BY: MICHELLE PEREZ-VEGA
They have been described as “two stray dogs from a small town on their way to conquer the world.”
Stray dogs? Debatable. On their way to conquer the world? Oh, yeah!
Vocalist/Guitarist Fynn Claus Grabke laughed, said he kind of gets the stray dogs comparison, explaining that Gütersloh, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany is not exactly known as the rock ‘n roll mecca of Europe. Or of anything, for that matter.
“We came from a real small town,” he said. “Seriously, nothing was going on. It’s a small town in the middle of Germany, and there was no scene, no cool club. Never, ever would a cool band come to this town and play.”
So, when asked how he met his fellow bandmate, Drummer Philipp Mirtschink, it should come as no surprise that the dynamic duo met through a non-musical entity; namely, skateboarding.
“Everyone in our town was listening to music like Limp Bizkit, Korn,” Grabke continued. “Then there’s me, running around with a Roxy Music t-shirt on and Philipp with his Black Flag, and we’re like the only kids that were into that kind of stuff. It bonded us and made us realize we wanted to get out of there. That we had to come up with our own shit of what was happening.”
So, coming from a small town was a Strike One. But Strike Two came in as a close second: Neither Grabke or Mirtschink were professional musicians.
“Yeah, I never played guitar before,” Grabke laughed. “But that wasn’t a real deterrent. I just used this band to express whatever was going on in my heart and the guitar was just, you know, a tool that I used to do that. It really made no difference to me. We were going to make our own music.”
TAKE IT FROM THE TOP
Beginning in 2009, Grabke and Mirtschink released several albums independently and through RidingEasy Records. The band’s 2019 album, The Hands of Time, is the latest venture via Century Media Records that came after a brief hiatus for the duo.
After the release of Imaginary Horse in 2014, and Home Is A Heartache in 2017, The Picturebooks were choosing to spend time in The United States and work in their bike shop.
“We didn’t listen to music at all for two years,” Grabke stated. “We didn’t want to be influenced by any other bands. We just wanted to get to the core of who we really are. It was a really intense time.”
“We made a lot of Native American friends,” Grabke said, “and their tribes gave us all these percussions that inspired us to build our own percussions, too. We were recording next to our motorcycle garage as well. We were just right next to the studio, just two microphones, 12-feet away from us.”
Grabke is the first to admit that The Picturebooks “definitely bended the rules” on The Hands Of Time.
“We had to see what else was out there for us,” he stated. “It was a really healthy growth from Home Is A Heartache. We had to move on without losing whatever we had going on. Yeah, we added tubular bells, timpani drums, harp, mandolin, and like I said, a lot of self-made percussion instruments. But, while it was super interesting and very intense way of doing things, it was still us.”
The Picturebooks have been described as an Alternative Rock/Blues Rock band. Grabke, however, said he would prefer that the band be a non-classified genre.
“I really want to be an honest band that doesn’t pretend to be something that they’re not,” Grabke stressed. “I really want to be very authentic, and that goes for anything that I’m doing. We’re just straight up, this is the true deal. We have, and always will, do something that we really stand for. We would never do anything we didn’t believe in. That’s how I would classify The Picturebooks, if I had to.”
THE GREAT PRETENDER
The Picturebooks definitely appeal to a wide audience. Looking out at the band’s concert audience, you will see a wide variety and array of fans, all who equally love The Picturebooks.
One fan Grabke was surprised and grateful to discover was Chrissie Hynde, best known as the lead singer of The Pretenders.
“We’re huge, huge Pretenders fans,” Grabke enthused. “I once bought a greatest hits album of The Pretenders and listened to that album like crazy, like every day. And I just really got into them from there. Fast forward, a couple of years later, we got offered to play a show for Harley Davidson. There’s this festival right by the beach and The Pretenders were headlining. So we’re like, yeah, we’re totally going to do that! So, we’re doing soundcheck,” he continued, “I look out, and there’s Chrissie, fist up in the air, banging her head! She loved it! We got to talking and she gave me her number, which was kind of weird to me, but so cool! She’s like, ‘whenever you’re in London or whenever you guys feel like doing something, just let me know.’ And I was like, yeah, right!”
Fast forward again. The Picturebooks found themselves in the studio when Grabke had the idea to do a duet. He wrote to Hynde and asked if she would be interested in being a part of a song.
“Two minutes later she writes me back and said she was in,” Grabke said. “I was like, great! But it was a weird situation, because we had no song. So, for two days and two nights in the studio we were recording and writing a song, knowing that Chrissie Hynde will be on it…it was quite an adventure.”
The song, which evolved into “You Can’t Let Go,” was enthusiastically received by Hynde.
“We sent it over to her and she loved it,” Grabke said, still kind of awed by the fact. “She didn’t want to change a thing, not even the lyrics. And she came in and kind of just did her thing. All of a sudden, it hit me…The Picturebooks was doing a song featuring Chrissie Hynde! It was a crazy feeling. We’re just so blessed and grateful for the opportunity.”
GETTING BACK TO THE MAGIC
Part of the appeal of The Picturebooks is the unorthodox way the band goes about things.
“Well, we’re definitely not the kind of band that goes into a room or a garage and just jams out,” Grabke laughed. “I usually have songs written, like tiny bits of pieces. And before we start writing anything or playing anything, there’s a lot of talking. We often write songs in the car, just talking through them, like maybe I’ll have the melody first and then we discuss what we want to feel in the song.”
Sometimes, Grabke said, a visual comes before a song is even written.
“We talk a lot about visuals,” he explained. “So say I see myself on a bike riding through the desert there…that takes off and makes itself into a song. And the rain…there’s a lot of visuals you can get that make a meaningful song for us. But, like I said, there’s no going into a practice room to write. Our songs are usually being recorded while we’re writing them. With us, you start off with a little thing and it just grows from there. We believe in first takes, because that’s where our magic happens. Most of the stuff that you hear on our albums is a mix of improvisations.”
Future goals for The Picturebooks? Grabke stated that was hard to answer, because for him, the band has it all.
“We are doing what we love to do,” Grabke sincerely said. “We got to play in front of the best audiences ever. We got to travel all around the world. We laugh – it seems all day long – and we’re enjoying every second of this. What more can you ask for? Yeah, people complain about how they need to have more financially and yeah, I would love to have more money. Who wouldn’t? But I’m happy. If I can make a living, I’m happy.”
So, to say the least, Grabke is happy with the direction The Picturebooks has taken and is taking.
“I guess the coolest thing right now is that after doing this for over a decade, we managed to not forget where we come from and we managed to, like I said, do something that we truly stand for 110%,” he said. “We’ve never done anything that we didn’t like, we never touched something that we didn’t like. We always knew where we didn’t want to be, always. Put it that way. And that always got us where we want to be. I think that’s a really important thing. I am at the happiest I’ve ever been and this as honest as I can be. It’s kind of crazy,” Grabke ended, “but it’s breathtaking at the same time. No complaints.”
So, the moral of the story here? There is no Strike Three for The Picturebooks. In fact, don’t even think of counting them out.