English lessons and improvisation with the best duo in the business. And what happens when you don’t listen to music
Someone with quite the command of English that Fynn Claus Grabke has doesn’t need lessons, except there’s a few things that even a linguist like him can’t quite grasp.
Like for example, British slang. He and his bandmate (and best mate) Philipp Mirtschink are busy selling Merch and chatting to fans just minutes after their show in Wolverhampton has finished and someone – as is the local dialect – has just announced to Fynn that the gig was “bostin mate'” (this means “good” should there be any confusion) and he momentarily looks confused.
A little later, in the confines of the dressing room, he smiles: “You know, English isn’t my mother tongue, but I’ve been using it most of the last year – I dream in English these days, but even sometimes it beats me what you are talking about!”
So we brush up on English oddities, like the fact they are in Manchester the following evening, 15 seconds later he’s saying: “Sorted, top, mad for it,” like some Liam Gallagher tribute act and warming to his theme he considers the moment. Adopting a thick, Dick Van Dyke type brogue he announces: “Well I think that’s been a cracking evening…..”
Impromptu lessons in linguistics notwithstanding we are actually here to talk about life on the road with the duo, who make up The Picturebooks. Now, in an age where everyone who does anything different is “unique” or a “legend,” the words have lost their meaning. The fact is though that The Picturebooks don’t sound like anyone else. Not that they planned it that way, it just happened. “Well look at him,” says Fynn, gesturing towards Phillipp. “That’s not a drummer, that’s not how you play the drums!” The sticksman concurs, “I can’t argue,” he laughs, “it’s not.”
But then, Fynn himself is rather esoteric in style. “Yeah man! I can’t deny it, ” he grins: “I have this 1950s guitar that normal people use to play jazz on, what I am doing?!”
It’s a good question and they really aren’t like other bands – anyone who saw them on their tour with The Answer knows that. The answer to why probably lies in what happened at the outset of making the “Imaginary Horse” record, and if you think the band are odd, then check this out: “Well, we had a pact,” explains Fynn, “and we agreed between us that we weren’t going to listen to any music for two years.”
Let’s just allow that to hang in the ether for a while. Now, could anyone reading this do that? Certainly the person writing it couldn’t. Two years is a long time. Two years without music. To be honest, the immediate reaction of MV is to look at the extremely affable and pleasant Fynn and say “Pardon?” and dutifully, he repeats it, adding “we decided not to listen to any music for two years, that way we couldn’t be influenced by anything we heard, anything anyone else was doing, we thought it was vital.”
But yeah, Fynn. Two years. We look to Phillpp for confirmation and he equally patiently tells us that, yes it was true, but then you delve a little further into it and actually the whole thing makes perfect sense. The way Grabke explains it, music for him and Mirtschink is not a means to an end, it is the be all and end all.
“It’s like this,” he says. “If you want to play a guitar to get girls, then fair enough, that’s good for you, but if you want to commit, if you want to really give your life to this, then that’s what it needs. It’s not a job.”
The boys had that conversation a few years ago, it seems and as Fynn puts it, in his wonderful, warm matter of fact way, “I looked into his eyes and said ‘are we gonna do this or not?’ I didn’t see any doubt there and he didn’t see any doubt in mine either”.
The result is the brilliant “…..Horse” record, but the dedication has taken them a lot further: “we’ve been to the UK, all over America, we’ve got friends all over the world. I’m in a band with my best friend and my dad manages us,” says Fynn, with obvious pride, “what could be better than that.” The lack of a question mark is deliberate. It wasn’t a question.
It’s that dedication that means that Phillpp is – literally – playing with pain every single turns out that he had a motorcycle accident right before the tour. He shrugs when asked if he is ok: “The doctor said its gonna get worse, but actually playing helps keep the muscles moving and eases the pain. There’s gonna be some rough times ahead, but what are you going to do? This tour is too important to us to stop, man. There’s 55 shows. I’ve done five with tonight’s, it’ll be ok,” he adds.
Fynn, clearly sympathetic to his friend adds: “We did wonder if we should delay to the tour, but the doctors said he’d be ok and Phillipp was really keen to play so we are here!”
Their bond is absolutely evident, you’d think they were brothers in the time we are chatting. The pair even spend their free time together, renovating motorcycles and skateboarding, and if that doesn’t seem very hedonistic and rock n roll, then that’s because it isn’t. And that’s just the way they like it: “We lead quiet lives,” smiles Fynn. “We don’t really want anything other than what we do.”
That shed where they renovate the bikes has become inextricably linked with the band too, as it doubles as a recording studio. See, this most unique of bands doesn’t even make records in the same way as others. Most of what you hear on “Imaginary Horse” is from jams, with the singer explaining: “I’ve always got my sketch book with me, and I’ve got little ideas, and I record riffs into my iPhone all the time. We’ll be jamming on these ideas and something will come to me, and we’ll record it.”
And this approach extends to the lyrics too. MV puts it to Fynn that we’ve read in other interviews that the lyrics are made up on the spot, and really that can’t be true. Can it? It turns out, actually that it can.
“Most of the time yeah,” he confirms. “There was a couple of things that I wrote a little on the record, but most of the time the words are just different ways to compliment the melody of the song.”
As if to prove his point he begins to sing a melody on the spot and that melody becomes words. He jumps up and, spotting a piano in the corner of the room strolls over to it and begins tapping put the words on the keys. It appears that this is how it’s done in the world of The Picturebooks.
The boys – and their manager, Fynn’s dad Claus – who had earlier been patiently explaining to the local support bands where they needed to improve as well as proving himself to be a thoroughly pleasant individual while MV was waiting to interview the band – are driving to Manchester tonight for the next show on this curiously routed tour (“it’s nothing,” Fynn had said earlier, “You Brits just love to moan about travel”) and as MV leaves the venue the frontman is outside, he says a cheery goodbye and then adds, two sentences that prove he’s catching on fast. “That was a cracking night. Sorted. Top. Mad for it.”
Imaginary Horse is out now