In a previous interview I did with Lewsberg earlier this year, Michiel Klein said Lewsberg wanted to be a crappy band. They failed. Their debut album ended in Kraak’s End of the Year list.
Michiel, I like the ‘noise guitar’ you play in certain songs, because it’s ‘tempered noise’, it’s wild, but very structured, very sharp. Why are these pieces in the songs?
Michiel Klein: Because I like noise music. It’s fun and liberating to listen to and to create it yourself. I also like music that might seem conventional at first but contains elements that feel slightly off, where something feels not quite right. And in the end these noise guitar parts are just another way of playing the electric guitar, like playing chords, arpeggio’s or riffs. It’s an extra colour to the palette.
Track number 7 (“The Smile”) starts with what could be just a loop, but than it develops into a song. But for me, it could also work if it would ‘just’ be a loop, and a parlando voice over it. Like in the best Sleaford Mods tracks: just a loop and a voice talking, telling. Can you understand that? Was track number 7 initially just a loop, musically?
Michiel: “The Smile” is the only song on the album that originated from a group jam. During this jam we were still figuring out what we were playing, very free and causal. I liked this particular musical phrase so we recreated it but playing it more tight. The song structure you are talking about is very loose I have to say. There’s a change in the drums and only two chords are added at points, but (bass player) Shalita just keeps on playing the loop. I see it more as a play with dynamics, which is one of the fun things of playing as a band, with a drummer. And it’s not just about the volume, the actual sound is really different when you hit a guitar string hard or soft, and of course this also goes for the drums and other instruments.
“To trust people even when they disappoint you”
In a way, the music of Lewsberg sounds naive, unfinished even. Like work-in-progress. But then, on purpose. Keeping it ‘raw’ to keep it ‘fresh’. Does this makes sense to you? Can one decide to be naive, or is that impossible? In this sense, Lewsberg reminds me of bands like Mad Nanna or Fluwelen Koord. An influence?
Michiel: The unfinished and work-in-progress feel is very deliberate. We wanted these songs to stay alive, to not suck the life out of them in the studio. We’re not interested in definitive results, it’s a snapshot, a moment in time. But of course it’s a paradox. Recorded moments tend to become the definitive version for the spectator. It’s a strange dynamic, one I am very suspicious of. That’s also one of the reasons why we have different versions of the same song. The single versions are different from the album versions. And of course live versions are different from the recorded versions.
Arie van Vliet: We decided what we wanted our music to sound like, and I think this decision comes from the way we think about music and life. We are all pretty well aware of what is going on around us. And at the same time, we felt the need to make music that you describe as naive. So that means that making naive music is a deliberate choice, somehow based on knowledge and ratio. I’ve always been interested in the question whether one can decide to be naive. A couple of years ago, I actually even tried to make this decision for myself, to see if it could work. Since that day I try to be less calculating, to trust people even when they disappoint me, to undergo art without trying to understand it, to face new situations without the need to know as much as possible about it in advance. But, though I believe this approach works on a pragmatic level, I don’t think I can really call myself naive now. So maybe it isn’t possible after all.
There are several short, kind of in-between pieces on the record: pieces of poetry, some cheesy organ, a loop. Why are these short pieces before, in between and after the ‘real’ songs there? What is the function of these pieces?
Michiel: So-called in-between moments are really important. I think people focus too much on the ‘big moments’. Some people might be calling these in-between pieces background music or the boring parts, and they would be very right in a way, but I do not find these descriptions to be negative. I love boring parts in music, where there’s space left to breathe and think, when you’re not suffocated by the ego of the composer. There’s a big audience nowadays who listen very intensely to muzak or ambient music, while in supermarkets there are pop songs blowing out of the speakers, screaming for our attention while we hardly notice them.
Arie: What I like about these pieces, and the poetry in particular, is the casualness of it. How undefined it is. You call it poetry, but though you hear two Rotterdam-based poets talking, they’re not reciting poems. They’re just talking about life. And the one moment that one of the poets, Cor Vaandrager, actually is reciting a poem, it sounds like just a part of a conversation. I think these parts show that there isn’t that much difference between everyday conversations and poetry. Like there isn’t that much difference between the real songs on the album and the in-between parts either. Like Michiel said: people focus too much on the big moments. They don’t seem to care about unimportant things anymore. With these in-between pieces, we shine a light on ordinary things. Maybe we shouldn’t even call them in-between pieces, or we could call the entire album an in-between piece.
Michiel: Also the musical ‘interludes’ contain fragments of the ‘real’ songs on the album. So again, it’s like a work-in-progress. It’s another way to look at the same moment, feeling or idea, but from a different perspective.
The cover of the album got a George Hardie kind of feeling. By accident?
Arie: Who is George Hardie?
Arie, your lyrics are almost literature, more than song lyrics. Do you feel like you’re more a writer than a song writer?
Arie: I don’t see these two things as different things. When you write, one of the things you have to take into account is what you’re writing on. I think I would write in a different way if I would write on paper, instead of on music. But I also like to experiment with that a bit. How would a written text work if I put it on music? Do I need to change words so they rhyme, or so they fit in the rhythm? Would the bare minimum be sufficient?
But actually, I don’t see myself as a writer at all. I just like to work with language. My favourite writers and poets paid the rent with copywriting for advertising agencies. I’m not just writing songs, I pay the rent with writing computer code. I like how fluid working with language can be.
Arie, I like some of the one-liners you wrote, like ‘He loved to talk, but he hated conversation’, or ‘All your friends were there, but where were you’. Do you think, if you write something like that: ‘yes!’?
Arie: I hate one-liners.
No, I think I recognise the power of certain phrases, the moment I write them. But I’m never too happy with these phrases, because I have the feeling that using them is an unnecessary display of power. Maybe all display of power is unnecessary, now that I think about it. So if I write a phrase like that, I try to rephrase so it becomes less clever, less witty, less of a one-liner. Or I try to cover it up somehow, use it casually. On the other hand, one-liners are compact, clear and efficient, all aspects I value highly. I mean, computer code is at it’s best when it’s written as clean and simple as possible. This way of thinking probably affects my song writing as well.
In a way, Lewsberg sounds like ‘typical indie’, but then again, it’s not, on a second listen. Again: does this makes sense to you?
Arie: I don’t really know what typical indie sounds like. To me, our music just sounds like the music we make, unrelated to any genre. I think it’s usually outsiders who want to add a genre to music, so it’s easier for them to understand. But if you experience our music like that, typical indie at first, and not typical indie on a second listen, I think this has something to do with what Michiel said before. That he likes music that might seem conventional at first but contains elements that feel slightly off. I think we all like things that aren’t what they appear to be.
– Joeri Bruyninckx