When I meet up with Milky Chance in Midtown the morning after their NYC show, they look as though they've just rolled out of bed. Probably because they did. After all, they played their first-ever US gig hours prior, and it was a sold-out performance at Bowery Ballroom. But their hair—long, unruly, and the very first thing you notice about them—makes it look as if they've perpetually just rolled out of bed. Philipp Dausch, the DJ of the duo, has his pulled back in the kind of headband that David Beckham (and every guy who wants to be David Beckham) wears. Singer Clemens Rehbein, though, looks more like Einstein. "This morning, the taxi driver asked me if I plugged my finger in the light socket," he says in an accent so thick I have to ask him to repeat himself.
The hair, in all its wild, unpredictable, nonchalant glory, suits them. At 21, they're making music that sounds like nothing else out there—they're already on their way to becoming stars—and they're incredibly casual about the whole thing. To hear them tell it, they recorded their smash single "Stolen Dance," tossed it up on SoundCloud, and here they are, sitting in a conference room at the Republic Records office and touring America.
Milky Chance's debut album, Sadnessecessary, has been out internationally for months, and it's already hit Top 10 on charts in as many countries. If you've listened to the record, the success will come as no surprise. The pair masterfully combines house and electronic beats with reggae and R&B influences; the lyrics, though, could have been written by a folk singer. The songs will make you dance your heart out, while simultaneously breaking it in half. It's a lot genres to swallow at once, but, somehow, it works. Just don't expect them to tell you how, because they'll shrug their shoulders and chalk it up to destiny.
First of all, welcome to America. Have you done anything super American so far?
Clemens Rehbein: We went to a Jets football game.
Philipp Dausch: It was not fun, but it was interesting. For it to be fun, I think you have to be into it.
Clemens: When we were standing in front of the stadium, I felt like, "OK, you're in America now." All the people around were making BBQ. [Ed. note: He was talking about tailgating, which, it turns out, is not something they do in Germany.] For me, it was a culture-clashing moment.
How was last night's show, this being your first time playing in the United States and all?
Clemens: We haven't totally realized we're playing in the US. It was just really nice to just be back on stage after a month of a break. We were just really excited to be making music.
Philipp: It was a good start. People made us feel very comfortable because they were freaking out and singing every song.
You've been playing shows in Germany for years. How did it compare?
Philipp: It was pretty similar. Maybe people were even more…
Philipp: We always say that it doesn't depend on the country as much as the stage or the mood or the venue.
Clemens: We've had some concerts in Germany that were calm, but we've also had concerts where everyone was freaking out and going crazy.
What's Kassel, your hometown, like?
Philipp: It's a very calm city. It's small, and very green and close to nature. There's lots of students, because there's lots of universities.
How long have you known each other?
Philipp: Since 11th grade, so it's now been 6 years. We met each other in class.
Clemens: We were both in a music class. Everybody in this class was playing instruments or singing or whatever. And you know, the first day of school, you check out all your classmates...
Philipp: And see who the cool kids are...
Clemens: The ones you can hang out with. I met him at the schoolyard, smoking. We just started jamming, eating pizza, and after that day, we did it every day…and never went to school again.
So you were just jamming and eating pizza, and then all the sudden, you had an album and a record deal?
Philipp: He had been recording songs, solo. But when we finished school, I did an internship where I learned to produce. So he had songs written, I knew how to produce, and we understood music together, so we decided, "Let's make an album."
You make it sound so easy...
Philipp: It was pretty easy!
Last night, the audience knew the words to every single song, even though the album was just released. Why does your music resonate with people so much?
Clemens: On the surface, every song, especially "Stolen Dance," is kinda catchy and not too complicated, with simple melodies. But the lyrics are truthful.
Philipp: In the end, I think it's about destiny. There are so many factors that make destiny happen. What he's singing about, this every-truth thing, the feeling of longing for someone, everybody feels it. But also, house music is getting really big in the world right now. Everything is just hitting right for us.
Maybe you have luck on your side, but you have the talent to back it up. How old were you when you started writing music?
Clemens: I started when I was 13. The special thing about "Stolen Dance" is that it took me a long time to write it. I wrote the chorus four years ago, and the verses two years later. I always had the words of the chorus, and then the melody came…but then I changed the melody and the verses came later. I wrote all the other songs on the album and then finally finished it.
Considering it's house music, your lyrics are pretty complex. What's "Flashed Junk Mind" about? Junkies...?
Clemens: Basically it's about love, but it's also about everyday life in big cities—all the information and media, and trying to get away from it all to focus on yourself.
Philipp: It's about the distraction of the modern world.
Have you ever written songs in German?
Clemens: No, we started in English. Writing in German to me seems very impossible because it's a very rough-sounding language. It's hard for me to express what I want to.
You've been touring pretty much nonstop for the last year. Do you find time to write on the road?
Clemens: I always write songs. I don't plan to write songs. It's not like, "OK, tomorrow you have to take the time to write a song." It's like, there's an idea and I just do it. It just happens, usually by accident. [Asks his manager what the English word for diary is] Writing a song is like writing a diary.
What music do you guys listen to?
Philipp: We're totally bad at answering that question.
Clemens: We listen to a lot of music and it's all different.
Philipp: We don't like making this decision and saying this band's the best. I can say I've listened to a lot of Hozier lately.
Clemens: We like discovering new things. We like hanging out on YouTube.
YouTube? What about Hype Machine?
Clemens: I've never been on Hype Machine.
Philipp: Yeah, we've never used it.
Clemens: The first time I heard of Hype Machine was when we were #1 on it. It was like, "Wait, what is Hype Machine?"
I'm sure everyone asks you this, but where exactly did your band name come from?
Clemens: I came up with some artists names when I was younger just for fun. When we started making music, I just went with that one.
And now you have to live with it forever.
Philipp: Yeah, I'm not sure, maybe we should change it.
Philipp: I don't think we care that much about names, but Milky Chance is not the best name.
Well at least it's catchy…?
Clemens: And it rhymes with "Stolen Dance!" Which is not something we intended.
Buy Sadnecessary at iTunes.
Casey Lewis is a gem who doesn't judge a band by its name. She's on Twitter.