The name Klangstof is, much like the project’s brainchild Koen van de Wardt, an amalgam of Norwegian and Dutch. ‘Klang’ comes from the Norwegian for ‘echo’, whilst ‘Stof’ means ‘dust’ in Dutch. It’s a neat and pretty little word that aptly captures the musical textures that Koen and Co. create and catalogue in their stunning debut record Close Eyes To Exit.
A few weeks since its release, and before their London show at The Camden Assembly, we met with Koen to talk about the birth and journey of Klangstof so far.
You’ve talked about the influence of living in both Norway and Holland, or rather moving between them, as having an importance on your music; what do you think both places taught you? How did they as individual places affect you individually?
Well personally I think I became more of a quiet person when I moved to Norway. But I think if I hadn’t have moved there then I wouldn’t have started making music either, because it was kind of the isolation that made do something with my life other than just hanging with friends, so I decided to make music then. Musically there’s a big difference between Holland and Norway; in Norway you try to almost hide anything catchy in the music and you try and make something new and original rather than making mainstream pop hits. That’s a very Scandinavian way of making music, always trying to find that exciting note in the song. And I think that’s what I learnt when I lived in Norway and what I took with me when I came back to Amsterdam – how to make an original sounding pop song, I guess. In Amsterdam I really got myself together and started to write a record, which I would never have done in Norway because I was all over the place still in life and everything in general.
How do the music scenes of both differ? As a band you’re all based in Amsterdam which is more known for its electronic music scene – do you feel like Klangstof is accommodated within a scene in the city, or do you experience that more when you travel?
We’re pretty weird, in Amsterdam anyway, because it’s dominated by the EDM stuff. But I definitely feel that in other cities outside Amsterdam people understand the music better, like when we come to London there are more people coming to the shows, and the same in Germany and France; people are just more into it. But I also feel that it’s slowly coming, like the EDM is a bit over now, I guess? So all of a sudden you’re seeing a lot more of bands coming from Holland that are pretty cool.
Despite being a project for a couple of years, Klangstof’s popularity seems to have increased twofold in the past half year or so. Talent aside for a moment, the blogosphere and social networks have of course been instrumental in helping this exposure, but the internet is not without its problems, as you pick up on in ‘We Are Your Receiver’. What in particular do you find worrying and what made you want to write this song in response?
It’s funny. It’s almost like breathing now; it’s just something you can’t go without. Especially being in a band, it’s so important for getting your music out there. You’ve got to use it, you have to be out there. I find it quite hard. How the social media stuff affects your life, the way it affects your real emotions is such a weird thing. And that kind of struck me a bit; why should it affect me if the sun is shining and I’m with friends drinking beers? And that kind of frustration really got to me.
But of course we shouldn’t forget the response ‘Hostage’ provoked, particularly from Mind of A Genius Founder David Dann. The next thing you knew you were in Los Angeles – how was that transition?
It was funny – when I started Klangstof I was not ambitious at all. I just wanted to upload a song and see what people liked. I was actually in a different band at the time so for me it was just like having a song of my own out there. And I guess it took about a month before Pigeons and Planes blogged about the song and then David Dann rang me in the middle of the night. He had just come off a plane and he was actually checking out a different band, and we were the random song that started playing after on Soundcloud and he just called me and said “Dude come to LA, I want to sign you”. So a week after I was in LA and it felt really weird because in my mind it was still something just for fun because I like it myself and all of a sudden I was getting all this attention. I didn’t expect that to happen, so I was living in a dream world. I still am a little bit of course, touring Europe and doing the US next month, it’s all very unreal.
Were there any struggles in the making of Close Eyes to Exit?
Not at all. Especially because there wasn’t that much pressure, it was really just me making music for myself. So I didn’t have one moment of struggle recording the album, but I think with the making of the second album it will come because now we have fans who expect you to sound a way, and now when I’m in the studio I actually think about what people want to hear instead of just doing my own thing, which is new to me.
Whilst you’ve said that song epitomised the time of frustration that birthed Klangstof for you, it maintains a level of ambiguity in its lyrics. Is this minimal, fragmented lyrical style an intentional decision in your art or just the way you find yourself writing naturally?
It is natural; I don’t really want people to understand it, so I try to hide everything that’s understandable in the lyrics. To me it’s very personal and I’d rather have people think that it means something else to them than them know what it means to me, so lyrically I try to be as a vague as possible. I actually enjoy when I wake up and don’t even understand my own lyrics, because you can see new things in it every day.
If OK Computer was the record that sparked your interest in music, what records in the past year have helped inspire both you as a person and your project with Klangstof?
The latest Tame Impala album has been a big one, and of course James Blake and Kaytranada. I’ve been a bit more into the electronic world I guess, and I think I’m going to experiment a lot with new sounds; whereas my first album had what I guess you’d call a band sound. For my next one I want to be a bit more experimental
Well, listening to your debut record ‘Close Eyes to Exit’, it feels as though the production is as important as the songwriting in the way it catches the changes in dynamics and textures. Talk to us a little about the production process; do you see it as an art form in itself or more of a necessity? Are you ever tempted to work with an outside producer?
Like I said, with this album I was really just sitting in my room doing whatever came to mind, not even thinking about production, it just happened along the way. Everyday I would just sit there and get further in the process. And then I kind of found out half way that I love layering a lot of synths and playing one note at a time – one note on the bass and then another note on the guitar, one at a time to create that massive soundscape. I think that it worked really well and hope it gave it an original sound so I stuck with that for the rest of the album. And also along the way I found out that I only had I think one song that had the verse – chorus – verse – chorus structure and the rest was a dynamic build all the way. But like I said, that was just something that happened, I kind of realised that when the record was finished and someone told me “Why don’t you write songs like The Beatles?”