That ‘freedom’ feeling

On the road

The Picturebooks are certainly making a noise across the globe, touring in both the motorcycling and the rock-and-rolling sense of the word. They chat to us about custom bikes, life on the road and their Harley fan base

The Picturebooks evoke everything that’s classic about that American rock-and-roll aesthetic – even down to their vintage-style Harley® motorcycles, perfect for that all-important album artwork.

They have a sound that’s both gritty and familiar. However, their tales of missing home on the long, open road come from Germany. 

Hailing from Gütersloh, where by their own admission “nothing cool ever happens”, Fynn Claus Grabke (vocals and guitar) and Philipp Mirtschink (drums) had to create their own fun when they decided that music was the path for them.

“We rented this place in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields, forests and all kinds of wildlife. We built a ramp to skate on, a motorcycle garage to build our bikes in and a music studio to write and record our music in. It’s our own little hideaway and it makes this town more liveable for us,” says Fynn.

As if building their own den in which to create music wasn’t a rustic enough start to the band’s originality, the pair set off on a road trip to evolve their sound organically.

During this period, they banned each other from listening to music for more than two years to avoid the influence of other bands. Monk-like in their pilgrimage to their own unique sound, they travelled across America on a trip that brought its own rewards.

“One night I found this 1952 Gibson guitar at a pawn shop in Venice Beach. It had a huge hole in it and was super cheap,” recalls Fynn. “That guitar led to a very different approach to our song-writing. After that we created this sound of ours almost naturally.”

A drum kit and some garage practise later, The Picturebooks birthed the sound they have today. According to Philipp, H-D® has played a key role in inspiring their music. “Most of the songs started with an idea that we got while we were on our bikes. There’s no other company out there that fits us better than Harley-Davidson®, man. The whole album was recorded in our motorcycle garage while we were standing next to our Harleys and their parts, surrounded by the smell of gasoline and old oil.”

The band tried to set up shop in a professional music studio just next door, but although the sound quality was sharper, they missed the H-D vibes. “It sounded very predictable and didn’t have that special ‘Ooh!’ sound,” he says, referencing the track I Need That Oooh! from their 2017 album, Home is a Heartache.

“Writing a song is kinda like building and customising a bike. You start with a basic idea and then you work on it until it becomes your very own.”

For two men who started their two-wheeled adventures on Vespas, both Fynn and Philipp have come a long way on their path to building their dream bikes. “We went through a bunch of bikes that were cool and a lot of fun, but we knew real fast that we needed Harleys,” says Fynn. “I guess it’s really hard to describe the feeling when you sit on a Harley and you actually ride it. I don’t think there’s a word for it. I think it’s a feeling that you can’t put in words.”

The pair previously customised two contemporary Harley motorcycles to resemble old-school choppers. “It’s gotta be possible to have a bitchin’ chopper that actually arrives at your destination, that starts every time, has good brakes and has a modern, great-looking engine!” they laugh.

The bikes are named ‘Imaginary Horse’ and ‘Wardance’, and started life as two stock Softail® motorcycles. However, this project wouldn’t have had the leg-up it needed without Thunderbike Harley-Davidson, in Hamminkeln, Germany. “Thunderbike is our favourite dealership – there’s no one else who we could have done this with. Not just because we became close friends, but also because we have so much trust in their work and taste. The Thunderbike team has built some amazing bikes over the years.” You may remember, for example, the PainTTless bike that won the 2012 AMD World Championship of Bike Building.

The pair also own two Ironheads: a 1972 in a K Model frame (known as ‘Black Witch’, which can be seen in their music video for I Need That Oooh), and a 1979 model with electric start.

Their customisation adventures have certainly been a learning curve. As part of one of their first ventures, Fynn managed to get his hands on a 1982 Shovelhead with a 1947 wishbone frame. Dedicated to his grandfather, who sadly passed away, it’s named ‘Deda’, which means ‘grandpa’ in Serbian. The Shovelhead went on to win two major competitions: ‘Best Shovelhead’ at the Kustom Kulture Forever Show and ‘Best Rookie’ at Germany’s famous Custombike Show in Bad Salzuflen.

As well as custom bike shows, the duo are no strangers to H.O.G.® rallies, both for work and leisure. For them, Harley fans are a whole different kettle of fish. “Oh man, they’re just the raddest people. They definitely know how to party. What we love the most, though, is how they support us once they’ve discovered us.

“Whenever there’s a Harley fan in the audience who likes what they see, we know we can count on that person. They spread the word and always come and see us no matter what.”

This gesture hasn’t gone underappreciated by the band. “It means the world to us, and that’s why we’re doing this. We don’t see our fans as fans – more as our friends who we love to hang out with.”

The band have been touring Europe this year following the release of their third album, The Hands of Time, and are set to rock it at European Bike Week (September 3-8).

Their philosophy behind living life on the road has fuelled most of their song-writing. “For us, it’s always about honesty. We usually only use first takes and throw away song ideas when the writing process takes longer then 20 minutes.”

No long days in the studio slaving over one song until it fits? “If it takes longer it’s a waste of time, in our opinion.”

With many miles more to cover on the journey ahead of them, each adventure is embarked upon with an open mind. “We’ve been travelling the world for more than 10 years now and we’ve realised that, ultimately, we are all the same.”