Interview: Me Succeeds

Me Succeeds - Photo by Maximilian Bartsch

Me Succeeds – Photo by Maximilian Bartsch

It has been a decade since Me Succeeds, a minimalistic indie-pop group based in Hamburg, first began to piece itself together. In that time, the trio – which consists of Lorin Strohm, Sebastian Kokus and Mona Steinwidder – has released four albums and built up a substantial following for itself in Germany. And it is that following that has, by and large, kept the band going, particularly when the members themselves were doubting the future of Me Succeeds.

The origins of the band actually date back to the childhood of Kokus and Strohm, who grew up in the suburbs of Munich and have known one another since elementary school. As the two grew older, they naturally began playing music together, which resulted in several groups, all of which inevitably broke up as they aged and their musical sensibilities developed.

Then at some point, they began what Strohm refers to as “a pre-Me Succeeds project,” which consisted of “just instrumental music combined with some rough, techno…beats.”

The two became somewhat obsessed with their project, and one night in 2004, during drinks with Steinwidder – who was the sister of Kokus’ ex-girlfriend – the two asked her if she would be interested in singing for their project, a proposition to which she agreed.

And while Steinwidder is a self-professed artistic person, with a background of both photography and painting, she admitted she’d never done much with music, much less singing in a band.

“But, I was open-minded,” she said.

And as a result, Me Succeeds officially became a three-piece.

“So we had this really really funny rehearsal room situation, where we sat with [a] weird combination of headphones,” Strohm explained. “Everyone had headphones going into the amp and out and stuff.”

The oddity surrounding the band continued when Me Succeeds finally played its first show. By that time, Steinwidder had moved to Hamburg to study, and with the band still in southern Germany, they used a videotape of her projected on a screen to round out the threesome.

“She joined us in a Daft Punk kind of way,” Strohm explained with a laugh.

Fortunately, the three wouldn’t have to live with this arrangement for too long, as Strohm also relocated to Hamburg to study, followed six months later by Kokus, who merely tagged along.

Of course, as is the case with pop bands from Germany, there is always the decision of whether or not the lyrics should be in German or English. In the case of Me Succeeds, the latter was the clear choice.

This is largely due to the socialization of English lyrics at a very young age, something all three members clearly remember hearing on the radio as children. And while English and pop music seem to go hand in hand, there is also admittedly an appeal to the obscuring nature of it, Strohm shared.

“I really admire who can sing in their native language, which is German, and when it still makes kind of sense, and sounds good, like, for example, Tocotronic,” he said. “I really admire the lyric-writing and I feel if I would write in German it’s much more intimiate. So I like to write in English…to kind of make it a secret code, which maybe even sometimes I can’t follow.”

Interestingly enough, the “code” aspect of English presents itself in a special way when the members of Me Succeeds write. Once the music is written, they will create the vocal melodies, first by singing along in a made-up language along the lines of English gibberish, and then eventually translating that babble into proper lyrics.

Now, all these years later, Me Succeeds is six months past releasing its fourth album, entitled “Rongorongo.” The album, which came out on Dec. 1 of last year, was released on the group’s personal label, i saw music, as a way of fast-tracking the release.

This came in large part because the band had taken so long to actually make it. In fact, the recording process began two years ago, but at some point, it simply halted. The band members not only were busy with other things, but the three began to feel as though their music had lost some relevancy.

“We often feel like…the show, the songs, haven’t changed,” Strohm said. “We have not written anything new and so isn’t it boring for a visitor to see the same program as well?”

It took touring in the fall of 2011 to change that. In particular, the band realized that not only were people coming out to see them, but they were singing along to old songs and enjoying the new ones.

As a result, the band felt a sense of renewed motivation, which caused them to finish up the recordings and put out the album as soon as possible.

“I never really thought in the end that we would release it,” Steinwidder admitted, sharing how at a certain point, the songs felt too old to put out packaged as something new. “[But] I think we are all OK with it.”

Currently, the group is on a “warm-up” tour for Jenseits von Millionen, a festival it will play later this summer. Meanwhile, things continue to look up for the three, who have established themselves as masters of the simplistic electro-pop sound.

“When we started it, we were maybe a bit afraid to make that simple kind of sound,” Strohm said. “Now, we are more confident with it.”

Me Succeeds plays tonight at About Blank in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.

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