As you might know, I occasionally do interviews and write reviews for a German online magazine called Fast Forward magazine. As I find it pretty sad when the interview just reaches the German audience I post the same interview in English here, so my friends can read it, too. I did an interview with Thijs Kuijken, the head of I Am Oak, and I finally get around to post it here. You can find the German Version under the following link:
It’s not a secret how much I love his music. We talked about his latest album “Nowhere or Tammensaari”, having a band and classical music education. I love the soothing sound of Thijs voice on this album - he kind of makes the troubles of daily life disappear somewhere in the far distance. I love the mellowness which breaks up into a mild thunderstorm at times. I love its unpolished sound.
Listen to this fabulous album while you read the interview - just click play and then continue reading below:
What do you prefer-playing as a two piece or with your whole band?
Thijs: It’s all interesting. Each different combination has it’s own sort of pro’s and con’s I guess. Because it is really small if I play solo or with two people, you sort of have to have this quiet setting, people really have to listen and if you play with a band you have a little more room to play louder.
Back then it also seems as if you have to go out of yourself more when you play with band e.g. you have to sing louder and everything.
Thijs: Yes, because the songs become a little bit different also, I guess. Because when you play alone you can play really quiet and it’s just more intimate and with a band it’s more dynamic. Just a little bit more up and downs.
You have recorded a new album. I read that the band had more influence in everything this time - was it difficult for you?
Thijs: No, it was quite pleasant actually because I used to record by myself and this was the first time that the band was involved in the recording process and also a little bit in the writing process. Cause I had all the basics - acoustic guitar and vocals and that was all written before we went into the studio and certain parts I added but for the rest each band member with their own instrument came up with their own ideas, so we really build something with the whole group. That was really nice for a change. And it was sort of exciting for me because I have never done that with my songs.
I have read that you always try to do something new for a new album to make it sound different…
Thijs: Yeah, that was really new. The sound also became new because of that, so it sounds different then the rest of the albums. It sounds more like a band now. Again the dynamics of the band.
I imagine it’s quite different when you are alone in your bedroom writing or if you are in a studio or wherever you write.
Thijs: Yes, it is really different. It is more spontaneous also I guess. Because when I write by myself I just do stuff over and over and over again, so it’s perfect for me. With the band - because we had a limited amount of time also, we had 2 weeks to do it - so the process was a lot faster.
Two weeks also writing the songs?
Thijs: I had written the songs, so it’s two weeks of arranging the songs and recording. So, that process was a lot faster when I do it by myself. I think you can hear it that it is a bit more spontaneous and has a bit more of a live feel in there also because we played a lot of the songs….just recording them playing them live.
You’re actually quite fast in writing your music, you released quite a lot of music in a short time - so it’s been even faster now.
Thijs: Yeah, but it really depends on what I am doing. Because now we are touring and I can’t really write anything and when I have some time off I just start playing again and then it usually picks up very fast and I write a lot of songs, too. The songs on the album we recorded with the band were sort of written in the same period of time as “Oasem”. So, it is just a long big pause. So I then move songs to the back and then I get back to them later. So, I have sort of a catalogue of ideas I guess which I can pick up later.
I once talked to a band who told me they need life to happen in between their albums, so they had a 2-3 year gap.
Thijs: Yeah. I don’t really need that I guess. But I need some new impulses because I used write songs only on guitar for a while and then I got a keyboard and started writing songs on the keyboard so it gave me a new impulse and then it started rolling again. So, a lot of new songs came out of that direction, the keyboard stuff and then I picked up the guitar again and then back to keyboard. So, I try to give myself new impulses by using instruments which I would normally don’t use or haven’t used in a long time.
How do you pick the new music instruments you are using?
Thijs:: I don’t know. I guess it happens. Because for the “On Claws” album I wrote everything on guitar and I found this old Keyboard on the flea market and I started playing on that. So, it’s just a coincidence that I found it really. But it sort of gave me new inspiration really.
Is there anything you still want to add?
Thijs: I would like to do something with strings, I guess, or something like an orchestra. I have always been interested in combining orchestral sounds and pop music. That’s something I want to do.[…] But that’s just an idea. I don’t know when it will happen or if it will happen.
It all depends on you - if you learn it or not.
Thijs: Yeah, that’s the thing. I don’t really know how to write notes and stuff because obviously I can’t play all these instruments by myself so I have to get some help to…
You never had something like traditional music education?
Thijs: No, not yet. I had some guitar lessons when I was a kid and that’s it.
Do you think it is actually necessary to be able to read notes and all this stuff?
Thijs: No, I don’t think because I can’t read notes and I never had any lessons in drumming or playing keyboard or playing bass. It’s just… you only have to have a certain amount of skills to do what you need to do…for me, for my music because it is not really technical, it is more about emotions, I guess. I don’t have to be perfect.
Do you wish sometimes you could do all this stuff?
Thijs: No. Not really. It’s just I know enough for now I guess, to do what I do.
I know a lot of musicians who can’t read notes.
Thijs: It always works out I guess.
You can’t learn the feeling side of music. You can have all the techniques you want…
Thijs: Yeah, my opinion is that really technically skilled players just play really technically skilled stuff and lacks emotion. […] I don’t mind if something is played a little bit crappy, out of tune. [When something is played perfect…] It’s boring I guess, there is no tension. It’s not emotional tension. When you play everything perfectly it gets boring rather quickly. It’s cool for a while because you think “oh wow, you can play the guitar very well.”. But then it’s just….
You are also doing the artwork for the EP - how come?
Thijs: I have always liked like imagery, photographs and paintings and stuff and I used to draw a lot. And I started studying photography when I was 20 and I am still graduating from it. And so, imagery has always been sort of important to me and music also. When I started music I also started making my own album covers. All the I Am Oak album covers have been made by me because I think it is really important to sort of expand the feeling of your music also in the artwork so it becomes this package. You can relate the music and the artwork and the artwork can maybe tell something about the music and the music about the artwork. So, I have always been interested in that. And recently I…some friends of mine were making a new album and they asked me to do their artwork because they like I Am Oak’s artwork. So I have been trying that out also. And it is really fun because it it really different from making my own artwork because it si obviously not my music but it is really cool to sort of listen to their music and try to get an image and make something. They also liked it.
Thank you for the interview, Thijs!
I have seen I am Oak twice last year. Both concerts have been on the same day and nevertheless been quite different. The first one was acoustic and only two people on stage, the second one was a full band concert. And I am super excited to see them next weekend again. The creative mind behind this Utrecht-based band is Thijs Kuijken. “Skulk” is their newest release - probably to shorten the waiting time for their next record. It’s a limited 7” vinyl or download release. Actually the last album was released by Snowstar Records in May 2011 - so it’s not that long ago really.
As I am currently in a calmer music phase, this is well perfect. I really like Thijs voice - it kind of smoothing. On this EP it’s quite dominating the songs. It almost seems the instruments are fading into the background when he sings. The songs and everything seem so stripped down and simple on a brief first listen but the more I heard them the more they opened up to me. They are wonderfully relaxing, and sometimes they seem a bit weary. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It transfers onto the listener and results in relaxation and not tiredness.
I love the melodies and the instruments they used - the sound of it even though I am not sure what exactly they used. And I am not exactly sure what they sing about. But the overall package you get to hear is beautiful. It wraps your ears and heart in a warm fuzzy duvet like nothing I have heard in the last couple of weeks.
And they are on tour in the next couple of weeks and I can just recommend you to go:
27.1. Kattendans, Bergeijk, NL
28.1. Molotow, Hamburg
29.1. HBC., Berlin
30.1. Thalia Cinema, Dresden
31.1. MUK, Giessen
1.2. Zentrum Altenberg, Oberhausen
2.2. Zum Teufel, Mannheim
3.2. Cafe Nun, Karlsruhe
4.2. Zwölfzehn, Stuttgard
5.2. AZ, Aachen
21.2. Tuchlaube, Aarau
22.2. Diagonal Club, Forli
23.2. La Claque - Teatro la Tosse, Genova
24.2. Spazio Mew, Vitorrio Veneto
25.2. Mela di Newton, Padova
26.2. Unplugged in Monti, Roma
1.3. Livingroom, Lyon
12.3. SXSW, Austin, TX, USA
12.3. Canadian Music Week, Toronto, Canada
A photo from last year (The Great Escape presents…, Popkomm, Berlin):
Have a good Sunday everyone,