Nerdlocker Exclusive – Band Interview: Nerd School

In Berlin, Germany, 2009, a two man band at the time under the pseudonym Metal Messiahs Mitte began. In the same year, the band did a guerrilla-like handout of their demo CD to the gathered fans at a Beatsteaks concert. The actual name of the band at the time was still secret, but the demo CD was reaching throughout Germany faster than either of the members ever dreamed. Within only four weeks, links to over 6000 websites containing the songs could be found, and the band was in large contention for stage time at the two largest simultaneous rock ‘n’ roll festivals in Germany: Rock am Park and Rock im Ring. This is the same festival that bands like Rammstein, Metallica, Trivium, The Prodigy, Korn, Slipknot and many more play at each year.

Motivated by the great popularity of their initial songs, founders Thomas Castro Molina Crowe of Berlin (guitars and vocals) and Lars Derrenger Gyllenhaal of Essen (drums and vocals) decided to lift the veil of secrecy from the band. And out of the shadows came Nerd School. The two-man band began looking for a bassist, but after trying out many, they decided that none had the feel they were looking for. The decision to keep Nerd School as a duo stuck and they moved forward with their adventure. Even with the long distances between both band members (around 288 miles), over only a few weekend sessions they were able to write more than fifteen songs for their playlist.

In the summer of 2010, with their new music playlist, they made their way to the Berlin Fete de la Musique Festival in a rented truck. Once there, they folded down the sides and let the music begin. Within the first few songs, over 200 fans were beginning to gather and were amazed with the music and energy coming from the two-man band in the back of the small truck bed. They were impressed with the precision and richness that came across with only the two men (one on drums and one on guitar). It matched and even surpassed what was coming from many of the large bands at the same festival.

Now two years later, Nerd School is still bringing energy and fun to every stage show. With their first full-length CD released on May 18th and concerts lasting through the entire summer, the band is poised for world-wide recognition. I happened to catch the music video for their single “I Love You” and fell in love. I knew straight away that I needed to get in touch with the band for an interview, and they were awesome enough to chat.

Nerdlocker (NL): Hey, thanks for doing the interview.

Lars Derrenger Gyllenhaal (LDG): You’re welcome. Thanks for having us here.

NL: Tell me a little about Nerd School and what it is that attracts you both to “Nerd” subculture.

LDG: Nerd School is comparable to a relationship – it is loud, emotional, angry, funny, full of soul and power. I think one of the most interesting things about Nerd School is that we are performing with two musicians, and listeners are shocked because they think it sounds like a band of four or five is playing on stage. We both decided, after a couple of tries, to perform as a duo because we realized that we can produce enough power to rock the stage as a two piece.

I think we are part of a subculture ’cause most of the things we do and organize – like rehearsals, performing live on stage, doing video and photo shoots, doing interviews, producing an album – all this is done in our own DIY-style, with lots of passion and manpower. Don’t know, if it’s a “Nerd” subculture, but being Nerdy, man, is a hard job…but someone’s got to do it! Hahaha!

I try to be a “Nerd at heart,” not just in mind. I don’t like the “fashion-nerds.” I like people who stand for something, collect something or even do something just because THEY love to do it – not because of being a member of a hip scene or movement.

Thomas Castro Molina Crowe (TCMC): What we both like on the definition of being a Nerd are two things. First, it’s the fact that the public view on someone that was considered lame, boring and uncool turned into something completely opposite and is today a synonym for a cool, well-respected, passionate expert and is sometimes admired for his/her skills and knowledge. That doesn’t mean that there are no more lame and boring Nerds out there, but the public view and especially the use of the term “Nerd” has turned into something people relate to a very passionate exposure to something. And that passion is the second fundamental thing that we like on what you call “Nerd subculture,” because we think that such kind of passion should be the motor to everyone’s life.

You have to DO the things you love to find fun and happiness, that’s the point, no excuses! When we played our first gig as Nerd School we hadn’t been on stage for almost 10 years and after the show we went offstage, grinning at each other, asking ourselves, “How could it happen that it took us so long to have so much fun again?” So, do it, be a Nerd! Get your grin back! Okay, I have to stop now before I get too pathetic!

NL: What is the story about you both? How did you meet and when did you decide to start a band together?

LDG: We first met back in the late ’90s. In those days, the German music scene was a vivid melting pot of different, interesting and progressive rock-bands. We both played in different bands, always kept an eye on the other. We had a running gag at that time: Tom: “YOU are in the wrong band!” Lars: “And so are YOU!” It took us years to start a project with the musicians we REALLY like. After some really powerful rehearsals as a duo, we started to play live in the summer of 2010.

TCMC: When we finally found the time to get together I had already moved to Berlin and Lars was still living in Essen, which is a five hour ride, so we had to travel a lot to rehearse and develop songs together, which made it difficult to find a bass player who was willing to take these exertions. Finding someone who, in addition to that, also has a similar musical background and is finally a cool dude that fits to us personally, turned out to be almost impossible.

Playing as a duo wasn’t an option for us in the beginning because whenever we saw bands like that live, we thought, “Okay, they have great songs, but a bass would make it sound better and is missing somehow.” And that’s what we didn’t want. And then I once saw a band called The Sea in London and they had a small bass combo on stage and that was when I started thinking on how we could have a bass without a bass player and that really aroused my ambitions. So when I found a working set-up for my gear and hit the strings for the first time, it just blew me away. I never played guitar with such enormous power and energy that was big fun! Up ’til then it was still a lot of trial and error to optimize everything, but we basically found a way for us to play as a two-piece, and that was the start for Nerd School!

NL: Thomas, you come originally from Los Angeles. What brought you to Germany? Are you an ex-pat such as myself, staying here after the Army?

TCMC: No, I was just born in the L.A. area, my father was working as a cook in Costa Mesa, but my parents moved back to Germany when I was two years old. But I still have a cousin over there, working for Tinseltown.

NL: How did you come up with the style of music you play? For a lot of people only having two members in a band can make it difficult, you both seem to click really well together.

LDG:  Are you expecting a short version of answering?! Haha! Sorry, it’s my favorite topic to engage… HAHA!

But seriously, I think there are some reasons why we click really well together as Nerd School.  The fact that we both have a very similar musical socialization and open-minded ears for the ideas of the other is essential. Our work is always a mix of give and get – to keep the songs in a dynamic feel. As a drummer I feel free to push or break up the flow – that’s what Tom and I demand from ourselves. Always try to give the best we can – not just technically, but absolutely energetic – and true (ask a metal-head).

TCMC:  Yeah, we just do the things we wanna do, playing the music the way we feel and that we enjoy without focusing on being “only” a two-piece band. If something is not possible to create with four hands, we don’t do it. But the things we can do are all the way we like it. And we’re still impressed by ourselves sometimes how much power we can create with “only” two people. Look at Angus when he is doing his solo part at an AC/DC stadium show. A man, a guitar and 80,000 people! That’s what I call raw power. That’s why he’s the king of rock, the real number one!

NL: In the past year, Nerd School has been gaining a lot of attention with concerts at the ACUD in Berlin, the MTC in Köln (Cologne to Americans), not to mention the Berlin Vision Song Contest. And it all seemed to start in 2010, with a small concert from you both, in what seemed to be the back of a truck at the Fete Del La Musique, in Berlin. Now with a CD having been released on the 18th of May, and shows lined up for the next four months, how has it affected you both?

TCMC:  The grin on our face got bigger!

We are both still very happy how everything developed up to now. When we went on that truck at Berlin’s “fete de la musique”, less than 2 years ago, we did that for the fun of playing live again, but didn’t expected to have such a well-produced album already. It’s cool, we don’t have pressure from anything and just let the things come in as they come.

Of course we are ambitious and want to do every single Nerd School thing as best as possible, but it’s great to see “what goes around comes around”, especially now that we found support from so many people working with us FOR FREE on our recordings, videos, graphic arts, etc. That’s an enormous input and an even bigger output that still surprises us a lot of times, especially because we just started this thing.

LDG:   Yeah, playing live on stage, producing an album and doing all the stuff like video- and photo-shoots or getting interviewed is great experience for us. The last two years were very exciting, sometimes exhausting, but in the end our little baby will be born on May 18th, and it`s all worth it. It makes me very proud and happy. It’s another push in motivation.

NL: Now this being a Nerd based magazine, I have to ask, what do you both “do” or “collect” that may be considered “Nerdy”?

TCMC:  O.M.G. that’s a delicate question, because as we share a “nerdy” kind of passion for our music and the band, we also have both our own personal which are always good for a few abrasive comments.

As a guitar player I’m NEVER really satisfied with my sound and I always think about what I can try out next, what’s the next achievement for my pedal board, and so on. So I can spend hour’s plugging in cables, turnin’ knobs, changing and listening.  You can’t share enjoyment on all that buzzin’ and fuzzin’ with a drummer! On the other hand, Lars himself always has an eagle-eye on his drum-kit, especially on his cymbals. He really beats the shit out of them on stage but treats them like little babies afterwards. That’s bugging nerdy to me, sometimes!

LDG:   To me it’s pretty “nerdy” to collect thousands of “bonus-miles” on the freeway just to do some rehearsals… in my car there are a vast number of receipts from German gas stations…I’m collecting all of them! HAHA!

NL: After the release of the album “Ready. Set. Go” how do you view these songs in retrospect to others you have produced?

TCMC:  Well this is the first official Nerd School release, besides our single “I love you”. But compared to older demos that we produced we had for the first time the opportunity to create all the songs in detail. I mean to support parts of the songs with sound-designs in the background, add guitars and bring the songs completely to life. I always compare a song that you play only live with a story that you tell people mouth to mouth. Not ’til you recorded the song is it like the written down story it is intended to be.

LDG:  It was the best we could put on a record back at that point, not to forget that we recorded all songs within 3 days! It will definitely not be our last release!  There are lots of new ideas and a few more songs coming up in 2012.

NL: I need to say that for the first single, and video, “I Love You” was a wonderful song to choose. The video itself is full of energy, and the song is just amazing. I love watching Lars in the video, his expressions are priceless.

LDG: Priceless?! I`m working hard to loose control of my facial expressions! While playing a live gig, it’s sometimes just an expression of pure, mindless fun. But sometimes I feel just totally pumped out. For the video we used some “static” studio-shots with some powerful shots taken from a live show we’d done a day later at the same venue.

The song “I Love You” is maybe representative of the typical Nerd School sound and feel. We wanted to choose a song for the first single that contained a very dynamic groove, bumping guitar-riffs crossed with some roughly played accents and added by a powerful hookline. It’s a song about love and hate, about being disrupted with your emotions, about craving the “right” decisions in life and relationships. Because of this inner conflict we tried to push this song to a very energetic feeling. But after all, it ends in the message: I Love You!

So enjoy the video & have fun!

[youtube id=”vODnTa426aY” width=”600″ height=”350″]

NL: IS this CD be available on iTunes for sale?

TCMC:  Yes, and all other usual download sources.

NL: Any tie to the anniversary of the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens in 1980, which also Erupted on May 18th? Are you trying to say your CD will erupt onto the charts?

TCMC:  Yeah, that’s right! But unfortunately you’re the first one that got that, we thought people would realize that more readily!!!  NOPE! But what a funny analogy!

LDG: Let there be a greater eruption – let there be ROCK, HAHA!

 NL: What are some of the plans for Nerd School in the future?

 LDG:  Going further on all the Nerd School stuff, but even more bigger and better, hopefully!

More than that….I don’t know. Rock the world, playing abroad, GET PAID and signing a major deal?!? I’m here, I’m ready!! Haha!

TCMC:  Playing live is definitely the main target! As many times and in front of as many people as possible. It’s cool to see that the venues we can play slowly change. We will play for the first time outside of Germany in the summer on festivals in Italy and Switzerland and we hope that we can expand that. There is a line in our song “Soulwax” that you can take pretty literally “I got a dream of Nerd School live in Tokyo!” That’s it! Haha!

Ah yeah, and by way: If everything goes well, we will shoot two music videos for new songs in the States in September, which will be BIG, I tell ya! We’re really looking forward to that!

NL: Wow! Making videos in the U.S.? Remember if you’re in the Las Vegas area you can always stop by the Nerdlocker HQ. And say Hi!

TCMC:  We will around between NYC and Washington for about 2 weeks and then go to Arizona and Southern California for another 6 days.  I will take you by your word, cause we will be in Vegas for a short stop, too!

NL: Well, I know that some of the other guys and I in Nerdlocker were joking how our names work well together. I stated that you “go to Nerd School, get your material from your Nerdlocker, and then attend class…” 

TCMC:  Yeah, that’s right! We used that topic also as a red line for our website, so you will find a music class there and a video class, stage class, art class, debate class, etc.

NL: For the new Nerd School fans in the states, do you have any shirts or merchandise they can buy online?

TCMC:  Yeah, our Label POTTpeople started an online shop recently with shirts and hoodies and all that stuff. I think there will be more stuff coming up soon. You can also order a hardcopy of the album there if you don’t want to download it. It has some great art-work so it’s really worth it!

Here is the link to the website for the readers:

Here is the direct link to the Nerd School shop:

NL: I see that both of you were influenced by a HUGELY eclectic range of artists, from Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five, to Metallica, Muddy Waters to AC-DC, which incidentally, you can hear in your music as well, How do you both keep your sound so original and tied to you?

TCMC:  That’s a good question! I’m always happy about the variety of other music people find in our sound, I really like that. Basically we don’t think that much about our sound when we write songs, we just play the way we play. But we do that as mentioned with a great common sense for music which comes from the stuff we listened to when we grew up. So our musical roots are on one hand very similar, on the other hand much supplemented. And that again is where the fun comes from when we play, because it creates something like intuitive moments.

Sometimes when we just jam I got the feelin’ that it would be cool if Lars would play a certain break or something and on the following moment he plays exactly what I was thinking of. These are the special moments we enjoy most, when everything is that pure and live.

LDG:  There are surely much more influences in our music than these few artists and bands that you are mentioning, but for me, it’s more important that one can hear that our music is made by four hands and two throats. That it is made with intense, soul-positive aggression and lots of power and sweat. These are the kind of ingredients in our sound. I don’t care about styles, which are more hip or up to date, which will be more successful, choosing the “right” way of producing or whatever. We are trying to create our own style of music with our hands, that’s all. It’s simply team-play! Sure we are influenced by other musicians, as everyone is, but of course we also always try to create something new out of that with our hands and instruments…

TCMC:  The other thing is that we put all these influences and the end into our own 2-instrument-nerd-school-grinder which is pretty effective. Of course you are limited as a duo but we pretty quickly found out that this limitation can also be a great advantage, because you have to focus on what you think is important for the song, there is no space for unnecessary things.

What comes out of that grinder sounds interestingly, somehow, always like Nerd School, that’s also great!

NL: This has been a great talk.  Everyone should go get their copy of Ready.Set.Go from iTunes, or directly from the POTTpeople website.

From all of us here in Nerdlocker, we wish you all the best of luck. 

Thank you for the time.

Here are some of the other videos from Nerd School:

[youtube id=”9yuxyLx7wAY” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Nerd School at the Fete de la Musique festival in Berlin, 2010

This is the concert where they were playing in the back of a rented panel truck with drop sides.

[youtube id=”nLyYOC1egBw” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Again at the Fete de la Musique Festival

to date this is still considered one of their most popular songs.

[youtube id=”VQ9LciB9W4M” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Sneak Peak at Nerd Schools newest music video “Astronaut”

Video will be released soon through the POTTpeople youtube page.