[Ed. Note — Audiophile is on a short hiatus. It will return on March 6. Until then, enjoy this story below.]
The creative sparks behind Dutch pop trio a balladeer ignited seven years ago when a young, openly gay vocalist named Marinus de Goederen was auditioning new guitarists and came upon a string man and music arranger “with the best ears for sound” he’d ever met named Erik Meereboer. They joined forces with drummer Tijs Stehmann and began writing hook-studded tunes highlighted by solid songwriting and storytelling.
They needed a name for their band but couldn’t find the title that best described their uniqueness. Then Marinus remembered the word “balladeer.” He had first heard it in a song and liked the sound of it, but even more, he appreciated the figurative meaning he attached to it: a bit of a drama queen. He wrote the word down in lowercase, placed a small “a” in front of it, and was pleased with what he saw. The unconventionally named a balladeer was born.
Though the trio keeps up with the times — “we’re on Twitter and Facebook a lot,” says Tijs — historical events play a significant part in their music.
“I have a tendency to romanticize the past,” admits Marinus, who writes most of the songs. “I’ve been accused of not living in the here and now, but I believe that only by studying society’s mistakes can we learn not to repeat them.”
Inspired by Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell, Marinus’s lyrics are personal, honest — many times with a healthy dose of melancholy. They tend to be short stories, mostly from the singer’s own experience. In fact, many of the tracks on their debut album, “Where Are You, Bambi Woods?,” are inspired by Marinus’ year spent as an exchange student in Texas.
It’s not all introspective musing, though. The title track is about the disappearance of porn star Bambi Woods (famous for her role in the iconic adult film “Debbie Does Dallas”); “Poster Child” is about the anti-gay murder of Matthew Shepard; “Nightmare on Elm Street” is told from Jackie Kennedy’s perspective about the day her husband was fatally shot; and, “Oh, California” is an ode to Joni Mitchell.
Supporting these thought-provoking lyrics are rollicking guitar riffs, earthy percussion and soothing harmonies that regularly earn a balladeer comparisons to the likes of Counting Crows, R.E.M., Keane and Coldplay.
“We don’t mind being compared to other bands,” Erik says. “People do that, so do we. When someone asks us to describe our genre of music, we say pop/rock with singer/songwriter influences.”
a balladeer made their debut live appearance in late 2006 at a club in Utrecht, Holland. “We were the support act for a Dutch band and experienced one technical failure after another that evening,” remembers Tijs.
“It’s not fun to be on a stage when things don’t go right,” Marinus adds. ”But those performances make the best memories.”
Not long after that trying performance, the band received a phone call from major record label EMI, requesting a demo cd. Unfortunately, after listening to it, the company brass felt they didn’t hear enough hit singles. The band was devastated…for a day. They regrouped and decided to record the album themselves.
When EMI executives discovered a balladeer had tapped a top producer, a well-known bass player and arranger Robert Kirby to record the demo, they asked if they could drop by the studio. The suits listened, ate and then left. At 2:00 a.m. that same night, Marinus received a text message: “We’re gonna do it.”
It took another year before they were finally signed. The band spent that time touring and cultivating an audience — one they describe as young (lots of students), 60 percent female and 40 percent sensitive males. They appreciate the occasional grey hair in the audience, as well. “When it is 4:30 a.m. and you’ve got grandma on stage partying with you, you know something works,” laughs Tijs.
The band’s mission now is to create its own beautiful oeuvre. That might not sound very rock ’n roll, but somehow it all works out in the end.
“The best moment is when a song I wrote with a broken heart turns out to be an anthem that everyone sings along to, with a beer in their hands,” says Marinus. “That’s when I truly do feel like a balladeer.” : :
This article was published in the Feb. 6 – Feb. 19 print edition.