Interview with Kayak — “Every song we record is Kayak, it just adds up to the whole everything of what Kayak is, it just makes it bigger.”

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Over the course of a career that (so far) spans 48 years, the Dutch progressive rock act KAYAK have established themselves as one of the Netherland’s most successful progressive rock bands. After seventeen studio efforts, the band is now ready to release their eighteenth full-length album, “Out of this World,” out on May 7th, 2021, via InsideOut Music. We had the chance to talk to founding member and keyboardist Ton Scherpenzeel about the release of the record. Read the entire interview below…

Hi Ton! First of all, thank you so much for your time chatting with me about your new record, “Out of This World.” How are you doing today?

I’m fine. Here in Holland, the weather is beautiful at the moment. I’m doing interviews, making music, and having a walk later on, so it couldn’t be better.

You’re releasing your new album in a couple of months. How are you feeling about the upcoming release?

It’s as exciting as ever, you know… that really hasn’t changed since like ’73. Every album is like a little child that you give birth to and you want every child – I don’t have actual children but okay – to grow up well and enjoy… and well, that’s the same now. We are really proud of the album and we hope people will like it, it’s as simple as that.

If I understood correctly, you had a heart attack at the end of 2019. First of all, I hope everything is fine now…

Yeah, I think so, but you never really know. [laughs]

Well, that’s good to hear! I was actually wondering what the timeframe was for this new record. Did you start writing this record before your personal health issues or did you take the whole pandemic as an opportunity to write new music?

Not for KAYAK no. We were actually in the process of preparing for a tour with THE FLOWER KINGS. I had a heart attack in October and we were planning to go on tour with them in December. After that, we would start recording the album and possibly have a release in September or October, last year. Then you know… my heart attack happened. What I’m basically saying is that all the material was finished, it was written. Then I took 3 or 4 months to recover, but then this whole weird corona pandemic started happening and it basically allowed us a lot of time to record the album.

Do you feel like having more time to record the album had some sort of an effect on the record as a whole or do you think not much changed?

I don’t think so, no. I think that more time doesn’t have to necessarily make things better because you start changing things that were good. It’s not always a good thing that you have too much time on your hands. Sometimes it’s good to finish it when it’s finished. In this digital time, you never really know when an album is finished and that’s a little bit of a problem. We needed the time because also we had to arrange recordings, we couldn’t get together and everybody recorded his own files and then sent them back and forth, so we needed the time.

Is that something that changed for you guys over the years – I don’t know how you recorded the albums previously? Are you one of those bands that does everything together?

No, usually we do everything separately, but there was more connection in the recording process. You know, for instance, I would go and meet the guitar player, play along with him and he would do his things at home, knowing what [he had to do]. Now, everything had to be explained by phone or by email and that made it a little bit more elaborate. I think it worked out in the end.

This is your eighteenth studio album. How do you feel KAYAK’s sound has progressed over the years and how do you feel “Out of This World” fits into your discography?

It’s always difficult to point out in your own music what has changed. I think I’m always trying to be as diverse as possible within the limits of the band, within the limits of KAYAK. I think the sound changes with every new band member joining. We’ve had several different singers, that’s the main change in the sound and that’s what really makes a change. Of course, you learn from your mistakes too and do things better next time, but every album for me is still an adventure, you never know what’s going to happen. You have to pick the right songs and decide when it’s finished. As I said, that’s the main problem these days, it’s never finished, you can always change something if you think a certain part needs a piano instead of a guitar, you just use a plugin. Back in the old days, if you started one way and you wanted something else, you had to do the whole song over again. Now, when you want to try a piano, you just check if there is a piano plugin. Then you try if it’s better or not, so it’s never really finished. That’s more difficult than it used to be. Other than that… I think there are still symphonic tracks on this album as there were on the first album, there are tracks that don’t seem to belong in a KAYAK tracklist, but I think they do. I like to variate and not make the same album every time.

For this album, your drummer is also listed as a songwriter; in fact, his songwriting debut. Can you tell us bit more about that?

Well, first of all, Hans came back. He was a member of the band after Pim Koopman died and well, then we disbanded… but then he came back and he brought an enormous energy back in the band, as we also had back together when we did concerts and we toured. I think you can hear that on this album. It’s really tighter, more like a band, even though it was recorded separately. You can hear more interaction on the album, but going back to “Traitor’s Gate,” which is the song we wrote together, I used a drum pattern that he is always playing when he is doing the soundcheck because it involved every instrument he has: hi-hat, bass, toms, whatever he’s having there, he’s playing it so that the engineer can adjust the knobs and make the sound better. Then, I said to him that it has a fantastic groove, I think I’m going to make a song of it. He said yeah that there’s a queue of ten people before me who have told him that. Nobody ever wrote something, so I thought I will do it, so I recorded ten or twenty bars of it during a soundcheck, took it home and I made a loop of it and I started making a song from it, so the drum pattern is from Hans and the rest is mine, but I acknowledge him as a co-writer because without him there would not have been “Traitor’s Gate.”

What did he think about the end result?

Oh, he loved it, yes. I’m glad. [laughs]

You also have a couple of different band members who are singing on this album. I think that one of the strong points of this album is that it sounds very consistent. Is that somehow important for you that it’s not super apparent that someone else is singing even though they can keep their own identity throughout the songs?

If you ask people – especially if you take the track “Waiting” – everyone says that’s not KAYAK. Every song we record is KAYAK, it just adds up to the whole everything of what KAYAK is, it just makes it bigger. I’m just trying to make an album as good as possible, with the best songs and the best vocalists on specific songs. This album is 70 minutes’ worth of material. It would be silly if you have three other people that can sing, not to ask them. You know, Bart is and will remain our lead vocalist, but we have other good vocalists in the band too. Why not use them? We have this flexibility within the band that we can change and take the songs that suit the singers. If a song is better suited for Marcel or for Kris we’ll do that, but of course, I keep in mind that Bart is the main guy, but it’s great to have this variation in the band and for me as a writer, it’s a big luxury.

As a writer, do you instantly know whose voice will fit the song best while you are writing? Is that something you decide at the very end?

Sometimes. Sometimes it’s clear that a certain vocalist has to sing it, sometimes I have to wait until the end and try two people and pick the best one. So it differs, every song is different in that aspect sometimes, especially what we did in “Writer’s Tale.” We took Marcel for the middle bit and then came back to Bart again, which gives it something extra. I love variation on one album! It has the danger of people asking themselves whether this still is the same band, but for me, variation is great, within a certain limit of course. You can’t play country or jazz, but within the KAYAK limits, I love the variation, we will always try to get that.

Now, you mentioned earlier about the song “Waiting” that some people maybe would think that it’s not a KAYAK song and I noticed that there were a lot of fans who commented on the music video that it reminded them of David Bowie, I was wondering whether that was one of your inspirations or was that a coincidence?

No [laughs], it’s just the way Marcel sounds. Especially on this song because he does two other tracks and there it’s less obvious, but this track somehow could have been sung by David Bowie. He has a voice that has the same sort of vibe, yeah, for me I love it, but people have to get used to it. Overall, you know the response was more extreme than to the usual KAYAK songs… the previous single “Mystery,” well that’s KAYAK, it’s very obvious and there’s no mistake and no question that it’s a KAYAK song. However, I love to surprise and we’ve always done that. If you listen to our rock operas there are so many tracks that don’t belong to the normal, typical KAYAK style, and yet it’s also a part of what KAYAK does.

With a band that’s so eclectic as yours, how do you pick the singles? Is that something the label does or did you instantly want “Waiting,” for instance, as a single because it would surprise fans?

Yeah, we started with “Mystery” because there would be no damage. We know that most KAYAK fans will like it, then I thought well, let’s just have a little surprise here and if there’s one track on the album that could be on the tracklist of the radio, I think that’s the one. I’m not sure it’s going to happen, but you can try. The week before the release of the album, we are releasing “Out of this World” as a single, which is totally different and it gets the people that were in doubt and panicking about what is this band going to do, we bring them back.

Speaking of that song, I think that’s my favorite track off the album. It’s also great that is works as an opener as well as it does. Can you tell more about this song and how it came to be?

Well, it’s very hard to explain… I still don’t know how I’m writing music you know. It’s as inspiration and finding the path of the song and let the song… I always have the feeling that a song partly – especially the lyrics – they write themselves. There’s only one way you can do it, sometimes it takes a lot of time to figure out which way it is. Well, lyrically it’s sort of an escape song, out of this mess we’re in, this could be all ages, not only now because of the pandemic, it could also be in war time, or medieval times or now. The longing to escape, to find a better place, to start over again. I don’t know if you know any other albums, before 2000, but in the end, I quoted one of our own songs, “Chance for a Lifetime,” because basically, that has the same subject. Only in “Chance for a Lifetime,” which is from ’75, there’s a sort of modern-day Noah and he takes a selected few people and animals in his own rocket and goes somewhere off in space. So basically, it’s the same idea of finding a better place and starting over again, so I thought it would be nice to quote a little line of that song.

Is that something you like to do, reference your older material in your new songs?

Usually not. This was especially some sort of an inside joke, not everybody will hear it, but people that know the old material, they’ll know. I don’t quote myself usually [laughs] if I do it’s unintentional, but this one is of course a little joke.

Overall, what sorts of other themes are present on this album?

The usual love songs, you know, problems in relationships, which is always a challenge to write about. If it’s all hunky-dory and perfect, there is no need to write about it, so you always need to find a conflict. Sometimes the themes are triggered by one line, like for instance, “The Way She Said Goodbye,” that was triggered by just that one line. I had that line and I thought it would be a great line for a song and from that line, you get the angle of the lyrics. It’s about an un-outspoken way of ending a relationship, no one says it has ended, but just the way she said goodbye, makes clear that it’s over. It also leaves something to the imagination, which is also very important in my lyrics, of course. In one layer it’s clear what it’s about, but there’s always a second or a third layer and people can also find their own things in it. I always like to leave that space and talk metaphorically, that gives the listener their own thing in it. They can hear and read what they want, even if it’s not about what they think it is, it doesn’t matter, it’s not what I put into it, it’s what they get out of it.

That’s also why the lyrics are always a bit abstract?

Yes, of course. If you take some lyrics are very clear like in “Under a Scar,” that’s about the myth of Electra. It’s a fantastic story if you know it, but it is about something else, it’s about revenge, which usually is a bad idea for people, you can’t avoid this, people are prone to want revenge for anything that has been done to them. That’s the theme underneath it and I use the legend or myth if you want because it challenged me too… to make some sort of mini rock opera. I love to do that musically, and of course, it’s a lot of puzzling with the lyrics and the themes and how to fit them in only 6 minutes, but I love doing that. It’s a challenge and if it works out well, which I think it does I’m happy about it. The themes are all over the place, a lot of it is about love of course, you know. [laughs]

The longest track of the album, “A Writer’s Tale” is over 9 minutes, is there any fun stories connected to the song or anything interesting you can share about it?

“A Writer’s Tale” was basically the one song on the album that I really had no idea where I was going. I just started with the starting theme and suddenly every time I had another thing that was added and I didn’t know where it was going. Usually, I have an idea that something has to return or you know, within the structure, but this one I started without any structure. I think everyone will think it’s sort of a surprising song, and of course, you know, the lyrics came later in this case, but it’s a strange one. Also, because it’s about a writer that has to kill his own personality, his character in his book, and because he is falling in love with her and it’s you know, it’s totally nonsense of course, but I like to play with these words. As always, there is a certain amount of truth in it, I love to play with the words and turn it into a song but it was a difficult one to write. On the other hand, as I said, I like surprises and this one especially was a surprise for myself.

When you write a song in that specific way at what point do you say this is enough this is where it should end?

Well, depends. This one… usually when a song is too long I cut the theme or I half it or whatever, but this one I didn’t really. However, I felt towards the end that it’s enough. I was already writing the words as well, so I thought well, it shouldn’t be boring, I have to keep the attention span and this is enough so we go back to the main theme of the beginning and so it’s back to square one, where he still has to find his character of the book. Anyway, that’s something I always like to do, go full-circle in a song in musical themes but also in lyrics. Yeah, I always try to listen to my songs as a listener, not as the one who wrote them and wonder whether it is still grabbing your attention or not. I mean I can’t speak for everybody, but I try to take a look from the outside in and the best way to do it is to let someone else listen to it. It’s so strange what happens when you think it’s great and then you play it to someone else and they say that it’s not good, it’s wrong. That’s very defining and it’s a very strange way of creating things that you need somebody else and they don’t even have to say anything, you feel it, you listen like him or her and that’s important in the way I’m writing, I’m always trying to listen as someone else. I cut myself in two.

You’ve been in this band since the beginning. Obviously, the music industry has changed over the years, since the beginning of the band. I’m guessing due to the pandemic, things might change a little bit more. How do you feel about the future of music and live music more specifically?

I don’t know, I have no idea. I really hope it will go back to normal but the way things are at the moment it’s like there is no end to the tunnel and there’s always something around the corner and of course, more people with our professions are victims, especially in music. It’s like we have to keep ourselves busy and hope we can connect with fans through the albums or through the music, but there’s an important part missing and that’s when you go to play it live. It’s not finished, it feels like reading a book and the rest of the book is empty. I really hope… not only for commercial and financial things, but it’s part of music bringing it to the people and interacting with the audience and finding out what works and see them enjoy themselves and it’s a one-way street at the moment, which is well let’s hope for next year.

Yeah, I guess especially because you mentioned you love things to be full-circle, so this album can only be full-circle if there would be a tour?

Of course, as I’m saying this is like a book that has the first half is written and you think like oh what happens next and it’s empty, so it’s it doesn’t feel right and you can think of doing a streaming concert, but it’s not the same, it’s artificial and I’m glad the technical possibilities are there, but it’s like it’s not the way it should be.

So, I’m guessing that a streaming concert is also not optimal for you guys?

No, I think also you have to get the band together. You have to rehearse and what I find is that the longer you play together the better you are. If you do one concert stream, you have to practice and rehearse for a week, then start. That’s not going to work for us. We need at least five or six gigs to feel what we’re doing and it wouldn’t feel right for me, I’d rather wait until next year and hopefully get a good tour then.

Okay, let’s hope for the best! I hope to at least catch your next show if it’s going to be any time soon.

I hope so, we’re trying to organize it at the moment, but it’s difficult, let’s go for 2022.

Anyway, that’s it for my questions, thank you so much for your time. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans?

Thank you for coping with us [laughs]. No, thanks for supporting [us] and we are grateful for loyal fans, that’s what the band needs these days.

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