“My Grandma died when I was really young and she was an amazing woman. Even though she wasn’t living anymore, I sometimes wrote her letters thinking that she would watch and take care of me in everyday life — that experience, for me, might be something similar to God. If it makes your life better to believe in something then you should do it — No matter if it’s there or not.”
Introduction by Zach Bove
Interview & Photographs by Theo Constantinou
In the past three or four years, a really, really long–never ending–list of contrived, sub-indie genres have emerged in the New York City music scene. You all know what I’m referring to: trendy and chill Brooklyn. It seems that a negative stigma has attached itself to the majority of music coming from this overly crowded borough. Despite these tainted floating vibes, Brooklyn-based duo Take Berlin are certainly a breath of fresh air. They easily stray away from the stereotype of most Brooklyn bands. Genuine in their message, Take Berlin chooses to focus on musical composition rather than trends or gimmicks. Which offers all of you a sincere chance to get off the bandwagon and back into the basement.
Interview Edited by Zach Bove
Albert Camus says, “I would rather live my life as if there is a god and die to find out that there isn’t than live my life as if there isn’t, and die to find out that there is.” Would you rather live your lives as if there is a god to find out that there isn’t? Or live your lives as if there isn’t a God and find out that there is?
Jesse: Well, I’m a recovering Catholic. I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic high school, so that’s the only theologian argument that I adhere to. You might as well be on the winner’s side, right? I don’t believe in the silhouette that’s explained in the Bible. That argument is ambiguous enough for me, I can attribute my own belief into it.
Yvonne: Yvonne: I wasn’t raised religious at all–growing up in East Berlin where the government was Communist. If it makes you feel better believing in something–no matter what you call it, I think that’s the right way to go. Even if it’s not there—even if god doesn’t exist–how will you find out anyways? My Grandma died when I was really young and she was an amazing woman. Even though she wasn’t living anymore, I sometimes wrote her letters thinking that she would watch and take care of me in everyday life–that experience, for me, might be something similar to God. If it makes your life better to believe in something then you should do it–No matter if it’s there or not.
Theodore Reik said, “We are not put on earth for ourselves, we are placed here for each other. If you are there always for others, in a time of need, someone will be there for you.” How do you both handle lengthy periods of being away from one another?
Jesse: Each person needs love, communication, or attention differently. So our responses to situations and other people are colored by what we need. You might need something from me and since my level of what I need is different than yours, my first response might be not sufficient; it might be more than sufficient. I think over time, you get to know what another person requires even more.
Milton Glasser said, “Art remains a mystery. We wonder about its significance in our lives. Why is it important? Why does it persist? When we observe the exploitation of art by the art world—the collectors, the dealers, the critics and the curators, stumbling all over themselves to benefit from this production—it’s easy to become cynical about its purpose.” As artists … Why is art important? How does it persist? Do either of you view the art world through a cynical lens?
Yvonne: Yes. Jesse definitely. Actually both of us.
Jesse: I guess I’m mostly a cynic, but I’m mostly a cynic to blind optimism. Everyone has their motivations and this idea of reciprocity by expecting something. I mean, the pessimistic way to look at it is…to call someone a pessimist. For instance, I get really annoyed by these musicians who are overly optimistic, like…“Man, my band’s about to make it this year. We got signed! We’re about to sell a million records.” That’s all good, but my optimism in that process lies in how much fun it is to write or record music. That’s the shit that excites me. Not, “oh, we’re gonna do it!” So, for me, the way I like to see this give and take, this reciprocity, is the enjoyment of giving something to somebody and not even thinking about what will come next. I don’t want to shape how I feel towards people either. So, by me shedding that expectation of getting something, I shed the coloration of the way I see them when I don’t get something from them.
As for art?
Jesse: I think for anyone to get dark on the exploitation of artists (art’s reliance on money and promotion and trends) today is pretty naive. We wouldn’t listen to that guy’s music if it wasn’t for some rich man in France or whoever commissioned him to create that work. So the exploitation of artists has been the only thing that’s perpetuated art in a major way for hundreds and hundreds of years. It’s definitely not a new thing. You can’t live in New York and not be cynical about art–I think more than ever with the publication of online blogs and social media. In the past, bands that were big remained big for a year. Now they could be big for three weeks and be gone. It’s getting more fickle by the day. It’s gone to the point where I don’t really listen to new music at all. The fickle nature of music has no bearing on what I listen to…they are unrelated and my musical taste is simply my preference and not as a result of the music industry. I basically listen to Brazilian artists from the ’60s and the ’70s almost exclusively–besides J.Dilla and old school hip-hop.
Yvonne: Newer artists are always trying to achieve something. I like to listen to older music. The only thing that I really listen to or that really touches me is being able to see the artist or hear their presence in the music. I just want to hear somebody through their art. That’s the only thing that matters to me. I don’t really care where he’s from or what he’s doing. People don’t really listen to themselves and are in a rush all day–every day. They don’t really take the time to sit down and think about what matters to them. That’s why I don’t feel connected to a lot of bands from this day and age. Specifically New York bands, who try to think of making art instead of making something that they love. I just want them to make something that feels right in that moment.
Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, in Letters to a Young Poet, “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow. If they can succeed in loving the distance in between them, which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.” Does Rilke’s philosophy on distance resonate with either you?
Jesse: Yes, I think when it comes to writing music–the closer you get to somebody the more distant you become in a certain sense. You know? Writing music is funny because you pull your own experiences, but when you collaborate–really, fully collaborate in the creation of something–you hopefully take an objective view of whatever’s occurring during that time. So whatever is created is part her and part me and part neither of us, if that makes sense. The cliche way of looking at art is “I’m gonna bare my soul”–talk about heartbreak or whatever the hell it is. It’s a really elementary way of looking at the creation of art. When we write, I think we plan the distance between us as much as we know of each other in the moment.
Yvonne: I feel closer to Jesse when we write compared to other idle time. I feel like I see Jesse more when we write and that’s how I know who he really is. I think that’s how I know—and Jesse’s not that kind of guy who’s really overly emotional. At first sight he may seem emotional, but he’s not somebody that shows it that much—so when we first started writing, I definitely could see his persona more so than just talking to him. Now, what we share with writing these songs, I don’t share with anyone else. I feel this definitely connects us in way that is as heavy as having a relationship.
Jesse: It’s a trust issue, too, because I don’t think we trusted anybody else to finish or help us codify what was happening in a moment of creativity. When I hear a melody or a cord, she might finish it. It’s trusting especially in when you create. Creation is just a series of choices. So if she were to make a choice, I just have to trust that choice for us in order to progress further. The more you create and the more work you amass, the better you trust in that person.
Yvonne: Personally, sometimes I feel like I’m in between two worlds because I travel to Berlin for work. At this point I just go back for these TV shows that I am involved with. The rest of the time I spend here. I definitely feel like I’m living two lives when I go back. The TV world I experience in Berlin is often the opposite of what we’re doing in New York. In this case Jesse is really far away. We talk a lot, but I’m not really big with talking on the phone. I just don’t like it.
Jesse: I feel like the songs we write are also very conversational. Especially, the songs on the EP, the track about Berlin and your friend in the trunk of the car. It’s like your story in your eyes and it’s kinda like my reflection of it in some ways.
Yvonne: That’s how it all started. Me telling him my experiences growing up in East Berlin. He was really interested in that. And it was interesting to see it from a different view.
Jesse: That’s what I mean when I say, “writing discovers,” it discovers the distance, as well as the closeness between people (if the songs are as conversational as ours). There are a lot of songwriters who collaborate for the sake of putting it out in a popular context; while trying to reach a mass audience. Our songs by nature are conversational. The idea of ambiguity is definitely what we strive for. I’m referring a lot to what’s on the EP, like Lionize. The songs are reflections of our experiences together and apart, often coexisting in the same song. The differences and the similarities are in our own reflections. And a lot of the time the answers we get come to in our songs, are more a question than an answer.
Interview Edited by Zach Bove