Cleemann Makes Minimal Music Massive on Saturday Sept. 25

Songwriter Uses Monty Python and Greek Mythology to Unearth Life's Delicate Mysteries

Calling those that find solace in Thom Yorke's beautifully blinding angst and songwriter types that can't quite put their finger on what they cherish about sad-eyed English crooner Nick Drake-- you have been warned. Cleemann, like a hypnotic distant traveler from a land far away, will soon come to your home, light a warm candle and wrap your soul in mystic fire as he casts a spell; mostly by being brilliant and nonchalant.

Gunnar Cleemann is a pilgrim in the acoustic/electronic genre. The Denmark-based songwriter's solo album ”45 Minutes Mostly About Caring” offers investigations into character traits (which double as song titles like Ambitious, Optimistic, Romantic, and Emphatic).

Originally attempting to integrate everything he stood for into each song, he decided to recognize different aspects of himself in each song. Careful observations are tinged with tingles of transcendence, which says a lot for the four-minute pop songs they are contained in.

In live shows, he adapts musicians and delivery depending on the situation in order to be true to the moment, which is ”interesting and challenging.” The audience picks up on the excitement that this is a one-of-a-kind performance that can't be recreated.

The haiku-like lyrics are understated and likable, peppered with literary references including Franz Kafka, Monty Python, Khalil Gibran, Winston Churchill, Greek Mythology, Lao Tzu (“the Father of Taoism”), Albert Camus, Allen Ginsberg and George Orwell. The airy, aurally-rich universes are born out of personal experiences, with references added for depth as he explores life's delicate mysteries.

Poet Allen Ginsberg's opening line of ”Howl”: ”I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” fuels inspiration for ”Ambitious” where Cleemann also intones the Greek myth of Pygmalion, the story of a sculptor who creates a sculpture of what he thinks is the perfect woman. The Gods give the statue life and Pygmalion has to confront his ideas and dreams in that respect which is also very fascinating, says Cleemann.

The “Bicycle Repairman” sketch by Monty Python directly reads into his song ”Repairman.” His chorus, ”We are repairmen, we will repair, that is all,” moves beyond the humor of the sketch in Cleemann's hands toward a universal soundtrack for people to repair each other.

 It should be noted that holding this sonic universe together like gravity is Cleemann's singing voice: humble, human, gentle, intimate and full of care. Likable with seriousness that becomes a caricature of seriousness, we can liken it to a voice that delivers tunes like a milkman during an apocalypse. Full of duty and care, it holds a world of thunderous realizations within its quiet, steadfast birth. It's the aural equal of a time-delay movie of a flower opening in front of the rubble of a civilization.

Satisfied when his lyrics and music pull in different directions, he likens this to pulling the walls in a room further apart to make it bigger. Playing with contradictions, as well as musical tools ranging from keyboard, guitar and vintage instruments, Cleemann builds controlled soundscapes with negative space that gives room for the listener to enter and take a look around at themselves, others and something greater. This “zooming out” is the topic of Cleemann's pending trilogy of albums; ”45 Minutes Mostly About Caring” being the first in line.

The album was molded with the helpful hand German master producer Mario Thaler. The pair worked together with trust and constructive sharing of ideas. ”I guess that a big part of my great love for production is that there are no rules that can not be bent or broken if it can help the end result,” says Cleemann, ”What it comes down to is: trial and error, intuition, experience and luck.”

Underpinning the music is the message is caring. ”When confronted with aspects of your personality that are often seen as non-constructive, care is for me the way to react. You lose too much if you try to repress a part of yourself, but through care you can turn issues that seem negative into tools for the positive. Care is, unlike love, a choice that you can make,” says Cleemann.

While playing in Berlin, the audience had two very different takes on one of his songs-- some laughing out loud and others actually crying, with tears running down their faces. ”They listened to the same music [and] had completely different reactions to it. The people that laughed came up afterward and said, 'was that alright [that we were laughing] because we thought your lyrics were funny but still...moving'.

Cleemann says ”he likes humor just as much as the next guy” but that there is a time for laughing and not, yet it would be insincere of him to leave humor completely out of his music. His sensitivity and ability to carry the weight of the world in a teacup make him an emotional troubadour of rare talent.

Rich in emotion from all ends of the spectrum, his live shows and music look to be vital, appealing and never the same twice. Come enjoy an artist at work- and see if the walls move out at the ViaDuct Theater this Saturday. The music is minimal, but massive in substance.

Cleemann is appearing this Saturday, Sept. 25 at 10:00 pm at the ViaDuct Theater ( (3111 N. Western Ave.) along with folk-rock soldiers Goodbyehome (, recently featured in the Chicago Red Eye. Mention this blog post and receive $5 off admission, courtesy of Chicago Acoustic Underground. Hailing from Denmark, Cleemann will be the artist who has traveled the farthest for any CAU showcase. Cleemann is supported by Music Export Denmark ( Interview and article by Hannah Frank with special thanks to Gunnar Cleemann and Jeanne Betak.

Hear Cleemann at

Login or register to post comments
prev pause next volume
00:00:00 / 00:00:00
history download
Volume slider knob