Words by Anthony Thomas
Simon ‘Berkfinger’ Berckelman disappeared after the disintegration of Philly Grand Jury but he’s back, and just in case you didn’t know, it’s in a really big way. Dropping off the radar means different things to different people, so for context I’ll give you Simon’s definition: pack up your shit, take it to Berlin, set up a sweet studio, make even sweeter friends (read: Peaches), and all the while, tirelessly write music. The latter resulted in the birth of Simon’s latest project, Feelings. Those of you who are more musically-astute may be acquainted with Feelings after the single, “One In A Million”, debuted last year or perhaps the more recent, “Intercourse”. My only advice to those not on board with Feelings is to make the jump soon, because this ship is sailing with or without you. Ahead of his long-awaited return Down Under, Simon and I jumped online to have a chat about this and that.
Hey Simon! Did you make a New Year’s resolution?
Hello Mr Anthony Moustache. I have a moustache, not an ironic one either. A true working class one. Speaking of working class, my resolution was to finish tiling the bathroom, then finish the woodwork in the kitchen, then finish making the TV show pilot I made with some friends, then finish the children’s album I’m working on. You know, plus the usual things.
Woah, you know how to keep yourself busy! Would you class yourself as a bit of a handyman?
Yes, but only as of late and out of necessity! I know my way around the hardware store better than the staff.
From what I’ve read, I get the impression when you relocated to Germany it was a make or break decision for you. How’s it working out a year on?
It was definitely make or break emotionally and creatively, but in some ways it would have been safer and easier and cheaper to stay in Sydney. I have friends there and can speak the language! That said, I’m glad I made the move. Building my own recording studio taught me a lot about how things work, as did building my own bicycle. I met people and have been challenged in many unexpected ways. Australia is my home, but for now I’m pretty German. My official Deutsch driver’s licence arrives in the mail tomorrow. It’s called a Führerschein and it lasts for life. It means I no longer have an Australian one and therefore when I drive the van on my next tour I’ll be using a foreign licence and I guess that makes me a holidaymaker!
Are you excited to be returning Down Under, even if it is as TOURist (haha)?
Yes definitely. I’ve had enough time apart to really appreciate the special things and forget about the things that inspired me to leave. Being an idiot with old friends, going through bags of old clothes looking for forgotten op-shop scores, walking around barefoot, etc. It’s also supposed to hit -20 here this week.
You’ve previously commented on the Australian music scene, the hoops you have to jump through and all that. Have you found the European scene more to your liking?
Well, I’ve only just resurfaced out of studio land, to be honest. I’ve spent a lot of time seeing amazing bands playing all over Berlin, but most of them have been American or sometimes English… Kid Congo from Gun Club was insane! There isn’t much of an industry or scene here, but if you set up some instruments in the corner of the bar you are sure to pull a crowd. I’ll be bringing the fellas over here later on in the year, so we’ll see what they think of Feelings then! The Europeans love to get naked out in a field and dance to pretty much anything, so I think we are in with a fighting chance.
Have you found it’s had an influence over what you’re doing with Feelings now, opposed to previous outfits?
Feelings is all about freedom. It really is the natural progression with Philly Jays as well. To be open to anything as long as it’s good and to keep the audience on it’s toes. I briefly dabbled with the Surf/Psych/Garage rock thing but didn’t really feel I was doing anything better than anyone else. At the moment, I’m into 90s style drum loops, copying the time when they first realised you could put an electric guitar with a drum sample. Dust Brothers.
Is that what freedom tastes like to you, complete creative control?
Any Berlin locals you would recommend getting into?
Not really. Planning to Rock is cool. My friend Peaches is alright, but don’t tell her I said so or she’ll get a big head! Or Hush Hush?
Peaches…as in Merrill Nisker?
Yes! But I believe she prefers her stage name these days!
Alright so, if 2012 was the Year of the Relocation then 2013 is the Year of the Debut Album. How are you feeling about Feelings right now?
I feel great. It’s 5am and it’s snowing outside and I’m eating Corn Chips. Oh yeah, and the album is pretty much done. Having my own studio has meant a lot more creative output than I could ever actually need. At the moment, I’m trying to work out how to release about 8 albums worth of material before I get tired of it and make more. Recently, my fiancé told me I had to stop writing new songs, which was a weird thing to hear.
I can imagine. Would you agree or disagree with her?
I secretly write them when she goes to work.
In a typical week, how many songs would you write?
I’d say the average is 2.
Let’s talk Intercourse. It’s a bit fun…
I’m a bit fun. Not always, but sometimes. It’s a serious song though – it’s about conversations and relationships. Listen to the words and don’t have such a dirty mind! This one was a co-write with Dave from Dappled Cities, who plays with me now, and Michael who used to be in Yves Klein Blue whose new band is called simply “MT”. I played the drums originally but they were all messed up, so Dan Williams from Art vs. Science stepped up and fixed the beats.
So to some degree, Feelings is a bit of an Australian supergroup then?
SB: Hey I’m not Dave Grohl!
Haha! I won’t bite on that one. Based on the past two singles, is it fair to say you just want to make people dance to the debut record?
Dance and think about love and fear? There’s some weird stuff coming too…this is the shinier side of things.
Is that fear AND love or fear OF love? You mentioned your fiancé just before, has she influenced the themes of your writing?
She’s really good at encouraging me to take risks and do things out of my comfort zone. I have no anxieties or fears about her, though. Maybe a bit of fear of not choosing the right napkins for the wedding… I’m also quite scared of teenagers!
Collaboration wise, who else have you been working with?
Just the guys I mentioned above. Stephen Malkmus lives around the corner from me and has threatened to come over for a jam. He wears stupid hats, though. We want him to be a guest on our cooking/interview/drama show. It’s called “Pommes Palace”. Is this confusing yet?
A little! Is that the TV pilot you mentioned earlier? Care to elaborate on the concept?
The Prince of Pommes (me) is stuck running a chip shop, named “Pommes Palace”, until his mother, The Queen, accepts him back and allows him to run the kingdom. He is interested in “normal” people and what they do, in particular music and musicians, who he often quizzes at his restaurant, while cooking them delicious meals. He elaborates on these recipes for the benefit of the viewers at home.
Just before I sign off, can I ask if the EP has a title yet?
There have been many, but sorry I can’t settle on one yet.