The growing pains of LEWSBERG

Interview en V.O (2022)
                    We interviewed LEWSBERG'S singer, Arie VAN VLIET a few moments before the band took the stage at Le Sonic in Lyon for a very convincing and enthusiastic set.

          LEWSBERG's hour long set at the Sonic last June convinced us that it was one of the best bands around these days thanks to an enthusiastic performance that was equal parts dynamic and graceful. Before this wonderful show, singer/guitarist/violinist Arie VAN VLIET sat down to talk with us, tying to make his voice heard through the noisy opening band's sound-check. His insightful answers let us discover a band that always does things on its own terms and schedule.


I N T E R V I E W     ////     I N T E R V I E W     ////     I N T E R V I E W


"We decided to do it in English
because I feel too much at ease with Dutch"

Hello Arie, thanks for the interview. Can you start by telling us how LESWBERG came to life ?

I think it's six years ago that Michiel [KLEIN], the guitar player, and I started a band because we had been talking about music and literature a lot. We had both been making music in different scenes so we decided to join forces. I had a lot of songs that I didn't really like, I wasn't happy with them. Michiel turned them around and made something new out of it. We had a couple of songs and we asked Shalita [DIETRICH] to join us as a bass player, and then Joris [FROWEIN] as a drummer. When we were recording our first album Joris quit and we had a new drummer called Dico [KRUIJSSE] and then last year Dico quit and we were a three piece for a while and now Marrit MEINEMA joined us last year.

Is there one set-up that you like better than the other between a four and a three-piece band ?

I think that the four-piece we are now is my favorite set-up, especially because the drums are just a floor tom and a snare. That's actually what I had somehow always in mind for the band but we never did it, we always played with a full kit. Now suddenly we have decided to do this and for me it all fell in the right place.

Your name is a variation on the name of a famous Dutch writer, Robert LOESBERG...

More like infamous !

Yes, he has never been translated in any other language. Was it important for you to have something Dutch-related in your band's name ?

We weren’t really big fans but right before we formed the band I had been reading his first novel. But we are not only named after the writer but also after the fact that he wanted to use this spelling of his name when he would be translated. But then it never happened. It's a bit of a sad story so we thought if we can adopt this name... It's a reference to this sad story but it's also a reference to the writer, so maybe more people will know him. Maybe one day he will be translated into English.

Speaking of which, did you ever try to write lyrics in your own language ?

Yeah, I did. I did try. When we just started the band we were discussing whether we should do it in Dutch or in English and we decided to do it in English because I feel too much at ease with Dutch. For me it's all too familiar and I like to have these boundaries that I have when I'm not singing in my own language.

Do you feel more in danger with English ?

Yes, a little bit, I do. I kind of need it. I also feel like I’m getting to the point more directly, because that's the way you talk when you speak a language that isn't your own. I like that and also the distance that you have with the subject. All these things together made us decide to sing in English.


"I don't know how familiar you are with Gabber music ?"

I listen to a lot of music but there's just another actual Dutch band that I could name. How do you explain the fact that your music managed to be heard abroad ?

Which other band do you know ?


Ah, nice ! I think that there are quite a few Dutch bands that are somehow making it through the border. I don't know how we did it actually because we don't have a label behind us, we release everything ourselves and we also don't have social media. The way I look at it from a promotional view, this band should be doomed to not getting outside of Rotterdam. But I think there's also a world outside the label world or the music industry world and the social media world. I think our music spread like a rumor in this other world that doesn't require all these promotional channels. So I think that's how we found our way and it's also not getting very fast, it's in our own tempo.

Did Rotterdam play a role in the shaping of your music ?

Yes, I think Rotterdam used to be quite a pure city and a tough city and I think you can hear that somehow in our music. I don't know how familiar you are with Gabber music ?

I've never heard of it.

That's like very minimal dance with just beats actually and that's also a thing from Rotterdam. That somehow makes sense that it originated in Rotterdam because it's so minimal and so pure and for me, it's really typical of the city. But then lately the city is changing a bit, it's gentrifying and it gets more beautiful and it's becoming cleaner than it used to be. I kind of miss the old Rotterdam but especially because Rotterdam used to be for everybody. Everybody was welcome there and now it feels like it's becoming welcoming only to richer people and higher-educated people.

That's sadly the case in many big towns.

Yeah, I think so too but I really miss it about Rotterdam cause it used to be that way until five or ten years ago. So it started to change really fast.

Would you think of moving because of that ?

I don't think so because I wouldn't know where to go. Like you said, all the cities have the same problem.


"Right now I'm having a bit of a free jazz moment"

The press often refers to the same bands when talking about your music, mainly The VELVET UNDERGROUND, TELEVISION or GALAXIE 500. Would you agree with those comparisons ?

I don't agree with the fact that people always have to refer to other bands when they're talking about bands. In general that's something I don't like but once they are doing it I can understand that they would name these bands. TELEVISION I never really listened to actually, there are other references that people are naming that I don't listen to, but I listen to GALAXIE 500 a lot so that's one reference that is accurate. But I think that it should be possible to talk about bands and about music without referencing to what has been done before.

What I find the most surprising is that it's almost always old, extinct bands that are mentioned in reference to your music. I don't think it sounds dated at all !

No. I can understand why they would relate to the older bands because we're not doing something that a lot of other bands are doing at the moment. So they think that maybe, I don't know if nostalgia is the right word, but I think that some people experience this kind of nostalgia. But to me it isn't there at all. To me it's the music that I want to make now and I don't want to think about the past.

What bands do you enjoy listening to at the moment ?

Hum, that's a good question. I listen to a lot of music and right now I'm having a bit of a free jazz moment. But I'm trying to think of a band that I enjoy at this moment. There's this band from the UK called NAPE NECK, I can write it down for you if you want. I saw them play at a venue in Rotterdam early this year and it was the best show I saw this year ! It was really inspiring.

How did you get to collaborate with Mikey YOUNG (EDDIE CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING) who masterized your records ?

We just sent him an email and he replied. Mike is pretty approachable actually and a lot of records that I have at home, when I look at the notes I see that it's mixed or mastered by Mikey YOUNG. So we decided to just write him an email and he said to send over the tracks. It was pretty straightforward. But the first master he sent us we weren't really happy with it because it sounded too good, actually. Then we explained how we wanted to sound like, more like a pretty well recorded demo. He understood what we wanted and then he did it. It was really nice working with him.

I was actually going to get to that. You seem to take pride in the fact that you're not great musicians...

Well maybe it's not that we're proud of being really bad but at least we don't really care. I think it doesn't matter if we're good musicians. I know a lot of great musicians who make really boring music and there's also quite a lot of bad musicians who make great music. Sometimes it's accidental, but sometimes it's also on purpose. What I find a shame about playing in a band is that you get better and better and you start losing the unintended ways of playing. Because you're only going to get better as a musician, you can't avoid that. Somehow you have to translate that into the way that you're making music. It's hard to play not too good when you're better. You have to find a way to make that work. And I think that we are managing but sometimes I don't know how to do it.

Well, you've also answered my next question so I'll move on to this one : I feel like there's a very strong contrast between your music that could be seen as fragile and your lyrics and the singing, which feel more detached. Is this something intentional ?

Yeah, definitely. I like contrasts and I've been reading a book by James BALDWIN during this tour and he wrote about how most people don't get it when something isn't just one emotion. When you have a happy song, for most people it just has to be happy and when it's a sad song it has to be sad but he wrote that it's the most beautiful if a happy song isn't only just happy but has touches of sadness too. That's what we try to create in the lyrics and the music. I can't speak for the others of course, but in my head when you're writing a song that's a bit happy, then sometimes it needs a sadder touch in the lyrics. When we write a more fragile or emotional song I try to keep my distance from the subject and write in a really clean way and not have any judgment. I try to play with these contrasts, yes.

You once again partly answered my next question. As you said, your lyrics feel much more descriptive. Is this a way to avoid tackling feelings or emotions ?

Yeah. I'm not really afraid of emotions but I think that most songs and lyrics are about emotions. And also when lyrics are emotional quite a lot of time these emotions get really big. For me they are less interesting because I like smaller emotions that you can keep to yourself. Sometimes I write about emotions but I think I'm, like you said, more descriptive and I'm describing these emotions, that's a way for me to keep it manageable.

Seems like you're more interested in mundane things, the daily lives of people ?

Yeah, true. But I think also in the mundane things there's also quite a lot of emotions already. Like when somebody is walking down the street and you watch that person walking the street, there's already so much emotion in just that. You don't have to explain this more I think. For me that's already enough emotions and I don't need more than that so I think that's what I try to translate when I write these descriptive songs. And then you leave space for the listener also to put anything they want in there.


"I like it when people get to listen to our music,
but it doesn’t have to be by any means necessary"


I really love a song like The door, that starts so gently and is awoken after a while by this terrible burst of electricity. Is it something that was planned or does it sometimes happen that you'll experience “happy accidents” ?

Sometimes we have that but with The door actually it was planned. We thought it'd be nice to have a really quiet noisy song. It fitted the song pretty good and also it fitted the lyrics pretty good. So that was intentional. But there are songs like Left turn for example, which is the out of tune song, that happened accidentally because we were recording it for the album and then the guitar was just out of tune and we thought “Let's just keep on playing it and record it this way”. We used to be traveling with a soundguy back then and we didn't tell him that we changed the song into the out of tune version. So the first time we played it, it was a festival in Belgium. The guitars were out of tune, and even from a twenty meter distance I could see the fear in his eyes, that something was completely wrong. That was a great moment.

This is my first time seeing you live, so should I expect some songs to sound completely different on stage ?

I think we're quite faithful to the records. But it depends a bit on the situation. Sometimes you feel a need to be a bit stronger and then I think we play everything a bit louder but sometimes we try to play an easy set, a softer set. I think it's more in the way that we build the entire set than the way that we play the set.


How does the setlist writing go ? Does it have to do with the place you're playing or the feeling you have on the day ?

Yeah a little bit like that. Before every tour we try to prepare this basic set so for this tour we have a setlist and for the first three night it worked pretty well, so we played the same set. But then we thought the next night maybe we need to change some things, so we switched a couple of songs around. We didn't play the last song because we didn't think it would fit the night. Actually yesterday I wrote the setlist and right before we started we thought maybe we should change it again. Michiel wrote another setlist and literally cut and pasted it from an old setlist, so you could physically see how we are changing things.

I suppose it keeps things interesting for you ?

Yeah, yeah. Because sometimes it can be a bit boring if we play the same songs night after night. But for me if we play the same songs but in a different order there's already something new happening. 

Is there one LEWSBERG song that you like to play on stage more than the others ?

[Long pause] That's a good question. At the moment I really like playing Dependency because it's so quiet and it's so fragile, I don't know how it is for the audience of course, but for me it brings a certain sort of tension. I really like that and I also always enjoy singing Sweets.

Do you discover new things in the songs when you play them live sometimes ?

I think for me mostly in the way I pronounce the lyrics or how I put the focus. Sometimes I notice that I'm subtly changing it, but I only notice it when I've done it four or five times. The moment I realize it I try to play with it a little bit more. I can play around a little bit with sentences and words. The lyrics not so much.

My favorite song of your is Vicar's Cross Pt. 1, do you ever think that some "obscure" songs of yours should be given a way to attract more listeners ?

That’s always an interesting question: what kind and size of audience do you want to have for your music ? And at the same time the question isn’t that important at all. Some people only make music for themselves, other people make music to reach as many people as possible, and I think I’m somewhere in between. I like it when people get to listen to our music, but it doesn’t have to be by any means necessary. I think it’s nice that we have some songs that only few people know about. Some people spend a lot of time discovering music, put a lot of effort in it. And maybe discovering songs that aren’t that popular, but might happen to become their favorite songs, is their reward.

You mentioned earlier that you self-release all your music. Is it because you want to keep a total control over it ?

Yes, exactly.

That must take a lot of work !

Yes, it does. Especially around the release of the records, it becomes a day job actually. There's a lot of time to be put into but it's also nice to figure stuff out yourself, like recording, and finding the studio yourself. And then we can do the mixing with the studio engineer or we can do it ourselves. Nobody can tell us what to do. We can choose the pressing plant that we want to do the record with. Also, without a label things are going so much faster. When you're with a label, once you've finished the record you take another year before you can put it out. With the last record (In your hands) we finished it in September and released it in October already. We didn't get to have the vinyl pressed of course but we had the cd pressed and cassettes too. The vinyl was only coming in March. We didn't have this classic buildup with releasing a single, we just released the entire album. And I think that's something a label never would have wanted. But why not? We're our own boss so we can decide. But what I also like about releasing everything yourself is that you're more in touch with the people that you're working with. If somebody from the press or the media wants to talk to us, they can contact us directly, like how you reached us. And we're selling a lot of our records through record shops, but we also sell a lot through Bandcamp so we send them ourselves. It's nice to be in touch with people from all across the world. I met so many music fans thanks to our band. I'm the one who actually answers to all these emails. For example after we released the first record we got an email from someone in the US who said “I really like your music” maybe four years ago and we've been in touch ever since. We don't only talk about music, but also everything that is happening. This wouldn't happen if we had a label. And I also like that everything that’s happening is because of our music, not because there’s a label pushing it.

You must be pretty famous at your local post office !

Yeah, I am ! Especially when the last record was released and we announced the preorder in September and the record arrived in March. In the meantime we got a lot of preorders so I had to load them all in my car and get them to the post office, so that was quite a lot of work. I like going to the post office. I like packing stuff. Taking care of the record, making something decent so it doesn't get damaged on the way.

If I'm not mistaken you also do the artwork yourselves ?

Yes, it also takes a lot of time but it’s also a part of making a record that we really enjoy to do ourselves. Though sometimes we have pretty fierce conversations about it...


"I like to sing minimally and I don't want to say too much"

You have a very steady rhythm of releasing an album every year, do you see yourselves maintaining this rhythm or maybe slowing things down a bit ?
Actually I have only realized that we have so many releases when we released our third album. I never thought about us as being very productive. Michiel writes most of the music and I write all the lyrics but I've never seen myself as a productive writer, because I like to sing minimally and I don't want to say too much. I don't necessarily want us to be a very productive band : I would also be happy if we released one album every four-five years. But the way it's going now is also very nice. We’re working on some new songs so I think we might have enough to record a new album soon. But I still have to finish the lyrics so... And of course we're touring so much that we don't really have the time to record new stuff.
How did you live through the pandemic ? There was obviously not much touring back then.
We just released our second album (In this house) the week that everything was canceled. So we had to cancel some forty show in the next two months. And then I decided not to do anything for a while, so I think I didn't touch my guitar for six months or something. And then we got to play a couple of shows in the Netherlands, seated shows, which was kind of nice but I wasn't really looking forward to it also. I took the time to really dive into new sorts of music, I bought a lot of records and also I started reading again. I was so busy with all our stuff that I hadn't really read in the last few years. So I had a lot of time to read and I bought a lot of books. For a while I was really happy with that. But then I started to miss the social aspect of making music, like meeting new people and discussing things. Every opportunity I had to meet new people I grabbed it with both hands. Now that everything is reopened I've been going to gigs and to other events all the time because I missed it so much that I really want to do it all the time. Luckily as a band we survived and we can now do all these things again.
Do you feel stronger because of that ?
Yeah, I think so. Also because I realized with the pandemic that everything is maybe not so important. I already had that state of mind, there are many things that I don't really care about, but at least the band had some importance But today I’m feeling less strongly about that as well. I think it's a nice way to look at things because if you don't have to worry about it, it's easier to do things.
Is there anything else you'd like to add ?
Maybe that these are only my personal views, not necessarily those of the band. I thought that was important to say. If you have any questions or if you didn't hear some of the stuff I said because of the music, you know where to find me.
Thank you very much, Arie !

[I actually took Arie up on his offer and added a few more questions which I added into this interview, with a bonus question after it was announced that the band would open for PAVEMENT in Copenhagen on October 29]
While I'm at it, I would like to add another question (it will be the last I promise) about your forthcoming gig opening for PAVEMENT. I was wondering what approach you have to this as a band ?  Are you nervous about playing with the "indie darlings" of the 90s ? Or is it an extra source of motivation as you will probably get to play to a wider audience than you normally would? Or maybe you see it as a 'business as usual' type of gig ?
Personally I see it as a nice opportunity to do something new. It’s not business as usual, because the circumstances will be new to us. But I think that’s what we, or at least I, like about playing shows. That’s what I’m always looking forward to: new circumstances. This time it will be a bigger venue and a lot of people who are new to our music. And sometimes these circumstances are playing in a country you haven’t played before, where they’re speaking a language you don’t understand. Or playing a seated show for the first time, during the pandemic. Or playing in a squatted place where the roof is leaking.


Interview by Eric F.

(november 04, 2022)




Go further...

LEWSBERG : Bandcamp
LEWSBERG : web site


In our radio archives :
Rock à la Casbah #789 (09/11/2022)
Rock à la Casbah #773 (04/05/2022)

In our written archives :
LEWSBERG dicte le tempo,
                    this interview in French version (25/10/2022)

Photography : Eric F.