Season 1
36 Minutes

Ep. 28 | Cassis Birgit Staudt | When We Throw Caution To The Wind

Cassis Birgit Staudt Podcast Interview My Fourth Act Podcast
Cassis Birgit Staudt is a German musician, composer, performer and teacher. Cassis won a Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for her work as a producer for filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and she was the muse behind the Oscar-nominated film Ferry Tales.

Cassis has composed symphonies as well as film scores for many award-winning films. Her life spans both New York and Berlin, in pursuit of a lifestyle that integrates all of her passions and talents.

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Cassis Birgit Staudt  00:00

I thought I’m gonna hit it off with Tom Waits and probably don’t have much to say to Iggy Pop because he’s so cool. And it was the opposite. You know, like it. I had striking conversations with Iggy Pop and he was so sweet and polite and interested and interesting. And Tom Waits was the one who didn’t say so much, who I more admired than from the distance when I was around him. So it was very interesting for me.

Achim Nowak  00:33

Hey, this is Achim Nowak, executive coach, and host of the my fourth act podcast. If life is a five act play, how will you spend your fourth Act. I have conversations with exceptional humans who have created bold and unexpected fourth acts, listen, and be inspired. And please rate us and subscribe on whatever platform you’re listening on. Let’s get started.  I am just delighted to welcome Cassis Birgit Staudt to the My fourth act podcast. Cassis is a German musician, composer, teacher and performer. Her life includes long 10 years in New York, and currently Berlin because he’s won a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. For her work as a producer with filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. She was the Muse behind the Oscar nominated film Fairy Tales. Her band be blushed performed regularly in the downtown Manhattan club scene. And casies has composed film scores for numerous award winning films. She loves teaching voice, which she does at among other places, the world famous actors studio. I am just scratching the surface with everything I mentioned here. Welcome, Cassis.

Cassis Birgit Staudt  02:00


Achim Nowak  02:02

I’m so happy that you’re here. You have created an extraordinary life and you continue to create that life every day. Before we go into that I always like to start with when you were a young girl, you’re from Germany. What were your dreams for yourself? Who did you think you wanted to be when you grew up?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  02:23

I grew up in a really small town. And I don’t, I didn’t have so many role models. My dreams came from within me. And I made with toilet paper rolls, I made little cinema experiences. And I made a band with my a fellow friend in school, we both played guitar. And it evolved that as a teenager, I created street fairs where I invited the people that I most adored in my hometown, to show their art and to play music. We did that a couple of times. I remember I was 17 going to town hall and asking for permission to get locked off a whole big area of town where we had a stage and we would people would sell things that we then could How do you say the profit you could give to charity. And in the end right before I left town when I when I was 17 My dream was to come up with a piece of work that includes sound and images and theatre and music. And I put together a group of people. And we gathered and talked nothing that really come out. We had a good time. And in the end. And because there was a date I took it upon and made most of that piece, which became my first kind of blossomed convinced back where the audience had to enter the room. And there was a speaking choir around them. And everything was based on glass and the meanings of glass. I did something that I’m pursuing. Now again, you know, it’s interesting.

Achim Nowak  04:12

How large was the town that you live in? I’m imagining you doing this in a small village. So I want to get a sense of the size of where you lived.

Cassis Birgit Staudt  04:21

At the village was about 1000 people.

Achim Nowak  04:25

Yeah. Well, I’m so startled because you the story you just told us you’re in a small town, you were the creative wild child who created this big multidisciplinary event in a place that was nice to that you’ve had such a rich life. So I’m going to just this cherry pick a little bit because you and I met in New York and you ended up in New York. And part of your story. That thing is so interesting for anybody who listens is you’ve create the sort of life that you’ve created. There are multiple strands and you engage in different strands and the strands together create a rich town The story of life if I think of your life in New York and I want to drill down a little bit and I’m going to use you as a role model for people use as a glamorous version of this, you ended up working with a beloved independent filmmaker, Jim Jarmusch as a producer, you became a performer and musician. You had a band, you started composing film music, and you became a sought after location scout for movies. And you did all of that in Manhattan, sometimes concurrently, or sometimes sequentially. So let’s drill into that because Jim Jarmusch is by many people for me, revered filmmaker, I am a huge fan of his movies. How does one come go from Germany to becoming a producer? In New York? For a famous filmmaker Jim Jarmusch? How did that happen?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  05:49

Good question. I studied music and Hamburg. And at some point, I discovered my love of movies. And I had a boyfriend who happened to be a protectionist at a press screening for a movie that Jim Jarmusch showed, which was mystery train. And I happened to be there and I happened to stand at the bar in the end after the screening where Jim Jarmusch was asking the bartender how he could find that place for three nine. And so I knew Jim Jarmusch is going to 439. And then I grabbed my boyfriend and another friend. And we drove there. And there was this bar and big wide glass windows, and we were all thinking, what are we gonna do now inside, we could see, charmers being really cool standing there. And then we had the idea. I go inside, like in a Western movie, open the door is like in a Western. And I go straight to him, and I say, I want to work for you. And that’s what I did. And that’s what happened. He gave me his phone number. We talked for 15 minutes, I was bright red in my face, which then made the name of my band blush, because I had a habit of blushing. And we talked about music. I had just been to New York, and I was able to talk about a club that I love Knitting Factory. And then he said, that’s one of my favorite clubs. And we talked about a musician that I admire that I later made a documentary documentary about my griebel. And he said, that’s a really good friend of mine. And so in the end, he gave me his phone number. And I followed up, I sent faxes back then to, to the one person that worked for him. That work that woman, dimitra McBride happened to have the same birthday as I had. And a few months later, I was working for him.

Achim Nowak  07:50

I came to New York, there’s so many things I adore about the story. You you as you said, twice, I happened to be and I happened to be, and there’s a sport in English called happenstance. So there’s this happenstance, but you chose to follow up, you chose to meet him and to be pretty fearless about it. And the other thing that really struck me is, I think magic happens in life when there is some kind of synchronicity with people. And you and Jim clearly had that right. So let’s explore new york a little bit, because for every experience, and guess we’re talking about life choices, we can tell this sexy version of it where we go. This is what’s really exciting about in the end producing movies for Jim Jarmusch. But that’s often this part that’s challenging or frustrating or not easy. We’re going to get to the other stuff. But let’s stick with Jim Jarmusch. If you had to tell us a story or a moment where you go Wow, this is amazing. I can’t believe I get to do this work.

Cassis Birgit Staudt  08:44

One of the most amazing things that happened was that I got the chance to produce a music video because the other people who normally produce for Jim Jarmusch didn’t have time. I had already produced a couple of films in Germany, and I had to step up and was able to produce a segment of coffin cigarettes with Tom Waits and Iggy Pop standing there. Then, in Tom Waits us farm land in front of his chicken farm. Talking to ag pub, and seeing him walk his cat on a leash together with his girlfriend through the garden was amazing. You know, I couldn’t believe that I from a small town was there and was the person who then at the end of the day paid everyone and I had made the budget. I had organized everything together with dimitra McBride. I did not do that alone. I was the one who was sent out there who arrived with Jim Jarmusch in the morning on set and left again together to go back to the motel and it was amazing.

Achim Nowak  09:55

And I, I was debating whether to say this or not because but because we all have different taste. So if for any listener who doesn’t know he poppin Tom Waits. These are legends. These are not lightweights. These are very, very cool iconic musicians with very strong identities, wouldn’t you say?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  10:14

Totally, you know, I had my own preconceived notions. I was a big fan of both. And I thought I’m gonna hit it off with Tom Tom Waits and probably don’t have much to say to Iggy Pop because he’s so cool. And it was the opposite. You know, like, I had striking conversations with Iggy Pop and he was so sweet and polite and interested and interesting. And Tom Waits was the one who didn’t say so much who I more admired than from the distance when I was around him.

Achim Nowak  10:46

It was very interesting for me, since I mentioned the Cannes Film Festival intro for this particular episode, which became part of a larger movie by Jim Jarmusch. You were awarded with other people upon door as the producer at this incredible Film Festival. What was it like to receive that recognition that eludes many people that it came to you?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  11:11

Well, maybe that is a little, that’s definitely a highlight of my life. And that’s also a bit of a sad moment, because none of us was there and can when that happened. And when that was awarded, Jim Jarmusch did not like festivals at the time, because he was not going, nobody else of the film went to the festival. And I had plans to go there. But then in the end, I did not dare to go. And today, I’m sad. I did not go when this happened. I did go then later when that man was in Cannes. And that was an amazing experience being there as part of the crew that had made this film happen. And I had worked on it for many years. So I was a little sad that I wasn’t at that moment in can.

Achim Nowak  12:03

When in New York, you also you had your own band B blush, you work with some amazing musicians, you performed a lot. And what comes to my mind, and I’m completely unmusical. So it’s also filtered by by who I am. But the sense that it takes I think it takes courage to say I’m going to perform. I think it takes courage to form a band. It takes courage to also say I’m going to compose music, which is what you’re doing at the time. Can you walk us into sort of the the courage a token, the determination to do it, maybe a sense of a highlight from that time, but also, if there was anything challenging or frustrating, what comes to mind?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  12:43

Great question, and not the natural performer. I was not at the time, I was blushing a lot. As I told you. I was the type of person who would appear cool and maybe a little bit of arrogant. If you talk to me on a personal note, I would turn red. And at some point I realized I have to address this and I realized that showing feelings is a strength. And I happened to stumble into a band because my office coworker at Tim dramas, his office saw a piano standing in my apartment and said we should have a band. She didn’t sing and she didn’t play an instrument. She was a dancer. I just went with it at this point. I knew saying yes is a really good thing. We named the band turning red and I was the one who wrote one song after the other it just came out. And then there was a moment where I had an opportunity through Richard Bose an amazing person I met through Jim Jarmusch, who passed away was a veteran. And he gave me the opportunity to perform in a bar in the East Village at Mona’s and I stood behind the pool table with my accordion, I would have never thought this would ever happen would play my own songs that I had written that were also sad songs because a lot of emotions came up. Yeah, that was clearly a highlight. And there was also I happen to do a ton of performances. Also, I had to look up lab where I did one of them, which was the bottom line which highlights

Achim Nowak  14:20

Yeah, that’s a fancy club.

Cassis Birgit Staudt  14:22

Yeah, I performed there in a sold out room. And that was one of the highlights. And one of the beginnings were performing twice a week at the Continental and at Mona’s different places. There were also moments where I forgot my lines. And I stood in front of the audience with a moment of silence and then started up the song again, that was in hindsight moments of connection and not moments of embarrassment. It was so great to learn that.

Achim Nowak  14:52

Well, I have to respond to that forgetting your lines. I spend part of my 1980s performing with a choreographer I’m Wendy Woodson. And we have this 40 minute duet together, tightly choreographed. But at any given performance, I knew at some point Wendy would forget the steps. And I’ve learned if this is a metaphor for life, those are usually the most interesting moments, right? Because we’re not just executing what we rehearsed. There’s the moment we’re in the moment, we got to do something. So I want to honor what you said. I’m remembering my performances with Wendy Woodson. But to me, it also relates to your story of meeting Jim Jarmusch, which is, you just happened to be there, and Jim dramas happened to be there. And then we can make something happen in that moment, or we cannot. All those things are connected in my mind. A word from your sponsor, that’s me. I invite you to go to the website associated with this podcast, fourth, you will find other equally inspiring conversation with great humans. And you will also learn more about the my fourth act mastermind groups where cool people figure out how to chart their own fourth acts. Please check it out. And now back to the conversation. You mentioned the accordion because you’re a German woman who spent a whole bunch of time in New York is back in Germany, and you started playing the accordion, which is a very traditional German instrument. And so reconnecting, what does it mean for you to play that? It’s considered a very traditional German instrument music, but you you very much reclaimed it and made it your own. Can you talk about the little bit that with the relationship to that sound, and that instrument and that music and where you come from?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  16:51

Yeah, thank you. The accordion means a lot to me. My family was a middle class family. And both of my parents played the accordion, and they were hiding it from me. And while I was growing up, so that I could play the piano, I even got a grand piano that I still have today. And at some point when I realized one of my favorite people, musicians, Tom Wade’s has a lot of accordion in his music. The pokes have accordion pens that I adore, it had accordion, I asked my mother, if she could bring the accordion they had been hiding to New York, when I was holding the instrument. That’s when the emotion started flooding, not with the piano. Yeah, I was a bit stifled on the piano. But the accordion was kind of all hell broke loose with that. Yeah, I’m not a person who really likes this traditional folk music that that’s out there with accordion, I respect it. There’s a lot of skill doing that. But what I’m drawn to is using the accordion, which I’m doing today, I’m writing a symphony, and there’s gonna be all these accordions around the audience. And I use the accordion, like something where wind blows through it and makes colored air. So I’m creating ambiences with the accordion. And I’m doing that with other people using it today in a non traditional way. Yeah. And I also am in the band, and I play it as a front woman singing play the accordion.

Achim Nowak  18:28

To complete your I hope our listeners are getting a snapshot of just the different threads of your life in the Oregon one big part was because you and I met in the Oregon and we see each other in Berlin sometimes now is that you did some location scouting for films, which is one of those very niche thing professions. I find it wildly interesting. And it’s part of so the texture of the life you created. If somebody doesn’t know about what location scouting in film looks like, Can you give us a snapshot like a day in the life of a location scout, like what do you do? You,

Cassis Birgit Staudt  19:05

you get a script, you read it in a feature film, you’re part of a team you meet tomorrow in the morning in the office, we split up areas because clearly the film needs specific areas that you have to find as a scout. At the beginning, when I worked for television, I had to go out and bust on people’s doors and say please let me in and it helped that I was a woman I had a German accent. And people let me into their houses and photograph their spaces. Later I would make these panoramas submit them to the production office and the director then looks at them and says yes, I think this would be a great space. It’s all based on how I photograph the space and how I envisioned the space. At moments in my life. I was a wedding photographer, and I know that the the feeling that I have to Words the people I photograph or the spaces that I photograph is then later captured in the photograph. So a director would fall in love with what I had fallen in love. And I got into that, because I did not want to be working inside an office as a producer anymore. I did not want to be spending most of my time in production offices, I wanted to be outdoors and I was a producer in Jim dramas life, Karen cook, who had the idea when that man came around, she said, I think you could be a location scout and Jim Jarmusch then said, I love your I, I’ve seen your black and white photographs, I think you could be a great person going out and finding new locations, because he had to find new locations based on weather and financial circumstances. And so I got the permission to go out there and learn how to be a location scout. I didn’t even know really what it was. And I made panoramix with 10, sometimes 20 photographs, deludes next to each other, was sitting there and photographing landscapes and later had to sit down and find how branches had to be put together. So that you could see a park or the movie had a lot of landscapes, black and white landscapes. That was my first location scouting job. That’s how I got into it. And I had later a chance to work on the first Spider Man was one of the people who was assigned to check out roofs. I was the specialist and rooftops in Manhattan. And then when there was a recession, and I had already stepped up and scout for commercials, I got on the film Wall Street and was then the specialist for training rooms. And for me coming from a small town in Germany, become a specialist in all these places was amazing and meet the people. Yeah, those spaces.

Achim Nowak  22:03

Since you just connected your story back to Germany, I was thinking, Well, let me two things. One thing that really struck me You said this a lot, and I want to share this with our listeners is you spoken about having a feeling for something, and how that feeling is important. The feeling for the accordion, the feeling for spaces, and the ability to to follow those feelings and trust them in your life. They become commercialized in a way you made it, they became part of the work you do, which is really, really awesome. But I was also thinking as a girl from a small town in Germany, which you told us a story. How did you change as a person doing all of this cool work in New York in very cool environments, and sometimes with really famous people? How did that change? casies

Cassis Birgit Staudt  22:54

Thank you. I had to change. When I had arrived in New York in 1993. I had kind of a breakdown, and I had hives all over my body for several weeks. And it was right at the time when I had produced the Coffee and Cigarettes with Iggy Pop. And Tom Waits performed the first time in my life. And I had just finished a documentary about filming, directing, and producing about my reborn. And I came down with hives. And it was a really difficult situation was horrible and embarrassing. I was it felt embarrassing it I didn’t know if this would ever end. That’s when I discovered meditation in a work bear to reality. And that’s when I had to embrace it. New York helped me to digging deeper inside of myself to hold my own hand more to and I’m still working on inner climate change, which is what I’m addressing with my current Symphony that I’m working on. I think the more I am reconnecting with myself and my inner children and my deepest inner the more I’m honestly connecting with other people. The less secrets that I have, the more connection there is to others, the more life thrives for me and for others. Yeah, I have become a person who loves laughing into someone’s face. And connecting through a laugh with someone else. That was when I left Germany, something that I could not do. Yeah.

Achim Nowak  24:38

So I just described so beautifully how I like the phrase use it, no climate change. You grew up externally through your work. But you also began to evolve internally in New York. So New York did both of those things for you. Now, as somebody who’s lived in New York and left New York, people who love New York often feel like it could never leave and you left New York. And you went to Berlin, which obviously also is a sexy, glamorous city in many people’s eyes, even though everyday reality is probably a lot more ordinary. But I want to ask this question again about you, whenever related to listeners, because many listeners might go, I have a dream of living somewhere else completely. I would like to leave where I am, even though my life here is really cool. How did you navigate that transition in your life? Can you just walk us through that process of that journey?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  25:33

It was not easy to leave New York, you were one of the people who showed me that it’s possible. You left New York, I had another friend who left New York for New Orleans. I had many friends who went back to Europe. At some point, my father passed away. I got the phone call in New York. It was very sad that I could not say goodbye. Within a day I was in Germany. And I was at the funeral, I had already made it happen that I had an apartment in Berlin. That happened in 2001, around 911. I was actually in Berlin when 911 happened looking to buy an apartment. And when my father passed away in 2009, my husband was the one saying we should just move to Berlin, he is American, he was ready to leave America. I was not. I was really hanging on with my dear life to Manhattan. My friends were there, I was the expert of locations, I knew many secret places a lot of people would never see in their life, I did not want to leave that place that gave me a life that where I discovered my music, I discovered my inner self, I lived in a small railroad apartment that I adored, although I had a penthouse apartment in Berlin that I could, you know, that I for many years did not really fully move into. So it took a lot of courage on my end, and it took my husband to move to Berlin without me a couple of years before me. And for me to go back and forth for a couple of years. And to then take the courage and to do it and to make the move, which by now I would describe thank God, I made it out of there. And I would have never believed in a million years that I would ever say that. When I now go back and the last time I was there in 2019. I arrived I had one week I had a glamorous location scouting job in the week. And it was a fantastic week. But I realized there was a lot of smell in the air. It was a very loud city. And I then realized how beautiful it is in Berlin and that I want to go back to that beauty and to the quality of life that I have.

Achim Nowak  28:15

When we make a big transition like you did, and you you described it so beautifully. And especially leaving a place that in many people’s eyes is very glamorous like New York, there’s something we lose, and there’s something we gain. I think you described it a little bit already. But what what did you gain by leaving,

Cassis Birgit Staudt  28:38

I gained quality time for myself and for my friends, to bend time with my family, spend time with my friends. And to go deeper in my art. It goes all together. I believe that whatever I change in one area, it applies to every area in my life. I’m working on a project right now that I could have never envisioned that I would tackle. I had a wonderful birthday yesterday with friends and a lot of greetings that I got from all over the world. And I have a rich life. And I arrived with a burned out. Yeah, I was burnt out. I could not feel joy. I had joy when I arrived in Berlin, but I could not feel it. Today I can feel joy.

Achim Nowak  29:26

You’ve mentioned this new project you’re working on that clearly is very meaningful to you and that you’re excited about. So in the spirit of leaving a place and moving to something new if this is part of your new would you describe that project to us?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  29:41

Thank you. It is a climate symphony of climates film Symphony that I’m writing. I do want to emphasize that things in my life a lot happened through circumstances and then saying yes to circumstances. So this climate Symphony is Clearly has been in the motion. But because a friend of mine mentioned that there is funds to, that I could apply to I was able to sit down focused, and birth this idea that I now have been working on for a few months, it’s going to have an orchestra on the stage. It involves filmmakers that are showing their way of the climate of nature. It’s going to have accordions around the audience. It’s gonna have an immersive on Beyonds and natural surround sound that people can experience there will be a choir that will sing bird sounds that will be in animal sounds, there will be a solo and the soloist by a plan, I discovered the device that taps into the energy of plans, and helps me to translate that energy of a plant into music. In the next few months, I will explore that more. And I cried when I realized that I could do this. That’s what I want to do. I want us all to listen to blends.

Achim Nowak  31:11

You spoke about joy and feeling joy, and I feel your joy as you talk about this climate Symphony. And I was just struck as you’re describing it, because to me, I went this is mature, cuz he’s his version of what she did at 17 in her little town in her doff where she grew up. And you’re doing this same thing on a different scale with a lot more wisdom and knowledge and insight, which is friggin awesome, right? Yeah, I’m having tears come. I know you, our listeners can’t see. But I’m watching because these and you’re very emotional and on your tears are coming forth. What are those tears are about, you know,

Cassis Birgit Staudt  31:49

about this connection of coming back to my dreams that I had starting out and trusting that these are dreams that are they need to be pursued.

Achim Nowak  32:02

I for for you. And for me for our fourth act listeners is it sounds so simple, but having the courage to embrace our dreams and not reject them, even when we don’t know how they will manifest because they’re there for a reason. And something I’m learning in all of these podcasts, your stories to build the sense that at some point, we do something now that’s connected via many dots to something a thought or a feeling or dream we had when we were younger. And it manifests in a different sort of way. You gave us a glimpse already as we start to sadly wrap up. What are some things you appreciate most about your life in Berlin right now? And what are some things that are emerging for you in your life in Berlin right now?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  32:51

I’m a bit emotional. So ask me that again, please.

Achim Nowak  32:55

What do you enjoy most about your life in New York right now? Because you are contrasting it with the leaving Manhattan or New York burned out. So what do you enjoy most? And what are some new things that are emerging for you? Besides the climate Symphony?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  33:10

What I enjoy most is that I don’t only do one thing that I love, I do several things that I love. One of them is actually teaching. I actually also teach people in New York voice. It’s a dream for me. The connection is unbelievable. I thank the universe every day that I can do things that I never thought I would do. To be honest, I spent my time writing music, performing music, connecting to people via music, through music, help others to step into their enthusiasm to trust themselves. They helped me to trust myself. We all hold each other’s hands. And I am just amazed I can work on climate Symphony that is a topic that addresses something that I have been working on my whole life, the inner climate change, and I believe that we all need to do an inner climate change in order to arrive 2030 to reach those climate goals. Yeah, I think we all need to hold each other’s hands and say it’s okay, we can do this and it’s, it’s okay to have changed and it’s, it’s okay,

Achim Nowak  34:24

it’s good. What a beautiful message. And that might be a perfect note to end on. So if I can’t imagine that people listening to you are not curious about the work you do. The wonderful music you create. A lot of the music is publicly available. Where would you like to send folks who want to learn more about you and your work and the stuff that you do?

Cassis Birgit Staudt  34:49

A good place is my website. It’s Cassis, is we actually my artists name. Yeah, I never had a middle name. Once my music started to come I needed a new name, it became Cassis. S

Achim Nowak  35:15

It was such a joy for me to have this conversation with you. I urge our listeners to check out your music which is like your life eclectic and spans a lot of genres feelings, textures. So enjoy. And thank you again for the compensation.

Cassis Birgit Staudt  35:38

Thank you so much. Thank you.

Achim Nowak  35:42

Like what you’re heard, please go to my fourth act COMM And subscribe to receive my updates on upcoming episodes. Please also subscribe to us on the platform of your choice. Rate us give us a review and let us all create some magical fourth acts together. Ciao


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