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Interview: Koen van de Wardt from Klangstof

Interview: Koen van de Wardt from Klangstof

I have to be honest, I haven’t really seen “Seinfeld.”

Amsterdam’s Klangstof merges stadium-sized synths with quiet, bedroom guitar sounds to create dreamy indie rock that falls somewhere between the pop of Tame Impala and the sexy intimacy of Washed Out. Klangstof released their debut album, Close Eyes to Exit last year and are playing a few West Coast dates in the U.S. opening for the Flaming Lips along with slots at some of the bigger festivals including Coachella and Bonnaroo. Singer/guitarist and band leader Koen van de Wardt took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us.

First, can you tell us about the makeup of the band and how you guys got together?

I produced and wrote Close Eyes to Exit myself. After some line-up changes, Klangstof as we know it today was formed. Jobo (Engh, guitar) and Jun (Villanueva, drums) are friends from Norway, which, before I moved back to the Netherlands, I played in a band with. We’ve always been tight, so it was very natural for me to reach out to them when I was looking to form the band. Wannes (Salome) is the Netherlands’ notorious synth wizard that I met in a café somewhere in Rotterdam.

What is the music scene like in Amsterdam?

The band scene in Amsterdam is growing. The city has been dominated by EDM, but that’s slowly changing. The band scene in Amsterdam is becoming healthier as we speak and the indie scene is especially growing. If you want to dive into the Amsterdam music scene, start off with bands like Weval, Bombay and Jo Goes Hunting.

What sort of music did you listen to growing up? Was music valued in your families or was it something you came to on your own?

Before I moved to Norway, it was mostly EDM. As soon as I moved, I did not feel connected to that music at all anymore, because I was feeling lonely and I wanted to have music to connect with. All of a sudden I came across Radiohead. That’s something that really, really triggered something in me. I felt so connected to that music. For one or two years straight, I just listened to Radiohead. That’s really what got me into music. As soon as I started listening to Radiohead, all I could think about was becoming a musician.

At what point did you decide that songwriting was something you could do or wanted to do?

I moved from the Netherlands to Gjøvik, Norway when I was 14 years old. Before that, when I was still living in Holland, I wasn’t doing music at all. There’s so many distractions living in the city. As soon as I moved to Norway, I was pretty isolated. It was a long drive to get to friends or do whatever I was used to doing when I lived in the Netherlands. So, making music was something I started doing out of boredom. I found out after a while that I wanted to pursue it. Very slowly I started picking up the guitar, after that some synths. I started producing a little bit. Everything that I was doing started out of complete boredom. So I just had to do it, I guess.

I like that your music manages to be so epic and sweeping yet lyrically and vocally so intimate. Personal connection and the barriers between those connections seem to be an overarching theme. How does managing this balance work when writing the songs? Do you write on acoustic guitar and then blow up the songs widescreen in the studio? Or do you have a good idea of how big you want the final product to sound?

I didn’t want to be put in any box, genre-wise. The environment I was living in kind of created the album. I was living in Norway and made those big soundscapes, and as soon as I moved back to Amsterdam, it got a bit more of an urban vibe to it. So the whole process was very unintentional and sort of guided by the space around me. When it got finished, people started putting it in boxes, and I never even thought about that when I made the record. It was just whatever came up in my mind or whatever place I was sitting in. That was kind of what happened on the record.

Is this your first US tour? What in particular are you excited for on this tour?

In the fall of 2016, we did a small East Coast run with Jagwar Ma. This time, we are starting off with a West Coast run with the Flaming Lips and in June we go across the country with Miike Snow, playing some really nice festivals like Bonnaroo, Sasquatch and Summerfest along the way. I am excited to play in front of a new crowd that doesn’t know Klangstof yet.

You’re opening for The Flaming Lips here in Portland. Are there any pressures or considerations when opening up for a band with such a rabid fanbase?

No, not really, to be honest. We do what we do and we hope people like what we do.

How was it for you to play Coachella? I read that you were the first Dutch band to play this concert. Is that important for you?

Being the first Dutch band isn’t, since we are half Norwegian and half Dutch. It makes us more an international band. But in regards to Coachella, that was pretty huge for us and it was really sick. We were over-prepared because we knew it was such a legendary festival. Even though we were somewhat nervous, we were able to have a lot of fun on stage. It was way too hot for us though!

If each member of the band were a character on “Seinfeld,” who would they be and why?

I have to be honest, I haven’t really seen “Seinfeld.” But, I’d have to say Jun is Jerry himself. We’re all pretty silly, but Jun has a very Seinfeld-y humor and god-given comedic timing, and they’re both neat freaks I guess. Wannes is obviously Kramer, because of the hair. Jobo says he’s Larry David, but in the series, admittedly, George. And that leaves me with Elaine, but I don’t think we’re all that similar.

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