What inspired you to first start making music? And how did you come to be in your current incarnation? Or if you prefer, a brief bio aboutyou.
My parents put me in music school as a seven year old, but things didn’t really click until I turned 12 and got my first guitar. The biggest eye-opener for me was probably getting into what you could now call classic indierock in my late teens and finding out that you could have really nice songs and melodies and hide them underneath tons of noise and weird sounds (and sloppy playing). At the same time I also probably developed some sort of longing for a musician’s life as a means to get out of my provincial small town, both physically and mentally. I played in various bands but gradually got more and more interested in sonics and experiments (and less in band life and rehearsals) and that’s how I ended up on my own in a room full of synthesizers, fx pedals, drum machines and computers.
I released six albums back in the early 2000s on a Berlin label called Morr Music, toured North America, Japan and Europe a couple of times with bands such as Death Cab For Cutie, The Notwist and Lali Puna. I did a bunch of remixes for The Postal Service, Jimmy Eat World, Mùm and many more.
I ended up signing to a big US label, recorded two albums with them in Hollywood and then it sort of all went dead.
At that point I took an eight year break from releasing as Styrofoam, but I’ve been at it again since 2018.
Provide us with some info about your latest release…
“Political Songs” started off as a series of mostly improvised studio recordings I made at home with various scenes of local and global mayhem playing out in the background. In a way it seemed as if the music was very much informed by or responding to all this stuff. I ended up streamlining, editing and polishing up these improvised recordings into what felt as a collection of instrumentals that fit together. The “Political Songs” moniker comes from a song called “Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing” by US punk legends The Minutemen. The original recordings I made were originally titled after the scenes playing out in the back while recording (for instance: “Political Song For Boris Johnson to Sing”) but in the end I decided against giving the bad guys even more attention. I switched around and decided to dedicate each one of the tracks to one of my favorite writers: people that enable me to zoom out of the daily hustle and give me a broader perspective on what’s going on.
Which ones would you consider your main influences both music-wise & non-music-wise?
I grew up with nineties indie- and punkrock so that’s probably a big one. People like Bob Mould (who I ended up touring with last year!), Sonic Youth. I liked how they coupled a melodic sensibility to experimenting with noise and sound and textures. When I started Styrofoam back in 2000 there was a very exciting and new scene of what would now be called “indietronica” (for lack of a better term). People making music with guitars and synths en drum machines out of their bedroom. I’m thinking of colleagues back then such as Jimmy Tamborello/Dntel, Isan, Notwist, Mùm… That was a very exciting thing to be part of and a huge inspiration at the same time.
Non-music-wise books are a very big thing around here. I average about two books a week: fiction, history, sociology, essays… Some of my favourite writers (apart from the ones mentioned in the “Political Songs” titles) are Denis Johnson, Joan Didion, Deborah Levy, Richard Yates…
In what way does your sound differ from the rest genre-related artists/bands and why should we listen to your music? In other words, how would you describe your sound?
I’ve been producing electronic music for the past 20 years as Styrofoam and I’m sometimes surprised myself how things have evolved stylistically over the years. Like how does the stuff I’m doing now fit in with “Couches In Alleys” – the song I made with Ben Gibbard almost seventeen years ago (!) or the hiphop record I made with Fat Jon? On the other hand, I put together some sort of “Best of Styrofoam” Spotify playlist the other day and was surprised how easily a track from my very first album flowed into one from my latest, so I probably shouldn’t worry too much. I think there’s a common feeling throughout the records, probably something rather contemplative or melancholy or whatever you’d like to call it.
There’s a tendency in electronic music to always aim for new sounds, be cutting edge, being that new style that everybody’s talking about. I try to steer clear of all that. My music has to resonate with me while I’m working on it, that’s my main compass while producing. Now more so than ever before.
Please name your 3 desert islands albums, movies & books…
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
The Sundays – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
Bob Mould – Workbook
Richard Yates – Eleven Kinds Of Loneliness
James Baldwin – Another Country
Joan Didion – The Year Of Magical Thinking
Do you prefer studio or performing live and why?
I played live and toured so much for quite some years in the early 2000s that I sort of burned out on the logistics of it at some point: endless rides, soundchecking, hauling gear, endless waiting, missing my family… Although those years also gave me endless great (and some not-so-great) memories for which I’m very grateful, I much prefer working in my studio now.
Is there any funny-unique story you would like to share with us, always in relation to your music ‘career’?
I have tons of memories of all the touring and recording – you do run into a lot of strange scenes. There’s the one about the ukelele playing stewardess on the Delta flight from Brussels to Chicago who ended up serenading us in the middle of the plane.
Another notorious one (on a personal note) is how original DEVO drummer Alan Myers (RIP) ended up playing on one of my records. He happened to drop by the Hollywood studio where I was working on my album to work on some electricity stuff (he was working as an electricity contractor back then) and we somehow convinced him to get behind the drum kit and play on one of my album tracks.
Probably the funniest thing is when Journey lead-singer Steve Perry randomly walked in while I was recording vocals at that same Hollywood Studio during the recording of my final big label album. I’m a pretty insecure singer of the shy indie boy variety and this larger than life “professional singer” guy walks in and starts giving me all sorts of vocal performance and recording tips. Unreal. He was super sweet though.
I have to stop, I start remembering dozens more.
Which track of your own would you point out as the most unique and why?
I’d probably have the pick the most well-known one which is “Couches In Alleys” as people keep referring to that song again and again. I made this as part of a project where Brussels music venue AB had me collaborate on an album with a bunch of people I got to pick. I made “Couches” with hiphop producer/MC Alias (who sadly passed away a couple years ago) and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie in Brussels. Alias made the beats on his MPC drum machine and Ben ended up adding those atmospheric guitar parts and the lead vocals off course. Looking back, both Ben and me sort of regret putting so much autotune on those vocals… Alias ended up flying over for the Brussels record release show and we also did a US tour with him opening. Good times.
Would you like to share with our readers your future plans?
Ever since I did my “comeback” album “We Can Never Go Home” in 2018 I went synths-only and sort of gave up on singing and playing guitar on my recordings, so I’m ready to move back into that. I’ve been working on a cover versions record off and on for the past couple of years that’ll hopefully see the light of day next year.
Free question!!! (Ask yourself a question) you wish to answer and haven’t been given the opportunity…
Not really a question, but since I’ve been doing this for such a long time, it’s quite strange how radically the whole distribution move away from physical records to streaming etc. has impacted getting your music out there. It really seems like a trade-off: being able to engage and interact much more actively with people who listen to your music on the one hand is a great thing. On the other hand the marketing ethic that has crept into even DIY music making, with fan building and influencers and storytelling and so on can be quite confusing and sometimes even discouraging. Then again, I’m the last person to get stuck in the past and to say everything used to be better. There are probably more tools than ever out there as a DIY musician right now.
Curated by: Christos Doukakis
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