First gigs in small clubs and dingy bars, concerts in front of classmates at school parties, family members as the biggest fans – this is where it usually starts for newcomer bands on the come-up. And for most, this is also where it ends. But not for Giant Rooks, a group of talented indie-youngsters that have truly made it. They refuse to sing in German, despite it being their mother tongue, definitely don’t let themselves be pigeonholed into one specific genre, and above all, they might just be the most promising and hottest musical export Germany has to offer right now.
“At the very beginning of our career, our English was really bad. We actually went on stage without having any real lyrics and just sang gibberish. That‘s why you could never really decipher that it was English, it was more of a strange kind of fantasy language. I can’t believe we even dared to do that,”, laughs Frederik Rabe, frontman and lead singer of the enthralling quintet, remembering where it all began for the group: a small town in Western Germany called Hamm. As far as small towns go, it was rather tricky for the young singer to find like-minded people with the same ambition and drive, after having initially started a band with his cousin Finn Schwieters, now the guitarist of Giant Rooks, when they were just eight years old. But after some searching, the duo finally pulled Luca Göttner (bass), Finn Thomas (drums) and Jonathan Wischniowski (keyboards) into their rehearsal room in 2015 and it all instantly clicked. Giant Rooks were born.
Five years later, labelling the band as high-flyers would be a massive understatement and doesn’t even come close to what they have achieved in the recent years. They might still operate under the term indie, but in respect of their popularity and success, the five friends from Hamm have left their indie status behind a long time ago. Two years ago they took a step most bands take once they have reached a certain level of success and made the fantastic Berlin their home. But rather surprisingly, up until Corona put everything to a halt, the group had hardly seen anything of the city, having spent most of their time travelling all across Germany and Europe, bouncing from one ecstatic live show to the other. It is only now that the immense success of the last few years is finally sinking in for the charming musicians, as Rabe observes: “Until recently I had completely forgotten that people could know me. Because we live in Berlin and the city is still relatively anonymous. But then I was approached a few times on the street and thought “wow, people actually know me now”. I‘ve totally forgotten that in the last few months because we couldn‘t go on tour.”
Much of that attention stems from the release of their highly anticipated debut album ‘Rookery’, which finally saw the light of day in the summer of 2020, right in the midst of another break in-between lockdowns. Regarding the state of the world, many other newcomer bands looking to make a name for themselves would have probably chosen to postpone the release and moved it to another time. One that would allow the listeners and fans to fully immerse themselves in the album, without having to constantly watch their backs in an ever so steadily darkening world. And one that would allow the group to actually perform and live out their record, one that has been in the making for so many years. But Giant Rooks have never been like the others. They went for the bold move to release the album right when they wanted to – and right when the world needed new, phenomenal music more than ever. “We talked for a very, very long time about whether it would make sense to release an album into the world we live in now. But we see our music as a picture that you take at that moment, it is an image of time, something that you are capturing right now and then no longer want to change,”, explains Rabe, while also addressing the inevitable topic that has become part of everyone’s life, standing there like the elephant in the room – the pandemic. It’s a topic that no member of the remarkable bunch can bear to find much sympathy or affection for, as guitarist Finn Schwieters states: “We find it difficult to see anything positive in the pandemic, mainly because it has brought so much suffering for so many people. Of course, we suddenly had time for things that we didn‘t have time for before, but I would never say that it is something positive.”
We find it difficult to see anything positive in the pandemic, mainly because it has brought so much suffering for so many people. Of course, we suddenly had time for things that we didn‘t have time for before, but I would never say that it is something positive.– Finn Schwieters
It‘s an introspective view on today’s society that underlines Giant Rooks’ mission as a band. They’re a group that looks at a world full of unrest, wondering about their role in it. This, above all, shows itself in their lyrics, which oftentimes are dressed as questions asking about the big things in life and the issues everyone’s confronted with right now: love, happiness, death, climate change, politics, the meaning of our being. For some, themes like these might seem a bit too monumental to be taken on by one band alone, but Giant Rooks wouldn’t be the unique group they are if they wouldn’t dare to accept the challenge. “Our music is a mirror for how we perceive the world and for how we perceive ourselves in it. First and foremost, we ask ourselves what our role is, and in doing so, we try to tell stories that inspire or touch us and our listeners. Those stories can come from both personal and fictional origins, but for us, it‘s all about absorbing everything and processing it,”, explains Schwieters, while singer Rabe adds: “And even if it‘s a fictional story that inspires us, it will still turn into a personal song because after all it made us feel something and had us react in a certain way, which we then use for lyrics. So we never write impersonal songs.”
By letting their guard down and pulling the curtains from their own lives, the band has found an ease in judging themselves and their own actions as much as they would judge others. They have cemented their status as a band that prioritises looking inward, even when these reflections could be neglected and avoided. Not afraid to show their true selves, they stand tall for their opinions and thoughts, whether it is on social media or during their live shows. From building up a cooperative project with Spotify to have trees planted that their fans could buy and have named after them, to supporting “Friday’s For Future” and playing live at the protests, the quintet is determined to leave this planet a bit better. “On social media, we take a clear stance on topics that concern us and that are on our minds, such as racism or the climate crisis. These are the questions of justice of our generation,”, exclaims Schwieters, while also going back to the band’s first and foremost source of inspiration. “All of these societal, pressing topics and discussions are always reflected in our songs because ultimately everything we deal with flows into our music. We absorb all of it like a sponge.”
We see our music as a picture that you take at that moment, it is an image of time, something that you are capturing right now and then no longer want to change.– Frederik Rabe
But not just lyrically, but also musically Giant Rooks like to soak up their surroundings, taking everything in what they see, hear and experience and mixing it all together with their own thoughts and ideas to get to that unique sound that they have learned to make their own. Whether it be pop, indie, rock, RnB, electronic music, or anything in-between – the group likes to dip their toes into all the musical puddles out there. Therefore, to force the band and their music into one specific genre would be a never-ending, almost impossible task. One that the five friends are purposely not even considering tapping into, finding peace in existing in the realm of today’s playlist culture. “I always find it very difficult to describe our music, because we don‘t feel like pigeonholing ourselves. We just make the music that we would like to listen to ourselves. When you hear our music, you know roughly what kind of taste in music we have,”, utters frontman Rabe. It’s a truthful, honest approach to their work and one that seems to connect with their listeners and immense masses of fans. Effortlessly, the band fuses sparkling electro-pop and sleek indie beats with rock anthem choruses and has mastered the perfect soundtrack to late night drives during the warm summer months. As a result, they’ve ended up with something truly unique, with stand-out tracks like ‘Watershed’, ‘Wild Stare’ and ‘Misinterpretations’ serving as first tastes of the ethereal soundscapes the group’s music creates. Bringing their blend of influences to the forefront of their debut, mixed with Rabe’s throaty, haunting voice, the dazzling newcomers skilfully play with various different genres. The end result: ecstatic samples and captivating electronic sounds, the one or other auto-tune experiment and an ultimate farewell to the classic verse-chorus-verse structure. It’s not Alt-J, nor The Kooks, without the 2000s indie nostalgia, but forward-looking music, marrying the sounds of the past with the possibilities of the future. And all of that in English, despite their German heritage and countless arguments that sticking to their mother-tongue would help them win over their home country’s market.
Without German, but rather in English and with all their hearts poured into their work, Giant Rooks are proof that sometimes your own gut can be your best advisor. With almost 80 million streams on Spotify and fans from all over the planet following their every step, the group is quickly making their name known in the world, one hit track at a time. With their irresistible energy and enthusiasm that distinguishes them from the majority of the local competition and an album that speaks for itself, Giant Rooks have coined themselves as the most intriguing eye-catcher of today’s music industry. They might just be at the start of their careers, but one thing is for sure: these German youngsters are on the eve of global stardom.
Written by Laura Weingrill // photos by Jean Raclet & Nils Lucas