Continuing our build-up to Best Kept Secret, we spoke with Dutch band Bewilder, who play on Saturday 18th June. Formed by Maurits Westerik following the break-up of Gem, Bewilder are something of a Dutch supergroup. Westerik holed up in a cabin on the island of Vlieland with his friends, Arjan Kamphuis from Billy Kingsize, Bram Hakkens from the Kyteman Orchestra, Jeroen Overman who plays with Tim Knol and Arjen de Bock from The Black Atlantic. The resulting album, Dear Island, is a mature and exciting work, with overtones of Roxy Music and Neil Young. Maurits told us about the album, his new musical adventures, and his attitude to life in general.
MG: Your new album has just come out.
MW: Yes indeed. It’s a little bit over half a year now. It came out late August/early September. The whole way through it was really, really nice, a new objective for us to make something that we really wanted to make but also discovering new ways with each other in our friendship, with our love for the music. And also seeking new dimensions in sound and songs. Finally we got there. It has become an album and it’s great to spread the word, and perform an album for people. It was really good to us. It’s been quite a ride already. We're still enjoying it.
MG: You have a load of shows coming up between now the festivals starting.
MW: Yeah, it’s a lot. For the Dutch circuit we will be performing at least once or twice a week. It’s a lot. We started in August with Into The Great Wide Open festival in Vlieland, which is a very nice island. Only 2000 people living there. That was the only show booked for that period of time. And we had three more small capacity shows, in Utrecht, our home town, Amsterdam, and one in the south. And we thought maybe by Christmastime it will end and it is what it is. Of course we enjoyed recording and making the album but you never know what will be on the way and what will be coming up next. It was such a nice experience.
That we started up in January at the Eurosonic festival that you might have heard of. That did a really good job for us. We performed for 1500-2000 people and there were lots of agents and bookers, and other labels checking us out. We did a job and we nailed it in a way. People liked it and then there was a whole new second lap for this year. So from being recording artists we are now also performing artists.
MG: You've been around the block before. You've done it all before with Gem so you're coming at this with the knowledge of how it all works and bringing that into Bewilder.
MW: Yeah indeed, that is true. It really gives me a lot of confidence. I feel good about it because I started as a professional musician when I was 20 or 21, which is quite young. But also nice because you don’t feel any boundary or any wall. You’re just doing it because you’re doing it. The people around you support that. But on the other hand the most interesting part of the 11-12 years of Gem was learning to really discover what kind of musician I wanted to be. Discover new genres, new music and, in a way, It really felt good. We weren’t really friends in the beginning. We did become friends but in the beginning I did an audition to become the singer of a new band called Gem. Which is a whole different start when you compare it to Bewilder. It was a lot of work. And I think we played, six years in a row, a hundred shows a year. Such an experience. It was great getting to record and do what we liked but it also turned into this whole thing of indie singles and hit singles. I felt we got a little bit stuck in this sound, in this genre. Also with the whole new rock n roll thing you had at the time, with The Strokes and The Libertines, bands like that. For me as a musician I got a bit stuck in that way. You grow older and people make decisions. People want to buy houses. Thinking about mortgages more than thinking about guitars. And they moved on. Which in the end is good for everybody. To be ten years around with your band on a daily basis is a full-on job. What every musician will say after a couple of years, apart form your girlfriend, they are the closest people around you. When it ended up I was in this wilderness of ideas. I had all that experience with me. I was seeking a new journey and it all came to the core, which was songwriting and making music which feels good in every little way. And step away from all the expectations around you. We found each other on this beautiful island and every time we became better and more focused on things like sound, and musical editing, and musical stories. Not “We need to do this” Or “We need to do that”. This whole need to make music embraced me and I embraced it too from the beginning. It’s nice to be a musician with all this behind me. And this is like a new marriage in a way. You respect all the years you've been through before with your former wife but hopefully you became a better person and make it better.
MG: That’s a really good way to put it. A lot of people say being in a band is like being married to a group of people.
MW: It is, yeah, it’s bizarre. You don’t think about it too much. You shouldn’t think about it too much. And all the people enjoying your shows, they don’t think about it. But actually it is. Almost 80 or 90 percent of band life is just being together. All these stories, things happening at home, you just forget it. You're just fitted in to one small van or rehearsal room. And even during the recording process you have a full day job. Five days a week. Probably you feel different every morning about your job. You didn’t sleep well or something. That happens to people in a band too. And then all the pressure and expectation from yourself as well. That’s a lot to deal with. But I like it. It’s just life. You should taste it and make your own version of it.
MG: You can hear that new freedom on Dear Island because the music is so varied.
MW: I appreciate that. We had some doubts of course. Especially during the mixing process. “Where is this record going?” In a good way. I’ve always been a lover of varied albums. I was listening in the last couple of days to the record from Paul McCartney, Paul McCartney II, which is just such an amazing record. Its so varied and so personal. Its not that I’m a huge Paul McCartney fan but it’s always nice to discover a more varied albums of personal songs. This is a great example. There was a point in the whole time period that we were recording that I thought I should see this like my daily life. Every day is different. In the morning when you wake up you have a totally different feeling about the day in front of you if you compare it to eight hours later. There’s so much going on in one day. Also the record is sometimes like a photo collage or a recollection of being somewhere. Trying to go your own way.
Also for us, as Bewilder, it refers to the band name. The life we are feeling right now. You do stuff and it just happens, and you just let it go. What songs have you heard from the album?
MG: I really like ‘The Unknown’ and I’ve been watching the video for ‘Forza’ over and over.
MW: Even on these two titles it's a different world. Such a different feeling with the song. On the other hand they do have some similarities. ‘The Unknown’ is about seeing in yourself what is happening right now and whether it will be there in 10 years, 20 years. And also celebrating the fact that you grow older and all those things that are unknown or becoming apparent. It doesn’t make you feel any less confident but even more confident. It’s your responsibility.
‘Forza’ is like a day. You wake up slowly when the sun comes up and the rhythm of the day goes faster and gets louder and louder and the point is to go for it, to make it happen, to feel the power. Just being a person and being happy with all the things you have already. They’re the themes I guess. Although they sound very different from each other, at the end they are another page of the book.
MG: Is there something about Kurt Vonnegut in' So It Goes'? In Slaughterhouse Five every chapter ends 'And so it goes.'
MW: I heard about that. I should read it. It's interesting. It’s destiny I guess. Once I discovered the feeling, that it just goes where it goes, it gave me more air to breathe, and less rushed. Just feeling comfortable in where we are now instead of being worried all the time, about where we should go and aren’t able to go. So it goes. I always keep that in mind. Every morning we try our best. Slaughterhouse Five? We have a long drive tomorrow maybe I will buy this book and, at least, start it.
MG: It's quite strange but it’s a good story.
MW: I like it strange. Like Twin Peaks, it really does inspire us. It looks familiar but you're not really sure what you are looking at. The visual part but also the whole storyline. It’s very confusing but it looks like very typical day to day situations which turn out to be weird situations. The good thing about Twin Peaks I think, at a turning point in the series you don’t know, or want to know, where it actually should go. You just leave it. You're sucked in to it. You just buy into it. I’m not able to solve it. I have no solution or answer for it. Probably no one had, so you just live with it. For me that’s also how the world works. So it goes.
MG: You'll be playing at Best Kept Secret with Editors and you toured with them before.
MW: That's right, hopefully we'll still know each other! We do, of course. It’s been a while though. We played in Dublin at the Ambassador. It was very special. It’s there on that beautiful square. And the backstage, and the lovely red chairs, all the wood. It was a very nice tour to do especially for a young band going on tour with such a popular band. I learned a lot. One of those moments when you are working with these amazing, well organized, cherry-picked productions with other bands. Like with Editors, and with Arctic Monkeys, and couple more at the time. It was a great way of learning how to stay alive on tour. The preparation. They were really good times. Hopefully we can support those kinds of bands with Bewilder too because it’s a nice feeling that you have to convince every single man and woman in the venue that you are a band to remember. I like that a lot.
I’m looking forward to Best Kept Secret so much. It’s one of my favourite festivals. We wanted to go. We would have bought tickets anyway. Lots of our favourite bands are performing this year, and the last couple of years. I am a huge fan of Beck and we love Wilco too. Jamie xx is doing very interesting things. Air too. When I grew up and was buying the first vinyl records, I was into this whole strange pop disco. At the time you had Air, you had Phoenix, and The Avalanches. It was an amazing time for those dreamy pop disco records. It still is. I was listening to a new artist called Kevin Morby. You should check it out its very dreamy and bit weird a bit Nick Cave-ish. Its very interesting stuff. There’s so much good music out here. Sometimes I wonder why I am doing this. There’s already so much you can see, but if it keeps coming then I will keep making records too. It’s nice to be part of it, of music. There’s a lot of energy.
We got hit with the tragic news that Prince died. It’s too bizarre. So suddenly and so young. I’m 34 now and even 57 doesn’t sound that far way. I’m still surprised by the whole thing. You think you have everything in hand, or at least your hands are on it. And he was such a great musician and it just suddenly ends. So it goes.