Local musicians Oli Crisp and Ryan Wood from indie band Scenes of Berlin join us to discuss their upcoming album…
Scenes of Berlin is comprised of two key members. London-born guitarist Oli Crisp and local bassist Ryan Wood. Both class themselves as singer-songwriters for the band, which set up a couple of years ago. Now, their first album, entitled Shame, is in the final stages of production. And with that in mind, Oli and Ryan joined us for a little interview to discuss this and their overall story…
WHAT INSPIRED YOUR RESPECTIVE LOVES OF MUSIC?
OLI: For me, the first inspiration was The Beatles. I grew up listening to my dad’s records of them. And then as I grew into my teenage years, I went onto slightly left- and right-field. My main inspirations were the likes of David Bowie, The Smiths, bands like that. And then, since I met Ryan, there’s been a lot more guitar-based, indie bands. The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, that kind of thing.
RYAN: Oli said he started with The Beatles, whereas it was the reverse for me. I didn’t properly listen to The Beatles until two years ago. I had been downplaying their significance for a long time. My older love was The Velvet Underground. Not necessarily “The American Beatles”, but one of the big influences around that time. But when I actually listened to The Beatles a few years ago, I couldn’t deny it then. Just the greatest band, in terms of achievements – especially over the decade in which they were active.
In between that, like Oli was saying, I listened to a lot of indie music. Ever since I was a teenager, bands like The Strokes massively inspired me. The British indie scene, and the American indie scene. That’s fundamentally what made me play music.
HOW DO YOU TWO KNOW EACH OTHER? AND HOW DID YOU COME TO FORM “SCENES OF BERLIN”?
O: It’s been nearly ten years since Ryan and I actually met. I was 17 and doing my A-Levels, and I joined Ryan’s band. I saw an ad for a bass player, and we stayed in touch after that fizzled out. The Scenes of Berlin project started back around 2016.
R: Yeah, we were in that previous band; I was a part of that between 2010 and 2013. Oli went to uni and I put music down for a bit. And then in 2016, we just started playing together again. And since then, we’ve been finding a kindred spirit in one another. Writing music that we wish we had played in the old band.
WHERE DOES THE NAME “SCENES OF BERLIN” COME FROM?
O: I think Ryan came up with the “Scenes Of” part of the name. I was quite keen on it having some kind of location. And I was intent on trying to persuade Ryan to let me have Berlin in the name. I went there a couple of years ago; the city’s conflict always interested me. The East-meets-West. I wanted a name that would evoke some kind of imagery, and Berlin just fit in.
R: Berlin has a musical heritage. Not just within Germany itself, but for artists that migrated there. Bowie went there, Lou Reed went there. And they’re massive influences on me and Oli. So that made sense.
O: My favourite album of all time — for now, anyway… it changes all the time — is David Bowie’s Low. That was a reinvention of Bowie. He left LA, left all his troubles behind, and just started this new project in Berlin. That felt quite relevant.
WHAT TRIGGERED THE IDEA TO PUT AN ALBUM TOGETHER?
R: You have to bear in mind the band that we were in before. That has a lot to do with why I was driven to do this project. We did loads of live shows in the old band — played up and down the country. And we did an EP, which was professionally done, but it was only five songs. There was very much a feeling of unfinished business about that. I kept thinking that I didn’t write great stuff… I was about 23, and I had no good life experiences to put on record.
So when it came to Scenes of Berlin, my goal was to get in there, write some songs, play original stuff. I didn’t want to muck about doing covers too much — I wanted to see what we could write. And I had an album in my mind. As soon as we started, I was thinking, “This is what I haven’t done. I want a ten- or 11-song record that I can be proud of”. Something that can stand as something of a legacy — for me, anyway. And something with which I can say, “This is what I did after that previous band”.
O: For me, I was 17 or 18 when we were in that previous band. It was my first musical experience, and I definitely took a lot more of a back seat. I wasn’t really involved as much as I later (and now) wanted to be. Things like songwriting, vocals, things like that. So, when the opportunity arose for me and Ryan to do something together, with me taking a joint front seat, I couldn’t turn that down.
WHAT CAN LISTENERS EXPECT TO HEAR FROM YOUR ALBUM?
R: It’s not a concept album, but it is — in my mind — very heavily themed. I’m really excited about that, because it wasn’t planned. We wrote a number of the songs together, but with COVID, we’ve had to write some of the songs away from each other as well. There’s been quite a lot of productivity in this last year, to get the numbers up on the album. And there’s very little else you can do. When you’re stuck in your house, you tend to do what comes naturally, and that was writing and recording songs in our case.
This last year has been very self-reflective… introspective… for many people. I think in the US, with the Black Lives Matter movement… as a country, we responded to what happened over there. And a lot of us took a look at ourselves and our history. So I think our record is very liberal. It never set out to be a political record – and trust me, there are songs on there that aren’t political at all. But there are genuine stabs at looking at our history. And Oli is a bit of a history buff. He comes to me with things… “I’ve been watching a documentary on this…” and all of a sudden, he’s written something. And they’re among the things we’re proudest of. Because you get stuff out on record that you wouldn’t necessarily feel confident saying in words or face-to-face. Singing it, performing it… it brings out this viewpoint.
The record is called Shame, and that’s just what it’s about. Your own shame… your country’s shame… shame of the past… shamelessness.
O: I’ve been thinking recently that in my lifetime, 2020 was the most important year. It’s going to be a year that, in 50 years time, people are still going to look back and say, “Wow. 2020 was a bit of a strange one”. So many things came to light. Ryan mentioned Black Lives Matter. Obviously we had COVID. There’s the ongoing Brexit scenario. And again, it fit in with left-meets-right, east-meets-west. That conflict seemed to inspire quite a bit.
DO YOU THINK YOU WILL DO LIVE PERFORMANCES ONCE IT BECOMES POSSIBLE?
O: I want to. I’m already planning my agenda to get out there and do live shows. Whenever that becomes possible… I might be too old to do it by then… hopefully not. In the old band nine or ten years ago, the live stuff is what I look back on more than anything and say, “That was really good”. There were experiences that were good, that were bad. I’d definitely like to have another crack at doing live shows.
R: I wasn’t hesitant, but playing live was secondary for me, before we got an album done. That was my goal. That was what I wanted: material. Now the material is there, and we’re strong with playing several songs, got rid of the rust… I’m much more inclined to say “Yes” to performing live. Once this album’s released, and I’ve done that bucket list thing for myself, I could play again. Make that one of the bigger priorities when such a thing is possible.
WHAT ARE YOUR NEXT STEPS, POST-COVID?
R: We’re already talking about doing more material, further down the line. We learnt a lot from the recording process. Neither of us have degrees in music production… we had to get some help along the way. I’d love to think that we’d do more and that we’d release more frequently. Now that it’s become more possible for artists to release their own music. It’s not some clandestine organisation. You can just upload it via one of these subscription services.
When it comes to music, you’re generally speaking about writing, recording and performing. I can see me and Oli probably doing a podcast down the line. With the right equipment, doing our own thing there. We’re good friends, so we’d happily chat casually for up to an hour.
O: Yeah, we have discussed future projects. The album is nearly finished, in terms of mixing and mastering. We have already discussed what we’d do next time regarding the mixing process. I get carried away — I could easily start talking about the next three albums. But we want to finish Shame and get it out.
HAVE A LISTEN TO “SCENES OF BERLIN”
If you want to listen to Oli and Ryan’s music, click the video below:
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