Markus Nikolaus and Julien Bracht (AKA Lea Porcelain) tossed all current projects out the window and then threw what was left of themselves out in the open. The result was the creation of a pure and timeless album that they both treasure so much that we can't help but love it too.
We were able to catch the guys for a few questions on their history, band philosophy, and their favorite places to go in Berlin and abroad at the Funkhaus in Berlin where their new album Hymns To The Night was recorded. The album is available here.
CC: How did you two meet and how did this project ultimately come together?
Markus: We met each other in Frankfurt, which is our hometown. It was at one of the best clubs there, and in the world actually. It’s called Robert Johnson, it's like a house techno club. Julien used to play gigs in there, being involved in the club scene, and then me being there, I saw him play there a few times live and it was just extraordinary. He had this technique of playing live drums on top of techno, which was pretty powerful and I had never seen anything like it. And then I followed him a bit and we became friends. Then we began to follow each other’s musical paths. In the end we split every music project we were in, moved to London and started from zero, together.
CC: What were the benefits and/or challenges with merging your two separate experiences into one project?
Julien: I think it was pretty magical. Because I had my own stuff where it was pretty stuck. Making music alone is just a total different thing. When we came together and after the first two sessions, there was a moment where we understood how amazing it could be when two people come together and make one thing out of it. It was just a moment of understanding that it is possible to make music in this completely different way and also the difference of when you think (or not think) about making the music. Because when we started to make the first song it was very easy and without any thinking, it was just trying stuff out. It was just doing it, and it came out very naturally.
Markus: You know when you’re shopping and trying a bunch of different stuff and everything is kind of just shit? And you keep doing this for a while and then one shop you almost pass by and never even intended to go to, but you just go into it anyway and you try the first pair of jeans or something on and then it just fits perfectly, you look amazing, and everything about them is just love at first sight. It’s kind of like what we were in. Like he was already successful with the techno stuff, and I had a project in New York with Wolf + Lamb, so I was more there with the label involved, but we cut off everything because we found this amazing pair. And it fit perfectly, there was just no questioning if it was wrong. It felt very right.
CC: What distinguishes Hymns To The Night from other current albums or projects in the music scene today?
Julien: I think that we are pretty much doing our own thing. And not looking on hypes or movements or special scenes, where to fit in. I think we just… cause we had no direct influence. It was just more like, lets try stuff out. And this is what came out. And I think that’s why its for us, and for many others, a real original. Of course all music has its influences but we just wanted to make our own thing.
Markus: There was no conscious influence. There’s something Joe told us in this very room he said if its not consciously influenced, it has to be somehow subconsciously influenced. Like something that you heard ten years ago, or maybe its an influence of many things you can’t really put a finger on. We can’t put a finger on it, its just always a free approach.
Julien: And I think we have a sort of trademark on our own songs. How our songs are, in this world of songs create an atmospheric feeling…
Markus: What do you think?
Me: Yeah I agree. I think... well it's better and funner when you're just doing it purely from within. And you can tell when something is so influenced on trends and when everyone’s just trying to piggyback off of the last guy, you know? So I think you’re spot on with that. I think since it is original, it makes it really refreshing.
Markus: Yeah. Right. Like its not just some washed out piano sound with some feminine voice on top just because that is most of what has come out in the last three years. I think it doesn't make a difference if we released the album now or in ten or twenty years from now. Or if it came out ten or twenty years before. You can’t trace it, it doesn't belong to any decade. It is definitely rock influenced, but it can’t be placed at 1968 or 1991 or something.
CC: Are there any central themes that this album explores? If so, how would you explain them?
Markus: Well lyrically, most of it is very abstract, like trying to evoke a picture. We are always trying to tell a story. We sometimes kind of have these random introductions, and when that goes away, it is just different thoughts. It’s really hard to explain. You know, sometimes sentences come in and have absolutely no connection to what’s said before, but together they are coupled and they just evoke a picture. Like, “Catch you on the midnight train, cause leaving never caused such pain, and you who put the chains on me, and you who likes to watch me bleed.”--Its not telling a story, but every sentence presents a picture or an idea, and your like ahhh, he must be in some kind of bond or something he can’t get out of or he feels suppressed or… I don’t know, something like that. And then maybe the same things happen to you when you listen, and you get a picture of whatever it is that you’re going through. It may be a whole different picture, but it is the same feeling. It is just sharing or transporting a feeling.
CC: Have you guys done any traveling lately?
Both: We just travelled 4 thousand kilometers last week. Amsterdam first, we went to play at the Paradiso, then we went to Paris for a day of interviews, then we went to Zurich and had champagne (laughs) and then we had a concert in in Vienna.
CC: What aspects of the music scene in Frankfurt or the city in general, have influenced or shaped your writing style?
Julien: Well, Frankfurt is my hometown, I was born there. I think the first ten tracks we did in Frankfurt at my old studio. And of course every city, especially Frankfurt is influential. But in Frankfurt we were sort of in a bubble, because there is really no band scene or anything like this there. So we were completely in our own world, doing our own stuff. We were doing it for 3 or 4 months and then going out and bringing it to London where they had more of a band scene. And I think that kind of bubble or isolation is very inspiring because you can be doing your own stuff without people commenting on it or telling us to do more things like this or that act because those bands are selling out a show. Like for people in London, I think it is difficult for them to make something original because they are so influenced by thousands of bands in the same city playing at the same time.
Markus: And you don’t need to have people commenting too much or influencing you too much, that is bullshit.
Julien: Yeah, and if you look at what Bon Iver did for example, he was just in a forest house to make his music. And that’s how he did his own thing and had his own style.
Markus: Exactly. If it comes from the heart it can be made anywhere.
Julien: Yes and I think it is better to be isolated from the start. If you have no idea of a style or are not drawn to any hype at the start of the project it is a very good thing because you can completely do whatever you like without thinking about whether it would work in this or that scene. So I think that it was good for us to start in Frankfurt, it turned out to be pretty interesting. We were able to take our music to different countries, but we didn’t think about how it would be received beforehand. We were able to create our own vibe and it had a sort of magic to it, it was special, but if you think too much about it before starting, it loses that magic. It might be a good way to make an album for a producer maybe, but not for creating a band that survives ten or fifteen albums, or making something unique that really sticks with fans and takes you on a journey.
CC: Where is your go-to bar in Frankfurt or Berlin?
Both: We don’t live in Frankfurt anymore, but for Berlin I would say our go-to bar is Panorama Bar.
CC: What is your favorite restaurant and what do you order?
Julien: Mine is Vienna I would say. Or go to La Bionda, they have really great pizza. Those are in Berlin.
Markus: I really like this place called Dishoom, it is an Indian restaurant in London.
Q10: Where is the one place you would tell a traveller to make sure they visited while in Berlin?
Both: Funkhaus. Try to go to a show here. We saw Bon Iver here four times for a festival and it was amazing.