BOY-WE WERE HERE.
BOY-WE WERE HERE.
Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass first met in 2005, at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg. They were both students on a pop music course.
Singer Valeska Steiner had travelled from Zurich in Switzerland, to join the course. Bassist Sonja Glass was local. She had been born in Hamburg, and lived in the city all her life. Soon, Valeska and Sonja became close friends. By 2007, they decided to form a band, and put what they had spent the last two years learning into practise.
Their nascent band was called BOY. Initially, BOY concentrated on playing live. This allowed them to hone their sound. It was a case of BOY were putting into practise what they had just learnt at Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg into practise.
Given that BOY had just completed a course in pop music, this gave them an advantage over other bands. They knew the perils and pitfalls of the music industry. The two members of BOY knew how important it was to play live. Not only did it allow BOY find their voice and hone their sound, but it allowed the nascent band to build a following. So that’s what BOY spent the next three years doing.
It took time. BOY were no overnight success story. That never happens. Just like so many bands before then, BOY discovered it’s not easy for a new and inexperienced band to get gigs. So, they played wherever they could get a booking. During this period, Sonja Glass’ mother drove BOY to concerts. She believed in BOY, who after three years hard work and perseverance, were beginning to make a breakthrough.
By 2010, BOY’s popularity had grown. Their star was in the ascendancy. So the two members of BOY, decided to record their debut E.P.
For their Hungry Beast E.P., five tracks were chosen. This included three penned by the two members of BOY. Drive Darling, July and Skin showcased Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass’ songwriting skills. Valeska Steiner also cowrote Zapping with Adrian Stern. The final track on the Hungry Beast was a cover of Ben Folds Fred Jones, Pt. 2. These five tracks were recorded in Berlin in June 2010, and released later that year.
The Hungry Beast E.P. was well received by both critics and music fans. BOY’s music was beginning to find a wider audience. Surely, it was only a matter of time before BOY came to the attention of a record company?
And so it proved to be. In 2011, Berlin based Grönland Records swooped, and signed BOY. For BOY this was a coup. Grönland Records were one of Germany’s leading independent labels. Their career was in good hands.
Before long, Grönland Records sent BOY into the studio. By then, the two members of BOY had penned twelve tracks. This included Drive Darling, July and Skin from BOY’s Hungry Beast E.P. A further nine new tracks would make their debut on what became Mutual Friends. It was produced by Philipp Steinke.
This made sense. Philipp Steinke had produced BOY’s debut E.P. The Hungry Beast. He was an experienced singer and musician, who was just beginning his production career. However, the advantage Philipp Steinke had, was he knew BOY, and had worked with them before. This stood him in good stead, as BOY recorded the twelve tracks that became their debut album Mutual Friends. Once the album was complete, it was scheduled for release in the autumn of 2011.
Before the release of Mutual Friends, critics had their say on BOY’s debut album. Rolling Stone, The New York Times and Filter were all won over by BOY’s debut album. So were record buyers.
Soon, Mutual Friends was selling well in Germany. This was helped by the success of four singles. The lead single was Little Numbers, with Waitress, Drive Darling and This Is The Beginning all proving popular. So popular, that Mutual Friends was released in 2013 in Britain, North America and Japan.
By then, Mutual Friends had won the 2012 European Border Breakers Award. This was just the start of a roller coaster year for BOY. Soon, they were playing at Hamburg’s prestigious Stadtpark, in front of a 4,000 audience. After that, BOY headed out on tour.
Across the world, BOY continued to wow audiences. They had enjoyed a number four single in Japan’s Hot 100 chart. By then, Mutual Friends was a hugely successful album. Tens of thousands of copies of Mutual Friends had been sold, and BOY had won a glittering array of awards. BOY had come a long way since they signed to Grönland Records.
This roller coaster journey has continued apace. For four years, BOY have become a musical phenomenon. They criss-cross the globe, winning friends and influencing people with their award winning sound. However, there’s been no sign of a followup to Mutual Friends. Until now.
We Were Here.
Ten years after Valeska Steiner’s and Sonja Glass’ first met, they released their long-awaited, and much-anticipated sophomore album, We Were Here on Grönland Records. It’s the latest chapter in BOY’s roller coaster career.
For We Were Here the two members of BOY penned nine new tracks. These nine tracks were recorded and produced by Philipp Steinke. The recording of We Were Here took place at various studios, where BOY were augmented by some of Germany’s best session musicians.
Just like on Mutual Friends, producer Philipp Steinke put his years of experience to practise. He played keyboards, Juno, percussion, guitars and took charge of programming. Both members of BOY, Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass added vocals. That wasn’t their only part in the recording of We Were Here.
When recording began, some musicians played on several tracks, other featured just once. So at the various studios, the band kept evolving. This included the rhythm section, which featured drummers Marcello Romero, Thomas Hedlund and Marco Moeller; guitarist Denis Erarslan; and Sonja Glass who played bass, guitars and Juno. Valeska Steiner added percussion. Other musicians were brought onboard to play on just one track.
A horn section was needed for We Were Here. So trombonist Michael Flury and Gregor Lentjes were drafted in. Then when Hit My Heart was being recorded, the strings came courtesy of cellist Matthias Bartolomey and Klemens Bittman on viola and violin; while Eden Boucher and David Turley added choral vocals. Gradually, We Were Here began to take shape, and eventually, recording of BOY’s much-anticipated sophomore album was completed.
All that was left was for We Were Here to be mixed and mastered. Michael Ilbert mixed We Were Here at the Hansa Mix Room in Berlin. However, Tom Coyne at Sterling Sound was chosen to master We Were Here. Now BOY could prepare for the release of their long-awaited sophomore album, We Were Here.
A lot had happened in the four years since Mutual Friends was released in the autumn of 2011. BOY’s star had been in the ascendancy ever since, and their music was popular all over the world. Since then, they had sold tens of thousands of albums, won numerous awards and enjoyed hit singles around the world. Now they were ready to release their new album.
After four years away, BOY must have been nervous about how We Were Here would be received. They needn’t have worried. BOY were back with a bang. Critics called We Were Here a BOY fitting followup to Mutual Friends. The music was variously melodic, melancholy and mischievous. Other times, it was anthemic and hook-laden. It was impossible not to be captivated by BOY, as they continue to win friends and influence people. That’s the case from the start of We Were Here.
Opening We Were Here was the title-track. Just slow, deliberate chord changes on the keyboards accompany Valeska’s pensive vocal. Soon, memories come flooding back. Sadness is omnipresent as Valeska sings: “We Were Here.” By then, the rhythm section, keyboards and percussion accompany her vocal. Later, sci-fi synths are added. They become more prominent as the vocal begins to drop out. The arrangement becomes understated before the trombone and flugelhorn are added. Neither overpower the arrangement. Just like the rest of the instruments they complement the vocal on his carefully crafted slice of heartfelt, perfect pop.
From the opening bars, Fear reminds me of the Scottish band Chvrches. Stylistically and sonically there’s similarities. That’s down to the instruments used. A pulsating synth joins the rhythm section and chiming guitar. They provide a backdrop for Valeska’s vocal, and propel the arrangement along. By then, the Fear in Valeska’s vocal seems very real. It’s as if she’s lived with it. Frustration turns to anger as she sings: “I wish I could blow it off.” There’s sadness in her voice as she realises: “it won’t let you get away.” By then, Fear is a fully fledged anthem, that’s bound to be a favourite when BOY play live.
Subtle, bubbling pizzicato strings open Hit My Heart. Soon, drums join the keyboards, percussion and harmonies are accompanying Valeska’s jaunty vocal. She almost skips through the arrangement of this carefully crafted song. As she sings: “and we’ll fast forward to the chorus, join the choir, spread the word,” this signals the entrance of harmonies. This is a masterstroke. So is the addition of the subtle bursts of strings. Everything seems to fall into place, and another irresistible slice of classy pop unfolds.
Hotel marks a stylistic change from BOY. Just a lone guitar accompanies Valeska’s wistful vocal and the track takes on
a folk-tinged sound. Sometimes, Valeska sounds like Suzanne Vega as she sings the cinematic lyrics. Later, she reminds me of Karen Carpenter. Valeska brings the lyrics about an affair to life. She describes the clandestine meetings in a Hotel: “362 do not disturb, if no one knows no one gets hurt, if he turns off his mobile phone, he’s never been this far from home.” As Sonja’s bass underpins the arrangement, keyboards and percussion frame the vocal. The tempo quickens, and the vocals full of sadness and regret. It’s a wistful and cinematic song from BOY, who showcase another side to their music.
Just like Hotel, No Sleep For The Dreamer has an understated arrangement. That’s not the end of the similarities. The lyrics have a cinematic quality. They’re also some of the best on We Were Here. That soon becomes apparent. A lone guitar takes centre-stage, before drums usher in the vocal. The tempo is slow, as Valeska delivers a hopeful, joyous vocal. “And now I’m driving home from your house, something big’s about to begin.” Throughout the song, pictures are painted. “Of morning radio, and people leaving bars.” All this is going on around Valeska. She’s found love: there’s something in the wind, there’s something big about to start, no sleep no sleep for the dreamer.”
A guitar is strummed deliberately and subtly on Flames. It almost fades away as the two members of BOY sing in unison. They compliment each other perfectly, and bring the lyrics to life. That’s the case from: “an empty house, the roof’s on fire, you’re fighting with the flames.” From there, the listener is spellbound, as the story unfolds. BOY sound not unlike Wilson Phillips. Partly, that’s because of the way their vocals interact and compliment each other. Meanwhile, the arrangement of a
chiming guitar, pounding drums, percussion and jangling keyboards augments the vocals perfectly. It doesn’t overpower the arrangement. Instead, if frames the vocals, as the story to unfold. There’s a poignancy to the closing lines: “oh if only I could find, a way to ease your troubled mind.”
Galloping percussion and the rhythm section join a crystalline guitar on New York. Taking centre-stage is Valeska’s tender vocal. She’s misty-eyed, as she remembers her first visit to New York. Memories come flooding back. Valeska shares them, and is accompanied by occasional ethereal harmonies. They add to the beauty of this cinematic ballad.
Distant percussion, bass and drums combine as Rivers Or Oceans unfolds. A chiming guitar signals the arrival of Valeska’s vocal. Bravado, confidence and relief combine as she sings: “a pale blue rising, as I’m sailing away from the scene of the crime.” As a muted bass, keyboards and drums combine, Valeska adds: “no traces behind me, yeah the water will sweep away the blood and the gold.” This is described as: “such a shimmering misfortune, such a dark kind of bliss, I’ll cry Rivers Or Oceans, ’til I get over it.” It’s the perfect crime, courtesy of BOY. They use drama, humour and irony to cover their tracks.
Into The Wild closes We Were There. A droning sound grabs the listener’s attention, before percussion, drums and a guitar combine. They provide a slow, mesmeric backdrop to Valeska’s heartfelt, hopeful and impassioned vocal. That becomes apparent as she sings: “or I could follow you, into the wild…we’d live with the animals, play by the fire.” As Valeska delivers the lyrics, a crystalline guitar adds a wistful accompaniment. It plays a supporting role to Valeska as her vocal takes centre-stage, on this heartachingly beautiful vocal. It’s the perfect way to close We Were There.
Unlike so many modern albums, We Were There is a gloriously old school album from BOY. It features just nine songs, that last only thirty-five minutes. That’s how long albums used to last. It meant record buyers were hearing a band’s best work. Nowadays, albums are padded out, and feature fifteen tracks or more. This results in the quality suffering. After all, no artist or band can write fifteen flawless tracks. However, BOY wrote have written and recorded an album that’s almost flawless.
That’s no exaggeration. Rather than write and record a sprawling album, BOY have only committed their best songs to tape. From the opening bars of We Were Here, right through to the closing notes of Into The Wild, BOY continue to captivate with music that’s cinematic, beautiful, heartfelt and hook-laden. Other times, the music on We Were Here is melodic, melancholy, joyous, ironic, poignant, dreamy and dramatic. Quite simply, We Were Here is an emotional roller coaster, that anyone who enjoys good music will enjoy.
No wonder. The two members of BOY, Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass are talented singer, songwriters and musicians. They write, craft and record music that’s cerebral and cinematic. There’s everything from tales of love and love lost, to hurt and heartache, to drama and tragedy on We Were Here. There’s also delicious anthems and carefully crafted perfect pop. Aided and abetted by producer Philipp Steinke, Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass create a critically acclaimed followup to Mutual Friends.
BOY have come of age musically with We Were Here, which was recently released by Grönland Records. We Were Here is a career defining album from BOY. The former pop music students have graduated summa cum laude with We Were Here, a carefully crafted album of hook-laden, perfect pop from BOY.
BOY-WE WERE HERE.