Hauntingly visceral and poetically cerebral, the melodic and lyrical compositions that comprise Berlin-based band Fenster’s debut album Bones seem to excavate our collective subconscious. The result is a powerful collection of songs that have rapidly infiltrated Europe’s independent music scene since forming in the winter of 2010.
The creation of Jonathan Jarzyna, a Berliner, and J.J. Weihl, a New Yorker (with the recent addition of Rémi Letournelle), Fenster describes their style as “deconstructed pop music, layering subtle distortions, melodic chords and city soundscapes under dream narratives and schadenfreude.” Blending macabre narratives with Dadaist and Surrealist symbolism, Fenster’s compositions coalesce in a sound that has been compared to Cat Power, The Velvet Underground and Beirut.
How did you start working together?
J.J.: We met in February 2009, and ended up playing songs together in a kitchen in the wee hours of the morning, drinking beers and passing a guitar around. But it wasn’t until I left and came back to Berlin in the spring of 2010 that we started collaborating in a more serious way.
How have you grown together as musicians?
J.J.: We’re learning how to retain wonder, and constantly challenge ourselves to make music we find beautiful and interesting. Jonathan: J.J. has a less cerebral, more intuitive way of writing songs. She’ll come up with a chord progression or a bass line and then spend days or weeks working out the lyrics. One of us will come up with a riff or a musical theme, and then we’ll both sort of intuitively pick up different instruments and build slowly, shaping things and tearing things down like a sandcastle.
How do you feel your sound is influenced by Berlin?
Jonathan: Berlin has been a lot of different places for me… It’s challenging to continuously find new and exciting things in a city you know so well. Berlin has influenced the way I’m able to alienate familiar things like riding the same subway I’ve ridden a thousand times and recording the sounds of people talking or the noises of the train, and integrating them into a song. J.J.: For me, Berlin has always been like never-never land, the secret life I’ve created in a blank slate of a city where I didn’t know anyone and no one seems to grow up. Moving to Berlin was like entering a parallel universe where there was more space, more solitude, and more time. I don’t think a project like Fenster would have been possible for me to create in New York.
Your lyrics have a kind of universality, how would you describe that?
Jonathan: I think the appeal of some of our lyrics is that they have this sort of vague specificity, if you can call it that, that allows everyone to assign them personal meaning.
J.J.: “Fantasy II” is about growing up, and being confronted with dystopian reality, like waking up from a beautiful dream into a nightmare that’s actually called life. “We built a hideaway / Selling tickets to the afterlife / We blew our minds away / Tripping softly on a landmine.”
Text by Emilie Trice
Photography by Maxime Ballesteros