Meet The Picturebooks. A real garage band in every sense of the word – and 100% chopper dudes...
Zero fucks given. It’s the anthemic track on ‘Home is a Heartache’ by German duo, The Picturebooks, a happening band who recently completed their first headline tour of Europe. So what? Well, their latest album was recorded in their motorcycle garage, they ride between gigs on their choppers, and if you listen to ZFG there’s this thumping percussion driving the fuzzed out guitar of Fynn Claus Grabke that sounds like no regular percussion instrument. Because it isn’t.
Drummer Philipp Mirtschink took an old rusty chain he uses to lock up his Harley chopper and slapped it on a wooden block to creat the beat…
It seems The Picturebooks are about as hardcore biker as you can get. But you’d know that if you’ve watched any of their video clips – full-on chopper road trips, wind in the hair, knees in the breeze, old skool scoots, and outrageous party action. We dig it.
So what’s the deal? “We’re all about music, skateboarding and motorcycles,” says Philipp. “We have a music studio with a skateboard ramp and a motorcycle garage next to it. We usually work on older bikes and have Shovelheads and Ironheads, Yamahas, Hondas and even old Vespas.”
Guitarist Fynn chips in: “Our friend Steven Fröhlich from Harley-Davidson had a conversation with us about our choppers and the burning question he posed was, ‘is it possible to build a chopper like ours out of a modern-day Harley?’ We said yes and Harley-Davidson gave us a Softail Heritage. Thunderbike – a very big Harley-Davidson dealership in Germany – gave us a second one.”
Game on. The idea was to build two choppers in the same style that Finn and Philipp created with their old Harleys, with the engine reliability, working brakes and handling of the modern machines – without losing the look of the old rigids.
Philipp explains: “That’s why we went for the Softail, for the style. But the new bikes also allowed us to ride faster and longer on the highways, without feeling like you will rattle off the bike any minute, and without losing the feeling of having a powerful, great sounding, great feeling and great looking Harley-Davidson engine between our legs.”
Fynn adds: “We've been preaching this Harley road trip thing for over five years now and can't believe that this dream finally came true. It means the world to us. And we feel so honoured that Thunderbike Harley-Davidson came in to help us, building the bikes exactly the way we had them in our minds.”
Philipp again: “From the beginning we knew that the bikes had to be identical and only vary in colour, as we are as close as you can be without being actual brothers.”
They went for an eightover narrow Glide front-end with a 21in front wheel and narrow mini apes because they love the skinny uphill look. They also opted for the classic ‘I can piss more than that holds’ 48 Sportster gas tank and mounted it Frisco style.
“We need a comfortable seat when we want to ride these long-ass trips,” says Philipp, “so we went for a King and Queen seat to stick to the classic chopper look, and swapped the fenders from a Softail Slim that we also customised to get a unique look.
“The sissybar is simple but beautiful. We learned from our own choppers that a good-looking fancy sissybar often doesn't do the job cause they tend to break or make fastening your luggage on them hard, so we went for a sturdy simple solution. Less is more.”
Fynn: “Yeah, we really wanted mid-controls too because we're not friends of the forward control look, maybe also because our legs are a little too short! So we built in a Dyna primary case and used Dyna mid controls.”
Philipp says: “To see a fantasy of ours come to real life, and to be able to ride them everyday, and to our shows without having to worry about breaking down, but still feel and look like we're riding a proper chopper is the best feeling in the world. We're finally combining both of our passions, music and motorcycles.”
And riding them was a breath of fresh air, literally: “After being on the road for almost four years, sitting in a stinky van, driving from concert to concert, it felt so refreshing to sit on a chopper and ride to all these places,” reckons Fynn. “Also the feeling of having a reliable bike that starts easily, rides safe and actually lets you arrive where you want to be without breaking down is surprising – we were not used to that in the beginning.”
Philipp: “Our bikes are usually pieces of shit, held together by duct tape. We started out with Vespas when we were kids and still love them to this day. Then old Yamahas came in – SR500s, XS400s. That's when they still cost close to nothing. We put in some longer forks, new tanks, seat, sissybar – it was so much fun. Then the first Harleys came, starting out with an Ironhead then Shovelhead, rigid frames, springer forks, all kinds of custom bars, swap meet finds and all that stuff. We're short on mechanicing skill so our bikes always look pretty and ride rough.”
Fynn: “Riding these reliable bikes still gave us the same feeling of riding a chopper with a Harley-Davidson engine and that distinct sound. We rode to places like Denmark and Sweden with friends from all over the world joining us – Keith and Rob from Eat Dust, and Josh Kurpuis straight out of Milwaukee. Hans from Kings And Queens store in Antwerp did the Scandinavian part. We stayed at a friends' places in Sweden, went swimming in a lake while the Swedish army were shooting and driving tanks around it. It was super weird but awesome. We had a 10-hour ride back home with views, long-ass bridges, detours, gas station food and all that jazz.”
The Chopper Bash was another highlight. Philipp: “We had some friends from Stuttgart come over to our place the night before and all rode together the next morning with other friends joining us on the way there. The weekend was unforgettable and our show there was off the hook. It always feels great to play in front of people that give you the feeling that they totally understand you. Not just musically – at these kind of bike shows we're all into the same shit. It was exhausting though, especially when the weather sucked and we still had to play a show that night. We've done a lot of miles on this tour with these bikes and they never had any problem at all. We love these bikes and could never think of a life without them."
So what is it with this band? They’ve been together since 2009, intially with a bass player, but when he left Fynn (who’s father Claus was a German skateboarding champion) and Philipp decided to carry on as a duo. Who needs a bass when you have percussion like Philipp delivers? Music critics don’t pile on accolades like putting him in the same class as John Henry Bonham for nothing!
The Picturebooks have released four albums; List of People to Kill (2009); Artificial Tears (2010); Imaginary Horse (2014); and Home is a Heartache (2017). Imaginary Horse was recorded in the same garage where they work on their bikes – and their music ‘captures a raw, rich, and real energy befitting of the room's natural reverb, industrial aura, and spiritual spark.’ Well that’s how their own PR describes it and I’ll go along with it 100%.
Fynn and Philipp first met at a local skate park and were soon writing songs together, using some of the equipment Fynn's dad (who worked in the music industry) had accumulated over the years. The two of them have received acclaim not only on their 2014 full-length ‘Imaginary Horse’ on RidingEasy Records, but also for building their own choppers, and their skateboarding skills. So not only have they been featured in music media, their bikes have been in mags like Easyriders, Custombike, Dice, and Hot Bike (Japan).
Their record label's A&R man Mike Gitter summed it up: “The Picturebook's sound is as distinct as the smell of burnt motor oil coming off the sun-baked California desert highway. They are at once completely unique, musically unforgettable, and tapped into the psyche of rock n' roll at its most primal. We had to get involved with these raw riders of the sonic highway.” Real music. Proper choppers. You have to dig it.