Milky Chance look back on what many would label four fairy tale years. Now presenting their second album Blossom, released on 17 march by the progressive rock label Vertigo, they are taking the next step after a truly magical intro to the international musical scene.
Four years ago, the young duo’s home-produced song Stolen Dance landed several hundred thousand clicks on YouTube within record time – a surprise success that no one had seen coming, least of all the two musicians. The first, equally self-produced album Sadnecessary followed through their own label Lichtdicht in October 2013. Meanwhile, Stolen Dance has been clicked on nearly 300 million times and sold two million times in the US alone. Soon, the two high school graduates found themselves performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and at high-profile venues like the Red Rocks open air stage. Within four years, their singles had topped multiple international charts, they played on both festivals and on sold-out club tours – and the fairy tale has never stopped since.
After a grounding period in their home town of Kassel in northern Hesse in early 2016, during which they resumed co-writing songs at their home, they decided to “take the next step” and find a producer. They consequently got in touch with renowned German songwriter and producer Tobias Kuhn to combine forces for Blossom. But let’s take a step back to the recent beginnings:
Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dausch were just 16 when they got to know each other at school in music class. They soon began writing songs together and toured as street musicians with friends through the whole of Europe on a little bus. Soon, their trademark mix of dreamy lyrics and highly danceable beats was established and they started exclusively composing and producing their songs together at home. All they needed was a Mac computer, a guitar and a working internet connection.
However, says singer and guitarist Clemens Rehbein, for Blossom, they longed for a bigger studio offering more possibilities and “more real instruments”. This is also mirrored by the setup for their already sold out Before Blossom tour, for which the duo will be accompanied by an additional drummer and their longtime co-musician Antonio Greger on guitar and harmonica. “I can’t wait to perform the new songs live,” says Clemens Rehbein: “We appreciate both the exclusive atmosphere of smaller clubs where the condensed energy accumulates and sizzles up to a boiling point, but also the bigger stages and festivals have their charm. Nothing is more enticing than playing on an open-air festival in summer. It is the mix of both small and big venues that we love.”
Mixing two different elements is also crucial for their songwriting process. While Clemens Rehbein composes the harmonies and melody for a song, followed by the lyrics, it is the co-work with Philipp Dausch which then produces what they call a “ping-pong effect of creative back and forth and an on-and-on process”, leading to their magical mix of driving beats and thoughtful, almost analytical content.
Despite the uplifting title, after Sadnecessary the sadness has not necessarily left for Blossom either. Their new song Cocoon, for example, reveals yet more heartache: “So let’s go back to our cocoon / On the blackened afternoon / I see your heart is bleeding too /Let me bleed instead of you.”
“The real motor for me is still to digest, analyse and express events and experiences that happen in my life. Just like on Sadnecessary, we combine contemplative lyrics with a vibrant underbelly of beats and sounds for Blossom, too. It has become a sort of trademark approach for us.”
When asked about role models, Milky Chance refers to the “old greats” of jazz, soul, blues, rock and folk, dropping names like Ray Charles, Hendrix and Dylan – which naturally takes the interview to the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. “What I like is the fact that song lyrics have become an acknowledged cultural good now, just like any highly acclaimed literature written by the likes of Kafka,” states Clemens Rehbein, “And what I like even more is that [Bob] Dylan took his time to acknowledge that he had actually won the Nobel Prize! I guess these things aren’t very high on his list when he is out there on his farm.”
With their own down-to-earth approach, Milky Chance are creating a musical expression and atmosphere which has become their unique and defined style. The immediate success shows that it appeals to millions. Their Before Blossom tour will start in London and take them all the way to the US once more.
So how do the two young high-flyers keep their feet on the ground? “The circumstances and the parameters may have changed – but we are still the same,” says Clemens Rehbein. “Basically, all we need to ground ourselves is the home soil of Hesse. Most of our friends haven’t left the city (of Kassel) and when we come back, everything is like it always was, that is a big help.” More sense of their down-to-earth attitude comes with asking them for their perfect day. “The perfect day?” Clemens Rehbein laughs. “Well – that might be being on a family holiday in Sweden or so, having breakfast outside and then taking a walk together to a lake.” Simple pleasures. The boys are alright.
TEXT: CORNELIA BRELOWSKI I PHOTO: JEFF HAHN