The post-hardcore five-piece initially formed in 2003 in the small town of Grevenbroich. This was when singer Benjamin Mirtschin and guitarists Tobias Schmidt and Roman Laube decided – as many teenage boys tend to do – to play music together.
They were initially known as Whisk?!, a name which had more than run its course by 2009, at which point the members rechristened themselves as City Light Thief.
“At first we were called the Whiskers, because we like took an English dictionary and we were like ‘OK, let’s choose a killer name,'” Schmidt said, explaining the chronology of the name. “And then ‘whiskers’ was the first one to be pleasing. And then, [Mirtschin] was like, ‘Well, I hate that name. Let’s just cut the e-r-s off and put in a question mark and exclamation mark at the end.’ And that’s how we got that name.”
The following year, in 2004, the band played its first show, but it still struggled for a handful of years to establish its direction. However, with the later addition of bassist Tobias Brings and drummer Robert Matyjaszczyk, the new lineup debuted live in 2007, and that’s when the members say they really seemed to find a voice.
Although the sound was a pooling of the members’ various interests and influences, it was never overt, nor was there ever much of a discussion of the target sound. Regardless, it’s apparent in City Light Thief’s musical evolution which members contribute which musical touches.
“In the beginning, when we joined, the sound was a bit more, like, punk-ish, and like crossover music,” Brings said, sharing how new members forced that sound to expand in other directions. “[So] it just turned out that the different influences that we gathered just turned the corner a bit more to what we play now.”
And there is admittedly a tension between members, each of whom tries to pull the music in a different direction. Most notably, the two Tobias’ each have varying aims when it comes to writing songs.
“[Schmidt] just tries to keep it a bit more solid and sometimes a bit more melodic,” Brings elaborated. “And I just feel a lot more comfortable, like, [with] rhythms and melodies that are a little bit off.”
This creative back and forth can get heated at times, but is typically tempered by Mirtschin, who serves as the negotiating middleman, or the one with the final word, depending on who is asked. Meanwhile, Laube and Matyjaszczyk tend to stay out of it, instead adding their own touches but leaving the main responsibility of songwriting upon the shoulders of the others.
“I think we wouldn’t exist anymore if all five people would be as arguing as we both are,” Schmidt said, referring to himself and Brings.
And while they fill the shoes of songwriters, Mirtschin’s task is to pen the lyrics, one that he admitted he regularly struggles with.
“Lyric-wise, since we’re singing in English most of the time, for me as a German it’s pretty, just interesting, if you find, in a way, beautiful and meaningful English words that make sense and that kind of say things in another language, but with the intensity of your mother [tongue],” he said. “And this is why it takes me super long to write lyrics, because I hate 95 percent of what I’m doing, of what I’m writing. Because I really want it to not sound that much like I’m German. [And] I couldn’t really imagine being a German band, like singing in German. It doesn’t really make that much sense to me.”
While the band is based partially in Grevenbroich and partially in Cologne, it’s life on the road that brings them all together. In fact, the band members unanimously agreed that touring is what they all enjoy the most, namely because even the downsides are still not negatives.
“Touring just doesn’t seem to be work at all,” Brings said, sharing how he loves to create something that lasts and then bring it on the road to other people. “It’s a lot of driving, it’s a lot of having less sleep, but it just doesn’t seem like work.”
Yet there is another work-like aspect to it, and that’s the sort of gradual improvement that can only come about as the result of live shows. Whereas Mirtschin shared the band used to be inconsistent at concerts, playing well one night and horribly the next, he noted a definite change in recent years. And Brings agreed, adding that the experience has provided them all with a better understanding of how to play their instruments individually, as well as in this particular configuration.
In fact, one of the highlights of the combination of the five is that they all share a common goal, and are dedicated to reaching it, in spite of the daily challenges accompanying being in a band.
“We’re still on this level where [we] have to…be in the peoples’ faces all the time to get any attention. ‘Cause we’re a small band, and that’s good, but it’s also sometimes tiring,” Mirtschin said. “[But] the little money that we have, we don’t spend it on…tickets for football games or for getting drunk at a disco or something. We take it to rent a bus and go play concerts.”
Of course, there are the occasional non-musical disagreements that arise from being in close quarters, but the members acknowledge that bands, like conventional relationships, take work.
“It is like having a girlfriend, but just like having four girlfriends,” Schmidt explained with a laugh.
And the commitment pays off for each member in a unique way.
“Something that I started as a 13-year-old is now getting me across Germany and maybe even Europe,” Mirtschin said, speaking to his own personal feelings of reward. “It just evolved over years. That’s pretty amazing to me…that we have the opportunity to work with our favourite bands without, like, any management or label or anyone…paying for it. It’s just luck and work.”
City Light Thief plays tonight at Magnet Club in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.