OEB’s 5 SXSW Q’s – Kim Janssen
Hometown: Utrecht, The Netherlands
OEB 2013 SXSW Review
Dutch singer-songwriter Kim Janssen is geared up to bring his gorgeous solo record to SXSW this year alongside performing in his full-time gig with The Black Atlantic. OEB caught up with Janssen last week where he dug into the background of Ancient Crime, how he bled stories into one another, aiming to create a timeless period piece and urging some of his fellow Dutch musician to join in on his SXSW sets.
I’d like to start with my favorite track on Ancient Crime: “Blyth Farjeon Choir”. How did this song and recording come about and what are your thoughts on it as a closing statement of the record?
Thanks! I wanted the song, and I guess the whole record, to feel like a story or a film. That in the recordings, you would able to hear the different rooms of the school and in the songs, the different groups like the “Evans House” quartet or the choir. And that the different elements would sometimes blend into each other, as in a movie where the camera moves from one place to another in a long take and the sounds of each surrounding blend together.
I also tried to explore the contrast of being an individual in an environment that is not centered around individualism at all. In this isolated place, where uniforms are always worn and history and tradition are a large part of everyday reality, there is much more of a group-culture than an individualistic one.
In “Blyth Farjeon Choir”, the contrast is made most obvious. You hear the song as being personal and fragile and then you hear a group of hundred trained singers singing the same song. The size of the choir, the room they are singing in, the weight of the words and the history of the song is massive and in sharp contrast to how the verses are whispered at the beginning. It seemed like a fitting way to end the album.
I contacted a number of choirs and explained my idea, also that I had a very low budget. I was very lucky that a renowned choir, the Toonkunst Koor Utrecht, was enthusiastic about this and was willing to try it. I had never recorded or performed with a choir before and neither had my friend who was recording the album.
I remember rushing through the rain with all of our gear that night and coming into the church not quite knowing what to expect. Sure enough, the conductor, the organ player, the choir, everyone was there. When they sang the song, we were overwhelmed.
Your music somehow pulls in so much classical influence but still remains progressive. How do you bridge incorporating sounds from the past and pushing to create something new?
My intention was to make an album that sounded like it could have been released today or eighty years ago. I wanted to make it feel like a period piece, to try to draw the listener into this secluded world of the school where nothing much has really changed since the 19th century.
So the focus in each song is also not always on the piece of music itself but on “the story” of the album in which the piece of music is a setpiece. Couperin’s “Le dodo ou l’amour au berceau” for example is a beautiful piece of music that has been played and recorded many times and on this record it is performed and recorded quite poorly. However, it sounds much more like the version you would hear were you walking down the hall of the school and a (drunk) student was playing it somewhere nearby than for example Alexandre Tharaud’s recorded version of it.
So I tried not to touch the material too much that I used that was already written. But the songs I wrote for this album I guess you can hear are written by a singer/songwriter in this present time. You may be able to hear the influence of contemporary artists like Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly or Owen Pallett.
What’s on plate for you in 2013? Is the trip to SXSW an indication that you’ll be spreading further outside of Europe this year?
I do definitely feel that I haven’t toured this album enough yet. I hope to be touring more in the US and in Europe this year. We also have a lot of touring plans with my other band, The Black Atlantic, so I may be too busy with that but we’ll see.
Do you have any shows lined up yet for SXSW? Are you bringing a full band to Austin?
I’m playing a show on the 15th of March on the 18th Floor of the Hilton Garden Inn, and I’m playing a show on the 13th of March at the Dutch Impact Event. I will have a drummer and bass player and I hope to convince some of the members I know from the other Dutch bands to join me on a few more instruments.
Have you had a chance to check out the SXSW roster? Any artists you are looking forward to catching yourself?
This will be my third time, I always really look forward to hanging out at the festival and seeing a lot of bands. I haven’t really taken a good look yet at the line-up for this year. But I definitely will before I head over there.