Pop Kultur 2018: An Interview with Daníel Böðvarsson (of Pranke)

Like last year, I visited the 2018 edition of Berlin’s Pop-Kultur festival. My personal favorite discovery was far and away the Berlin-based prog-math-indie band Pranke (the German word for ‘paw’). Pranke bring repetitions in the style of Conveyor or Preoccupations together with the spastic rhythms of Hella, smooth grooves of White Denim, and explosive sax a la Tera Melos. The two-piece band crammed more sound into their set than most 5-player bands I’ve seen. After the show I knew I had to get to know these guys, so I got in touch via e-mail for a back-and-forth interview. Their brand new album (and debut LP) Monkey Business is out now. And it rocks.

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MLP: Your performance at Pop Kultur was listed as a ‘commissioned work.’ Does that mean the performance consisted of material written specifically for the festival?

Daníel Böðvarsson: No, in this case it means that Pop Kultur commissioned Staatsakt, our label, to take care of the programming, so each night they had some slots to present their roster. But there was indeed some commissioned work at the festival: talks, installations etc.

Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of the band and how you got involved with Staatsakt?

In 2014, when Max [Andrzejewski, the drummer] and I were flatmates in Berlin, we were hanging out and listening to music. One day, inspired by this band called Hella, we went over to Max’s rehearsal room to play something slightly reminiscent with guitar and drums. At that time I was still at the jazz conservatory (Max being recently out) and remember it being really refreshing to play something raw, loud and aggressive. Fast forward to today, there’s still some of that in the music. When we were contemplating our album release, Staatsakt came up early, as we were into some of their bands and they are based in Berlin. So we wrote and invited them to our gig and I think Moses Schneider, who produced the album, might also have pitched in a recommendation for us.

I had a feeling Hella might have been an influence! Were there any other bands whose sounds were key influences either on the inception of the band or the new album Monkey Business? The title track brings to mind White Denim a bit.

That one is actually inspired by the Dirty Projectors. It kind of wants to be a straightforward song but has some rhythmical and harmonic oddities along the way. That pentatonic a capella part is very much DP! The songs on our album are written over the course of two years or more, I think, so I wonder how coherent the material feels to our listeners. Some songs or just parts remind me of particular bands, like Animal Collective, Deerhoof and Nirvana.

It certainly felt coherent to me, though I was surprised that the closing track took such a turn toward calmer waters. Do you generally find yourself more interested in jazz or rock compositions (either as a performer or as a listener)?

Well, in 2018, it’s hard to draw a line between jazz and rock or any other genre that was cultivated in the last century and has since split into thousand sub-genres. It is interesting though trying to decipher what is going on in all of today’s music niches. Jazz and rock had its place in history – starting as an unfamiliar dark force, provocative, even forbidden, but accepted and popularized with time. Same with hip hop etc. And now the gloomy trap music that all the kids are listening to!

To me, as a listener, I find rock bands get really interesting as soon as they start using the recording studio as a platform to make art, not only to document a performance. This is starting to happen what, in the mid to late ’60s?

But I have to say that my some of my most profound musical experience has come through (jazz) improvisation, where the interplay and communication were much deeper then a computer could calculate. To me, jazz is one highlight of human existence!

‘Adorno’ is a beautiful track. I love the back and forth play between the ’80s sounding grandiose bits and the upbeat syncopation. To get into some less musical influences, maybe you could talk a bit about how Theodor Adorno’s writings influenced you to name a song after him?

Yes, I always imagine being at a stadium concert in the ’80s when we do that part, haha. It’s a recurrent theme on the album, this notion of being trapped in the mechanisms of urban life. Adorno is basically about wanting to get out of the city for a minute and sit under a tree by a lake. Referencing him is just a little gag, maybe an obscure one, but it has to do with his criticism of western capitalistic culture, more specifically the idea of free-time and leisure activities. Adorno pointed out the idea was imposed on people by a so-called leisure industry. People work like hamsters on a wheel, then get away for the weekend, only to get back on the wheel. This song has nothing to do with Adorno’s ideas on music, just to keep that straight.

Sitting under a tree by a lake instantly brings to mind the many lakes around Berlin. Did the city of Berlin have any particular influence on the album?

I was just talking to my friends about how rarely we actually go to those lakes. They are one of the best things about the city. Do you go there much? I don’t live in Berlin anymore, but if I were to move back I’d spend way more time in the surrounding nature. The album was mostly conceived and recorded in busy corners of Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Neukölln. I can’t say if that influenced the music per se. But Berlin is where Max and I met, we both came there to get involved in music and creative things. We are influenced by our friends and collaborators. Our songs are the result of us trying to find common ground.

I actually live close to a lake, so I go to that one often but otherwise no I don’t really visit the others, so I kind of know what you mean. How long has it been since you left Berlin? Is it difficult to operate as a ‘long distance’ band, or is it easier than you expected? 

It’s just over a year since I moved back to Iceland. No, it’s not that different, but there are of more travel expenses and we frequently have to turn down offers to play, which is a pity. Now it takes me 7 hours door to door for a band rehearsal instead of half an hour, so it requires a little more planning ahead.

What are you working on back in Iceland? I’m guessing something music related?

Yes, this year I’ve been playing with Kristín Anna. She’s an extraordinary artist. I’m also lucky enough to have had the chance to work with another artist whose status in Iceland is a little bit iconic – he’s called Megas. When I’m not playing around town I record stuff in my studio. Also working on growing my plants with the limited amount of sunlight and limited success!

Do you have a set release date for the record and/or show? What do Pranke’s plans look like after the release?

Yes, the record will be out end of November. We’ll play a few shows shortly after – our Berlin release gig is at Urban Spree on the 6th of Dec. In February we’re teaming up with the amazing ZA! from Barcelona, for a Europe tour. What happens after that is still shrouded in mystery.

What song would you play for first-time listeners as an introduction to Pranke?

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Maybe “Riff 1” from our first EP. It is after all “Riff 1.” In the spirit of math rock. After that I would listen to a song from the upcoming album called “Hold the Line” which is the other side of the spectrum: Straightforward pop song, (almost) no funny games.

No monkey business, eh? Is there anything else people should know about Pranke which we haven’t covered?

I think we’ve covered enough! It’s ALL monkey business, of course.

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