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Supernatural sounds

June 14, 2012

Switzerland may lag behind Germany and Austria somewhat in terms of exporting cool indie music, but when it does, it can really come up with the goods. DW caught up with teen all-girl trio Velvet Two Stripes in Berlin.

Image: Snowhite

Cool indie bands are ten a penny in Germany. Even neighboring Austria throws up new music on a relatively regular basis. But neighbor Switzerland seldom blips on the music radar.

Switzerland may play the strong but silent type, but when it does see fit to export music, it's generally well worth the wait. Last year the duo BOY - one half of which consists of Zurich-born Valeska Steiner - were the darlings of the music press. Their dreamy pop productions and harmonised vocals caught the attention of German musical heavyweight Herbert Grönemeyer, who signed them to his Grönland imprint.

Since then, Switzerland has retreated to the musical shadows. But that, it seems, is all about to change. Velvet Two Stripes represent Swiss music of a different kind; raw, energetic and powerful. Their spiky guitar riffs and rough garage sound belie the fact that the band is made up of three teenage girls from St. Gallen; sisters Sophie and Sara Diggelmann (vocals and guitars, respectively) and keyboard player Franca Mock. Gearing up to release their debut EP, Supernatural, at the end of June, the girls recently played a sold-out show at venue White Trash in Germany's capital where lead singer Sophie spoke to DW.

DW: I read that Velvet Two Stripes came about due to an argument about who was the best between BB King, Janis Joplin and the Ramones. Did you ever reach a decision on that?

Sophie Diggelmann: No, we actually didn't decide a winner. We just decided that each of them has something which suits us. I prefer The Ramones, Sara prefers B. B. King, and Franca, she loves Janis Joplin. So we couldn't really find a solution.

Your EP, Supernatural, features a broad mix of styles. Do you approach writing an EP differently than an album?

No, it's not really different. I think the reason there are so many different styles on there is that we’re still looking for our own style. We’re still a really young band. We only started a year and a half ago, so it takes some time to find our sound.

Generally an album is a concept and is designed to be listened to one unit. With an EP, perhaps you can be more experimental and use it more to advertise what you can do?

Actually, we just took the songs we liked most and also the songs other people liked most. I’m not sure how we’re going to do it for the album though. Maybe we'll just take all our songs. I guess it depends how many we have!

Why do we very rarely hear music coming from Switzerland?I don't know. There are quite a few good indie bands in Switzerland. Bands like All Ship Shape and Monoski are very good. I think they have the potential to do well outside Switzerland. But you always need a lot of luck. I just think they don't get the support they should get. Usually if you sign to a Swiss label, they are only thinking about promoting that within Switzerland because they don't have the contacts to promote it abroad. Maybe it will take a few years but Switzerland will prove it has good music.

St. Gallen market square
The girls' hometown: St. Gallen in SwitzerlandImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Is the infrastructure there though? Does Switzerland have things like indie labels and indie radio stations?

It does, but there are very few indie labels and very few indie radio stations, and there aren't many people who know about stuff like that because most people just listen to the mainstream charts.

So, as a Swiss musician, does it actually make sense to stay in Switzerland?

I think we're going to move to Berlin (laughs). It really depends what kind of indie music you make. If you just make indie pop, like happy songs and so on, you really can have success in Switzerland because that's really popular at the moment. But if you want to do something different then I think Swiss people aren't really ready. They just don't get it.

It's 2012. Do you think the music industry is still sexist? Do you think people look at you guys and think, "Oh, it's girls doing garage, it must be interesting"?

No, I don't think so. Girl bands shouldn't just rely on how they look. There are a lot of girl bands that try to look sexy on stage and fair enough if you can't do more. But to be interesting, I think you have to be a good musician. I don't know; sometimes it works if you are just a pretty face. But sometimes not!

I've spoken to countless guys who freely admit that they play in a band to have sex with groupies. How does that dynamic work when you're a girl band? Are you scanning the crowd for guys to sleep with?

No, not really. When we are on stage we're not really looking for guys. And we don't really have groupies actually. I think sometimes guys are just too shy and are too scared to approach us.

Do you wish they would?

It depends if they're good looking!

Interview: Gavin Blackburn

For more from Sophie Diggelmann and to hear tracks from Velvet Two Stripes' latest EP check out this week's edition of Soundscape 100 (link below).