Archive for October, 2014

Stephen Kellogg, songwriter extraordinaire, is visiting our fair city, playing in front of a sold out crowd at the Bitterzoet venue in downtown Amsterdam. A couple of hours before he hit the stage, Stephen was nice enough to answer a few of my questions and we had a very pleasant conversation in which he shared his thoughts and experiences as a recording and touring musician and the joys and challenges that come along with the profession.

Currently, Stephen is on the road with songsmith Gregory Alan Isakov, whom I also met on my way out. Not just a very talented musician, he comes across as a really nice and fun guy, so I imagine these two are having some good times touring together. Stephen explained that at first, when he came out to Europe, he was playing solo shows in Ireland and he was basically on his own. This brought along moments of loneliness and it may have reflected in his sets sometimes as those often reflect his current mood. Now that he’s traveling with Gregory and company he can share the experience a little more and Stephen really enjoys it to share it with others and he told me the tour is turning out great so far.

The tour doesn’t mark Stephen’s first appearance in Europe. He played some headline events when his latest album “Blunderstone Rookery” hit the shelves and toured with Josh Ritter and Milow previously. But all those visits were in the past 13 months, so he’s still discovering the territory here. And he’s trying to really enjoy his time here, taking in all he can. I asked him if he’s experiencing differences between the shows he plays back in the US and the shows he’s playing over here, taking in account the sort of venue he’s playing in. He answered:

There are differences. When I listen to music myself, all I care about is the words. The genre doesn’t matter; I can get into country, rap, hard rock, anything as long as the words speak to me. Knowing that about myself, when I’m up on stage, all I think about is [delivering] the words. It may also be because I’ve been touring with great artists but I feel like the audiences in Europe really give you a shot, they are attentive. They listen when you need them to listen and give back when you want them to give back. In the US, sometimes, it feels like you have to win [audiences] over first; before they give you a shot.

We started talking about Stephen’s music a little more, in particular about his latest record: “Blunderstone Rookery”. As you may or may not know, the title is a reference to the book ‘David Copperfield’ by Charles Dickens. I asked him if this was done on purpose, which I assumed it was. Also, I wanted to know why he’d picked that title and how it relates to the actual record.

I love that book. I read it twice, some parts even more than that. In moments of my life that I look for guidence [I keep coming] back to it. Almost like some people use the Bible, to look for answers. In the book Blunderstone Rookery is David’s childhood home, which at first he loved but then turned into an unhappy place and as a grown up he made his peace with it. I really liked that metaphor as [I would say] it’s the overriding theme of the album.

This lead to a conversation about books and inspiration derived from books, still somewhat in the context of “Blunderstone Rookery”. First off Stephen recommended ‘East of Eden’ by John Steinbeck and ‘With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln’ by Stephen Oates. To me it seemed like he may connect to characters or people that display a certain journey because many of Stephen’s songs feel like (part of) a journey to me. So we discussed this:

You know, a good story is great but if it helps you find your way that’s something special. I’m not necessarily looking for a journey but if I feel authenticity; ‘this is how it is’ and it gives me insight. Without sounding too cliché… life is a trip we’re all taking but we all end up in the same place eventually. I think about this a lot, about how in the end we all die. For all people’s good or bad intentions [and endeavors] everybody ends up in the same place. Almost every day, when I wake up, I realize that I might die that day. But not in a dark way but I ask myself: what would I need to do if this were my last day [and not leave anything unfinished].

The conversation turned a little philosophical here but essentially, realizing that life is finite and giving yourself the opportunity to live your days consciously is a way of allowing yourself to fully experience life and not take it for granted. This concept is still playing around in my mind after my conversation with Stephen because I think it can be a very powerful thing. We circled back to “Blunderstone Rookery” after that and how it came together.

I’ve always written what’s happening in my life. In the past I wrote about girls and I thought: is this all I’m ever going to write about? Now I have a family and I’m raising kids so I tend to write more about that. About the struggles of life, the dreams of my youth. How sometimes dreams come true but you don’t realize it or you start realizing that some dreams may never come true. Both of which are scary things to come to terms with.

As a metaphor he mentioned that as a 10 year old he had a dream of becoming Bon Jovi. Not to say that’s the only thing he wants his life to amount to but it serves as a good example. At some point you realize you aren’t going to be the next Bon Jovi and that even if you get to play similar sized events it will probably still be different and you have to face reality. Also, Stephen told me that the band he used to play with for over 10 years (Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers) needed a break and so they ended up in this hiatus but Stephen was still “in love with music” as he called it himself. He just didn’t have the same gang to share it with. On top of that, he lost a number of people close to him and it almost felt like the bottom was falling out of his life. But in his heart, Stephen is an optimist, so he was looking for a way to express everything that was going on. And this all came together in “Blunderstone Rookery“.

In the wake of “Blunderstone Rookery”, Stephen Kellogg is also looking to the future and recently started a PledgeMusic campaign to fund his new recording project “South West North East“. Stephen patiently explained to me what his plans are.

My music has different aspects. A little country, folk, some rock and occasionally some pop. People often think that you’re going in a certain direction when making a record but I wanted something different. I wanted to really feel something.

I’m going to record 4 songs each in different parts of the country, each with a different co-producer and different musicians and different surroundings. I thought to myself, what would I like as a fan and I came up with the idea of music released throughout the year in digestible pieces. And as a musician it gives me a chance to work with different people [to keep me on my toes and keep things fresh]. This is new ground for me too.

I asked Stephen why he chose to do this via the PledgeMusic campaign and he told me how previously he worked with a label and while he has no regrets whatsoever, he doesn’t necessarily own his own music of the past decade and streaming revenue is still finding its way so it’s not always a reliable manner to provide for your family. Instead he chose to take matters in his own hands realizing it gives him a chance to get his record funded while keeping an eye on his financial reality. He wanted fans to be able to get involved but making a record is still costly so he needed to find a win-win situation. And PledgeMusic offered a very accessible and easy platform for it.

As we started talking a little more about the new project we tackled the subject of songwriting and the creative process.

At first you just write. You write a batch of songs and then you figure out who you want to work with. After that, you try to match the songs to the people and go from there.

One of the people that Stephen will likely be working with on the new project is singer/songwriter/guitarist Josh Kaufman. Stephen sent him 20 songs and in the end there were 2 songs that Josh liked, so they started with those and are currently writing another song together.

To me, this project is as much about the process than it is about the product. If I would only be able to make 1 more record for the rest of my life, I probably wouldn’t be working with Josh Kaufman. Nothing against Josh but he thinks way more out of the box than I do and sometimes we work like oil and water. But because we’re only doing 4 songs it works out well. And because we’re not looking to create a radio single it gives me the freedom to experiment a little more.

After that Stephen asks himself what’s missing. He wonders what else he can explore. Touring with Gregory Alan Isakov, who is known for being able to paint a picture with his songs while being quite sparse with his words, Stephen got inspired to try his hand at that as well. Generally, it is not Stephen’s style but he shows he isn’t afraid to color outside the lines and challenge himself. He may even end up recording the ‘West’ installment at Gregory’s barn in California. Ever since Stephen is performing alone he’s much more involved with the people he meets and it has led him to new inspirations and collaborations. When he was performing with band, he wasn’t as involved with this part of it but recently it has been a significant part of his metier.For some reason we entered the topic of food and we talked about the annual BBQ that Stephen Kellogg hosts. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Annual SK Family BBQ, I asked him to tell us a little more about it.

One summer, 5 years ago my band and I were trying to play festivals but we couldn’t get booked to one. At the time I was reading Willie Nelson’s biography and it mentioned his 4th of July picnic. So I started thinking: what would I like to do with my favorite artists? I’d like to have a barbecue and hang out. So I invented this event around that idea. We play music and just hang out. Some lesser known songs, acoustically on the first day and then the second day we play tug-of-war or have a balloon fight and we have burgers and ‘dogs and we play a normal electric show. Initially I did this with the band so last time I had to make a tough decision if I was going to keep doing it and that is when I decided to bring in my actual family and encouraged people to bring along the people they love, whoever they may be.

I told Stephen that I thought this was really cool and that it really shows the spirit of art, and music in particular because in its core, music is about sharing something of yourself with others, about making connections. And events like this show the person (or the people) behind the music and (at least to me) add to the meaning of said music. So personally, it would make my appreciation for an artist and his/her/their art even bigger. And in that light, I thought that if you really think about it, it’s a little remarkable there aren’t more artists and bands who participate in events like this. Because to my knowledge, the annual SK BBQ is pretty unique. Stephen mentioned that for some musicians are apprehensive in doing things like this because you will have to show the real you during an event like this. You may get tired or sweaty and you can’t have a ‘mask’ on all the time. You have to let your guard down. And not everyone may be willing or able to do that. It’s a great thing that you get to share your life with others but it can also be a little frightening.Finally we discussed the balance between being a touring musician and also being a father and family man. Because I imagine it must be hard at times, especially when you are far away from home. Stephen had this to say:

It’s tricky. I won’t lie about that. When my daughter was born it was really hard but my dad gave me some advice on the matter. Everyone who decides to start a family will have that challenge. I don’t think it’s that different from a ‘regular’ office job. With long hours and coming in early you can easily get lost in a job like that too. When I come home, whether I’m [really] tired or not, the first thing I need to do is give my kids some energy, even if it’s just for 30 minutes or so. So the balancing of touring and a family costs a lot of energy but in the end it is all worth it. And it doesn’t really matter where you are. When you’re away you’re away but in some places you feel more comfortable than other places. In Southern California, for example, it feels very far away from home. I’m not really a beach, sunshine and palm trees kind of guy. I like the grey; I need a little bit of rain.

After this, Stephen had to set up the stage and soundcheck, so I thanked him for taking the time to answer my questions and let him get on with that. It was a real pleasure to take to you, Stephen and I hope the show was a massive success and I can’t wait to see you return to our little country next year!

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Bear’s Den

2014 Communion / Caroline

After the release of two impressive extended plays, British nu-folk-folk outfit Bear’s Den recently dropped their official full-length debut. The album is called “Islands” because the songs themselves can be seen as different islands in a greater whole. On it, we can hear the band’s banjo-infused, folk-inspired indie sound, though it may, at times, be less folky than their track record would lead you to believe. Bear’s Den holds its hands on the reins and doesn’t go off in predictable climax-choruses or veer off into anything too experimental. After a number of years of honing their craft, the band found their niche and it shows on “Islands”.

The record starts off with the cinematographic Agape. Both lyrically and sonically the song provides you with an image. When you listen to the song and close your eyes, the scene will almost instantaneously appear in front of you. Combine this with Andrew Davie´s comforting vocals and you have one heck of an opening track.

On The Love We Stole Bear´s Den proves that repetition isn´t  always a bad thing. The continuity in the arrangement that lies underneath subtly carries the song, just like the waves that surely but steadily carry sediment to the coast. Thanks to this, the song maintains a strong character, because at times the vocals can get a tiny bit muddy, which distracts from the lyrics. In conclusion, The Love We Stole is a good song, but there are even better songs on “Islands”.

Current single Above The Clouds of Pompeii is one of the highlights on the record. Bear’s Den is known for their literate, cinematographic way of songwriting and this song is indicative for that. Right from the start when Davie sings “We built our home on the slopes/Pompeii beneath/She lay above” to “So my father and my son/As you end what you’ve begun/You’ll lie patient by her side/roses red come lillies white”, the song just reads and listens like a movie scene. The gentle tone of the song guides you through the scenes and the chorus invites you to sing along (“Don’t cry/Hold your head up high/She would want you to”). I’m not sure if today’s market is ready for it yet, but this song would deserve to become a massive radio hit.

Isaac is another standout song on this very strong record. Its fragile vocals are perfectly accompanied by the fragile banjo and guitar. At times the song comes across as a plea and at the same time it is infused with encouragement and hope. In contrast to popular bands like Mumford & Sons, Bear’s Den doesn’t fall into the trap of repetitive songwriting. When you listen to a full Mumford & Sons album, you can almost predict how a song is going to progress. While their songs, individually hold up easily, listening to the same trick over and over can sometimes be a little much. Bear’s Den prevents this by showing restraint. Instead of going off into the seemingly inevitable banjo explosion, the band keeps things small and sincere, which gives the song enormous power.

This middle part of the album continues on a high note with Think of England. Sonically, you can detect a little change here, as percussion and drums step to the foreground a little more. What stays, is the band’s knack for ‘painting songs’. Once again this song progresses like scenes in a movie. The drum arrangements form a canvas on which the guitar arrangements and the vocal tone tastefully create a slight dissonance. This serves as a sonic enhancement for the song, much like a backdrop on which a painting is mounted. What I also really enjoyed was the introduction of horns to give the song more body.

Magdalene was one of two songs (the other was Above the Clouds of Pompeii) that immediately nestled itself in my head. Right from the start the melody grabbed a hold of me and I was humming along, bobbing my head to the melody. The combination between arrangement and vocal sound is tastefully done and while the song comes across as rather simple, it isn’t. And therein lies the strength of this song. The questions of life, love, hope and faith are relatable ones and in combination with the relatively catchy nature of this song, I could see this doing well on certain radio stations.

When listening to When You Break I couldn’t help but picture a baby turtle trying to get out of its shell. The song starts off with a ‘constricted’ (by lack of a better word) first minute but then it starts to open up and turns into a modern indie-folk song that constantly envelopes itself in a shroud of mystery. A couple of times it scales down a little just to break out of its shell again. And very slowly the intensity of the song increases as does the tempo until the very end where the song comes to a calm conclusion.

Stubborn Beast is a pretty solid song but it wasn’t quite as memorable as other songs on the record. The lyrics, once again, paint a picture, which I really like and which is indicative for Bear’s Den but for me the song doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the ones previously mentioned.

We then reach the oldest song of the bunch. Elysium was written around 3 years go but never sounded quite right. The song has very touching lyrics but the band couldn’t make it work initially. They revisited the song and with the addition of horns it grew out to something alltogether different. The lyrics have that wonderful, magical ability to instantly connect to the listener. You immediately feel this song as it literally speaks to you. It builds up subtly and the addition of the horns (thanks to fellow musician and friend Marcus Hamblett) gives the song a rich character and resonating impression that fills up the space between the emotive words/sounds and the willing listener. A perfect example that a song can shine if the pieces fall in the right places.

The album ends with Bad Blood. We get to hear some thrilling vocal harmonies, so do I really need to say more? Well, lets. The song goes on for 5 minutes but if it were twice as long, I’d still hardly notice it would take up that much time. There isn’t a distinct part of this song that makes it stand out but the way it navigates to/through the listener makes that this song is perfectly suited to close out “Islands”. It will leave you with the burning desire to quickly hit the repeat button.

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Reverend Henry & The Pharisees

Reverend Henry & The Pharisees

2014 Independent release

Reverend Henry & The Pharisees is a project fronted by singer Henk van den Brink and guitarist Chris Gerretsen. The two go back a long time but never got around to creating an album together. After a few years of turmoil, the two got back together and promised each other that an album was going to happen. Henk, Chris and a number of befriended musicians delivered on that promise with “Reverend Henry & The Pharisees”.

The gritty, rootsy rocker Mary opens the album and shows what it is going to be all about. Infused with classic tones of American blues, rock & roll, folk and soul, Mary blasts out of your speakers. You can feel the tension, passion and energy that makes up this strong opener.

You hear the term ‘Heartland Rock’ (most often associated with Springsteen, CCR & Petty) sometimes. Honest, straightforward music that connects to the everyday man. Reverend Henry & The Pharisees continue in this same tradition. Ditchy is in the same corner as Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Crowes, while If You Don’t Mind is a little bluesier, grabbing back to Mayall & Haggard but the sound comes across more current.

Under My Skin is a typical rootsy rocker which fits the raspy vocals to a tee. No polish, nothing fancy. Because of that (not despite of it) the song stands strong. And then we reach the highlight of the record, Cracks & Stains. This Claptonesque mix of pop, rock & blues starts off with an impressive guitar intro that lasts about a minute. Then the vocals kick in and everything seems to fall into place. You can hear the imperfections, the pain, the hurt but also the subtle hope and longing. It is here that Reverend Henry & The Pharisees show that music isn’t always about being crafty or being surprising. If you can write and perform real songs that have something to say and if you can perform them at the top of your abilities and pour your heart and soul into it, you will outdo most everyone else. Which is exactly what they did on this song.

The record continues with a mix solid rock & roll (Jaded, Tomorrow), horns-infused soulrock (Tonight), garage rock (Pack Your Things and Go) until we hear the closer Spotless Sally, which surprised me at first listen because it mixes in some oldtime honkytonk and jazz. You don’t hear this much anymore in today’s popular music even though it makes for a very interesting basis in folk-rock music which is more popular than ever. The jumpy nature of the track, accentuated by the piano and the light character of the vocals ends this record on a high note.

Reverend Henry & The Pharisees isn’t a likely candidate to reach commercial success, which is a shame. The album is filled with 10 strong songs and a number of stand out songs (Mary, Cracks & Stains, Pack Your Things & Go, Spotless Sally) and will likely appeal to listeners of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Bob Seger, Black Crowes, Rosemary’s Sons, Mayall, Allman Brothers, etc, but shouldn’t be limited to it. The basis of the songs may be traditional, in no way do these songs sound dated.

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Photo courtesy of Rob Ball

In the past year or so the UK trio of Bear’s Den have experienced a steady rise to stardom. The release of two well-received EPs in 2013, extensive touring in Europe, North America and Australia and a brand new album on the way. At Inner Ear Media we figured it was about time to talk to them and see what drives them as a band and what their plans for the future are.

Last friday I sat down with Andrew, Kev and Joey at label HQ and we chatted for some time. Since not everyone may be incredibly familiar with Bear’s Den, I asked them to describe the band and the music they make. Tentatively they started describing themselves as “we’re a band that plays songs…. that have lyrics… and melodies.. and harmonies.. well yeah, that’s about it.” After we all had a good laugh we talked a little more. Bear’s Den would describe their music as “post-nu-folk-folk”, which is a term they had thought of recently. It’s impossible to try and box in a musical genre or sound and Bear’s Den couldn’t really describe it exactly, but ‘post-nu-folk-folk’ is the moniker they are giving their sound.

I asked if the ‘post-nu-folk-folk’ sound could be described as their signature sound or if they might be inclined to experiment with different soundscapes and musical expressions. The band feels their brand of music is not very restricted to one soundscape or another and they feel like they mix in different ways to express themselves with in their music. Eventually it is the people in the band that make it unique and create a certain vibe or sound. If you would even change one of the members of the band, the sound would change. Through the different influences the members of a band bring to the equation, the style of songwriting and the vocal sound, the band gets a certain identity but in the end the songs are what holds it together. That’s the central message of what Bear’s Den told me when I asked them what it is that sets them apart from other bands and what makes them unique.

We started talking more about their creative process and how they go about their songwriting and recording. Bear’s Den is known for songs that are very descriptive and almost provide a visual. When you listen to their new single, Above The Clouds of Pompeii, and close your eyes, you can easily picture yourself in the song. Since this is only the first taste of their upcoming album “Islands” which drops on October 20, 2014, I asked them what we could expect on the record.

“Probably more of the same. Recently someone told us that just like movies have soundtracks, our songs should have movies because of how they are so visual. I really liked that. And I think that’s what we tried to do on the album. As for the album title, each song is an island of sorts. You could say the album is about isolation. Self-imposed isolation. That would be the central theme.”

When I asked about reworking old songs for the album, the band mentioned Elysium, which was a couple of years old when they revisited it for this album. They brought in some friends, including Marcus Hamblett on horns, and the song worked out beautifully, in a way they couldn’t as a threepiece. The band dedicated the song to a video shot by friend and director Marcus Haney which started out as documenting the last care free days of Seattle students before a tragedy occured. To watch the video and read about the way Elysium evolved into something more, click here.

During the making of the album, not all the songs the band wrote worked out. There are unfinished songs, songs that didn’t work out, etc. I wondered what happens with those songs, so I asked the band. They joked about burying the songs and hitting their heads against the wall in frustration. The remembered how a friend of theirs actually shoots songs that don’t make the final cut as a ritual to part ways and we started discussing ways to get rid of ‘unwanted’ songs. This was all in good fun of course. But Bear’s Den said they don’t want to get rid of those songs entirely because “what if they work later on” but they all agreed they’d have to shelf them for the time being. Andrew said: “You try to look at songs in different ways and at a certain point you know when something is good or when it isn’t. All three of us bring in something different artistically and those different influences create tension, which is necessary to produce great songs. But sometimes it doesn’t work out. It’s a process.”

The band is currently on a European tour, playing the new songs live, so I asked them how the songs were being received. The band said “the response has been relatively equal between the different songs. It changes a little from place to place but I don’t think there are one or two songs that get a better response than others.” Also, I asked them which song they like playing live the most and which one is the most terrifying to play live and the band started to laugh and at the same time they said: “that’s the same song”.

Joey explained it was Think of England because there are a lot of new things going on in this song and it is the first time he is really playing drums live. Also, they use a little loop in the song and it’s always a scary moment to see if it actually works. Andrew and Kev joined in and told me Joey was doing an excellent job.

We started talking about other things they pursue artistically, outside of music. Recording with other bands was mentioned and Andrew and Kev mentioned they like writing sometimes and Kev also likes to make things, build things. But the real artistic expressions outside of music were Joey’s FIFA-skills. He said: “The way I make those little men move, is pretty artistic.” And if you want a recipe for meatballs a la Bear’s Den, ask them about it when you see them. Suffice it to say I left this interview craving meatballs. And cooking good food, in my book, should always cound as art!

We circled back to the descriptive, visual nature of Bear’s Den’s songs and how the songs are almost like literature sometimes. I assumed they were into reading and they confirmed this. So I asked them for some suggestions we should all check out. Joey immediately answerd: “Twilight” with a twinkle in his eye. Also mentioned were Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse 5” and Raymond Carver’s short stories were classified as essential reading.

After all this it was time we talked about music again. As I mentioned earlier, Bear’s Den extensive touring took them to North America, Europe and Australia. So they’ve been to some interesting places. I asked them what they thought the most interesting places have been so far and where they’d still want to go.

“We were on tour with Mumford & Sons in the United States and we went to all these smaller towns of maybe 10,000 people, like Guthrie, Oklahoma and Troy, Ohio, and at night at the shows there were twice as many people. That was surreal. And when we stood next to the Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois. And Hobart in Tasmania was pretty cool!”

The real kicker, however, was the place they’d like to go. Would you have guessed Botswana? I wouldn’t have. But that’s what they said. Recently, the band received an e-mail that told them their song had reached #14 in the Botswanan charts, which they thought was really interesting. Other places they mentioned were anywhere in Africa or South America. So don’t be surprised if the band ends up touring there in the future. And while they hadn’t quite figured out how it would work out, they thought it would be fun to play a Trans-Siberian Railroad tour. Now that’s something, right? And we weren’t quite done yet.

“We’ll have to give a shout out to Big Steve. A while ago we met this guy called Steve. Big Steve for friends. He offered to takes us up in his hot air balloon and said that he’d bring wine and cheese.” Reminiscing about this they said: “Big Steve, come and find us and lets go on tour in a hot air balloon.” So Steve, if you’re reading this…

As I got a signal that our time was almost up, I asked the band what the worst and best thing is about being a musician because it can’t always be easy. The band told me that you have to make sacrifices. You spend a lot of time away from home, you can get sleep deprived and it can be hard to get a decent meal, but when it comes down to it, you make those sacrifices because the good outweighs the bad. You get to see so many new and interesting places and meet so many great people and connect with them while you’re doing what you like to do most. They also gave a shoutout to Christoff, who is touring with them at the moment and, according to the band, is keeping the spirits high while they are on the road.

Finally, I asked them what it means to them if a fan tells them that their music changed his or her life or that it brought people together.

“That’s another one for ‘best things about being a musician’. It is amazing. Truly blessing. Very surreal. There are so many songs that have shaped our lives and to be a part of that is pretty magic.”

The band remembered someone proposing during their set in Bristol and also a few years ago a couple told them they were about to file for divorce but after they listened to one of their songs they decided to give it one more try and they were working things out. So the band decided their new slogan should be: “Bear’s Den: keeping divorce rates low since 2012”.

It was an absolute pleasure to talk to you, guys and I hope you are having an absolute blast on tour. Keep doing what you’re doing and I hope to talk to you again soon!

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Interview: Fiction Plane

It was a rainy tuesday evening when I sat down with the enigmatic gents of Fiction Plane at their rehearsal studio in Amsterdam. Fiction Plane released critically acclaimed albums like “Everything Will Never Be OK”, “Left Side of the Brain” & “Sparks”, spawning popular songs like Hate, Anyone, Two Sisters, Drink, It’s A Lie, Push Me Around and Humanoid. Currently, after a relatively quiet period, the band is playing a number of showcases in The Netherlands to premiere songs off their upcoming album “Mondo Lumina”. So I figured it would be a great time to catch up with the band.

Because the band name Fiction Plane has always intrigued me, I had to ask them about the origins of this name. Pete, half-jokingly, came up with “a fictional place where we can let our imagination roam free..” but Joe explained to me the band name originated in a song title in a school band he was a part of. The name had just stuck and indeed came to represent the kind of place Pete was talking about. The band (name) represents a safe place where these musicians come together and create their magic.

While we were enjoying our drinks, the guys ordered some food and we started talking about the new album. Throughout everything Seton, Joe and Pete were saying, you could hear they are really excited about the new songs and are very proud of what they made. I asked them how it stacks up against their previous releases. The first answer provided a round of laughter as Seton said he’d describe it as “our most recent one”. But then they got serious. The new album, which was recorded in Brendon O’Brien’s Henson Studios in Los Angeles under the watching eye of producer extraordinaire Tom Syrowski. All three kept repeating how lucky and honored they felt to have had the chance to work in that studio with those people.

“We were so lucky we got to record in our absolute favourite studio in the world with the best producer we ever worked with. Tom Syrowski is [totally] amazing. He’s been Brendan O’Brien’s (who also played a little bit on the record) apprentice for years.”

They explained how Tom Syrowski was very open to listening to their ideas but also pushed them to make choices and go certain directions, which made the band really happy to have him on the job. If you take a look at Fiction Plane’s twitter feed, you will find a solid number of tweets that show their appreciation for their time at Henson Studios and Syrowski’s input.

When we talked about the sound of the new album, they all agreed it was the best record they have ever made. Pete said: “Sometimes I sit down and listen to the songs and I’m like: Who is this band?” And Seton added: “I hope it’s not, but if this would be our last album, I would be very glad it is this album.” The sound is different from the band’s previous releases as it is more melodic with a lot more texture. Joe, Seton and Pete live in different places and have families of their own so it wasn’t always easy to match up their schedules to write and record. So they often only had a couple of days to have a writing session, which made the experience feel very focused. Joe explained the songs have a more fragile component to them. Where Fiction Plane would previously just turn up the amps and make a kickass rock song, the new material is more focused on atmospheric sentiment with a hopeful, positive feel to it. Seton also said that Joe might have been singing in a different way compared to before that makes the songs come out even better.

Making this record was really rewarding for the band. Because they all have their own lives with their own families now and have had the time to focus on other things than Fiction Plane, the music has really become an escape for them. While it may have been a challenge to get together sometimes it was always rewarding and focused and the time away from the band had given them a new perspective and new energy that was needed to make this record. When I asked them if they would’ve been able to make this record a few years ago they all agreed they needed to be at this point in their lives with their current experiences. Even a few years ago, they wouldn’t have been able to write and record this record, which shows you how personal and unique expressions of music (or art in general) can be.

This week, the band has been rehearsing the new songs because they have yet to play most of the songs live which is a whole different ballgame compared to playing and recording in the studio. They enlisted the help of some friends and are really excited to debut the new songs in 4 venues across The Netherlands. Initially, the band had planned a European tour that would’ve taken them to France, Belgium and Germany as well, but the tour was postponed when the decision was made to release the new record in 2015 instead of this year. When I asked them why they kept the Dutch dates, they explained that it would only be right to showcase the new songs in The Netherlands because this is where it all started for them. Also, the shows in The Netherlands had sold out quickly.

In the meantime, the guys were almost done eating and we chatted a little more. We talked about how they got started in music and if they had ever thought about doing something other than playing music. Both Pete and Seton started playing music when they were really young and Joe mentioned he knew he wanted to be a musician ever since he heard Nirvana. None of them really entertained doing something else. They had some odd jobs to earn some money but their focus was always on music. Seton said: “If you want to make it in music you can’t really have a fall back plan. If you have one, you will use it.” I saw Joe and Pete nod when he said that and it does make sense. As the band explained, it is not an easy life to make it in and there are a lot of people who want to profit from what you do. So you really need to be in it for the entire 100% if you want to have a chance of making it as a professional musician.

Pete told me a little more about how he discovered that he wanted to be a musician. When he was young, about 8 years old, he was playing music with a friend. They called themselves ‘The Explosives’ and the wrote their own songs. On rainy sundays they would play their songs inside for other people and after awhile they started to sing the songs back to them. The way that made him feel was special and that feeling fueled him to seriously pursue music as a career. He also said he initially wanted to be a professional baseball player but that didn’t happen, so music it is.

I also asked Pete, since he’s the only American in the band, if being among two Brits had provided for interesting moments. Little things that they did or were used to. But all of them said that they had never really experienced that. Their sense of humor is very similar and they all got along from the get-go. So recording and touring always amounts to having a good time.

Next, I talked to Joe about one of his social video startups, Vyclone. I asked him what it was and how they are using it during their show in Paradiso, Amsterdam. Joe explained that during live shows a lot of people were filming songs from different angles and there would be dozens of videos but there was no real connection between the videos and the people filming. What he was looking for was a social component, to bring all this together. Vyclone provides a social platform where different people can film a live show from different angles and connect to each other via the Vyclone app. You upload the video and the platform turns it into a multi-angle video, which you can download back to your device. The band called out to fans going to the show in Amsterdam to use this to record their songs so that they can release a video made through it.

I also talked to Joe about something I’d heard about him playing with an Austrian musician to compete at the Eurovision Song Contest. He had to smile and explained that he was in Austria once for a festival. His wife was going to come over but her flight got canceled. A promoter for Austrian musician Klimmstein contacted him and asked him to play on the record. Joe made them a deal that if they’d fly him and his wife over to Austria, he’d play on the album. So they brought him over and he went to a pumpkin farm in the middle of nowhere in Austria to record a song about Paris Hilton, which was perfect, as she hadn’t been in the news for a long time but just after the song was released, she was apprehended for something. The song went on the become a massive hit in Austria and was submitted for the Eurovision Song Contest. It came in second in the Austrian qualifiers. We talked about the Eurovision Song Contest for a little while but our conclusion was that most of what you hear there wasn’t really worth it anyway, except for Kilmmstein ft. Joe Sumner.

The rest of the band had finished their food as well and we started talking about touring and if there were places they would really like to visit one day. Pete said he’d really like to go to India and play there, Seton mentioned Fuji Rock in Japan and in the end they all agreed that headlining Glastonbury would be the ultimate success. I also asked them if they’d want to play the show with someone else and this led to a long discussion with no real conclusion. There were mentions of several bands but in the end they settled on playing with Rage Against The Machine.

A lot of bands experience interesting, weird of funny things while they are on tour, so I asked Fiction Plane about this but they couldn’t really think of any funny tour stories. They said it had to be because they are decent guys and don’t have crazy personalities. Pete mentioned a story about how the wheels literally came off the bus before they had to play the Pinkpop festival. While that was an eventful experience, they didn’t recall it as particularly funny.

As for music they were listening to recently, Joe listened to Jungle Boogie with his kid. Pete said he listened to the Star Wars music a lot. He apparently also binge watches tv shows and watched 4 seasons of Game of Thrones in a week while he was playing with another band for a little while. They actually played the Game of Thrones theme for fun, which I thought was hilarious. So after a minute of humming the theme, we continued the interview and Seton mentioned he was listening to War on Drugs’ new record, SOHN, FKA Twigs, Laura Doggett and Kate Bush lately. Also he seemed to enjoy the latest work from Lykke Li.

Since we were talking about music, I asked them what they thought a good song needs. When they consider something a good song. Seton initially said he’d like to feel something emotionally but quickly said that wasn’t always necessary. We talked about this for quite some time but couldn’t find a good way to describe it. Because it really depends on your mood or what you are looking for at a certain moment. When we reflected they way they view music to their own reasons for playing music they said it’s hard to not get cynical sometimes but that they make music for the love of music and that they want it to remain honest and that they want to remain true to themselves. I think we can safely say that Fiction Plane has done just that and that we are all excited to hear the new songs. “Mondo Lumina” is expected to hit the shelves in early 2015. The band expects it may be in February but for an official release date, keep checking Fiction Plane’s twitter and facebook pages.

I would really like to thank Joe, Pete and Seton for taking the time to talk to me and tell me about their plans for the forseeable future. I hope the showcases in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Zwolle and Heerlen were a blast and that everything in preparation of the new record will go well. Thanks again and hopefully I’ll see you again in 2015!

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