We constantly feature new & notable indie artists that drive innovation in all aspects of songwriting, production & performance. Meet our latest featured artist in an exclusive interview. Introducing You To Your Next Favorite Artist: Güttinger.
Güttinger is the moniker for Sam Kittinger, deriving from his family’s original name in Switzerland. As a one-man outfit, Güttinger explores pop melodies and structures that meld lush, atmospheric production with emotive melodies, made from the comfort of his bedroom. Güttinger is currently based in Baltimore, Maryland
Comments from the Curators
Review by Enrique Llamas, Director of Playlists & Contributing Partner
I stumbled upon Güttinger’s self-produced debut album by chance, and I must say it was one of those happy-accidents that made my day better.
These days it is easy to get tired of the overproduced synthpop that you find everywhere. Yes, though there may be talent, most synthpop ends up sounding the same, and in the end, this just means there’s a bunch of artists who never develop a sound they can call their own. Güttinger’s work feels fresh and detached from all the mainstream synthpop. Some of his influences are clear, such as the dark atmospherics from NIN and the powerful vocals reminiscent of Trent Reznor, which immediately become apparent. However, these are only tools that Sam Kittinger, Güttinger himself, uses in his favor, shaping them while he joyfully experiments with different textures and atmospheres.
The first thing I noticed when I listened to the album was this feeling of experimentation and improvisation. I don’t say this as a bad thing, actually I think this is exactly what makes it an engaging experience. Throughout each song on the album, there’s a constant mutation; Güttinger plays with diverse sounds and beats which evolve constantly over themselves. At times, I had the sensation of being at a live gig, as if every song was put together right there in the exact moment I was listening to it. This rawness is where the most interesting part of his work lies, his music makes for a closer experience between artist and listener.
The sense of improvisation does not diminish Güttinger’s work, but on the contrary you’ll notice a more cerebral, well-thought concept in each song. While the ambience he creates may seem a bit dark, there’s always some intentional flashes of light that results in a balanced album, combining introspective and intimate moods with beats worthy of an underground club in an alternate cyberpunk reality.
I strongly believe that the fact this album was self-produced makes it feel more personal, since the artist’s work and intention remains untouched by outside forces. What’s reaching our ears is exactly the artist’s envisioning and this adds the true value to his music. Güttinger spent 3 years putting this self-titled release together, carefully perfecting it, creating his sound without getting lost along the way. There is a defined and clear idea behind every beat and key sound, a strong concept that explores complex emotions and unconventional subjects – relationship dynamics, space travel, abstract feelings and communication. The synthpop becomes the ideal medium for his expression of these ideas.
So it all comes down to the artistry of being authentic, which is something that is sadly uncommon these days. Güttinger delivers authenticity with compelling pop sounds. They’re dark yet fun, taking you through different moods, from the quiet ambient sounds of ‘Northern Lights’ and the gloomy ‘Everest,’ to the energetic upbeat sounds of ‘Tiger Eyes.’ This album is the perfect example of what a talented artist can accomplish in our digital era.
Favorite tracks: “Northern Lights,” “Rough Love,” “Lya,” “Cling,” and “Tiger Eyes.”
What are your top 3 favorite albums that inspired you to get into music?
A lot of my musical influences began as a teenager. I started making music in 2009, but I’d say my influencing albums predate that and mostly come out of what I was listening to from 2003—2008.
Björk – Selmasongs
This was actually the first Björk album I’d ever listened to. Her combination of over-the-top orchestration with brilliant, complex beats and songwriting hooked me immediately.
Nine Inch Nail – With Teeth
NIN was my very first concert, and this album filled every checkbox as a teen for me: angry, complex, and very obsessed with production perfection. You can really hear the love Trent Reznor puts into all his albums sonically, and With Teeth had some real bangers.
Shiina Ringo – Kalk Samen Kuri no Hana
This album means so much to me, I wrote about it for my personal statement to get into Berklee! Shiina Ringo’s an absolute savant when it comes to arranging and producing. This album was created at her house on her personal laptop, which fills me with such hope maybe I can achieve something as masterful as KSK.
What are your fondest musical memories?
It’s sort of silly, there’s been a few times where I’ve sung a chorus and overlaid it with backing instruments and I’ve though ‘I’ve done it, this is going to be amazing.’ Of course that’s not always going to be the case, but it feels so good to just let something out and feel like ‘yeah, maybe I CAN do this!’ Just small victories like that. I also look back VERY fondly on when I was just noodling around in GarageBand, experimenting with all the filters and effects.
Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener?
I’ve almost always felt that music that’s happening now is what I’m most inspired by. Something about technology just gets me pumped. I’m super into the future of like Ghost in the Shell (the anime, not the live action movie), so I’m always searching for the combination of organic, acoustic sounds and bendy, warped synths and intense drum machine kicks. I get really obsessed with the exact sound of synths, actually.
What is your creative process like? How do you approach the writing process? Is there a particular message or theme central to your creative works?
Yikes, this is usually all over the place. I usually make backing tracks and decide when I like it enough to say ‘ok, I think this could be an actual song.’ I really, really like creating a song around a specific sonic concept or atmosphere (‘banging on pipes in a soviet nuclear reactor’, ‘living in a twisted living home in hell’, ‘soul vacating body gently’) and getting a feel for lyrics and melody on that.
We’re a firm believer that the cities that artists are based in helps craft their sound. How would you describe your city’s music scene? How has it inspired you into crafting your sound?
Baltimore has a really huge DIY scene in music, but there’s only a handful of acts that have any national recognition (Beach House, Future Islands, Dan Deacon). I wouldn’t say Baltimore has a specific sound, but the city itself lets you live experiences you wouldn’t anywhere else. I’ve been to a fair share of house and DIY shows around the city—it’s terribly inspiring to see so much art and music-making, and the crowds that show up know how to bring the energy.
How would you describe your visual aesthetic, in terms of album artwork, music videos, and artistry? How does the music you create contribute to your visuals? Does this extend to your live show experience?
I’m a graphic and web designer. It’s surprisingly hard to keep a consistent aesthetic, mostly just because I designed it all myself, and I sort of just have to tell myself ‘it’s good enough.’ For this release, I’ve been using beautifully shot photos by my friend Ben McNutt (http://benmcnutt.com) and over-saturating them. I can’t say I’m particularly fond of staring at my face all the time, but I think the photos encapsulate how my music sounds really well. The one thing I made that I am pretty proud of is my website (http://guttinger.com)! I’m still mulling over music video ideas.
As an indie artist in the digital age, social media and streaming are essential tools for marketing and promotion. What do you think about online music sharing, both as a music fan and as a musician? How do you think social media/music streaming services impacts the rising musician?
As a listener, I LOVE streaming services. I’m totally happy to pay a subscription to be able to discover new artists daily and listen to music from all over. This is really hard for me to talk about as a musician, only because I’ve barely had experience with it so far! I’m sure I’ll have a entirely different opinion on it if/when it actually starts impacting my life. I think if you want to have a successful business—in any sense of the word— you HAVE to have good marketing and online presence. As I stated earlier, I’m a graphic and web designer by trade, so it’s sort of hard for me not to justify being a capable online marketer. I’ve loved having people tell me their thoughts on my music directly.
What is your dream collaboration and why?
I have been obsessed with Kate Boy the past few years, so be able to work with them would be incredible. I’d also love to work with Perfume Genius, but in what capacity, I have no idea.
Which songs are you currently obsessed with? What new acts do you recommend to our listeners? What bands do you believe are your best kept secret in the indie community?
I mentioned Kate Boy—they really killed it with their debut album, such an incredibly collection of pop bangers! Perfume Genius’ new album No Shape has really gotten under my skin—so many themes I can relate to on that album personally. Serpentwithfeet opened for Perfume Genius in DC a few weeks ago. I’d never listened to their stuff before, but after that show I immediately started following them.
What are you currently working on? Any new projects?
Promoting my debut album! It’s been about 3 years in the making; probably more, I’ve had some of those songs in my repertoire since 2012 maybe! Not to say I can’t work faster, but I love taking my time, and I’m also REALLY terrible at just saying ‘ok, done!’ I may be even worse at actually sharing songs. I have maybe a whole other album worth of material that I may play around with.
I’ll also be attending Berklee School of Music for their music production program in Valencia Spain starting in August, so that’s something…here I come Europe.
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