First formed in Amsterdam in 2015 as a one-man project by Norwegian-native Koen van de Wardt, Klangstof’s dark and ambient indie rock has marked them as ones to watch. Being the first Dutch act to play Coachella back in 2017, and now having caught the eye of Pixies’ frontman Black Francis, The Mancunion caught up with Koen ahead of Klangstof supporting the Pixies at Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl on 5th July, and the anticipated release of their third album Godspeed to the Freaks.
Briefly back in Amsterdam before returning to the touring wagon again, Koen speaks to me over Zoom – I joke that little has changed when it comes to conducting interviews over the past year or so due to, of course, the pandemic. Koen puts a positive spin on things: “This was a really good moment to actually just focus on the writing for two years and at the beginning of this year we just completely stopped writing new music and just focused purely on playing live.”
Klangstof released their EP Ocean View in March this year, which saw them becoming increasingly experimental, exploring new electronic avenues. The EP was recorded at a studio in Holland’s stylish suburb of Haarlem. Ocean View was born out of a surplus of studio time: “We knew that it was still a bit risky to set up a release date for the album just because if we were to release something, we’d want to go on tour and at least earn some money out of our work.”
Time apart from the other band members allowed for a fresh burst of creative energy when they eventually reconnected: “Both for the album and EP we had this idea of really playing together as a band rather than just nerding behind our computers. We actually rented a venue on the small island of Ameland in Holland for three weeks – it’s a bit of a holiday resort. We were near a camping site which had a little pop venue. We decided to make our studio on the stage!”
Klangstof’s third album Godspeed to the Freaks will be released in September this year. Koen revealed to me that this record felt like the first proper group effort from the band, having recorded their debut himself. “I think we did like 20 demos or something over the span of the year and it was a very fast process.” It’s a pretty unusual title for an album, I comment, but Koen explains it was one of the first songs written for the album, telling me: “We just didn’t have a line for the chorus which eventually became Godspeed to the Freaks. In the studio I did some kind of Sean Paul hook [he mimics Sean Paul] and when we went to mix the album and I still had to write this one lyric.”
“Since it was the last thing I was going to write for the album, I wanted it to pull everything together. I thought it was a bit far-fetched or a bit too metaphoric but when we started mixing the album, Sam Petts-Davies (Radiohead, Frank Ocean) said it was sick. It works very well with the story of the album which is in essence about being very honest and waving goodbye to your inner demons. So Godspeed to the Freaks is kind of like your little love song to whoever you don’t want to be.”
A chance meeting with Dutch videographer and photographer Anton Corbijn, best known for his Ian Curtis biopic Control, and his work with bands like Nirvana, U2, and Depeche Mode at a fancy London hotel led to Corbijn agreeing to produce the visual media for Klangstof’s latest album. “It was super nice to meet him, I mean especially cause like everyone in Holland knows Anton Corbijn, he’s really one of the big artists from Holland so I was like should I tell this guy what I want? – it felt a bit wrong. We decided if he came up with a lot of weird stuff that we don’t feel suits us, we can talk to him and figure something out. But his ideas were really cool. With band pictures you usually do feel really awkward. But the great thing about Anton’s way of seeing things is that he’s way more obsessed with everything around you, so you stop feeling like a model and you start to become just part of something more than just the band photo. That was really inspiring!”
Since developing from solo project to full-blown band, Koen highlights the key difference in that “you just have to talk more. We all feel very confident with the fact that we do have to argue a lot in order to get an album done because it’s just a healthy way to do things and the the end result is way better.”
“Now I would never really want to go back to the way I wrote on the first album. If you’re happy it’s great but if you go through some dark s**t it’s kind of hard to be a solo project. You get artists who go on tour and burnout or kill themselves or whatever. There’s a lot of pressure on bands, and right now I feel like every time someone in the band has a bit of a downer or something goes wrong there will always be like three or four people trying to lift him up again.”
Having moved from Norway to the Netherlands, I ask Koen about the differences in their music scenes: “I think on a cultural level, Norway is bit more advanced than the Netherlands. If you look at the pop scene in Norway, they have artists like Sigrid. I remember growing up in Norway that they give a lot of money to cultural stuff so in school you kind of have to play an instrument and you have to be in a band. Those things are really important in Norway and in Holland it’s more about finishing your studies and getting a job. Obviously, they have a lot of great EDM artists, that’s their thing really.”
He explains there’s not a huge rock scene in the Netherlands but recommends Altın Gün. They play Turkish folk-inspired stuff. I think they played Coachella last year.” Of course, Klangstof were famously the first Dutch band to play the iconic festival in 2017. “We played really early and they had some problems with the gates – people couldn’t get in. We were looking at the previous band and there were like maybe five or six people watching and we were freaking out because there was a lot of press from Holland coming. The show itself was sick! We probably had the most nerves ever because we’d been working towards that moment for a year and if you play a bad show there, there’s probably not a chance that you can play in the US anymore. I was very happy after the show but we didn’t hang around too long because our guitar player got really sunburned, obviously [laughs]!”
Klangstof will support Pixies on a slew of tour dates this summer, amongst festival appearances. “The Manchester venue looks insane so we’re very much looking forward to it. Before the show in France, they came right from the US so they were a bit jet-lagged the first night, so we didn’t really get the chance to speak and we’re extremely shy guys especially with rock stars around. But they came into our dressing room the next day to say hi and also, they said sorry for not saying hi the night before, but they were really tired. I think the Pixies are one of the best bands you could do support for because their fans are just real music lovers and I feel like we always tend to connect a bit more with those people.”
When I ask Koen about his ambitions for the future with Klangstof he’s raring to stay on the road: With the second album we did like seven shows and then everything got cancelled and it was sad because we’d worked on an album for two years and it didn’t do quite as much as we thought because we just couldn’t play. I feel like for this album it’s got some of that anger and frustration from those years but we’ve kind of turned it into something positive. I just really hope that we can continue playing until 2024 – that’s like my ideal scenario. I just want to release the album and not come home!”
You can listen to the latest Klangstof EP Ocean View on Spotify here.
Klangstof release their third album Godspeed to the Freaks in September 2022.
Klangstof will open for Pixies at Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl as part of Sounds of the City 2022. Remaining tickets are available here.