THE PICTUREBOOKS really are a standout band. With their songs full of sorrow, hope, freedom. Ardent and magic. Their organic, genuine brand of rock speaks to each one of us. As the road wanderers and modern-day explorers they are, The Picturebooks embrace the blues to hit the road with their guitars over the shoulder, and never turn back. To live their music. An ode to freedom all in all. Released in 2017, their latest album Home Is A Heartache (read our review) these modern beatniks take us on a journey through America’s landmark features, its symbols and stereotypes. Through its course, their modern blues gets sprinkled with hypnotic sounds, tribal chants, shamanic-worthy experiences, and even sometimes, pop-tinged anthems. This is one extremely colorful yet stripped down record. While the band is back in their headquarters/garage/recording studio/shredding spot, we thought we would catch up with the genuine and sincere duo about their latest album, inspiration and creative process. An open-hearted chat with guitarist and vocalist Fynn Grabke follows.
You manage to craft sounds with pretty much everything you lay your hands on – some of these items are not even music instruments. Is this your way to invite us into your garage?
Fynn Grabke (guitar & vocals): In a way, that’s true, but the main reason is that we’ve never learnt to play an instrument professionally, so we had to come up with something to recreate whatever was going on in our heads onto instruments, without sounding like a wall of noise that doesn’t make any sense. Our music mostly happens in the moment. We try not to jam out too much or rehearse. We get inspired by so many other things than just music, like movies or riding our bikes, or a night with friends where things go crazy. Then, when we’re back in the studio, we try to translate this feeling into music.
It feels like that you really wanted us to hear and feel that garage vibe (every breath, echo, rustling…), as if we were right here with you in the studio. Did you keep all the background noises on purpose?
FG: The noise was a big problem for us in the beginning. It took us a while to figure out how to record in that garage and make it sound like we hear it when we play in there. So we ended up using two room microphones 3-5 meters away from us, and play most of the stuff live. Most of the stuff is even improvised, even the lyrics. The background noise is not there on purpose, it is there because it belongs there, because it’s part of our sound, it’s a struggle every time to find the right time to record, especially when there’s a tractor outside or rain and stuff like that. It’ll all end up on tape and often did.
Your music is often described as raw and spontaneous. Yet we tend to forget its underlying sensuality, some kind of primal sexuality that is never vulgar. Is it a way to remind us that the rock’n’roll you play is first and foremost the devil’s music?
FG: It has nothing at all to do with the devil. I try to leave religion out as much as I can. I really like the old and mysterious vibe of that good old rock’n’roll music but I also love hip hop. I love country music and I also love good electronic music. I love punk rock and I also love classical music. What combines all genres is that the artist has to create something out of nothing, so the listener feels something. That means he or she needs to become creative. Creativity comes out of pain. We feel cold, so we invent fire.
Your music alone carries a strong imagery, it’s very cinematographic. How do you come up with your songs? Are you more inspired by what you see and live, than by the music you listen to?
FG: Yeah, like I said before, we get inspired by so many things. Movies, Choppers, skateboarding, stuff you have to deal with in life. The song “Inner Demons” on Home Is A Heartache for example is about the panic attacks I was struggling with for a pretty long and intensive time on tour. Even though the song has no lyrics. Philipp and I just sat down and talked about my panic attacks how they come out of nowhere and become louder and faster and painful, and then peak in just noise and pure fear, then slowly but surely go away. We then pressed the rec. button and just started playing without ever talking about what we wanna play and went through a panic attack together. First take. That’s it. Having said that, music is the most amazing thing in the world and the most inspiring thing too! Nothing can change your mood better and faster than music in a good and a bad way.
You’re an outstanding, one of a kind duo that is hard to pigeonhole. After touring more than two years across the globe, would you say that your audience is just as unique? I mean, you’ve been sharing the stage with Kadavar, but also played stoner festivals and biker shows… How would you describe your crowd and the overall reception at your shows?
FG: We’ve been constantly touring for about 5 years now. We’ve had the best shows we could have ever dreamed of. We managed to create our own audience by supporting other bigger acts and playing a bunch of festivals, but mostly by just simply touring our asses off even if that meant driving 2000km through the night, to freaking Billings, Montana, to play in front of a bunch of cowboys who couldn’t care less about us. But there were four people who drove three hours to see us and made sure the next time we come, they bring their friends, and they did. So we played in front of more people, then we came back and we played in front of a lot more people and so on, until we would sell the club out and go to the next bigger venue and do the same thing. It takes forever but most of our fans have grown with us and that is a really strong connection. We are so thankful for that and how they support us is unbelievable, and we couldn’t be more happy about it! Especially when you look into the crowd and realize there’s so many different kind of people, from children to old grandpas, metalhead next to the average dude, cowboys next to native Americans and so on. People who don’t agree on one thing don’t mean that they cannot agree on something else. That’s what music is great for too!
Can you tell us more about your upcoming new album? How’s the process going so far? Do we have to expect some changes in your songwriting, or further experimentations?
FG: Can’t say too much but it’s going really great. We’ve already written the best stuff we’ve ever done!
Let’s talk motorcycles and skateboard, your passion. Earlier, I was referring to the visual aspect of your music. Are photographers such as Danny Lion or Glenn E Friedman – who seized the very beginning of both cultures – part of your inspiration?
FG: Totally! Being a skateboarder makes you see the world different. You don’t just see a stair case, you see what you can do with it. You look at things and life from a different angle than a non skateboarder would do. I truly believe that’s true. You learn to become creative and not just take things the way they are, you make them what you want them to be or use them in a way only you can use them. It helped me in my life and my songwriting process a lot, to have my mind set that way.
Last but not least, any chance to see you in France again soon?
FG: So far it’s just one show in Saint Tropez but we cannot wait to play a lot more next year. We wanna concentrate on the new album this year.
Thanks to Fynn Grabke for taking the time to answer our questions, and Claus Grabke for arranging it.
Last modified: 10 October 2018