Making it in Germany: A cabaret songstress
Shannon Smith · 4 Jan 2010, 11:54
Published: 04 Jan 2010 11:54 GMT+01:00
Originally hailing from New York City, Young counts some of Germany’s great writers and composers among her biggest influences as a singer. The Local spoke with her about her decision to move to the country’s capital for some modern Teutonic inspiration and what’s it like to be a working expat musician.
Where do you live now?
Prenzlauer Berg (Berlin)
Where are you from originally?
New York City, born on the Lower East Side, grew up in Tribeca. But I call myself half-Californian because my dad was an actor and I would go to LA every summer to visit him, so that’s sort of the hippie side of me.
What did you do before coming to Germany?
I worked at Yohji Yamamoto selling clothes, trying to make a transition into music, which I think I had a hard time with because it was my hometown, and there was sort of that psychological boundary of… well, being in your hometown.
What brought you here and when?
I originally came in 2006. I just packed my bags and decided I wanted to move to Berlin. Before all the hoopla, I had heard that it was really supportive of artists, plus I sing cabaret from the Weimar era – Brecht and Weill – so I was fascinated by the amazing history that’s gone down here architecturally and culturally. It was too hard though, and I ended up running home after six months. I did achieve something, however: I recorded six songs and basically got to another level with my music, which I why I returned.
What was your first job in Germany?
As a figure model for art school. Standing there naked.
How did you find it?
Through a friend. Most of the jobs I found were through friends.
What has your professional life looked like since then?
I did one small voice-over job before I left Berlin the first time, and then ironically I was here on holiday in 2007 when I got a call to audition for the lead role as Oskar in “School for Little Vampires,” which is a cartoon series. I got the part for the English-dubbed version, which earned me enough money to move back here in 2008. Since then I’ve gone for the jobs that everyone goes for: babysitting, figure modeling, bar tending. I get some gigs, but I also have to struggle like everyone else.
Do you speak German?
I speak at the A1 level, I think. I pronounce it better than I speak it. But if I stay here, I’ve decided I must learn German. I’m not interested in living just “on the surface.”
What was the toughest part of coming to terms with German language and culture?
Getting my heart broken into little pieces. Getting my study skills and discipline together has been hard. But I like it! It’s fun learning and beginning to understand what people are saying. Being away from friends and family at home has made me feel really isolated. But then I have to remind myself that I’m not here for friends, I’m here for my music and art. I get stuff done here.
What was the easiest part of moving to Germany?
I’ve enjoyed learning the Brecht and Weill. Taking in all the city has to offer culturally. I haven’t been to the opera yet, but I was able to see Georgette Dee, who’s been a fixture for 25 years or more, so it was really amazing to hear her singing Brecht in the Berliner Ensemble. The museums and galleries are also really accessible.
How do you split your time between English and German?
About 20 to 25 percent German. I love meeting older people who can’t speak English because then I absolutely have to speak German – and then I realise I know more than I think.
What fascinates you most about German culture?
Currywurst. But seriously, I was really intrigued by the Bauhaus era and the Weimar era, and by the fact that the cabarets were very political. They would mix politics and burlesque, basically doing a comedic bit and dissing the Nazis within that, but it was sort of cloaked. That always fascinated me. Also the history of Schiller, the intellectuals and the Communist era. That's exciting. I'm working with an amazing musicologist and composer, Markus Bandur, on a Brecht-Weill cabaret. He's just awesome, and has given me some history of what went down here during the different time periods culturally, politically and intellectually – especially why cabaret emerged and why Brecht and Weill wrote what they did.
Do you feel the country has changed you?
I think it’s forcing me to grow up in a lot of ways. It’s very hard to be here, but I’m not at a point where I can just run away to someplace where I’m going to be taken care of. So I think it’s teaching me how to be alone, how to grow up, how to finish projects that I say I want to do. I’m developing as an artist here, which is why I came back. I’m developing as a singer and a song writer, and that’s pretty amazing.
What's your best advice for someone looking to make it in Germany?
Germany is different than Berlin. But I think the best advice I can give is to have your own project or your own business and not depend on the Berlin economy. Basing yourself in Berlin, while working outside the city is a smart thing to do if you can. Plus leaving it every once in a while will help you to appreciate it more!