An Interview with Sandra Zettpunkt (The Legendary Bang and Die Fünf Freunde)

As part of our recent tribute to the Marsh Marigold label of Germany (see the article Fake Compilations – The Marsh Marigold Showcase (1989-2018) we posted last month) I dismissed my natural ‘fanboy’ shyness and mustered enough courage to contact one of Europe finest indie music DJ’s over the last 20 years (all details can be found at the Golden Glades Radio Show website including archived playlists of some of the best music you have never heard about) who just happened to play in two of my favourite Marsh Marigold bands, The Legendary Bang and Die Funf Freunde’s drummer, Sandra Zettpunkt.

I need not have bothered being shy. Sandra ended up being just how everyone wants their heroes to be…the nicest most down to earth person ever, whose passion for music still burns ridiculously bright. 

In this interview she talks about her time in the bands, the characters in and around the Marsh Marigold label, the inimitable Hamburg indie scene and the early 90’s German indie scene in general:

Hello Sandra – It seemed to be a somewhat incestuous early few years at the label, with various band members, including yourself appearing in several Marsh Marigold bands. Was this possibly because of the limited size of a fledgling German Indie-pop scene or was there a genuine camaraderie (lack of rivalry) between the different bands?

At that time, I was definitely a fledgling! When I entered the scene in early 1990, there was already an established community of Indie pop music lovers, centred in Hamburg in the North of Germany. My best friend Sonja introduced me to Oliver Goetzl (see below) of Red Letter Day / Marsh Marigoldduring a show of They Might Be Giantsand everything from there on went pretty fast. 

The community consisted not only of musicians: there was Peter Hahndorf, an enthusiastic mail order guy and fanzine writer from Bremen plus a growing circle of loose friends from and around Hamburg who liked the same kind of music.

I’m sure there was some healthy rivalry between people and bands but in the first place, we just liked to make music, wanted to try out different styles and combinations. And yes, in the early days it was highly incestuous: When we played with The Legendary Bang (see below, with Sandra just sneaking her head in on drums), Olli jumped on stage to sing a duet with Britta, later on Florian (of Red Letter Day / My Guru Says) stepped in to play bass for a song so Martin (our bass player) could sing and dance – we had a good time!

As with all of the best independent labels there is a notable shared aesthetic to the Marsh Marigold bands, especially in the 1990’s. In my Marsh Marigold article I struggled to define it and reluctantly settled for a ‘meatier Sarah Records vibe’…how would you describe the shared aesthetic, if indeed there was one?

Sarah Records is a good call, mixed with Postcard Recordsand an admirable DIY ethos. Apart from sharing the same aesthetics, I suppose there was a similar kind of attitude: releasing records against all odds, supporting the music you love. Encouraging yourself, that everything’s possible – just do it!

What would your Top 5 tracks from Marsh Marigold bands be?

Sorry, I don’t want to give any sort of rating here  – judging your friends’ output can be difficult.

What would be your top 5 albums from Marsh Marigold Bands be?

See above…

What were the circumstances behind joining your first Marsh Marigold band, The Legendary Bang?

Péter Palátsik (see below) mentioned his band The Legendary Bang were looking for a girl singer and I was bold enough to say I’d like to try! But when I talked about borrowing some money for a shabby drum kit I was offered, he persuaded me to take the part of the drummer. It didn’t matter I had no drumming experience at that point. I learned a few beats from playing along to my Walkman and was suddenly about to back up a speedy noise pop band.

Fellow TLB band member and co-founder Péter Palátsik has stated that the band only started playing ‘real music’* when Britta and Sandra joined the band.  How did the sound of TLB evolve since the very early days when you joined?

That’s nice of him to say! Maybe when we joined in, things grew more tangible. And with us girls in the mix it was more the kind of music he wanted to play. I was the replacement for a plain drum computer, though not as fast and steady. 

While rehearsing, everyone was throwing in ideas and affections and all this formed the very direct sound of the band. Only a few months together as a five piece, we went into the studio to record our first single Big Bluf and to be honest: it was a complete nightmare! We all struggled to get the tracks on tape. And the engineer Carol von Rautenkranz (also manager of L’Age D’Or Records) was the son of my school’s most uptight English teacher – it was all too weird!

Despite a very limited two EP output (before the 2000 release of the compilation) The Legendary Bang seem to be the primary band that all us old indie-heads seem to remember / love from the early Marsh Marigold era. Why do you think this is?

Maybe because of the two opposed personalities in the band: Péter, who loved The Smiths and Talulah Gosh whereas the other guitarist Jens preferred the raw energy of The Wedding Present. Both influences fusing together in a carefree way made the sound of this band very special. John Peel liked it – that’s all we ever wanted!

Why did The Legendary Bang eventually split?

I don’t really remember. For a short while I was still playing with TLB while joining Die Fünf Freunde. But I had to take a longer break from playing drums due to my cruciate ligament rupture in 1991. 

And when Péter left to study Film in Budapest, things probably just drifted apart.  At the Marsh Marigold Festival for its 10th Anniversary in 1998 Lars of Kristallin / 50.000.000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong played drums for The Legendary Band. They never cared about asking me filling in the place again. Maybe there had been bad blood I don’t know about.

How did you eventually end up at Die Fünf Freunde (The Five Friends), was it difficult to join an already well-established band and how did the band and musical dynamic differ from The Legendary Bang?

Die Fünf Freunde (see above, Sandra front middle)  were a wondrous bunch, I loved their music and was flattered they asked me to be their drummer! We were actually six people in the band, not five as the band name suggests, and everyone put massively ideas into the songs. Sometimes too many at once including flute, trumpet, organ and accordion. 

With this band I felt more like being part of a gang. Probably because they all lived in Hamburg and I ended up moving into a flat together with singer / guitarist Julia, this band was like a family to me. I never grew close to the members of TLB because apart from Péter, everyone lived in or near Itzehoe, a small town in the north about an hour away from Hamburg.

With Die Fünf Freunde we had three distinct singers and songwriters with different backgrounds and less of a common vision. We had songs in English and a few in German and developed a style on the edge of another musical phenomena developing at that time called Hamburger Schule. Die Fünf Freunde ended up playing long tours throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland and our second album Aggro Aggro in 1995 was released through a major sublabel. 

Some people said we sold our souls – well, we didn’t! We refused to get a proper manager, we refused to do playback shows and denied playing shows for the wrong cause. But like so many other indie bands before and after we made the experience, tha
t being with a major record company isn’t really working out and Die Fünf Freunde eventually split. Sometimes I think we were a tiny bit ahead of our time because not long after our support bands (Tocotronic, Sportfreunde Stiller) all got massive.

What was the scene like for the Marsh Marigold bands from a live perspective? Were bands like The Legendary Bang / Die Fünf Freunde playing to packed venues immediately or did it take time for the scene to grow?

We played all sorts of places in and around Hamburg: youth centres, school parties and proper big venues during festivals. I remember we were supposed to play at a student house in Göttingen and my parents wouldn’t let me go. Well, I went anyway! 

In 1990, Marsh Marigold was already a household name and our circle of friends was always with us. Very special was playing in East-Germany for the first time. Keep in mind, not long ago the country was divided by a wall and we had no idea what to expect on the other side. We had a Marsh Marigold showcase in Dresden in March 1991 and luckily our friend Olaf Zocher from Firestation Records wrote down his fond memories here:

Can you remember your first impressions of the Bjorn and Ollie (co-founders of Marsh Marigold) when you joined The Legendary Bang as 16 year old. Did these impressions change over the years?

I don’t recall ever sharing a word with Björn [I wasn’t even aware he’s a co-founder of the label, he must have taken over later in history when Olli started getting too busy with his rendezvous in wildlife]. But Olli was quite a character back then! 

It was hard to avoid him with his most peculiar way of dancing (by excessively swinging around his arms with eyes closed) and his barbed wire earrings. He was all around, went to every show. And his enthusiasm for music was hard to beat – I honestly thought he’s some kind of a maniac. He wasn’t a cool, business like label boss or anything, he was a die-hard music fan and made things happen. That impression hasn’t changed until I last saw him on a party in Hamburg in 2002 – he still had this crazy energy although he mostly talked about his adventurous job around the world as a wildlife cameraman.

How important was The Marsh Marigold label to the direction indie-pop music went in Germany?

I’m afraid that’s for others to judge – not me.
If you were asked to perform in either the Legendary Bang or Die Fünf Freunde as part of a 30 year Marsh Marigold label re-union would you?

I asked myself that question a couple of times – Well, I’d love to play with both bands again, I’m sure it would be great fun! We may not look as good as when we were young, but sound better these days because we’ve finally learned how to tune our instruments. But honestly: I’m not a big fan of reunions and feel like some of the old mystery gets lost when a band is getting back together after decades. I’ve seen The Velvet Underground on stage in 1993 and was thoroughly disappointed.

Thank you Sandra it has been absolute joy interacting with you over the last few weeks for this interview and thanks so much for raiding your old photo albums!

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