The Prog Interview: Can's Damo Suzuki
Japanese singer Damo Suzuki is best known for fronting German Krautrockers Can during their peak era in the 1970s after being plucked from the street as a busker by the band.
Interviewing Damo Suzuki is a curious experience. Much like his improvised live performances, which he calls “instant compositions”, you’re never quite sure where it’s going next. The only thing that’s certain is his reluctance to discuss Can, the seminal German band he fronted between 1970-’73. It was a time span that produced their greatest albums – Soundtracks, Ege Bamyasi, Tago Mago and Future Days – records that continue to shape generations of experimental rockers and avant-garde musicians.
Past endeavours may belong in the past in Suzuki’s eyes, but his unquenchable appetite for life means that his conversation roams as wild and free as the music he’s made over the past five decades. During an hour-long interview at his home in Cologne, the 66-year-old discusses the forces that drive him, why he never goes near a recording studio, his affection for Hawkwind and The Kinks, plus Brexit, politics and Premier League football (he’s a keen admirer of Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp: “He’s such a great manager. With a kind smile, very natural”). As it turns out, there’s even talk about his old band.
Suzuki was barely 18 when he left his native Japan for Europe in 1968. He briefly formed a folk duo in Sweden, before busking his way through Denmark, France, England, Ireland and Germany, causing a stir with his exotic looks and free-form songs. In May 1970, while performing in a Munich street (sometime after landing a part in the German stage version of Hair), he was spotted by Can members Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, then seeking a replacement for departed vocalist Malcolm Mooney.
“Jaki and I were sitting in a cafe and saw Damo coming down the street,” Czukay tells Prog. “He was somehow praying to the sun and making loud noises, singing or chanting. I turned to Jaki and said: ‘This is our new singer.’”
Czukay introduced himself and asked if Suzuki might be interested in joining the band for that night’s sell-out gig at the Blow Up club. “I told him there’d be no rehearsal, that we’d see him on stage and he could just go ahead,” continues Czukay. “And it worked out in a totally unexpected way. On stage he started out very calm and peaceful, then suddenly – like a Samurai warrior – he switched and became the exact opposite. The audience were frightened by him. It was like when the Sex Pistols first came out.”