Subterfuge were formed in Düsseldorf (Germany) in 1991. They are one of a handful German first generation indiepop groups that are still around. Between 1993 and 2005 the band recorded four studio albums. Their third one ‘I Do Birds’ was also released in Japan. Then priorities of the band members shifted towards solo projects while in parallel life’s complexities kicked in. Even though the group remained closest friends, joint activities became scarce and the story seemed to be told.
However, around two years ago the group came back together in their original line up to work on new material and which resulting in the release of their fifth studio album ‘Dots.’. The album offers a broad range of music styles. Time for me to sit down with vocalist and songwriter Lars to ask him some questions.
“Subterfuge, a band with a name that looks great when printed on paper, but that no non-native speaker can remember, let alone pronounce or spell correctly.”
For those that may not know you, can you tell us how you get together?
“Tommy, the other singer/songwriter in the band, and myself met on the 781 bus around our hometown. It took one session to agree on how to play the riffs on Seventeen Seconds, which is still my favourite record of all time, and I joined Tommy’s New Wave band, Charming Crime, where we then were the guitarists for around 3 years. Realizing we preferred writing our own songs about the good things in life, we both left the band to team up with our school mate Mark Specht on drums to form Subterfuge, a band with a name that looks great when printed on paper, but that no non-native speaker can remember, let alone pronounce or spell correctly.”
The band was formed in 1991 and you recorded four studio albums between 1993 and 2005. After that it became rather quiet, until you got back together around 2020. What happened?
“Life came in the way, we now have 11 kids in the band and needed to get some proper jobs to feed them. We also were not sure where things would go musically, so we decided to all go solo for some time and regroup when the time was right. We are closest friends and met all the time during these years, but bringing everyone together into one studio or practice room just did not work very well for quite some time.”
Who do you enjoy listening to as a fan?
“There were a few bands that had a heavy influence on us when we started: Mega City Four, Ride, The Lemonheads, Senseless Things and Teenage Fanclub. Influences have become much broader over the years as you can clearly recognise on our albums.”
“Right now I personally enjoy contemporary indie/jangle pop groups most, such as The Quivers, The Shop Window, Pop Filter, Stephen’s Shore and Strange Magic while Tommy is very much into what I would call more classical songwriters in The Lemon Twigs, Ryley Walker or Big Thief.”
You recently released the single ‘Why Do I Always Fall To Win’ which to my ears sounds very Beatlesque. Are they also one of your influences as a band? What inspired you to write this song?
“Can you name one band from the sonic neighbourhood that was not influenced by the Beatles in one or the other way? Tommy’s and my mothers were big fans and we both literally grew up with them. To me it is funny that the song reminds so many people of the Beatles, I assume it is mostly because of the vocal sound we chose. To me personally it sounds much more like The Kinks because of the bar piano and the lyrics. Those were inspired by our band’s career that follows a rather horizontal curve ever since – this is where the chorus comes from and then some typical songwriting weirdness happened and the verses went somewhere completely different.”
What can you tell me about your creative process?
“I often hear that songwriters have their ideas when brushing their teeth or while they buckle up their kids on the back seat. This never happens to me, I need to enforce the creativity with a task free day and a guitar. Then it’s almost ever the same with our songs: Tommy and I first sound our song ideas, develop the basic guitar parts and harmonic vocals. With this we go into an arrangement session with the band, to me the most important part as everyone brings in what they hear within the song from all possible directions. But there is no democracy – we learned in other bands that this does not work in creative context. Everyone offers ideas, the original songwriter finally decides. Finally we go into the studio and our Lorenz (Naumann) knows what to do to make it sound right.”
You released your new album ‘Dots.’ last Friday. What can you tell me about the album? Has your music evolved compared to your previous albums?
“‘Dots.’ is a journey through your indie pop collection, broad in style while it is exploring the edges of the genre. You can find jangle or bedroom pop, shoegaze, indie folk and americana elements on it. What keeps this all together is a psychedelic feel that never goes away throughout those 55 minutes. The latter element is new for us and so is the variety. However, our music was always about guitars and harmonic vocals.”
What was the recording process like? How long did it take for this to come together from start to finish?
“From the first session to mastering it took around two and a half years. This is nothing unusual for us as we play around a lot with overdubs and often question what has been recorded so far, which in some cases made us record several version of the song – ‘The Good Good’ and ‘What I Have To’ are examples from this album. Funny enough our plan for this record was completely different. Originally we actually thought we define one cohesive sound and record it all in one go, but it turned out the songs really needed something different. On top of that we were never good at prohibiting any fresh ideas for overdubs.”
What are your favourite memories of writing or recording the album?
“The arrangement session in a rural place Eifel: all band members together in one place, which rarely happens, and with lots of time for music.”
Do you have a favourite song on the album? Which one and why is it your favourite?
“I believe it’s like with your children: you should not have one. But as a songwriter three of them stick out for me: ‘The Snake Wife’ as my most personal lyrics ever, ‘Little I Know’ with the best lyrics I have written so far and ‘The Good Good’, which came a long way to its final rather contemporary sound.”
Did you have to overcome any difficulties with the writing or recording of this release?
“Us completing this album while keeping our kids, partners and daytime job bosses happy was a little wonder in itself.”
Was there a song on the album you were nervous about releasing out to the world?
“All of them… ;o)”
What message do you hope your music sends to listeners? What do you hope they can take away from your songs?
“My hope is that people listen to albums more. The way music is consumed today is influencing how music is made and this is not as it should be.”
If you could start over as a band, is there anything you would do differently?
“It’s been a great ride from day one, a gift to have this band and I would not want to change a thing.”
What are your plans for 2022?
“Touring, promoting the album and then: Having a rest to gather energy for writing new songs.”
Where can we catch you live?
“Just this week we are starting a tour across Germany. Unfortunately around half of the shows were cancelled due to the pandamic, which is still a topic over here. This is what is left, we are working on dates for May and in the fall.”
Fr, 11.03.22 Berlin – Posh Teckel
Sa, 12.03.22 Berlin – Posh Teckel
So,13.03.22 Wuppertal – Die Börse
Fr, 18.03.22 Grevenbroich – Kultus
Fr, 24.06.22 Düsseldorf, Christuskirche
The last gig at least for now is in Düsseldorf. What can you tell me about the music scene in Düsseldorf? Are there any good bands we should know about?
“There is a great musical tradition in our town with what happened in electronic music and post punk in the 70s and early 80s. This still has a strong influence on the local music scene and there are quite a number of bands in this tradition, such as Stabil Elite, Kreidler and my personal favorites Mood Taeg to just name a few. However, for our band it was much more important what happened in Boston, Manchester or Bristol and we never quite integrated with what happened directly around us.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool 20 and why?
“I love ‘Run Boy’ from the Sky Diving Penguins, it has a great 60s feel and my style of vocals. Makes me nod my head everytime I hear it.”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
“This is a very nice tradition. Then let me pick ‘Gutters Of Love’ by Quivers which literally blew me away when it came out as a pre-single to their superb album ‘Golden Doubt’ last year.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
“It will not take another 16 years until our next album ;o)”
Subterfuge are: Daniel Klingen (Drums), Kai Blankenberg (Bass), Lars Schmidt (Vocals, Guitar), Lorenz Naumann (Keys, Guitar, Bass), Thomas Baumhoff (Vocals, Guitar), Tom Blankenberg (Keys)