Launching a career amidst the torrents of the current global crises is certainly hard enough, but doesn’t the boundless will to create always succeed in the end? It might seem so in the case of these buzzing talents. In our ongoing Artist Encounter series we ask newcomers from NBHAP’s personal ‘to watch in 2021’-list about their struggles right now, how they adapt to the new situation and what they are hoping for in the future. In this edition we connected two acts that are admittedly quite different in style and artistic approach: Berlin’s funky electro-pop quartet Sultans Court, represented by Julius Klaus and Konstantin Hennecke – and the Liverpool duo King Hannah, fronted by Craig Whittle and Hannah Merrick. Just shortly after their 2020 EP releases, we invited them to our digital video call room to talk about finding the right band mates, drawing inspirations during these times and whether being perfectionist is at all helpful when releasing new music.
► Check out all editions of the New Artist Encounter right here
Did the four of you actually know the music of each other before our interview today?
Hannah: Actually, we didn’t, but don’t know a lot of bands (laughs). But it’s always nice to hear new music.
Konstantin: We didn’t know you guys before this thing, but luckily we found out about you!
What are your thoughts on each other?
Hannah: We’re really interested in how you make your music, because it’s very different to ours, I think. Where do you start production-wise?
Konstantin: I think the main thing how we found our process was when we started to work on Ableton and do electronic music production. Because at first when we met and cooked up with other musicians and were guitar jamming that didn’t work out at all. That was when we started to produce electronic stuff in my bedroom studio. From that point, the electronic music production world opened up all the possibilities.
“We both came from an indie-rock background and were guitar guys, thinking about doing that stuff. But in the same way we got more interested in electronic music. Just playing guitar felt like copying the stuff that other people already did.”
How about your approach, Craig and Hannah?
Craig: I suppose we’re more the classical type… Well, we try to capture performances between people. That’s where it probably differs from yours. We try to hold on to mistakes and things.
Konstantin: That’s one thing we can improve on for sure (laughs). Since we are working on a screen the whole time, I think we got a bit to obsessed with erasing all the mistakes and making everything perfect.
Hannah: It’s really tempting to do that, isn’t it? I think it can take time to start to enjoy and love that. To appreciate the less perfect.
Your styles are actually a bit different from each other. While you guys from King Hannah present atmospheric dream-pop landscapes, Sultans Court is most strong in delivering synthie indie-electro vibes. What are your influences here? Which artists do you look up to?
Konstantin: I have a lot of role models in different areas I guess. Guitarists, music producers, mixing engineers. We as a band are passionate about so many different styles. In each genre there is somebody that we look up to.
Julius: To name a few, we totally love Tame Impala, which is very different from our music. Weval is also a huge inspiration, two guys from the Netherlands. It’s also very different from our music, but we somehow feel very connected to them. They know how to dig deep into feelings and evoke a lot.
Craig: Lots of different people and areas actually. In terms of bands, Portishead are a big one. Mazzy Star, Bill Callahan, Radiohead…
Both your bands have quite fascinating stories of how they were formed. Do you care to elaborate on them?
Konstantin: We met on a rideshare on the way to a festival. I still had some free seats and I wanted to save gas money. So I offered seats on the Facebook page of the festival and then Julius wrote me.
Julius: But only because of the your profile picture, which was of King Krule, which I really like. I thought, that guy is the guy! (laughs)
Konstantin: That’s how we met. And then we stayed together for the whole festival and recommended bands we wanted to see live. I think Julius had his little guitar with him, so we were jamming around. And afterwards we were like: „let’s try to do something“.
How many years have passed since then actually?
Konstantin: It took quite some time. The festival was in 2014 and then there was a break in our friendship as Julius went to Vienna for half a year. When he came back in 2015, we got together and were like: „remember last year when we went to that festival? Didn’t we think about starting a band together? Why don’t we do that now?“
Julius: We actually went to the Dockville festival, the same festival as the year before! And literally a week later, we shacked up in his bedroom basically to work on stuff.
Hannah: Quite a slow start, but you got there in the end!
How about you two, Craig and Hannah?
Craig: I actually was at a uni band night, because my friend was playing. This was years ago. The night there was really really bad music. But then Hannah played a song on her guitar and I thought that she is incredibly good. And then that was it and two years later I started working in a bar and Hannah was the one who was assigned to teach me, she worked at the bar. She taught me how to lay tables and that stuff.
“Because I remembered how good she was, I pestered it until we started writing music together.”
2020 was quite a year to be in the music industry, to say the least. How are you coping with the current situation?
Julius: There were ups and downs I would say. In some ways the pandemic is overall shitty, because we can’t play any shows. For a young band like us, it’s a hard situation. You can’t reach more people although you can release music.
“Sharing the music that you make with other people is the thing that makes you happy the most.”
Besides the obvious difficulties that Corona imposed on starting a career in music: What where the toughest challenges for you yet?
Craig: Everything that sort of happened, releasing the EP, getting signed, took place post-Covid. Obviously we’ve been playing together for years. I think recording in general was a big one, wasn’t it? We recorded a lot of things before we actually ended up releasing our debut single.
“We find it really hard to translate what we were practising and the way we wanted it to sound. In the studio there is this time constraint, to get everything sounding the way you wanted.”
Hannah: I think another challenge is, finding the right people, that includes the producer, doesn’t it? Another one is balancing making music and the thing that earns you money until music starts to make you money. Waitressing or bar work or whatever. I’ve found that you have to work all the hours in the world to pay for your living which left very little time to make music. That’s a big challenge, definitely.
Konstantin: One big challenge for us was also to get the sound that we produced on stage. It was clear for us that we wanted to present something as a band, since the producing part was done by just us two. But we didn’t want to stand there with some DJ and midi controllers and just let everything be done by playback. We wanted to get a band on stage, to get some energy going.
How do you manage to get creative in a year where there was really not much input going on? Where do you draw inspiration from right now?
Konstantin: I was actually thinking about this today before the interview. In the last months, by the end of last year, we started to write new music again and for me, inspiration in the last months didn’t really come as naturally as it did before. I think there is just a lack of experiences right now.
“How can you be inspired when there’s nothing new in your life going on? That’s super hard. I’m actually trying to figure it out right now.”
Hannah: I feel quite the same actually. When you have the same routine every single day, it’s quite hard, definitely. Having nothing new to write about. It’s crazy really. Although you would think it would be quite the opposite, because you have all this time.
Let’s turn to some recent music for the moment. Which artists fascinate you right now? Would you recommend some to each other?
Julius: Well one thing, just off the top of my head is Arlo Parks, for instance, she’s great. Right now I’m also stunned by Chiiild. Apparently the „Child“ with two i’s was already taken (laughs). He just dropped an EP in 2020 and it’s really amazing, out of nowhere. What else … there so much new stuff!
Craig: We’re quite bad at listening to new music actually. We’re stuck in the 70’s I think. (laughs)
Konstantin: I was actually getting some The Velvet Underground vibes when I listened to your stuff.
Craig and Hannah: Thank you very much!
Craig: I know I mentioned Bill Callahan before, but he had a record called Gold Record. That was probably our favourite from last year. He’s such a gifted songwriter!
Hannah: Sharon Van Etten also! Do you guys listen to her at all?
Konstantin: Actually no. In the last months, I didn’t listen to that much stuff to be honest. Julius is the one that pushes that (laughs).
Craig: Sharon Van Etten is probably a good bridge between both kinds of music. I think that might be where we meet.
Julius: That’s interesting to think of. Something in the middle of styles, someone who is combining both – your heavy, melancholic guitar sounds and our funky electronics.
Right now, as performing musicians, making big plans for the future is a tricky business. Nevertheless, what hopes do you have once Corona will be more under control?
Julius: A tour would be great! Also to be able to release an album soon… Touring and playing festivals, being on festivals! That’s one of the biggest things that was missing last year and will be missing this year likely.
Konstantin: I just hope to have fun with other people again. And I think that will set everything else off. Everything will be great!
Craig: We’re just in the starting blocks of writing an album and hopefully will get to tour also. We just don’t know when things are going to be normal again. It’s really hard to say, isn’t it?
Actually, is there something you guys want to ask the other one?
Julius: We do, we do! I was researching you guys, I know everything about you now (laughs). I found a very nice interview that really resonated with me. I don’t know who said it, but it went like this: ”And I sometimes wonder if my love for a song is largely due to the effort that went into it”. I think it’s very interesting and I wondered whether you progressed this thought in any way since you last said that…
Craig: That was you Hannah.
Hannah: Yeah it was. I think I was talking about The Sea Has Stretch Marks. That one took us so long to do, because it was one song and I decided that I hated it so we completely changed it.
Craig: The music largely stayed the same but you were writing different versions of it.
Hannah: Many many versions, which I think you have done as well. I think you love it more, because you did that, you had the guts to say „I hate this“ and redo it with a very short amount of time and other people telling you not to. I mean the band didn’t want to do that.
Konstantin: I think that’s so interesting because we have been there a few times (laughs). It was also a challenge between us two, because Julius was always pushing that a song isn’t there yet, or isn’t good enough, even if we already worked so much on it, that I thought I loved it and couldn’t see the bigger picture. And Julius was like: ”No, let’s change the whole thing again“. When the whole thing was changed again, finished for the fifth time, then I was like: ”Alright, this makes sense, I like this even more now”.
Sultans Court released their EP Up Close just last year and King Hannah dropped their stunning debut EP Tell Me Your Mind And I’ll Tell You Mine in late November of 2020.