Nothing much happens in Gütersloh. But if last year you’d cocked an ear to the night air, you might have heard the distant, grubby thump of The Picturebooks tracking their second album.
“We rented a barn in the middle of nowhere,” says singer Fynn Claus Grabke. We’d record, skateboard and repair motorbikes between takes. At one point we had a listening session, looked at each other and said: ‘Fuck, yeah. We got it.’”
Grabke and drummer Philipp Mirtschink are adamant that they’re not just another garage-blues duo in the White Stripes tradition. Meeting as teenagers at the local skate park, their tastes were already off-kilter (“All our friends were listening to Blink 182; we were into Bowie, The Cure, the Velvet Underground and Krautrock”). Now, on The Picturebooks’ second album, Home Is A Heartache, experimentation abounds, from the title track’s wolf howls to the clink of Native American percussion. “I couldn’t afford cymbals,” explains Mirtschink, “so we came up with different stuff, like chains and sleigh bells wrapped around our feet. A friend built me a sleigh bell out of Smith & Wesson shells. It sounds amazing.”
Embellished with slide guitar, chanted backing vocals and lo-fi production, the result is less like a traditional album and more like the soundtrack to a dust-caked road movie.
“It takes you to a certain place,” says Grabke. “Tribal. Unforgiving. Desert. We often work with visuals. We’ll be discussing a scene in a movie, and then we’ll jam out on it. Or with a song like Inner Demons, that’s about these crazy panic attacks that I got on tour. All of a sudden, I’d be exploding on the inside. I told Philipp about it, and we said, ‘Let’s translate that into music.’ So that song starts real slow, then builds up to complete madness, then goes away again real slowly. We wanted to make a sound of our own.”
The pair’s savage musicianship is equally idiosyncratic, based more on impulse than on technical prowess. “We’re really bad musicians,” Grabke shrugs. “Both of us never really learnt our instruments. To this day I can’t play a chord. I’ve kind of invented these open tunings. Professional musicians come to our shows and they’re like: ‘Man, this is not the way you’re supposed to play.’ Because Philipp just bangs on his drums, y’know? We go through multiple drum sets on tour, because he destroys them.”
For now, with The Picturebooks temporarily relocated to Los Angeles, Gütersloh has once again fallen silent. But whenever this duo roll into town, ear protectors are obligatory. “Our shows are intense, sweaty, loud,” says Grabke. “People have described them as almost like a ceremony. Philipp and I have to get into a certain state of mind when we go on stage. I love it when that sparks other people to go crazy too.”
FOR FANS OF…
While The Picturebooks’ sound can be described as the bastard child of Jack White and Nick Cave, Grabke includes Pet Sounds, the Velvet Underground and The Cure among the band’s formative influences.
“And then we’d listen to harder stuff, like Minor Threat or Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come. That stuff is in our genes.”