How did Lewsberg get together as a band?
Arie and I started the band in early 2017. My focus lays on the musical part, while Arie focuses on the lyrical part. Our idea was to start a rock band with good songs, but with lousy interpretations. I think that we failed, as we actually perform the songs quite decently. Our original idea is still present, though, so it didn’t completely fail.
Can you illustrate the creative process of the band?
The first Lewsberg songs grew out of old demos of Arie’s, which were musical ideas he recorded over the years without a clear purpose. I started working on a few of those sketches, took some melodies, chord progressions or just the rhythm, remodelled them and added my own guitar and baselines. When we had a couple of clear ideas, we reached out to a drummer (Joris) and bassist (Shalita) and worked on the songs as a band. Our sound on the ep, single and album was really constructed by the four of us. Since 2018, we work with a different drummer, Dico Kruijsse, which has another influence on the songs that we perform live.
What about the album?
We started constructing the album after the recordings, when we were thinking about the order of the songs. The musical pre-and post-phases came as evidence: you look back on what you’ve created and start to react to it. I think it is logical that different versions or echoes of one song exist, because you can always focus on one part or another. They are never without context, your environment influences you and vice versa. If we’d recorded the same songs this month, both the individual songs as the album on a whole would’ve sounded differently.
There are indeed some clear stylistic differences between these bands, but I see those as minor differences. The main contrast is that in Lewsberg the song plays the central role, while for the other bands sound, atmosphere and attitude play a crucial part, and they are centered around improvisation. In Sweat Tongue and JSCA I construct a song out of fragments, but these fragments were not created as a song. I always considered a ‘perfect pop song’ as a totally meaningless goal, so I’ve never felt the urge to write a so-called ‘perfect’ song. Probably this is also because I am not that interested in lyrics. And that is another difference between these bands. I now work together with a good lyricist. I have been making music in bands for fifteen years, often as composer, but writing lyrics was always the least important part to me. I think that music doesn’t always need lyrics; the most beautiful part of music is that it can communicate feelings, images or ideas without words. For Sweat Tongue and JSCA the vocals exist out of improvisations and free associations, truly focused on the moment. Arie on the other hand puts the lyrics first, constructing them carefully. That’s why he developed his parlando style, his way of singing adapts to the words, and not vice versa.
Arie, this parlando tone makes your lyrics very understandable and important. What are you singing about? The lyrics seem focalized by an observer, more than by a ‘participator’, or someone who’s talking about himself? Would you agree?
Most of Lewsberg’s lyrics are about mundane events or thoughts, which I think get too little attention. These things often only get mentioned if they are exceptional, but a guy who simply crosses the street also has a story. I always try to keep the necessary distance from the subjects of my lyrics. By not getting involved, you can see things from different sides. I like lyrics when they stay far away from opinions or feelings. And I do agree. I never have the feeling that I am in some way part of something. I prefer to analyze an environment rather than blending in. Again, I try distance myself from things and, by extension, from myself, my own feelings, or the way in which I relate to a certain situation. That’s why I can both be an office clerk and a guitarist or singer.
Your lyrics are in English, but sung with a clear Dutch accent, one of the things we like the most about this band. Why? Is this a conscious choice?
My choice for English is a conscious one. It enforces the idea of perceiving things from a distance, because it’s not my mother tongue, nor the language in which I think. The Rotterdam accent is not a choice, but self-evident. With what other accent should I sing? Do I choose between British or American English? Between Manchester English or London English? I’m from Rotterdam, so I speak English the way they do in Rotterdam.
Why did you choose the parlando style? Got some parlando idols?
The division between singing and talking doesn’t exist to me. I only realized that I wasn’t singing when people started writing about it in reviews. I never studied the style. I like Cowboy Gerard’s work, but I wouldn’t say this had any influence on my choice for parlando. Actually, it was never a choice. It came very naturally.
What is your relation to the Rotterdam writers – because of the band’s name and dialogues between Cornelis Bastiaan Vaandrager and Frans Vogel on the album? And to literature in general?
I only started enjoying literature when I discovered the Rotterdam writers such as Vaandrager, Vogel, Loesberg, A. Moonen and Sleutelaar. They showed me a whole new way of dealing with language. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, difficult or cultured. It doesn’t have to be understandable or correct. And maybe most importantly, it doesn’t have to be sentimental. That was an epiphany to me. It is the basis for Lewsberg. Not only for the lyrics, but also for the music.
Why is the band named after Robert Loesberg? Who was he? Why is the band not called ‘Loesberg’ but ‘Lewsberg’?
Lewsberg is not only named after Robert Loesberg, but also after the moniker he invented for when he would’ve been translated into English: Lewsberg. Unfairly, his novels were never translated, so there was never something published under that moniker. The first of the two novels he published, Enige Defecten, is one of the most special novels I’ve ever read. It wasn’t really our purpose to bring Loesberg under the attention by choosing this band name, but I see it as a nice side effect.
Lewsberg sounds like rational music. Would you agree? And why does it?
I agree. In both the music as well as the lyrics we try let emotions play the smallest role possible. I don’t find emotions that interesting. Or to nuance that a bit, I find emotions as interesting as ratio, even though most music is about emotions. Lyrics often are about emotional themes, or expose the feelings of a singer. A lot of musical choices are also based on what the artist or listener feels, or is ought to feel. More attention for ratio would be welcome to me. I sing about emotions with Lewsberg sometimes, but in a contemplative and analytical way.
The nuance Arie is talking about is very important. Ratio is as interesting and valuable as emotions. But it is somehow an unwritten rule that pop music should be about emotions, which is nonsense. As if there isn’t any poetry in mathematics, or if so-called ‘emotional’ songs can’t be utterly calculated.