The Picturebooks Interview
Anthony Firmin heads over to steel city to talk to The Picturebooks about skateboarding, cymbals, inhalers and Travelodges
The Picturebooks really hit us like a hammer on the head with their support slot with The Answer in the UK and Europe back in March and April. They came back at the end of May for a quick tour before heading to the US for some more dates.
The band are back in the UK in September for another tour but Manchester Rocks managed to catch up with guitarist and vocalist Fynn Claus Grabke and drummer Philipp Mirtschink before they hit the stage in Sheffield…
How did the tour go for you with The Answer?
It was really awesome, it was the first time we got to see places we never thought we would see in our lives going all the way up to Aberdeen and Scotland and all over England. We thought that maybe the crowd with The Answer might not get what we were doing, but it was a very open crowd even though it wasn't the youngest crowd, the people who were there were music fans in general and they were open for that kind of stuff. There were just two dudes who came up to us and said it's not our cup of tea but I liked it but all the other reactions were positive and they just loved it.
I caught the show in Manchester and both myself and my friends thought you were absolutely fantastic and overall it was a very positive response to your performance from everyone I spoke to…
It was the best tour in terms of the vibe that was going on, we all became best friends from all the bands and we couldn't wait for the next day where we would all arrive and talk about what happened the previous night and we all got drunk and hung out after the show, we all became really really close, it was a good thing!
So were The Answer as bigger party animals as they are made out to be?
Do they pretend they are not party animals? They are fucking Irish so there you go! When we went to Europe there was another band on tour with us, White Miles from Austria and they were sharing the tour bus together with The Answer. Day after day you could see they were more fucked up, you could see it in their eyes. Every day they had a different topic, today is gin day, or today is whisky day. Whisky day fucked them up badly! The Answercame in fresh as a daisy… hey everyone, everything is tickety boo, lets have a cup of tea… the other band came in and was like urgh, I got to sleep.
I was talking to your father/manager before and said I was surprised to see you back here so quickly after the last tour and he said that you had gone down so well that the promoters want to get you back as quickly as possible…
We decided to make it as soon as possible, whilst it was still fresh in people's minds from that tour, it's worked out so good this time as it's first time headlining for a German band, it doesn't happen too often.
Well done guys, but you also have another UK tour coming up in September as well as to US tours planned…
Yes, we are going to the USA next week. First thing we are playing in Brooklyn, the coolest bar that everyone is talking about called the Saint Vitus Bar and we have that because we are playing the Governors Ball Festival, one of the biggest festivals in America, and it's going to be weird because everyone is going to be playing there including the hip-hop guys. And then we are flying over to Los Angeles as we have a van and a backline over there and then it is a little US tour all the way into Canada and playing some gigs up there and then down into Denver and then to California and then to Texas, we're just going to zigzag all over the place. The place is just so fucking huge it's not comparable to the UK.
Huntingdon Beach. You spent three weeks there in a motel and wrote PCH Diamond as a result of some guy selling you a really crappy piece of plastic…
It is not just Huntingdon Beach, it's the whole So Cal area. Just a lot of friends there and for us it's like paradise, it is like a second home and we just like hanging out there. PCH Diamond just summed up everything that happened in those three weeks staying at the Sun And Sands, is just kind of a great place and you just lose yourself and it's very inspiring, especially at this time for Philip and I where we fore-bed each other to listen to the music for two years because we didn't want to get influenced by bands we might like. It is crazy how this kind of thing inspires the music in a different way, all of a sudden situations that you might have been in whilst you're out there become a song, become a sound, that was a super nice experience.
It must be difficult to not listen to any music for two years, it's just all around you all the time especially being musicians as well…
It was more about not buying a CD or not buying an album by a band you think you might like, that you are interested in. It happens so fast, you listen to the new album by blah blah blah on the way into the practice room and all the sudden you start to sound just like them may be write a song that is maybe like it and that's what a lot of German bands do and a lot of German bands never really achieve creating a sound of their own as a result. And something we wanted to do was go the Kraftwerk way and try to do something completely new and we are a duo and there are so many duo’s out there now, a lot of them have a bluesy influence too so we had to make sure we didn't sound like anybody out there.
And I think you have achieved it, it does sound very good and it is quite unique and that is what appeals to so many people as well. You have plans to do some more recording later in the year…
Right now we are planning all of that and listening back to a lot of stuff that we write as we write songs even when we are on tour and just record it on my iPhone. We just recently recorded a song in the car onto my phone and Philip was in the back just banging away to it hey we can do that one and maybe use that percussion thing because we have all these weird percussion things that we build ourselves and he is like maybe we can use that thing with all those bells… so we really cannot wait for this next album to happen and be inspired by things that have happened so far.
Are you going to record it in your garage again? Is there any pressure on you to use proper studio?
No, not at all.
We have a proper studio right next door but we decided to go back to the garage because we rehearsed all the stuff before we recorded it so it should sound like it does in the garage so we moved back and recorded the album right there. I think we are going to do it again, it's like our man cave. Record some stuff, go back to your motorcycle, record some stuff, skate outside go back in and record some more stuff, it's paradise for us.
It is not like Dave Grohl who recently recorded an album in a garage but the album doesn't sound like it at all. With us we do want it to sound like that, we do not want to go into a studio to recreate a garage sound.
What Dave Grohl did was he bought the console from Sound City in Los Angeles and installed it in one room in his house and then played in the garage with expensive mic’s etc. countering the natural reverb sound.
[Laughs] Yeah, right.
You sing into the pickup of your guitar during one of the songs, how did that come about, it is very unusual?
It is, it is, but actually it's a technique I stole from my dad because he used to do that a lot with that guitar, because this guitar is an old guitar of my dads. I only do it in the show, I didn't do it on the album because 50% of the show is always a little improvised. We always keep some room for improvisation so every show is a little different. At one show I looked at him (PM) and said wait, I’ve got an idea...
I had some problems with my drums so had to fix that…
And in these situations you just have to be creative, it is cold let's invent fire, you know how it is, creativity works you know, drums are fucked what do I do, fucking scream into the guitar!
In all of these situations our songs shape out of mistakes.
What was behind the decision not to use cymbals with your drum kit?
At one point I was so disappointed because I had to buy new cymbals every two weeks on a tour and my wallet, it was fucked! So I decided I couldn't afford it so let's get rid of it. So we went back to the studio and I have this crash cymbal, I hated it and I made a decision I hate cymbals, I hate it, I can’t afford it so I threw it away and build something different. So we came up with the ideas of building our own shit, percussion instruments and not use cymbals any more. They are too loud, my ears are ringing afterwards so fuck it! Hate it!
So how would you describe your sound?
That's always the hardest question for us. We hate dropping genre names because it is just stupid and we all do rock music. But if I have to explain it I say it is very heavy blues rock, very modern, very unique. The beats have a very native American sound to them so we are influenced by that, so somewhere in between I guess. Heavy doesn't necessarily mean to go distortion and metal. Like Venus And Furs by the Velvet Underground is very heavy in a completely different way, probably the heaviest song out there for me.
For downtime did you bring your skateboards on tour?
We'd love to but we have no skateboard rule on tour, no skateboarding. Philip almost broke his wrist once skating on tour, he could still play but after the show it got worse and we still had seven dates to go and it got worse and worse and worse. And that was the point where we were like we have to slow skateboarding down, we don't want to fuck this up, we have been waiting for this all our lives and working so hard for it and fuck this up because you had two beers and a quick skate? It is not necessary, it is not worth it.
There was a dramatic photograph posted on Facebook with Fynn lying on his back in bed with what looks like an oxygen mask on…
That’s the Pari Boy inhaler, it's just very good for the vocal cords.
Is like a vaporiser…
But vaporiser sounds kind of drug-ish and we don't do any sort of drugs. It steams up menthol, it's very good for the lungs. I used to get voice problems on tour, my voice got harsh. And we always get sick on tour, there's always some flu bug going around. When I feel it and getting it I use the inhaler and it's really helpful, it's really good.
Again, on Facebook, Travelodges become a big thing for you guys…
[laughs] Yeah, you have got to make some money on tour after all we do nothing more than this, so it is the cheap hotels. But actually Travelodges are quite good, sometimes we stay a better hotel but to be honest there are not that much better than a Travelodge.
I think it was just the way you were posting about it heyyyyy, we are back to another Travelodge tonight, it just became a bit of a fun thing with your followers almost like home from home…
It really is, yesterday we had the funniest moment, we came in there's this dude looking at us at the reception desk and he said Picturebooks and he recognised us straightaway because he was covered in tattoos and he was in a Misfits covers band. But sometimes when you play these festivals they have these deals with these 4* hotels and you are going in the Jacuzzi and lying in plush beds. Last time we played in Austria we didn't know about the hotel that we had and we thought it was going to be a shitty one in the mountains we got drunk and it was like 4:30am when we got to the hotel and we had to leave at 11 and when we got there we stood at the foot of this fucking mansion and they guy says have fun, this is your home for the night… couldn't you have told us this before and we wouldn't have partied right after the show. But we stayed till 12 just so we could try and get everything done, they had jacuzzis, Turkish steam bath, red light heating thing for your back, and the food… it was the best fucking breakfast ever. You don’t get that at Travelodge!
Thanks for your time, we really appreciate it.
Thank you, and to everyone reading this please come to our show, you won't regret it, we won't disappoint you, we will always give 110% and it will be cool if you can come over!
Images & words: Anthony Firmin