The Picturebooks are a blues-soaked German duo consisting of Fynn Claus Grabke (vocals/guitar) and Philipp Mirtschink (drums). Recently signed to the highly regarded LA psych/stoner imprint Riding Easy,they released their first album for the label, entitled ‘Imaginary Horse’, in late 2014 in the US and are currently on an extensive UK tour with The Answer to promote the forthcoming UK release of the record.
Recorded in the same garage where they regularly refurbish and repair motorcycles and choppers (both are enthusiastic bikers), ‘Imaginary Horse’ captures a raw, rich and real energy befitting the room’s natural reverb, industrial aura and spiritual spark. More importantly, it has begun to rev up the boys’ career.
The video for the first single from the album, ‘Your Kisses Burn Like Fire’ is a sweaty, boot-stomping affair featuring a growling Grabke, a driving backbone via Mirtschink….and some beautiful scenery. It can be seen here:
It was at Chinnery’s, Southend-On-Sea, where I managed to sit down and have a face-to-face chat with Fynn and Philipp following a 30 minute set that left those who witnessed the performance breathless, hot and sweaty.
MJ: Boys, what a tremendous show you put down for us here at Chinnery’s . I’ve gotta start with Phil firstly because it looked as though you injured your hand during that set because you were sort of shaking it and holding it and, tell us what went on there.
Phil: Ah, pretty simple, I just hit the rim of my floor tom and it hurt, so… and then it’s probably not the first time, it happens every time, you know. I’m used to it.
MJ: I’ve not seen anyone hit the drums so hard since I saw Tommy Aldridge with Ozzy Osbourne!
Phil: Thank you.
Fynn: Ya. I don’t call him a drummer, he’s a destroyer!
MJ: We were talking earlier Fynn about your start to the set, and it wasn’t the first time you tell me you broke a string. Not just one but two.
Fynn: Ya two on this, the other night I had three strings, and once… I don’t know. I, well we change the strings all the time, and they were really fresh, I don’t know what’s, something’s wrong this tour with the strings. I’ve gotta check what’s going on there. I don’t know, ya it broke I think the second chord I played.
MJ: But hey, that’s live rock and roll.
Fynn: It is, it is, you know, our saying is always a broken cable or a broken string is half of the show you know, sometimes.
MJ: Now let’s just talk a little while about your album Imaginary Horse. What is an Imaginary Horse?
Fynn: It’s a funny story. When I was a kid I had an imaginary friend, an imaginary horse called Ponpon, and that’s what the song is about. The version that’s on the album is a very short version of it. There’s a longer version, but we decided to take a little, that version a little shorter one because it just made more sense, it was much cooler to do it that way. It’s just clapping and me singing to it, and kinda get intimate, I guess that’s the right word, intimative feeling.
MJ: And the album, which is out on…?
Fynn: Our international label is RidingEasy Records, they’re in California, Los Angeles, California. And it’s licensed to Noisolution Records in Berlin for Germany, Austria, Switzerland.
MJ: Talking of things International, I hear that you picked up an American tour through your Instagram feed?
Fynn: This happens so much lately. Our first American tour we just got through Instagram, basically, because Cedric Bixler from At The Drive-in and Mars Volta, he just liked our pictures a lot, and he became a fan of the band just through the pictures. And he contacted us, he was like just the pictures look so amazing, I wanna hear something from this band. And we send him some stuff that was unreleased, it was like… two years ago now? So he got like very early recordings of our album, and he loved it so much, and he booked us like two shows in Los Angeles, and we just went there without the right visa, and it was a big fuckup, and they tried to send us back. And it was weird, they showed us private emails, it was crazy. And after these two shows, we were booked out for two months, because they were just the right people. I think Cedric must have done something, I don’t know. And ya, it was a big success.
MJ: So Phil, where are you based, because you got German heritage obviously, but are you Europe based or are you US based?
Phil: No, we are based in Europe, ya. I’m from a small town, Gütersloh in the middle of North Rhine-Westphalia, right in the belly button of Germany. We got the British air force in our hometown. So half of our hometown is Brit. So we grew up with Brits, that’s where, you know, we got our English from.
MJ: Going back to the album Imaginary Horse, it’s got a very raw and real edge to it. How did you put that album together?
Fynn: Ya well, let’s start at the beginning. My dad has a professional studio in Gütersloh where we live. It’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s like on a farm, there’s just like a forest around it. And we always hung out there and we had a practice room next door, and a motorcycle garage where we build choppers and stuff like that. And Philipp and I wrote the whole album in there and we always loved the sound. And when we went next doors in the real studio to record it, the sound just became… ya, the whole song became clean is one word, but well but not clean as in like not distorted, but normal. And we thought we wanna hear it the way we heard it in the practice room, you know, so we tried to find how we could do this. It took us a long time of course but then we found out a technique that was in our garage, we put everything out there that we could so we get more roomy sound of it, so we cut out the carpet and stuff like that, and we put two microphones twelve feet away from us and recorded everything live, and no artificial reverb on anything, this is the real reverb that was made in that room. You know, so, that was the idea.
MJ: Was the video for ‘PCH Diamond’ shot in that same garage or was that elsewhere?
Fynn: No that wasn’t in that garage; that was in Glory Motorcycles in Los Angeles. A very good friend of ours, Justin Kell, he does all the bikes for all the movies. Funny fact, he did the bike for Indiana Jones, stuff like that, and some, he does all the bikes for Tom Cruise, stuff like that. He’s the real deal but he’s a really cool dude. He skates and stuff like that, so we know him through skateboarding.
MJ: Skateboarding, that’s a big thing with you guys.
Fynn: Ya well, I grew up with my dad being a professional skateboarder since the 80s. So we always had friends from all around the world coming to us, and me coming with them to all these places where he went to contests, stuff like that. So, I guess that’s where my American accent comes from, because we’ve always been in the States a lot. And ya that was always a good thing.
And then, when he started doing music, he was super successful doing music. He had super big bands that toured the States and all over Europe. One band was called Thumb, and the other band was called All-Stars, and he had bands back then, Eight Days, that was like in all the skate videos. So he’s always been into music. So I basically grew up in skate parks, and in a tour van. Basically in a tour bus. He always brought me on tour. And ya, and then Philipp and I met, we met in this… you go…
MJ: Over to Phil.
Phil: That like ten years ago or so we just met in our local skate park, just hanging around and whatever, skated all day, and ya. That’s our skating background I think right?
Fynn: Ya well we still do, we still skate all the time and we just try to find something to do after we’ve skated, you know? We became best friends, and then we were like what do we do now? We skated till darkness, what do we do now? So first it was like go into the pub, but then it was like getting boring at some point. And then we started getting into my attic where all the equipment that my dad still had in there, because he used to have a studio in the attic. It used to be called Cloud Scrap, or wait was it called Upstairs Studio? Because it was all up there. So there was still some equipment lying around, an old Sonor drum set, and some guitars, and that’s how it all started.
MJ: And what are the, I guess you brought your boards out over here?
MJ: So you’re having withdrawal symptoms?!
Phil: To be honest, when you’re on tour you’re always afraid of like, when you go skate are you gonna break your bone or whatever, so… don’t do that.
Fynn: Ya, the show suffered from it, you know, and that, that was like the worst case scenario because at the end of the day this is what we’re doing, you know? And skating is something that’s fun and it’s cool. That’s something I learned after being sponsored, you know? I was sponsored at one point and I lost all the fun of skateboarding because I had to be at contests and stuff like that, and I quit doing that and just do it for fun, and that’s the thing.
Phil: We don’t want to get hurt on tour.
MJ: I wanna come to the instruments that you’re using. What have you got, what’s your setup Phil on the drums?
Phil: I’ve got a Ludwig kit, with a twenty six inch kick, a bass drum, I guess ya. An eighteen inch floor tom, and I just, how do you say, rebuilt my old drum set. I used the old bass drum kit and whatever, kick drum ya. I used the old kick drum and turned it into a floor drum, the big one on the right side, it’s a twenty four inch, and I have two snares and that’s pretty much it.
Fynn: And a bell, and the bell…
Phil: And the bell, ya of course.
MJ: And any effects on that?
Phil: Ya you listened to our record right? So all the sounds you hear live are the same sounds we used in the studio, you know? It’s live recorded, and we try to, how do you say it, we try to…
Fynn: Get that sound on stage?
Phil: Get that sound on stage there, and I have that same feeling…
Fynn: Reuse, re-reuse…
Phil: We use some triggers to get the real bass from the recording in the studio, to get the real snare sound, to get the real chain, chim, chim, what is it called…percussion.
Fynn: Ya you know we, for Philipp said, all the instruments and something you hear on the album is something that Philipp and I always work out together. It’s not like it’s just him drumming, it’s not just me playing guitar, it feels like we’re both playing it. And so we built these pits, just go into the music store and buying normal, traditional tambourines and stuff like that, just bored us at one point. And it felt like, this sounds like every other shit that’s already out there. So we started building our own percussion instruments you know, because we’ve always been inspired by Native American music and all the tribal stuff, and it never sounded like something you could buy in a music store, you know? So we were really creative…
Phil: You can do that but it’s fuckin expensive to do that so…
Fynn: Ya, you can do it, it’s expensive first of all and it’s, again the easy way to do it. So we build them ourselves.
In the beginning, it was weird because it felt like cheating, and it was like it’s not the real thing but you have to hit it hard if you want to sound it big you know? The album was recorded in a motorcycle garage, and we used the actual reverb, and just recorded the entire album with two microphones. Not like everyone else would, close mic-ing it and then all these mix tricks that everyone has. Then when you wanna put it on a stage you realise a bass drum on a stage all of a sudden isn’t in a motorcycle garage anymore, so you get the typical bass drum sound, and it didn’t sound like what we had recorded. So to be able to do that we have a trigger that actually triggers the bass drum and snare sound to sound like that, that’s all.
MJ: It’s an awesome sound. Sounds really cool. Fynn tell us about the rig that you’ve got set up.
Fynn: Ya well, um, I tried out so many guitars and, like, from no-name stuff to all the good stuff that’s out there, and I always try to get like newer guitars because it’s not like that complicated and you can get them everywhere, and some of them are really cheap. But they always sound very plastic to me, like, I just didn’t like it. So what I did was try out all the old stuff, and it started out with the old Gibson my dad had.
We were hanging out in Los Angeles while we were recording the, and still writing the album, and I bought this very old Gibson ES125, which is an old cut-away and almost looks like an acoustic guitar. I think it’s like from the early sixties, and I bought it for super cheap from this awesome guitar store in the middle of nowhere. Like it was in Los Angeles in this street called Santa Nella, and this dude, he was a great dude, he was the weirdest dude ever. It was a funny story behind it. Anyway, I bought it for super super cheap, and basically that’s the whole sound of the album is that guitar, a very very cheap preamp, and through a custom made amp I made. It’s actually a Marshall amp that I put into an old Jennings, which basically is Vox combo, ya.
MJ: And, you’ve got some stomp boxes as well which you tend to tinker around with to your heart’s content.
Fynn: Ya well the thing is on the album I really just use that, but you always have to re-create it for live, you know, because our set is very dynamic, and if you just use that setup it doesn’t come across like that, it always feels like one, it’s the same loudness, you know, the whole set. So I’ve got two of these preamps to get a one louder one, and one for the other guitar because it sounds a little different. And then I have a delay where I do funny stuff with, I got a fuzz to get it much more fuzzier, what else do I have… it’s a funny thing, it’s a handmade, like a handmade preamp too. It’s a booster, it’s called the Moon Booster from a company called Redson Effects. I wanna mention this because they’re… I just found out about these and they’re super good. I got that one in my set now. I got a Fender… ya he made it for me. That’s another thing, ya he made it for me, which is… I love when it’s custom made for someone’s stuff. I got a Fender reverb, it’s like a remake of a big old Fender reverb, with like a small pedal. And then I have another thing that’s like re-creating the roomy sound that I always have, that’s over everything. Ya it just has a little room sound to it.
Another thing I’d like to mention is for this album we forbid ourselves to listen to music for two years so we don’t get wrong influence, you know? Because it happens so fast today that you listen to something new, that’s like a new band, and you’re like oh wow that’s awesome, and you end up in the practice room sounding just like that. And to not have that we forbid each other to listen to music. So all we had was Katie Perry and Lady Gaga for like two years.
And then what happened is like, so the thing why we did it, we wanted to get the raw, raw’s always a good word, a raw sound out of it. Like, what’s us without the influence of other bands, just like from now on. And we got inspired by so many other stuff that has nothing to do with music, just being in the desert in California or stuff like that, you know. That’s why sounds like PCH Diamond happened. PCH is the Pacific Coast Highway that goes along the whole Pacific coast, and stuff like that. So that was a cool experience. I just wanted to say that.
MJ: I take it that the tour your has been going really well?
Fynn: It’s going really well, The Answer are super cool dudes, and became really close friends with them. And ya, the other band, Bad Touch too, shout out to them, ‘cos they work really hard too. So ya, it’s a cool tour.
MJ: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time, and all the very best for the rest of the tour with The Answer.
Fynn: Well, to everybody that doesn’t know us yet here in the UK, everybody that knows us and hasn’t seen us, would be rad, we’re coming back for sure on our own tour in May!
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