People of the world, I hope you’re sitting down for this… We want to introduce you to a group out of Berlin called Tender Games. They have a sound that is going to break your heart, deepen your soul, get you dancing and make you fall in love all at the same damn time.
Marlon Hoffstadt and HRRSN (Ulrich Harrison), the duo that comprise Tender Games, are set to release their self titled album on July 18th, and you’ve been warned, the music game is about to receive a serious infusion of innovative contemporary soul music. Drawing influence from UK garage, house and bass music, and with a constant pursuit of a soulful, danceable sound, Tender Games have produced an album that is multifaceted and emotionally encapsulating. It is their first proper LP and it is already making waves, grabbing the attention of Annie Mac who premiered the well received single “Lost”.
We at Magnetic must have done something very right in a past life because we are lucky, fortunate and honored to share our recent interview with this dynamic duo going by the name Tender Games, and without further ado...
How is everything going for Tender Games?
HRRSN: Pretty good, now getting a lot of positive feedback towards our album and a lot of good reviews and features on nice magazines such as yours.
What was it like working on the record? Was it an intense year of production?
HRRSN: Let’s say intense periods more so because we let it sit for a good four months or so, and then we started working on it again. We were working for short periods of time, but very intensively.
What were the cause of delays between periods of working on it?
Marlon: We wanted to wait and think.
HRRSN: Let it sit and see for yourself if a song or sketch can stand the test of time. If you really like it after a few months… It wasn’t like we didn’t have time or didn’t want to work, we wanted to let it sit and really make a good album. I think that takes time.
What are your top favorite songs on the album? And can you tell us why?
HRRSN: I like Freak in the Sheets very much because of the bass and instruments and Forrest’s voice. I was a little worried about the bass at first, but we mixed it in our boss’ studio and he really got the best out of it, it came out pretty nice soundwise.
Marlon: I think, for me, Lost is my favorite track of the album. It will be the second single, it has so much soul in it and I really like the vibe in that track and the instruments. I like it when the tracks are more soulful and with classical instruments like rotes or organs or something like that.
In Her Bed is also important because the girl singing on it is my ex-girlfriend so the lyrics are…
HRRSN: About him haha..
Marlon: About me, yeah! About relationships. So this track is very intense for me.
How has the reception been thus far to the first singles released? Pretty amazing to have Lost premiered by Annie Mac on BBC 1 in June!
HRRSN: It was a really big honor for us because Annie Mac is known to break artists such as ourselves, different electronic artists that aren’t pinned down to a certain genre are often played by her, and I think that was really nice that she chose the track. It was the first time it was played anywhere, it was quite the honor.
How would you succinctly describe the Tender Games sound?
Marlon: You probably know that we are producing solo, I’m producing as Marlon Hoffstadt and Ulrich is producing as HRRSN. We have done several other projects together before and the good thing about Tender Games, the new project, is that we can do whatever we want to do. We are not stuck into one genre. We can make it more poppy, we can make it more souly, we can make it more housey, just what we want to do. There is no typical Tender Games sound, I think it is a good mixture of everything we wanted to do, and of all of our roots.
HRRSN: If you go to soundcloud and browse a lot of independent artists, the whole experience of today could be like our sound because we really do anything that we like.
The album is so diverse in the many disparate genres you touch upon. Where did this diversity come from? Is it a matter of drawing on your inspirations, or did you want to show your versatility as musicians?
Marlon: The thing is, my roots are in house music and Ulrich is a little bit older than me, he makes music, for how many years? Four, five years now? He started with folk, soul, UK Garage and R&B. With all these different styles, it’s not that we want to show that we can can do everything.
HRRSN: I don’t think it’s showing off, it just really came out that way organically. It was just our influences and throughout the years from what we soaked up from other musicians and what we’ve liked and what we’ve always wanted to do musically and that came out.
How did you two come together to become Tender Games?
Marlon: I don’t know, I really don’t. We met through a girl, a friend of ours. No, not really. A friend of mine worked with Ulrich’s flatmate, he’s a really talented video director and producer. At the time I was searching for a guy who could make me a new music video, and I think I met Ulrich at their place, at their flat, and we just started making music together.
HRRSN: As crazy as it sounds, on the first day, on the first two days we did our first track. He showed me an instrumental and I sung over it, and that track actually came out under our former alias. I think it was coincidence, that their friends met and he needed a video editor, and I was in my room making music and he came by and then he told me he’s a DJ, and then we started making music.
When you are in the studio, is there a division in labor? Or do you both work together closely on every component of the songs?
HRRSN: We sort of do everything together because Marlon doesn’t play an instrument, but when I record something on an instrument, he would say something about it - I like it, I don’t like it, maybe a little bit more playful, a little bit more soulful, and I am directly influenced by that. In the Studio we work from one laptop, which is his, and in his Ableton because I don’t like Ableton that much (laughter) we do everything in there. Normally he’s on the computer, and if we decide, to record an instrument, then we pick an instrument and I play the notes and then we go on from there, next part, next part, next part. That’s why it sometimes goes pretty quickly. Most of the time we are on the same page.
You gentleman certainly know how to bring out performances from your vocalists. Can you walk me through your vocalist collaboration process?
HRRSN: Most of the tracks, the voice you hear is mine.
Marlon: On Lost or City Lights or In a Mess, Ulrich sings. With the other tracks, normally the other singers just record it at their studio because we don’t meet them, we send over the stems and an instrumental version of the track and maybe some ideas. For example, we told Forrest to make it sound like a Prince track, we sent over the Prince track Kiss. We just send some ideas and that’s pretty much it.
I have to say, I thought you guys were working with all of them together in the studio. It doesn’t sound like the typical email collaboration process.
HRRSN: Maybe that’s because we know all of the singers, and are on good terms, not like impersonally sending them beats and saying, “Do you want sing? Okay, Send me the contract.” More so, we talked to them and they were people who we know who we would talk with anyway. No strangers at all on the album. Marlon was actually romantically involved with the singer…
Marlon: Both… Both…
HRRSN: With both singers. They had relationships beforehand, and you can hear it in the vocals, in my opinion, because it’s a really, really personal song with Natalie, Ms. NatNat. You can hear it. I think the fact that we all are on a personal level helps, but it was not like we were in the studio with them hands on, unfortunately. Which we will probably do on the next album because I too think that is better.
What is your live show like? I assume you have live instrumentation, who plays what?
Marlon: At the moment we are pretty much trying to perform our live set in a club context. We’re trying to make it all danceable, so we are not playing tracks like Tonight or In Her Bed. The main goal for the next one or maybe two years is to perform concerts, to go away from the club and make it more of a concert.
HRRSN: Now the setup is Marlon with a laptop with Ableton and an APC live controller and another controller for effects. Then we have a microphone for me and keyboard, and guitar for certain parts of the live set. That’s pretty much the set up. In regards to live instrumentation, I play guitar and keys, and he plays the songs basically and effects, things like that.
What do you think about being part of this neo-garage movement with acts like Disclosure, Sam Smith and now you getting so much exposure on a global level?
HRRSN: I think it’s good. I think, maybe it’s a bold word, a bit of a revolution from what the music industry was to what the music industry is now. Now kids have access to the internet and can download programs and can google tutorials to learn everything on their own. I think you can hear that because the young people that are making music right now, they don’t have boundaries or fears like the music industry guys may have. No conventions at all, I really like it, I like to see what’s going on, especially in the soul and R&B department, there are few great acts coming out, and they are doing really weird stuff, and it’s getting picked up because there is the internet and there are a lot of people in the world. Now there are not a few people who control what people like. You can just go on the internet, and if you like a song you like it, everyone has a chance to do their own stuff in their own way and achieve success.
Who are some of your inspirations?
HRRSN: To me it’s always been SBTRKT, one of the first UK bass artist I’ve known. I love his sound and mix and everything, it’s quite good. He’s been making stuff that is not popular for a few years, he’s really a pioneer in my opinion.
Marlon: For me it was pretty much Disclosure. Ulrich showed me their remix of Running from Jessie Ware, and that pretty much brought me into that kind of music. I mean I knew SBTRKT before, I knew Burial, Four Tet and all these more UK bass, UK garage sound guys, but Disclosure brought me more into this kind of music.
Being Germans, you have this huge UK influence, how did this come about? Has it been a struggle having this sound in Berlin?
Marlon: I grew up with the internet, for me it was pretty easy.
HRRSN: My father lives in London, there comes the influence. The biggest part of my family lives in the UK, London and Birmingham, that wasn’t really hard. I mean, it can be hard, especially in Berlin, the techno fans don’t like cheesy stuff, they like minimal, techno, tech house, but there are a lot of supporters of our sound here in Berlin as well. As you can see Suol as a label believed in us and our idea. It can be hard with a sound like that as it’s pretty different but I believe if you do what you want to do you can be famous in UK first and then come back to Germany, or maybe be one of the first German UK house acts.
In an ideal fantasy world, past and present, who would you like to be in the studio collaborating with the most?
Marlon: Radiohead. Al Green, he’s one of my favorite musicians of all time. I have all his tracks of all time, many many CDs.
HRRSN: Thom Yorke or there are a lot of people. Or I would have to say Tom Waits because he’s crazy and kind of genius. But I’d say.
Marlon: Bon Iver.
HRRSN: There are too many! Let’s say production wise, I’d say Quincy Jones, as a producer, not a musician. If I could go in the studio and learn from him for a week that would be the best.
What are you listening to lately?
Marlon: For me, Jungle, from America, on XL Recordings. They’re going to release their album in two days, and I’ve already ordered everything. I’ve order their sweatshirts and so I’m a huge fan of their music. So that’s what I’m listening to all day long.
HRRSN: I listen to rap mostly in my private time so I listen to a lot of Danny Brown, his whole discography and the album Old.
When is the world tour? Any chance you’ll be stopping by San Francisco soon? I can’t wait to see you guys live!
Marlon: I think at the moment it’s pretty hard to get a US artist booking visa, they have a lot of slots, but they reduced them at the beginning of this year. It’s very hard to get a visa, you have to prove you’ve worked with a lot of companies, so probably next year.
HRRSN: Realistically, like really tour the world, maybe never, but realistically having a few shows on other continents by next year or towards the end of this year. We have to see how the album goes, comes along.
Marlon: The US, especially and hopefully, next year.
HRRSN: If we are going to be successful in the US, for a German artist, that’s really hard to know. How are you are going to be received in the US is really difficult to know because it’s a completely different market, so we have to see how our album is received there.