It's not surprising that The Picturebooks recorded their 2014 album, Imaginary Horse [Riding Easy Records], in the same garage where they regularly refurbish and repair motorcycles and choppers. The German duo—Fynn Claus Grabke [vocals, guitar] and Philipp Mirtschink [drums]—capture a raw, rich, and real energy befitting of the room's natural reverb, industrial aura, and spiritual spark. Most importantly, the record also begins to rev up the boys' career like never before. Fynn and Philipp first crossed paths at a local skate park. Becoming fast friends, they realized their mutual interests extended beyond shredding half-pipes and into music like The Smiths, The Cure, and Minor Threat. Soon, they began writing songs together, utilizing equipment Fynn's dad Claus had accumulated over his years as a musician and record producer.
After two independent releases in Europe, the pair played major festivals such as Sziget and toured with everybody from International Noise Conspiracy to Spinnerette. Simultaneously, they garnered international attention for their motorcycle builds and received prominent profiles in tastemaker publications including DICE Magazine, Kustom, and many others.
They made their first trek to the United States in 2013. Following an explosive Hollywood gig supporting Eagles of Death Metal for DICE, they embarked on their inaugural North American tour and buzz began to organically spread through word of mouth and social media, specifically Twitter and Instagram. By the time they returned home, the group had inked a deal with Riding Easy Records.
The Picturebooks retreated to their "garage" in order to record Imaginary Horse during early 2014. Mirroring their daredevil skateboarding ethos, they broke rules while recording. For starters, there was considerable physical space between the musicians and the microphones, and it wasn't simply a sterile studio environment. The concrete floors and airy expanse contributed to the sound, and the overall atmosphere proved quite a propos. "It really helped us formulate our style," declares Fynn. "First of all, the studio is in the middle of nowhere. There are forests and fields around it. You can focus on making music without any distractions. Our goal was to come up with as unique of a sound as possible. We recorded everything in the garage with two mics next to our motorcycles fifteen feet away from us. I would basically sit on my chopper and sing. We got this incredible, real reverb. It was just awesome." In fact, Fynn even sees quite a few similarities between building a rock song and a bike. He smiles, "Coming from skateboarding and then making music, motorcycles were an extension from both of those pursuits. Building your own bike, you decide the colors, choose the bars, the engine, and the frame. It's like producing a song." They even constructed their own instruments to boot. Fynn picked up thrift shop guitars in Los Angeles. Influenced by the tribal sounds of Native American music, the frontman built custom percussion and augmented his guitars with bells. Moreover, Philipp decided to eschew playing cymbals and adopted large Toms, which he bashes with mallets instead of sticks.
They conjured true fire in the garage with that astounding, untainted reverb and their personal arsenal of modified instruments. That fire pulsates through the first single "Your Kisses Burn Like Fire". A hulking beat gives way to a bluesy guitar twinge before Fynn howls the titular refrain. "David Bowie used to write one word on a piece of paper, and then he'd put all of these words together to make lyrics," explains Fynn. "I was really intrigued by that technique. This song came together in a similar way. Of course, there's a girl, and this feeling of being lost lyrically. That hurts, but it comes out in the performance."
Meanwhile, the title track takes flight on that distorted hum and booming echo before slipping into psychedelic territory. "I had an imaginary horse when I was a kid," the singer recalls. "He was called Pon Pon, and he was with me all the time. He was that companion by my side. It was so crazy I had to write a song about him." "PCH Diamond" tells a vivid, cinematic tale of the band's time in Huntington Beach, CA at the Sun'n Sand Motel. Fynn's lyrics paint a picture of Southern California pulp as he recounts one night in particular.
"The Pacific Coast Highway is always the first place we go when we arrive from Germany," he says. "It gives you this strange feeling. We spent three weeks at the hotel in Huntington, and so much happened. The lyrics are a story. I bought this diamond ring from a guy who told me he was a 'Shaman'. It was the cheapest piece of shit ever that I paid too much money for [Laughs]. However, you don't want to fuck around with a shaman so I bought it. It made for a good song subject!" Ultimately, all of these pieces form a blues rock pastiche that's as individualistic as it is infectious. The Picturebooks' Imaginary Horse becomes a reality for rock 'n' roll now.
"We never wanted to sound like anybody else," concludes Fynn. "We've done everything possible to create something our own. I hope people see that, hear it, and feel it."