Friday, 19 August 2011

Interview with Cold In Berlin

Cold In Berlin are a band with DIY ethics and a loud, raucous sound. With their scuzzy guitar riffs, howling and aggressive vocals, the East London based band seem more content to carry the flag for the underground movement, than break commercial territory. Comparisons have been drawn to the hugely successful Be Your Own Pet, but singer Maya channels a darker more abstract vision than Jemina Pearl of the Canadian Punk band. Would you expect any less from a band who claim to garner influences more from the books they read than from obvious punk influences like Iggy Pop and the Stooges?

After the release of their debut album 'Give Me Walls', which they released on their own label 2076 in late 2010 ('An Artrocker album of the year'), Cold in Berlin are not content to sit back, they are straight on to creating their second album. I caught up with singer Maya to find out more about who they are and what they are about.

So I hear you have been busy getting your second album together?

We have, yeah… We’re all very excited for the second album. I like to think we’ve progressed. I mean loud, raucous and dark are words I’d still use to describe us, but there’s definitely a musical progression. A lot more layering, kind of intense… We really enjoyed writing them.

Was it not one of those ‘difficult’ second albums to write?

I think possibly it took us a little while to get into the swing of it. But once we were there, it did sort of flow a bit easier.

Who writes the songs and could you describe the writing process?

Sometimes it’s completely collaborative and something will just come and it will be brand new in that session. Sometimes I’ll already have something written down, I’ll have some lyrics and a melody and take that to the guys. But I think all of us appreciate the collaborative process, really. I know I couldn’t do what Cold in Berlin do without the other guys, you know, without their input… they’re all very talented.

With your first album, I noticed you caught the attention of the BBC, when they reviewed your album they complained that you’d be a lot better if there were less swear words… How did that make you feel?

It was a bit odd… That was very strange to begin with, we’d already done radio edits with the BBC months before that review… they’d already been playing us, and we were happy to do it. So that was interesting. Also, what I felt very difficult about the whole situation was that I really felt that if it was a man doing it would’ve made a difference. And obviously, you know, people have also said we’re quite punky and that genre is loud… And also, we weren’t going for a top ten hit! So it just seems an odd complaint of the album really.

You clearly love performing, where do you get all that energy from for your live set?

Yeah, I do love performing… And also now we’re playing to relatively big crowds, once they get into it, you can’t help but get into it too.

You really seem to be in your element when you play live, what do you get out of it?

Getting to be as noisy and raucous as we possibly can… Yeah, and it’s just really rewarding to see people enjoying stuff that you’ve created. You know, something that you’ve had a hand in that someone can access and engage with, it just makes you feel really privileged.

Who do you look to for influences?

I always get hassle from the guys for going on about her, but I do like Patti Smith. I love her, her stage presence is amazing.

And could you name some bands that got you into music?

I really like Electric Wizards, Swans… anything dark, rhythmic, heavy… Anything that’s got a bit of an edge to it.

You all live in East London, don’t you, what do you think of its music scene? Is there something different about it that makes it stand out?

Um, I think it’s got a scene. There’s a lot of stuff going on, you know, it’s quite disparate at times, there’s so many different things that you can see… And that’s cool, but I think it makes it quite difficult to build just one movement, if you see what I mean. If you were in Manchester or Leeds or whatever it would be easier to build one solid movement of bands all interested in one another.

You and Adam (guitarist) were both in a band previously called Death Cigarettes. Could you outline the reasons why you started Cold In Berlin together?

I think it was really to get the first album out! We’d been playing together for a long time and Death Cigarettes were more lo-fi and definitely not as heavy or dark, and I think we just wanted something that had a little more to it, of course, more energy, and actually in a way, because we’d done that band whilst we were still students, something a little more grown up, and complex in terms of musical development.

Where do you record? How do you record? What impact do you think the recording process has for your band?

Well, for the first album and the singles that came from that we recorded in a little village, and we recorded in an old fire station that a friend of ours had turned into a recording studio, which was amazing, called Pete Baker, and it was just… it was brilliant, and we really, really enjoyed that experience. Unfortunately that studio got shut down. So at the moment we just do kind of lo-fi recording. But in terms of the second album, we’re not 100 per cent certain where we’re going to go for that. It’s got to have a good feel for us, really… ‘Cause we like to do a lot of recording live, we’ve got to be able to feel the songs in the space. If it was too clinical, I don’t think we’d get the energy across.

What are your views on record labels?

There are loads of labels we like, with bands on them that we love… But I think what we’ve found works for us is the self-release. So we created the small label 2076 and we release on that. We’ve managed to get a distribution deal with Cargo which has been really successful. That means that we’re not just selling in the UK, we’re selling outside of the UK and across Europe, which is really, really good. And also that means that we own everything… Everything is ours. Really for us it’s about the ownership, you know, the stuff that you create, it’s very important to us.

And of course that means you have more creative control. Is that something that is very important to the band?

Absolutely, and then also, in that way, we’re all kind of equal partners and we’ve all got a voice, and there isn’t someone that is not in the band that could come in and have more of a share or whatever. We only work with people we really trust basically, which is a really lucky position to be in, I think.

From the outset Cold in Berlin seem a little dark, a little gothic. Would you say you are? Are you influenced by the gothic side of things?

(laughs) I guess we are, a bit. But I don’t know if we’re really gothic… I just think, I don’t think of us as like a goth band, although there are loads of great goth bands out there. When we’ve played goth nights it’s been really cool, but I wouldn’t say that we’ve kind of pigeonholed ourselves. Maybe we do wear a lot of black, I don’t know… but I don’t think any of us went out with a particular idea of what our style would be. It’s just always what feels comfortable to us and if that is a little bit dark, then yeah, maybe that is the case.

Have you found that you’ve built your fan-base more through word of mouth or has the internet played a huge part?

Oh, I don’t know… I don’t know how you’d check? We probably get a mix. Usually when people come to see us, they come back, which is really nice to see to see familiar faces. So obviously if they bring people then that’s word of mouth. But I think when we play abroad that’s obviously the internet. That’s been really successful for us, we get fairly big audiences in Italy and places like that.

What is it about playing Europe that you enjoy? Where to next?

Yeah, I love it. We’ve got a German tour coming up in October which we’re really looking forward to. They just love music, you know, they’re into all different types of stuff. They’re not just into one genre or whatever… they just love to have a good time. Yeah, the first time I played Italy I was just blown away, I just couldn’t believe the audience… The size of the audience, the engagement, how much they were into it… We had loads of stage divers. It was just brilliant, great fun! You know, in England, people are a lot more reserved. I guess we’re a bit spoilt in this country… Like what we were saying about East London, there’s just so much going on, we’re very lucky… But in other countries they don’t always have a massive amount of things to choose from, so when they do get bands over, they are really into it and make the most of the experience.

So what are your immediate plans?

We’re doing a download single in the next couple of months. Then I think we’ll be recording… getting all the new stuff ready for the album. We’re nearly finished, so I think we just want that out as soon as possible. But I think with the time-line, that won’t be out till next year, so we may put out something between the single and the album, so people can get excited about the new stuff that’s coming. Then obviously we’ve got a couple more gigs coming up… a few festivals, and then of course Germany in October.

How are you going to put the album together, do you tend to write lot of songs and then have some to choose from… what is your method?

There are songs that I know will definitely be on there. But obviously it’s always better to have more songs than what you put out on the album, so there’s a bit of change when you play live. Sometimes when you write a song it just doesn’t fit into the group of songs… Usually I get a feel when we’re writing it whether it works, whether it’s going to fit into the album or not.

Are Cold in Berlin good friends, is there any conflict in the band?

No, there’s no conflict! We’re all easy going, we enjoy it, and that removes any issues really. I mean obviously we have difficult song-writing session at times, and sometimes they can be more difficult than others, but I don’t think we’ve ever actually had a row or anything like that. We all avoid conflict as much as possible!

That’s good to know. So what’s it like right before a gig, what do you tend to do to gear yourselves up, is there anything you particularly do?

Actually, it’s really funny you say that because Alex our drummer was just telling me how he spends ages warming up; getting all ready, getting into his zone, and then ‘you’re just sat there, smiling, and then suddenly… you just turn, and I can see your face change, a completely different face and you’re just ready to go on.’ I hadn’t really been aware of that before, you know. Obviously I do a vocal warm-up and stuff, but I think that’s before I get to the venue, there’s not always somewhere to do it there. But yeah, I realize obviously I must make a bit of a mental switch, but until he pointed that out I wasn’t really aware that I did that, but I guess it just happens. Well, because often the guys go on before me and I must just hear that and that just clicks something.

What other interests do you have outside of music?

Art, photography... Also, we all read an awful lot. Often when we're asked our influences it's like 'Oh, authors really.' Michael Gira wrote a book called 'The Consumer' which is unbelievably dark and just brilliant if you can bring yourself to read it.


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