Experimental rockers Desert Mountain Tribe played The Brewhouse in London Fields last night. Made up of Jonty Balls, Philipp Jahn and Frank Van De Ploeg, the band is an eclectic mix of heritages, humour and styles, ultimately contributing to a rock-outfit that is unlike anything else. We caught up with the stoner rock group over a few beers, bananas and Penguin bars before the gig to talk about the old music and the new; how they proudly call themselves their own inspiration, as well as their favourite vinyl picks and more.
SO HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT TONIGHT’S GIG? YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED LONDON IN A LITTLE WHILE…
Jonty: Good, it’s going to be really good.
Philipp: It’s always good to play in London ‘cos all of your friends come and stuff. It’s a bit of extra pressure. Like… are any of our friends actually going to come?
The thing is, if you play somewhere in Europe, and something happens, nobody cares. But if something happens when you play in front of your friends it’s a bit… you know…
Jonty: There is definitely [pressure] because you worry whether it’s going to be fucking busy or not.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PRE-GIG RITUALS?
Jonty: We don’t talk to each other for a little bit.
Jonty: Well it depends on what sort of gigs you do. If you’re nervous, you’ll be on your own.
Philipp: Usually we’re not so nervous anymore. But when you’re nervous, you need ten minutes on your own to listen to some music.
SO WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT PLAYING LIVE?
Jonty: There’s no better buzz.
Philipp: After like two or three songs then you kind of know how the night is going. If you know its going well then…
Jonty: …then it flows. If it’s going shit then it’s fucking hard work to keep that smile on your face!
WHAT DO YOU DO TO KEEP IT GOING THEN?
Philipp: You just have to pretend to enjoy it.
Jonty: Just switch off. Think: what are you going to do after the gig to make you forget what’s going on.
Philipp: The crowd is a big factor for us. But sometimes you can play very small venues and there’s about thirty people and it can be an amazing night.
Jonty: Scotland. Fucking unbelievable! And Northern Spain. Great!
SO FOR THOSE THAT HAVEN’T HEARD OF YOU BEFORE, DESCRIBE YOUR SOUND IN THREE WORDS.
Philipp: Desert Mountain Tribe.
Jonty: You do the first, you do the second and I’ll do the third.
Jonty: I’m gonna say… fucking hell.
THAT’S TWO WORDS…
Jonty: Just come along. You’ll like it. Probably.
I’LL PUT DASHES IN BETWEEN THAT TO MAKE IT ONE WORD.
Jonty: [laughs looking at the half eaten Penguin bars over the table] Penguin.
SO OBVIOUSLY YOU’RE FROM AN ARRAY OF COUNTRIES. HOW WOULD YOU SAY WHERE YOU’RE FROM HAS SHAPED HOW YOU SOUND?
Philipp: I would say we have a lot of influences from all different countries. I’m inspired by the heavy knocking of the clogs…
Jonty: I grew up in Croydon.
Philipp: It’s obvious we have a bit of the English, London sound. And I’m from Germany so we have a bit of the Kraftwerk feeling. Felix, my brother, who was playing with us until recently, is also from Germany so even more German influence!
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION FROM SPECIFICALLY?
Jonty: It’s got to be mainly personal experiences.
You hear all sorts. Radio 6, I just put it on at home and just listen to it. Certain times of the day you think what the fuck is this? This is mental. Some things you hear is just noise. And its not even the good kind of noise. … So I dunno, just sit down, pick up a guitar and play to that noise. Maybe you hit something out, maybe you don’t.
Philipp: To be honest when we write songs we don’t really sit down like “ok now we’re going to make this kind of song”, because usually one of us has a guitar riff, a bass riff already. If I imagined something to play at home on the bass and when I play this to the guys its completely different than I imagine it and it’s the same for Jonty.
And I guess that’s where all the different ideas come together.
Jonty: you never have everything fully set up at home so you can never really get the actual sound right. On occasion, I’ll have the pedals set up but it just takes a lot of fucking effort. You basically take over your whole lounge; its pedals galore. Amps… and the neighbours knock on your door so you never get to do it anyway.
WOULD YOU SAY THE LYRICS BECOME BEFORE THE SOUND OR THE OTHER WAY AROUND?
Jonty: Usually after, definitely. We play it and see how it works.
Philipp: …and the voice is like another instrument. We are now definitely putting more emphasis on lyrics, mores than we did when we started.
Jonty: Definitely. Well when we first started off, we were playing it and suddenly the lyrics were written.
Philipp: Especially for the new album, we’re sitting down together more.
Jonty: I think we were a bit afraid about this to be honest with you. It only takes a little spark to set us both off. We will have an argument about something, but for some reason it’s worked. We’ve walked out best mates.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE SONG OF YOURS?
Philipp: From the old ones, ‘Coming Down’ and ‘Taking a Right’. Theyre the first two songs we wrote and they definitely hold a special place.
‘Into the Fire’ – I really like it because of the German vibe.
Jonty: I think for me it will always be ‘Interstellar’. The lyrics for me have a bit of a personal meaning which is kind of cool.
SO WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SONG THAT’S NOT YOURS?
Jonty: ‘One of These Nights’ by the Eagles.
Philipp: At the moment it’s the French National Anthem.
And Vagabond Stories’ ‘Mental Dysfunction / Mental Arrangement’.
IF YOU’RE STUCK WHEN WRITING A SONG HOW DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION BACK?
Jonty: Get a glass of vodka and [laughs] […] put the jukebox on, and you sit there and mong out a bit. Put some other music on – something you’ve never listened to before – and just start playing along to it.
Philipp: I mean, just sitting down and trying. Just get work done.
IS THERE A SONG YOU WISH YOU WOULD’VE WRITTEN YOURSELF?
Jonty: ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. Without stealing it. But I would’ve been like “Hey lads wanna split this 50/50?”
Philipp: ‘Last Christmas’…
I LOVE A BIT OF GEORGE MICHAEL…
Philipp: We haven’t even spoken about Bowie yet!
Jonty: Yeah he’s probably our favourite artist of all time but I haven’t read a single fucking interview that doesn’t mention David Bowie at the moment so…
DO YOU HAVE ANY GUILTY PLEASURES THEN?
Philipp: [Jonty] has Prince.
I DON’T THINK THAT’S A GUILTY PLEASURE THOUGH!
Jonty: Yeah he’s one of the best artists in the world!
Philipp: I’m gonna say the French National Anthem.
Frank: Mine will be the Venga Boys.
YOU RELEASED YOUR DEBUT ALBUM ‘EITHER THAT OR THE MOON’ IN 2016 – WHATS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND IT?
Jonty: I think we just kind of did it.
The name came from a weird experience. We were recording in the studio and I was very very drunk and the North Star was up there and I was like ‘Either That or the Moon’ and that was it.
It sounds a bit knobbish but I think we’re our own influence – you just try and make yourself better. You either end up loving or hating your song dependent on the crowd. If they really love your stuff then you really have to play it. There’s not really a song I hate.
WHEN I WAS LISTENING TO YOUR SONGS, I FOUND THERE WAS A THEME OF LEAVING, OF DRIVING AWAY, OF ESCAPING THAT RAN THROUGH A LOT OF THEM…
Jonty: It’s because all we do is drive to places, leave the places…
If we’re bored, we go on holiday or something. When we come back, then we go on tour.
I’VE ALSO NOTICED IN A LOT OF YOUR VIDEOS YOU USE ARCHIVE FOOTAGE. WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO DO YOUR VIDEOS IN THIS FORMAT?
Philipp: I just do it for fun sometimes.
We do it ourselves but at the end of the day its just an easy way to make a kind-of good looking video without a budget. That’s the truth.
When I listen to the song I have an idea what I wanna do with it and then I look for footage and then put it together.
Jonty: If you think we’re rich from this then think again!
IS THERE A CERTAIN ERA FROM THOSE VIDEOS YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE LIVED IN?
Philipp: The ’60s is cool. But time is always a bit romanticised so I guess we live in pretty good times. We’re definitely one of the most peaceful times.
Jonty: Peaky Blinders! They were getting on it! Seriously!
YOU NEWEST EP ‘IF YOU DON’T KNOW CAN YOU DON’T KNOW KÖLN’: WHERE DID THE NAME COME FROM?
Philipp: [To Jonty] Don’t say you were drunk!
Well, CAN is the most legendary band from our hometown in Köln. And the electronic scene is really big everywhere in Germany and I was talking to one of the local DJs. We were in a bar talking to him he’s an old friend of ours and we were talking about CAN and he was like “I don’t really know CAN” and then we were like “if you don’t know CAN you don’ know Köln!”
I FEEL LIKE YOU DO THAT A LOT WITH YOUR EP AND ALBUM TITLES. A PASSING COMMENT IN CONVERSATION INFORMS THE NAME…
Jonty: Yeah, I like that.
WHY DID THE SOUND CHANGE ON THE NEW EP?
Philipp: It was just like a fun thing. Originally we were just like “let’s put it on Soundcloud” and then we actually kind of liked it. We didn’t want people to think that this was our new direction though. It was just a fun little project we did.
Jonty: One thing about it actually, I bought a new acoustic guitar.
There was one rehearsal day, none of us could be bothered to be there…
Philipp: …we rehearsed for the Sofar Sounds, and after we came back back to the studio, everything was still set up in the acoustic way. And we were hungover really and not really in the mood for playing “out” so we just wrote like four acoustic songs in like 2 weeks…
Jonty: We put the money together ourselves and then I think the label actually funded it
Have you listened to it?
YEAH I THINK IT SOUNDED MORE STRIPPED BACK.
Jonty: Yeah it’s all live. It’s been mixed obviously – everything gets mixed and mastered – but its all done live which makes a good feeling. Even the vocals were at points, rough, but it came out nice.
SO YOU RELEASED THE EP ON VINYL. WHAT’S THE BEST ALBUM YOU EACH HAVE ON VINYL?
Philipp: Fallout 3.
Jonty: I bought myself this for my birthday. It’s the One of These Nights album by The Eagles. Basically, if you get the original, the actual detail on it is raised, its cool. It’s raised perfectly within the wings of the Eagle.
Philipp: And Beach House ‘Depression Cherry’. The cover is velvet.
Jonty: Funnily enough, the most expensive album I own is my first EP.
SO WHAT HAVE YOU GOT PLANNED FOR THE FUTURE? OBVIOUSLY YOU HAVE A NEW ALBUM COMING OUT…
Jonty: It’s finished, about to be mixed.
Philipp: We just need to finish off the artwork.
Jonty: We’ve got a name but we can’t say anything.
Philipp: Hopefully we’re gonna release it in early spring. And then we’re going on tour next week.
Jonty: This Saturday. Shit! I forgot. To be honest with you it has gotten to that point…
Philipp: So we’re just gonna tour and I guess start writing new songs again beginning of next year, work on a new record…
Jonty: We wanna get that done quicker. Done and out!
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO DO THE LAST ONE?
Jonty: A month.
Philipp: Well, the recording took a month. The mixing took longer. Because the summer came and Felix quit the band so we had to kind of find a new drummer so we could finish the record to go on tour.
Jonty: Seriously, [we were going on tour] two weeks after he quit the band!
SO FINALLY, YOU SAID YOU LIKED DRIVING. WHAT SONGS WOULD YOU LISTEN TO ON THE ROAD?
Philipp: We always listen to Holy Wave.
Jonty: Yeah but Holy Wave started in Switzerland; ‘cos we were driving in Switzerland and going up the mountain and [Frank] put Holy Wave on and it just so happened we were coming down the other side of this mountain – it was just fucking beautiful!
To buy tickets to their tour, click HERE.