First, I’d like to thank you for your time to indulge my curiosities about the band and the new LP. How is it sitting with you guys, having all of this string new material to choose from to play for the fans? Have any of the new tunes been played in a live capacity on stage yet?
Fynn Claus Grabke: Thank you. It’s fun. We played our old set almost everyday for over three years of straight touring all over the place. It feels fresh and exciting. We’ve already played “Cactus” and “Bad Habits Die Hard” before on our tour with Le Butcherettes that we did in between the recordings.
If you look back at the band’s musical past how does it appear to you where your current sound and musical direction began to take its shape? There were hints of the band’s current vibe in some of the early material, especially with ‘Artificial Tears’. Was your sonic evolution inspired by anything consciously or deliberate?
F: I think it all started out with skateboarding. Watching skate videos and listening to the music that they had in them. All of the sudden I was into The Cure, The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, Can, Minor Threat and all that stuff. I was 12 or 13 at that time. I met Philipp in our local skatepark back then and we immediately clicked. No one looked like us in our hometown back then or listened to the stuff we were into. When all of the sudden we started doing music on our own.
Without having ever learned how to play an instrument we started trying to sound like something that we had in our head… but didn’t know how to do that. We still approach music like that. I can’t play a chord to this day and use the same self invented open tuning that I made up someday. With ‘Artificial Tears’ we still were a 3 piece and feel like ‘Imaginary Horse’ is our real debut. I know what you mean though. It was already trying to sound a little more bluesy.
To be honest, we never dared to do that though. We thought blues is sung by people with a clear message of people that have lived hard lives and worked their fingers to the bone and stuff. So when we were writing ‘Imaginary Horse’ we forbid each other to listen to music for over 2 two years so we don’t get inspired by other bands. All of the sudden that whole blues thing started coming up out of nowhere and very naturally, even though I can’t even play one blues song, lick or what ever it’s is called. I don’t even know if there are rules or so when something can be called ‘blues’ and all that stuff. We hate blues. Well, these boring blues bands, if you know what I mean. The clean cut bullshit that is out there, and is making a shit load of money performing on weddings and shit.
How, if at all, did the absence of a member, in terms of perspective and creative presence, alter your creative ‘process’? With the obvious minimalism of two individuals, is the quality of creativity ever a concern for you guys? The most obvious and significant musical development for the Picturebooks–from an outsider’s perspective, anyway–was from ‘Artificial Tears’ to ‘Imaginary Horse’. As the artists, how do you see the sonic transitioning that was taking place that the time?
F: Our old bassist ‘Yoko Ono-ed’ us out of nowhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love that dude. We still hang out with him a lot. He just went another direction which was perfectly fine, but Philipp and I had to kind of reset everything all of the sudden.
We went to the states a lot to get some different inspiration and stopped all of our contacts that we had to the music industry, stopped listening to music from other bands, rode bikes a lot, went skating and came up with everything what we do today. We really didn’t want to invent an image or so. We wanted to be us, but I think before we didn’t really know what and who that was, in a way. We recorded the whole album, filmed all the videos, and had all the photos ready and for one year none wanted to sign us here. All of the sudden Cedric Bixler Zavaller wrote us on Instagram, [said] that he loves the band, just from the pictures, and would like to hear some stuff.
We sent him some stuff and he wanted to get us a show in L.A. We ended up flying to L.A. with all of our equipment and tourist visas. Man, they didn’t like that at the border. Took us 4-5 hours to get out of there. Showing us our private emails on their computer and all that shit. Crazy!!! But we somehow made it into the country and played our very first American show at the Harvard and Stone in Hollywood. 10 minutes before our showtime Eagles Of Death Metal show up want to play too. Place is packed with club owners, promoters, managers and other people from the industry. After that show, we were booked out for 2 months and had an international label and two booking agencies and management.
What brought the transition to Another Century from RidingEasy about?
F: We were at a point where it was time to go on. RidingEasy is still kind of involved in the whole thing, though. We realized that we can only go that far with RidingEasy and The Picturebooks have the potential to go bigger, and they didn’t want to be the part that holds us back. We really appreciated that and a few labels that really wanted to do it.
That was a fun situation to be in, man. We could just pick who ever we want. We basically went with who ever wanted to use more elbow grease and really work with the band. Rather then just giving a nice advance and be one of many newcomers on a label where the people that work at the label don’t even know the band. With Another Century they just welcomed us so nice. They have this beautiful house in Marina Del Rey and the people that work there are super nice and it just seemed like the perfect move to change the label and go with them. They’re not trying to change the band and don’t talk into the whole creative process, which is also very important to us.
Of all of the songs on ‘Home Is a Heartache’, was there anything from the past that had been around for a while that needed time to develop? Any particular riffs, concepts, pieces, ideas, even whole songs?
F: Good question. Not really. I gotta tell you though, we tried to reuse some stuff that we wrote before and somehow didn’t make it back then. I think a song either works or it doesn’t, and if it doesn’t, it never will. There is this one song that I always try to reinvent because when I play it, I feel like it’s awesome, but when we try to record it, it never works out. There’s like so many different versions of that song, it’s a fucking Frankenstein.
“Wardance” probably couldn’t have been placed in a better slot, as it essentially opens as the first ‘full length’ track, but where does “Seen Those Days” come from? Is there a story or specific meaning to its presence?
Philipp Mirtschink: Fynn writes songs on a daily basis. He sometimes writes several songs in an hour. It’s crazy. That’s one of these songs.
F: Yeah, I don’t know, it’s weird. I sometimes have these moments where they just happen without me being able to stop it. Stresses me out, too, because I never know when that happens and how long it will be till I have a moment like that again. The lyrics and the riff is a improvisation that I wrote right there and then when we recorded it.
For me, some stand-outs were tracks like “Wardance,” the title cut, “On These Roads…,” “Cactus,” “Get Gone,” “Bad Habits…” (actually, the whole LP is a favorite of the year so far). I know why I dig them, but for you, where do you see ‘growth’ where the ‘Picturebooks’ sound is concerned?
We’ve learned a lot on tour, about our songs, and sound.With ‘Imaginary Horse’, we never performed our songs live. We didn’t want to change our sound too much, though, compared to ‘Imaginary Horse’. For us it’s and extension to our debut. A song like “Fire Keeps Burning” is a sequel to “Your Kisses Burn Like Fire,” from our last album.
Were there any tracks that were almost left off of the album but surprised you once they were laid down on the recording? Anything held back for the future?
F: Yeah, “Get Gone” almost got kicked out again by us, which luckily didn’t happen. It was one of the first songs we recorded, and then songs like “I Need That Oooh” and stuff came and we felt like they’re maybe too similar or that they weren’t good enough, or so. But it’s one of my favorites now. “Heathen Love” almost didn’t make it, too. It was just an improvisation that we recorded pretty fast. But all of the sudden, everyone seemed to like it a lot and it made it on the album.
If you had to choose three favorite songs or three songs with personal significance, what would they be? Why?
F & P: “I Need That Oooh”: [it] was the last song we recorded. Literally last minute. We wrote this song in Wales, on our Le Butcherettes tour, on the side of the road, looking at this beautiful river, just talking into the phone and recording what ever we had to say about this idea that just came to our head. We sang, talked and imitated sounds of instruments into the phone for an half hour or so, and two weeks later the song was recorded and finished without changing anything that we recorded on the phone even the lyrics where not changed. I used the same words that I improvised on that parking lot.
“Inner Demons”: it is about Fynn’s panic attacks that he developed on tour from being stressed and burnt out after touring for three years straight. They would come up on stage, while having dinner, or any other Random situation. It was horrible. We decided to write a song about that. We talked about how they feel and how they come up out of nowhere, and then become heavier and heavier and peak into this big mess and then slowly go away. The whole song is built up that way. We never played that song before, and just hit the record button and started playing that panic attack, so to speak. We used that first take.
“On These Roads I’ll Die”: because it just sums up how life is on tour. We don’t know how to do anything else the way we do what ever we do right now. We have no plan ‘B’ or so. We will die on these roads, no matter what. And also plays with the title, ‘Home is a Heartache’. Home is this place that you never arrive at. It only exists in your head. It’s just this ache.
Did you guys do anything differently during this most recent creative/recording process that you hadn’t really done in the past?
F: No we recorded it the same way we recorded our last album. That was very important to us. Two microphones in our motorcycle garage 12 feet away from us; improvise, play live and have fun doing it.
How has that kind of nomadic lifestyle worked to develop you guys as artists and songwriters?
F: My dad, who is the producer and manager of the band, was a pro skateboarder in the ‘80s, and had a pretty successful music career after that. He always took me with him on tour, so I basically grew up in the tour bus. I remember being stuck in an elevator with The Exploited. I was like 8 or 10 or so and went crazy, because till this day I hate elevators.
P: I just love it. Being on tour with my best friend, doing what we live to do, seeing all these places I thought I will never see in my whole life is just awesome.
So many bands say that they don’t feel a need to repeat things they’ve accomplished but there’s always a desire to retain a success, depending on how you see ‘success’, of course. Did you set out to maybe equal or top what ‘Imaginary Horse’ was, or was anything like that even in your mind?
F: Like I said before, ‘Home is a Heartache’ is a sequel to ‘Imaginary Horse’. We didn’t want to change much about the sound. Didn’t want to change the way we record or anything like that. We fear change, in a way. A lot of bands fucked up changing their sound and look. At the same time, if you take a band like Kings Of Leon, for example, who I’ve liked more on there first two albums like a lot of people do, they don’t give a fuck about that now, I think. They play ten times bigger venues and sell ten times more. I don’t want to be that kind of guy that uses names like sell out and stuff, I think it’s great that they’ve achieved that and I have a lot of respect for that. For me and Philipp, though, it’s never about overthinking anything. If we feel like that is the right way to do it, then we do it. Do or die. I guess that’s the skateboarder in us. Haha… Who knows, next album we’ll be in in satin outfits doing it Peter Frampton style. Led Zeppelin had a phase where they were like that. Oh man, the more I think about it, the more I can’t wait for that to happen, hahaha!
How do you manage a guitar sound that’s so full and encompassing but also having a haunting vacancy when it needs to? What do you do that creates and captures the massive sound, all around, that you’ve developed?
F: I play a very old, early 50s Gibson ES125 that I bought for way too cheap at a guitar store in L.A. on Centinela. I also sing about it in our song “PCH Diamond”, through a signature pre amp that I made together with “Red Sun FX” from Munich called “The PictureBoost” into two amps. One is a completely custom made combo that I built myself, not knowing what the fuck I’m doing to get this, I call it ‘elephant-like’ sound, and the more distorted and higher pitched sound. The other amp is an amp I built together with a friend of ours from “Earforce” amplification, where we signed a bass amp similar to the old SVT ampeg amps through a very sturdy 2×12 self “Earforce” cabinet. I use this amp to get a cleaner and beefier sound out of it. All of this, in the middle of our garage, set up the two mikes 12 feet away from the amps. Sometimes I would stay real close to the mics with my guitar so you can hear the slide and strings acoustically, too.
Shifting gears a bit, the video shows you guys in your element skating. Out of sheer curiosity, can you remember the first board you ever owned? Mine was an original Santa Cruz Tom Knox ‘Fire Pit Ghoul’ when they first unloaded them; I’m old.
F: Haha. Great board. Great skater too. My dad was on a European skate tour with him back in the day. I can’t even remember, to be honest, what my real first board was because I’ve basically skated even before I could walk. My dad always had boards lying around. I remember skating an exploding clock board in a skate park with him, and this one skater rode over my finger some how and all of the sudden there was a lot of blood. Ouch! Trauma! Hahaha!
P: My first board was some random blank board. Nothing major. Don’t even know how I got it, just that I was hooked right away. I was really young, too.
Your on-site studio, garage, skate area are all in one concentrated area, like a ‘one-stop’ for everything you guys love and hold dear. What’s a ‘typical’ week like there, when you’re free from touring and any other obligations? Parties? Friends? Debauchery?
F: Ride there on our bikes, which is a beautiful ride, out of town through the countrysides and forests of east Westfalia. We always have one or two bikes that need to be fixed or a project we’re working on. Maybe go skate for a little bit. Grab the guitar, start playing. Philipp would join in… “Oh, that sounds great. Let’s record that.” “Alright, record it.”
Someone of our motorcycle friends would come up. Talk bullshit, talk bikes… write some of the dudes, they all show up bring some booze and talk more bullshit… shoot BB guns, Philipp gets naked. We all walk into town through the darkest forest. People get lost. Have no reception, panic and scream, arrive downtown and just rage through town, in all of our local bars. Do that till the sun comes up again. Have breakfast with the ones that survived the night, go to bed, and do it all over again. Maybe not the drinking part. We don’t really drink on tour, though. I’m just giving one example of what a random day could look like. We usually live a healthy lifestyle.
Which songs from ‘Home Is a Heartache’ will absolutely be included live? Any ones that will absolutely be left out of the live set for one reason or another?
F: We obviously can play all of them live because we recorded them that way. It’s a matter of how we feel that day. We mix it up a lot. Although our intro and the first song will always be the same, and I think we will always play “Your Kisses Burn Like Fire” as our last song.
What do you have planned as far as touring goes? I know that the tour with Monster Truck is happening, but what does the spring/summer season look like for the Picturebooks, even on through the end of 2017?
F: We will basically be touring the whole time! We’re super excited about going on tour with our bikes, though! Together, with Harley Davidson, we’re building two brand-new bikes with Thunderbike Customs the way we want them to be. We are really thankful that Harley Davidson is giving us those two bikes and is trusting our style of building choppers. Other than that, for the festival and clip shows here, in the UK, and the USA. More territory is about to come, and that’s just how our life will be for the rest of this year, for sure.
Again, I really appreciate your time here. There’s so much more to ask but so little time and space to accommodate! I hope to talk to you again very soon. Hopefully we’ll see you back over here in the U.S. for a nice lengthy live run. Be well!
Thank you very much appreciate it a lot! Go ride motorcycles! Go skate! Go make and hear music! Go vegan!