Discover Eindhoven, The Netherlands in this catalogue of creative happenings

Twisting words and music

May 26th, 2011

Filed under: MUSIC

The language of music
The crowd prefers to dawdle outside on this unseasonably warm May evening, rather than come in and listen to the billed entertainment. This doesn’t dint the enthusiasm of Eindhoven band, Ape Not Mice, hired for corporate gig, Made. After the first set Mark Vrolings (31), drummer, looms so very tall over me, yet speaks softly and attentively about the band he started in 2008. The pretty lead singer, Diede Claesen (20), sweetly barges in on the rushed interview and says to him: “Just checking up on you! I want to hear your English!” she laughs teasingly. Language is a cornerstone for this group, which I’m about to find out. But first, the music.

From unearthing internet talent … to live gigs
“I was surfing youtube one day, and I came across Diede singing. I thought wow, she’s amazing. I contacted her to do a project together. Back then I had a couple of bands, but now Ape Not Mice is it. If you realise you have something worth pursuing, you just have to go for it.” Their commitment is delivering – quickly. Debut album Every stain tells a story was launched last week, they play at the Breda Jazz Festival next week and then the Jazz in Duketown event in Den Bosch and the Jazz Day in Rotterdam next month. The CD launch party is at Eindhoven’s Effenaar on 16 June. They’ve also just found an agent and are planning a national tour in the autumn. When asked how he’d describe their music, Mark says their brand is “positive music: jazz-pop.” Eep, sounds like it could be so chi-chi.

Better shows ahead
What do I hear this evening? Admittedly, it sounds like … positive, jazz-pop (or is it pop-jazz?). Diede has strong vocals and a confident presence. The adept rhythm section clearly enjoy playing live gigs. Their guitarist is new, and from where I’m standing he may possibly still be finding his feet. Regrettably, this Strijp-S former factory venue makes for rumbly acoustics, too-loud vocals, resulting in a high school band feeling. Their spattering of audience doesn’t help absorb the volume (I heard the band good-humouredly willing it to rain, whilst guests outside continued to enjoy the balmy night air). But, I’m a trained musician myself so I can see the technique – and more importantly, I’m an optimist. I am certain Ape Not Mice will deliver far stronger live performances in future.

Minimum audience, but the show still goes on

Solid technical basis – Tilburg Conservatorium
Emily Hermans
, Mark’s girlfriend and (self-confessed, sheepish groupie) says: “Because they’re conservatorium trained (Tilburg), they’re really at a more sophisticated level than just any old pop band. There are layers in the music and the lyrics.” Mark, former jazz student (percussion) at Tilburg, had initially wanted to form a “loungy jazz band”, but after recruiting ingenue Diede (also a Tilburg conservatorium student of jazz who will soon graduate), her artistic sensibilities guide the band’s direction. “Diede’s lyrics, melodies and writing are largely pop. So, we follow her.” It turns out she is, despite her youth and giddy charm, quite a powerful woman.

Dutch reading board (leesplank)

Words words words
And here’s why: Diede helped Mark come up with the name of the band – Ape Not Mice, which should be pronounced in Dutch “Aap, Noot, Mies.” This is to Dutch children what the “ABC song” from Sesame street is to generations of native-English speaking kids the world over. Aap, noot, mies was translated into the nonsensical English Ape Not Mice by Mark, who dreams of taking the band international on a “theatre tour” within the next 24 months. “First the Netherlands, then who knows, Japan or Thailand!”

Diede also writes most of the lyrics, and their debut album is about “the small things in daily life” (CD review coming soon!). Diede: “It’s positive music – but with a twist. The lyrics are never quite as positive as the music sounds. So it’s not your basic pop music, about hearts being broken, you know. You’ve got Larry the ‘girl magnet’ who turns out to be gay, or the boring dull guy who goes out wearing a glitter suit and feathers and isn’t bothered by what anyone says.” Diede has learnt her communication craft well. Her facial gestures speak volumes, both on and off the stage. Her body language on the podium demands she be watched (if there’s an audience). Diede opts for American-English diction, but if I’m honest, her occasional “de” in place of words starting with “th-” tell us she’s Dutch, making her all the more endearing. Which then makes me start thinking about Dutch composers writing lyrics in English.

Anglophones and anglophiles
“When I was little I had a lot of English friends, which is why I love the language so much. When I was about 13, I used to write stories in English, to explore the language. Because Ape Not Mice lyrics give a surreal touch to our songs, some (Dutch) people think we’re foreign, maybe British.” She says this with demure pride. As usual, I marvel at how Europeans are willing to bare their souls in their second language. Yikes, if I were to write poetry in Dutch, it would be riddled with errors and strange literal translations.

A jolly good adventure
I have to say, I am taken by this band and I’m proud they come from Eindhoven – even if this setting was not right to truly experience them. A couple of weeks ago I’d seen their Singing in the Sun video (above) on youtube from a Twitter link, and RT-ed them with my verdict of “super cute”. They’re brand new, and a little more polish wouldn’t hurt (not too much though!). What they have on their side are that they are open, creative, talented, fresh and fearless – a bunch of adjectives that together spell ‘adventure’. That’s a jolly good package to tell the world about, and Diede sums it up when explaining the origins of the album title, Every stain tells a story (which to me sounds like an English idiom gone slightly off kilter): “Stains are kind of nasty. But they can be romantic, too. Stains are proof of the adventures that have happened. The way we put melody and lyric together makes it jazz-pop that’s sort of … shady.”

Ape Not Mice are
Diede Claesen – Vocals
Mark Vrolings – Drums
Lodewijk van der Pol (what a fantastic name!) – Keyboard
Constantijn van der Heijden (this one too!) – Double bass
Bart van de Sande – Guitar

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