BY: MICHELLE PEREZ-VEGA
The Picturebooks were out on the band’s European leg of the tour when the pandemic hit. Like countless other bands, Vocalist/Guitarist Fynn Grabke and Drummer Philipp Mirtschink returned home to their native Germany and went into the studio to work on new songs.
“We haven’t had that kind of time on our hands for a long time,” Grabke said via a Zoom interview. “We decided to go into the studio and see what the hell we could come up with. And we had so many songs at one point. A lot of them were so good, but needed a little help here and there. We wrote down a list of people that we wanted to work with and things just snowballed from there. It just kind of happened. It was a great feeling.”
The list of names Grabke and Mirtschink came up with eventually gathered forces and grew into The Major Minor Collective, due for release on Sept. 3, 2021 via Century Media Records. According to the band’s label, The Major Minor Collective was born out of “the insane idea of bringing together various artists who have either inspired the two or who they are just friends with. The idea was to have some kind of creative exchange in these crazy times, a bridge to fellow artists if you like.”
The Major Minor Collective features 11 diverse songs by the dynamic duo and boasts collaborations from other rock luminaries such as Dennis Lyxzen from Refused; Neil Fallon of Clutch; Lzzy Hale from Halestorm; Ryan Sinn from The Distillers; Chris Robertson of Black Stone Cherry; Jon Harvey of Monster Truck; Leah Wellbaum of Slothrust; Elin Larsson of Blues Pills; and Erlend Hjelvik of HJELVIK, Ex-Kvelertak. (A bonus track is available only through Digipak-format and Digital Album.)
“How the hell did we make that possible? That’s a great question,” Grabke laughed. “We obviously know that most of the names on this album are a lot bigger than we are. We feel very honored to have them all on a project like this.”
IN THE KEY OF ‘T’
With the pandemic raging, borders closing, and lockdowns galore, The Picturebooks had to rely on modern technology to make The Major Minor Collective a reality.
“You can criticize modern technology as much as you want, but being able to work with people from all over the globe like we did for this album was just amazing,” Grabke said. “We’re so thankful for this technology. We had a secret homepage that we uploaded about 19 songs on. The artists who committed to the project then picked out which song they wanted to do.”
The Picturebooks gave each artist carte blanche with their individual songs.
“We just left it in their hands,” Grabke stated. “Like, whatever they wanted to do with it, go crazy. And they did just that. They recorded themselves at their homes or studio while we were recording here. They did their vocals and then sent it back to us for any changes we thought were needed.”
For those who believe this unorthodox way of recording would result in a sterile sound, think again.
“Lzzy said it best,” Grabke stated. “She said there was no doubt in this world that we were in a room together for this. In her mind, we jammed out.”
The Picturebooks recorded “Rebel” with Hale. The single and video (which was filmed in Nashville and Berlin by Hale and The Picturebooks each in their own respective countries) was cathartic for the unstoppable force-of-nature vocalist, who stated that the project came into her life at a time when Hale really needed it.
“The pandemic stole a huge part of my life, and my identity,” Hale said in a prepared statement. “I was forced to look myself in the mirror and figure out who I am without that missing piece. I had to remind myself that no matter what is happening outside…the flame that burns inside of me is still alive. Writing these lyrics was like drawing a road map to guide myself back to who I am. No one can do it for me, no one can save me but myself. In order to do that, I have to start a revolution inside my soul, and be a rebel from the inside out. This song is my war cry.”
“The instrumental music was so inspiring,” Hale continued, “that by the third listen the melody naturally spilled out like some alien hybrid of all my influences. I am so grateful to The Picturebooks for bringing me into their world and giving me the freedom to express my personal journey of rediscovering myself. And I know that, in times like these, this song will bring the listener hope for the future and the confidence to survive whatever that future becomes.”
While The Picturebooks were either friends or toured with many of their collaborators on The Major Minor Collective, the band members and Hale have never met face-to-face.
“The bitter truth is, we never met Lzzy in our lives,” Grabke said amusedly, “and we recorded a whole song and did a video with her. Actually, the first time we talked was before the video was released on our Instagram. We talked to her before for just 10 minutes. Before that it was just emails going back and forth. We discovered a deep connection with a person we never really met. That’s what music does to you.”
THE RIGHT STUFF
The Picturebooks were open to trying out “new stuff,” according to Grabke.
“We learned a lot more from the production side of things,” he said. “All of a sudden we had to not just produce ourselves, but actually talk to these artists and tell them what we liked, what we wanted, what we didn’t like. Without knowing it, we kind of built our own Trojan horse that we rode into town.”
Grabke and Mirtschink didn’t exactly know what they wanted when they were in the planning stages of their new album based on what they accomplished with the 2019 release of The Hands Of Time.
“Sometimes bands are kind of scared to change their sound,” he opined. “Especially as an artist, you get caught up in this comfort zone. As soon as you create anything that works, you will stick with that. It’s like this pattern that you always fall back into. We were kind of feeling that all we have to do is what we’ve done before. It was very important for us to step out of that comfort zone, even if the realization at the end was that it didn’t work or we didn’t end up needing it.”
Grabke said that with The Major Minor Collective, everything was a “180-degree-thing” for the band.
“We changed everything,” Grabke stated. “Make no mistake, anybody who listens to this that has heard of us before will know that it’s us and that it still sounds like us. But we knew we had to give up some of the control to make this album. Like I said earlier, some songs we took as far as we could go with them. And take Lzzy…she knows what she is doing. I was telling myself, ‘you need to shut up and just see where this girl is going with this.’ It was the most relieving and refreshing realization I ever made as an artist.”
TOURING ON THE HORIZON
The Picturebooks thrive on playing live. Grabke stated that the band has done almost 200 shows a year for many years now. When the pandemic hit, it took the duo by surprise.
‘“We were touring and it was great,” Grabke said. “The whole virus thing was just something that we heard about in the news here and there in the background, but it wasn’t really something that was bugging us, being on tour for such a long time. And then our families started calling us, telling us about this virus, asking us if we were okay. We really didn’t take it seriously up until then, to be honest. So we flew to Europe and during that leg of the tour, they began shutting down borders all around us. We were like, ‘holy shit, this is actually happening.’ We had two days off and we decided that we should maybe go home and see what the hell was going on. And then everything got totally shut down. Tour over.”
The Picturebooks already have European dates lined up for 2022 and are cautiously optimistic about coming back to the United States.
“We do want to come back to the States,” Grabke said. “We actually lost out on a huge arena tour with Volbeat and Clutch because of the pandemic. We can’t wait to do it and we are talking about it as we speak and we’re going to make it happen. As soon as possible, we’re on the fricking plane there! We miss being in the States.”
Grabke said he believes the duo have been fortunate to still be a band.
“We have a lot of friends that have reached out to us, scared for their future,” he shared, “friends who even stopped being a band because of the times we’re in. They just came to the realization that they are only a live band. Up until the pandemic, Philipp and I thought that’s what The Picturebooks was as well, that we could only exist being a touring band. And that’s the one thing we’re so thankful for, that we realized we are a lot more than a live band. We could pull off another 10 years without touring and still be functioning as a band.”
And, as a duo.
“We really don’t know how to do it any other way,” Grabke said. “Our worst nightmare would be to have more people involved in it. That was the good thing about this project – we didn’t have to be in a room with all these guys! You know, we would have gone crazy. Philipp and I just have something going on in our hearts and we took music as a tool to express what’s going on in there. We’re not really professional musicians, and maybe professional musicians would have handled things a lot differently than we did. But we found a way to make great music together. That’s our legacy.”