The Only Love Project’s Bill Murphy (BM) conducted this interview with Ulf Zick (UZ) via phone earlier this summer. What follows is a brief but remarkably authentic, heartfelt conversation. Enjoy!
NOTE: “Ulf” is pronounced like the “o” in “wolf,” not like the “u” in “gulf.”
BM: Briefly tell us your background. What would you like others to know about you?
UZ: Well, I guess the most important thing is I have always loved music. My mother’s side of the family comes from a very sort of artistic background. My grandfather was a musician. My mom was a musician and a music teacher, so, you know, ever since I was young I was sort of fascinated by it and I started playing drums when I was like eight years old and started playing guitar when I was 11. That’s been sort of the thing I always felt comfortable with, and then I got fascinated with sort of the business side of it, and I had a job as a guitar salesman and guitar teacher from like age 14. After that I started working in a record store, did all that kind of stuff. I started booking concerts like basically when I was like 18 or 19 years old, and that’s just continued to go on.
Then at some point I moved to Berlin, and went to University, but continued to do this stuff. I got an internship at a PR firm. I really loved that. I felt I had a sort of good way of connecting with people over the phone and in person, so this PR thing was sort of a natural evolution from that. Then I started my own PR firm and booking agency and continued to do that, and then I started my own record label when I was 24, continued doing that. Then at some point, you know, the music industry wasn’t exactly getting easier in terms of the recorded side of music so I was kind of like what should I do. Then I got hired to work for Gibson Guitar in their entertainment relations department – which, you know, I was there for a good number of years. I think seven years total. I always stayed in touch with the whole music industry side on the other hand, you know, with my partner; did artist management and consulting for a number of artists.
Then I quit working for Gibson. I worked for Apogee Electronics for a year as executive consultant to the CEO which was a lot of fun, really different sort of business model but really rewarding, but during that time I started working for Spotify which in the beginning was a consultancy and then evolved into a full-time gig, and I feel we are really like sort of changing the world of music in a good way. I think we are enabling people to find music and listen to music in a better way than ever before, and I think we are also monetizing the industry really fairly. I think there is obviously challenges in how that trickles down to the artist, but, yeah, that kind of works out.
Right now I am traveling a lot. I get to hang out with great people, have great people on my team, and basically I would say like whatever sort of entity is looking after us has mended well, I guess. That is a good way to summarize it.
BM: You said back at a certain point in your life you moved to Berlin. Where did you move from? Where were you born?
UZ: I was born in Hanover, which was sort of the home of rock in Germany. The Scorpions came from there and a bunch of smaller really cool bands like Victory and Thunderhead and a lot of those kinds of guys. A lot of those bands would record there because they had the Horus Sound Studios where like, you know, like Helloween and Celtic Frost and like all these dudes would make their records, and that’s where I was born. Then I moved to Lingen because my dad got a job there. He is a doctor and Lingen was a smaller city, about 50,000 people primarily known in music circles for EMP which is the biggest hard rock and metal mail order in Europe. When I went to University I moved to Berlin so that was in 1994, 22 years ago.
UZ: Before Berlin was cool.
BM: [Laughs.] Question Number 2: Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?
UZ: You know, the funny thing is, up until about two years I would have said absolutely not. But now I would say yes, yes, absolutely.
BM: What happened two years ago?
UZ: Oh, actually, I felt terrible. I was like, you know, things happened in my life on a personal and business level, which made me very depressed and unhappy. I had – I went through a dark time, and luckily I was able to confront it and come out of it stronger with a combination of meditation, mindfulness training, mindful yoga and also a traditional psychologist who I visited once a week. I completely revamped my outlook on life and how I look at things and how I judge things or actually how I try to not judge things anymore I guess.
UZ: In a very interesting way, like a lot of things that were bad and negative have sort of removed themselves and positive opportunities have presented themselves. I have become much less result driven and applause driven and much more in the moment.
UZ: And ultimately I think, you know, when you are a dark person, you attract dark people, and once you leave that path, those people are no longer interested in you because you don’t give them – you don’t feed their dark passenger back.
UZ: That being said I don’t have a spirituality in terms of a certain god or anything like that, but I mean, I certainly feel very connected to [Zen teacher] Jon Kabat-Zinn. I feel very connected to [Eckhart] Tolle, The Power of Now, that type of stuff. That really resonates with me, and even – let’s just put it this way I try to smile more than I try to mope.
BM: That’s awesome. Third question: Most religious traditions speak of the value and necessity of love. For example, the Buddhist Dhammapada tells us, “Only love dispels hate.” The Christian Bible tells us, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another.” The Jewish tradition teaches “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What, if anything, do those words mean to you?
UZ: Well, I mean, at the end of the day I think love is a necessity. Love is something that all humans – all beings – have, I think. I have just watched a fascinating video where two beavers are floating in the river holding hands, right. So basically I think from like the animal kingdom to probably plants in a certain way to obviously all human beings before we get consumed by ego and fear and driven by ego, fear and greed, I think we all have love, and I think everybody has it in them. It’s just about watering the good seeds and activating them. Whether some people need religion as a reminder or as a crutch of sorts, I think that’s cool. I just want to – I think the key is you can’t love if you don’t love yourself, and people that are incapable of loving or feel they are incapable of loving, mostly are challenged by the fact that they have not experienced love done unto themselves and so they don’t think they are worthy of being loved and they don’t love themselves. I think that’s a big take away and that is certainly something that should be taught and practiced because I think it would cure the majority of the world’s ailments probably.
BM: Well, that is a good follow-up now to Question Number 4, which is: What role can love play in the world today?
UZ: Well, the role it should be – should play – is ultimately compassion and love should be the primary motivation behind most everything we do. I think if you – I think love and kindness are very close to each other, so I think being a kind person is important. And if you have one act of kindness a day and everybody would do it, everything would change.
UZ: The thing is like a lot of Americans are like, “Well, but in business you can’t be kind. You need to be cold and cutthroat and you are soft and you suck” – like you are not a good businessman. At the end of the day, maybe I am not, but I would rather be remembered as a kind man and as a man of happiness and smiles than as someone that died with $40 million dollars that he could leave to no one because he had no friends and no family.
BM: [Laughs.] Yeah, I hear you. The inevitable follow-up, then, Question 5: What stops people from being more loving and compassionate?
UZ: Oh, their ego. I think it’s something that everybody that has read anything from – I think The Power of Now is a great start or – I mean, there is an abridged version of it even sort of like that has the essentials. I think when you read that, you quickly understand how the ego is what’s driving everybody to act so unnaturally because you are projecting, and you are doing all these things that are like just not right. I think that is what is stopping people from loving. I think the one thing in terms of relationships – because that is ultimately the first thing that sort of comes to mind with love – I think the challenge with relationships these days is that everybody always wants to keep all options open.
UZ: I talked to my therapist about that quite a lot, and it’s like people always look for the greener grass on the other side of the fence, but what they don’t realize is that while this side of the grass may have sort of like too many birds picking off the cherries off the tree, the next door grass will have too many moles or – you know what I mean?
UZ: It’s, like, it doesn’t matter. I think the one thing is to like stop constantly striving for perfection and start interacting. It’s sad, because the other day I was in a restaurant in London and I sat down for dinner, and it’s this Italian place with a buffet and you can choose what you want to eat, quite nice, very no frills but very good quality. I sat down with this friend of mine and we are eating and enjoying our food and next to us is a couple and they are – the guy is mad about something and he keeps on saying things like, “Why didn’t you do this?” and “Why didn’t you do that?” to the extent of them basically spending the remainder of their meal staring at their plates and then kind of storming off in a huff. I think that just shows it. The ego couldn’t be conquered where one of them could have said, “You know what? I am sorry I upset you. I know you feel pain right now, but it wasn’t meant like that and let’s just enjoy this meal because it could be our last.” I mean, if you think about it like Warren Zevon – who I really liked and who I only met once but he left a huge impression on me – when he was asked by David Letterman days before his death (or weeks) what his recommendation was, for lack of better words, he said, “Enjoy every sandwich.” [View interview clip here.]
UZ: The thing is this, Bill, I mean, you or I – we could go today.
UZ: I don’t want to go and have been mad at someone. It’s not worth it.
BM: You mentioned Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now a couple of times so far. What was it about that book, or even just the word “now,” that was important to you?
UZ: Well, I mean, the funny thing is I bought that book for the first time in 2008. I remember I bought it at Book Soup in LA, and I was laying in my bed at my favorite hotel there which is close to Book Soup and was reading it or was trying to read, and I was, like, “This shit makes no sense. I don’t know why anyone would read this garbage.” I remember putting the book away.
UZ: And then when I felt like crap two years ago, I picked the book up and all of a sudden it’s, like, – do you know how weird it is when all of a sudden something makes sense?
UZ: The book suddenly made sense to me. And then I read it and then I started doing some of these things that are recommended there like the breathing exercises, and I remember taking a walk afterwards with my girlfriend, and, dude, I don’t know how to explain this to you, but for the first time – and, speaking of love, there was just two pigeons having sex on the rooftop next to me.
UZ: A little detour, here. So basically what happened was that after I had done this little short meditation which was more of a breathing exercise, we went for a walk, and it was like as if the entire time of my previous life I had seen the world in like 2D and all of a sudden it was 3D.
UZ: You dig what I am saying?
BM: Oh, yeah.
UZ: And that was unbelievable to me. I think that’s the power of, like, with one breath you can remind yourself that this is the only moment that matters.
UZ: You shouldn’t have regret about the past. I mean, we all make mistakes. Believe me, Bill, I have made plenty of mistakes – bad ones, that influenced myself, that influenced my family, that influenced clients, that influenced people around me – but everybody has. I think the key is to not beat yourself up over it and also the key is not to project and constantly worry about the future. That is a crappy place to be.
BM: Well, if you were not necessarily in a position to dig Tolle’s book then, what prompted you to buy it in the first place?
UZ: Oh, I tell you. It’s actually very, very simple. Do you know – what’s his name? It’s a music journalist that wrote for RIP Magazine and came from Hustler, Lonn Friend. Do you know him?
UZ: Yeah, so Lonn Friend, cool guy, met him a few times, music journalist. He basically started heavy metal, hard-rock journalism in America, for lack of better words, and he wrote his autobiography. You should check it, Lonn with double n and then Friend like boyfriend. In his book he talks about The Power of Now.
BM: Oh, okay.
UZ: And I was, like, hell: I should check that out. I did, and it didn’t do anything for me because here is the thing: Most people aren’t ready to be helped until they suffer enough, and that certainly held true for me.
BM: I know what you mean. Question 6: Do you have recommendations regarding how someone might cultivate a spirit of love over the long term but also put love into action right now so that he or she can make a positive difference right away?
UZ: Yeah. I think the one thing you can do is remind yourself of why you are a lovable person, and there are plenty of things in everyone’s life, and then I think just make love a priority. Make it a thing, make it a thing to be kind. Make it a thing to be a nice person, make it a thing to be – except, on that token, I think self-acceptance is a huge thing. My big thing in life was I was constantly over-motivated to succeed because I felt that was the only way people would accept or even love me. If I was the best at everything, you know. They’d have to love me. Once I realized that actually what you do has nothing to do with what you are, you know, nothing, everything changed. Bill, you would be my friend if you were a bum.
UZ: It has nothing to do with your qualifications or what you do or what you have or anything. There is a quality to you as a human being that I want to be around, you know what I mean?
BM: Oh, yeah.
UZ: Once you discover that, and once you reinforce that, that’s where it becomes a good thing. You accept yourself and others.
BM: I have known you for a long time, quite a number of years, and I never would have suspected what you just told me, because you always came across to me as a very intelligent, compassionate, nice guy with wisdom and insight. Did you walk around feeling like you were two people or you were wearing a mask or something?
UZ: No. I wouldn’t say I was wearing a mask, but I will tell you I was constantly afraid. I was always afraid of failing.
UZ: I was afraid of failing. I was afraid of not being liked. I was afraid of rejection. Those things were very real to me on a daily basis, and ultimately that is what prompted me to also deal with certain clients who were never satisfied because that is basically driving that ego flaw in me to extremes because when you have someone like that who always tell you, “That’s not good enough” a well-balanced person would say, “Screw you. You have no clue what’s right.” But someone like me at the time would go, “Oh, yeah, right, okay. You got it. I will fix that for you.” Then I’d work all the harder to “fix” something just so I would look like a hero. You know what I mean?
UZ: A friend of mine said it really well: Ultimately, we just all want to be loved.
BM: I think that’s right. You said it kind of in the beginning. I think it’s part of our DNA. That is who we are as entities. Somehow we are built with love already inside the DNA.
UZ: Yeah, we are, 100%.
BM: Question 7: Who do you look up to the most when you think of the power of love?
UZ: You know what, man, I don’t really look up to anyone in that regard. I think the person that I admire the most is probably my mom for how she, in the face of a grave illness and unbelievable suffering, never made you feel like it was your problem.
UZ: She would actually go, like, “How are you doing?” when you would enter the room, which is totally crazy if you think about it. Do you know what I mean? I am doing well because I am not dying. But she was. Yet, she was more concerned with others. So that’s probably my answer: my mom.
BM: Great answer. The last question: Do you have anything you would like to add that I haven’t asked?
UZ: Well, I think like I said: Warren’s timeless recommendation (“Enjoy every sandwich”). Plus, I actually recommend everyone reads The Power of Now and then, obviously, Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you are into him, he writes manuals to basically mindfulness-based stress reduction (which is something I recommend greatly), but I also recommend – you know what? I recommend actually trying to take the burden of daily stress off and just like walk around and be your own observer in a way and smile at your little faults and your little missteps. I do it all the time. I can’t believe I just did this, but you have to take it with a smile. The one thing you have always been, Bill, where you have been ahead of the curve, is you have always been a great listener. I have been working on becoming that so that is something that I feel is a big step to love because if you can listen to someone that you care about, that is very important.
BM: Well, man, I got to tell you, this has been a wonderful conversation. You just sound like you have your stuff together. It really sounds like you are in a great place.
UZ: Yeah, I agree. I am very blessed and I am very happy about it. Like I said, dude, I felt like absolute shit, like horrible and to a point where I didn’t know if I was going to go on. There were moments where I was, like, “I don’t know if I want to live like this anymore.” So to be where I am now is really great.
Thank you, Ulf, for your time and enormous heart.
Thanks, also, to Saij for your professional transcription.