Interview with Tom de Wit of TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc.
Recently, TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. released their latest album The Antithetic Affiliation, an album that managed to impress DPRP reviewer Jerry van Kooten a great deal. (Read the review here.) After that we wanted to know some more about the man, the band, the music.
Hey Jerry! Thanks for your time and the wonderful review! It honestly, means a lot.
You're welcome! Well, the album deserved it, I really like it. A few weeks later and I still mean every word I wrote.
So, What is this project's origin? How did you come up with musical ideas the storyline, etc?
After releasing the album Music To Stand Around And Feel Awkward To in 2014 and going through the whole press circus for that, I was on a personal crossroads of sorts. I don't want to go into too many details, but there were multiple events that confused me, brought me anger and mostly sadness.
And as I tend to do when things like that happen to me, I started writing about it. Writing music and/or words about it, mostly works better than talking about it. The first song that "happened" to me, was Lest We Forget. It started with a 20 second snippet of very violent and angry music and I originally wasn't even sure what it was for. I thought it was too harsh and angular for the TDW sound. However, my good friend Lennert Kemper (guitarist, also bandmember of ReSolve) convinced me that I could perhaps write some new TDW material about my own emotions as opposed to just writing metaphysically. So I basically started jotting down all my frustrations and that led to the first pieces of music.
It's a big misconception regarding my music in the past that everything was about me. Sure, I write from my own point of view and my own opinions and emotions are in there, but often I would create a fictional character that would go through a story. Looking inside and actually writing about myself being hurt, was a whole new challenge in itself.
I am very interested in psychology and how the human brain works in regards to emotions, so I tried to put my frustrations into a context that reflected that. That is how Lest We Forget became this five-part monster. The five parts are, in a way, the phases of mourning and that's what came out.
Then, once I got rid of my frustrations, I started writing another new song, which suddenly was extremely hopeful. That was Anthem. Only then I realized, that these two songs, had nothing to do with one another, haha! So we released Anthem as a separate song in 2015 and I kinda just thought that was that.
Pondering the connections between those two songs, I realized that the contrast might just be a defining element. So I started composing more music and the other songs came out relatively quick. Within a few months after starting Lest We Forget, the rest of the album came to be and the concept of "contrasts between light and dark and hope and despair" seemed to be the main theme running through the album. It is kind of funny that the last song I finished, was The More We Remember which gives a nice set of bookends to this albums' process. Start with an epic and end with an epic.
How did you find your band members to perform this music with?
I have a pretty broad network of musicians around me by now. I have been doing this since I was 15 and I generally like meeting new people, so getting touch with musicians is relatively easy. Also being in Mind:Soul for years and playing with many other bands during that time helped out quite a bit. However, finding my own band members was a bit of a lucky coincidence.
It started with Lennert who joined me on the last record, Music To Stand Around And Feel Awkward To, who kept telling me that if I would ever play the TDW music live, he wanted to be my guitarist. Hanna played the violin solo on the song Butterflies from that same album, which really brought the song to a new level. She also expressed interest in a live band.
When I started writing synths and orchestrations with Vincent Reuling (synths & backing vocals) he also expressed interest in performing live. Then I bumped into Peter at a festival I worked at and he admitted that he was a "closet prog lover" who would love to come out and play as well. Then quickly afterwards we found our first drummer Rik and we had the first line-up together that played acoustically at Progpower Europe in 2016.
After that first performance, it became clear that it didn't work out with Rik, time-wise, so he decided to leave the band. Then we found Kenneth Martens for the drum position and attracted Joey Klerkx (rhythm guitars) and Norbert Veenbrink (guitars) to round up the line-up. It has been just a long list of coincidences happening, really.
It's truly a gift to have this group together now, because these wonderful invididuals are all different and have their own personalities, but together we really feel like a tight-knit group.
What were your prime influences while recording this album?
My tastes in prog have broadened and become more weird over the years. Looking at the influences on this album, it really goes from Van Der Graaf Generator and Gong to stuff like Between The Buried And Me and Protest The Hero. Classical music has always been a big influence, because I adore string ensembles and the power that a brass section can provide. I tend to love the dramatic Germans and Russians like Mahler, Rachmaninov and Tsaikovski. Big sounds with dramatic undertones just make me happy for some reason, haha!
Then again as a contrast, I am also still a big fan of pop music like Toto, Queen, Dire Straits and the likes. I love a good chorus and especially with prog music I think the hooks in music are of major importance. Sure, you can go batshit crazy with a million notes and all sorts of musical exploration, but in the end even us proggers do like to have a good melody line stuck in their head once in a while.
Regarding my lyrics and way of writing, I must say that I am a bit of a barbarian I guess. I know people who read a lot of books like my girlfriend for example, but reading books for me is something of a nightmare task. With me being an HSP [Highly Sensitive Person], I tend to get distracted too quickly. I read four sentences and then I hear or smell something and BAM there goes my focus and I have to start over. This is annoying, because I do like learning about new stuff.
I did force myself unto books that I found interesting (mostly non-fiction stuff about history and psychology) but I tend to prefer articles and audio books. On the audio book front I am a huge fan of Steven Fry's work as a narrator. He could read me Tolstoi's War and Peace and I would probably not notice it being that long, haha!
How did the process of composing, arranging and recording take place?
As always, I start composing by writing basic structures in my studio. I started building this studio when I was 15 years old and now I am at a point that I can basically produce and write anything I want in a quality that is acceptable on a professional level. Some people called me a fool for even trying to create something like this in the beginning, but I persevered and now basically have the luxury to make something if I feel like it. My studio is called The Imagineering Suite and it's basically my workplace for creating audio, video and webdesign. End of commercial break!
For me writing music is something that kind of happens to me. Because of the way my head works, there is always ideas, questions, thoughts, and patterns raging inside of my skull. So when I sit down with an instrument or a musical programming tool, something will come. I cannot remember ever having a moment when nothing came out. So when I started writing this album, I often started with guitar riffs and then added drums and bass to it to form a foundation. Then I decide whether a piece needs keys and orchestrations or not and then I start writing the words. The music always comes first, which might be a bit weird considering I am a singer, but the words really come last. They are very important though, so it happens that I have to change the music afterwards to support the words better.
Another thing with my own studio is that I can basically arrange and produce right from the beginning. A multitude of guitars on the album were already present in the first versions. I want to get it right immediately. I understand why others need a demo process to fine-tune songs, but I prefer to just get the basic building blocks as tight as I can right away. It helps in visualizing the final product in my opinion.
How do you think you've progressed with this album compared to the previous ones?
It’s kind of hard for me to make that analysis. When you look at your own material, you will always be biased and have a coloured view on things. In my case, the colouring tends to be a bit darker in general, mainly because hearing your own songs a million times is not exactly an experience you would wish upon anyone, haha! Don’t get me wrong, I love these tracks and am proud of them, it’s just that the experience of production and mixing can be a bit tiring and that you sometimes need to let go of songs for a while to truly appreciate them for what they are.
But I do think this album as a whole brings the TDW music to a new level in terms of diversity. This album boasts some of the most intense and dark stuff in terms of metallic riffing, dark vocals, and dissonance, as well as some of the most poppy and accessible stuff I have ever written. If you would play a song like Lovesong to someone and then play them the intro from Lest We Forget, some people might not recognize they're on the same album. That's a good thing, in my opinion. I like music that challenges the listener in a good way. I also like music that takes the listener on a journey and I think that with this album, the musical journey has become a more diverse, intense and rewarding one.
I used to think that the TDW sound was mostly an accessible type of symphonic metal with progressive influences. As the years go by, it feels like this is shifting and my newer material gets more freeform and less traditional in terms of song structures and ideas. A song like Aphrodisia has its catchy hooks and chorus-like moments, but has a weird structure that is free from the “verse-chorus-verse” format that I used to follow more when I was younger.
You also learn that more things are possible, like demonic voices, dissonant orchestra parts, weird electronic sounds, and influences from different backgrounds. I tried to open up my musical canvas with this album and I hope that that is also apparent to those who have been following TDW throughout the years.
My review mentioned the difference between cold technical prog and music from the heart, and how, to me, this album sounds like there is more heart than mind in it, which made it sound so good to me. What do you think?
I think that is an interesting observation. I never made a secret out of my high sensitivity and how that influences my music, so I think that “heart” element will always be present no matter what direction my music goes. Like you mentioned in your review, there’s genuine emotion in here and not the type that feels like: “And now the violins start and you need to cry because the writer/director told you so”.
Balancing that sense of anger, sadness, or emotional heaviness with a musical approach that sounds genuine is an interesting challenge, especially in the symphonic prog framework. I like to face that challenge every time I write a new song. I am deliberately trying to stray from the “big emotional sweeping matters” that some symphonic bands seem to fall for, because it kind of feels cheap to me. There’s a lot of clichés in music and you cannot avoid them completely, but I do think it’s important to be aware of them and work around them if possible.
If someone actually feels the emotional message within this music, it means that they either are in sync with my own emotions or have taken the time to sift through the layers of intensity that I throw at them and got to the core of it. In the end every note of my music is written from the heart and I know that I write technical stuff, but it’s never written by thought, always written by the compass of my emotions.
Regarding that technical aspect, I think the reason why my music tends to be angular and weird, is that my thoughts and emotions are like that. My brain is all over the place really. So when writing music, I can’t just write a “straight metal song” because that would not represent the nuances of my thoughts. I know that that severely limits my audience and “sellability” in this musical world, but honestly it’s about expression. I would rather have 10.000 fans worldwide that “GET IT” then millions of fans who just want to hear the hit single…
What are your plans with this line-up regarding rehearsing, live shows, and writing new music?
Right now we are working on setting up a tour to promote the album in early 2018 and then our whole circus will go out on the road to play this crazy music. That is the main plan and I am excited about that! We got a little taster of this live experience by playing our album release show on the 2nd of June in Fort33. That was quite an experience indeed. It showed us that we have something in our live show that not every prog band has. I think the video we released for Aphrodisia is a good example of that energy we shared on that night.
Early 2018 might sound a tad far away for a tour, but there is a good reason for that. Our drummer Kenneth got an amazing offer for his working career abroad this year and we fully endorsed him in that adventure. We are not a band who can live off our music, so sometimes life happens like that and we can accept it. Sure, it’s annoying that we cannot tour right now, but on the other hand we can now spend time on promoting this record and doing things to be well prepared. And then, once Kenneth returns, we can go out in full force and do it right!
Next to that, we are working on some special shows to end 2017 with, but I cannot say too much about those yet. They will not be full on metal shows, but a more ambient experience and we will be performing that with the seven of us that are here. All I can say is that you can expect the unexpected!
Besides the gigs we are working towards, we try to get the band together as much as we can. It is very hard with eight people to have all schedules synced. Everyone has their own lives and things to work around, so we are doing our best, but can’t always see each other as much as we would like to. Fortunately, we are all very driven and dedicated, so we do take our time to rehearse and practice at home and are all in touch via Whatsapp, Facebook, etc. and keep the passion going even if we can’t see each other every week for rehearsal.
Regarding new music and new releases, the idea is that I will still be the main creative force that brings in concepts and ideas, but now I will include the band in that process as early as I can. So once I have a first demo, I will share that with them, so they can get a feel for the songs and I can tell them what they can change to make it better. That way we still have a streamlined way of working with a clear vision behind it, but that way the band members can still add their own flavour to it. We are working on a few projects below the surface right now, which we can hopefully share as this year progresses. All band members are involved in those things as well.
What do you think of the prog and metal world of today?
If one thing, the progressive metal genre has grown and broadened since its start in the late 80s and now we are on a point that basically everything is possible musically. Bands like Mastodon and Gojira for instance prove that metal and prog can be perfectly combined and many more bands are pushing the genres limits. There’s more extreme and intense music out there, but also a lot more melodic material as well. I am glad to be considered a part of a genre that ranges so many sounds and emotional possibilities.
I do have a bit of a gripe with how genres are defined and how certain group mentalities work. Both in the prog and metal communities are some very loyal, but also very conservative listeners who have a very distinct vision of what is prog and/or metal and what is not, and everything that doesn’t tick those boxes is shit. I don’t get that line of thought myself. If music is well done or if it tickles your heartstrings, to me that is what matters. That is why I can equally enjoy Michael Jackson or Toto’s songs next to Archspire or Frank Sinatra or Rachmaninov.
I sometimes hear fans say that there is not enough diversity or bands that break boundaries these days. My first response to that is: “Have you actually put any effort into discovering some new music then?” The most common answer is NO, because they are either lazy or have no idea where to start. Discovering new music is something that takes time and effort. Sure, there is a lot of downright bad music out there, but I discovered some wonderful bands purely by searching for new music. It’s there, you just got to put effort into it.
Finally I think there is a role for the press and the labels in this as well. Thanks to the power of online media, new bands have more places to promote themselves and show their stuff. More and more webzines are understanding that role, so more people get to find new music. This is a very good development in my opinion and a good way to counter that mentality I mentioned earlier.
However, when you look at the written press and the bigger labels, everything still seems to be fixated on the “big names that sell”. I understand that big bands sell well, but if you want new bands to take the flame and become as big as those, you also have to invest in them and give them time. By giving the same bigger bands the exposure and perpetuating these bands and not giving new acts a chance, it’s much harder to find a new audience for those newer bands. So in a way, I think the online media and the younger labels should guide the way and show the “old media” and the bigger crowd to where the good new music is right now. It’s a tough job, but it’s a good fight to fight.
And hey, in the end, all real good things in life take effort and perseverance, so as a younger or not completely established band you also have to work hard to gain that attention. Nothing wrong with working hard to achieve your goals in the end, I reckon.