While the Netherlands has enjoyed the music of Blaudzun for several years, the US is just getting to know the folk rocker through his first US release, Heavy Flowers, through appearances stateside, and his MTV Iggy’s Artist of the Week win last week (hurricane delays, sorry!).
We had words with the man people are comparing to Arcade Fire all about his religious upbringing, age, and the inspiration behind his dramatic, beloved music.
Was there any meaning behind the Olympic cyclist namesake? How do you feel about the name now that you’ve lived with it for a few years?
I can imagine it’s hard for you guys to pronounce it. Actually there’s no meaning, although I’m a big cycling fan. I go to races and watch the classics and the big tours like the Tour de France on television. In 2006 I came across the name of Verner Blaudzun when I was reading about a cycling race in the 70s. I fell in love with the sound of the word Blaudzun and kept it as my stage name since. It’s not like a tribute to the rider or anything. And about that pronunciation, it sounds like Dutch super model Doutzen Kroes’ first name. Is that helpful or what?
Tell us about your reception in the US. Any surprises?
No surprises so far. It’s been very positive and exciting to play in NYC and break into the US market. I’m very excited to see the response when the album is out in January and I’m looking forward to tour in the US in 2013. I’m excited for all to come.
What message is embedded in your video for “Elephants”? Heavy shit man.
The two female directors Mirka Duijn and Nina Spiering got the full freedom to come up with their own story derived from my song. I told them to use “Elephants” as a soundtrack for a short film instead of coming up with the typical first single performance video idea. The story deals with a boy becoming a man. We meet all the important girls and life-changing women that he met in his life. They move in mysterious ways, messing with his mind, messing with his body and soul.
How do you feel about the Arcade Fire and Decemberists comparisons? Do you agree?
Don’t know about The Decemberists, I like their sound though. I can imagine people mentioning Arcade Fire, the ecstatic and dramatic songs played with almost religious zeal is what I can relate to. But it’s too easy to stick just that one label to my music I think.
Tell me about your history. How did you get into music? What did you listen to growing up?
I cannot recall NOT making music or singing. In our family house there were lots of instruments. There was lots of singing and making music. As a child I was attracted to that. It felt like magic and it still does. It was a natural thing for me to go in that direction. When I was 6 years old, I discovered you could use a cassette player to record your own voice. I haven’t stopped writing songs and recording since.
As a child I grew up with Dylan, Paco de Lucia, Johnny Cash, opera and lots of Christian hippie stuff. As a teenager I discovered the Beatles (Beatles weren’t played in my religious family) and Nirvana at the same time. That was quite a defining period for me I guess. I have no music education at all, except for my mother’s piano lessons. I did learn to sing and play drums and guitar in church. As I child I went to a Pentecostal church with my parents every Sunday. In those churches singing, handclapping and making loud electric music is very common. When I actually could play 3 or 4 chords on the guitar I was asked to join the church band on stage. So I did, just like everybody else. I’m not a believer and I find most religion repulsive but in the end God is to blame for my singing career.
How did Utrecht inspire you?
Although The Netherlands is a country, it’s like one big city to me. I live near Utrecht and was born in Arnhem. Amsterdam is a 30-minute car drive. The writing process isn’t actually a one place and time event. For me it’s a constant state of mind. It shapes a song when you work on it in different cities and different atmospheres. Actually I work a lot in Barcelona (Spain). It’s a beautiful city with a rich and dramatic Catalan history. The city has a melancholic and sunny character that resonates through my life and work. I feel at home there.
It doesn’t mean a good tune can’t come to me when I’m in Holland. I always travel with a paper notebook. When words or rhymes come up I put them down right away or record them on my phone. If I don’t I feel like someone else will be able to pick it up from the sky or discover it and use it. It’s odd when you think of it, but I feel it just the same.
Please don’t take offense. Or do! But you’re a bit older than some of the up-and-coming independent global artists we’re seeing making it stateside, playing Santos, etc. Does this work against you, or do you feel more wizened and solid in your identity? Or both?
I’ve always lied about my age, so actually you don’t how old I am really. No serious, what’s the big deal? I was part of alternative rock bands when I was in my 20s, I toured Europe with lots of different artists and projects. I finally know what I want in music and I can really focus on my writing, singing and playing shows without getting distracted by the ‘younger people’s’ stuff (sounds like your grandpa now?). But as I said before Heavy Flowers is my third album already, it’s my US debut.
What’s next for Blaudzun?
Lollapalooza. But really, me and my six piece band will be back in the US in early 2013 that’s for sure. We’re going to play a bunch of shows then.