Q&A: Klangstof lead singer Koen Van der Wardt talks living in isolated Norway and being the first Dutch band to play Coachella
There are plenty of bands who write songs about isolation and loneliness, but few bands truly embrace those motifs as much as Dutch indie band Klangstof. The group’s lead singer and founder, Koen Van de Wardt, spent the majority of his teenage years living in an isolated part of Norway after his family moved from Amsterdam when he was 14. Most adolescents would likely resent their parents for such a move, but Wardt — a natural introvert — enjoyed the period of his life spent in Norway.
During that time, Wardt was able to focus on writing music, which he had almost no experience doing before the move. He taught himself how to play guitar, bass, piano, synth and drums. Soon, Wardt was recording demos and songs on his computer. He didn’t know it then, but those demos would one day turn into Klangstof’s 2016 debut record, “Close Eyes to Exit.”
The album, which is full of overlapping synths, echoing bass tones and simple guitar melodies, was heavily influenced by the time Wardt spent in the lonely backwoods of Norway. His lyrics on the record depict a man who is uneasy with complete contentment living in isolation.
Since then Wardt has led Klangstof around the globe, becoming the first Dutch band to ever play at Coachella and opening for The Flaming Lips on a nationwide tour along the way. Looking back, it’s ironic that Wardt’s self-depicting lyrics of introversion have connected him with thousands of fans all over the world and led him to places he could’ve never imagined.
The Emerald caught up with Van de Wardt ahead of Klangstof’s show with the Flaming Lips at the Roseland Theater on May 12. This article has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Emerald: I read you are the first Dutch band to play at Coachella. What does that mean to you?
Koen Van de Wardt: Yeah! It’s pretty special. I think we never had the support we were hoping for in our home country as we do in the US. Everything kind of started over here and in Holland no one knew about us until we were announced for Coachella. Then people in our home country figured out we were the first Dutch band to play there. All of a sudden we kind of got all the support we were hoping for so it was kind of cool to finally be recognized in our home country.
Most of the shows we play with the Flaming Lips are at smaller venues where there’s never been a Dutch band performing. It’s been kind of cool to be these “pioneers” of indie rock out of Holland.
E: I heard that you got pretty emotional after that Coachella performance. There were even rumors that you started crying. What made that show so emotional for you guys?
KW: We were just kind of looking forward to it for half a year so it was kind of a long run until the actual festival. We knew it was going to be a very big one for us and there was a lot at stake. There was a lot of people from the press coming and everyone from the label was coming so you really don’t want to mess up that first Coachella weekend. So basically I think it was all of the pressure that was on us and then just us playing a really good show. So all of that pressure turned into emotions. To be honest, I wasn’t crying, but we had a lot of people crying backstage. So that was a really cool moment.
E: How do you prepare for a show?
KW: I’m always very silent two or three hours before the show. I’m just there, concentrating on the show, playing the set over in my head. No one can really talk to me. That usually happens for bigger shows. For smaller shows, we always like to play board games before we go on stage. I guess we’re not those rock stars who do drugs so we just sit there and play a board game instead.
E: What board games do you guys like playing?
KW: Our favorite is a game called Munchkin. I don’t know if you know it.
E: No, I don’t know it. Is it kind of like Monopoly?
KW: No it’s a game where you just kind of fuck with each other. It’s the best game in the world. So we usually play that, but I just bought a game called King of Tokyo, or something. So we’re gonna try out that one tonight I think.
E: From what I’ve gathered reading some of your past interviews, you have sort of an introverted personality. Would you agree with that?
KW: Yeah, totally. I’ve always had kind of a hard time connecting with people. Like if I could choose between going to a party or sitting in my room making music, I would always choose the last one. I don’t know what it is, but I usually just enjoy being by myself more than I do being with friends. I don’t know where it comes from, maybe I just love being on my own making music. I guess I’m just a weirdo.
E: You’re definitely not a weirdo. There are a lot of people out there who feel the same way.
KW: That’s the funny thing. I always thought I was the only one feeling like that so I kind of wrote the record… Much of the record is about that feeling. Ever since the release I kind of get people saying the same thing and it’s cool to know that more people think the same way. It’s very cool to know what your fans are thinking. They are always very open with me since I’m the one making the music. It’s pretty cool that you can really connect with your fans on that level.
E: How does that introvertedness and preference to be on your own affect your ability to perform in front of large audience like Coachella?
KW: It’s funny, whenever I’m on stage I don’t really get that feeling anymore. I kind of go into “show mode.” I feel very secure. I know what I’m doing when I’m making music so that makes it way easier for me to be there. If I were to stand on the stage doing something I’m not comfortable with, if I was just talking or something like that I would totally creep out. So it’s basically doing something I’m comfortable with makes it a lot easier for me.
E: You wrote most of the music from the last record while living in isolated Norway. What made you want to move to such an isolated area and how did it influence the music you wrote during that time?
KW: Well, I was only 14 years old when I moved with my parents so it was pretty much their decision when I moved from Holland to Norway. So I didn’t really have a choice, but it definitely helped me a lot with music. I wasn’t doing any music before I moved just because there was so much going on in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. There’s no real need to block yourself off to make music. So as soon as we moved to Norway — it’s very isolated and there’s not so much you can do, so I got kind of stuck to all the Radiohead records and my guitar.
Because there’s not that many people around you kind of have to play all the instruments and record it yourself. So I just spent seven years trying to make a record. That was my goal for the time I lived in Norway. It was just a very cool, creative process to do everything yourself. I think it saved me in many ways. I had a great time living there even though I had no one around. It was really cool.
E: Could you walk me through the writing process for that record?
KW: First of all, it was a very slow process because I never was intentionally working on a record. It was just making songs anytime all the time. Then I had like five or six hours of music I had made over the last seven years that had slowly turned into some songs. The nice thing about the process was I never had a way of making music. It was just whatever came to mind. Sometimes it was kind of making a synth riff or sometimes it was just playing with the guitar or sometimes I had a vocal riff that worked really well. I just always tried to do whatever came to my mind, instead of really finding a way that worked for me. I just tried to leave it very open and do whatever comes to mind.
E: You wrote the last record by yourself, but now you’re touring with a full band. Do you prefer writing alone or with a band?
KW: That’s kind of where the introverted thing comes in. I find it really hard to just write songs with the band from scratch. Like to just start singing out of nowhere or stuff like that I still find really hard. So what I like to do now is write little demos on my computer and as soon as it’s getting somewhere I get the band in to start jamming. I think that’s just kind of something that works really well for us now.
It’s also way more inspiring for me to have a band around. All the band members are way better on their instruments than I am. So it’s very cool to see them translate what I have on my computer into a proper song. I think that just the whole writing process for the next record will be way easier and more fun. So I’m looking forward to that.
E: In a recent interview you said your next record is going to be about girls. Is that true?
KW: (Laughs) No. I don’t think so. We might get one song in there about girls. It’s kind of true though. The first album was very much about the isolation and now that whole isolation thing is gone since I’m on the road so much. I don’t really have those same feelings that I had when I wrote the first record. [The next album] has to be about something else that’s on my mind, but that can be anything. I just hope it’s not going to be girls.
E: In another interview you said that you’ve been listening to more electronic music and that your next album is going to be more experimental. What direction is your next record headed?
KW: Well that’s the cool thing. I’ll always be stuck in this Radiohead thing, which is they’ve done everything, so that’s also pretty vague. The cool thing about having a band is they bring all of their own interests in. The guys listen to a lot of hip-hop and a lot of electronic music, which kind of triggers me as well. The way they play drums is a bit more urban than the way I would do it myself. I’m very open to try that out to see if it works. I want the next album to sound different and I think it already will be by working with these guys. I think it’s going to be very different. You don’t want every record to sound the same so it’s a good thing to get all of these weird influences out in the music now.
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