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See, the Danish band gets its name from the bus in Denmark that picks up mental patients and takes them to the institution. Had they not gotten out of Broenderslev, a rural area in Denmark 500 kilometers from Copenhagen and light years from civilization, the members of The Blue Van just might be wandering around the hallways of the loony bin with them trying to keep their hospital smocks tied in the back.
Thankfully, fortune smiled on Steffen Westmark, Soren Christensen, Allan Villadsen and Per Jorgenson. One day, when he was young, Villadsen found a Hammond organ on a farm close to his home. There were chicken feathers in it, but he got it to work. He also picked up, from god knows where, an old, German $200 Hofner guitar that gave off a distorted wail Dave Davies would trade his teeth for. And Jorgenson scored a Ludwig drum set from his school for $10.
Armed with their vintage instruments, the four kids from the sticks who worshipped the Rolling Stones and The Kinks and wanted to make howling rock 'n roll in the vein of the Small Faces moved to Copenhagen and set up shop in a garage that didn't have any heat.
That's the story of how they got here. Now, they're playing with Hot Hot Heat on a whirlwind U.S. tour. Now, will you get in?
LAS: How did you guys meet? Did you live in the same town and go to the same schools?
Christensen: We had already met in kindergarten. We all grew up in the same small area outside of Broenderslev and went to the same school.
LAS: What was it like growing there? Is it as depressing as it sounds or did you enjoy the rural life?
Jorgenson: I know that I enjoyed it very much, being a country boy. What sucked about it was the lack of culture - no clubs, venues or places at all to go and experience live music. If we were lucky, a cover band would play at the local bar.
LAS: When did the idea of becoming a band start to take hold and what were those early days like? How did the shows go and what kinds of places did you play back then?
Christensen: Me and Steffen started playing for fun after school in the 6th grade. Allan and Per joined further down the road as things began to take shape. The first shows were great fun. We would play the local youth clubs and talent competition.
LAS: How did living in that area affect how the band developed and what sort of practice space did you have?
Christensen: We used to practice in my grandmother's basement in the town. She was very hard of hearing so that wasn't a problem. She said it was great massage for her feet. Between songs she would bring us her homemade cookies.
LAS: Did you feel sort of sheltered from influences that might have negatively affected how you go about making music?
Jorgenson: Well, I don't really know, because we weren't that sheltered. There were other kinds of music, but we just developed our own way, and were successful at it. But sure we had peace to do it, nobody told us what to play or in what direction to go.
LAS: Was there any sort of scene you were able to latch onto or were you pretty much on your own?
Jorgenson: No scene, we were on our own. So for the first couple of years we played whenever and wherever somebody wanted us.
LAS: Where did you go to listen to live music or buy records? And what did you listen to growing up?
Christensen: Good music was very hard to come by. It was a luxury thing. Our classmates were into cheesy Euro-dance and we were into Jimi Hendrix and Cream. When a band finally played in our area it was usually us playing, though we did get the chance to see B.B. King when he played in a city near us. We all went together and it was great. We were 14 and 15 years old and that was our first concert experience.
LAS: To the uninitiated, what can people expect from the new record?
Jorgenson: They can expect a raw, clear sound, a lot of energy and enthusiasm, tuneful songs and a lot more!
LAS: Talk a bit about the recording process for The Art Of Rolling. The record sounds so wild and uninhibited. Listening to the album you get the impression that the studio sessions were kind of loose and free. Was it like that or was it regimented and ordered?
Christensen: With the budget we had things had to be in order in the studio. We didn't have money to fool around too much, though we would love to. Recording the songs was simple though. We wanted it live so we recorded all the instruments live all together at once. When we arrived at the studio, we would run through a couple of songs/covers to get in the mood and then start recording. That's actually how "I Want You" came about. We just did that one for fun.
LAS: What are some of the tools you guys use to get that vintage sound and was it easy to acquire them?
Christensen: We use tube amps and old drum kits to get the warm natural sound. We don't compromise on the keyboard section either. I play real organs and pianos, not keyboards or samplers. Vintage gear is quite easy to come by but prices can be high. We have made some good bargains though, finding great gear at our school and in the local yellow pages. In the area where we grew up nobody knew the value of vintage music gear. Except us!
LAS: Do you feel any affinity with bands like The Hives our Soundtrack Of Our Lives? I realize they aren't from Denmark, but your countries are sort of geographically close. Is there a reason bands from there have embraced rock music from that era?
Christensen: I guess people from that area just have good taste.
LAS: What is it about all those old records you love so much that makes them better than what's out there today?
Jorgenson: It's always an annoying question because I really don't think any of us thought about why we did love it so much. It was just great music and we didn't categorize it as being Sixties music. It just happened that the majority of what we listened to was made in that decade. Thinking about it, there are a lot of reasons, one of them definitely being the sound and the way they were recorded.
LAS: Because of where you grew up and how the band developed, do you think The Blue Van has that same kind of purity and purpose that drove them to make the music they did?
Christensen: I guess you could say that. We started to play music after school instead of working on the nearby farms or playing soccer.
LAS: Why did you pick the name The Blue Van?
Christensen: It's just a fun name that had a fun meaning and a story. Bands these days are too focused on just picking names that sound cool and hip. It needs to have a story behind it. Louis XIV for example, that's a great band name with a story behind it. I wish we had thought of that back in 1996. All the best to them though.
LAS: How did you join up with the Hot Hot Heat tour? Is it a good match?
Christensen: We played with them in Virginia. They were really nice lads and they liked what we did. They are a great band. I think it's a good match because we are a bit different but still share the same kind of audience and ideas.
LAS: What are your impressions of American audiences? How are they different from those in Europe?
Jorgenson: They are more into it and in general more open. They react to your show and feed you back. If they don't like it, they'll also let you know right away, which we think is great. It makes the show more vibrant.
LAS: Do you think America is ready for the kind of throwback rock The Blue Van plays?
Christensen: Hell yeah!
LAS: Why is that? Is it the success of similar bands?
Christensen: I think people are ready for real rock bands now. They have had the three-chord garage bands and the fashionable new wave rockers. We need bands with good musicians that play well together and master their instruments - not in the masturbating Berklee music college way though! When we do live shows I can feel that the audience is really into to our extended jamming and soloing. SEE ALSO: www.thebluevan.com
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.
See other articles by Peter Lindblad.
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