In her native Zurich, Switzerland, aspiring vocalist Valeska Steiner had heard that Hamburg’s prestigious Hochschule was the university she needed to attend, especially for its introductory six-week songwriting workshop, a great testing ground for young musicians.
“It was just a good place to meet other performers,” says the musician, who plays in San Francisco this week. “You have the Hochschule rooms where you can try out different combinations of people.”
Two days into her stay there, Steiner met cellist-bassist Sonja Glass, and something clicked. “We didn’t look much further after that – we had a feeling that we had both found a good person to work with,” she says.
How right they were. Steiner moved to Hamburg to form a quirk-pop duo with Glass, which they christened Boy, and started composing overseas hits like “Little Numbers,” an infectious ditty that begins on a piano-handclap riff, builds into minuet-delicate verses and a huge “whoa-oh” chorus, and has Steiner trilling wry observations like, “Red cars are quite rare I realize.”
In concert, the band is backing its debut recording “Mutual Friends,” already certified gold overseas, for German artist Herbert Grönemeyer’s vanity imprint Gronland, distributed in the U.S. through Nettwerk.
Arriving at their unique sound wasn’t easy. “We really looked at sound very carefully in the beginning, and we just gave ourselves lots of time to figure what it is, exactly, that we want to do,” says Steiner. “So we tried loads of different things, and we aimed for something that had many layers, but still remained light and airy somehow. And it took us a while to figure out how we write together, because for us it didn’t work to just sit together in one room and jam on a guitar.”
The Hamburg neighbors began sending each other song ideas via email, which they soon settled on as the perfect co-writing method.
The classically-trained Glass would home-record instrumental tracks – usually bass, guitar and drum loops – and forward them to her chum. “Then I would try and find a melody and lyrics that fit, and then send it back,” she says. “And when we had the whole idea of a song, we’d take it to our producer in Berlin (Philipp Steinke) and start nailing down the full arrangements.”
Nearly 7 million people have watched the YouTube clip for “Little Numbers,” a song also snapped up for a Lufthansa commercial.
But the Boy girls were amused when they recently read the video’s comments. “Every second one was asking if we’re a couple or not. We are not,” says Steiner. “We’re just good friends, we get along, and we really like to work together!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Swedish American Hall, 2170 Market St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Contact: (415) 861-5016, www.ticketweb.com