Berlin and Byron Bay could not be more different. The former has established itself as one of Europe’s most vibrant cities, with a cultural scene that’s the envy of a continent. But it’s not all smiles: Berlin’s winters can bitterly cold and the German capital is not immune to the isolation that dominates city life in the 21st Century. But for Tennyson and Holden Nobel, a pair of brothers from Australia’s sunny coastal region of Byron Bay – a switch-up was just what they needed.
When the pair moved a little while back, “we could have just pointed somewhere on the globe and thought ‘let’s try there,’” singer and younger brother Tennyson says. It reinvigorated their work and put them in touching distance of new opportunities. Earlier this year, the boys retreated to rural Herefordshire to record a slew of songs with producer Will Hicks (Ed Sheeran, Lily Allen). The first being the glitchy Tame Impala-sized jam ‘Mirage’, while their latest offering ‘Touchdown’, is a breezy pop jam that dares to tread into French touch territory.
Soon, they’ll be joining their friends Parcels on tour here in the UK. Parcels, whose debut album gathered the full five stars from NME earlier this year, have plenty in common with Imbibe. Both make retro-tinged pop music and both made the long move from Byron Bay, Australia to Berlin in recent years. So what are Tennyson and Holden looking forward to when they join their pals on tour? “They’re at the point where they’ve got nice green rooms and stuff now”, Holden jokes.
These brothers are dreaming similarly big. Ever since they moved from Melbourne (the last place the brothers lived before their journey to Europe), they’ve felt invigorated and musically more astute than ever. “We can dream big and not feel weird about it,” Tennyson tells us in a candlelight bar in their Kreuzberg neighbourhood. “Why can’t I dream big? Why can’t I think like that? I think it’s the right way to be. Even what we’re doing now would seem insane a few years ago.”
They have of course come a long way – physically and mentally. Early live performances in their hometown of Mullumbimby and then Melbourne would take place in local restaurants as the clientele chowed down on dinner. “They were actually some of the best gigs we ever did, because we were relying on our vibe and playing to get people involved,” Tennyson says. “Those people who sat there eating would have no idea who you are, so you have to slowly pull them in.”
This likely was not, or will not, be a problem for the Nobel brothers. They’re an engaging double act – Tennyson, the younger, is thoughtful and wickedly funny, while Holden is energetic and friendly. In the hours we spend together, they show us round their local haunts, including the pizza joint they now frequent as Berliners. Both have found work and settled into the city’s groove: Tennyson does part-time cleaning work, while Holden is a barista at a coffee shop in the local area.
When they’re not working, they’re working on their music and its been that way since they were little, they say. Their father, a songwriter in his own right, gleefully introduced the boys to songwriting and piano playing, sometimes at the expense of more social teenage pastimes. “On Saturday mornings while the other kids were doing rugby or football – we did music,” Holden remembers with a smile on his face. “Mum wouldn’t let us play rugby because we might break our fingers and we wouldn’t be able to play anymore.”
They’d need those fingers if they were to emulate their piano-playing singer-songwriting heroes. The pair reference Elton John, Randy Newman and Billy Joel as big influences on their writing, but Paul McCartney is their guy. “It’s weird how much we liked him,” Holden admits, with them referencing Macca’s solo work and Wings material as inspirations.
As the pair made and released music under a previous iteration of the band, it became clear that they wanted to break out of the rituals of the Australian scene. They’d drive hours on end to shows where few people would turn up, and with institutions like radio station Triple J not being on board from the start, it can be hard work to get noticed. “You have to tick certain boxes to get big in Australia,” Tennyson says. “If you don’t get love from people like Triple J, it’s really hard y’know? We just didn’t want to wait around and hope they get it,” Holden adds.
They didn’t wait around much longer. A globe-trotting trip bought as a gift by their uncle opened their mind to new experiences, places and scenes, with Berlin’s easy-going lifestyle and central location proving to be big selling points. Session work then started in Berlin and then in the UK, with the pair sending demos to producer Will Hicks before joining him in the studio in rural Herefordshire. “The first time we were really open with our songwriting was with Will when we did the song ‘Mirage’,” Holden says. “We sent him like 30 demos and he picked that one up and said ‘that’s the one’, and we were like – is it?!”
Work on some new singles came thick and fast, but it acted as an eye opener about letting people into their world. “It’s OK to have an emotional, intense attachment to the songs you write, but you have to know when to let it go as well,” Tennyson says. “When we finally put that song out, I was able to let go of that tension of what other people thought about it.”
Now, there’s few chances of them finding time to get uptight about their performance – their upcoming live shows will feature just the brothers and a drummer, recreating Elton John’s Troubadour-era shows – as their manager suggests. “It feels like we’re at the beginning again. It’s kind of scary, but now it feels good. It was a full-on refresh,” Holden says. “I don’t think we could do it anymore sincere than we are,” Tennyson jokes. Sincere, enchanting and plenty of fun – they’re more like their heroes than they’d ever imagined.
See Imbibe supporting Parcels:
05/11 – Manchester Academy 2
06/11 – Bristol SWX
07/11 – Leeds Stylus
08/11 – London Roundhouse