VANDERBUYST: Flying high

vanderbuyst_promo01This pretty extensive feature is a combination of two interviews I conducted with guitarist and song writer of VANDERBUYST, Willem Verbuyst. We hooked up for the first part when “In Dutch” was released back in November 2011, while part II was done when the band did promotion for their brand new effort “Flying Dutchmen” back in November this year. I thought it was a good idea to piece these two together to present the story of VANDERBUYST so far…

Willem, I first heard your guitar playing in the band Powervice who did a great demo back in 2005. Was this your first band, and how comfortable where you in a band that performed a more pure, eighties heavy metal sounding style compared to VANDERBUYST?

– It wasn’t my first band. I played in dozens of bands before. But it was the first time I had the feeling that the right band could make a difference. When Richard (the founding leader) asked me to join Powervice and let me listen to some demos he had made, I knew he had something special there. Also to be in a band with people who were dedicated 100% was something I wanted for years. We all had different musical backgounds, but somehow that turned out very well, since each of us could contribute something.

At what age did you start to play guitar?

– I think I was about 14 or something like that. A friend of mine got a guitar for his birthday, I was jealous and wanted one too, haha. My stepfather got me one from the band he was managing at that time. Half a year later I had my own. I remember it was during the summer holidays, so I had a lot of time to practice. I played every hour of the day. The first year I had some lessons during the holidays. My teacher taught me a lot about the blues, and looking back I’m very happy he did. After that I didn’t take any lessons anymore. I learned a lot from playing in bands though. But it’s only since I played in Powervice that I really started practicing the guitar again. Selim (Now in The Devil’s Blood) was so good I felt I had to catch up. Also for VANDERBUYST I had to practice. Since I’m the only guitarist, there is no way you can hide behind another guitar player.

As both yourself and Selim are now in quite successful bands, I guess that says something about the talent that was within the ranks of Powervice?  Why didn’t you go further than a demo?

– Yes, you could say there was a lot talent in this band. When you listen to the singer alone for example, that guy had it all. But besides talent, there was also a kind of hunger. We wanted to be this band we always dreamed of. We set the bar high. So even if we had a bad day, we still wanted to be much better than the others. Somehow, we had bad luck I guess. There was quite some pressure as the expectations were high, and as we played a lot we hardly had time to work on new material. On top of that we also had the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll attitude – man we partied a lot with Powervice. When we started recording our first album some of us had some very bad luck in our personal lives. That all together was a deadly cocktail.

Moving away from Powervice to your new band, why did you choose the name VANDERBUYST? It’s obviously made up partly, from your own name, but did you also want a name that kind of showed your nationality? For example, when I first heard about the band Vandenberg back in the eighties, I immediately knew they were a Dutch band.

– Actually it was Richard who came up with this name. When we were recording in the studio with Powervice, he was joking that if we would split up, I would start my own band called VANDERBUYST, which indeed is partly my own name. And of course it is a kind of reference to Vandenberg and Van Halen. I believe a month later we did split up. It suddenly wasn’t that funny anymore. Anyhow, when we started VANDERBUYST, obviously we were looking for a name. I remembered Richard’s profession, and I though why not. When you see the name VANDERBUYST you know what to expect, and that’s hard rock, we all liked that, and decided to use it.

When and how did you get the idea to start a band like VANDERBUYST? Was the trio-format a part of your vision? Where did you find Barry and Jochem?

– After the split with Powervice I was pretty fed up with playing in bands. You know, I played for years with half motivated people, finally I’m in this band, which was craving to conquer the world, and so I gave up everything else. Then this band falls apart, that was one of the biggest disappointments in my life. But after a few months of traveling, I came back home with a few new songs. So I called Barry and Jochem, who were both friends of mine already, and checked if they were interested in making some music together. The first day we jammed was the day we started VANDERBUYST. Immediately we realized that this was what we wanted. We all had a passion for hard rock and liked to try it as a three piece, just like ZZ Top. It took a lot of rehearsals to get our sound together. A lot of people now praise our sound, so I’m glad we stuck to this idea.

Your first release was a demo, but none of the songs on this one featured on your first full length. Did you feel that you had evolved a lot already when you started recording “Vanderbuyst” and that these songs were not as strong as the more current material?

– No I don’t think so. I still believe those three tracks are good. I feel that “The Devil’s Pie” is one of the best songs I’ve written so far. But sound-wise, they were different from the newer material. On the demo I doubled my guitar on some of the tracks, that’s something we didn’t do anymore since the debut album. So that meant that we would have to record them again. Somehow we didn’t do this because we wanted to present new material above all. We still play “December” at our live shows.

Was it a coincidence that both VANDERBUYST and The Devil’s Blood ended up on Ván Records, or did the “connection” between the bands play a part in the label signing both acts?

– I met Sven from Ván Records through the Devil’s Blood a few times. But initially I thought that our music wouldn’t fit in his catalogue, so I was hesitating to ask for his help. But when we were at the Rock Hard festival in Germany in 2010, we gave Sven the recordings of our debut, which we had just recorded, and asked him to have a listen, since we were still looking for a label. A week later we had a deal. And I must say, Ván Records have been a blessing to us. Sven is really involved with his bands, and that makes a lot of difference in this fucked up business. Not only did he get us out there. But on top of that he makes sure that we had cool gatefold and digipack editions. The debut has been available in four colors vinyl already. How cool is that!

Let’s talk a little about your first album. First off, two of the songs were recorded live in the studio. Why did you choose to do this? I felt that this, along with the fact that you included a long version of UFOs “Rock Bottom” was a little at the expense of the feeling of listening to a full length album. It was a little bit like listening to two different products.

– Yes, I can understand this. But at the time of the recordings we already earned a good live reputation and we felt that this debut needed to be a representation of what we were about, so a few live tracks were a part of this. You must know that a lot of people still didn’t know us then. We hadn’t played in Germany yet for example. The UFO cover was our tribute to this great band and era by which we got inspired. “Rock Bottom” was ideal, since this is a song in which you can, or even must, improvise and make your own in that manner. And this works best if you play it together at the same time; then you really have interaction between the instruments. I believe that’s something you miss on a lot modern productions all together.

When you make an album, invest time, money and sweat into it, other people’s opinion, especially if it’s a negative one, are often hard to accept. Was there any of the feedback on the debut that provoked you or on the other side, made you really happy?

– We had really good reviews on the album. A 9 out of 10 in the German Rock Hard magazine for example. Also not metal related magazines praised the album. Or stuff like an invitation on the Dutch national radio. In general, we got very positive feedback. Some people on the other side called it infantile hairspray rock, but they obviously don’t know what they’re talking about, so that makes me rather laugh than cry. When you’re working hard and receive this positive energy back, it pushes you to work even harder. Yeah, we’re happy with the acclaim, although it is not a goal as such of course.

“In Dutch” is released only about a year after your debut. Are you very quick song writers, or is it the way you work in the studio, with a raw, in your face-sound and  no overdubs that has made it possible to release this new album already now?

– So far inspiration comes quite easily and meanwhile we learned a lot as a band. When we recorded the demo, Selim helped us out as producer. That was a real eye opener: He discussed every detail, so we were forced to think about what we were doing, haha. But also the tour with Saxon was a big lesson, every night I went to out to watch their show to learn why some songs worked well with audience and stuff like that. All this contributes to a more focused way of working and that saves a lot of time. The no frill approach at the recording sessions, save time as well, but probably a good preparation is the real trick.

What is it possible to pick up from such an experienced band as Saxon?

– Supporting Saxon on the European leg of their world tour was a dream come true. I still remember the moment when our manager called me to tell me the good news. I was flabbergasted. You never know what to expect with these bands but they were really nice guys. Often I had technical guitar talk with Paul and Doug, about pickups and amps and stuff. But also about music in general, things like their influences and songwriting. What I learned from their gigs is that some elements in songs work well at live shows, so when you’re writing or recording you already have to have the audience in the back of your mind. But also our singer, Jochem learnt a lot from Biff, how to address your audiences and make this party together. But also about things like how to keep your voice fit. Because believe me, Biff at 60 or so is still one of the greatest singers around.

Both your new album and the first one have a picture of a girl on the cover. First, is it the same girl? Secondly, is this a coincidence, or something you wanted to link the two releases to each other?

– No it’s not the same girl, the first one’s is Jochem’s mother. And no they are not related, though we wanted something with a girl again. I think this artwork stands out between all he dark evil looking covers you have today. We like the Scorpions covers, like the “Animal Magnetism” one. On this album you see stuff you cannot easily interpret, so you stay fascinated. Also the artwork of “In Dutch” is hard to understand. A lot of elements are hidden in the picture; some related to the lyrics, some to the band and some to the genre in general. I must say, I still discover new stuff and keep looking at it. We think Thomas (former Devil’s Blood guitarist) and Milena did a great job.

 Could you give our readers one example  of these hidden elements to make their search for the other references a bit easier?

– I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of discovering too much but an obvious one is the string of beads the girl is holding in her hands, that is the title of one of our songs. Also you will find a turtle, which tells Zeno’s Paradox and is in one of the lyrics. And a lot more, enjoy!!!

When listening to “In Dutch”, I get a much stronger feeling of listening to a whole album than I did when I heard the debut. Did you pay much attention to making songs that fit together, and did you have to work a lot on the track list to get a good flow on the album?

– We didn’t try to write songs that would fit together easily. But during the process some songs are deleted because they don’t seem to fit or are not on the same level. So it’s rather at the rehearsals than during the songwriting when the shifting is done. The fact that the songs were recorded in four continual days and by the same means, might have contributed to the fact that it sounds more as a whole. The track list always takes some discussion.

Let’s talk about the last song, “Where’s That Devil”. It’s very melancholic, and reminds me a little bit of some of Motörheads ballads. A good song, but in my opinion, it would have made the album more diverse if you had put it in the middle, not at the end of the album. Why did you put it at the end?

– Yes, that crossed our minds as well. But in the end we thought it was too different from the other songs. Jochem never sang this way. I think people will notice that he has matured a lot as singer. And indeed, there’s some Motörhead there. In all the songs his voice is more upfront and demanding more attention, and that’s good because in that way people are forced to listen to stories told. In “Where’s That Devil” this is even more extreme. Besides the fact that this ballad is different from everything we’ve done before, we think on this album there’s already a nice variation between the songs. So this was an ideal strong last track.

As far as I know “In Dutch” is an expression that means something like “In trouble”.  At the same time, it underlines where you come from. Tell me a little bit about how the album title sums up what the lyrics are about. Also – what’s the best thing about being Dutch, and when does it mean trouble being Dutch?

– That’s right. In Dutch means ‘being in trouble or disfavor’. In all the lyrics you will find someone in Dutch. “Black And Blue” is about a girl getting beat up after betraying her man. “ Leaving The Living” is about dying. In “Anarchistic Storm” the world is in trouble. And in “Into The Fire” Cain is in trouble and disfavor after killing his brother. In every song of the album you will find this theme. When we were looking for a title for our second album we wanted something that would refer to the fact that we are a Dutch band and would be related to the songs as well. “In Dutch” is just that. And about the Dutch, you’re asking the wrong guy, haha. I’m actually from Belgium but live the bigger part of my life in the Netherlands now. But I like the Dutch, they’re easy going and straightforward. Trouble being Dutch is when you’re touring in Europe, and getting stopped by the cops because they assume you have drugs with you, and can’t understand if you don’t have and let their dogs sniff your dirty laundry one more time, haha.

The lyrics to the song “KGB” caught my interest immediately, as we have had a couple of high profile cases here in Norway. One of them was about a woman called Gunvor Galtung Haavik, who during the cold war worked for the Norwegian embassy in Moscow, and also was a KGB-agent. Is the song “KGB” based on a similar, true story?

– I always had a thing for Russia, especially the cold war era. I even studied Russian for a short period. And I like the American novels in which the CIA is trying to outwit the KGB and vice versa, always exciting and funny. I was reading Martin Cruz Smith’s classic “Gorky Park” and after I finished it the lyrics came automatically. I think it would be awesome to play this song one day in Russia. See those Russians singing K, G, KGB would be killer, haha.

I love listening to your guitar on the new album. Would you say that you are mostly inspired by guitarist from the 70s or 80s?  Without overdubs, the guitar sounds so pure and clear, but at the same time, some places I kind of expect to hear a rhythm guitar. Was it a difficult decision for you to do the guitars this way?

– Thank you. Yes, definitely guitarists like Blackmore, Schenker and Van Halen are very inspiring. But also other guitar players like Billy Gibbons or Gary Moore. What’s good about these guitarists is the fact that they know their roots. You can hear that they are influenced by the blues and rock ‘n’ roll. I think this is an important thing if you want to become a good guitar player. You must understand where the music of today comes from in order to play it well. For me music is a translation of emotion and in hard rock you can still hear this. Nowadays a lot of guitar players sound rather clinical or machinelike, they don’t touch me like Robert Johnson does for example. This guy is credible; I believe him when he’s saying that he’s standing at the crossroads. On “In Dutch” we tried to take the no frills approach from the debut even one step further and played the drums, bass and guitar live. So there is no rhythm guitar indeed, but then you have a dynamic interaction between the instruments. What I like about this album is that on the one hand you have this naked energetic recording of a band, and on the other hand you still can listen to the album easily since it are actually songs.

vanderbuyst-logoIn November 2012 you are coming to Norway for the first time, another country added to your list of places where you have performed live. Is the response from the audience different from country to country, or is it pretty much the same? What have you heard about, and what do you expect from the audience in Norway?

– The response is different. The Germans for example don’t care what other people think and will go crazy if they like you. With the Dutch it is different; they always check with others if it is ok to ‘like’ a band. We just got back from Spain and those are the wildest maniacs so far. Screaming during the solos and banging like they crave a whiplash, really cool. I don’t know about Norway. You guys seem to have a love for the darker side of metal. But I know Abbath once said in an interview that KISS was one of his favorite bands, so I’m sure you Norwegians will appreciate our hard and heavy rock as well.

Your last album, “In Dutch”,  followed hot on the heels of your debut “Vanderbuyst”, only a year or so later, and the new album is also coming out only a year after “In Dutch”. Even though you are gigging a lot, a year seems like all you need to write songs and record a new album. How do you manage? Do you write stuff while you are on the road?

– Writing on the road is hardly possible. We’re touring in a van most of the time. Often those are really long drives. You don’t want to annoy the others with your guitar then. And even during a night-liner tour you don’t have loads of time. We take a break of one month, two times a year. It’s during those holidays that I write most of the stuff. I make the demos on the days in between the shows. When you’re in such a good vibe, as we are, inspiration comes easily I guess. I mean the fans give so much energy back too.

“In Dutch” was the title of your last album, but the song called “In Dutch” is on the new album. Was this a song that you didn’t use for the album “In Dutch”, or did you write it for “Flying Dutchmen”?

– No, I wrote it for “Flying Dutchmen”. It’s a bit of a joke, like the song “On Through The Night” from Def Leppard. It was not put on the first album of the same name, but on one album later too. I have the feeling there is more that seems to confuse people. One of our new tracks is called “Flying Dutchman”. I saw a lot of misspellings already, haha.

Along with the promotional download of your album, comes a sheet where you tell the listener about the songs on the album, including bits and pieces of what the lyrics are about. Is it important for you to communicate what the lyrics mean to you, rather than to have the listener interpret the words themselves?

– Not really. I think one of the cool things about music and lyrics is that you can interpret them the way you want. But we have noticed that some people like to know more clearly what we write about, so that’s why we did it. And since Jochem became a better singer the lyrical part got a bigger role as well. But even if you have read them there is still plenty of room for your own interpretation.

You already told me you like artworks with many details, where there are lots of references and things to discover. If the band picture is what you have decided to use as the cover art this time, you have certainly gone for something completely different.

– I’m still a fan of artwork with plenty of details. Initially we planned something different for this cover. But it turned out undoable. I told the guy who made it that I wanted something “fresh”, or maybe “light” is the better word. I wanted something that would jump out. So he came up with this. The first time I saw it I was kind of shocked. But I like it a lot now. It is very iconic. You will always recognize it. And it’s suits the title very much. The title is about us and the artwork too. Makes much more sense than the original plan. The funny thing is a lot of guys have their second thoughts, but the girls love it.

Last time you recorded drums, guitars and bass live, and had no rhythm guitar, for instance during the solos. This Why have you decided to change this on the new album? I know not everyone liked it, but at least it was something that set you apart from the rest.

– You don’t want to make the same album twice. “In Dutch” was a statement: you can make great music like this too, if the songs are good and the band plays energetic, you don’t need twenty overdubs. For “Flying Dutchmen” we looked for a more produced approach, and we had the time to do it. But we still used some of the concepts of “In Dutch”. Like recording the bass and drums live (with a guide guitar) on analogue tape.

Generally, there seems to be more room for musical details in your sound this time. Do you feel that you have moved a bit away from the very basic approach you had to recording on your first two albums?

– I think this album in general is a step forward. We have grown as a band and I think you can hear this. Jochem has matured as a singer. Barry became a much better drummer. Those elements make it possible to create music on another level. And as I said we took the time to record it, now we had 20 instead of 5 days. You can do nice things when you have 15 extra days.

You say that you are more of a hard rock band than a heavy metal-band. Where do you draw the line, and what do you think makes VANDERBUYST more hard rock than metal?

– This is a tough cookie. Somehow we feel that our music is more hard rock than metal orientated. On the other hand, on stage we have this NWOBHM edge. Some say that on record we’re a hard rock band, on stage a heavy metal band. I think I have to agree.

“Waiting in The Wings” is a stand out song for me.  It’s a bit more complex both when it comes to the music and the vocals, the latter especially during the chorus. Did you have to work harder on this song compared to the rest, or did they take about the same amount of time, energy and effort?

– No, not especially. I think a song like “The Butcher’s Knife” took more work. That one definitely has more guitar layers. However in “Waiting In The Wings” all the different layers and melodies add together perfectly. I’m really happy how it turned out. It’s a very bombastic yet open heavy metal track. It contains one of my best soling ever and Jochem is singing like he’s singing an opera, haha.

You might call “Give Me One More Shot” a ballad, but it’s certainly a powerful one. Did you use a special type of ballad as a model for this song?

– Actually, when I wrote this song, I had an acoustic ballad in mind. No heavy stuff at all. But afterwards I was afraid it would be too soft. So I added drums in the chorus. That extra power was just what it needed. In this way it became a more dynamic ballad. In fact I remember now that after listening to Accepts “Breaking Up Again” I start writing this song.

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