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BOTW Interview: Vondelpark

With their debut album, Seabed, dropping this week through legendary Belgian electronic label R&S, Alex Cull caught up with London three-piece Vondelpark over a particularly crackly phone line for a chat about their roots, the troubled production of the record and their best festival memories.

PlanetNotion: Before you guys formed Vondelpark, you were in a shoegaze band for a while. Has that influenced yourselves as Vondelpark going forward and the music you’re making now?
Vondelpark: Yeah, it is quite hard to shrug off some of the guitar influences – though we are really consciously trying to – but it does sometimes become a bit irritating when you are always writing these minor chord progressions, it’s sort of depressing. So, we are trying to make more optimistic music; taking more from our recent jazz/funk influences and trying to erase what we did before to create a new process. I still think it’s kind of about zoning out and getting drawn into strung out jams, though.

PN: So how do you feel the new record compares to the two EPs you’ve previously released as Vondelpark?
VP: Different [laughs]. It’s a very difficult thing to interpret your own music. I can listen to other people’s records and listen to differences but to us it sounds vaguely the same really, but in a different format and in the way it works. I think it was nice to be able to do more than four or five tracks; an EP is really fun and they are great at capturing the mood but with a record you can experiment more. An LP develops over the course of an hour rather than just 25 minutes.

PN: I remember reading an interview you did recently with Pitchfork, where you were saying how kids these days need to pull themselves away from producing music on laptops and pursue more band-oriented music. Why is this important to you?
VP: I think they took that slightly out of context. We don’t think we are in a position to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t be doing, but we produce in our bedrooms individually, so we relate completely to bedroom producers who work on laptops. We were just highlighting the point that it can also be great not to just use electronic equipment, but use real instruments. We like going out to clubs and listening to UK bass just as much as the next man, though.

PN: So, how do you plan on translating the album’s quite lush textures to a live setting? I remember reading in an interview you did with The Stool Pigeon a while back, how the older songs weren’t written/designed for live performance. Are these?
VP: I really don’t think that the process has changed that much. Through our playing for the last two years, we’ve worked out a way of translating songs that are for a record, live. I feel like it’s a completely different process as once you’ve finished making a record, it’s then the start of the life of those songs as they evolve over time. Any song is the foundation of a live performance, it’s just how you use it and interact with the audience. With the first EPs, it was slightly different because there was quite a lot of sampling and layering – more so than with this record – so it was hard to completely devolve the songs because you are relying on quite a lot of programming.

PN: Sure. With this record, it’s definitely got a stronger improvisational streak. Is this something you hope to translate into the live shows?
VP: Yeah, we hope to work with a variety of different musicians for the live show, that can bring something in an improvisational sense.

PN: Between working on your EPs and the debut album, you lost all your equipment – along with the laptop carrying the files for what was supposed to be your first record – in Amsterdam. How has this affected the way Seabed turned out?
VP: It just meant that it took longer to get our first record out, which was really, really frustrating. I can’t stress that enough. We just seemed to have a lot of setbacks consistently, but you just keep making music if that’s what you do

It was really, really frustrating for me as a producer to lose a serious amount of my samples. As a producer, you build up a sample library and if you just want to bring in a hit, a kick, a nice chord that Matt’s done, a guitar riff that Bailey’s written or any of my own parts, then you can, but I just had nothing to work with. So, we had to spend a year just jamming and writing songs, just to build up three or four years’ worth of material again and at that point I wanted to start making an album.

PN: Outside of the album, what have you got planned for the rest of the year?
VP: I’m (Lewis) going to Vietnam on Saturday.

PN: I was going to ask about your traveling. What are you doing?
VP: Just going away with my girlfriend to record some stuff and to take some photographs. Aside from the album, we are going to be working with a few female vocalists this year – we are going to write some songs – an EP, maybe – with four different female vocalists.

We did something with Tate at the end of last summer where I worked with the Hackney Youth Orchestra, and Matt played piano. Basically, they had eight young musicians and we made a score to go with an hour-long visual piece. We performed it in the Tate tanks and that was with a project called Paid for Gold. I think we are going to try and do some European dates with that and create a longer score. We’re just trying to do as many different things as possible, because it’s good to focus on an album when you’ve got a campaign for it but we definitely want to try and branch out; you’ve got to have fun, you know?

PN: Veering slightly off topic, I was going to ask, what exactly is ‘California Analog Dream’ about? Is there any truth in the “walking to Santiago” line?
VP: I wrote the lyrics when I went on holiday with my dad to California. My uncle moved there about ten years ago, as he just got bored of England and he’s got a really nice family now. I’d been talking to him earlier in the day about actually doing something that you’ve often thought about and just going for it. Obviously, you don’t really go for things sometimes in life; I didn’t walk to Santiago, but it is just that idea of escapism I think.

PN: I did wonder whether there was a certain escapist element there…
VP: I think that with the first version, I mapped it but on the second recording, I actually wrote the words. The first version was just impulse, so I didn’t really think it was going to work, but the chorus of the new version is about being in a nightclub and seeing people; you are sort of in the room but you’re not there [laughs].

PN: With festival season almost upon us, I wanted to ask: what’s your best overall festival memory?
VP: Watching Radiohead play In Rainbows at Reading was inspirational for me. I really enjoyed all of last summer: it was an amazing summer spent playing festivals. The reception in Germany and Holland, especially, was just amazing. Tents were packed half an hour before we played and people actually moved which was promising [laughs]. We like to make people dance. Obviously, people that see the album now are probably thinking that’s not our intention at all, but we do actually like people having a little boogie.

- Alex Cull

Vondelpark’s debut album, Seabed, is available now on R&S.

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