As rock music entered the 2010s, several emerging groups made their name by continuing the post-grunge tradition started in the nineties, and last year we covered the Hamburg gig of Florida four-piece Shinedown that catapulted into the mainstream thanks to their strong 2008 album “The Sound of Madness“, and is one of the stars on the scene today.
Walking the same path, Hamburg based Kill Strings were founded in 2016 by Julian Lee, David Schmidt and Dominik Gebcyzk and were soon labeled local heroes on home turf.
However, “local heroes” is a concept used for bands that rarely get any longer than the city limits and is confined to play local venues for the rest of their career. When you see that label being used for Kill Strings it’s quite deceptive because Kill Strings’ post-grunge kind of music finds its perfect match across the Atlantic on the American scene.
There’s no reason to believe that Kill Strings will stay local heroes, their sound belongs to an international scene; it’s grand and it’s dramatic with lots of in-your-face riffs and aggressive power vocals.
In our Hamburg Crib Sessions interview series we met up with Kill Strings in their rehearsal studio space to talk about their upcoming EP, social criticism in music and their voluntary aspects in life.
From band contests to a modern post-grunge sound
Thanks for inviting us to this huge rehearsal space! Just for a start, to get to know you a bit; who are Kill strings? Tell us a bit about yourself.
David: Sure! We’re Kill Strings and we picked the name because we don’t treat our instruments very well.
Lee: And you’re playing the drums, that’s relevant information (laughs).
Dominik: I’m Dominik, the bassist. Twenty-one years old and I’m studying historical musicology, which is kind of fun.
Lee: And I’m Lee, twenty-nine years old [turning 30 this year] and play both the rhythm and lead guitar because we only have one guitarist left; we used to be four members. And I’m also the singer.
We started at the end of 2016 when I went back to my old school to work as a teacher, and I already knew David because we used to play together in the big school band, but I also knew him through his brothers – his older brother was my guitar teacher. Dominik was still a student at the school, and when I started a student band and took part of a band contest at the Ernst Deutsch Theater we got to know each other quite well.
But we also had a backstage concert at the school for all kinds of bands that somehow had something to do with the school. David dropped in with his former band and we just happened to play together, and played lots of our favorite songs, jammed for a while and it worked out great and we all got interested in starting a band. A night when we were completely smashed we met again, at Dominik’s prom, and decided to do it (laugh).
At the end of 2016 we locked ourselves up in the studio and started the band. And yet again we attended the band contest at the Ernst Deutsch Theater – and we won both times (laugh)!
Musically your sound entails a wide palette of music like post-grunge, classic rock and indie rock with in-your-face-riffs and aggressive power vocals that reminds me of heavy metal and garage rock. Where would you put your music on this spectrum of music?
Lee: We started out as an indie garage rock band.
David: To some part we even had bits and pieces of blues influences at the beginning, but we sorted that out very quickly (laugh). Well, all genres you listed kind of fit for us.
Lee: Musically the three of us go together well because we have similar influences. There’s small differences but even those fit together well, and we’re all into post-grunge and bands like Foo Fighters, Editors and stuff like that.
All those bands have this slightly dirty sound in common but still follow a pop scheme and work much with melodies, just like in the grunge era and Nirvana. It’s still our sound but we also have influences from bands like Royal Blood, which are more ”in your face“, but also Foals, Biffy Clyro and Muse. Let’s call it a mélange of everything we like to listen to.
For our upcoming EP, post-grunge is definitely the best description. Everything after that, I don’t know about. Label it alternative rock if you want to because it’s the collective name for everything that is hard to label or categorize. Musically we go in all directions.
David: We try to keep a signature sound but still create something different with every new song. No song should sound like an old one. It’s all about being diverse.
Lee: But there’s still a central thread, a core, which links all songs together. Even though they’re very different, everything fits very well together.
But your sound has kind of changed and you are fewer band members today because you started as a four-piece with two guitarists. Has that had an influence on you work together in a way that it has affected your sound?
Dominik: Of course, there’s one person less and that brings some pros and cons. For me personally, it was more of a con in the beginning because there was one mind and one opinion less. But in the end it pushed me to be creative and today I have more ideas on my own. Before, there were two guitarists and one very powerful drummer with lots of ideas, it’s more tight-knit now.
Lee: As I said, we’re very close in our musical preferences, and from time to time it wasn’t always like that when we were four. As a three-piece we’re better in pulling it together and are more in line with our ”central thread”, which the three of us have had in common from the beginning.
From the point we changed the band’s setup we’ve became amazingly productive, and the song-writing process for instance is really relaxed now. We’re trying things out and everybody is into it.
David: Which was recorded as a four-piece.
Lee: But during rehearsals we noticed that we’re actually able to play all parts of all songs we’ve ever written, lest for a few that are not part of the EP, but we just skip those in our sets. Some small parts are compensated with backing tracks but there’s no sound loss in that sense. Musically we have a cleaner sound as a three-piece in my opinion. But there’s no loss of power, it’s the other way around because we’re even tighter and therefore more powerful.
David: To say something in general about the band’s setup; for writing a song you always have to find compromises. One member less means one opinion less, and that makes it easier.
That’s true. I have to say I had a blast listening to one of your brand new songs. It sounds great and my opinion is that you guys are on the right track. You get that feeling when you really look forward to something, like your upcoming EP and what is to be released after that. The ”Introspection” EP is coming out in February?
Lee: Actually not until end of March because of changing the band’s setup. We have to re-arrange everything and write new songs, and all sort of things related to that. David put lots of effort into designing the cover art and designing our t-shirts, pressing the CD and everything else. We don’t want to rush through this so we decided to release the EP at the end of March instead.
I was about to come to your EP. Why did you chose an EP and not an album? Because of stuff we already talked about or did you have other reasons for it?
David: First of all, it is not cheap to record an album. We pay everything out of our own pockets and an EP felt as the best choice for us, financially. It’s half an album (laugh).
Sounds wise. What is your general opinion about making a full album? Do you think the album is dead because everybody is streaming single songs? You already made a step in that direction by giving each single its own cover which increasingly generates attention to the single songs.
Lee: Back to the EP’s; we wanted to make them look cool which, again, cost lots of money. And about albums; from a marketing perspective they’re dead.
David: It depends on the band and target group of course.
Lee: For us, an album is nothing we would go for at the moment because of all the effort you need to put in and the money you won’t get from it. We first have to get on peoples’ radar and the best way to do that is to get new songs out quickly. Singles are perfect for that, so we extend our EP with three or more single releases.
I also heard about a new music video for your first single release “Everything That Isn’t Me”. We joined you for a little “in the making of”. What can your fans expect? Are some special effects in it or something like that?
David: Everybody should be excited! But I don’t want to spoil it before the release.
Yet again, we worked together with our good friend Stevo who also made our first music video. Our aim was to be way better than our first one and that required to put in greater efforts. We had four days of shooting instead of one and a half the, as we had the first time, but we also had lots of equipment and more things around it this time.
Paying attention to social justice
From the original protest songs of the civil rights movement to the charity singles raising money for those in need, for decades musicians have inspired change through their songs. Popular music has always delivered social critique and always has some relation to the conditions that surround it.
For instance, the tradition of the blues is widely recognized as a distinctively African-American contribution to music, but is not always recognized for its role helping to shape the political consciousness of African-American communities in the US; the interplay between the free jazz of the sixties and the black-nationalist movement and the punk revolution against Thatcherism’s New Public Management politics in the seventies’ UK are two other examples of the connection between music and social justice.
For Kill Strings a social consciousness and the awareness of social problems have been important from the very beginning.
Talking about cover art; you have released two singles, “Everything That Isn’t Me” and “Into The Unknown”. At the “Everything That Isn’t Me” single you have Dominik Bloh on the cover, who’s famous for being the author of “Unter Palmen aus Stahl” (“Underneath Palm Trees of Steel“) where he talks about his experiences of living as a homeless person. What’s the connection?
Lee: Every song examines a different process. The first single “Everything That Isn’t Me” with Dominik Bloh on the cover has a basic statement that we should detach ourselves from material things.
We have to start to realize that we don’t need all that stuff. That is criticism towards consumerism and the pressures it creates, making you believe you constantly need things. Some people have nothing, and that’s the connection to Dominik and the subject of being homeless.
You also donate all your streaming profits from the EP to the non-profit organization Hanseatic Help here in Hamburg. That’s really great!
Lee: Yes and we’re going to double the sum because we don’t really get anything from streaming.
Especially not as a small local band?
Lee: We still hope it will be a bit of money to double up. There’s time until the GEMA [monitor copyrights and distribute royalties for artists] will pay us our royalties.
Lee: Otherwise that would be a totally crappy announcement (laugh).
Our second single “Into The Unknown” is more about our songwriting process.
It was kind of a big deal for us to have all those different views as a four-piece. Very often it was hard to compromise and reach an agreement. “Into The Unknown” stands for a process where different and kind of contradictory things come together, and we still made a song out of it.
It is always a step into the unknown and we don’t know where the journey leads us. Mostly. For the moment it seems to be quite clear for us (laugh). The cover shows Jannes Vahl from the non-profit organization clubkinder.
Taking part of the band contest meant that the process of stepping into the unknown really began. First we won that whole thing, and secondly Jannes fixed us up with our first big gig, at the Altonale [street festival in Hamburg] and pulled us into the clubkinder Klanglabor [talent promotion for musicians] where lots of amazing opportunities opened up for us. Before that we just did rehearsals and a gig at school.
The second gig ever was actually at the contest and we started to see us as a band from that point. That was the beginning of our journey into the unknown.
Full-time musicians in three years
What are the goals for 2019 and the next three years?
Dominik: First we will put out our EP and after that we want to play as much as possible. Last year we played a lot and we want to go on with that. That’s the best way to get our music on the radar and it’s of course lots of fun. In three years our album will probably be done.
David: The second one (laugh). I also think we have to play a lot. That’s how people get to know us and our music.
Not rich and famous by then?
Dominik: That will already happen next year (laugh).
Are there already some live dates to look forward to?
Lee: Yes [see below]! And we’re open for gigs with short notice.
Meaning your fans just have to give you a call you and you play for them?
Lee: If there’s a PA and all the gear needed – of course! We’ve already had some requests from Dortmund and other places in Germany, but there’s always the question about gear. Without it, it doesn’t make sense.
Do you have any suggestions for your fans? What could they do to support you and support the music scene in general?
All: Buy our EP (laugh)!
David: There will be a nice booklet in the EP so it’s worth it. You’re not able to stream those nice pics and other things in it. And come to our concerts and party with us! Recommend us, buy our merch.
Lee: Just come to our concerts!
Dominik: Come to our concerts and buy us beer, we like that (laugh). It makes us also play better (laugh).
Ok guys. a last statement.
Lee: I have one more thing regarding the three year perspective. Short term it would be great to have a booking agency and a manager so I don’t have to do all that stuff (laugh). That would make it far more easier for me to focus on our music, and we would get more gigs.
We definitely want to play Wutzrock this year! In 2020 it would be great to get out on tour and play lots of festivals, just like Hurricane. And in three years I will quit my job to be a full time musician (laugh).
On Friday Kill Strings play a release party gig for their EP ”Introspection” at Uebel & Gefährlich’s Turmzimmer, a gig that is organized together with local charity and non-profit organization clubkinder.
A small outlook about homeless in Hamburg
Recent studies show that the number of homeless people in Hamburg has more than doubled over the last ten years and reached the very sad figure of approximately 2 000 with no homes in 2019, much because the ever increasing rents. Consequently there’s very few places to give shelter to socially disadvantaged and homeless people in Hamburg today.
Kill Strings pages