The Picturebooks approach to music making is unique: they have very few outside influences and even avoid listening to other artists to avoid sounding similar to other bands. Even with modern technology available to them, they still prefer to record with 2 microphones set up 12 feet away in a garage. Fynn Claus Grabke and Philipp Mirtschink also have the advantage of being best friends, almost like brothers in the way that they have an instinct for each other's creativity. All these elements help give them an edge in the world of musical duos. We caught up with them at Ramblin Man Fair after their set, to find out more about their music. (Even though Philipp was there during the interview, Fynn did all the talking.)
PG: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF RAMBLIN MAN FESTIVAL SO FAR?
FCG: The way artists measure how good a festival is is a little different to what the artist is thinking. It's really well organized and the way all the stage hands are working with all the band is amazing, there's good catering and what not; so that part of it is brilliant. Even with all the rain, for a lot of festivals that would mean shut down, because they didn't plan for that. But here it's like 'we knew this was going to happen', I guess it's a UK thing. All in all, we had a really good time on stage and you could see the audience reacting to it. Towards the end it (the stage area) really filled up, you could see all the movement, people were really loving it. It was perfect, we loved it.
PG: YOU'VE BEEN FRIENDS SINCE CHILDHOOD, WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE MUSIC TOGETHER?
FCG: We met at a skatepark and we were the only kids who were into the same things. We're from a real small town. Gütersloh in Germany so there's no scene, it was just him and me running around in David Bowie and Ramones shirts, listening to Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Velvet Underground and Kraftwerk and everyone else was into Limp Bizkit thinking 'who the fuck are these guys?' We've never played in bands before or anything and to this day I don't think of us as professional musicians - I still can't play a chord or anything. It was just a creative output that we wanted next to skateboarding and partying I guess. At some point we just needed music and we created everything we're doing ourselves. I can't play guitar solos – I play guitar solo's like a 13-year-old girl plays basketball! Watching Philipp it's like therapy, he's just letting it all out on stage. It's our way of expressing what ever is going on in our minds.
PG: YOU'RE QUITE IN SYNC WITH EACH OTHER, THAT MUST HELP.
FCG: I guess it's the only way it works, with being very close to other. With other professional musicians out there it's very easy for them to go into a jam session or a blues session here and there. We can't even physically do that. People say we have a bluesy sound, but I don't even know what that is – when is something blues? It just comes out that way.
PG: SO YOUR MUSIC IS QUITE ORGANIC?
FCG: It just happens that way. Eighty percent of what we record is improvised including lyrics and we just go for it. When we have that weird feeling that we are getting something, we just go for it and record and then something will happen. We know what we want to sound like but for other musicians and producers it's probably the wrong way to do it, it's just what works, but a lot of people might think 'why would you put a microphone that far away from you? You can get that roomy sound digitally' This is the way we always sounded when we were practising. We wrote and practised in the garage and when we went into the studio it always sounded so predictable. We thought 'why is this sounding so wrong to us, we are doing everything by the book, it should be right?' But then we thought we should do it a little different and now we record the way we practice.
PG: DID YOU EVER THINK OF BEING PART OF A LARGER BAND?
FCG: No. It's just Philip, me and my Dad who's the producer. It's just the three of us against the rest of the world. Just in the van, there's no roady or nothing.
PG: SKATING AND MOTORBIKES ARE A BIG PART OF YOUR LIFE TOO, DO THOSE INTERESTS IMPACT ON YOUR MUSIC?
FCG: Skateboarding and bikes are definitely a lifestyle. If you are a skateboarder your mind is set a little differently, you look at things differently. You don't look at a staircase as a staircase, you look at it thinking how can I do something with it. Your mind is already set creatively to have a creative view on things to change things up – I guess that's how we approach music.
PG: HOW DID YOU GET THE NAME 'PICTURE BOOKS?'
FCG: A local promoter called me two weeks before our first show in our home town and said 'oh by the way I've confirmed you but what's your band name.' And I looked at Philipp and he looked at me and I just said 'it's the Picturebooks.' I never even thought about it at all, it was just a name that happened in that moment. We thought we could always change it, but after we played that first show things started to roll and we thought 'that's just us'. - Again just going with the flow and not thinking about it too much.
PG: YOU SUPPORTED MONSTER TRUCK ON THEIR TOUR EARLIER THIS YEAR HOW WAS THAT?
FCG: It was amazing, we became best friends on the first day. They have a similar approach to us. They are very professional, they are always on time, they don't party on tour and they play their asses off. We appreciated each other for what we were doing but it was a cool direction to go in.
PG: WHO WERE YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCES GROWING UP?
FCG: My Dad. I grew up on a tour bus with my Dad. He used to be a professional skateboarder in the 80s and after his career, he got into a band and was really successful (Fynn's Dad is in German band Thumb) – he was always on tour. I was always on a tour bus for as long as I can remember. But the way he was doing it was important, he never drank a drop of alcohol or got into drugs. He was always having fun doing what he was doing and he's been my role model all my life. Now doing all of this with him is amazing. It's still the rock and roll lifestyle but you can do it without drugging out - that just ruins the fun for everyone.
PG: YOU DIRECT AND EDIT YOUR OWN MUSIC VIDEO'S TOO, WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT?
FCG: We don't want anybody else to talk us into anything creative, all the visuals that come out we want to be part of the decisions. When we write a song we talk about visuals before we write, we talk feeling that we want to get out. It's really important to us. Sometimes we have the visual for a video before we've even written the song.
PG: DO YOU ALWAYS AGREE WITH EACH OTHER OVER THE CREATIVE DECISIONS?
FCG: Yeah we usually do, but if we don't it's good to combine them with what we are both thinking and feeling. There's a song called Inner Demons on the album and it's about these panic attacks that I was getting on tour and they were getting really severe and I'd get them out of nowhere on stage, I was scared to death and it was really stressing me out. In the studio I'd talk to Philipp about how they come and peak and the chaos and feeling weird and how they'd go away and we pressed record and he didn't know what I was going to play and I didn't know what he was going to play but he said 'right go through a panic attack.' It was like therapy, I cured my panic attacks in the process of writing our album.
PG: YOU LIKE RIDING BIKES AND BUILDING CHOPPERS ON YOUR DOWN TIME – WHAT WOULD BE YOUR DREAM BIKE?
FGC: Well, we've just built a bike. Harley Davidson has just given us two bikes, we used to use old Harleys to build choppers, but they were not reliable and would just break. So we've made super choppers out of brand new Harley Davidson engines and it was the coolest project we've been involved with. We would have been here on bikes today but with the rain, we couldn't – but we do all our tours on bikes.