The fledgling band – based in Berlin and made up of guitarist and singer Leonard Kerstein (15), bassist Justus Kranz (17), keyboardist Hardy Schoppe (15) and percussionist Kennet Stumpe (17) – took its first clumsy steps last summer, however, the paths of the four began crossing years prior, via shared interests and mutual friends. But back then, no one could have imagined just how refined the young and unassuming band would become.
The first series in the meeting of the four happened in 2008 when Kranz and Schoppe encountered one another, at the ages of 15 and 13, respectively.
“We met at a club. It was, like, a party. Not a cool party, like it was really lame,” Kranz said. “I saw [Schoppe and thought], ‘Oh, he’s cool, he wears skinny jeans!’”
The two then struck up a conversation and eventually traded information before the night was through.
Some time later, Schoppe and Kerstein met, this time at the theater, where both had met up with mutual friends to see “Twilight.”
At some point, the friendships merged, with Kranz, Schoppe and Kerstein meeting up in Kranz’s backyard, which was the catalyst for the band’s formation.
“We three met together in my garden and we made a little garden party,” Kranz said. “We [were] just chilling there, had music on and everything, and then the first time I saw Leonard and I thought ‘yeah, he’s a nice guy,’ and then one day he came up with the idea, ‘oh let’s, let’s make a band.’”
All three enthusiastically agreed, but there was one slight setback: only Kerstein actually played an instrument. As a result, Kranz decided to learn the bass, whereas Schoppe settled on keyboards and synthesizers, and they began practicing in the attic of one of their parents’ homes.
Shortly after, the band went through a rotation of drummers, eventually settling upon Stumpe, whose mobile number was given to them by a friend of theirs in the winter of 2010.
“I was phoning with him, and then I [asked] him if he want to visit one of our [practices],” Kranz said. “And then he came and then we were practicing the first time together. It was great. He was just fitting in.”
Schoppe agreed, explaining with a smile that “it was love at the first moment.”
Although Stumpe was already drumming in another band, he quit that group within a few months, because what Pretend a Great Name was doing better met his musical interests.
The lineup in place, the four begin to work on recording its ideas in the form of the first EP, Past & Future & Now. The four-song release was completed over a period of five days during the holidays and posted on bandcamp in February, boasting the tags “dream-pop,” “twee-pop” and “warm-wave,” among others.
And in addition to sporting the apropos hipster shoegaze-y look, already, Pretend a Great Name has the associated vocabulary down pat, the members dropping adjectives and band names like they were born in the 80s.
“[It’s] dreamy guitar sounds with a lot, a lot of reverb,” Kerstein said, describing the music they make. “Lots of reverb and a delay.”
“I would say it’s a warm mixture of Depeche Mode and Slowdive,” Schoppe said.
And in spite of the fact that he pulls from a roster of bands, many of which were disbanded and all of which were formed years before he was born, he still speaks with an earnest sincerity.
“I am hanging very often in the Internet and discovering new bands,” he said, explaining the source of his somewhat unlikely musical knowledge. “It’s like…you discover one band, you like it, you watch which kind of music it is and watch which bands are also this kind.”
Where songwriting is concerned, Pretend a Great Name draws from these various musical influences, but has a somewhat specific approach, in the way songs are put together.
“[Kerstein] comes up with a new idea, and we listen to that, and say, ‘I like that part, but this part is not so good, let’s work on that,’” Kranz said, explaining that the four are also careful to be constructive in the times they don’t agree musically.
Additionally, instead of trying to construct a song all at once, the members will concentrate on adding each element separately, typically beginning with guitar, followed by drums, then bass, and finally synthesizers.
“We add it piece for piece,” Schoppe said.
Regardless of the order though, Kranz said that it tends to be Kerstein working one-on-one with each member to help realize and develop a fluid style to the music.
“It’s very important to have one person who can [oversee the process],” he said, speaking to the significance of achieving continuity in sound, particularly in the face of a such a diverse pool of musical interests.
These words reflect a wisdom beyond the band’s musical years, especially considering that it’s the first band for three of the four members. Yet somehow, the four have stumbled upon the perfect combination of musical camaraderie.
And of course, they are self-described best friends, who share not only their music and experiences, but even their tobacco and clothes.
“We’re loving each other,” Schoppe said, smiling.
He grabbed Kranz by the shoulder, who, in turn, spoke up.
“I think the best part of being in a band is like this feeling. I am proud of what we are doing, but I mean, before a gig or before a concert, like, that just being together,” he said. “Everybody is like, ‘OK, now in one hour we are playing there,’ and just that feeling that we are a group, we are friends and we are holding together. And it’s every time we are having a gig that feeling is like, I think it’s the best feeling that I ever had in this band.”