When vocalist and guitarist Clemens Rehbein met DJ and producer Philipp Dausch on their first day of an advanced music course at the Jacob-Grimm-Schule in Kassel, Germany, no one could have predicted that a few short years later the duo would be known internationally for their distinctive fusion of folk, reggae and electronica.
“No one knew anybody because everyone had come from other schools, so it was an all-new situation with all-new people,” Rehbein remembers. “So we were all checking each other out and deciding who we wanted to hang with, and with Dausch it felt like we were on the same frequency. So we just started hanging out and making music together, and from the beginning it felt pretty natural.”
At first, they formed a jazz band with a few other students and named themselves Flown Tones. “We jammed a little and then we began to play together,” says Rehbein. “There were five of us – I played the bass and Philipp was on guitar. We played in that band for most of high school, but just before we graduated the band broke up and we formed Milky Chance.”
From these humble beginnings, and after having played only a handful of gigs around town, the innovative pair recorded their debut album Sadnecessary in a homemade studio in Rehbein’s family home. “The good thing about working together is that we both know what we can do, and what we can’t – it’s like a ping-pong game of ideas,” Rehbein says.
Soon, the pair began releasing carefully selected tracks onto YouTube and SoundCloud, and it wasn’t long before 2013’s ‘Stolen Dance’ was being heard and downloaded all over the world – achieving platinum status four times in Australia and making it to number four on the triple j Hottest 100, as well as topping the charts in Europe.
By 2014, Milky Chance had become the fresh faces of folk-inspired pop music, and audiences everywhere wanted to see them recreate their signature sound live. In the space of a few months, they sold out New York City’s famed Bowery Ballroom, made their television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and even managed to give a standout performance at Coachella, despite Rehbein being ill and losing his voice during their third song. However, he says his favourite gig in that breakout year was on the other side of the world.
“We’ve got the best memories, crazy memories of the first time we were in Australia. All in all we had a really good time, but our favourite place was Byron Bay. We played a festival there for New Year’s Eve, the Falls Festival.
“We played late afternoon – there was great light from the sun, and I can just remember there was a huge bunch of people. We played three songs and there were four guys doing like a shuffle dance – I don’t know what you call it – and then 30 seconds later everyone was doing the same dance,” he laughs. “Like 15 or 20 thousand people! We stopped playing and were like, ‘Woah! What’s happening right now? This is crazy, what are you doing?’ We were blown away. I still have the picture in my mind – it was a very cool moment. Like a moment you will never forget, and it was probably the craziest thing that’s happened to us as a band.”
In 2015, Milky Chance became a trio with the addition of guitarist Antonio Greger. They also began work on a second album Blossom, which is released this Friday. “We started recording the album in our hometown of Kassel, in my basement,” Rehbein says. “We recorded the demo, then we went to a bigger, more professional studio near our hometown, because we just felt like we needed more opportunity, more space, you know? We wanted to record real drums, real bass and real guitar using better amps. We wanted to create our own samples and sounds, so it was a natural step to move to a bigger studio, though we were still only 40 minutes away from home.”
For Rehbein, staying close to home was especially important as he became a father for the first time in the process of making Blossom. “There’s one song on the album that I wrote for my daughter, but lots of songs are influenced by the experience. It’s a very inspiring thing that happens to you. It changes everything suddenly, and it changes the perspective you have on things. It changes your state of mind and your general connection to the world – it’s just cool. It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me, despite all the other great stuff.”
Rehbein’s ability to express and explore universal feelings of love, loss, happiness and fear is undoubtedly one of the factors behind Milky Chance’s runaway success, but he insists Sadnecessary and Blossom were a hands-on collaborative effort.
“The lyrics are always up to me – I always do the songwriting and then I come up with the melodies and harmonies,” he explains. “Then we start working on the production – we start working on the beat, the rhythm. There’s a lot of back and forth, but we just have a really easy, flowy way of working together.”
Rehbein admits, however, that despite his positive outlook on all things Milky Chance, feelings of uncertainty can creep up on him from time to time. “I’ve had time to think about this because lots of people have asked me how I feel about our new situation – our second album, all the pressure – and it’s a little difficult because people are waiting for something, and they’re expecting something too I guess. But in the end it’s just something you can’t worry about. I don’t have a recipe for success for stuff like this, so the most important thing for us is that we feel good and that we had as much fun recording the album as we did with the first one.
“Now we’re just having a lot of fun playing all the new songs live onstage, and that’s what it’s about. We can’t wait to play for people, and we hope they like it, but you never know.”
Milky Chance are currently on a world tour and will be back Down Under in April and May for Groovin The Moo and a string of headline shows, including at the Enmore Theatre. While it’s no secret that Rehbein struggles in being away from home for long periods, he says they do their best to support each other.
“On the road right now we have ten guys; there’s lots going on,” he says. “We travel with a whole crew – we have extra guys with us onstage. There are two other musicians and our friends, and it’s a group of people that have known each other for years now. We’re just like a small family – it’s really cool.”
Joining them on the lineup for Groovin The Moo are a stellar bunch of Australian and international acts. “I know Loyle Carner is playing there, and Tash Sultana – she’s very good,” Rehbein says. “We always try to catch up with as many people as possible – catch up with the music and try to meet new people. We always love playing at festivals, because once you’ve played your set, you can go out and join the crowd and have fun – and maybe even have a dance!”