Choppers, skateboards and biker-blues: Meet the Picturebooks

The Picturebooks

“We’re just not professional musicians,” says The Picturebooks’ singer Fynn Claus Grabke. “I play guitar solos like a 12 year old girl plays basketball.”

The Picturebooks hail from the quiet German town of Gütersloh in north-west Germany. It’s a place not normally associated with men like Fynn and his percussion partner Philipp Mirtschink. They’re men who live on the wild side, men who build motorbikes and make music because something primal drives them to do so. Now kicking up a storm in California, the pair previously resided in a garage in Gütersloh, making music amongst the saddles and the steel.

New video I Need That Oooh, taken from the duo’s second album Home Is A Heartache, is typical of the band’s approach. It’s a rattling chunk of primitive blues rock played with the ferocity of a V-twin, a song pumped full of gasoline and ready to belch smoke.

How did you meet?

Philipp and I met in the local skatepark in our home town. We were pretty much the only kids looking the way we did and listening to the kind of music we were listening to. We immediately clicked and became best friends, and have hung out every day ever since.

Who are your influences?

We forbad each other to listen to music for two years at one point so we weren’t influenced by other bands. In that period we learned that you can get inspired by so much more then music. We don’t consider ourselves musicians. We don’t even see ourselves as a band. Neither of us knows how to really play an instrument for real. I can’t play a single “real” chord to this day.

Our approach to music and making music is completely different to a professional musician’s. We decide how we want to sound first, and then we´ll find a way to make it happen. We had to do everything wrong to make it sound right to us. So I guess the short answer to who our influences are is: no one - we influence each other.

What’s ‘I Need That Ooh’ about?

I need that Oooh was written in a parking lot somewhere in Wales by a beautiful river. We were on tour with Les Butcherettes, and I had an idea while driving to Cardiff. I was singing into my phone recording this idea that I heard in my head, and all of the sudden Philipp joined in making drum sounds and stuff. At some point we recorded what we wanted things to sound like and how we wanted the production to be for that song. It’s a 30-minute memo where we completely wrote the song with lyrics and everything right there and then. Two weeks later we went into our studio/garage and recorded it in four days.

The song is about looking for inspiration, looking for that Oooh! Being bored, having writer´s block and all the stuff that comes with it. Like most of my lyrics, the lyrics are improvised. I like to use the voice almost as a percussive instrument rather then having a deep message behind the lyrics.

Tell us about the making of the video.

We shot the video out in Yucca Valley and Pioneer Town in California. Apart from us performing in the middle of the desert, the video is about us riding our choppers (one of us is a bike that we built ourselves, and the other bike belongs to one of our buddies in the US.)

While we were filming though, my dad (who is also our manager, producer, live mixer and camera guy) got hit by a truck when we left him alone for 10 minutes. It was a hit and run. He was just sitting down on the side off the road checking some of his footage he filmed earlier while it happened. He broke 10 ribs, fractured his spine, punctured his lung, tore some ligaments in his left knee and cut up his elbow pretty badly. He was rushed to the Frank Sinatra Hospital in Palm Springs immediately, and we were lucky we had great insurance.

Anyways, three weeks later he’s back on his feet again, and with the help from our friends in the skateboarding and chopper scene we finished the video and things turned out for the better.

You record in your garage. What does that offer that a normal recording studio doesn’t?

Being from a small town like Gütersloh where nothing’s going on, where there’s no scene or anything like that, you have to come up with something otherwise you either die or end up in some kind of 9-5 job. My dad had a studio on this farm at some point where he would record bands, and we would help him out every once in a while. At some point we rented out the barn next to it and started building and repairing our bikes in there, then used it as a rehearsal room to practice and write songs. We also built a skate ramp outside. We just made it our own little paradise in a place where before there was nothing.

Every time we finished writing a song in the garage and went next door into the studio to record, it all sounded so predictable and boring in a way. Which has nothing to do with the studio itself. It was just that it didn’t sound the way it sounded back in the garage. So why try to imitate it, when we can just record in there between our bikes, with the smell of gasoline and old oil, skateboards and guitars hanging on the wall together with a bunch of art pieces that either friends or myself did, motorcycle parts lying around everywhere… all that jazz. We felt so much more comfortable in there than in the studio.

In the studio we would also close mic everything, which we don’t do anymore. We use two microphones 12 feet away from us and play most of the songs live, trying to improvise a lot and using first takes.

Skating. Bikes. Rock’n’roll. For you, what’s the connection?

It goes hand in hand for us. When you build a bike, you kind of go through a similar creative process like you do writing a song. You choose what colour, what kind of handlebars, what gas tank, seat… and so on. And skateboarding is just somewhere in between everything we do. You see this world differently when you’re a skateboarder. It’s hard to explain and only skateboarders will understand this.

What’s the greatest motor-biking anthem ever?

On These Roads I’ll Die, by us on our new album Home Is A Heartache has got be way up there. It’s a about being on the road on a bike or in a van. But to name some of the classics: Canned Heat’s On The Road Again - especially this time of the year - Bob Seger’s Night Moves (we always sing that song when we ride our bikes on a warm summer night in our heads or scream it out loud) and the Greg Kihn Band’s The Break Up Song”. For some reason it’s the one song we always have in our heads when we ride our choppers.

Home Is A Heartache is out now. The band play Desertfest at The Underworld in London on April 28, and at Ramblin’ Man Fair on July 29.

Bluesbreakers: The Picturebooks