Name: Eelke Kleijn
Occupation: DJ, Producer
Current Release: "The Terminal" on DAYS like NIGHTS
Recommendations: Two of the most beautiful songs that I know are The Healing", by James Newton Howard from his score for Lady in the Water. And "Arrival of the Birds" by The Cinematic Orchestra. Both classical pieces, but in a modern film-esque way, which I find truly amazing.
Website/ Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Eelke Kleijn, his website and facebook profile offer more information as well as current tour dates.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started to get into producing when I was 16 or so. I was already interested in music from a young age onwards though. I don't know exactly what I was drawn to, but I remember always being quite excited about music. I got a double cassette deck for my 8th or 9th birthday and I used that to record mix tapes all the time. Then when I was 12, I started to take up piano lessons and not too long afterwards I started working at the same store where I had my lessons. At the time I was mostly into electronic music and I got introduced to mixers, Roland Groove Boxes such as the MC 303 and 505, and also Cubase. That's how it all started for me. I took home some equipment during the weekend and brought it back on Tuesday morning before the store opened.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I know that is also how it started with me. Before I produced my own tracks, I would always try to re-create songs on the MC 505 and make them sound as much as the original as I could. I became quite proficient at doing that. And still to this day I think every producer gets influenced by the music they listen to. When I hear an amazing song I instantly wonder what it is that makes that song so good. And sometimes you try to inject some of that into your own songs. That is the way music has been built on through the ages. Listen, learn and apply it in your own, original way. It's the only reason there are trends in music. Producers listen to what other producers are doing.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think my biggest challenge has and probably always will be the same. It is recognising when something is actually good enough to finish it. Confidence in an idea. I truly find that the hardest part of making music. From every 10 ideas you have, 9 can go straight into the dustbin because they are not good enough. Okay is not good enough for me any more. I need something to really stand out. And the ability to instantly recognise that 1 amazing idea when it comes along is something I find really difficult. I feel I am getting better at it though, also simply by knowing this is not my strongest point. I often have weeks now where I am just doing 1 or 2 ideas a day. I'll work an idea into a 30 sec or so track, and then I save, export and repeat. I find it easier to recognise these great ideas if I let them rest for a while. And after a month of working like this it's often easier for me to pick out the 4 or 5 ideas that I think are really good.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
It has grown over the years, actually the basis of my studio is still the same. I started making music with 1 computer and 1 synthesizer, the Roland XP 30. I started gathering more stuff throughout the years, I've always liked technology and whenever something new was released I was instantly interested. And there are periods where I changed certain aspects. Like 2 years ago I changed monitors and AD/DA. I'm also working on 3 synced computers now and I've greatly expanded my synth arsenal. Right now I feel like I don't need much more stuff though. I'm in the market for a new poly analog, and I want to buy a new acoustic guitar and maybe some more guitar pedals, but generally speaking I'm really happy with my studio. I haven't really bought anything in the last year. Some of my most important gear right now are without a doubt my monitors, Neumann KH 310A, and the acoustic treatment. People tend to overlook this, but I've easily spent as much on acoustics as on synthesizers. It's a hugely important but often overlooked part of any studio and if I was put on the spot, I would probably give away all my other gear to save monitors and acoustics.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I always like to follow technological advancements, when I grew up I was quite geeky and very proficient with computers. So I keep up to date with blogs and magazines like Sound on Sound to read about what's new in audio land. But at the same time my music has taken a more human and organic approach. I'm using more and more live instruments in my music, and a lot of my recent and upcoming works feature piano, guitar, etc. In an age where everything is electronic I am certainly drawn more and more towards organic sounds. Although I also got into modular last year, which in one way is as technical as it can get, but from another perspective it is something that cannot be controlled and has to be kept in order at times, not so different from more traditional instruments. I play and record it live a lot. And I love the fact that I can just build on it with weird little modules and make it sound like nothing I have heard before. I guess I am looking at both ends of the spectrum now. Trying to combine organic and traditional instruments with my electronic background.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
As a producer it really helps if your are proficient with your tools. I've been using Cubase as long as I can remember and I sort of know all the ins and outs of the program. When you have a bright idea, it's important to get it down quickly. If it takes you 5 minutes to get there, sometimes it doesn't seem that good anymore, or you just lose the magic of the moment. With any device, whether it is the computer or a synthesizer or maybe a drum computer, if you can do stuff quickly and know all the little tricks, it becomes easier to be creative. I really try to have a pretty decent understanding of everything I work with. That's why I revert to the same tools a lot. I do occasionally add something new that really takes time to learn. I start out from the very basics, integrate them into my production process. I don't want to spend hours learning a device, I want to be able to use it instantly. So I'll start out with simple things that are easy, and when something complex comes along I might google it and try it. I learn these new devices step by step, while integrating them into my production process and studio at the same time.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Nowadays I prefer to do collaborations with 2 or more people in the studio, just jamming away. We might start from a little basis that we worked on beforehand, but I feel the most interesting stuff happens when you are actually both working with your tools at the same time. I don't like to send music back and forth over the Internet. And also sitting behind a PC with 1 guy in charge doesn't really excite me at all. It's much more interesting to start jamming, you get inspired by what somebody else is doing and the whole track takes on a form that you couldn't have done by yourself. The only time I do a lot of sending back and forth is when I have someone else recording vocals on my track. I could do that here in the studio, but working with vocalists from all around the world, it's just easier to send stuff around. And a lot of those songs are sometimes sent out to more than 1 vocalist, just to see what they come up with and if it matches the ideas that I have.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I usually get up about between 7:30 and 8 am. My daughter has to be at school at 8:30 am, my wife takes her and I make breakfast. Then my day starts around 8:30 am with some emails, coffee and catching up on news and stuff. I go work out in the gym every other day, sometimes in the mornings, but sometimes in between studio sessions. So I'd work in the studio from 9 am – 1 pm. Go to the gym. Then do another session from 3:30 – 6 pm. Sometimes I go back into the studio after dinner in the evening when my daughter is asleep, but I might also practise guitar instead or I do another round of email. I usually stop working at 9 or 10 in the evening when my wife and I watch a few shows and we go to bed between 23.30 and midnight. When I'm on tour it's a completely different schedule of course, but these are pretty typical days when I am at home. My work sort of flows into family life, also because the studio is built at home. There's pros and cons to that, but I quite like it because it enables me to do a quick session in the studio whenever I want to. Feel inspired at 10PM? I just start everything up and 5 minutes later I'm writing down an idea.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
One of my recent tracks, "Home", is an interesting case for this. It features a quite prominent piano melody. This was the starting point of the track. I wanted to write a track with lots of positive vibes, that you could play at the end of the night as a closer or so. I specifically looked into writing a melody in major key instead of minor. The chords were done really quickly, it's not so different from a typical pop chord sequence. The rest of the track was just really based on top of that. I started out with the drums and bassline like I often do, just to get a bit of a groove going. The vocal snippets came quickly after that, and I started to experiment with my Moog and some guitars for the other layers. I often don't know how a track is going to sound beforehand. It's often a process of trial and error. You suddenly get an idea, you try to create that as best as you can, and unexpected little things happen and your idea changes. I would say inspiration as a whole is overestimated. It's 99% transpiration, try and repeat, try and repeat.