Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass, the Hamburg, Germany-based indie-pop duo otherwise known as BOY, have spent the past several years building a strong following for themselves across Europe with their approachable lyrics and hook-laden songs. They recently hit a new milestone when their debut album Mutual Friends (first released in Europe in 2011), was released a couple of weeks ago here in the U.S., propelling the record to debut at a respectable Number 12 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart as American music fans quickly began connecting to the band’s vibe.
BOY is currently on their very first tour across the U.S. and Canada, including a show Wednesday at SXSW. Lead vocalist Valeska Steiner was good enough to talk with MIMO about the band’s journey to this point, about their North American tour, and about what’s on the horizon for them.
MIMO: Our publication talks to a lot of independent artists, and we reach a lot of readers who are also indie artists trying to make a go of it. I guess my first question is: How did an indie-pop act from Hamburg manage to make such a name for themselves across Europe, and now here in the US? In other words, just tell us a little bit about how you go to where you are.
Valeska: It was definitely a very long way. We started writing together in 2008. At first, we knew that we wanted to make music together, but it took us a while to find out how we could write together the best, and what kind of sound we wanted to create, and that was a pretty long search. Then we found a producer, who was a friend of Sonya’s, and worked with him on the album. Working on the album took about 2½ years, which we were not constantly recording at the studio, but we were playing as well in very small clubs around Switzerland and Germany. Then we sent our songs to several record companies and got turned down by most of them in the beginning.
That was a bit of a frustrating time, bit of a hard time because we had already put so much time and effort into the whole album, and we were maybe a little bit worried about how we were going to be able to finish it or how we were able to pay for everything. Then we got some support from . . . programs for supporting young artists or bands in Switzerland and and Germany. We got some financial support and didn’t have to worry about how we were going to finish the record. We became pretty relaxed, and we were not so worried anymore.
In that moment, there was one more record company, [Groenland Records], which is now our record company, who came up to us, who said that they were interested. We ended up working with them, and they’re a very small label. I think they’re the best place we could have landed because they’re very artist-friendly and they don’t try to get us to do things that we don’t want to do. They have a good philosophy, and I think it totally makes sense now that all the others didn’t want to work with us, because we ended up in the perfect place.
Then we released the album [Mutual Friends]. I think the video for “Little Numbers”, which was our first single, really helped us because somehow it got shared a lot on Facebook. That’s how many people heard of us for the first time.
MIMO: So the Internet really played a huge role in getting you guys some exposure, then?
Valeska: Yeah. I think so; I think it was a really major part of how we went on, because that’s how many people discovered our music.
MIMO: You had some pretty prominent musicians help you out on the record, like players from Sigur Rós and Phoenix. Can you tell us a little bit about how those connections were made?
Valeska: For Thomas Hedlund, who is the live drummer of Phoenix, I had met him a few years before we asked him to play on the album, because a friend’s band was opening for them on their German tour. We just hung out after the show and we got along really well, and then we stayed in touch with really one email every ½- year or something like that. I just think he’s probably one of the best drummers that I’ve ever heard. When we were at the studio, we were really thinking . . . we tried to record most of the instruments ourselves with our producer, but for the drums, we had to ask other people because none of us are drummers. Then when we were sitting in the studio and listening to the demo of the song “Oh Boy”, we immediately thought if we could choose any drummer in the world to play this it would have to be [Thomas], because his style would fit so perfectly. Then we hesitated a bit because we were a bit shy try to ask him, but then we did, and he immediately said yes. Phoenix had an off-day in Hamburg, [so] he ended up playing songs for the record, which has been great.
MIMO: You’re currently on your first North American tour promoting the record. How are things going so far with the tour?
Valeska: First of all, we are just so excited about being able to do this. No matter how successful or unsuccessful it will be, for us, it’s just such a great adventure to just come here [to the U.S.] and play and see what happens. So far we’ve played four shows, and they have been great. For us, it’s so fascinating and incredible to see that people come to our shows and sing along. It’s weird to be so far away from home and from the place where we wrote these songs, and see that they apparently mean something to people over here. That’s really the best thing that can happen, I think. We’re having a great time touring here.
MIMO: Is there a running theme on the record that ties these songs together for you?
Valeska: Maybe there is. I’m responsible for the lyrics and Sonya does the musical part, so we share the responsibilities, or divide them somehow. For me, for the lyrics, my move from Zurich to Hamburg was a pretty big inspiration. I think maybe that could be a topic, beginning at a new place, being curious, a little homesick, and nostalgic sometimes, but being hopeful, as well. I think it’s a hopeful album and an optimistic album somehow.
MIMO: I’d agree with that. Overall, it seems fairly upbeat, as far as the attitude, it does seem to have a real positive vibe.
Valeska: Yeah. That’s nice that you say that. We feel that way about the songs, as well. Some of them are melancholy, but the mood is hopeful, I think.
MIMO: You are going to be touring the United States and Canada through the month of March. What’s on the agenda for BOY after that?
Valeska: After that, we’re going to play some shows in Europe. We’re going to play in Denmark and in Paris; four dates. Then we migh t come back to the U.S. That’s not very sure yet, but it maybe. We’ll see about this. Also, Sonya and I really want to . . . we just started writing new songs in the beginning of this year because we’re very eager to make a second album, which is strange, because the first one just came out [in the U.S.] For us, it came out the first time in 2011. We’d love to have some new songs. Because we were touring so much last year, we didn’t really have time to write, so that’s what we want to focus on this year, apart from playing shows in new countries.
MIMO: My last question, Valeska: You have two girls calling themselves “BOY.” [Laughter] Is there any significance to that name?
Valeska: Unfortunately, there is no big significance or no very interesting story to tell about the name. It’s just it took us a long time to find one, as probably every band, and we were looking for words to describe, or that have a lot to do with us. We didn’t find anything we liked, so we just decided to go for the opposite, and we really like the word, what it looks like and what it sounds like. That’s all there is to the name.