Electronic melodic rock duo Bullet Height have been making quite the name for themselves in the Berlin underground scene and they’re ready to introduce their brand of dark, gothic rock to the rest of the world with their debut record ‘No Atonement’. Sammi Doll and Jon Courtney combine together to echo the likes of Depeche Mode and Petshop Boys with an LA twist. The pair filled us in with the history of the band, how they met and how they ended up in Germany.
DP!: Tell us about why you moved to Berlin?
Jon Courtney: I was in London previous to the Berlin move and it was crippling me financially. Studio rental was really expensive, apartment rental was really expensive, and I’d been to Berlin a few times before and loved it. So I moved there, got a studio space and started recording, then met Sammi through some mutual friends.
Sammi Doll: I was asked to move to Berlin from Los Angeles by another band I played in, and I loved it so much that I stayed. Mostly because of the summer, it was very convincing, then came the winter which was a bit harder and that was when I met Jon. Recording the album gave us a bit of time away from the reality that we were facing such a harsh winter.
DP!: What was your vision for Bullet Height when you first started writing together?
Jon: I’d been in a band previously, and I’ve always just created without any restriction or constraint on what I want to do. I’m not going to have a label telling me what music to make, it just has to be exactly what I want to make. A rock thing, plus a bit of electronics, that was the only plan, because that’s what I’m into.
Sammi: I have about a five-year window of music that I listen to and it’s between 1992 and 1997 so I always knew this was the sort of music I wanted to be a part of creating.
DP!: Who are some of your main influences?
Jon: I’m a big Depeche Mode fan. I love Dave Gahan’s vocals, Martin Gore’s composition, lyrically, musically, and production-wise they’re brilliant.
Sammi: One of my favourite bands, and I can’t not talk about them, is Metric. She [singer Emily Haines] does a lot of storytelling and her breathy sort of vocals, I really enjoy how she uses that and how they create their sound with electronics and organic instruments. I’d say they’re pretty inspirational.
DP!: When you first started writing and recording together, how did you know it would work best as a duo rather than a full band?
Sammi: I think because it’s just such a pain in the ass to get more than two people in the same room at the same time!
Jon: I was practical.
Sammi: These days, you can create music, we have the luxury with technology that you can create music electronically just as one person. So when we started getting together, there never was a vision of adding more people, it was just, this is what we’re doing right now.
Jon: For live shows, we will have someone coming on to play drums.
Sammi: Yeah, there’s a lot going on with this music so it’s important we’re able to play it live, so we will have to add numbers, definitely. But there was never a second thought of adding other people for the recording process.
Jon: We can cover everything between us two.
DP!: You’ve lived in London, Jon, and Sammi, you’ve lived in LA, and you’ve both been part of those music scenes. What did you learn from those scenes you used to be part of before coming to Berlin?
Sammi: Los Angeles is a very difficult place to break in, there are a lot of people who are your friends but they talk differently behind your back. It’s much the same on the music scene, people will come to show up but not because of their interest in the band, it’s about their interest in being seen. When I moved to Berlin, I was able to step away from all of that and see that people did actually enjoy the music, it wasn’t about being seen, it was about being heard. I think that was one of the main differences. It’s mostly genuine people [in Berlin] versus the superficial.
Jon: Moving from London, where I did have industry contacts, it was quite a challenge moving to Berlin where I was literally starting from scratch. I moved with my wife and it was just us two, we didn’t know anyone else. I was trying to build up that contact base again so I was going to gigs, meeting people from labels and promoters. It’s been a slow process.
Sammi: It’s a very independent way of going about things. I agree very much, I didn’t know anybody so my only option was to go out and meet people. The internet’s only so helpful.
Jon: For our first photoshoot, if we’d been in London I would have been able to go, ‘oh, let’s have this person or this person’. But both of us were like, ‘we don’t know many people!’ But it was great, it worked out in the end and we found a new contact, so it’s been an exciting discovery as well.
DP!: Where did you two first meet?
Sammi: Oddly enough, it was Halloween at a place called White Trash in Berlin which isn’t there any more, but there was a bunch of musos hanging about, just mutual friends. We got introduced to each other and we got talking and Jon said he needed someone to do some vocals and asked me if I’d be interested in coming by. He sent me some ideas and there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to do this.
Jon: We met on that night, and a few days later I sent you some MP3s and you replied straight away. Then we just ploughed on with the rest of the record.
DP!: And how long ago was that?
Sammi: We met in late 2013 and really took our time creating the album.
DP!: What kind of topics are you exploring on the album?
Jon: Lyrically, I’d prefer to leave this area to the listener’s interpretation. I don’t want to say this song is about a specific thing, I’d like to leave it to be open to what the listener thinks.
Sammi: Certain emotions, definitely. Resentment, forgiveness, love. A bit of anger.
Jon: But there is positivity at the same time. We’ve got to have one nice song and a few brutal ones.
Sammi: I think these songs were a kind of personal therapy.
Jon: As each song is being recorded, I’m always writing lyrics down to go in the book. The music feeds into the lyrics, then the lyric idea feeds back into the music and the track just builds and builds and builds. I’ve done the main composition on the record then Sammi came in as I was working on this project and we chipped away at further tracks.