Milky Chance goes swimming in the deep end

The German group recorded its debut album with no goal beyond having fun—then that YouTube thing happened

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      When it came time to think about a follow-up to the surprise success story Sadnecessary, Milky Chance’s Clemens Rehbein and Philipp Dausch weren’t worried about pleasing their fans, record company executives, or booking agents. The upside to rocketing onto an international stage out of nowhere (the town of Kassel, Germany, to be exact) is that you end up very much aware of what’s at stake when considering the often-dreaded sophomore record.

      Having progressed from a casual bedroom project to YouTube sensations to playing Coachella and Glastonbury, the men of Milky Chance knew that the record after Sadnecessary would be important. Recognizing that, they decided—once again—to rely on each other when it came to getting creative.

      “A lot of times, people talk about the pressure that comes with having to write a second album,” Rehbein says, on the line from a tour bus just pulling out of Montreal. “But more important are the expectations that you have for yourself. In the past four years the band became kind of like our job. We are living off it now, so we want to keep it going every bit as much as other people wanted us to do something that was good. Sometimes it’s even harder to deal with your own expectations than to deal with the expectations of people from the outside world. You can pressure yourself far more than anyone else can, which I can say is not too good for creativity.”

      Despite that, Milky Chance’s second outing, Blossom, is a triumph that’s going to both please the band’s fans and bring a whole lot of new folks to the party. Without straying too far from the folktronica template that got them on the world’s radar, Rehbein (vocals and guitar) and Dausch (production and beatmaking) pull on the black cowboy hats for the Americana-noir title track, fire up the Sgt. Pepper–brand vintage organ for “Firebird”, and re-create the sound of ’90s Seattle with the black-days acoustic ballad “Stay”. Milky Chance sounds as at home diving into dub-flavoured Afropop (“Clouds”) as it does firing up a joint for the space-reggae jam “Bad Things”.

      The bandmates certainly had the means to do something different with Blossom. They crafted their debut in the Kassel home of Dausch, whose mom was often downstairs, happily letting the two know when they were truly onto something, such as “Stolen Dance”. After being uploaded to YouTube, the song went viral, and is currently sitting at an astonishing 366 million views. Buoyed by the video hit, as well as by the equally infectious single “Down by the River”, Milky Chance’s Sadnecessary topped charts around the world, going platinum in the States.

      When it came time to begin working on Blossom, the last thing the Milky Chance bandmates wanted to do was force themselves to be creative in a studio, where the dollars mount up with every tick of the clock. So, instead, they went back to working at home during the writing process.

      “We did the second album just like the first one, working on the demos, just me and Philipp, in a very intimate way with just the two of us back home at Philipp’s flat,” Rehbein says. “That was really important to us.”

      That music has turned into a career has surprised both Rehbein and Dausch, high-school friends who played jazz in a four-piece before reinventing themselves as Milky Chance.

      “We never really had a backup plan, but also we didn’t plan to kick off a music career the way that we did,” Rehbein admits. “We wanted to go travelling after finishing high school. That was actually the main thing that we were focused on. But during the summer we recorded our album [Sadnecessary] just for fun. We didn’t have any touring plans or any schedule at that time—we just wanted to record some music because we were so into music.

      “Then that whole YouTube thing kind of started and we were thrown into the cold water having to swim. Suddenly we were getting emails from A&R people from big labels on our Facebook page asking to meet us. We were so skeptical about it all that it was actually pretty funny. Looking back, we actually didn’t really want to work with anybody but ourselves. But opportunities opened up, and so we were like, ‘Um, okay. Maybe we’ll do the travelling later.’ I think you could say that this has all been a super big accident.”

      Except that it’s not, really. Milky Chance has stumbled onto a mix that’s accessible enough for people who live on the likes of Jack Johnson and Ben Harper, and yet adventurous enough for those who can’t get enough of Pepe Deluxe and vintage Peter Gabriel. Sometimes it pays off to tune out everything but one’s inner voice.

      “When we work on stuff, we’re doing it very intuitively—we’re not the kind of people who go into the studio having a real clear vision,” Rehbein reveals. “We’re not going after a certain sound, or having a concept for how a whole album should be. It’s more like ‘Start working, start recording, and see what happens.’ ”

      Milky Chance plays the Commodore on Saturday and Sunday (February 3 and 4).