I have to suffer through my existence! More than ever, somebody of my generation who has to poke through the past and find lots of questions unanswered. But besides this I have a good life.
Her chagrin about her German nationality is curious, given her reputation for being hostile towards her homeland. Lemper denies this.
I think that was misinterpreted many many times, Lemper says. There is no hostility towards Germany at all. There are lots of questions, ambiguity about the German identity -¦ about what happened, why did it happen? -¦ the phenomenon of grief that I couldn’t find in the society I grew up in -¦
Home since 1997 is New York City, but don’t mention the (Gulf) war.
Even though I definitely feel like a New Yorker I cannot identify myself ever, at all, as an American. I’m so far removed from the society and their morality and their insanity and their fanatic religious views, in Christian ways, Lemper insists, passionately.
I love New York. It’s really for me after living in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, London, it’s better than any of that -¦ But New York is so open, everything co-exists. The Arabs next to the Christians, next to the Jewish, next to the Muslims, next to the Hindus, the atheists, the freaks. Whoever’s not a freak it’s like -¦ it’s like -˜who are you?’ -¦ My kids grow up with this diversity. It’s great, they have to be tolerant -¦
Ute Lemper appears in concert at the Sydney State Theatre on Thursday 25 September at 8pm. Phone 9266 4800 for bookings.