Portraits: Heike Schneider-Matzigkeit
Interview: Nathaniel Fregoso
Splendid Berlin meets up with Andreya and Laura aka Gurr to discuss touring, furry dreams and life in Berlin…
NF: Hi Gurr! You’ve just come back from a tour. How is it playing shows for 16 days without stopping?
Andreya: For me it was crazy because on the third day my voice felt really husky. It was sore. It’s not usual for me to sing so much. But then after a week it was totally fine again. I felt like I was going to lose my voice but then it was “super oiled”, we say. The engine was “super oiled”. But my hand really hurt. I don’t know if you had that, but I had really weird pain in my hand playing guitar.
Laura: For the first time now I was a little bit homesick after two days. You have ups and downs. Munich was for me a low point because I was so exhausted and I missed home a little bit for the first time. And then we went on stage and the crowd gave us all this energy and I was like “Am I going to be able to give them so much right now, because I’m in such a weird place?” And they gave us out of nothing so much energy. It was just so amazing. That was crazy. People were wearing Gurr shirts and singing along to our songs. We didn’t feel like we even had to sing because they were singing all the lyrics and everything. It was cool. We never had that before on a tour. People knowing the album and being so excited about it.
NF: You guys have been playing a long time. You’re a great live band. You always play with a lot of energy. How do you approach the live shows. Do you rehearse a lot for each show?
Andreya: It’s mostly fear. It’s the secret ingredient if you ever wonder. No really, it’s weird. During the tour I sometimes felt like “I don’t know if I can go onstage right now and be super hyped because all I’ve done is sit in the car and my energy is really low.” Once we went onstage it all came back and even at the last show in Luxembourg, I chipped my tooth. Two days before. And the last show in Jena I ran against a glass wall because it was like this building that was only…it was this weird thing in a park. It was only a room and there were glass walls around.
Laura: It was this Frank Lloyd Wright building. It was very modern and made of glass. And you couldn’t see where the door ended and the building started because it was glass and it looked like it was open. She walked into it confidently, with a lot of energy. I wasn’t sure she would be able to play.
Andreya: And it was 5 minutes before the shows and I felt like, “Okay, I’m not going to go crazy.” And even then, when I felt like I gave the least, people were saying “Oh you were jumping around!” I think because we played so much we can’t do it any other way.
NF: Can you tell me about recording the new album “In Your Head”. Where was it recorded? Who recorded it?
Andreya: It was recorded by Mischkah Wilke. It’s called Kozmic Sound. Back then he had his studio in the Funkhaus. The building where the GDR radio was back then and it’s a really beautiful building. When we recorded, there was a lot of construction work, so mostly our hours were built around the construction work. And sometimes we’d arrive at the studio and there was still a . . . (taps glass). . . sound in the back and we couldn’t record.
Laura: The building was bought up by an investor. And he just started kicking all the studios out. So Mischkah, I think he got his eviction letter two days after we were finished recording.
Andreya: They were starting all around, so it was clear he was going to be evicted soon. It was a weird atmosphere. We were hanging out outside and another person is carrying out their boxes. And we’re like, “we’re recording right now”. But it was really cool because we took some time. We definitely had some financial restraints. We’ve only just managed to pay off all of our album debts right now with this tour. When did we record?
Laura: We recorded over a period of two or three months. But always like a week and then listen and then another week and listen. I think if you put all of it together, it took about a month to record. We recorded all analog. And also mixed all analog. Which I think was this creative restraint that we needed for our first album, so we don’t have endless ideas and opportunities. What we give in the studio is going to come out on the other side more or less. I think that was really helpful for us. Still one month, it sounds like a long time for us, but it was really short for a production.
Andreya:I think it was even less for us, because we had to work at night a lot. Mischkah was a night person and we are not night people at all, so we just started at 4 and ended at 10 or something. It took him a long time to mix too. I’m really thankful that he sent us all different types of mixes too. A lot of vocal up and vocal down versions. What we wanted to do was go away from the lo-fi sound a little bit and do more like hi-fi but meet somewhere in the middle. It’s super weird to hear your vocals really loud, but that’s actually super normal. You don’t really hear it, but if you listen to radio songs, it’s all like super loud vocals. So it’s stuff like that, that we tried to be familiar with.
NF: How do you guys write your songs? Do you jam things out in a rehearsal space? Do you bring ideas to each other?
Andreya: It’s a mix of all I think. We bring something and then we play together and sometimes we figure out stuff on the way, kind of, when we play together. We just worked on two songs now and I think it was really cool that stuff happened.
Laura: But usually we don’t jam things out. We have an idea, but it’s usually not a finished song. Sometimes it feels finished but then the other will say, “Yeah, but what if we played this halftime tempo?”. And then something comes again. Or somebody does a second voice. That’s what stands out in our songs, that we try to do these harmonies that also give it a different tone sometimes. We like to collaborate a lot. I don’t know, I just feel so much more comfortable bringing an idea to Andreya for example and she puts her stuff in and I feel more confident bringing it onstage. I really admire musicians who have their own song and their own sound and know what every instrument is supposed to sound like and then bring it on stage. It must be really scary too, to not have someone backing your idea a little bit and being like “this is also cool.”
NF: Can you talk about the lyrics a little bit. They always seem like a lot of fun to me, but you also have a serious side. How do you approach writing the lyrics? Do you collaborate on that? Does one of you take charge when a song has a special meaning.
Andreya: All of it. Sometimes I write all the lyrics to a song or Laura and I write it together or Laura writes all the lyrics to a song. Sometimes it depends on who wrote it, but for example, Laura wrote “Yosemite” and she was like “Andreya, I don’t know what this should be, can you come up with some lyrics?”. I don’t know. I have a feeling and I just write it to a song, so it’s really a mixture.
Laura: But the songs are usually, even though we don’t write them together, I think they are usually informed by common memories we share or stuff we talked about. We were in the same university program and sometimes, well we still are, we’re doing our masters in media studies. More or less. The topics are something usually centered around people we know or this angst of survival as an artist. That’s something that we’re struggling with a little bit right now and we just put it into words.
NF: Let’s talk about your song “Walnuss”. I am specifically interested in the German chorus “Wir nehmen teil an der Belanglosigkeit”. Can you explain the word “Belanglosigkeit”?
Laura: It’s so hard. I tried to do it before.
Andreya: Is it actually a German word? It’s not in English, right?
Laura: “Belanglosigkeit” is kind of like “senselessness”.
Andreya: But also pointless.
Laura: Pointlessness. “Wir nehmen teil” would be the literal translation, I took that sentence from this Facebook action everyone was doing. “Wir nehmen teil an der Veranstaltung” that means “I’m attending”. So “Wir nehmen teil” is like this collective shout. “We’re attending Facebook events!”. But it’s also a little bit pointless and senseless. Because what does it mean? You’re not actually going to attend. People are attending so much more than they actually are attending. In the virtual world and the real world. So that was kind of the picture. The song is also about a relationship. We had the English version before where it’s also about this lost love a little bit. So that came into the German lyrics as well, but not being a direct translation and finding its own metaphors for this estrangement in a relationship.
NF: Because the chorus in English is . . .
Andreya & Laura: “The sound is gone of when I fell in love”.
NF: Can you explain the difference between writing songs in English and in German and these sort of choices that you have to make between meanings.
Andreya: We decided that we’re gonna have it in German and we said it’s not going to be a translation. I think it would have sounded super cheesy and stupid. You were relatively free and what really helped is that I had already the vocal melody of the English version and for me it is easier to sing it in English for some reason or to find out a good melody to it. So when I had the German lyrics it sounded good. I think we’re very sensitive to German songs that remind us of terrible German music. I think we’re gonna be very picky about when we use German lyrics again and in what manner.
NF: Do you plan to write more songs in German?
Laura: I think we’re glad the experiment worked. And we felt very inspired by it. I think we’re gonna give it another try, but we can’t promise anything if it’s going to work because we know what hard work it is to make German . . .
Laura: To make German cool. Say it like it is.
Andreya: To make German cool.
Laura: I’m really open. I want to try it again, because I think it was a lot of fun and I really like German bands singing in German. That’s one of my main critique points. These German bands singing these English lyrics and usually these English lyrics just sound like they pick up things that they’ve heard before and put together. It’s like, “Find your own voice. Find your own words.“ I think for us it’s a little bit different because we write in English, I don’t want to say like a native speaker, but we studied English literature and we don’t want to just pick lines from songs to find our own words and metaphors. I think in German, it was cool that it worked out and I’m open to trying it again. It’s hard.
NF: I also have a question about “Computer Love”. You have a great line: “Hanging out with all my friends on AOL”. That line always pops out at me. You probably know that Kraftwerk has a very famous song called “Computer Liebe”.
Andreya & Laura: Yes.
NF: Are you guys big Kraftwerk fans?
Andreya & Laura: Not at all.
NF: You end your album with a song called “Song for Mildred”. Can you explain who Mildred is and the choice about ending the album this way?
Andreya: I think it’s a super classic move to end an album with a slow song. So I think we just went in for that. And also it sounds like a very stripped down instrumental version of the song, so it fit. The character Mildred is Sissy Spacek the actor in this movie Three Women by Robert Altman and she . . . what’s her name again? It’s she and Shelley Duvall. The woman that plays in The Shining too. And she really wants to be her friend. I think Shelley Duvall is called Mildred and eventually Sissy Spacek becomes Mildred and she says, “No, I’m Mildred. Who the fuck are you?” Because it’s a mindfuck kind of. I really wanted to write about this movie for a really long time. So the weirdness of the song really fits to the lyrics. Because in the movie Three Women it’s really dusty California in the 70s and they pair it with these Malibu Beach images and that’s what I thought about. This eeriness of California nights where someone dies, people are being eaten alive or drowning in pools or something. Stuff like that.
NF: Before this album you had an EP called “Furry Dream”. And a self-titled tape with Tonya Harding on the cover. Could you explain first what a Furry Dream is? And second how you guys know Tonya Harding?
Laura: “Furry Dream” was about a haze of experiences kind of. The word pairing “Furry Dream” sounded very physical but then abstract at the same time. It’s a haze. More like a feeling it’s best to say. It’s furry. How you touch it. So it fit really well, because the EP, we wanted to make it about coming back from the States and being in Berlin. So this really started with the band and we didn’t know anyone in the band scene and now we know you for example. Back then we were like “What are we doing?” just getting drunk at Bassy, not knowing anyone. The self titled tape that we did was actually through our friend Jill, she mentioned the story, I didn’t know it before.
Andreya: It’s such an American culture classic.
Laura: Andreya and I weren’t that familiar with it. She told us how there was this battle between these girls. Also this rivalry and then, was Tonya Harding . . .?
Andreya: She was an ice skater.
Laura: Who got hurt?
Andreya: Nancy Kerrigan.
Laura: Nancy Kerrigan got hurt. And Tonya was more the perpetrator or her team was at least. She was more the trashy bad girl. Which we identified with more.
Andreya: I saw this picture on another tape too. And I know this band the Tonya Hardings. It is a very popular motif for American bands.
NF: You have a lot of interesting, offbeat cultural references. Is that part of the Gurr identity? How do you approach your public persona?
Laura: I think it’s always so hard. When you’re in it. You don’t really experience it that much from the outside. I don’t know how we come across, but I agree, I think pop culture is really important to us. Also academia or the way we studied at least was very obsessed with pop culture. I would agree.
Andreya: I think sometimes we’re nerding out about stuff and that’s what we do in our music.
NF: Are you planning on doing any more recording anytime soon?
Laura: We’re going to this afternoon, Nathaniel! We had a really good experience with our last album, doing a lot of recordings before going into the studio. It helped us to know simple things like what should we record together? Sometimes it’s bass and guitar, but sometimes it might better to do guitar and drums. Guitar and drums or bass and drums. How should we layer this? What could come on top of it. So we’re gonna start doing demos now for two more songs we wrote and see if it helps us. I don’t know when we’re gonna record our second album, but I think having as much material helps, because we recorded . . . how many songs ended up on the album? 11. And we recorded like 16 or something. So that’s always good to only put the winners on.
NF: You’ve had a lot of success with this album. Where do you see yourselves in the next five years?
Laura: I think we want to record another album or maybe in five years have two or three more albums and still be a band then. And be friends and be able to work creatively. I think it would be cool to have less financial restraints on our art a little bit. I think that’s the goal a little bit this year and next. We always say, “I think we’re capable of so much more in music”. I think we had this financial restraint the last time too. We’re never gonna have endless time or endless resources but a little bit more to have the freedom . . .
Andreya & Laura: To create.
Laura: An even better album. But it’s an illusion. I think with our second album if we have more time we’ll always have things we’re unhappy about. I think that’s just the misery of putting something, nailing it down to this medium of a CD. It’s never gonna be exactly 100% how you pictured it.
Andreya: Money is the real misery of the artist.
NF: Since the magazine is called Splendid Berlin, I have a couple of Berlin related questions. Where’s your favorite place to hang out in Berlin?
Andreya: These days we rarely hang out anywhere. If it’s not Laura’s flat or our practice space or our Vietnamese food place then it’s probably 8mm bar.
NF: What do you think about the rock and roll scene here in Berlin?
Laura: I think it’s cool. I think there’s a lot of interesting bands and I like the sense of community that people have. There’s lots of really good bands. The Sun and the Wolf are gonna play with us in our Lido show. Odd Couple are also going to play a couple of festivals. Putz Festival. Modular Festival.
Andreya: It was funny because in Stuttgart someone interviewed us and he was like “How do you all know each other in Berlin?”. Because he read about this Beatles vs Stones night. “How do you get into that?” They think it’s really cool that in Berlin it’s really easy to get in touch with other bands.
NF: This last one is for me. What are your astrological signs?
Laura: We are Pisces. Out label manager is Pisces. Our distribution manager is Pisces. We started to have this obsession that we can only work with Pisces. The energy is so good.
NF: Both of you are Pisces?
Laura: We all had our birthdays at SXSW, but my birthday was the worst because we were flying back on my birthday, so my birthday turned out to be six hours short. Can you believe it? It’s so unfair. So we started celebrating at six in the evening.