Interview for BackGround Magazine

Silhouette were interviewed by BackGround Magazine after the release of "Across the Rubicon". You can read the entire interview here:

 

First can you tell a bit of the history of Silhouette and how you did get to the line up as it is nowadays?

Jos: Back to 2001. I concentrated on drums and played in a country band (!), which I’d met through a friend. Very nice, but not particularly my music. I did learn how to drum, but that’s all there was to it. During that time, I saw an ad on the internet of a band that needed a singer and a drummer. Since I was both, that was perfect! There was a phone number of a guy called Brian de Graeve. I called Brian, but the band had already ceased to exist. During this conversation it appeared that we had a lot in common, music-wise, and decided to stay in touch. Every couple of weeks we met and exchanged self-made songs, listen to music and play the guitar. After a couple of years it started to itch: wouldn’t it be great playing our own songs with a band. So, in 2004 we decided to take the plunge, and, after Brian made a tour amongst his
many connections, we had a complete line-up in no time. Bass guitar player GJ Bloemink, keyboardist Toine van Riesewijk and guitar player Henny van Veenendaal joined the band. Our temporary practice grounds was the school I’m working at, so we got started. I have to say: it felt good, finally playing our songs with a complete band. The line-up, however, started to fall apart very soon. Henny lived quite a long distance from the practice grounds away and had a lot of other things to do. He remained close to the band however as he was an excellent graphic designer and - as turned out later on - he would apply this by creating
the artwork of our CDs. Toine developed health-problems and needed to stop in that same year. Our main mission was to find a new keyboard-player. An ad was placed and in the fall of 2004 GJ, Brian and myself practised a lot to create a solid base for a new band-member. Early 2005 that band-member arrived finally: Erik Laan. Besides his (vintage) keyboards, Erik also contributed with written songs and a excellent voice. We had a more than welcome new band-member! We picked a name and in 2005 Silhouette was born!

Can you tell how it was as a young band to record your debut album A Maze back in 2006 and why you re-released it lately?

Erik: We were out of stock and we still got requests for A Maze! So hence a re-release. When we started in the current line up with Silhouette in 2005, we were just a group of friends sharing a passion for music, but without a plan whatsoever. But from the beginning on, we had a lot of fun and there was a chemistry in the band. After one great rehearsal evening, I jokingly cried out: “we should make a CD”! While at first, the rest laughed at me, finally we decided to go for it. Without any experience in recording, engineering, mixing, producing etcetera. We did it just for fun. It was an ultra low budget project. But after the
release, we noticed that it was sold all over the world and received pretty good reviews, even though it was clear from the outset that A Maze could not meet with modern day production standards. Taking that into account, it is pretty “A mazing” that it is still sold and composition-wise, we are still very proud of A Maze.

Your second album Moods was released in 2009. It showed a band that had grown music wise. How big was the influence of Hansi Cross of Progress Records, who released the album, on this album music wise and vocal wise?

Erik: There have been some very funny rumours about Hansi, who supposedly demanded all kinds of stuff from us. Let’s just be clear. Hansi has always supported us completely and shown faith in Silhouette. He never had any influence on us artistically or demanded to have so. On the contrary. This is of course fantastic for us. We can write the music we want to make and do not have to make any artistic compromise whatsoever. For Across the Rubicon he heard just one demo track and decided to go ahead releasing it without hearing the rest. Hansi is a musician himself and releases CDs under the name “Cross”, so that might explain why he understands how important it is for artist to get the artistic space you need. But it’s true that with Moods, we made a tremendous step forward. As we noticed that we could win a lot with proper production, I contacted Gerben Klazinga, whom I admired a lot for his great work with Knight Area. I asked him if he would be willing to mix and master our next album. He said yes, and this worked out very well, not only because of the mixing and mastering, but also because he gave us very valuable hints and tips about how to do the recording and lots of other stuff as well. So Moods was up to modern production standards and also in terms of our composing and instrumental capacities we had grown a lot. We also contacted a couple of label. (I think Progress Records was recommended to us by Joop Klazinga, Gerben’s brother, but Gerrit Jan also had contacts with the label) and Hansi said yes.

Your deal with Progress Records most certainly brought the band outside the borders of your own country. It must have felt as if the whole world had his eyes on the band suddenly. How strange or difficult was it to get more attention from not only people from the Netherlands and could you handle this attention?

Erik: As I said before, our low budget debut album A Maze also sold and was positively reviewed all over the world as well, even though we did the production, distribution and promotion ourselves. So in that sense the change with Moods was not so big. Of course, it is very helpful if an experienced label does these things for you and in addition, having a contract with a well established label such as Progress, opens doors as well. What we were still lacking though, was someone who could lead us the way into the world of being programmed in clubs and stages, finding our way in the media landscape, knowing how to properly market a CD. I can tell you, these are very different skills than being a musician.

Did it bring you more concerts offers abroad and did it mean that you had to be more professional towards making progressive rock music?

Erik: Well, what is professional? We are amateurs in that we all have jobs and families next to the band. And we have no illusions either about being professionals in the sense that one day we can stop our nine to five jobs in order to go for the “sex-drugs and rock and roll” international tour life. But on the other hand, we are fanatic and passionate about the music we want to make. Or better: we need to make. Personally, it would feel like amputating a limb if I would not be able to make music anymore, it’s a very important part of my life, it brings joy, it gives me energy and gives me an outlet for issues that I struggle with and are on my mind. Jos says something similar in “Nothing”: “It’s a way of healing” to write and to play music. Being professional or not is not the issue here. Is it our passion? Yes, and do we want to break through new boundaries, yes. Do I believe we have reached our top? No!

How did it come that it was so difficult to sound the same as on your albums as on a live stage? I had the impression that you could not perform your complex music live.

Erik. Part of it, I already explained above, it’s a lack of experience and the only way to get experience is to have more gigs but we didn’t know how to get more gigs because we lack experience in organising this stuff. On a few occasions, we settled for mediocre sound systems and poor engineering and we just had bad luck, with monitors blowing up during gigs, etc. In other situations we did have great gigs as well, for instance when we played Moods in 2011 in its entirety and there was real chemistry with the public. Sometimes it is hard to explain why a gig works or not, but we experience an improvement every time we are on stage.

How important was guitarist Aldo Adema in the realisation of Moods and the new album AcrossThe Rubicon?

Erik: On Moods, Aldo was approached by Brian, who was a fan of Egdon Heath and always had dreamed of working with him. So he just called Aldo, if he would be willing to add a guitar solo on the track Another Bed Time Story. He did, and it worked out fantastically with a great solo in the best Gilmourian tradition. So we became friends. Aldo had some interesting ideas about mixing and said he could bring us to the next level. In the process, his ideas went further than that as well. Aldo is very handy with midi and samples and stuff like that. So in several occasions, he added orchestral arrangements and guitar solos again on the title track and on Breathe which really worked. So from a mixer, he became co-producer, together with myself. And it appeared an advantage to have a critical person close to us, who is not a formal band member. Even though the final decisions were made by the four of us. We have asked Aldo to join the band though, but the distance (Silhouette rehearses in Vleuten, Aldo lives in Friesland) makes this very
unpractical.

When did you start thinking about the follow up to Moods and how long did it take to write and to record the songs for this album?

Erik: The process of thinking about and writing Across the Rubicon already started way before Moods was finished. Our fans know this, as we have played a very central song on Across the Rubicon already for more than five years live: Anybody. Also now we have a lot of plans, Brian literally has written hundreds of tracks which are waiting to be arranged and recorded. At this point we have a number ideas about CD number four and five as well. But we prefer quality over quantity, even though the music marketeers keep telling us to release albums every year and a half. It took us also a bit more time because I was in the middle of building a house with a studio. The studio (called The Brewery) was finished in the spring of 2011, so after that, we went ahead rather quickly with the recordings.

Moods was a real concept album that told a story. Who decided that the new album Across The Rubicon had eight stand alone tracks and came up with the idea they all have a common theme, dealing about the dramatic choices from which is no return?

Erik: This was a joint decision. When Brian suggested the idea of Moods, we all loved it and enthusiastically started arranging and composing with it. But in the meantime, Jos and myself didn’t stop writing and came up with ideas for Across the Rubicon. The common theme that you adequately describe was not a plan beforehand. Rather, when we had all songs sort of ready, we realised that many of the songs had this common theme. Apparently we all like nostalgic music, songs about things we value but that will or can never come back. When I suggested the title Across the Rubicon, the rest liked it immediately and Brian wrote the title track the same evening.

I guess the album title Across The Rubiconwas very much inspired from the Italian river The Rubicon, which is a shallow river in north eastern Italy. Were you all aware of the idiomcrossing the Rubicon means to pass a point of no return, and refers to Julius Caesar's army's crossing of the river in 49 BC, which was considered an act of insurrection and who came up with the idea to use this theme?

Erik: Well, this is exactly the story we came up with. As I said, I came up with the idea and what I liked about the concept was that crossing this river meant that the Rubicon was a very physical point of no return. Such a theme stimulates your imagination and this worked – as I said – immediately as Brian wrote the title song directly. It also helped for the artworker of Across the Rubcion, Ed Unitsky who brilliantly put it in to images.

I was told that the track Breathe deals about the suicide of a friend. Is it possible to tell a bit more about all of the stories about every track?

Erik. You are rightly informed. Breathe is about a friend of my youth who had a mental illness for which there was no cure. At one point he chose to end his life. The song is about what I felt when I stood next to his coffin, a moment in which I wanted to cry out loud that he should breathe again, fight his fears and become the bright and cheerful guy again I had known years before his illness manifested itself. His dramatic choice had an enormous impact on me, and writing this song helped me to deal with it.

You have three singers in the band. Can you tell me who decides who does the lead vocals on a song?

Erik: I can’t recall that we made a decision on these things. Sometimes, things go as they go. Probably the rationale behind it is that the one who comes with the basic ideas of a song, suggests who will sing. Sometimes, such as in the case of Breathe, I came up with the basic composition and just started singing. In the case of Anybody, Brian came up with the idea, and thought that it would fit the voice of Jos. And this worked out well.

The new album has some impressive keyboard parts. Erik can you tell me who inspired you as a keyboard player and can I say that the keyboards are the framework for the album?

Erik: Thanks for the compliment! In my youth I studies classical piano for many years and what I liked playing a lot was Chopin, Bach, Debussy and Schumann. I was seriously preparing to go to the conservatory until I had a disagreement with my piano teacher who thought that the way I played of Bach was too much a “romantic” interpretation. My teacher said: “please don’t do that, because Bach was pre-romanticism, what you are doing is as I if you are going to the Rijksmuseum to repaint Rembrandts “the Nightwatch” on the original canvas. That’s when I decided not to go to the conservatory, which, at that time was literally a conservative institution. It is probably not by coincidence that I love progressive, (innovative) music as an antidote to conservative (conservatory) music. And that’s also why I like especially Tony Banks (Genesis) and Eddie Jobson (UK) as keyboardists, who were, at their time, incredibly innovative. Both have experimented a lot with new synthesizers and other keyboards. I love the way in which Jobson’s hammonds and CP80 piano make “Danger Money” ROCK, knowing there are no guitars on that album. Currently, I listen a lot to Richard Barbieri’s atmospherics and to Arjen Lucassen, who can do terrific things with analogue synths and is an underestimated keyboard player, probably because he is known in the first place for his guitar virtuosity. I also listened a lot to the way Jeff Waynes War of The Worlds combines analogue synthesizers with orchestra’s. Although I also like to listen to bands such a Dream Theater and its keyboardist Jordan Rudess, I decided that to pursue his virtuoso style would not be my ambition. I rather like to play few notes that add a certain harmonic, an atmosphere or emotion, than many notes that drown in the total picture.

How did you write the songs for the album, did one of you come up with a tune or did you all jam or improvise during rehearsals?

Erik: We tried the jamming, but that that doesn’t work for us. What seems to work is that one of us brings in a basic structure. Sometimes, this structure is all finished and we can start arranging soon. Sometimes not, and in that case, we get together in my brand new recording studio and start to try different things, arrangements and so on. Then we try it out during rehearsals and new ideas come up. So songs grow in this process towards real “band products”. That’s also why we share the credits of the entire CDs.

Who came with the idea to use the voices of your children on the track When Snow’s Falling Down and did you have plans to perform it one day with them? One of them is a guitarist as well. Do more of them have musical talents or is Erik’s Son Bart the only one and how did it come that he could play during the release party of the new album?

Erik: It might be hard to believe, but Brian and I had the same idea about the same time: “Snow” just demanded a children’s choir. We considered performing with the children’s choir but technically it’s not that easy. Who knows one day we will, because it does work out wonderfully on the album and Snow has become an instant favorite according to many of our fans. My son Bart is a really talented guitar player and already had several gigs with bands on his highschool in De Meern, which is very active in the field of culture and music. On another occasion, also Geoffrey, the son of Brian, played in a gig with us.

All of you albums have so far really stunning art work and cover designs. Henny van Veenendaal did the them for the first two albums. But for Across The Rubicon you managed to get the international cover artist Ed Unitsky. How did it come that somebody who worked for The Flower Kings, Unitopia and The Tangent made the art work for a Dutch progressive rock band?

Brian: I was already friends with Ed Unitsky on facebook for a long time before I discovered he was such a great artwork artist. One day he posted another beautiful piece from the new Starcastle album and I realized he was the guy we needed. I send him a message with the first song we completed (Anybody). He was very enthusiastic and agreed to do the artwork for the album.

Were all images in the booklet and on the cover especially made for the album?

Brian:. Ed got all the lyrics from us with some inside information about the meaning of the songs. Sometimes we added some first ideas, but mostly Ed was able to visualize it into something beautiful. The booklet has become very special in my humble opinion. So the answer to your question: Yes!

Did you use somebody to help you out with the English lyrics because the booklet mentioned “Perfect English Tim”?

Jos: Tim is my nephew. He’s an English teacher who also lived in England. He speaks, but can also think in English. When I write songs I think in Dutch but I write it in English. It is possible that you say something in the wrong words. I gave him all the lyrics and when he saw something that wasn’t correct he did an alternative suggestion.

Who is MaryO who did some playing on the flute and some background vocals?

Brian: She is a wonderful woman who can play the flute and sings very beautifully...she is also my girlfriend . Nice touch about it is that Erik came up with the idea of letting MaryO do the backing vocals on Grendel.

On the new album once again Aldo Adema played on some of the tracks. How did it come that he wasn’t on stage during your release part of Across The Rubicon, too much stage fright?

Erik: As I said, Aldo lives in Friesland, the rest of the band lives in and around Utrecht. So it’s quite problematic to do joint rehearsals. But Aldo believes in our music and I hope and think that we will continue to work together.

Why didn’t you arrange a release party on your own on which you could perform the entire album? Instead you did a 45 minutes set as a support for E-Norm on which you presented the album.

Erik. We wanted a professional and quality setting for our new album and De Boerderij is then the right choice. In all honesty, if we would hire De Boerderij as Silhouette alone, we will not (yet!) get enough public. The logical choice is then to do such a thing together with another band. E-Norm is a band we admire. It was a great choice I think, because afterwards our fans stayed because they liked E-Norm as well and vice versa. Fot both bands you create a win-win situation. It was a great evening according to many of the public we talked to.

During the release party I noticed that the whole band has improved a lot while playing the music of your albums. How did this come and what else did you do to sound more professional as a musician? I heard that Brian took some extra lessons.

Erik: Thanks for the compliment! The most important thing of course is to practice and be very demanding to ourselves when rehearsing. This means that in the band you have to trust each other and create an atmosphere in which you can give feedback to each other and grow step by step in dominating our instruments and of course become a band in the true sense of the word. This is what we have been doing consistently over the last few years and it seems we are beginning to see the results of that. Another issue is that we have had a lot of bad luck with sound engineering in our live gigs in the past. The release party was for us the first time that we played in a professional setting such as de Boerderij. What a relief!

People who see the band on stage can’t avoid that they see a much older bass player compared to the other guys in the band. Is there never a generation gap between Gert-Jan and the rest of the band?

We are a group of friends who have a lot of fun together making the music we love without compromises. Age has never been an issue.

Gerrit-Jan how does it come that you never used bass pedals on stage or in the studio to give the music of Silhouette more depth?

Gerrit Jan. Well first of all bass guitar playing is my absolute favourite style of making music. During the last 9 years I had noticed that playing the bass guitar means that a bass guitar player must have to play several techniques (fingers, plectrum, slapping etc.). So if I have these experiences ‘in my fingers’ enough, than the opportunity will come to make a another step: bass pedals. But you might have noticed that at this moment Erik (our keyboardist) already uses bass pedals to create Taurus like sounds with his keyboards.

Jos were you inspired by Nick Mason as a drummer because on Breathe much of your playing reminded me of him?

Jos: I’m not specially inspired by Nick Mason, my heroes are rock drummers like John Bonham and Keith Moon. But I’m a fan of Pink Floyd. When we recorded the drums on Breathe, Erik suggested to use Toms in a part of the song, that is maybe the reason why it reminds you of Nick Mason. In the earlier Pink Floyd songs he did that too.

Finally can you tell me what’s next after Across The Rubicon and will you someday play the album as one whole piece of music?

Erik: Sounds like a good idea. We did such a thing once with Moods, and although this is a logical choice because Moods is a concept album, we might consider it for Across the Rubicon as well. In the short term, we want to do gigs, a lot of gigs. We have found somebody, Leon Zelissen, with a lot of contacts and experience. He was tour manager for Saga and sound engineer for Marillion, and he says he believes in us and is trying to promote and program us in the Netherlands and surrounding countries. We love to play live, so we will concentrate on that. But in the meantime, we will continue rehearsing, as we are hooked to our weekly rehearsal Tuesdays and will start writing number four.

Thanks for answering my questions and good luck with the band for the future!