There are many ways of categorizing German bands, but one of the most common is dividing them according to who sings in English and who sings in German. And Messer, a post-punk band out of Münster, whose name means “knife” in English, is one group that falls into the latter category.
According to lead singer Hendrik Otremba, German is the only language he can adequately use to describe his feelings, being that it’s his native tongue. And that logic carries over into the music he himself listens to.
“Most of the bands I like are not from Germany, but the few German bands I’m into I do like because of their German lyrics. The conclusion: I like their lyrics, because I am able to understand them,” he shared. “So if I see myself as a singer, I want people to understand what I say. That’s why I sing in German language. But I’d really prefer to sing ‘you’ve got kissability,’ if you know what I mean.”
However, be that as it may, Messer is – perhaps surprisingly – the first foray into being in a German-language band for all four of the members.
“Our previous bands all sang in English or were completely instrumental,” explained drummer Philipp Weynberg. “Messer is Hendrik’s first band as a singer, so first of all he had to find out what that is about. I believe his repertoire in words is more diverse and beautiful in his mother tongue. You know, it’s not about being happy with Germany or the German language, but you can create a strangeness within a language that makes it a foreign language somehow. That is something we find appealing.”
Of course, the challenge in writing in any language is avoiding the cliché and instead focusing on words that will stand on their own, as a song that is watered-down lyrically is apparent, regardless of what tongue is it penned in.
“Sometimes I just write down words, because they sound good, and I know that they’re words for Messer,” Otremba said. “I try to choose words that will still have their power in 50 years or so. I never would use words like Mobilfunk, Kanzlerin, or Reichensteuer, because they mean nothing to me. But look at a word like Tiefenrausch. Or Platzpatronen. Just say it loud, soft and slow; even in the German language you can find beauty!”
Although the members of Messer first started playing together in 2010, it wasn’t until April of 2011 that the band had its first show. Along with Otremba and Weynberg are guitarist Pascal Schaumburg and bassist Pogo McCartney, all four of whom are the original members. To date, they have released a debut album, Im Schwindel, which will be followed up by a sophomore effort, Die Unsichtbaren, in November, on This Charming Man Records.
According to Otremba, the name of the album (the invisible) is a reference to those who go unnoticed or suffer in silence.
“It’s like a dedication to all the people that suffer alone, people that die for no reason or live in horrible circumstances, but nobody sees it,” he said. “People no media talks about, people that are invisible to society.”
In regards to the musical content of the album, the band admitted there was no methodical, planned-out way of doing it, other than to write and record.
“It was plain and simple: After the recordings of our first album, we immediately continued writing songs and these 10 songs just came across. When we entered the studio they were still pretty raw. We recorded them live without metronome and editing, so there really are plenty of mistakes on the record,” Weynberg said. “Then, in a second step, we started producing the record. We worked with this awesome engineer and producer from Hamburg, Tobias Levin…so in the end, this album is a hybrid of two worlds: a band sloppily playing together in a room and artificial-sounding overdubs.”
As for album number three, there are no solidified plans, considering the second one hasn’t even been released. However, the band shared that it will likely have more of a conceptual approach. For example, Otremba noted his interest in experimenting lyrically.
“I’d really like to write the lyrics at the moment the songs are already recorded and I hear them for the first time; trying to find beautiful words that fit to the music and express what you feel about yourself and the music you hear in that specific situation must be a great experience,” he explained, noting that even the forthcoming album defies language and contains some fantasy words of its own.
This would work well within the framework of how Messer already writes its songs, which usually begins with improvising until it turns into a song, and then adding vocals – although not always.
“Sometimes I have a vague idea for a framework of a song that I present to the others,” McCartney shared. “Then Philipp and me just start playing and usually Pascal just adds some guitar intuitively. We harmonize pretty well, so that’s working somehow.”
Of course, even with the band having fun writing music and playing shows throughout Germany, there are always some downsides and challenging moments. In particular, for McCartney, that means regularly investing more than the tangible payback, but getting something else in return.
“In the last 12 years I’ve spent so much money to make music,” he said.” Instruments, effect pedals, recordings, concert travels that sometimes were not covered, just to name a few things. What I got back from it was not a hint of what I’ve spent. So basically I’ve only paid to be able to make music, but I would do it exactly the same over and over again without hesitating. What you experience is invaluable. Especially the moment when you’re in the rehearsal room together, you’ve just created a new song and you just can’t believe it was your friends and you who made it.”
Messer plays Wednesday night, Oct. 2, at Bei Ruth in Berlin. The show begins at 20.00.