Johnnie Rook: A Few Percent of Madness

Split albums are a seriously great idea; however, that idea doesn´t seem to be very easy to make it a reality. Against all odds, Johnnie Rook from Berlin, Germany made a common cause with Bambix from the Netherlands on their latest EP 3:15 am. How the two bands ended up recording together and what else you can experience as a member of a punk rock band — the two Rookies Micha (guitar) and Franziska Jentzen (vocals) will tell you all about it.

How´s Berlin? How are you?
Franziska: Berlin does what it always does, making noise and lots of dirt. And we happily join in.

Your new split album together with the Dutch from Bambix is about to be released, sorry standard question: how did you end up working together?
Micha: For a long time, I´ve already been a huge Bambix fan, and the Bambix are also the main reason why Johnnie Rook exist at all. I saw the Bambix for the first time in Berlin in late 2000, and Wick [Bambix singer] has immediately captivated me with her charismatic voice and those ingenious melodies. On that day on I told myself that I wanted to do something similar and some time later, I formed Johnnie Rook. In 2007, we finally managed to play together with the Bambix. We right away got along so well that, since then, both bands maintain an intimate friendship. Since then we played several gigs together. In 2009, Wick did some guest vocals with one song on our last LP “Rabatz”, and last year, when playing another show together, we decided that we want to do a split EP.

I think that split albums are a great idea and they also have a certain tradition in the punk business. Why aren´t there more bands who do this?
Franziska: Because, time-wise and logistically, it´s not that easy. I know one could just record a couple of songs and then that´s it. But then you start asking yourself questions like, “Should we come up with some kind of topic, while we´re already at it?” Or, “Should we write new tracks or just take some old shit?” And then there are many, many answers. You really have to want it. Fix songs and song orders, layout stuff, photo blah, it just takes time. And it has to – in our case – please eight people. Usually, two bands get along very well and plan something like that but, in the end, it takes a few percent of madness to really go through with it.

On the record there´s also a song together with the Bambix called Oneway Rover. Did you also write and record the song together?
Franziska: The song was written by us. The idea for the lyrics came from me. Wick optimised it and rearranged it a bit and I think that was really great. Who sings what and when, we decided in the studio together. Also in the studio, Patrick [Bambix bassist] and Wick had some more ideas for the song concerning lengths, shortenings, solos, mixing, which we all implemented exactly as suggested. And in that way, it´s a song that we both did, and it´s awesome.

The musical styles of you two are rather different (still in the genre of punk, though). How would you describe the music of the Bambix and how would the Bambix describe yours?
Micha: I would describe the musical style of the Bambix simply as melodic punk rock with female vocals. But for me personally, the Bambix are the best melodic punk rock band with female vocals. This melancholy they get across often and the entry of the harmonious vocals – there are not many out there who can do it as well as Wick and her boys. It happens very often that it gives me goose bumps when I listen to their songs – there´s almost no other band that is able to do that and I´m totally serious about that, no intention of schmoozing. How the Bambix would describe our music? Maybe you better ask the Bambix themselves. That´s too hard for me to answer right now. I know, however, that they do like our music and I´m really happy about that.

What one notices first when listening to your songs are the powerful vocals of your frontwoman Franziska. Usually, one rather imagines weak-chested vocal artists when thinking of punk music. You have a real rocknroll girl 🙂 How does it fit?
Franziska: First of all, thanks for the compliment. Speaking of the Bambix and how best to describe their style… Wick is an extremely strong singer. Very melodic, emotional and snotty at the same time, not many singers are able to do that. She´s a real rocknroll girl. And that´s exactly the sticking point with Johnny Rook. Some people think that my vocals, my voice, my way of singing is everything but rock-y. It´s too smooth and therefore wouldn´t fit to our music. For other people, like you, this is just what they like about us. I usually listen to the boys, they are my biggest critics. If they like it, everything´s peachy. And then I recall a gig in Dresden, Germany. I warmed up my voice before the gig, I do that sometimes. The guys were already pretty pissed because vocal exercises can be very annoying but then Wick said to me that for her this is already music and I thought that was so nice.

In the press release to your promo package you wrote that you glued, copied, stapled etc everything yourself. Practically asked, how much time/money (and heart´s blood) do you invest in the band? Is it worth all the effort?
Micha: Yes, it´s true, I did everything myself. Just like people did it with the demo tapes back then, if someone still remembers? Just a tiny bit more modern, today you can do almost everything with a normal printer at home so that, at first glance, it really looks like an original CD. Anyhow, it did take a lot of time and heart´s blood and I, of course, hope that all the effort was at least a little bit worth it, in the end. I don´t expect that we become global super stars but if a few more people will become aware of us and if, because of that, we can snatch a couple of good gigs, then the effort will have been worth it. Let´s see how the feedback will turn out to be.

Do you still have normal jobs?
Franziska: Yes!!! Jobs that we like and that we like to do. Jobs that are consistent with our stressful activities. And I think it is indeed a good thing. If I only had band and bus and gigs then I would miss something. You don´t have enough input, everything just centres on yourself. That´s not cool, it will drive you mad. And we can do what we want to do because we don´t live in fear of not being able to pay our rents.

How long are you already playing together and how did the band start out?
Franziska: Johnnie Rook is not the first band for anyone of us. We all had two or three other bands before – some were more successful than others. Almost all of us have taught themselves how to play their instruments. I, indeed, had singing lessons for a long time. I´m from a very musical family; I knew pretty early that I wanted to do something with music. My brother is a singer, too he can even live on it, and my dad was a drummer, he also played in bands for a long time. That´s where the money for our family vacations came from. With us, everything always revolves around music.
Micha: Like Franziska already said, we all did music before. I started to play bass in my first punk band when I was 13, later I took up the guitar and played in about five bands before I began to look for people for a band with female vocals in 2001. And in 2003, Johnnie Rook was finally born.

You opted for German as your language of choice, is there a special reason for that?
Franziska: Yes, I want to be understood. And, I want to see how it is, to be able to understand everything a whole record long. Up until now, we mixed German and English. Depending on the song or the mood. Lyrics are important to me. I need to stand by every word that I sing. But I also love to mull over certain things for days.

In the release info you mentioned that the cover photo was shot at 3:15 am (that´s were the album title probably comes from) in a restroom. Considering that time of day, you all look pretty fresh but how did you all end up in that locality? And what are you usually doing at 3 am?
Franziska: During the week: sleeping. At the weekend: playing gigs. Our latest ever gig that we played was at 3 am. That was really hard. That we look so good on the photo is thanks to Roman´s photo editing skills. Roman, our ´little guitarist´, does all the layout stuff with us. We picked the photo because otherwise there wouldn´t have been all eight of us together, in one place. That was our only chance. That´s why Jan [Johnnie Rook bassist] now has to live with that photo for all eternity because he moved and so is now a bit fuzzy.

When you hear Berlin and punk then you have to immediately think of Die Ärzte [meaning The Physicians; a very popular German punk rock band, also commercially]. Is it more an advantage or a disadvantage to be in the geographical shadows of “the best band of the world”. Can you imagine doing a split album with them?
Franziska: I cannot imagine that the guys would record a split album with us. Of course, being from Berlin, we are fans of Die Ärzte. By the way, only of the real Ärzte [physicians], Farin and Bela, of course, Rod is only assistant physician 😉 But when I hear of Berlin and punk then I also think of Nina Hagen, or that punk was forbidden in former East Germany.

Not so long ago I read in a news paper that attorneys were checking whether the song “Wir wollen keine Bullenschweine” [We don´t want any police pigs] from the Hamburg punk band Slime could be considered as “incitement of popular hatred” (Volksverhetzung). What do you think of such indexing of songs? How far can a modern punk band lyrically go these days?
Franziska: First of all, everything is subject to artistic freedom. Then, in my opinion, it has been clearly proven that it´s neither the music, nor a computer game or a movie that breeds violence. It´s the people who do it. Art is a mirror of society. And when someone sings that he or she doesn´t want to have police pigs then that´s his or her attitude towards life that he or she has just put into words. This attitude towards life won´t go away simply because you´re not allowed to play that song. It only gets stronger. I´m strictly pro direct talks and con censorship. And concerning the contents, I simply choose different words to say similar things but that has aesthetic reasons.

What are your songs mainly about? Having fun or conveying political messages?
Franziska: Both. We have songs that are mainly about having fun. Like for example „Wellenreiten“ [Surfriding]. But just singing about fun, that´s not fun. We also have many songs that transport a political or a philosophical idea. I try, however, not to make it too overpowering, wagging my finger all the time. It´s only meant to be food for thought. I want to change something. This ´Well, that´s just the way it is…´ attitude makes me want to puke.

Thanks for your time and rock on!

Photos: Band

Kathleen Gransalke

Editor for Reviews - translations, reports, photos - - - Favorite genres? - Punk, Rock, Death Metal, Mathcore - - - Favorite bands? - Coheed & Cambria, Black Dahlia Murder, Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon