The Picturebooks are the duo of singer/guitarist Fynn Claus Grabke and drummer Phillipp Mirtschink — two hairy, skateboarding, motorcycle cruising, primal blues rockers from Germany.
The pair met when they were teenage skate-rats and bonded over their mutual appreciation of bands like the Cure and Velvet Underground. Now Grabke and Mirtschink spend their days in their special hideaway, where they tinker with motorcycles, hit their skate ramp during breaks, and record raw-as-hell blues stompers before they hit the road for another long tour. It’s the kind of life most guys dream about.
“It’s always a good position to be coming back to place that you like and actually miss,” said Grabke. “It’s a lot more scary to think about a situation where that is not the case, to be out there on the road and think about a place you have to go back to that you don’t like.”
The garage where they work on bikes serves as their recording studio where they have recorded three albums including their latest, “The Hands of Time.”
“We record everything there,” said Grabke. “They were completely recorded in the motorcycle garage with just two microphones twelve feet away from us cause we really wanted to catch that roomy sound. It’s a very particular sound the room has.” You can almost hear the shape of carburetors and the smell of oil in the reverb heavy recordings.
Grabke is completely untrained on guitar, but still manages to rip out hair-raising blues riffs out of his secondhand hollow body Gibson guitars. Mirtschink is similarly untrained on drums, but gets by on pure brute force as he often smashes beats out of his toms with mallets instead of drum sticks. He doesn’t even use cymbals, but instead relies on odd percussion like sleigh bells made out of bullet casings.
On their latest record, The Picturebooks have introduced more instruments to flesh out the sound including piano, mandolin, and tubular bells.
“We’ve gotten a lot more instruments on that album which is kind of a problem—we had to get a bigger car to bring all that stuff,” explained Grabke. “There is another thing that is kind of hard to describe. It’s this sheet of metal that his hanging off of a stand...I guess you have to come to one of our shows to see it for yourselves cause it’s kind of crazy.”
One of the stand out tracks on “The Hands of Time” is a collaboration with singer Chrissie Hynde called “You Can’t Let Go.”
“That was a trip to have her on it,” Grabke said. “I remember a time when my drummer, Phillipp, and I lived on a rooftop in a tent in Santa Monica...We bought a ’Best of The Pretenders’ album and we were listening to it 24/7 a that time. Then fast forward a couple of years later and we’re playing the Harley Davidson Festival right by the beach and we’re sound-checking and there’s Chrissie Hynde in the middle of the empty crowd with fist up in the air tapping along to our song. We just immediately clicked.”
Grabke texted Hynde on a whim to see if she was interested in doing a song together. “Two minutes later she writes, ‘I’m in.’ The problem was at this point was we need a song and we need to record it,” said Grabke with a laugh. “It was 48 hours later of panic and pressure. Can you imagine trying to write a song that Chrissie Hynde is going to sing on?”
When you hear The Picturebooks for the first time, it is easy to imagine that they are from Memphis, Nashville, or some other southern city steeped in blues tradition, so many new fans — German and American alike — are surprised when they learn that they are from Germany.
“To be honest, I don’t even know what that means,” said Grabke. “Do you have to be from a certain place to sound that way, and is there a sound of a place? It doesn’t matter where you’re from, especially for us. We are a band that has never learned to play an instrument in their lives. I can’t play a chord to this day. But, we found a way to express what is going on in our hearts and this is what came out. I guess when it comes from the heart, it can’t be wrong.”
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