Koen van de Wardt reveals all about the track that sets the tone for new album ‘Godspeed To The Freaks’
Klangstof, the Dutch alt-rock band consisting of Koen van de Wardt, Wannes Salome and Erik Buschmann, recently dropped their third studio album Godspeed To The Freaks. Recorded on the small island of Vlieland, the songs embody the space in which they were created – adding a live energy to the group’s atmospheric sound that has previously drawn comparisons to the likes of Radiohead and Alt-J. The resulting record manages to sound both light and moody, rewarding fans of classic songwriting and sonic experimentation alike.
Much of the album’s tone is set by opening track Death04, the blueprint out of which the other songs grew. It’s therefore fitting that van de Wardt chose to dissect it for us…
I might need to tell the story behind our Death## songs. Death09 and Death03 were both songs that were on our previous album. During that period, in 2018, I had massive writer’s block. The pressure that came with a successful debut album was at times unbearable to me, mostly from a creative perspective. My way of getting out of that vibe at the time was to start making music under a different name. I went back to the drawing board and started making songs with just acoustic guitars and vocals.
All the songs were titled Death, followed by a number. I ended up writing around 15 tracks in one week. When we got the band back together to figure out which songs we were gonna put on the album, we all steered towards these Death tracks as they sounded extremely honest and real, an emotion we had been unable to catch during the writing sessions of our second album.
So as you can probably tell by now, Death04 was the fourth track I wrote during those sessions and we used it as the starting point and blueprint for our new album, Godspeed To The Freaks.
“I’m a hero on a losing streak,” that’s the first line of the song (and the album). When I write songs I’m always very wary of the first line. If that doesn’t grab my attention, I’m out. At the time of writing it, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know what I meant. I like to use the song to figure that out along the way. Maybe I was unconsciously writing about myself trying really hard to make an album, but failing time after time to write a good song.
When I write words, I see it as a conversation with myself and it helps me to deal with personal problems that I want to keep to myself. It’s scary. Especially when you know that you’re probably gonna release it someday. But on the other hand, a lot of my lyrics have helped me to feel less like a weirdo, and the main reason for that is just because people came to me after a show to tell me they felt the same. This sense of connection is really powerful and important to me.
So the music for Death04 was very basic. It was just an acoustic guitar and me mumbling on top of it. It’s very close to how the song opens in the final version. During the lockdown, we decided to set up a portable studio on a quiet island called Vlieland in the Netherlands. We rented the local venue and stayed on the island for 14 days to record the album. The main goal was to block out any distractions from the outside world. We deliberately decided to not use any reference in regards to the songwriting. It should just be “us” – I’m still amazed that something so essential got lost in some of our previous work.
IN THE STUDIO
The studio (or stage. haha.) was very basic. Since we decided to record in this venue, there wasn’t a lot we could tweak. The venue had a particular sound, and we had to basically shape our songs around the sound of that place. After we had recorded the foundation of the song, we deliberately left a lot of space in the outro so we could go crazy on the overdubs. The chorus before the end part ends with, “I want to find myself in the eye of your storm,” and we wanted to create this tornado of noise that slowly sucks you up. We love to combine words, music and production in such a way that it all connects.
What I love about the album, Godspeed To The Freaks, is that it always takes me back to that island whenever I listen to it. I can literally hear myself jumping around the room with a guitar during some of the songs. I had tears in my eyes while we were chanting the last lines of [closing track] Sylvia with the whole band. It made me realise once again that music should always come from the heart.