When I round the corner into the street where I live, a bit later than usual, three men are crossing the street right in front of the car, into the direction of my house. I’m really late, but these three, members of Feedforward are early. A bit later, over coffee, I find out that they left home early, in case they have trouble finding the address.
With my wife out for the evening, and the kids in bed, we dive into the history, present and future of this Dutch band, that proudly but involuntarily wears the label of progressive symphonic metal act.
The band’s three representatives are co-founder and guitarisg Mario, keyboardist Job and bass player Jan. We agreed to do an interview a few months ago, after a great concert of Feedforward, Carthago and Sun Caged at Dynamo Eindhoven, where Feedforward announced they were negotiating a record deal. This record deal was closed shortly after that, with the first result being a re-release of the independently released debut album Barefoot & Naked through Rusty Cage Records, only two days before the interview took place (May 13th, 2008).
For the occasion, we decide the scope of the interview will be to create an overview of who Feedforward are, where they come from and where they are heading as a band. As such, Mario kicks off with a brief history.
Mario, Job and Jan
“Feedforward was formed out of the remains of another band that I played in, together with our current drummer Pi and former bass player Arjon. We also had a singer, but he didn’t ‘have it’ – so we started looking for a replacement. One night, my long time friend Biejanka slept at my house after a party. When she heard me playing my guitar in the morning, she started singing, and it was far from bad…”
There’s a bit of laughter as I remark “and so we’ve heard‘”…
Mario continues: “…The singing was good, things clicked with the band members and our musical tastes aligned as well. As a result, we ended up as a metal band with a femal vocalist.
Two years and two demos later, we decided we wanted to move into a more symphonic, or if you will progressive, direction and started looking for a keyboardist. Soon, we found Job lying in a ditch…”
Job: “Yes, I was left in there by another band. I had played with Pi before, so he gave me a call, and it clicked immediately”.
“… After Job joined, our bass player Arjon also left the band, he wanted to play more straight forward rock music. Through ‘muzikantenbank’, a musicians job service, we found Jan. In the mean time, we had been recording material already, but…”
BAREFOOT & NAKED
Jan: “Most of the material on the CD was there already, but I wrote my own bass lines and rerecorded them.”
Jan also explains the “Rutger, thanks for the bass” message in the CD booklet. “Rutger is a friend of ours who, at the time, had a 1978 Fender Jazz bass that I used on [titel], because it has a better sound and sustain for such a ballad. It’s not like I didn’t have a bass and had to get one to join Feedforward.”
The cover photo of the album
Job and Mario here explain that the CD was recorded in two sessions at the same studio. “Initially, the idea was to create another 5 track demo, but we had won some studio time in a contest – in the same very studio we were already using. After recording the first part, the demo part, the studio was closed for renovation. After it reopened, we continued, added a few more tracks to make it a full CD, and rerecorded Jan’s bass lines. The result was Barefoot & Naked.”
Jan: “I wrote my own bass lines on existing material, but Stop to Think was the only track I was really involved in”.
When asked if a full CD had always been the goal, the band members become very serious and realistic. Mario voices their opinion: “Of course it is nice to be succesful, but if you choose to create progressive rock music, you are fooling yourself if you think you can live of your music tomorrow. We want to have fun, create our own music and play as much as we can. Playing live anywhere we can is more important than selling CDs at the moment. It is hard enough to get gigs though, being not too well known, and playing this type of music. We’re happy if we can play, even if we have to accept that we play in small venues for limited time and with limited equipment.”
Jan: “A place like Rambler in Eindhoven is great for that, and even better, we always manage to sell CDs at such gigs.”
COMPOSING THE MUSIC
Then we venture into the audience the band is trying to reach. As to be expected, their main audience is simply defined as ‘the people that like to here the style of music we like to play’. However, as Job expresses, “we do write our music with our audience in mind. It’s no use writing and playing stuff that is technically complicated because that makes us feel good as skilled musicians. The music has to be enjoyable to listeners as well. That’s why we don’t play high tech symphonic metal, but rather a mix of metal and rock.”.
Jan adds to that: “We do things that are ‘weird’ within these structures, like switching to a different key, or time signature to bring tension to the music. especially in some of the instrumental breaks, but at the same time we make sure certain melodies return,
and we often use standard pop/rock structures for our songs, with chorus/verse alternations and small bridges, to make the music
Job agrees – “this tension is what makes the music interesting to listen to
Songwriting is a band effort
After a bit more discussion on this topic, we all agree that there is a difference between music that is written to be enjoyed for the ‘feel’ of it, and music that is written based on technical skill of the musicians performing it. If The Flower Kings and Dream Theater are an example of the latter, Feedforward is looking for it’s place in the former, while at the same time keeping a progressive and symphonic edge.
The bottom line is, as Mario explains, if the band here’s back their music, they should feel that if they were fans they would buy the
This immediately puts focus back on the desire of the band to play live. “Having a few shorter tracks, with recognisable choruses and bridges returning is very important when playing live. It keeps the audience attentive. Also, having only 12 minute songs is impractical for us – we often only have a limited time to play during gigs, and we don’t want to play only two or three long tracks. Still – we have some 12 minute tracks ready for the next album.”
Mario explains: “We compose our songs as a band, often based on ideas that one of us brings in. We have never used the model where one person brings in a fully composed track that the others have no say in. That’s not how we work, and it is likely less fun than writing together – and it’s always fun to discover something that becomes the basis of a song.”
At this point, Job interrupts: “The piano ballad (Our Sky)is a good example. The piano part I intended to be the basis for a more complex track, that the others could add to, but all that was added were Biejanka’s vocals.”
Mario: “That’s true. When we get together for rehearsels, we always spend a bit of time on tuning and warming up. One day, Job was playing this piano melody, and Biejanka simply started singing and the song was born.”
Going back to the statement that the songs are written toward the audience – how does the band feel about that one review on the live4metal web site that calls the song 143 a 70’s prog song?
The band agrees – the song is a bit Yes alike, even though the guitar plays a metal riff. Job explains that the combination of this riff, with an organ putting in a few different accents gives a 70s prog feel. Jan adds that all band members are influenced by 90s
progressive metal, but also 80s music, thrash metal and old prog. That can be heard in small things in each individuals playing style.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, Biejanka listens more to male than female singers.
This brings on a whole different issue: Feedforward is a band which happens to have a female vocalist, it’s not a female vocalist fronted band. A small but important difference. Comparisons with the bands like Within Temptation, Epica, Evenesance are not really appreciated by the band. It’s different music altogether, but despite that it even happens that the band is advertised as Gothic by venues. They’re used to it, but is a disadvantage in some cases. A small anekdote about a venue owner makes the guys laugh though: when asked about what he thought of their CD, he clearly indicated that he didn’t have a clue. His answer was “I didn’t really like your singer”, using the male word for singer in Dutch. He clearly hadn’t listened to the band he invited to play.
On a side track we venture into Biejanka’s past. Before Feedforward she played bass guitar in a band called Urban Kin, and sang on a track on one of their albums. Urban Kin had split up around the time Feedforward needed a singer, which helped getting her on board.
When we venture back into the arrangements and compositions, Mario and Jan conclude that working together on creating music, and then being able to sell CDs and getting positive feedback makes it all worthwhile.
This brings us to the sudden interest of Rusty Cage Records.
THE RUSTY CAGE RECORDS DEAL
Mario: “As we’ve explained, we created the Barefoot & Naked album based on original demo plans and the studio time we won in the
contest. We spent a lot of time and money on balancing the sound and making it in a real CD.
Then we started selling it, but about half of the 500 copies we made were given away and mailed to radio stations and A&R people to get attention. Nice to see was that out of the 50 reviews we got, only two were really negative. We were very modest about what we did, but this feedback brought us requests to come over and promote ourselves.
At some point, a radio disc jockey told us he was friends with the friend of one of the Rusty Cage Records founders. He send the CD to that person, and suddenly Rusty Cage called that they wanted to re-release the CD internationally.”
Jan adds that it was quite surprising that a record company offered to re-release an already released album. An as Job fills in: “Another interesting experience here is that we were already completely addicted to new material we were working on, and not on the CD. Questions like ‘if people like the CD, will they also like the new material’ come into play then.
Whether or not a new album will be released through Rusty Cage will become clear later this year. Rusty Cage started as a label that re-released old Dutch metal CDs, then moved on to new bands, and Feedforward is the first progressive metal act on the label. If this works out fine for both parties, a new album may be released through the label.
The first results are visible already – the band was invited for the first time ever to play on a CD tradeshow.
The work on new material has started, the next few months can be used for polishing.
PLAYING LIVE – DIFFICULT, BUT WE WANT MORE
Apart from working on new material, Feedforward wants to play live as much as possible. Attempts to play at festivals like Headway and Symforce have not succeeded so far, and the same applies to ProgPower
Although making money from gigs is not always necessary, money is what gets in the way. A good example is Headway, where the band had a chance for 2008, but only if the festival made money in 2007. Apparently they didn’t, “because we didn’t hear back from them”, according to Mario.
“Another example is paying for gigs. We don’t have to make a lot of money from it right now, but we want to break even whenever we can, so we don’t pay to play. Sometimes that works against us. We made arrangements to be support act for Queensrÿche when they played in The Netherlands a few months ago. Just before final arrangements were made, a week before the gig, we were cancelled. Another band had paid 600 euro to play, and we were left empty handed.”
Job: “Another band recently paid to play as support act for Vandenplas, at the wrong time
– probably a Sunday evening and ended up with a 20 person audience. It’s a risk in that sense as well”.
“On a different note”, Jan brings in “It’s fun to play even at smaller festivals, because of the very interesting mix in the audience. You see old people, young people, metal fans, old prog heads and so on. I saw that for example with Porcupine Tree audiences.”
Mario adds that Porcupine Tree is a good example that more complicated music is getting attention again, regardless of the terror of MTV and it’s alikes. “I saw them play at the Dutch Bospop festival for 20 people a few years ago, and now they are at the n-thousend visitors Pinkpop festival.” (Where Rush played as well, in 1979 – Angelo)
A short discussion on popular music starst as Jan adds: “I think people that grew up with bands like Pink Floyd for example have a broader taste in music. That taste was not satisified by radio any more, and with the current prog revival, they take the iupportunity to go to bands like Porcupine Tree, which is good for those bands, but indirectly maybe also for us.” Mario agrees, pointing out the difference between moderen ‘pop’ and the diversity of the 80’s and 90’s. Job concludes that it is shocking to see how few real bands are to be found in the charts these days. “Most of the artists sing some professional composers song, using a backing tape or a set of
session musicians. Almost none of them write their own music, and I see a bit of a need with listeners to more variety”.
By this time, we spent more than an hour talking already, and decide to move back to the band and talk a little bit about the future. What is Feedforward working toward?
An easy target for Mario, backed by his band mates: “We want to set up a bit of organisation around the band. We’re looking for a booking agency to get us gigs, and maybe a few more people to organise things for us. All of us still have full time jobs outside the band, and we want to focus on the music instead of the organisational stuff. I have to go after gigs myself, and that is very time consuming and often
frustrating. If interviews like this help us find someone that would be great.”
After a bit of silence, he adds: “Besides saving time, it may also be more effective. I don’t have a clue how often we don’t get a gig because we have to promote ourselves. What would you do if you owned a venue and I called, saying ‘we are Feedforward, book us because we are a great band’? Having someone else say it likely is more convincing.”
When discussing promotion a bit further, illegal downloading also comes up in the discussion. The band members see the problem that bands like e.g. Pendragon have with it, but legal downloading may also reach audiences that never buy CDs because they don’t see them. Jan brings up the issue of mutual respect here: “Dream Theater allows fans to bootleg as much as they want, but when they tell them not to make
recordings at a certain gig because they are shooting DVD material, their fans respect that. Apparently that works as well….”
This brings up a small anekdote. “Four years ago, we made a CD single version of “Stop to Think”, which is now also on the album. Most of the CDs ended up as give-aways. A few months ago however, I came across one on eBay, being sold for 45 euro.”
Finally, the band has taken a turn to cooperating with other bands when it comes to gigs. After being introduced to each other by yours truly, Feedforward and German prog metal act Sunpath managed to arrange a combined gig in Stuttgart on September 12th. Also, playing with Sun Caged a few times has worked pretty well for both bands. This type of cooperation wil continue. Job: “We have
learned from the past though – once we played with The Gathering and most of the audience came to see us, the support act. After we played, those people went to the bar and The Gathering and it’s fans were a bit annoyed about that. Discussions on some web forums ran for months about that evening. Oh well…”
With Rusty Cage distributing the album internationally, with especially a strong focus on Germany and France to start off, the band is hoping to be able to establish their name especially in Germany. I can only support them in that, a market outside The Netherlands, for gigs as well as albums gives them a better chance to survive, and us to enjoy it.