German duo Grandbrothers: “Our music is really hard to describe”

Grandbrothers’ music is a beautiful mix of modern and classical, blending experimental sounds with emotional melodies. Their debut album Dilation, released in 2015, radiates musical maturity and confidence. The sounds are simple yet elaborate and the songs are extremely melodic. By pushing the instrument’s boundaries, Grandbrothers produce music that stands-out due to its original process and singularity. 

Despite their band’s name, Erol Sarp and Lukas Vogel are not brothers, but they are two good friends forming a complementary musical duo. Erol on the piano, Lukas on the electronics, they complete each other musically. Even when it comes to talking about their band, the stories they tell only come together with each other’s input.   

Just before their sold-out show in Dalston, Erol and Lukas welcomed us in their AirBnb’s living room for a long chat. Both reserved and modest, yet passionate and enthusiastic, we opened our beers and started talking.

 

 

Your show tonight in London is sold out. How do you feel about that? 

Erol: We’re very proud. We already played in London last year. It was our first gig in England, and also the first time we had to take the plane with all the gear. It was really challenging. 

Lukas: When we arrived in London, everything was broken. It was quite a big deal! I had to fix all the electronics before the gig. In the end, everything worked well for the show, but we had to rebuild all our electronics to make them more robust for the future.

 

 

Grandbrothers interview

 

What led you to build your own, unique instrument?

Lukas: It all started with the simple idea of making music together, without a fixed idea: Erol as a pianist, and me as a technologist. The first thing we did was to record everything coming out of the piano, then experiment with it. I was re-sampling, playing again, cutting the samples into pieces, adding some effects etc. We were jamming, it was cool. But we wanted to limit ourselves to the sound of the piano without using synthesizers or other electronic devices. 

 

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Erold was playing notes and I was working with it, without being able to create music myself. I explored possibilities to create some sounds with the piano, without playing it. We came up with the idea of using hammers. We control them with a computer and they can hit different elements of the piano to produce sound. We were inspired by other musicians working with a grand piano as percussion. In the beginning, our hammers were very different to what they are now. We tried a lot of different things. It took half a year to build them. 

When the hammers hit the strings, they produce an electric sound. When they hit the metal parts, they create percussive sounds, that we use as beats.  We can put these hammers onto every grand piano.

Our first concert was at university. We played seven tracks, that we created especially for that gig. We then realized it was working quite well, as people were really receptive – even though the audience were mainly our friends. From then on, we just wanted to keep it going.

 

Grand brothers interview hammers

 

“Lukas has the technical abilities, and I am focusing on the piano.

It was the perfect match.”

 

 

When did you get familiar with music and technology?

Lukas: We studied sound engineering, meaning we both learned music and technology. We were free to do our own projects, so we took this opportunity to start collaborating together.

Erol: I am more a piano player than anything else. I was put in front of a piano at a very young age, and then stopped around 13. I hated the classical approach to music where you have to read notes. I’m still not good at reading notation! Around 19, I discovered jazz music. I found the improvisation approach amazing, so I decided to start playing the piano again. Lukas has the technical abilities, and I am focusing on the piano. It was the perfect match.

 

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Creatively, how do you work as a duo? How do you usually compose songs?

Erol: I am sitting at the piano, and Lukas is playing with the electronics. Generally, I don’t come with an idea and say « let’s play that ». It just develops as we are together. 

Lukas: As we always play live, we can’t pre-produce something on our own, especially me because I need Erol’s input on the piano to live sample it. We really work as a duo, and write when we are together. We generally jam on ideas, and if we like them, we record them. We don’t write anything down such as scores. 

 

Have you ever had any mentors?

Erol: We had a teacher who gave us a few tips and also a lot of music to listen to. It really helped to develop our identity. We’ve been listening to a lot of different artists, from Aphex Twin – who plays weird stuff with a piano – to the most unknown and underground artists.

 

grandbrothers interview

 

“We want to mix genres and play music as we like.”

 

 

Your music is a beautiful mix of classical and modern. It sounds cross-generational. What kind of people generally come to your gigs?

Erol: When we’re playing, we’re often labelled as « Jazz » or « Classical ». Obviously, the description doesn’t really fit. So people sometimes come to see us with wrong expectations. Our music is really difficult to describe. In the end, it’s good to surprise the audience.

Erol: There is this word that we always try to avoid: neo-classical. We like this kind of music – Nils Frahm for example – but we do something different. Neo-classical is very mellow and emotional, but they usually don’t have beats or distorted sounds like we have. We haven’t found any key word to describe ourselves yet. We just want to mix genres and play music as we like.

 

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How did you record Dilation?

Lukas: We went to a friend’s studio, in the German countryside. We stayed there and worked on music non-stop. The place was really calm, with literally nothing around to distract us. It was a great, intense experience. After five days, our first album was recorded.

 

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If you missed them, Grandbrothers will be playing in London at Corsica Studios in September.