BIINDS is an audiovisual collaborative project founded by Nicolo Sommer (vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass) and Christy Taylor (vocals, gadgets, field recordings) based in Germany, the United States, Peru and the United Kingdom. Their self-titled debut album was released last year and involves various guest musicians with instruments such as the violin, percussion, cello, viola and drums. BIINDS’s atmospheric world is based on the soothing vocals of Nicolo and Christy, soaked in a luxurious trip-hop and light orchestral ambient mixture. The initial idea of the project is collaboration in any shape or form. The band’s name was created from the English word ‘to bind’, but in order to stress the idea of collaboration, another ’I’ was added to the word symbolizing that more than one individual is needed to collaborate. We talked to Nicolo and Christy to find out more about the genesis of their exciting project and their influences, and obviously you can check out their music as well.
What are you trying to bind together within your project?
Christy: We try to bind ideas. We sought musicians from different walks of life and created a cohesive album out of the material they had given us. Sometimes we couldn’t use what was given to us, but the majority of the material was put together sort of like putting a puzzle together but having to make the pieces fit by cutting and reshaping.
How did you get in touch with music for the first time?
Nico: Hard to say. I guess through a friend that used to listen to commercial music quite a bit. It clicked for me when I heard alternative rock for the first time. That was the one genre that got me into making music. I wouldn’t say that I would stick BIINDS into that genre necessarily and to be honest, I am not fond of genres in the first place even though they are necessary. If a piece of music can move you, it doesn’t really matter what genre it is.
Christy: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to sing as a child. My first introduction into music was my elementary school choir. I was in choir for seven years, but I wasn’t noticed. All of the cute, pretty girls got the solo spots. All I got was instructors looking at me as if I had just crawled out of a dumpster. It was a popular kids’ sport, and I didn’t fit the mold. However, they couldn’t stop me from enrolling, and they couldn’t kick me out. In my last year of choir, we were having a break from singing and all the girls were sitting on the risers talking. I was sitting with the outcasts singing a song by myself because I was bored, and the instructor who was sitting at his piano swung around to see who was singing. To his surprise, it was me, not one of the popular girls. He said, ‘I didn’t know you could sing’. I’ll never forget his face. I’d been in his choir for four years.
When have you decided to start making music yourselves? How did your styles evolve throughout the years?
Christy: I think I had always wanted to write music but I never had confidence. In my teenage years, I dabbled here and there, coming up with melodies to instrumentals or plunking around on instruments I didn’t know how to play. Most of the time, the people around me told me to be quiet, so I just stayed quiet. I made music in my head mostly. In my later twenties, I decided it was time to stop being quiet. I started experimenting with DAWs, made some vocal covers with instrumental tracks of songs that I liked, and it surprised me when people said they liked it. I’d expected to be ignored as usual, but this time it was different. Then, I decided to try writing out some of the songs that had collected proverbial dust in my head. I taught myself how to use VSTIs through online tutorials. My music didn’t see the light of day until I was 29 years old.
Nico: For me it started at 15, I wanted a guitar, I wanted to sing and I wanted to play punk rock and alternative rock. I just took a tape recorder and a microphone and pressed record. I went from rock to more experimental stuff. I had another band with a close friend and we made music that was more based on synths and more electronic sounding, dare I say industrial. I always had the desire to work with female vocalists and real string arrangements, so I decided that I had to make that a reality.
How did the two of you meet? How did you get the idea to give birth to BIINDS?
Christy: Nico and I met through one of his friends who had come across my Soundcloud profile when I was just figuring out how to make music. I was participating in a music thread on the internet where people post their Soundcloud profiles for others to critique. Not long after, I received a message from Nico asking me to participate in BIINDS. BIINDS has always been Nico’s baby, so to speak, but I started getting more and more involved as time went on. I had to push myself as a vocalist to keep up with Nico. I grew a lot that year. ‘The Pleasure of Finding Things Out‘ was the first time I had ever written a song with someone, and it was the first time I had seriously sat down and written lyrics and a melody by myself.
Nico: I can say I was lucky to have found Christy and knew from the start it would be a very interesting project. I was instantly amazed with what she can do. I also knew that we needed to put a lot of effort into this project. BIINDS came at that time when I moved from Peru to Berlin. I had another band in Peru, but I felt that I needed to create something new and involve people that I hadn’t worked with before.
The initial idea behind BIINDS was ‘collaboration in any shape or form’. What do you mean by that?
Christy: I think it means that it didn’t matter what country the musician was living in when the album was being made. There aren’t any boundaries. Some of the musicians visited Nico in his flat to record, and sometimes he would go to them to record. Some of the musicians (including myself) worked through the internet by sending/receiving files. Nico and I have never met in person, but we still connected.
Both of you are singing quite extensively on the record. Did you get any formal vocal training or it all works on a DIY level?
Nico: I have never really had any vocal training. I sang in a choir once if that counts, but other than that I guess it just came naturally. I used to sing along to records quite a lot and I tried out different vocal styles. That also defined kind of what I can do and can’t do, which is a good thing in the long run.
Christy: Other than being in the back row of choir, I don’t have any real training. I just sing a lot. I don’t know how to read notes despite being in choir. I was lazy because I could remember the melodies of the songs we were assigned by the second time I heard them, so I didn’t bother with learning notation. I do everything by ear. I’ve been told I can’t make music because I don’t know the mechanics of it, but I seem to be doing well enough just going on instinct for now. Of course, I highly respect those who have educated themselves in music theory.
You took part in a competition called ‘Hipster Cup’ earlier this year in Berlin. The word ‘hipster’ would not be really the first word that comes to my mind when listening to your music. How did you get involved in that?
Nico: It was an opportunity for us to play and win something and we did. We didn’t really think about the whole hipster aspect of it. The event was actually just a piss take of hipsters in general. I think hipsters don’t call themselves hipsters in the first place. It was good fun.
BIINDS also intend to please the eyes, since you are focusing quite a lot on the visuals as well. You already have four videos for four tracks from the album. Who’s behind these short films and what is the concept when it comes to finding the right visual path for your music?
Nico: The first two BIINDS videos I just shot and edited myself, but later on we worked with Christoph Heyden who also created some visuals for Ólafur Arnalds. He was very kind to us and he did a great job and we also borrowed a painting of his for the cover of our self-titled debut album. Later on, we wanted to get more of a narrative for one of our videos. I contacted Christoffer Castor after having seen the work he did on a Brambles video, which is truly amazing. Luckily he liked our music and we decided to work on a video for ‘The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out’. I just showed him some of the previous stuff we had done and told him what the song was based on and the lyrics. He just sort of worked his own magic; I didn’t have to tell him much really. The end result was very satisfying and it’s definitely one of the best things I’ve been involved with. Seeing one of Christoffer’s videos go viral was only a matter of time.
Christy: I was in charge of most of the photography used in the album and webpage, and he often reworked my photographs to fit themes. I created a lot of the video footage for the live show by renting equipment and running around in the woods filming nature, as well as setting up abstract things in my house to film. Nico edited that footage for the live show.
You’re living and creating in Berlin. What do you think it takes nowadays to ‘stand out’ as a musician in such a dense space as Berlin, a city which breathes art and especially music on every corner?
Nico: The music scene in general is saturated nowadays. It can be quite difficult in Berlin, but not impossible. Basically everyone makes music or thinks they’re an artist. I couldn’t really tell you what one has to do to stand out as a musician to be honest, but I could say that if you really love what you do and you believe in yourself, your art and if you stay true to yourself you’ve already won half the battle. In a recent interview with Josh Eustis I read that he used to not listen to any new music to not get distracted with his own inspiration and take on any new trends, but then said that a friend called his attention and told him that it was a mistake to not do that. You can’t really ignore what’s going on in modern music. I’m not talking about copying modern bands or go with a certain trend, but I guess it’s important to know what’s going on. It’s not all shit. People that say that music has gone to shit are usually unaware of all the great music that’s coming out day by day. You can’t have that sort of attitude if you’d like to stand out as a musician.
What type of music are you listening to usually? Who could you name as your biggest influences nowadays?
Christy: My biggest influences throughout the making of BIINDS are The Mars Volta, Fever Ray, The Knife, basically anything to do with Mike Patton (especially Mondo Cane and Fantomas), PJ Harvey, Lisa Gerrard, Tom Waits, and Chad VanGaalen. I really like Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s vocal work on The Mars Volta albums. He has been a big influence on me. Before then, I listened to Björk pretty often. One thing that Mike Patton, Lisa Gerrard, Björk, and in some ways Cedric have in common is that they create their own languages in their songs. I do that because I often don’t have the words to express something I’m feeling – it’s just a primal gut response where words only get in the way.
Nico: I listen to all kinds of stuff really and I still haven’t abandoned my alternative rock roots so to speak. Recently I’ve been listening to Massive Attack. I think what they’ve achieved musically in their lifetime is quite admirable. David Sylvian is a musician I discovered only a few months ago; I absolutely love what he has done and would say that he’s definitely an influence. I’m looking forward to the new Clark record as well.
‘Antiphon’ is a collection of remixes, all pieces were originally taken from your debut album ‘BIINDS’. Among the collaborators we can see such names as Dag Rosenqvist, Vessels, Aidan Baker, Library Tapes and offthesky. Since all of their styles are quite different from BIINDS’, how did you get the idea to make this complementary compilation? Why them?
Nico: ‘Complimentary compilation’ sounds a bit as if we just wanted to put out some remixes without much consideration but that’s exactly what we didn’t want to do. I’ve put a lot of thought into putting this out and I was quite doubtful about the whole idea of a remix album. It turned out to be an interesting journey of ups and downs. I had a lot of material from other artists that sounded acceptable on its own but just wouldn’t fit on the record and some of it was just… well not really good, so I had to discard it. It was quite an honor to work with people like Lee Malcolm from Vessels, Dag Rosenqvist and Aidan Baker since they’re musicians that I admire a lot and listened to for several years. I just went ahead and contacted these artists. All of them were surprisingly easygoing and they did an amazing job. I do think that their styles match quite well and they understood where I wanted to go with this record. Some of the versions on this record from them are even better than the originals in my opinion.
You’ve had plenty of concerts in Berlin this year. What are your future plans with touring and with BIINDS generally?
Nico: Touring is something I’d really like to do in the future, but it’s never easy for bands that don’t have a massive budget. We hardly get anything back from making music and it’s almost useless to expect that you’re going to have good record sales. We’re planning on playing some more shows in Berlin this year. The live aspect of this band is something that some people don’t understand; sometimes we have three people playing live, sometimes five and mostly none of them had anything to do with the people that worked on the record. Christy can’t be here in person to perform live shows, so we had to recruit another live singer, which was a difficult process which was hard to accept at first. BIINDS is a whole different beast live, but in my opinion a live show should always offer something different.
I’m trying to work on new material for a second album. The first album was some sort of learning process for me, at times painful, since some of the people involved were quite frank telling me that some of the stuff just sounded crappy in its early stages. However I can say that I’m ultimately grateful for their sincerity since it made me want to improve things more. I want to apply this knowledge for a new record and also focus on more acoustic sounds. I’ve sold some gear just to sort of reinvent my approach since going back to my old setup is always tempting, but is it going to sound different from what I have done before?