The next Beatles. The next Whitney Houston. The next Michael Jackson. We’ve all heard these declarations made time and time again, promising the next in line of any of the greatest musical acts across the decades, and, in almost every case, we’ve seen them fall short. When Dutch-Norwegian band Klangstof’s label, Mind of a Genius, first approached them, they were searching for “the new Radiohead.” As bold a claim as any, there’s no denying that the quirky, melancholic indie-pop of the band’s album, Close Eyes to Exit, is as mature and promising as a debut gets, but their ability to claim this title is a long road that has yet to be walked.
Breaking down Klangstof’s name, there’s klang, which translates to “echo” from Norwegian, and stof, which translates to “dust.”
This is how most features on Klangstof have started off thus far in their career, followed by some attempt to connect the band’s music to the concept of “echo dust.” Hopefully, this one will be the last.
“I wanted it to sound like something that people couldn’t understand, not like two words people know are words and think, ‘They probably sound like this.’ Let’s just put two words together so that people from the U.S. don’t understand it,” songwriter and frontman Koen van de Wardt told Culture Trip. “The two words don’t mean anything for me. I just needed a bit of Holland and a bit of Norway in the name.”
Splitting his formative years between Amsterdam and middle-of-nowhere Norway, Koen didn’t always anticipate becoming a touring, label-signed musician, but once he started performing in Dutch indie outfit Moss and got his first real taste of being a (poor) artist, there was no going back. However, unlike the less-serious Norwegian groups of his past Koen was no longer the bandleader, struggling to handle the backseat role of bass player. As he explains it, he needed to express his own feelings, not someone else’s.
And so, as he often prefers it, he went out on his own, revisited old recordings he had stored through the years, started Klangstof, and, now, has released one of the most beguiling records, nonetheless debut records, of 2016. Sitting down with Culture Trip prior to his third consecutive show in New York City, Koen discussed Radiohead comparisons, the importance of loneliness within the creative process, and why social media terrifies him.
Can you walk me through growing up in Amsterdam and Norway?
I was born in Holland and lived there until I was 14. I was never really into music during this time, I guess because when you live in a big city you’ve got a lot of influence from elsewhere. As soon as I moved to Norway I really came to one of those villages where there’s no people around, so the only way for me to enjoy myself was by making music. It kind of triggered something in me, that loneliness.
I wan’t that ambitious when I was in Norway until I dropped out of school and thought, “Fuck, I’ve got to do something with my life.” I was 20 years old and I had studied music management and I found out that I didn’t really like the business side of things. I really hate how major labels work these days, so basically everyday was coming home from class and feeling depressed because they don’y care about music, they only care about money. I fell into a bit of a hole there, and then I remembered I had all of these songs on my hard drive that I’m not doing anything with, let’s try to make an album out of it.
You talk about growing up in relative isolation, one part being a remote area in Norway, and then moving to Finland and not having many friends or speaking the language. What kind of effects did this have on your development as a person and as a musician?
It was mainly out of boredom that I became a musician, rather than being inspired by something. But at that time, I bought the Radiohead [OK, Computer] record and thought, “Wow, this guy has the same lonely feeling.” It really helped me, it was like having a friend around. And as soon as I started to make music, I didn’t feel lonely anymore. It was like, if I do this, I feel much better about myself.
As soon as I moved back to Amsterdam, it’s not the same feeling anymore. Now, I’ve got a band around, and I spend time with them all week, so the felling of loneliness is gone now. That’s probably been the biggest difference between living in Norway and Amsterdam.
What are differences between music from where came in Norway and music in Amsterdam (the latter seeming to identify more heavily with electronic/EDM)?
I think for Scandinavian music, it’s always a bit weird, but, at the same time, it’s super mainstream. What I love about the Norwegian music scene is that they are so good at writing pop songs, but always with a twist. There are always parts in their music that artists in Amsterdam or all around the world won’t use, like little melodies or even one note. I really love that in music, getting to that chord that surprises people. Otherwise, music just gets boring.
In Amsterdam, it’s pretty straightforward. Like you said, the EDM scene is huge. I still kind of feel like an outsider when I’m in my studio. My studio’s in an old warehouse with 20 or so studios in there, and everyone’s making EDM and I’m the only one making super indie shit. It’s like, “What is this guy doing in there?”
But I think the EDM scene is a little bit over, or it’s at least not as huge as it was a few years ago. Also, with Flume coming up, and Martin Garrix make Flume-like beats, it is all starting to become a bit more band oriented.
Mind of a Genius is doing some huge things, 2016 being a huge year in terms of releases. What made you want to sign with them and how has the fit been?
My first call with Dave he called me in the middle of the night so excited, and I think one of the first things he said was “we are looking for the new Radiohead.” That’s kind of a Mind of a Genius thing to say, “we are looking for that band.” And that’s the best way to trigger me, I guess, saying those kind of things. Of course, I thought, “Americans, they talk, they don’t mean that.” But I was really intrigued by the way Mind of a Genius promoted themselves: a very dark and cool way of marketing. I also love that one of the first things he said was “we love your music, you just do whatever you like and we will release it.” Because they have four acts that do completely things, you’re never in the way of another artist. You aren’t competing with five other indie bands at a big record label.
In the video premiere of “Hostage” you told The Fader, “I believe people are their realest when they feel down and locked up in their own minds.” What do you mean by this statement exactly and what do you mean by “real”?
Maybe it’s just a personal thing, I don’t know if other people feel the same way, but as soon as I have people around I can’t fully be myself anymore, or there’s always something you’re hiding. As soon as I’m alone and lonely, I really can connect with myself creatively. It’s kind of a meditation thing, probably, which I think you can only do if you’re isolated.
You said that the Radiohead comparison was a trigger for you, but do the comparisons get annoying or does it feel limiting to you and your music?
I think it’s pretty much in our hands still. It’s all about the music we make, and if the second album doesn’t sound at all like Radiohead then people will stop saying them. Being compared to Radiohead, you know, it’s like being an indie band. They’ve been everywhere. I hear some elements of Radiohead back in the music, but I think it’s really their mindset that inspires me. It’s the way they write music and the way they are creatively just so not interested in what anybody thinks.
I want to tap into some of your lyrics on the album and what they mean to you. On “Hostage” you sing, “You take the sick mind for hostage / I ran for shelter but I got here.”
It’s pretty much like the situation I started out with about me moving to Holland, becoming a bass player. I kind of tried to run away from that life there, and now I’m here, playing bass, and I still feel fucked up. It’s all about getting out of that position. That song has really been the key to… it’s kind of what keeps the album together.
On “Island” you sing, “We need to stay calm / There is no space on my island”
Well, I had this very small island in Norway in the city where I lived, and I used to go there to write songs. I actually wrote that song on that little island. It’s like 20-square meters and had a big tree and nothing else. I always felt really connected to that spot and I really wanted it to be my place, so, again, it is about the isolation thing. There were always people that want to hang out on the island and drink beers, and it’s like, “No, no, fuck, it’s mine.”
On “We Are Your Receiver” you sing, “We get all the knowledge that you need /Four will drown and one will cross the sea”
I’m pretty afraid of the whole social media thing. You know, the whole getting “likes,” and posting shit and if you don’t get enough “likes” taking it offline again. It’s in people’s heads all day, “what am I going to post and will people like it?” It’s a really difficult song just because I leave everything in the middle. It’s not like I come up with a conclusion. It’s just about what the fuck’s going on online these days and why we can be so influenced by something that’s so small. You’ve got the whole world open and you just sit behind your computer.
What are your favorite places that you have traveled to and the places that have presented the greatest culture shock?
The U.S., of course, is just one big culture shock, especially after the elections. We played our first show in Chicago and I think, to me, that’s still my favorite city. Way cooler than New York and Los Angeles; I didn’t expect it to be that cool. I really love the vibe, it’s kind of a chilled out city. Toronto is also pretty Chicago-like, but a bit more cozier, maybe?
I haven’t really been shocked by a certain city or culture. I always find it pretty easy to go around and feel the vibes for them. But saying that, L.A. is one of the cities I could never live in in my life. It’s kind of the way people work there, so hardworking and always on top of each other when it comes to business. It’s so high pressure, I couldn’t do that. And New York is pretty much the same, I guess.
If you had to leave Earth today, what would your “blastoff song” be, AKA the last song you listen to on this planet as your spaceship takes off?
Let me think real hard… I don’t know, it’s kind of hard. Should I leave the Earth feeling happy or sad? I guess I would go for a happy song… I’m really bad at happy songs, let’s go for a sad one. I would say “Weird Fishes” by Radiohead. Just chilling out, leaving the Earth.