The Trouble Notes are an amazing band with really inspiriting stories behind their music. The Trouble Notes have four members: violinist Bennet, percussionist Oliver, guitarist Florian and now recently added bassist Stefan.
Why did you choose for the name The Trouble Notes?
The band’s name is a bit of a play on words with Treble notes. Treble represents a particular frequency range of musical notes, particularly one where the violin is very prominent. In English, to call something “trouble” may on the surface seem like a bad thing, but it can also be a positive. The word “Trouble” can also be used to describe something that is “so good it will get me into Trouble.”
What makes you unique?
Perhaps our mix of genre. We describe ourselves as making a “fusion” music because it ranges heavily in style. This is mainly because our desire is to tell stories with our music, and to restrict ourselves to a particular genre would be to limit the scope of our stories.
Prior to this Covid-19 lockdown, we were known for being avid travelers, constantly moving and performing for people. That’s something else you could say is quite unique, our ability to perform literally ANYWHERE. One day we would be playing on a street corner or in a public square, the next at a black tie event in a Concert house and then the next on a festival with people jumping around and dancing. Our music adapts slightly to our audience.
What drew you to the music industry?
We are all avid music and travel lovers. Bennet, our violinist, began playing the violin at 4 years old. Oliver, the percussionist, was learning percussion as a young boy from Phil Taylor of Motorhead (his father was the road manager). Florian, the guitarist, was learning guitar in his early teens and studied to be an audio engineer and Stefan studied jazz bass. It’s not so much the music “industry” that’s drawn us in but the connection we have with the music. Together we have been able to express complex emotions and tell stories that moved us. That connection we share within our group and with our audience has kept us here.
Who inspired you to make music?
Our influences come from all over the place. Through our travels, we have soaked up a lot of traditional musical influences and styles that we try to put inside of our music. But if there was any group who inspired us the most, it would have to be Rodrigo y Gabriela. Their story of leaving their home in Mexico with nothing but two guitars and traveling Europe and playing in the streets is what inspired us to do exactly the same. It was all the more surreal when we actually supported them on the Mettavolution tour last year, which they were ultimately awarded a Grammy for! We are proud to see them finally getting the accolades they deserve after inspiring a lot of artists like ourselves.
What is your top five favorite songs of all time? Why those songs?
This is impossible for us to answer! Many songs are tied to mood and to where we are at any given moment in life. There are songs we associate with certain memories that we have either had as a group or individually. So to boil that down to just 5 considering we are 4 people would be impossible!
How would you describe the music that you typically create?
In the simplest way it is “music for travel”. We want to build bridges between cultures and mix genres in the hopes of bringing people together. That is part of the reason why nearly all of our songs are instrumental, for we feel the language of the text will ultimately restrict the audience. To remain instrumental allows a broader audience to understand the music beyond just what the lyrics intend.
Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music?
Most definitely! Most of our songs have very vivid stories that we have composed the music to. For example, years ago we were part of a group of musicians in Berlin that was organizing small concerts for some of the migrants who were coming to the city. There we had a chance to have very pointed conversations with some of the men and women who had risked so much to cross the sea for a chance at a better life. In having those conversations, we came across one man who told us a story that was so harrowing that we felt the need to retell it through song. There is a track on our album called “Trail of Fears” which tells the story of this man, traveling from his home in Afghanistan across the sea and ending in a Berlin nightclub. By telling his story and the story of others through our music, we hope to open people’s minds to different cultures and experiences.
Do you collaborate with others? What is that process?
We’ve done some pretty dope collaborations over the years. Usually it is with musicians who we feel we have a strong musical connection or friendship with. That is more important than collaborating for economic reasons. For example, just a few months ago we released a video version of Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” with Italian techno drummer Dario Rossi. We’ve been dear friends for years and it was a way for us to stay connected while in our individual quarantines. We have also worked with rappers like Infidelix and JC001, and other brilliant instrumentalists from all over the world. Normally we either completely improvise or do a version of our own song but allow them a lot of room to breathe. That is such an interesting experience, when your own song feels “new” because of the voice of someone else joining you on stage.
You can collaborate with anyone. Who would it be?
Wow tough question! Rodrigo y Gabriela is an obvious choice. We had talked about trying to collaborate when we were touring with them, but time was not on our side. Hopefully we can change that some day.
Please explain your creative process
There is no one formula for us. Often times our music starts with a melody or a harmony that spontaneously pops into one of our heads while traveling or experiencing something, and then that is brought into either an improv session or the studio and used a starting point for something new. Sometimes these ideas can be extremely raw and rough, which then take on a different form as we work together, and other times they are extremely vivid and defined.
What’s an average day like for you?
While in lockdown it was more routine than normal. We woke up and all allowed ourselves a few hours to get the day started in our own way. After that we would either come together to rehearse, write something, record or mix a song that we had been working on the previous day. We also manage our own social media and work very closely with our manager, Stefanie, so some hours each day are spent on administrative and marketing projects as well. When we’re on the road, things are a bit less structured, but one thing that is certain is that at some point each day we will be playing, either on a stage or on a street corner.
Will you be gigging or touring?
The past years we have played somewhere between 75 and 120 concerts per year. This year was supposed to be the same, but when the Covid-19 outbreak began, we rapidly began cancelling everything – an entire headline tour of North America and ultimately many of our summer festivals including a performance at Glastonbury and Sziget. Within the past weeks, we have begun to see some opportunities arise for outdoor events and small gatherings, where we will hopefully be able to play. This is important for us, as we live from our music and to lose so many shows was extremely painful.
Please discuss how you interact with and respond to fans
We have always been extremely accessible to our fans. That likely stems from our origins as street performers, it was easy to talk to us because we have always been at eye level. That remains now, even after we began playing larger festivals and shows, we still always take the time to meet with anyone who wants to talk and say hello. That for us is what makes it all worth it! We also use platforms like Patreon, which allow us to stay particularly engaged with our fans. We have created a Telegram group and chat to stay in touch and regularly share updates and videos.
What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? Why?
Our favorite would have to be performing and feeling the connection with our audience. That is rewarding, it’s a kind of rush that makes the difficult times worth it for us. Our least favorite is definitely the uncertainty. For ever performance, there are countless hours of work that happen in the build up to that performance. In order to survive this way, we have to hustle, for without constantly performing and keeping ourselves relevant, we feel we will not be able to support ourselves. Because there is a limited number of performances people are willing to see each year, it also creates this competition between artists that we are all fighting for our audience. We feel that is somewhat counter-intuitive to what we want music to be, something inclusive and connecting, but there is a sad reality that the socio-economic system we live in has put us in direct competition with other artists and performers. That is what we like the least, the fact that many of us are not just playing for our mission, but also for our survival.
Have you ever dealt with performance anxiety?
Yes. It doesn’t happen very often anymore for any of us, but sometimes still. We often say that “if you can play on the street, you can play anywhere.” There is a lot of truth to that, since often people are not interested and you have to earn their attention. Once you feel comfortable playing for a bunch of people who are not “wanting” you to play there, it makes performing in front of a captive audience much easier. That said, there are still certain stages where we really want to have a strong performance, where you feel the slight “jitters”, but they are few and far between these days.
What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t wait for someone to call. We’ve met a lot of young artists who have tons of talent, but they are either too afraid or too arrogant to do the work themselves. We’ve learned that those who remain humble and are not afraid to get their hands dirty and fight for their craft are the ones that have the longest careers. We still have a long way to go before we will be content, but everything we’ve achieved up until this point has been due to our own willingness to put the work in and take risks.
What is the message you want to give to your fans?
Thank you. We’ve largely been able to survive and continue our musical mission because of the incredible support we’ve received from you. You’ve opened your homes to us. You’ve been our greatest PR agents, sharing our music with your friends and family. You have supported us beyond anything we could have imagined and it is the fuel that keep us going. On our darkest days, the ones where we feel that no one is listening and we have lost our confidence, you remind us of why we love what we do. So yes, thank you for always supporting us and keeping us on the ground with you where we belong.
What is next for you?
We spent the last 3 months in a Lockdown studio in the forest in central Germany. While there we composed a lot of new music, the highlight of which was an entire musical story that we will have turned into an animated film. We’ve already begun working with an animation team to realize this and are ecstatic with the first drafts we’ve seen. That is something we hope to be able to share with our fans at the end of this year! But in the short term, we will release a series of singles over the next 3 months the first of which is called “Ballad of Trouble” on 10 July, 2020.