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Willem Verbuyst (Vanderbuyst)

Interview with Willem Verbuyst from Vanderbuyst
by Matt Coe at 19 December 2014, 4:57 AM

The mighty Dutch Heavy Metal trio Vanderbuyst continue to shine in their own special way – unleashing a series of albums that bring to mind the fruitful times of Thin Lizzy, UFO, and the thriving NWOBHM scene. They are about to release their fourth studio album “At the Crack Of Dawn” – so I fired off questions to guitarist Willem Verbuyst and I think he accurately described a lot of the latest viewpoints and events going on in this band’s world. Read on and learn.

Thank you for answering this interview. Tell us how you are today, and where you are currently as you answer this?

Thank you for having us on your webpage. That was a great review we got for our newest album from you guys! We appreciate it a lot. Thanks!
I’m in a jam-packed train to Barry’s place in The Hague (NL), where we will have a vocal rehearsal. We’ve been practicing a lot lately to get the new songs into our system. I’m looking forward to the upcoming gigs, to play the new set-list. ‘Excited,’ that’s how you could call my state of mind. Not nervous but hungry.

Your latest album is “At the Crack Of Dawn”, your fourth recording in a relatively short period of time. How are you able to be so productive so quickly, and how do you feel this album is a little different than your previous three efforts?

Somehow inspiration was never a problem for us. So far we haven’t had to overcome a writer’s block. I believe I wrote about 25 songs or more for this album. In the beginning I was always very reluctant to dismiss songs. You keep rebuilding and polishing them to keep them alive. They’re like your precious babies. But over the years it became easier and easier to discard them. If a song is not good enough I just write another one. As we sing in “Roller-Coaster Ride”: “Got to kill my darlings.”
The main difference with the previous albums is that the pre-production was more intense than before. Together with Martin Furia (who produced the album) I did a lot of arrangements and molding of the songs. It was good to have this external point of view before we went into the studio. This was in Antwerp and the vibe was perfect. We stayed over, had some BBQ in the garden, played some soccer, watched the World Cup to see the Germans win. A very relaxed situation that kept the recording sessions fresh. I’m willing to believe you can hear that.

I found a couple of songs that stuck out immediately that I would love to talk more about in regards to how the compositions came to be musically and lyrically. Can you tell us more about “Lost in Discotheques” and the closer “Sweet Goodbye” – the latter seeming like a tip of the cap to The Beatles? And what are your favorite songs on the new record at this point?

“Lost in Discotheques” is definitely a standout track. One night Martin mailed me a You Tube video of Argentinean crowds going berserk at metal concerts and singing along to everything. That is, the lyrics, which they didn’t understand, they just sung phonetically and they managed even to sing the guitar solos. As he is from Argentina, and now living in Belgium, he said that he really missed these kinds of concerts. That night he asked me to write him a song that would create that feeling. A few hours later I had written “Lost in Discotheques”.

“Sweet Goodbye” is something totally different. No party vibe here. Although it feels a bit melancholic it is still a positive song: there will always come new things in your life, whatever direction you choose to go. The last two years we did some acoustic shows. So it was a small step to leave this one totally acoustic. I love to strip a song to its essence. A guitar and some great vocals is all you need to make a good song work. And as you say: very Beatles-que. A kind of Queen meets The Beatles really.
A personal favorite is “Sweet Goodbye”. “On And On” maybe as well, this song is about the band and being on the road. The lyrics bring back nice memories.

Tell us about the video shoot for the title track of the new album? What are your thoughts on the medium these days – where people tend to view it on social media sites versus the older days of MTV when they actually concentrated on showing music videos?

When the title track “At the Crack Of Dawn” was recorded we knew right away that we wanted a video for this one. And I was thinking of one person only. I had met Jérôme Siegelaer a few times and I liked his pictures and videos a lot. He often let elements of nature do the talking, stuff like threes and water, in an artistic way. On top of that, I like his way of abstract storytelling. He keeps it open for a lot of interpretations; excellent for this song. We spent two days with him in a beautiful forest and some colorful fields for filming. Right now he’s putting the shoots together. We expect the video to be released on Tuesday 7/10.

It’s a bit weird this MTV thing. I remember when I grew up I watched the greatest videos on TV. Especially when they announced a new video was coming you were tuning in at the right time. Nowadays I guess they don’t play any music at all, but some kind of reality soaps instead. A pity, but I assume that’s what the people want to see. The days that a band could spend millions of dollar on a video (like Guns ‘n’ roses on “Estranged”) are finished. You Tube obviously took over. The good thing is you can watch your favorite videos whenever you desire and as many times as you want. But still, the excitement is a bit gone for me. Nowadays people are watching videos online and during the watching they are chatting with their “friends” on Facebook. It’s not the same thing, is it? Attention has to be divided over many things simultaneously today. More quantity but we pay for that with quality. Maybe I’m an old fart, I don’t know, haha.

What do you place more importance on: the art of creating and recording new material, or the energy and atmosphere the band feels touring and performing live across stages in all parts of the world?

Personally I always enjoyed the time on stage the most. I can really lose myself and become one with the music. Being on the road for weeks gives you an incredible feeling. Your world becomes very small. It’s all about the shows. So the music gets all the attention it deserves. Studio work on the other hand, I considered as a necessary evil. That however, has changed. Since I started to approach it as a creative process, instead of just stressed recording, I enjoy studio sessions more and more. This started with the “Flying Dutchmen” sessions actually. We did a lot of improvisations and arrangements on the spot.

Are there any particular rituals or rules that you follow when it comes to travelling with the guys in Vanderbuyst to maintain space and sanity considering how many shows and festivals you play each year?

Say what’s on your mind. The first tour we did, we hardly talked to each other. That was not good. We learned from that. Apart from this communication thing, keep the bus clean. I mean it’s not the most enjoyable place per se, when you have a bunch of sweaty guys beer-farting for ten hours in a small environment like that, and that, sometimes for thirty days in a row. We don’t need a rotten banana as an extra aroma. It is bad enough as it is. When somebody is sleeping, leave him alone. Sleep is sparse on tour and very needed. It’s all basic stuff really.

If you had an unlimited budget to put on a festival of your dreams, who would be on the bill, what special features would you have and where would it take place

At a certain point I really got tired of festivals. What annoys me the most is the (often) crappy sound. So a decent PA-system would be something I would invest in. But I don’t think there would be any band on the bill. Because most of the bands I like are now separated, consists of dead people, or are so out of shape it becomes embarrassing to have them perform. Saxon is one of the few bands from back then who still deliver a very good show.

So let’s do it differently. I would organize a festival on the planet Mercury. Rocket the bands and their following over there … and leave them. Bands like One Direction, the late Red Hot Chili Peppers, 30 Seconds to Mars, etc. I would love to give a one-way ticket to Mercury. Rock over Mercury, hahaha.

How would you describe the personalities within the band? And do you think it’s very important to have a good working relationship with promoters, booking agents, management, etc. to further the development of Vanderbuyst to a bigger audience?

Yeah promoters, booking agents and label bosses, they’re all part of the team. It’s important to have good relations with them. That’s why I like Ván Records a lot. Sven (the label boss) is very involved and always checking with our band. If he doesn’t get a tour report he’s pissed off, haha. The same with our manager Bidi, he often joins us on the road. It’s good for the team spirit. I never understood those bands that treat their roadies of other personnel like slaves. They all contribute and make it possible you can concentrate on making music. A luxury!

The three of us are team players. We’re not afraid of dreaming and like to work hard to realize those dreams. When you’re together for that long as we are, you become one organism. But sure, we’re different people. Barry has an eye for details; he can spend hours on finding the right letter type. He is also very devoted; if he wants something he’s going for it. He surprised everybody when he said he wouldn’t eat for ten days, and then he actually did. Jochem is a charmer. If someone in this world has Jedi power he is the one. He can charm his way out of the most impossible situations just by waving his hand. For me, I like to withdraw myself from time to time. I could easily live in a forsaken forest, not in contact with people for years. Give me a book and some music and I’m a happy camper.

What are some of the activities/ hobbies/ interests you like to enjoy away from music to re-charge your mind/ body so to speak?

I like sports a lot. Last April, I ran the Marathon in Rotterdam. Besides sports I’m fond of traveling. I love to hang around in the jungle and other exotic places. Living the regular life makes me nervous. That’s why I’m in a band I guess.

Have you already started to think about the fifth album? Are there any plans down the line for a possible live DVD release with some biographical/ historical footage

Haha, true, when you just come out of the studio you’re already thinking about ‘next time’. But we haven’t made any plans yet. We might record some more acoustic stuff; we have a couple of songs for a project like that. A live album would be cool indeed. I know a lot of fans are waiting for a live album. But we would have to play in Japan first for that. I would love a ‘Vanderbuyst live in Tokyo’. I promised myself not to think about a fifth album too much yet. I want to enjoy this one to the max first.

Have you ever been star struck meeting a favorite person/ musician through the years? And what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard through the years

We have some devoted fans. Some of them have seen us more than 30 times already. Some fly over to catch a show. One guy even followed us to China. Some bring us presents or bake us cakes. But they’re not the star struck kind. It’s always great to have a talk with them after a show. We feel lucky to have fans like that.
Best piece of advice? Enjoy what you’re doing! I don’t know who said it, but I heard it multiple times, and it couldn’t be truer.

Where do you see the state of hard rock and heavy metal these days? Are you finding a wide age range of fans that appreciate your classic style?

Interesting topic! A few weeks ago Gene Simmons said rock ’n’ roll is dead. Dee Snider responded it was still alive and kicking. But I think we can all agree that Rock with capital R is dead. The eighties, in which bands packed stadiums with their rock ‘n’ roll and heavy metal, and actually earned big bucks, are over. That’s plain to see. Rock, or what’s left of it, is now approached as a business model.

We have a quite mixed crowd. Of course you have the older generation who his reliving the past at our concerts. Some young people, who know where today’s music comes from, show up as well. Even people who don’t like heavy music at all appreciate what we do. I believe that with “At The Crack Of Dawn” we will address even a bigger crowd.

What does the next 12 months look like for Vanderbuyst in terms of touring, festivals, special merchandise, recording sessions, etc.?

First we have a couple of release shows in the Netherlands. Then we will visit Germany. Instead of an extensive tour, we have decided to pick just a few nice venues -– a little more exclusive this time, so make sure you are there! I hope we can go on a bigger tour in the spring of 2015, but nothing is confirmed yet. For now we hope to see you at one of our shows soon!

Metal-Temple, thanks again for having us!
Cheers, Willem (on behalf of Vanderbuyst)


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Edited 08 December 2022

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