Interview by Katja Schifferegger – Image by Joohn Photography / provided by Melt! Booking
Some bands seem to be just there to make the world a warmer and brighter place. The motley crew around lofi indiefolk duo Chloë Lewer and Elliott McKee from New Zealand, who found a new home in the city of Berlin, are one such band.
Chloë and Elliott themselves started making music the very evening of their first date and haven‘t stopped since. In 2011 they moved to Berlin without speaking a dribble of German but performing in bars and on the streets, collecting material for their debut album and recruting artist friends from all over the world to join their heartfelt folk band named Charity Children. As varied and exotic as the hometowns of the members are the instruments they use: Their ukulele-driven sound also features harmonica, melodian, xylophone, hand percussion and any other instrument that falls into their hands, held together by Chloë’s ethereal sirenlike voice and the chemistry of the frontcouple. Driving somewhere between Nürnberg, Germany, and Vienna, Austria, on their way to Vienna Waves Festival, Chloë answered a bunch of questions for us. Please check out their fairy tale-like band bio and their amazingly beautiful folk songs.
Your band bio is not a typical band story – can you tell us a little bit about you? How did you two met, Chloe and Elliott? And how did you find the other band members?
We didn’t intend on making music when we came to Berlin. Actually, Elliott had his one way ticket to Berlin booked before we became a couple in New Zealand. He was about to leave, then we met, and he convinced me to join him for an adventure. We were so blind-sighted by our love and excitement that we never really thought about what we would do when we arrived in Germany. We didn’t speak German, all we knew how to ‘do’ was act, as that’s what we did back home- acting, so we pretended to be musicians and took to the streets to get by. We started out playing our favourite artists songs, then rapidly began to write our own music until we had a full set of songs that were just our own, within a few months. The rest of the band came to Berlin in varying ways- Dave, our Australian cellist, his friend called him crying on the phone because of heartbreak so he came to comfort him (now he’s been here 10 years), Nick, our American guitarist left his jazz/experimental music scene in Chicago to try out different musical styles in Berlin, Martin, our resident German bassist, was studying in Amsterdam and missed the German beer and Wouter, the newest member of the band, moved from Holland to find is Berlin wife.
What music did you grow up with? And who do you consider an influence on your music?
I think Elliott and I were pretty lucky with the music we grew up with. Both sets of our parents had great musical taste. On road trips in my family’s VW van we listened to the likes of Van Morrison, Nina Simone and Bob Dylan. Just to name a few. And there was always a lot of Jazz and African music too, as my family’s South African. (I was born in Cape Town, but moved to New Zealand at age 4). When Elliott was growing up, his dad owned bars and nightclubs in Christchurch- So Elliott would be often gifted cassettes from the clubs- Michael Jackson, David Bowie and Queen were his most beloved. We’re always excited to go back to our parents home and raid their music collection! These artists certainly inspired our later musical career.
Have you always considered music as a future plan for yourselves?
Everyone else in the band besides us two started playing music they were relatively young. However we started making music when we got to Berlin, as we didn’t speak German, so we couldn’t get any jobs and music was always something we’d loved but never explored. So we taught ourselves to sing a bit, play a bit, and started to write songs.. That was three years ago now. So it really just started as a necessity to get by for us at first, then grew very organically into our main focus, passion, vocation.
Can you tell us little bit about how you guys work together dynamically?
So Elliott and I are the songwriters. Sometimes we write together, sometimes we write alone. We don’t really have a specific formula for the way we work and we can never force the birth of a song. We let the ideas, text and melodies come very organically- usually in sporadic creative bursts. Then we figure out arrangements with the rest of our band and then we rehearse in our living room, exploring different styes and ways in which we could perform the song. Then we usually settle on a song arrangement for a little while, until we get bored and decide to mix it up a little again.. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that no artist is ever happy, that they simply abandon the work. That’s quite true for us, I think.
Berlin is a tortured beauty that continues to provide and provoke. The history of the city dances just beneath the surface of the pavement. The wall only came down twenty odd years ago, so as a united city, it’s very fresh. As a result, it’s multi-cultural, artistic, cheap, relaxed and one can find their own sense of freedom and inspiration there very easily. If you give, Berlin gives.
You use a lot of different instruments for your music. Are you classically trained?
The rest of the band are trained musicians. As for Elliott and I, we were equally unmusical when we started going out, so we inspired each other to create little songs and then started songs writing together. We always said when it’s not fun anymore we’ll stop. We’re very much so of the mindset why waste ones time doing something you don’t passionately love and care about. And for the moment, it’s music. Perhaps one day it will change again and we will find other passions..
Any plans for the year ahead?
We’re always careful not to make too many plans. That’s the joy of this adventure- we’ve never known at any point where it’s all going. I guess that’s the definition of a journey- starting something with no idea where you’ll end up. So the idea is to just keep going. We’ve had a beautiful summer of festivals and now as it gets colder we’re moving into the studio to make our second album. It’s an enormous undertaking, getting our new songs down in recorded form- but it excites us and we have wonderful people working on the project to make it happen, all with the goal of creating something beautiful and true, that’s all we hope for.
“The Autumn Came” is out via Monkey Records