By Andy Downing
RedEye special contributor
4:20 PM CDT, October 3, 2013
Boy, as it turns out, is a girl. Actually, two of them: singer Valeska Steiner and bassist Sonja Glass.
The European pair (Steiner is of Swiss descent and Glass is German), who first met at a songwriting workshop in Hamburg, Germany, more than eight years ago, released their buzzworthy, folk-pop-leaning debut “Mutual Friends” Stateside earlier this year and recently embarked on its second U.S. tour.
By phone on a rare day off near Washington D.C., Steiner, 27, discussed the travels that influenced her songwriting, why she chooses to sing in English and her unusual first crush.
“Mutual Friends” includes songs titled “Drive Darling,” “Railway,” and “Silver Streets.” Are you drawn to travel as a source of inspiration?
I think for this album one big inspiration for the lyrics was that I had just moved from Zurich [Switzerland] to Hamburg. “Drive Darling,” for example, describes the move and this road trip I did with my mom, who drove me from Hamburg. It's about those hopeful and nostalgic feelings I had on that trip. Then “Silver Streets” is a song for Hamburg; it's a song for a new city that you try to become a friend of and find your place. “Railway” talks about one particular railway ride you can make in Switzerland, and when you make it in wintertime and look out the window you can become very melancholic. Being in motion is always a good thing to get inspiration.
Why'd you opt to sing in English with this project?
I've always been singing in English. In the beginning ... I would always sing cover songs by English-speaking singer-songwriters like Suzanne Vega or Shawn Colvin. I feel more comfortable singing in English than German, and I like the way my voice sounds better in English.
Does it have a different quality when you sing in German?
I used to sing in German a lot back in elementary school. When you sing children's songs they're in German ... so I feel like I sound a bit like a child when I sing in it.
You've also covered Air's “Playground Love,” so I wanted to ask you about your first crush.
Oh! I had a tape of a children's story, and I think I was in love with one of the boys in the story because I liked his voice so much.
With a lot of European acts there's that pressure to break in the U.S. market. Is that a pressure you feel in any way?
Oh, it's not a pressure at all! It's more like a dream coming true that we are able to come here with our music and are able to play shows where people come and already sing along to our songs. We never would have dared to expect anything like that. We just feel like this is a great adventure. We worked on a very long time for this album, and we got turned down by many record labels at home in Germany and Switzerland. We always believed in our music ... and we thought if we liked playing it so much there had to be an audience for it.
Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches recently wrote an editorial decrying the proliferation of online sexism female musicians can be confronted with. Is that something you've had to deal with in Boy as well?
I have to say in what we do we feel like we're treated very respectfully. Online, people are so fast and their mouths are so loose because they have anonymity. If there's women in a video they'll write stupid stuff maybe. One thing we do have, if you're in a male band, like with Kings of Convenience, I don't know if people keep asking if they are a couple, but they do with us. That's strange there's such a big focus on that. We just stopped looking up our own stuff on the Internet because whether it's good or bad it's just virtual reality that shouldn't really touch you.
Your music is on the more upbeat end of the musical spectrum. Do you secretly have a dark side?
[Laughs] Both of us have more melancholic sides, and I think some of the songs do have that side in them. But many people come to us and say they find the music hopeful, and I think it is for us too.
Boy, 9 p.m. Oct. 12, 7 p.m. Oct. 13 at Lincoln Hall. $15-$18.
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