When Daniel Brandt, Jan Brauer, and Paul Frick first broke onto the music scene in 2009, the classically trained musicians turned DJs turned acoustic dance band were described as an electronic group without electronics and a techno act without technology. While the tags are catchy, they only hint at the experimental impulses that drive Brandt Brauer Frick in ever more interesting and funky directions. In just a little over three years, the shape-shifting German band expanded to a full ensemble, retracted into a core trio, and expanded again into its present de facto “foursome.” In Jan Brauer’s words, BBF are, for the moment, more like a “concept band without a concept.”
Their third album, Miami (out now via !K7) flirts with indie R&B, synth-pop, and hip-hop sounds, and features vocals by Jamie Lidell, Om’Mas Keith, Swedish singer Erika Janunger, Russian DJ Nina Kraviz and Gudrun Gut of Einsturzende Neubauten. While Miami doesn’t explicitly flaunt a concept, there is a Hotel California gothic-pop aura to it, thanks to the cast of emotive singers and the darker tone of the grooves. The opening and closing tracks titled “Miami Theme” and “Miami Titles” add to the impression of listening to a soundtrack for a noir thriller that doesn’t exist. This suits BBF just fine, who would rather let the listeners’ imagination fill in the blanks. We caught up with them recently via Skype to get a closer look at their Miami and beyond.
Its inspiring to have different audiences that can appreciate both sides.
You've said your last album was more organized and this time you wanted to be more spontaneous. Is that why you brought in all these different people and decided to get rid of the ensemble?
Paul Frick:We didn't really get rid of the ensemble. The only difference is that last time we recorded with the ensemble all together in the studio. This time we went back to how we started, when we were just three people. We recorded most of the tracks ourselves, then we invited the musicians from the ensemble in to the studio.
Daniel Brandt: We were touring with the ensemble for the last two years, so we were really keen to get back to just three of us in the studio and trying things out.
PF: Now we can use [the ensemble], but we don't have to. The cool thing is that they know that they know our music better than anyone. We benefit a lot from them touring with us and being able to improvise.
So the ensemble is touring with you?
PF: For the album tour, it will be a 4 piece, the 3 of us plus Om’Mas Keith. Om’Mas will be like a fourth member. We improvise a lot. But we'll continue playing with the ensemble also. It's inspiring to have different audiences that can appreciate both sides.
You wanted a darker, rougher sound this time around. Why name the album Miami, one of the brightest, silliest places in the world?
PF: You could maybe also call it Atlantis. The peak of civilization, a place where everything is blinking and nice, but maybe it isn't. We made this record in between traveling because we were traveling so much over the last three years. Our whole lives were dominated by traveling. We've been in Miami, but only maybe for less than 24 hours, and then back to Europe. The album is more about the absurdity of our lives.
What's going on with the album cover? It looks like you're in some kind of riot or protest.
Jan Brauer: It fits with our whole Miami associations, our own ideas of Miami. That's why we don't have a palm tree on the cover.
PF: The album’s supposed to show that other side, it’s about opening unexpected spaces. It would be too boring if we made it too obvious.
Speaking of the visuals, who directs your videos?
PF: That’s us, we do it all; we have our own company, Park Bennet.
Recently you had a casting call for models for one of your videos. How did that go? Was there even any film in the camera?
JB: Of course!
DB: It was for the visuals for the live shows; for example, for “Fantasy Girl.”
We never had a dogmatic concept…were open to whatever.
How did you hook up with Om’Mas?
PF: We were looking for vocalists, brainstorming. We listened to the Thundercat record, and we really love it still. We liked his vocal and checked him out. We thought, “We need to ask that guy.” Daniel had a connection, someone who knows him, so we contacted him and he was up for it. He was also into performing live with us, so it just came together like that.
What was it like working with Om’Mas?
DB: We sent him a very unfinished song. Then we didn't hear from him for three months. Suddenly he sent us what he did on the track. It was crazy because we sent him a very unfinished sketch, and there was no arrangement, it was just a bunch of parts thrown together. But what he put on top with his vocals and the arrangement really finished the song and it stayed almost the same as he sent it.
PF: That was the only collaboration that was really like that. We got the finished song almost at once. It was really spectacular. With the other singers there was more interchanging ideas and writing lyrics together, which was also great because in some sense we had more input on the vocals. But Om’Mas totally did his own thing, which was mind-blowing.
American music is always more interesting because European music is just a bad copy of the American one.
It sounds like you're going in new directions, trying new sounds and ideas.
DB: We never had a dogmatic concept, like we have to only use these instruments. In the beginning it was more interesting for us to use acoustic instruments. Now, we're open to whatever.
PF: The technique is just a means to create something and capture an emotion. It's more about surprising ourselves. When we did Mr. Machine, it was an almost severe set up, the same ten musicians on each song. This time we wanted to feel more free.
How did the collaboration with Gudrun Gut (of Einsturzende Neubauten) happen?
PF: We had this idea of covering an old club hit from 1999 (“Fantasie Mädchen” by Bodol Elsel). It has this lyric which says "Fantasie mädchen, du rockst meine welt" which is German for “Fantasy girl, you rock my world.” Daniel played it many times when we DJd. It's a great minimal acid tune and we thought, “We need to make a cover version.” We thought of Gudrun Gut as a possible collaborator for a long time, so this was the perfect opportunity.
Do you have any remixers lined up for Miami yet?
PF: We don’t have anything worked out, but we have a really good guy on our label Gym. He’s 19 years old, called Max Graef. He makes these sample-based beats, full of Chicago soul. He's an amazing talent.
Its like the US is living in the 90s. From a European perspective, its kind of funny…
Do you think it's easier to experiment with these kinds of ideas in Europe?
JB: American music is always more interesting because European music is just a bad copy of the American one.
DB: For us, the whole Flying Lotus scene, Gaslamp Killer, all that stuff is very inspiring for us.
What do you think of the US EDM explosion?
JB: It's like the US is living in the '90s. From a European perspective, it's kind of funny, but it's kind of hard to enjoy the Autotune stuff. It also has its moments because it helps bring back obscure aspects of electronic music.
You're getting good reception from both electronic and jazz crowds, and now you got hip-hop fans on board. Did you think you would have a harder time getting your music accepted here?
PF: We didn't think about it so much, because it's not something that can be planned.
JB: If it's interesting for us, what we do, then we can only hope that other people like it.