“REINVENTING YOURSELF SOMETIMES ALSO MEANS FAILING”
—— He is the lead singer of the Austrian band Wanda and has become a star well beyond his home country: Michael Marco Fitzthum, better known by his alias Marco Wanda, talks about his own very personal secret for success, how fame has changed him forever—and what role change has played in all of this.
Mr. Fitzthum, reinventing yourself is a common part of show business. When was the last time you fundamentally changed something with Wanda?
With our last album, Ciao!, we tried, against our own philosophy, to give ourselves a kind of new sound. I don’t think it worked; I feel like that album went incredibly wrong. Nonetheless, it was important for us to take that path so that we could find our way back to what we really wanted to do—namely, play rock’n’roll.
What did you take away from the experience?
Reinventing yourself sometime also means failing. But I’m a big fan of failing. We can learn from it and grow from it, it’s simply part of life. If you’ve never failed you haven’t really lived.
You’d already found the key to success at that point, you were stars. Why did you then decide to try something new?
It came from the strange delusion of wanting to record the best album ever. It ultimately turned out to be our worst. I spent far too much time thinking about ways to reinvent our sound. We even changed the whole recording process for the album, it was insane.
In what way?
We recorded the entire album in a giant house in the middle of nowhere in the Waldviertel region of Austria. It was quite a struggle. We thought that the forest might move something in us. Apparently what we actually need is the dust and street noise of our usual studio in Vienna. So this reinvention didn’t work. The only thing we did learn is that we never want to do it again. Reinventing myself is now something that belongs more to my private life.
Well, the band reinvented itself at the beginning. At first you wrote lyrics in English, then in German. Then came your breakthrough. Is your success ultimately due to reinvention, in fact?
When I started writing in German, it changed everything. I found my place among all the bands and musicians that were already there. With a huge bit of luck and a lot of very hard work, this reinvention did actually lead to success for me. Deciding to write lyrics in German was the best decision of my life.
What led to the decision?
All the songs on the radio were in English, and they were only singing in English in every casting show. I didn’t think that anybody was still interested in German lyrics. But in talking to people, I discovered the exact opposite: people want to hear songs sung in their mother tongue, in the language they use to think, dream and love. That’s where I saw my chance.
So now the language for your music was set. How did Wanda come together from that?
I co-founded the band with our guitarist, Manuel Christoph Poppe, over a beer in a bar. In the beginning, we spent a long time thinking about what we stood for and what we wanted to get across. I think that’s very important at the start of a career. If you want to be successful, you need the right foundation from which you can grow. We initially also wanted our own trademark look, like Falco with his slicked-back hair. Then we decided for our leather jackets. Language set, look set.
Was it a similar process for your sound?
The sound came from a mixture of music that we like to listen to ourselves. We love blues, rock ‘n’ roll and Austrian pop music. Bands like The Beatles and Nirvana inspired us during our phase of discovery. I’m not a highly talented musician. I write songs with four to eight chords and that’s it. But this limitation is exactly what makes our sound.
“Reinventing myself is now something that belongs more to my private life.”
So you’d rather stay true to the old than seek out something new, for the most part?
Instead of constantly reinventing ourselves, we’d rather focus on making what we can do even better. After all, we spent a lot of time finding ourselves as a band and finding our sound. We were really passionate and worked very hard forging the key that opened the door to success for us. And once that door is open, why should we start looking for a new key? Wanda may have come about through a reinvention, my decision to write lyrics in German, but now that we’re successful with something that’s fun for us, we prefer to move within the niche that we’ve created for ourselves.
Do you sometimes get bored with your music after so long?
Not at all. Our sound and our songs are still incredibly fun. I’m just lucky that the music I like myself is also liked by so many other people. But if tomorrow I suddenly had the urge to try something completely new in a musical sense, I’d do it.
Even though your fans might be disappointed by it?
I wouldn’t recommend that anyone tailor their music to an audience’s tastes. The audience can’t become too important. That only makes you lose sight of yourself as an artist.
Your life as an artist has certainly changed from the ground up as a result of your sudden success. Is that a good change?
The first three years in particular were crazy. Everyone wanted Wanda. We were on tour almost non-stop. There were times when we were almost scared that one of us wouldn’t wake up. Despite the stress, touring life became a sort of addiction. A colorful circus where we all felt at home. Along with our gigs, everyday touring life was quite comfortable. You just drop a towel and someone else picks it up, you don’t ever have to make your bed or iron your shirt, and food is always on the table. Coming home was a personal tragedy for each and every one of us. Everything seemed so pale afterwards. But you learn to deal with that over time.
Has success also changed you personally?
Yes. For the first time ever, I can say that I’m really happy about my life. The band has given me a place in society and a task. Musicians like Kurt Cobain or John Lennon have always helped me get through tough times, and the idea that my voice now does the same for other people really moves me. If Wanda hadn’t worked, I don’t know if I’d still be alive today.
You’re saying the band saved you?
When I’m in front of a crowd of 12,000 people, I can’t allow myself to feel any self-doubt. I’ve lost my fear of people through the concerts. I don’t see them as a threat like I did before my career, but as potential. In the meantime, it’s great fun to create something new together with others.
Before your big breakthrough, Wanda toured relatively unsuccessfully through disreputable bars. You must have had a lot of self-doubt back then.
Those bars were small and rowdy, there was a lot of beer, a lot of stench, a lot of fights. We never felt comfortable in the underground. We had quit our jobs back then and put all of our eggs in the one basket. I think that’s the only reason it worked.
How afraid are you of ending up back there one day?
I’ve been living for years with the thought that it could all be over tomorrow. But that doesn’t put pressure on me. We were declared dead from the very beginning and are still here. I meet a lot of people who really love what we do. That’s why I believe that Wanda will never completely go under. And if people do get tired of us, then we’ll just quit.
Then I’ll just have to reinvent myself. Do an apprenticeship as a chef or open an Italian restaurant. I’ll think of something.