Next Wave #908: Lewsberg
Lewsberg are a band who revel in doing things in their own, understated way. Hailing from Rotterdam, in The Netherlands, the four-piece – Arie van Vliet (guitar and vocals), Michiel Klein (guitar), Shalita Dietrich (bass), Dico Kruijsse (drums) – are very much the product of their idiosyncratic hometown, a place van Vliet describes as having “room for everyone, no matter how poor or ugly or strange,” and containing “a lot of functionalism, a lot of concrete, a lot of things and people without frills.”
Such an outlook also extends to their name. Taken from writer Robert Loesberg, a cult local author whose work was famously nihilistic and disillusioned, it’s reflective of van Vliet’s somewhat weary world view. “‘It is what it is’ is a phrase we use a lot in the band, and in Rotterdam,” he explains. “You can call that nihilistic or disillusioned, but at the same time it can be very comforting and freeing as well. I don’t prefer nihilism to something valuable, it’s just that people have been talking about valuable stuff so much and for so long that they don’t seem to care about unimportant things anymore. I like to shine a light on ordinary things.”
Those “ordinary things” are the focus of their laconic lyrics, van Vliet picking over banal, everyday scenarios and casual encounters with a deadpan shrug and big city cynicism. Documenting the humdrum and mundane leaves plenty of room for interpretation, but while the band are happy to play up such deliberate ambiguity – “listeners should figure things out for themselves,” says van Vliet – they’re quick to shy away from the notion that there’s anything profound or universal buried in their songs.
“I’ve always found it rather implausible when people started singing about their inner feelings and deepest thoughts,” explains van Vliet. “I prefer talking about these subjects. Making music to me is just a form of art, and we all know that art has been completely defused nowadays.” Certainly, the languid two and three chord chugs that make up their debut record – released this February via Cargo Records – are far from incendiary or provocative, but that’s all part of their charm.
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Their music recalls the likes of The Velvet Underground, Modern Lovers, and Television, a lo-fi college rock rumble that’s arty yet sedate, stuffed with outsider cool and insouciant strumming. But while they borrow certain elements from the past, they still sound utterly modern, a not inconsiderable trick to pull off. And as Klein notes, there’s an important distinction to be made.
“When Arie and I started talking about forming a rock band, we agreed early on that rock music is an old-fashioned concept, not that different from jazz or classical music, and we embraced this idea,” he says. “To us, that’s something completely different from being ‘retro’, where it’s really important to follow certain rules or characteristics of a particular style or genre. We’re not interested in that at all.”
What they are interested in is simply following their own instincts and pleasing themselves. All four are deeply immersed in Rotterdam’s underground music scene and involved in numerous other musical projects – another factor that explains their apparent nonchalance.
Yet there’s a fierce intelligence behind their work as well as a defiant sense of pride, in both the city that defines them and the way in which they operate – something that even the defiant march of modernity can’t dent.
“Rotterdam is gentrifying very quickly,” van Vliet says. “So I feel less and less attached to the city. This ‘spiritual home’ will soon only exist as a concept in our heads. But I don’t want to hide in a beautifully constructed fantasy. I want to face reality, no matter how troubled.”
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Lewsberg play Best Kept Secret in The Netherlands this week, End Of The Road Festival in August, and will tour the UK this autumn.
Words: Derek Robertson // @DerekRocks
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