13th Annual Indie/Alt. Rock Album Nominee
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Record Label: RJWH
Home Base: Haarlem, the Netherlands (from which the name for New York’s Harlem stems)
Genres: Indie Rock or Alternative Pop. Whatever works for you.
Categories Entered: Indie/Alt. Rock Album, Adult Contemporary
Work Submitted: A Gentle Sting
Artists Featured: Cloudmachine, guest appearance by Jon Allen (backing vocals)
Who are your influences?: Life, in general. But that’s not a who… Influences, boy, I think for me as the writer/composer it goes to say you pick up a little here and there musically, without actually knowing it. We would never try to emulate a sound by another band but rather just see where the song takes us while it comes out. And hopefully it comes out sounding like Cloudmachine. If it sounds like anything else I usually ditch an idea. Like with fashion, productional trends are very temporary. We try to aim for a certain timelessness, by using mostly instruments that sound organic. To make it breath. No copy pasting. We often add things like a brass or string section, all real players. But names, names… I like traditional songwriters a lot, who can capture someting universal. Like John Lennon, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Elliott Smith. Musically Beatles, Elliot Smith, Jon Brion, early Radiohead, Talk Talk and most of all David Bowie. And also classical music, by Gabriel Fauré, Ravel, Elgar, J.S. Bach, Arvo Pärt, to name some. I like romanticism but also modern minimalism, like Steve Reich.
Describe your nominated work: The songs were conceived in a time I had an intense long distance connection with a girl who is suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder. It was a confusing time. A lot of the songs I wrote to try and do something positive for her, I’d send her the demo’s. So there is a little dedication in the artwork. It says: “I once knew a girl who painted flashes of lost memory, that made no sense to her. When a piece was done she’d cover it up with black paint. I wrote most of these songs for her, in a clumsy attempt to cover the black with white. Hoping she would one day have a blank canvas again.” She is doing allright by the way. She was in good care. So good even that the identity that was talking to me dissolved altogether.
Despite the story, or because of it, many songs are positive and hopeful. With Cloudmachine there’s always a slight perfume of ‘happy melancholy’ in the songs. Most clear in Time Passes For Everyone. The lyrics are important for us. Therefore, as a non-native speaker it means a lot me that we are nominated for the IMA’s. There are some groovy indie rocksongs, and some slightly cinematic tracks, like Ghost Wind and She’s Playing With My Head Again. Personally I like To Be Found the most, because it has a distinctive sound. With this album (it’s our fourth) we aimed for a more compact production, hoping the radio might pick up a track. We worked with producer Tristan Longworth (UK) who had made two records with Jon Allen (UK) that were very successful on Dutch radio.
Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording?: Well let’s see. On Broken People I play a rare ’66 Fender Electric XII. They used a similar one for ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and on The Who’s ‘Tommy’. On the same song Marco plays a Wurlitzer A200 through a Roger Mayer Voodoo Vibe. We used that too on The Mist Is Rising, doubled with a muted harmonized guitar it has a weird sound many musician’s ask us what it is. We have a string quartet in some songs, there is the classic tea towel covering the snare drum in To Be Found. Mike plays a vintage Gretsch kit. There’s a sweet sounding upright piano we bumped into in a studio in London, owned by one of Tristan’s friends. We rented a huge Hammond organ that was blocking the toilet door, for two days. There is a vintage Solina String Ensemble in To Be Found, in the end bit. And.. how can I forget, a crappy sounding baby accordeon that is just perfect. We doubled it with hammond in Against The Tide, and Marco plays a solo on it in She’s Playing With My Head Again.
Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned?: We had a very structured plan. We needed to, working in a foreign country, time was money. Mostly travel expenses and hotels really. So we had a detailed ‘to do’ list. Firstly Tristan flew over here to record drums, bass and string quartet in a wonderful analog studio here with an SSL table. Then we went to London 6, 7 times to record guitars, piano, Wurlitzer and vocals in Tristans’ studio. Happy accidents mostly happened while playing, you know, when one take just seems to capture something special. For instance, Ray played bass on Edward Hopper’s Eyes, live with MIke drumming. They did some takes and we were all happy. And the next day Ray just needed to do one more. And that was the one. He knew the accident hadn’t happened yet. The biggest happy accident is, we didn’t know where Tristan was going to take it. And you have to let a producer have the space to do his thing. He did a great job, I think. Also, he came up with the mastering engineer Mike Marsh. He added something too. Mike worked on many great albums from bands like Oasis, Depeche Mode, Prodigy and Björk.
How did you raise the funds for this project? How long do you expect it will take to recoup your out-of-pocket recording expenses?: As the founder of the band and songwriter, I funded the project with my tiny production company, with money generated from other projects I composed and produced for. Mostly music for television series on Dutch national TV, but also a few songs I wrote for other artists that were succesful.We will not recoup this one on one. But the way I see it is, you keep the wheel spinning and you try to develop your skills, and with putting out new work you get new opportunities, we are visible, we get new assignments and projects. We get airplay. In the end, it comes back, in one way or other. But what is most important is, is we have the opportunity to do this, to develop our craft. As musician’s, as perfomers, for me as a writer, and all of us as people, trying to move forward in life.
Why did you choose to submit this work to The 13th IMAs?: Ok, this will sound corny but here it goes anyway: because it is such a labour of love. We have put so much focus and love in it. And we hope there are some songs on there that might be nice on the soundtrack of some peoples lives. That would be the best.
What’s your definition of success and how will you know when you’ve achieved it?: Being able to keep recording and putting out albums, despite the current conditions in the music industry. Reaching people. Sometimes, when I think, we put so much effort in all this, why are we doing this? Right then, I get an email from somebody in Ecuador, or Canada, or Spain, who foudn a song online, telling us it means something to them. I can’t forget the man that came to our album release show in Amsterdam, who had lost his father a few days prior to the event, and he came to me, a complete stranger, and he tells me he neede to be there, because the music helped. I mean. Who cares about a number one record when you somebody tells you that? One day we got an email by a fan who wanted to play accordeon again because we used in a song and she asked for the sheet music.
How will you leverage your IMA honors to achieve your career goals?: We already notice the nomination is a good thing. Winning would mean so much. We’d hire a publicist and do more promotion with it. It will help getting more shows and press. And perhaps radio. It will most definately help ‘building the house’. We will try do shows in the USA. We are already aiming for some small scale things in the end of the year, in New York.
Who’s sitting in your audience and what makes your fans unique?: People of all ages who listen and feel. We do have songs that go from solid rock to quiet, there is a lot of contrast. Our material also works well in theatres, with some slight adjustments. Mostly it’s people ranging from mid twenties to late forties. People who care about the words. What makes them unique maybe is they belong to no group, they think for themselves.
Any close calls or mishaps while on tour?: Sometimes, without a tourmanager or crew to help, we forget things under pressure, with so much going on. Once I had spent three hours in heavy traffic trying to get to a show in time, when I’d forgotten my guitar (…). While I was driving (well, very slowly) I put a message out on Twitter and a musician nearby offered to lend me his guitar, he brought it to the show, what a guy! When you are in a band a long time you learn everybody’s little quirks. One needs his meals on time, another isn’t good with time, another doesn’t know when to stop talking, I’m not good with too much input prior to a show… We all know, it’s like a little part time family, you try to work around it.
Who are your musical heroes & influences?: Already summed quite a few up above, so as not to bore you, let’s name a few contemporary bands or artists that aren’t so much an influence but that we admire; Rufus Wainwright, Villagers, The Veils, Elbow, Calexico and Scott Matthews.
Are there any songs you wish you wrote and why?: Oh boy. So many. “The Kiss” by Judee Sill. I name this one because it is not very well known and maybe someone will rediscover it now. Tragic story Judee Sill. I think she has a hints of Bach and of Brian Wilson. It’s just timeless.
What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans?: I like quirky rootsy things. Sounds that go well with eating in dark little restaurants in the wrong part of town, that serve mysterious food, you are not sure you want to eat and don’t know how to be polite to the waiter. I recently discovered cowboy yodel music, from the early fifties. Elton Britt particularly, it just makes me smile. And it is so well made! I have an intro by him as a ringtone, because I don’t like phone calls, and each time it rings I just start smiling and pick up.
How do you discover new music? Do you buy music or are you content with streaming?: So much is put out nowadays. We have friends who are just as into music as we are, some also form the industry. We hardly miss anything. Well that’s interesting to us ofcourse. You can’t listen to everything. I listen to KCRW, BBC6 or Radio Paradise when I’m tired of my own collection. DJ’s with so much dignity and respect for the music. They play a mix of new and old stuff, almost always quality songs. Some times I discover old music this way too. Dutch public radio and television, it pains me to say, has lost almost all of it’s adventure and refinement.
How will musicians make a living if fans continue to expect music to be free?: This era is very interesting…with globalization a lot of distinct (regional) qualities get lost –maybe temporarily– and not just in music. In the EU for instance, under EU laws certain cheeses (here’s a Dutchman speaking) that have been made for centuries can no longer be traded because of certain rules that have to be followed. Thus interfering with the making process it loses it’s flavor identity and market value. Everything starst to taste the same. This happens in music too. We have Dutch people playing country music. New York bands playing European Klezmer. It’s interesting. We absorb everything and can copy everything. I am curious to see where it goes. Are we developing a parallel world culture in addition to our personal ones? Who knows. I think sounding like yourself is what artists should aspire, to sound honest and like themselves. Then it will always be unique. And if it has an appeal to a wider audience, it will find it’s way.
What don’t fans/audiences understand about the music industry today?: It is really really really easy to make a great sounding fashionable track these days but it will never be easy to write a good song.
Are digital singles/EPs vs. full albums the future?: I feel like the album is similar to a feature movie. It has a certain length which makes it work. It has a natural time span and a curve that fits the human attention span.If you say: our attention spans are shorter now, I think not, we are just all ultra hyper with all social media and screen input. I think this will pass. I’ve never seen a single song or EP of any cultural substance, become a success.
Finish this sentence: The music industry is…in an interesting phase, where the big companies seek blockbuster succes because nobody buys physical products anymore, and the audience wants refinement, sick of being force fed with formula music, and finds it all by itself on the internet.
What do you have in the works for the upcoming year?: We are working on doing some more support shows for international bands in the Netherlands. This is always a good way to find new audience. We opened for bands like The Veils, The Boxer Rebellion and Mew. Hopefully some festvals. Also, we have had a some college radio promotion in the USA and we still see some airplay, we are hoping some music blogs will write about us to help people find us. We are hoping to be able to go to New York to play some small acoustic shows in november. And I will be writing new songs for a new abum.
iTunes Music Store: https://itunes.apple.com/nl/artist/cloudmachine/id206482002
Almost all other digital download stores worldwide.