Bonaparte is a dance punk band based out of Berlin, Germany, led by Swiss singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Tobias Jundt. Live, there are up to twenty other members, from all over the world, but Jundt is the band's only permanent member. The band is known for putting on elaborate and hedonistic live performances, often involving eccentric costumes. Bonaparte's debut album, Too Much, was released in 2008 on Staatsakt Records, and features some of the band's most well-known songs like “Too Much,” “Anti Anti,” and “Do You Want to Party.” In 2010, this album was followed by the release of My Horse Likes You, also through Staatsakt Records. Based on the popularity of their live performances, Bonaparte released a live DVD and soundtrack in 2011 called 0110111-Quantum Physics & A Horseshoe, which includes a bag of popcorn and three postcards on top of the live and behind-the-scenes footage. Bonaparte is currently recording material for a third album, and is planning a North American tour for 2012.
To call Bonaparte's music 'bizarre' is a bit of an understatement. Lead singer Tobias Jundt whinnies like a horse in the song “My Horse Likes You.” The lyrics to “Computer In Love” allude to a voyeuristic computer falling in love with users partaking in x-rated cyber activities (“I can tell where your fingers go/ On one hand yes, on the other no”). Still, as bizarre as the music can be, it's incredibly fun and danceable. The dance punk band from Berlin, Germany has been brazenly pushing the boundaries since their 2008 debut release of Too Much. They're known for their hedonistic, circus-style live performances—which often include more than 20 members, from all over the world, wearing elaborate costumes and performing provocative acts. And Jundt, the only permanent member in the band, is their ringleader. The Swiss multi-instrumentalist writes and sings all of the songs, gathering an eclectic army of artists to join his revolution. We had a chance to chat with Jundt, while he was in his recording studio in Berlin. Read on to unravel the enigmatic man behind the madness.
Band of the Day: Question: How did this all get started, the whole Bonaparte journey?
Tobias: Well let’s try to find the beginning where I can start it. There’s been like a couple of phases that eventually led to what we have nowadays, which is this Bonaparte circus, a collective, crazy, live performance. It used to be, basically, me in a red '60s rally sports car with a number 21 on the door, sitting in the front and travelling through Europe with a guitar in the back seat, and starting to write these minimal kinds of songs. At this time everyone was saying Berlin is the city, but I really didn’t want to go there. But then I was invited for one show, and I realized there was so much space in this city. It was amazing because there was this freedom to be creative as an artist. Basically, in a week I arrived upon this empty factory space in the middle of town, so I started recording this album and started touring. In the beginning it was very loose, it was either me with a laptop and a guitar, or three guys. I think the gig that everyone calls the birth of Bonaparte was October of 2006 at the very legendary place called Bar 25. It’s been torn down now, which also shows what Berlin is going through at the moment. There’s been amazing places that were torn down or some office buildings were built, because investors realized there's lots of cheap space to have in Berlin.
Band of the Day: You have a very large and eclectic group of people in concert. How did you guys all find each other?
Tobias: Basically I meet someone and if I like them, I was like “Do you wanna come along? What can you do?” And if they say, “I can juggle with three apples,” then I’ll have them juggle with three apples! Lucky enough I’ve met amazing people that can do amazing crazy stuff so it just all came together. Yes, the music is the foundation of all this madness, but since many of these people happen to be dancers or just eccentric performers of anti-burlesque…it just kind of grew into a circus. We all like costumes. I like the visual aspect of a show as well. Although, as I said, to me the music is my main thing. Without the music there wouldn’t be a show, or there wouldn’t be Bonaparte. But, still, the music is just one aspect of what we do. In the end I guess it’s all about this wonderful energy that is created when some amazing people get together and put on a show. It’s kind of like defining your personal edges—like the edge of how far you can go in a show. If eight people at the same time are doing this and they try to push and push it creates this amazing energy, and if there’s an audience that is also into this, which, our German audience is, or the Russian audience is also great, then you just have so much energy you can hardly stand it. But I know Bailey [one of the Band of the Day office dogs, who walked in mid-interview] would understand.
Band of the Day: She's wagging her tail in agreement! So how many people do you work with when you record?
Tobias: More people than I used to because I used to kind of do it myself, with someone helping me with the final mixes. As of today it’s the same two people sitting in here that used to. But I’m trying to have more of the live band in the studio because we tour so much and the energy on stage with this band is really amazing. I mean it’s all about “this moment” basically. Maybe you’ve checked some of the videos I sent you. You can’t really create that in the studio because you need 1000 crazy people to hang with you in the studio. We’re not the Ramones—four guys who go in the studio, [makes drumming noise], and after one hour you have a record done. These days are different. I go in the studio and try to use it as a tool to write as well.
Band of the Day: For the people who have not had the luxury of seeing you live, what would you say is the ideal first listening experience?
Tobias: I made a film for you guys called “0110111. It’s actually cut from over 50 shows. It seems like it’s one thing but it’s [a bunch of] madness! It took me quite a long time to figure out how to film a band like this. And how to transport this energy that you have when you’re in the middle of this--it’s loud and sweaty and stinky and wonderful. How to bring that to a computer screen where you don’t have any of it, and I think it kind of works now. It kind of helps to get a bit of the feeling of what it is live. I hope that anyone who sees it and hasn’t had the possibility to see us will get that possibility. I am constantly trying to go to new countries but it’s not so easy. First, you’ve got to be invited by someone. You know you can’t just call up people and say, “invite me!” [laughs].
Band of the Day: How do most people react to your music?
Tobias: I’ve seen my parents in the back of the crowd with these [binoculars], like it was some kind of opera, or something. I think they enjoy it. I think with Bonaparte there’s so many levels where you can connect to this music. You can say, “I just wanna go crazy for two hours,” and then you take this party energy. Maybe someone is saying, “I like the lyrics and I’m into the philosophy stuff.” Or someone is like, “I like Fellini movies and these characters and creatures and things.” If I think of my mom, I think she looks at it as some sort of Fellini movie in the now. I think whether you’re a teenager or a parent--I think there’s things in there because there’s so many references to stuff. Stuff that I like. Stuff that we like as performers. There’s so much in there. And if there’s nothing in there then it’s great. Then you can kind of go “uggggh!” I’m normally amused if people think that what we do is gross, or sh-t, or it’s not music. We hear the funniest stuff. If you try to do something that’s personal or different, when you try to push the boundaries, there’s always people that don’t get any angle, and that’s totally fine with me. In the beginning it was great, no one really got what we were doing and the reviews were really bad. It just makes me laugh because I know what I’m doing. So, it doesn’t matter as much.
Band of the Day: Do you interact with your fans online?
Tobias: I do communicate with the world, but the emperor’s communication with his people is a bit of a one-way street! I just kind of give them little things once a day but they have to talk amongst each other. In the show, yes, the audience is very important. I’ve never talked on stage because we’re into what we do and we’re kinda on another planet. But, in the song and in the lyrics and what we’re doing, there’s a strong connection with the audience. A very strong connection, I think. A show is only a good show if the audience and the band and the energy become one.
Band of the Day: What are your plans for 2012? Any resolutions?
Tobias: Well, finally take over the world! There's this Leonard Cohen song that goes, “First you take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.” Well we took Berlin, so now we have to take Manhattan. It’s reverse engineering!
Band of the Day: Is it hard to get a visa to play here?
Tobias: Yes. Fortunately some of our dancers are American but everyone else in the band has to try and get work visas and stuff.
Band of the Day: Can you just marry the Americans in the collective?
Tobias: Yes, that’s a good idea...everyone in the band has to marry one of the dancers! That’ll work, I’ll have to tell them tonight. It’s a big sacrifice for the Bonaparte band [laughs]. It is a bit tricky for the States. Maybe I could enter as a trainer for your boss’ horse and then I’ll just run away!