Written by Simea Holland
When a band chooses a name like Fräulein, it implies a politicised irreverence – a wink towards an old German diminutive; a reclamation of the notion of spinsterhood.
For this two-piece, known for their instinctive and uninhibited music, the name is central to their identity. Behind it is an ideology in itself. A band whose beliefs lie in resetting expectations, challenging perceptions, and choosing reinvention as the backbone of their offering.
I first encountered Fräulein in March of last year when they were the opening act for US pop-punks, Skating Polly. The duo graced the stage with a quiet confidence, discreetly slipping into their positions and sharing a look that not only hooked them into each other but into the space. For the first few bars, neither one broke eye contact; they were locked in. Evidence that a conversation was already underway. The vocals were honeyed and resounding, the guitar gleamed in its downcast and the drumming was explosive and exciting, thrilling the audience with bright pockets of snare. The duo feverishly took hold of the space, executing odd time signatures and strumming patterns with deft finesse. They tinkered with the song’s intensity, spilling over themselves as they surged toward the chorus, delivering a resounding wall of sound that served as the ultimate payoff. Demonstrating that, in the band stakes, a duo can rival any four or five-piece.
A year and a half later, I got to dive into the creative minds of Joni Samuels (guitar and vocals) and Karsten Van Der Tol (drums) to discuss the band’s ethos, explore their songwriting process, discover their latest influences, and hear what’s to come next. In London’s music scene, abundant with five-piece bands and ensembles that verge on an orchestra, Fraulein’s minimalist set-up creates intrigue. A deliberate design to play in contrast to their sound. Much like Corin Tucker and Tracy Sawyer from Heavens to Betsy, Fräulein unleash an organic sound that outscales their stature, in both range and expedition, emphasising why their two-hander works. “We’re so excited by what we do, we don’t feel we need to add anyone,” says Joni, while Karsten confirms, “We wanna squeeze every ounce of juice out of this two-piece before we consider changing things.” By standing small, they find their grandeur in unbridled self-expression, manipulating sounds and constantly exploring new ways to contort and riff off the unsuspecting.
There’s a sense of misbehaviour in their music, committing hollow-body foul-play as Joni screams into her guitar to create a sense of distance and distortion. By looking at rules as something to be bent rather than followed, the way they approach songwriting is fluid and reactive; drawn into the abstract. They create an angular sound through dynamics and rhythm changes, experimenting with placements and accents, and allowing for each moment to be earned from the other. Where they are clamorous and thundering, they are also gentle and doe-eyed; where they are low-lying and silken, they are also whole-bodied and reverberant.
With an evolving soundscape that oscillates between grunge and alternative stylings, Fräulein harkens back to the ’90s and early 2000s. Forging a dynamic interplay akin to Throwing Muses and The Breeders. “I think we have a sort of inverse Jack and Meg White thing going on. You actually hold it down and I just riff around you” Karsten comments, later explaining that Joni puts the “bones down” and he plays with the surrounding space. Inspired by Math Rock, Karsten’s drumming is characterised by its intricacies. A taste for complex rhythms and unpredictable time signatures creates a texture that seamlessly intertwines with Joni’s lyrics and chord progressions “We follow whatever feels good to us” Joni notes, “it’s about pulling yourself out of the box of what music should sound like.”
In songs like Pet, they transform vulnerability into power, and intimacy into impact. Exploring a desperate longing for someone’s approval with lines like, “I want to be near you, be your teacher’s pet” and “have you pat me on the head”. There’s frustration in “hitting that ceiling of lead” driving the desire for escape (“up in heaven, that’s where I float my head”). And there’s a subversiveness and a tension characteristic to the band’s sound which plays out in the story… the notion that submission is weakness rather than release, total freedom. The nervous energy builds through the drumming, awash with calamitous cymbals which crash and shimmer, rattling around the room like thoughts in the head. Joni, exasperated, is brought to the boil with “shoulders round now, I think out loud”, and finally lifts to an uproarious “Pet, I’m your pet. Pet, I’m your pet”. The result is an experience that immerses the listener in a journey of desire, frustration, and longing.
If Pet is about needing approval, then Big Cool exists on the other end of the spectrum, positioning itself as a confident, unflustered declaration of self. It exudes a sultry quality; the verse is tonally humid. Lines like, “I’m a lean statue, I’m big cool” live in the low-end, sitting back in the seat. The lyrics touch on a contrast between appearing strong and one’s underlying vulnerabilities. Big Cool’s allure lies in its slant, it tilts towards the subject and beckons for their approach, blurring the lines between desire and control.
When asked about their recent musical influences and how it might shape their upcoming work, Karsten glances at Joni with a smile, “you’ve been listening to so much shit!” he teases. They both laugh, acknowledging that Joni has been sharing a large amount of music for inspiration. “Yeah, I’m a bad person, I’m probably the worst for saying ‘listen to this, listen to this’” admitting that she holds no prejudice against genre and will listen to Charli XCX, Mitski and anything in between.
Beneath the banter is an unmistakable warmth between the two. Karsten emphasises how Joni’s recent deep dive into the nuances within Joni Mitchell’s discography has inspired him, “seeing her play with open tunings, different picking patterns, not using a pic, that’s really exciting because it implies growth and means I need to think differently.” For his part, Karsten credits influence to Brazilian drummer Isac Jamba, along with a long-held love of Latin music – the rhythms of Bossa Nova and earworm-inducing ostinato patterns.
On their latest single, The Last Drop, Fräulein take a bold step in a new direction, expressing the emotional turmoil of putting yourself out there for love and not having that reciprocated. The lyrics don’t shy away from the darker side of heartbreak, exposing painful emotions and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Despite the anguish, the song as a whole is up-tempo. Reminiscent of PJ Harvey’s electrifying Dress and with similar motives as her song Joe, this shift brings a refreshing energy to their sound.
In their live performances, the band’s effervescence is undeniable, but capturing that same vitality when recording has proven difficult. As Joni confesses, “I think live, we have a lot of energy, but we’re always trying to get that energy translated into our recordings and that is so hard.” With The Last Drop, they’ve channelled that live vigour into a concise, 2:35-minute bop that tugs at the sleeves of both grunge and pop. “We’ve played with so many time signatures, how does this feel like a pop song? it’s so weird at its core” Joni acknowledges, while visibly excited to share their new music. A testament to their evolving style.
When asked about their overarching message as a band, Karsten expresses the desire for their journey to be a story that has no end. Both confirm they wish to make music that constantly changes. How will they do that? Their aspirations remain firmly rooted in the present. The band’s philosophy centres around exploration, self-discovery, and collaboration. Their power is in their partnership, crafting music that serves only one purpose: to draw you in.