Fynn Claus Grabke and Philipp Mirtschink have been best friends since they met as teenagers in Germany, and expanded that friendship into the hard-rocking blues rock duo the Picturebooks. Last week the band released Imaginary Horse, an endearingly lo-fi and unadorned collection of songs that the duo recorded in their garage with a pair of microphones, with breaks for skating and building motorcycles, their other biggest hobbies. We caught up with Grabke and Mirtschink, who are currently touring Europe alongside retro-minded fellow Germans Kadavar, to talk about how their friendship survives the stress of being in a band, avoiding being the "German version" of established bands, and why they don't go to very many concerts.
AllMusic: You did the Riot Fest shows in North America this year. How do you enjoy playing festivals?
Fynn Claus Grabke: We’re not the biggest concertgoers, especially not festivals. We don’t really go to festivals—like, never. That’s the thing, we’re probably one of the loudest rock bands, we try to be really loud, but when we go to concerts, we turn out to be the biggest wimps. We’re like, “Oh, it’s way too loud, and the snare, can you turn down the snare drum? The air inside, I can’t breathe…” Then when you go to our shows, it’s all that.
We’re just not the people who stay from the first to the last song. The last time we did that was when we played in Hungary at the Sziget Festival and we saw Peaches. That was one of the raddest shows I've ever seen. She had a broken leg, so she was in a wheelchair the whole time, and this naked dude with huge silicone tits pushed her around, he was like an art piece, it was crazy. I love seeing something different, it’s so easy to be the punk rock-ish band, setting up, do the show where everyone needs to clap and do the “Na na na na” thing, it just gets boring. I don’t want to see that, I’d rather see someone not even talk to the audience. I’m not here to get all that talk.
AllMusic: You were friends before forming the band. Did you always intend to keep it a duo or did you think about adding members?
Philipp Mirtschink: We started the band nine years ago or so, we were best friends and were like, “OK, that’s it, it’s the combination, we’re best friends, we like music, we love making music, that’s it.”
Grabke: You go through phases of stuff, in the beginning we had a lot of new wave-ish influences, we used drum computers, and then turned it into real drums, but we always loved the blues, we always wanted to go that route, but we felt it was weird to be…at the time, I was 16, 17, it’s just weird to have a 17-year-old play blues, what can I tell you about life? On this album we just couldn't hold it anymore. We play in places like St. Louis and all these old dudes come to us who are into blues for decades and are like, “You've got it in you,” and they saw all the old guys live, and they have the same feeling. It’s not like we’re like that, but it’s the same feeling they had when they first saw that.
AllMusic: Does touring as a duo get stressful? You don't have anyone else to vent to about the other guy.
Grabke: It’s a special thing between us, we see that with other bands happen all the time, that they fight, bands break up and whatnot, but we really have a pretty good way to say what we don’t like and what we like, and after all these years, there’s a pretty cool vibe in the band, so it’s not an issue at all. We’re still best friends, and when we’re not on tour, we still hang out every day—every day—and do stuff, and the touring is just an extension to that. We met in a skate park, we were just skating, and we thought we should do something else after skating, and we went to my house and played. My dad used to have a music studio up in the attic, so there was stuff that we just grabbed and played.
AllMusic: Does one of you dominate the music in the van?
Grabke: We don’t listen that much to music anymore. Before the album we forbade each other from listening to music so we wouldn't get the wrong influence, because it just happens so fast; you listen to a new record, and all of the sudden you find yourself in the rehearsal room, adopting stuff. That happened a couple of times, and when we hear that kind of stuff, “That sounds like that,” we just kick the whole song out, we don’t even give it another chance, because we feel like that went the wrong route. But out here, it’s funny to listen to radio. When you’re in a foreign country it’s always interesting to hear what other people listen to, so it’s a lot of country, especially when we're Oklahoma and stuff like that. There's that one song, [adapts drawl, sings] “All them boys round here, drinkin’ that ice cold beer, talkin’ about trucks, talkin’ about girls…” (Blake Shelton's "Girls Round Here") That kind of stuff.
AllMusic: So the key to being a good band is to not listen to music and to not go to shows.
Grabke: It will lead you to create something your own, and I think that’s good. Why would we be a German version of something that’s already out there, it’s just stupid, and a lot of German bands do that, that’s why not a lot of German bands get out of Germany. They’re just a German version of something. I know a lot of American bands here, too, do something that’s already out there, so just be a Strokes cover band, for Christ’s sake.
Bands like Can, Kraftwerk, Scorpions, Rammstein, these are bands that are from Germany that made it out, and they made it out because they weren't the German version of something that’s already out there. We make sure this won’t happen to us, to be a Strokes cover band.
AllMusic: After a tour, how much time do you spend apart before getting back together?
Grabke: None at all.
Mirtschink: A couple of times we've come back from a tour and said, “OK, five days off,” and the next day, or even two hours later, we’re like, “What are you doing, should we go to the bar?”
Grabke: It’s a special situation, and we really appreciate having that situation, we know it’s not normal.
AllMusic: What hobbies do you share outside of the band?
Grabke: We build our own choppers, we've got a garage, and that’s where we recorded the whole album. We recorded everything with two microphones 12 feet away from us, just two microphones, and everything was played live. The vocals, we did separate, but just with two microphones in that garage. It was so much fun recording this album. It was a lot of time and we kicked off a lot of songs, but we were doing whatever we wanted to; we built choppers, rode the mini-ramp outside of the studio, and between that, recorded and wrote songs and jammed out. There’s tons of songs and jams and ideas that we recorded for this album, it’s crazy. This album is a best-of of that.
For more on the Picturebooks, check out their site.