There are at least a few parallels which can be drawn between the careers of Pictures frontman Maze Exler (pronounced ‘mat-zay’ not ‘maize’ as I recently discovered) and Paul Weller, the man who Pictures will be supporting again in September.
First of all, both gained keen followings early in their respective careers, Paul as the voice of a generation in the Jam and Maze (after founding the band Jonas) in cult German grunge-meisters Union Youth, whose voice and flamboyant stage style drew early comparisons with Nirvana before he diversified his style in later years. Both bands then ended – and this is where Exler’s story takes a darker turn. Whereas Weller simply changed musical direction with the Style Council, Exler and his bandmates disappeared from the public eye and got ‘proper’ jobs. However, Exler suffered from a crippling heroin addiction which nearly put paid to Pictures before they even got going.
Both, however, are now happy and doing what they do best. Maze got the help he needed, and after a difficult period of unemployment following the rejection of the Style Council’s final album Weller went solo and is now going from strength to strength. So, it’s hardly surprising that the Weller camp chose Pictures to support them on both German legs of their European tour this year, first back in spring at five gigs and now in Autumn on three dates.
One other thing which links Weller and Exler are the calls for them to reform their former bands. Weller has, in the past, been nothing short of categoric in his emphatic rejection of repeated requests to reform the Jam. So far, Exler has not had to answer such vociferous calls, but they are nonetheless there under the moniker of ‘Reunion Youth’.
Exler, of course, is far from the only member of Pictures worth talking about. One interesting thing about the band is their geographical spread across Germany. Unlike their influences, famed Liverpudlians the Beatles, the band are scattered. Exler and guitarist Ole Fries, who first worked as an engineer for Union Youth before meeting Exler and writing the songs for debut LP Promise together, are both from Berlin whereas bassist Markus Kreig is from Bad Ems in the West, a town not too far from Norwich’s twin city Koblenz. Drummer Michael Borwitzky hails from Hamburg in the North.
Pictures’ sound is hard to categorise, although it is a fair distance from Union Youth’s heavier offering. On Promise, acoustic ballad Emily sits alongside the energetic Here I Come, a proper rock song and natural set opener with its buzzing vibrations and raw guitar riffs from Fries – plus for an added bonus Exler goes full Spice Girls on the chorus: “tell me what you want, what you really really want, come on!”. Just a hint of Tears for Fears comes through on Come On, featuring a great guitar solo, one of several tunes which invokes the slightest whiff of Oasis. The layered final track, the reprise of the sparky Love, even harks towards Weller’s guitarist Steve Cradock’s solo work. There are some interesting bass lines from Kreig throughout the album with perhaps Borwitzky’s best moment of many behind the kit coming in Promise.
The spirit of the Fab Four is evident in the band’s tightness throughout, with the players swapping instruments for some tracks. However, tracks like single Promise and the band’s signature tune Down Under the Hill have a distinctly modern flavour. The standout number comes near the end both of the album and Pictures’ live set. Save My Heart is a brutally honest, emotional confession from Exler. Its sparse backing only enhances the heavy mood created by the lyrics and Exler’s rasping delivery stretched almost as far as it will go, also seen on the likes of Wouldn’t It Be Great.
Pictures’ work ethic is also impressive. Supporting Weller in Berlin, no sooner had their set finished than the whole band were on stage, helping their roadies to clear their equipment, not something you see from every band. On stage as well as afterwards, they were clearly grateful of the opportunity not just to support Weller, but to be doing what they love professionally.
There are plenty of chances to see Pictures if you find yourself in Germany in the coming months. They have been playing a run of festivals which, after a visit to Confluentes Festival in Koblenz this Saturday, concludes at the end of this month with a run of appearances in: Düsseldorf (Sommerklänge, 24th), Alfeld (Beach Bitch Rock, 26th) and Berlin (Pure&Crafted, 27th). They support Weller for three consecutive September nights in Saarbrücken (Garage, 3rd) Munich (Technikum, 4th) and Leipzig (Täubchenthal, 5th). If it is anything like Berlin, their set before Weller should last about 30 minutes and include all the best known songs from Promise. Then they head out on their own nine-date headline tour across Germany in December and January. See the posters below for more information.
Below you will find the discography so far of Pictures’ output, accurate 1/8/2017, with links to YouTube videos where they are available. For beginners, a good place to start would be the excellent studio sessions of some of the album’s standout songs, they have clearly been edited and mixed by a team who know about music films, not always the case for live videos of other artists. Note the blistering version of Fall here.
2014 Live at Berlin Erika & Hilde (11/10/2014 – Maze and Ole live acoustic – Pictures’ first gig)
Promise (official video filmed by Christian von Brockhausen and Christoph Bietz)
Down Under the Hill
See the Sun
Unknown Song………(Alternative Video – excerpt)
2015 Live at Köln Luxor (5/11/2015 – full band)
2017 Vevo dscvr session (released 20/4/2017 – full band)
Let the Music Shine
Könige Der Welt (NDR Documentary, premiered at Berlinale 2017, Dir. Christian von Brockhausen and Timo Großpietsch)
View trailer (German, no subs)
Opening sequence (German, no subs)
Promotional interview with Maze and Michael (German, no subs)
Those with access to Spotify can stream not only the album below but also the soundtrack to 2015 film About A Girl, to which Pictures contributed two tracks which are both well worth a listen if you’re into the band. Opening track Welcome to My World sees Pictures wearing some of their many influences on their sleeves and has not, to my knowledge, been released anywhere else. Exler and Fries are on fire lyrically, backed by a wicked riff, plenty of reverb and even, in one place, what sounds like a banjo or ukulele interlude! You can also hear a very rough, early version of the most Union Youth-reminiscent tune in their repertoire, the rocking Here I Come – one for the completists maybe.
This can be accessed from Pictures’ artist page, where they have also compiled a couple of playlists of their influences, and the soundtrack to Könige Der Welt, featuring mainly tracks from Pictures’ album, Union Youth and similar.
Album: Promise (released 3/2/2017 – Virgin Records)
1. Down Under the Hill
4. Here I Come
5. See the Sun
6. Let the Music Shine
6a. Rock ‘n’ Roll Life [bonus track – vinyl only]
7. Emily [start of vinyl side-B]
8. Not the Only One
9. Come On
11. Wouldn’t It Be Great
12. Save My Heart
13. Love (Reprise)
Upcoming Live Dates
5/8 Koblenz: Confluentes
24/8 Düsseldorf: Sommerklänge
26/8 Alfeld: Beach Bitch Rock
27/8 Berlin: Pure&Crafted
Supporting Paul Weller:
3/9 Saarbrücken Garage
4/9 Munich Technikum
5/9 Leipzig Täubchenthal
6/12 Hannover: Lux
7/12 Köln: Blue Shell
8/12 Lingen: Alter Schlachthof
9/12 Berlin: Badehaus
16/1 Dortmund: FZW Club
17/1 Hamburg: Prinzenbar
18/1 Koblenz: Circus Maximus
19/1 Munich: Milla
20/1 Nürnberg: Z-Bau
Photos on bottom poster by David Divjak
Pictures have just announced a new EP scheduled for release on Friday 1st September, just days before they hit the road with Weller again. It will feature four as yet unnamed stripped back, acoustic versions of songs from their debut album, under the moniker Kind of Promise. Stay tuned to their Facebook page for updates.
FURTHER UPDATE – 18/08/2017
The tracklisting has been confirmed for the Kind of Promise EP, which is now available to preorder on iTunes for when it comes out on the 1st September. Save My Heart is the only song of these not yet heard properly acoustic, and the only real surprise, but you imagine its pared down production would suit the transition. Fall, of course, was played on Flux FM acoustically, See the Sun at the first Erika & Hilde gig and Down Under the Hill at both, if you want a taste of what to expect.
Kind of Promise
1. Save My Heart (Acoustic)
2. Down Under the Hill (Acoustic)
3. Fall (Acoustic)
4. See the Sun (Acoustic)