Born Marcus Füreder on November 27, 1974, in Linz, Austria, he took the stage name “Parov Stelar” in 2000 when he founded his label Etage Noir Recordings. To this day, he is still running the la- bel, and millions all over the world have heard his music.
Remember the Bacardi commercial showing a ’50s hipster party? What about the 2012 ad cam- paign for the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas? Well, it was Parov Stelar who provided the music for both (“Chambermaid Swing” for Bacardi and “Booty Swing” for the Cosmopolitan). In fact, his music has been used prolifically: in commercials, TV shows, and movies ever since he released his first single in 2000. His songs have been featured in over 700 international compilations including the prestigious Buddha Bar and Hôtel Costes. The GROUND had the pleasure to speak with this unique artist whose style and career he built on finding a balance between tradition and moder- nity, swing and electronic music, and, like most successful musicians, art and business.
Parov Stelar is not just a solo recording artist; he is also an intermittent band leader. Indeed his concerts are performed by the Parov Stelar Band, which includes the DJ/producer, a singer, a saxo- phone player, a trumpet player, a bassist, and a drummer.
The GROUND asked him how he created a bal- ance between his personal vision, presented in his records, and the personalities of the other musi- cians in the band. In a group performance, Stelar said, his role was mainly to produce the songs that he presented with his band. He went on to say: “Maybe I am the [artistic] director for a certain part, but as you know, the director of a great show would be nothing without his amazing artists.” His live band members are frequently featured on his records as collaborations. Recording and producing his records by himself while performing them live with a full band is one of the many ways Parov Stelar balances tradition and modernity. Another is of course having created his own unique sound blending swing with electronic music.
Stelar managed to make those two genres, which have seemingly nothing to do with each other, sound like they were meant to be united in one new genre. He compared them to “chocolate with chili” and “pineapple on pizzas” – both of which he referred to as “extraordinary dishes.” We had to ask though if it had been difficult for him to find the right balance, or, to reuse his cuisine metaphor, the right proportions, between those two sonorities. But for him, it was really all a mat- ter of “being curious for trying something new. Sometimes the magic is exactly in combining two completely different flavors or sounds.” And at the end of the day, his point is simply that “there are no boundaries.” And even if at first people are “skeptical and critical” of whatever new sound or idea you’re bringing to the table, eventually they will “feel completely familiar with it.”
Fortunately for him, when it comes to his work, he was right. People are undeniably familiar with the music. In any case, his path to success was nei- ther obvious nor predictable. We asked him what it meant to him and if he felt that he had been forced to compromise to find a balance between his original vision and what the public wanted to hear. He simply answered that he was a lucky man. “Seems like I have the possibility to produce exactly the kind of music I like, and at the same time to fulfill the expectations of my fans as well, which is great.” He went on to explain the new challenges that artists face today. He believes that piracy, free streaming, and being able to “spread music through commercials” is a great opportuni- ty to be heard and to make a fine living as long as he approves of the products and the way they are presented in the commercials. On the other hand, Stelar said he fears that people often “cut [his] work down” to just “electro-swing” when he has, in fact, produced songs with very eclectic sounds and influences that are just as important to him.
When talking with indie musicians, one can sometimes fear that they will turn out to be music snobs. We gladly discovered that Stelar doesn’t fall prey to that categorization. In his own words: “I am not in a crusade against mainstream. Nobody is forced to listen to something they do not like… So for me it is the ‘liberty of art,’ that everybody has the right to present their own style of music.” In fact, Stelar has a very insightful view of trends in music. He believes there is nothing really new. It is more of a circle. Everything is returning at a later date. The only modernization is that nowa- days we are able to record and keep everything. And if we were truly to analyze today’s music, we would surely find that the only thing really new about it is how artists mix all genres together. Think of Lady Gaga who mixes dance music with ’80s glam rock and hair metal sonorities; Coldplay recording a duet with Rihanna; and among less mainstream artists, Gotan Project mixing elec- tronic music with tango. So why not swing and electro?
From an outsider’s perspective, the sonorities in his music, namely swing, hip hop, rock and of course electro, were not exactly what is typically expected from an Austrian artist. Stelar voiced his views about his Austrian heritage openly, telling us that are clear limitations on how much Austria has influenced his music.
“Surprisingly, there is a lot going on in Austria, even if there are really rigid expectations. Austria is definitely a great place for living. We have an amazing quality of life. Unfortunately we do not have the perfect breeding ground for music here, but neither the worst.” And once again he said, “there are no boundaries for music, so it has noth- ing to do with countries, heritage or culture.”
Finally, we questioned if he had the same urge in his personal life, to have the best of both worlds: tradition and modernity; if he aspired to find the same balance between the two in his lifestyle as he did in his music. Stelar lives at an old farm, spruced up with modern touches. “So it is the same again here: the mix of both is finally the best combination for me personally. It has a spe- cial charm. […] So the mix of different ages and styles does affect my personal life too.”
Last spring, Parov Stelar released a double-CD album called “The Princess” on Etage Noir Re- cordings. The first CD contains brand new ma- terial, in which he explored new horizons like soul music on “Nobody’s Fool” and gave elec- tro-swing new classics as well. The second CD contains previously unreleased tracks and vinyl- only releases from over the years, including the single “Booty Swing.”
The GROUND Issue #03