Updated: Oct 20, 2018
As a child, Andi wanted to play drums but his dad only gave him drumsticks. What seemed like a deficit ended up being a creative explosion in his life.
Sylvain: Hey, it's Sylvain and this is the handpan podcast. Joining me in this episode is my friend Andi Steil, who is a German musician and a comedian in the northern part of Germany. In the episode we talk about how to start creating in a simple way and how often times that simplicity empowers us to experience creative freedom. You'll want to listen to how Andi learned how to play the drums. It's pretty funny, but really I think this podcast episode will encourage you to enjoy the creative journey. So let's jump right in to a conversation with Andi Steil.
Sylvain: Well, Hi Andi and welcome to the handpan podcast.
Andi: Hey Sylvain.
Sylvain: Hey, I'm really excited for our conversation today for a couple of reasons. Um, I've followed your creative work for about 10 years I think, and it's been a great source of inspiration, but also it seems to me like your approach to making music very much aligns with the vision I have for the handpan podcast, which is to experience the simple joy of creating. So I thought I would start with, uh, the beginning. Um, when in your life did you start playing music?
Andi: I started very early when I was six years old, to be honest, I started singing in school and my father was a music teacher, played piano and accordion. My mother was a singer and yeah, in school, uh, first, uh, um, I joined choirs and at home, uh, I made a bit of music with my father. He taught me a bit of a piano. Um, yeah, that's from six years old. And um, I learned or I started drumming at the age of 12 on bongos.
Sylvain: Drumming on bongos. Okay. So playing percussion.
Andi: Yeah. But, but I played the Bongos, like the drum set, like a bass and snare. I didn't at that time I didn't know any patterns from bongos, so I just played a, like a back beat on the drum. I played it on the bongos deep for the bass drum and the high for the snare.
Sylvain: So, you were drawn to the drum kit it sounds like.
Andi: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Very soon after I, uh, my father decided not to teach me on piano again anymore because, uh, I was one of the last of pupils. He, he get a students he gets during the day and hadn't any patience to, um, to, to teach me. And he said, if I want to learn piano, you have to get another teacher. And then I said, oh, well papa. I think I want to play drums. I would like to play drums more.
Sylvain: So what happened from there? Obviously you grew up in a. from a musical family. Yes, yes. But you didn't completely follow in their footstep of being classically trained and kind of in an institutionalized music. You took a more creative approach it seems like.
Andi: Yes. Um, I was more like watching other musicians, watching even my father, even my mother listening to my mother when she was singing and uh, immediately when the radio was turned on, I joined music on the radio. I'm accompanied it with my own singing or with such other things. And when I asked my father to buy me a drum set, uh, he gave me only a pair of sticks. Hahaha. And I was glad that I don't ask for an aquarium because maybe he gets me some water first.
Sylvain: So you went from drumsticks later on, you became a drummer? Yeah. But you started only with drumsticks.
Andi: Only with drumsticks. Yeah.
Sylvain: How was that beginning? Because what do you do? Do you play on your bed, on your desk or.
Andi: Uh, no. I played in the air and just, yes, I imagined the drum set in front of me and I sat in front of a mirror and got my headphones on and played to the records. Uh, my, my, my record player played to the music I hear and I've heard in the, in the, on my headphones and, Yeah, I did this for one year. The reason why I did this, we moved a lot. Maybe it's important to say this. Um, we moved a lot through Germany. My family, my father especially, he got jobs at different schools and when I was 10 we moved from an island which was beautiful. My mother and I, we loved it there, but then my father got another job down south in and for a guy who came from, comes from the north of Germany, goes to Bavaria as a kid during that time it was a hard time to come to get there and being from the north and being in Bavaria. So I got bullied in school. Even also, my father was a teacher at the school and that was the time where I ask him for a drum set, got the sticks, got bullied in school. And the first thing I did after school I immediately ran home and played my invisible drum set.
Sylvain: Yeah. So it was an outlet to express yourself.
Andi: Yes. And uh, and uh, it, it was getting better. Of course, after I think, four or six month I made friends became a bit normal and after one year, uh, I was so in the school that I got some jobs. I'm also organizing parties and one big party with a band. And because I was one of the organizers, I, um, it was telling the band where to build up their set there, the instruments, and I asked the drummer if I can, if I may play on a drum set for just five minutes. And he said yes, yes. Go ahead. And then I played, never been, till then I never played a real drum set, only my air.
Andi: So I sat down and I could play, I could play the rhythms. I just played on air drums.
Sylvain: So that is amazing. Yeah. So after that, I assume that was a big validation because you could play the drums. Um, yeah. Did you go on to being a drummer and get your own drum kit?
Andi: My father then decided to give me one on Christmas and yes, at that time I started drumming. Immediately, not alone anymore, just immediately I joined groups, joined bands, joined other people to make music with. And that was also kind of my education. My musical education. I never had real teachers. I just, um, yeah, I was a learning-by-doing guy.
Sylvain: So fast forward a few years, how did you discover the hang, which for some listeners it's the first handpan, the first, the instrument that inspired handpans.
Sylvain: So how did you discover the Hang and what drew you to that instrument, which is very different from the drum kit.
Andi: Yes, that's true. Yeah. Um, when I left school, uh, I decided to be a musician at the age of 25. I decided to be a musician, don't go to the university, don't do any other jobs, being a musician and also a comedian because I always wanted to, um, to uh, make music and theater and funny theater was for me. Yeah, one of my choices. And then, uh, yeah, got comedian played in several, uh, shows as a comedian, as a musician, as a drummer, and get a friend in Berlin and he had the connection to a Swiss guy who, um, gave us the opportunity to play our show. We had at that time we had a show together. Uh, he was more like a standup comedian and I was a music comedian and we made a show together and uh, got the opportunity to play in Zurich in the year 2000.
Andi: It was one year a after the Hang was developed, after they made it. And um, I went into a one day, we had always a engagements like for two to four weeks. And I went one day I went into a music shop there and Zurich, very good one big one, great percussion area. And there was a Hang besides the cash machine. And there were some other guys in the room looking for other stuff. And uh, I saw this, I saw this instrument and wow. I said, what is this? And saw the little, there was only one piece of paper saying what it is, what's the name and how you can play it only with hands. And then I just, because I was started with Bongos, I had, yeah, I played it with my fingers and immediately got the sound that it has when you play it properly.
Andi: And the other guys, maybe with eight people in the room, they will like getting up the heads looking at me and saying, ah, that's how it sounds or supposed to sound. So they of course had also tried it and um, yeah, maybe didn't get the sound and I got it. And immediately I was drawn to it and said, okay, I want to have some of these. And um, it also helps me to sing because um, as I said before, my mother was a singer and I like to sing. And that was my first experience with music, singing in choir, singing school, I had the talent to, to sing. And that was the perfect instrument for me as a drummer or percussionist to create my own songs and played with Hang.
Sylvain: Wow. What an amazing story. I think you're probably the person that I know who's been the first to discover the Hang and to be a part of this incredible community of instrumentalists and enthusiastic around this art form. Yeah.
Andi: That was the one of the lucky guys. Yeah. Amazing.
Sylvain: So let's talk about youtube quick because that's how I first heard about you. And watch your videos about more than 10 years ago in 2007.
Andi: Yeah. And also we got a know each other via YouTube.
Sylvain: Yeah. It was a great way to build community in those early days of the Hang. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, but I want to talk specifically about the number of videos that you've created. Oh yes. So you've created over 1500 videos. One 1,536 to be exact. I can't believe it. I checked. Yes. Yes. I know, I know. So I'm curious to hear about your creative journey making so many videos over the years. What was that like?
Andi: It was exactly the, the, the, the reason was the first reason was the Hang and the fast internet and of course YouTube. The Hang for me was I'm one step ahead making my music singing to an instrument that is not a piano, not a guitar, which most people use when they want to create their songs with singing and then I discovered youtube and the way of just making a video, load it up and immediately got some reactions, which nowadays is normal. At that time it was like, wow, I was a, I'm making a video. I load it up and then after a few hours I see a reactions from all over the world and get also, of course in contact with other people playing handpans. It was like an explosion, a creative explosion and it always a give and take. I saw things. Um, and I, I also, as you know, I, I did music with other videos. I played a video on my laptop and sit in front of my laptop, put my camera on and recorded this, what I do in front of the laptop. So I did like a, um, multitrack video recording with bad quality, of course. But it was just the joy of doing it, just the joy of making music in my home with some other guys who are far, far away.
Sylvain: I love that. And the fact that you mentioned the word joy because when you do something 1,536 times and to be continued, you're not doing it out of obligation or maybe to, I don't know, to keep up with someone else. You, you're doing it out of joy obviously over a 10 year period of time.
Andi: Yes, of course.
Sylvain: And, and I also love that your videos are more natural at a time where online, um, you know, in 2018 at the time of this recording, music videos are super polished and very, very professional and very produced.
Andi: Absolutely yeah.
Sylvain: But there's something about your videos that are just, um, inspiring, comforting, um, that invite us in because they're not intimidating. Um, and, and you, you don't take yourself too seriously, um, you, you sing, which is not very common in the handpan, um, you know, repertoire, sadly, sadly. Yeah. There's a few people starting, which is really good. But I think you were the first to really kind of bring the instrument forth, uh, along with vocals. Yeah, right, right.
Andi: People criticize this sometimes. Yeah. They like, there were some comments under my, um, um, my videos, they say, oh, I like it. I liked the playing until he started singing.
Sylvain: Well, people on the Internet will always find a way to criticize something, but, but I think you've got something really special and um, you know, I can speak for myself, your creative work is an inspiration and, and it, the fact that it's different. The fact that it's not like the status quo, the fact that you stand out and you've got your own unique character and personality reflected in your music. Um, I love that. It's part of the gift that we're given with handpans to be able to create simply. Um, and I recommend that everyone go check out your, your music and your videos. And actually where can people find your creative work online Andi.
Andi: Yes, as you mentioned on my youtube channel, which has got the name Andi Steil. And also on facebook with another name. This is my real full name Andreas Raimond like Raymond in the English world, Raimond Steil. Uh, and on my website, of course AndiSteil.de. And live sometimes.
Sylvain: Yeah, I hear that you obviously perform in the theater pretty regularly and that you include handpans as part of those performances.
Andi: Yes, yes. Uh, recently did last weekend I was in Berlin, played in the Quatsch comedy club and uh, I was the finalist, the of five comedians or four Comedians and one host and I got 20 minutes and I ended up with a handpan with a Hang and it's always great to see that you can do this in a comedy club, which normally is a crowded by, by, uh, by an audience who want to see standup. But I'm still there. So I think they like it. The producers and the audience as well.
Sylvain: Yeah. Yeah. I have no doubt about that and I encourage you to continue because you've got something really special. Thank you. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today and for sharing your story. I know it will be a source of inspiration to anyone listening to this episode, so I really appreciate you and I can't wait to continue, you know, following you on, on online and seeing what you come up with.
Sylvain: Thanks Andi.
Andi: Thank you. Take care.
Andi: Bye. Bye.
Sylvain: I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Andi and I want to go back to his story about the drumsticks for a moment. Andi wanted to play the drums, the kick, the snare, the symbols, the toms, the whole thing, right, but his dad only gave him drumsticks. Now you can probably imagine the disappointment of only getting drumsticks when actually you want the whole drum kit, but as we heard the rest of Andi's story, this simple beginning with just drumsticks ended up being really powerful. Why? Because it gave Andi creative freedom. Technically, he didn't really learn to play the drums. At first. He would just pretend and play in the air in front of a mirror, but he learned something more valuable. He learned to get pleasure out of playing the drums. He developed a passion, a passion that would accompany him for the rest of his life, and I think that there's a good analogy for handpans here because with handpans, we get that same kind of creative freedom.
Sylvain: Freedom from fear of doing it wrong because just like there's no right or wrong way to play the drum sticks in the air in front of a mirror. The handpan doesn't really have a right or wrong way to play. The handpan gives us creative freedom and I believe that this allows us to develop a passion and to actually start creating. And you know what the most amazing thing is that as you develop a passion and start creating well magically you become good at it. That's how Andi, after having never played on an actual drum kit, was able to play the drums because he had experienced creative freedom and developed a passion for it. So as we create, let's bypass the fear of doing it wrong and let's just enjoy the creative process because I think that not only will it be meaningful, but magically that's how we'll get good at it while enjoying the journey like Andi did.
Sylvain: that's it for this episode of the handpan podcast. If you want to experience the simple joy of creating, join our community on the handpan podcast, facebook group. It's a safe place to share your video and audio recordings, your thoughts and photos about your own creative journey. There's no competition or ego trip. It's just a place for us to connect in a meaningful way. So if that resonates with you, I hope to see you on the handpan podcast facebook group. Thanks for listening to the handpan podcasts and see you in the next episode.