Interview: Museum

Museum - Photo by Johanna Stapelfeldt

Museum - Photo by Johanna Stapelfeldt

Tobias Hermes and Söhnke Grothusen have known one another for 20 years; the two come from the same town and went to primary school together. Both are musicians – in fact, both of them play guitar. But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that they put two and two together, realizing that, because of their similar backgrounds and musical interests, it only made sense to join forces and make music together. And thus, Museum was born.

“We discovered that our tastes in music were quite converging,” Grothusen said of the decision to play together. But that left the challenge of finding members to fill out the rest of the band, and the two didn’t know where to look.

Luckily, it wasn’t far, and their bassist came in the form of Hagen Hamm, who was a friend of theirs interested in playing music. At the time, he didn’t know any instruments, but figured that a minor detail, and in 2005, Hamm joined the band and began learning bass.

“We had this mutual pool of music we listened to and it fit well,” Hamm said, explaining why he was an ideal choice as bassist, in spite of his lack of previous experience.

Nearly complete, the band then went through a couple of drummers between 2005 and 2008. After the second drummer left, they eventually asked another friend, Florian Bolzau, if he was interested in playing with them. And just as Hamm did, he learned the instrument specifically for the purpose of being in the band.

According to Hermes, there’s something to be said about a group in which half of the members took on a new instrument for the specific purpose of the band.

“It’s the right approach, I think. When you’re really good friends, that’s better then,” he said. “That’s the best starting point.”

Of course, the songwriting process was an interesting one, particularly for the newcomers, as the majority of Museum’s songs were penned by Hermes and Grothusen before Hamm and Bolzau were part of the equation. And even after the current lineup was solidified, the two guitarists still typically wrote the main ideas of songs, afterward bringing them in for everyone else to flesh out.

“One could say that the arrangement of the songs is more democratic than the songwriting,” Grothusen explained, pointing to the fact that each song has a primary songwriter – typically Hermes – at least initially, before the rest of the band adds to the music.

While the band has two EPs to its name, “Old Firehand” and “Exit Wounds,” there is also a forthcoming full-length, “Traces Of.” This album is particularly special to the group, as it has been three years in the making, all the writing, recording and producing of which has been done entirely by Museum. And although it has been finished for some time, it’s still awaiting a release date.

“We are a bit old-fashioned,” Hermes said, explaining why the album is still not available. “[We want to] have a proper release with a label and copies in stores…we didn’t want to release it for free on the Internet this time like the other stuff.”

And one can hardly blame him.

“It’s mainly because you put so much effort in it,” Bolzau said, elaborating on why this debut full-length is particularly special.

Of course, because of the time put into its creation, Hermes admitted that the music does, at times, feel distant.

“You can’t really connect with the initial emotion,” he said. “It’s more like you take [the songs] with you…they’re the same songs but somehow they’re, like, different every time, because you’re someone else a bit.”

Yet this disconnect isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in fact, it is almost a natural and healthy reaction.

“When the song gets independent of you and other members of the group start to put something of their own, it gets…a bit like a sculpture,” Grothusen said. “I think you can discover other sides, and it also doesn’t have to do so much in the end with the experiences from which the song emerged.”

Especially since the band has been playing the same set of songs for the past three years, the music also has the tendency to evolve, which begs the question of what version of the song is the proper one.

“I think the real song is on the album,” Hermes said. “I think that’s how I always listen to music. It’s like, of course it’s always, how do you say, a snapshot or something. This is how we intended the song to be at that particular point.”

Although the details of the album release have yet to be determined, the completion of it signaled an important milestone for Museum, as the quartet is now able to write new songs which are more representative of the four of them as a whole, and not just fragments of past configurations.

“It was a good thing, I mean, now it’s like etched in stone,” Hamm said of the album. “There was this set of songs…that was really done, sort of, before, and we had to get that out of the way with this first record we recorded, and now it’s…anything can happen, you know? It’s a clean slate and you start from scratch and you can see where which direction it will take. There are no rules.”

This thought is also invigorating for Bolzau, who joined the band at a point where he wasn’t able to contribute much to the songs. Whereas he enjoys playing the music his friends made, he did admit that he’s looking forward to truly creating something new with the other three members.

“I do like the idea of four people coming together and making something work and putting it out there,” he said. “I think there’s something magical about it.”

Museum plays tonight at Fritz Club im Postbahnhof, as part of Berlin Music Week. The show begins at 20.00.

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