Gurr’s sophomore release was supposed to be an album as well but the second-album-pressure got the best of the girls. However, the EP they put out instead contains nothing but the best of the two musicians. Somewhere between catchy indie pop vocals and gritty garage rock, Laura and Andreya feel at home. She Says is their way addressing issues directly, ‘the title means that this is what we have to say and not what other people want us to say,’ Andreya says. ‘The songs come from deep within us.’ Gurr desperately wanted to write another album but the pressure went to their heads. In the end, they had to do what felt right at the moment. ‘A lot of the pressure came from the outside, too. At some point, you cannot help it but internalize it.’ There are many more things to consider on the sophomore effort than on the debut, which is born out of creative necessity.
Well, the pressure to follow up on their surprisingly successful debut might have been strong but I feel confident to say that they have not let their fans down with She Says. After a crazy festival-paved summer, Gurr are back in Germany and spoke to us about the importance of Berlin in their making as musicians in anticipation of their national tour.
Sweet Home Berlin
Somewhere in the middle of Neukölln, a stylish bar finds its home. Engels café is where I met Laura and Andreya. Expecting the dyed black mullet, I was surprised to find two blond women in front of me. Andreya laughs at my confusion and admits she recently dyed her hair blonde in an hour-long effort. It is one of the last hot days in Germany’s capital and the musicians are dressed for the occasion. We order iced coffee, as a hot drink is more than we could have handled that afternoon. Shaded behind sunglasses, Andreya’s blue eyes sparkle surrounded by 60s style makeup. Rocking a ‘fries before guys’ shirt and blackish-red lipstick Laura, as well, fits the image their rebellious sound conjures.
‘We love living in Berlin,’ Gurr say about their relationship to the city. ‘Living where you write is great and it gives you a lot of freedom to create. Whenever we feel creative we can just start working.’ Still, the girls are planning a little artistic retreat for the month of September. To finally work on their dream of releasing another LP, Laura and Andreya are going to spend 10 days in the lovely hills of Italy. Having a set time span to work on their music helps them to be more productive than they were at home. ‘We wrote the EP on and off and never really got into a flow.’ In Italy they hope to make more progress towards a new release, so keep eyes and ears open there might be news soon from these rockers.
Not only is Berlin a rich ground for music, any types of art flourish. Andreya opened her first exhibition at the Tennis, one of the girls’ favorite places. Displaying her photographic work from touring and travels Road Dog shows a different side of the musician. A live performance of some songs Laura had written on her own accompanied the photographs and anecdotes. In Syd Barrett manner she accompanied the art with stripped back guitar and vocals. The two creative-minded women are not satisfied by uniting forces as Gurr, but push beyond to bring their own visions to life.
Usually, though, Laura and Andreya write together. ‘We especially enjoy writing as a team. Out of a small idea something big can grow when we work together.’ The process Gurr followed with the last recordings was a little different. ‘We used to demo stuff and send it back and forth. But that made the recording process harder because we sometimes did not have a shared vision. You get a little possessive of the work you have already done and take it personally when the other critiques it. Working as a team we eliminate the discussion right away.’
Ground for inspiration
In the first states of recording when they gathered inspirations on their own Laura found herself riding the subway through Berlin quite a lot. Now she finally relocated to Kreuzberg, a bustling quarter of creatives, but had to explore the outer circles of Berlin before giving her plenty of time on public transport. ‘I sometimes get sentimental for the times when I had to take the subway a lot. During the long rides I always felt very inspired,’ Laura says. No doubt, Berlin subway lines make for some interesting views. Riding through the inner city the audience on the subway can be as diverse as confetti. ‘This gave me a nice window during the day to think or to people watch. I also listened to all the demos we recorded for the LP on the way.’ Inspiration struck in the form of the lyrics to ‘Walnuss’ – a song off In My Head, which Laura wrote on a subway ride.
The punchy lyrics to Gurr’s songs are not always written on the subway but usually in a solitary process. ‘We never really write lyrics together.’ Andreya says. ‘When I write a song on my own, lyrics immediately start developing in my head. This is something I do not experience when we work together,’ she tells me about her approach to songwriting. ‘Maybe it is because I feel too shy or even embarrassed to share the first attempts at lyrics with Laura. It is very intimate especially when the words are not ready yet.’
‘I have to treat writing lyrics like homework. When we write songs together I need to push myself to get words on the page.’
Speaking off; the single Walnuss is the only one the band recorded in English, as well as, in German. The lyrics differ but the song is the same. ‘We love both versions of the song. But when we played some gigs in the states we asked people which one they wanted to hear and they usually asked for the German one.’ The German language is less common in the music industry, of course. And even in Berlin a lot of bands resort to writing their music in English rather than in their native tongue. In a city like Berlin, where you can get by perfectly without speaking a word of German, it makes sense to aim for a more international audience. Yet, Gurr have a special bond to their mother tongue.
‘I think our German songs have a strong appeal to the audience. Especially, German listeners like our songs because they do not sound typically German. Both of our German songs ‘Walnuss’ and ‘Zu Spät’ have more of an English melody. Listening to the songs in a more abstract way, I don’t think they would necessarily sound German. Writing in German can be hard but we have a special bond to our German tracks.’
An ode to the 8mm bar
Gurr’s lyrics and musical style are aimed for a wide audience. No wonder they gained recognition in the states almost faster than in their hometown. ‘We have been living here for nine years now and this has become our home.’ Of course, Gurr would also love to live in a city where the underground punk scene is more established but Berlin is not the worst place to be. ‘The great thing about living here is that a lot of bands and artists are passing through. A lot of creative folks are visiting. The scene here might not be the biggest but we feel connected to American garage rock bands anyhow.’
Another perk of living in Berlin the girls point out, is that the amount of venues is immense. ‘We pretty much played our first gig within the first two months of the formation of the band,’ Laura comments. The music scene is knit closely together and they met their manager at one of their favorite places; the 8mm Bar. ‘A lot of our beloved venues had to close down due to the constant gentrification in Berlin. The 8mm bar is still standing and was an important milestone for us. We even wrote a song about it,’ the musicians laugh. ‘#1985’ is a rebellious ode to underage drinking and a musician’s desperation.
London, New York, Berlin
The hometown-fever has caught the artists and not even the bigger garage scenes in other music capitals could convince them to move. ‘Rather than moving to another city, I would like the local scene here in Berlin to grow,’ Andreya admits. ‘It is quite small here still.’ The garage rock sound of Gurr differentiates them from other German bands and makes their music more suitable for international Festival culture. Compared to other bands, whose sound would probably exclusively work at home, Gurr feel like they have arrived musically when they play a festival surrounded by bands with a similar mindset. Thanks to their extensive touring they get around so much, they would not even have to move. Berlin serves as a good home base and the duo also likes the ‘underdog status’ they have here.
‘We like being the underdogs and bringing something new to the scene in Berlin.’
They especially resonate with kids who likewise used to listen to a lot of Sonic Youth and other punky garage bands growing up. ‘Our audience in Germany is often made up of music nerds who are happy that there is a local band looking to create an edgy and unpolished sound. ‘ In London, for example, they noticed that the venues fill up with more of a mainstream audience. Gurr-style energetic punk seems to be more widespread on the island than on the streets of Berlin.
Gurr’s first EP was loaded with fierce riot grrl punk-style riffs to shout, scream and head-bang along. In My Head still transports that energy but in a more refined and contained way than the debut homemade production did. ‘We grew musically,’ Gurr say. The success of the debut came as a surprise to the artists. It was a very low budget production and contained almost all their work to that day. With their future releases, they want to distance themselves from the old stuff in the way that they want to record the music with better equipment. ‘This is not even voluntary. I just do not think we could sound like the first LP again. There are too many things to think of now. We really have to think about what the essence of Gurr is.’
‘The goal of making music should not be to have as many people as possible like it. It is hard to get your head out of the commercial way of thinking once you have heard of it. With our creative decisions, we try to blend that out and to stick with what our hearts tell us.’
Overwhelming influences from the outside are also a topic on Fake News on She Says. The provocative video shows women orally stimulating their smartphones – an obvious critique of how dependent we are on the little device. For artists, Gurr do see social media as a highly useful tool, though. They even founded a platform to connect musicians with each other. The mission is to make finding fitting arrangements as a band easier and to give women in the industry an equal opportunity of finding their musical match. On the other hand, they are quite scared of how the Internet and social media create ‘opinion bubbles. It is said to be so democratic but in the end, algorithms only show you certain stuff. It is hard not to be biased if you only get to read the stuff you already believe in.’
Support your local rockers
The hope for a wider scene in Berlin might be aided by connecting local artists through said platforms and social media. Gurr also have their local favorites next to their international idols. The Synesthesie Festival in Berlin is an isle of hope for the musicians. Jealous, Schallblitz, Fenster and Ilgen-Nur are other local bands Laura and Andreya are enthusiastic about. So instead of turning to England or the States for your dose of gritty garage grooves dig a little deeper underneath the surface of Berlin’s small scene. Let’s not spend horrendous amounts of money to see the hottest international acts but support the local musicians who have been neglected for too long. Do get tickets to Gurr and co. instead of waiting for OCS or Interpol to come back – crowd-surfing guaranteed.
All Photos by Liv Toerkell for NBHAP