It is certainly not easy for German artists to be internationally successful. There are only around 100 million German native speakers out there. For comparison: English is spoken by 340 million natives and even more expertise in the language. Only a small percentage of the 7,63 billion humans living on this planet can speak and understand German. Most of the other people see no reason to listen to German music since they don’t understand the lyrics. That is quite often the cause for German musicians to decide to write their lyrics in English. Although it would of course be much easier for them to express themselves in the language they grew up with. But one band sticks to their roots and whilst releasing the fourth album still writes their texts in German. Meet Die Nerven (the Nerves) from Stuttgart.
‘It just happened naturally that we write our lyrics in German. Maybe because it is the language we feel safe in. I have a tendency to engage myself in language in a poetic way – playing with its characteristics. Sometimes German sounds hard and sometimes it sounds soft. I have great fun working with that. Also, I’m not very confident in English and it would easily sound trivial’ explains Julian Knoth, one of the bands vocalists and bass player when I meet the band for a short interview.
Although Die Nerven’s musical output is German, they are also open for texting in English. Sometimes some English phrases find their way into the songs, like in the title track of their most recent album Fake: ‘Ein Funken im System/ the war inside/ her mit euren Lügen/her mit eurem Neid (a spark in the system/the war inside/ give us your lies/give us your envy). And somehow most of their record titles are in English: Fun, Out and Fake.
Is it real or is it just a dream?
‘The terms are loaded with various meanings. ‘Fun’ is like an antithesis to the music on the album and to its cover. ‘Out’ is a wordplay and open to interpretation. Our latest album is the most political record we ever did. Even the title ‘Fake’ is an extremely loaded term. It also was the first time we settled the title before the recordings. That’s the reason why it is more conceptional than our previous records. What’s the truth? What’s a lie? What can I trust in today? Is it real or is it just a dream? All these questions posed on the album and suggested by the title.’
In Julian’s opinion, it is not necessary for listeners to understand their lyrics, even if they are critical accounts on current issues. Quite often Die Nerven‘s music works better without paying attention to the text, as it can easily distract from other aspects. If you can feel the emotions they deliver, there is no need for words.
‘We are a live band. We have played many concerts, where we pretty early experienced shows at which no one understood a word we were singing. Sometimes it has made it even more interesting. It is fun when you have the feeling that people don’t understand the lyrics but for that reason can fully immerse themselves into your music. Sometimes in Germany it’s the case that people try too hard to understand the texts and miss out on enjoying the rest of our sound.’
Paroles turned upside-down
Die Nerven‘s lyrics are implicit. You never exactly know what they actually mean. The reason for this is that they don’t want to impose their own opinion on the listener by shouting political paroles.
‘Vicariousness is extremely important for us. I find it problematic when people directly drop paroles. For example, in Niemals I kind of use a parole but turned it upside down. I’m singing Finde niemals zu dir selbst (never find yourself). I switched it so that there is a question mark in the room lingering like this for a while. That was one of the texts I wrote more consciously because I wanted to try out something new.’
The three band members, Julian Knoth (vocals & bass), Max Rieger (vocals & guitar) and Kevin Kuhn (drums), make hell of a team even if they aren’t always on the same page. Julian and Max take turns at writing the lyrics, and sometimes they don’t even know what exactly the other one is singing about. Luckily that is not a problem, as their lyrics leave enough room for interpretation. This is an important characteristic for their texting-style. ‘Max and I have this shared flow where we use few words with which we say much and little at the same time. It’s difficult to describe. It is much more a matter of feelings than of thoughts. But I think that ‘Fake’ is somehow about the world’s politics and the development confusing and frustrating us. We want to show how all these things happening around us make us feel without directly mention them.’ Their song Niemals for example targets the competition people are fighting these days to find themselves. But the song could also express the opposite; people not having time to think about themselves in our hard-working society.
Pop as a considered choice
When it comes to Die Nerven’s sound, the opinions differ. From punk to post-punk, indie-rock to noise-rock, DIY-rock to noise-pop, it seems like every genre is represented (although the three guys not think much of any genre allocations). But there is one thing we can be sure of; their sound changed on their latest album Fake. The bands former records were louder, more aggressive and more punk, whereas they are now walking on a sunnier path. The tracks are happier and more accessible. This use of pop elements on Fake has been a conscious decision for the band:
‘It has been certain from the beginning that we want the album to be warmer and more colourful than the things we did before. This broke down a bit during the process and there are also many doubts on it. But anyhow, we wanted to make songs that somehow are pop and arranged like it. One of them is Niemals. For our other albums we had this kind of momentum where we started quietly, then it went loudly, afterwards again quiet, then impulsive and at the end loud again. And now we started to think in actual song structures like chorus, bridge and verse. I think it is pretty thrilling to engage with the music’s grammatic and its structure deliberately.’
Who knows, their future albums might be happy pop music without any worries. However it is very refreshing to have an honest and venturous German band like Die Nerven, who are experimenting with new elements while sticking to their original sound. One thing is for sure: if they keep on developing at the same pace they have been holding up for the last few years, their worldwide success isn’t far away.