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Interview: Thijs Kuijken (I Am Oak)
Under the moniker of I Am Oak, Thijs Kuijken has been making stunning music for some time now. However, it wasn’t until recently, when the Utrecht-based singer released his UK debut album Nowhere Or Tammensaari, that we discovered his sensational talents. We recently had the great fortune of talking to Thijs about the record, his musical memories and his recently-released photobook, Woander…
How pleased are you with the reaction so far, to your debut album Nowhere Or Tammensaari?
Let me begin by clarifying that this is not a debut, far from it actually. Although, you might consider it a debut, in the sense that it is the first album officially released in the United Kingdom. Reactions have been quite good overall I think, which is pleasing. The making of this album was interesting for us as a band, because this was the first album we had made as a group – as opposed to the previous ones, which are basically solo efforts by me. We’ve put a lot of time and effort in the making of this album and we were very satisfied with the outcome when it was finished. So for us it was a success either way, but when other people seem enthusiastic about it as well it makes it all the more worthwhile and fulfilling, I guess
Are there any particular pieces of music, film or literature, which you found had an influence on your new album?
There was not so much a particular piece of influence on Nowhere Or Tammensaari, but it deals mainly with the overall theme of art, I think. It deals for the greater part of the album with the means necessary to create such things as music, film and literature. It explores the creative aspect of it. In my case how this works (for me) with respect to music and image (photography)
Are there any global phenomenons which have compelled you to write?
No, I do not feel and have never felt a need to voice my opinion on global phenomena or political issues. Some of the stuff I write about can maybe, sort of be labeled as “global phenomena”, like: universal feelings, nature in general and being a human being?
Have you been able to write on tour?
No, not really. Even though a show itself only takes up about an hour a night all the stuff around it takes up so much time that there’s usually very little time in which to actually sit down and write stuff. Even with days off it’s hard to find a focus. And of course time off during tours is best spent looking around and seeing where you actually are. There are however moments where a sound check can act as a little rehearsal session where we try out some new stuff
What are your first memories of music?
I can vaguely remember a song from when I was really young, it was this song that was playing on the radio all the time, which I liked very much, but part of it also sort of scared me for some reason. I don’t know why it was frightening to me, but I think it had something to do with the singer’s voice and this part where the singer goes: “rrrrrrr” or something, because that is all I can clearly remember. I tried to find out which song it was for this interview, but I had no clue about any of the lyrics or anything except the “rrrr” part and what the song sounded like. I described what the song sounded like and that it was a really old up-tempo r&b, soulish, rock-n-rollish song and that it had this “rrrr” part to some friends and one of them actually knew what I was talking about! It is a Jackie Wilson song called Reet Petite! (Thanks Gino)
Which current musicians and artists are you a fan of?
Well, the latest records I bought were Clear Moon by Mount Eerie, Attack On Memory by Cloud Nothings, a re-issue of Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock (had been looking for the original for ages, but never came across it…) and Arthur Russell’s World Of Echo (one of my all time favorites, same story as Talk Talk) and I’ve been listening to a lot of LOOM and I’ve been checking out the new Dirty Projectors and revisiting Smog’s catalogue
What is the music scene like at home? Do you feel that it is easy for musicians to begin there?
I think it is fairly easy to make a start here. Especially when you are eager to do so. There are a couple of small venues that host evenings for ‘new talent’, so there are definitely opportunities. It’s where I started out also
What kind of things have influenced your photobook ‘Woander’?
Nature, Romanticism, Casper David Friedrich, music, emotion, beauty, Natural History, self reflection, Finland, Darwin, Sweden, ancient times, existence, order, Switzerland, disorder, the sublime, the Alps, rivers, geology, Italy, botany, the ocean, living fossils, touring, traveling, etc
How did you come about the idea of creating a photobook?
I moved to Utrecht to enter a Bachelor of Photography at Art School here in Utrecht some years ago, which is also when I started taking music more seriously and began performing, as I Am Oak. So I’ve been involved in photography for a number of years now and this project called ‘Woander’ is my graduation project
Where would you most like to tour? Are there any venues or festivals in particular in Britain you would like to play?
I would love to tour the Nordic countries, Japan and Canada some day. I have to confess that I know very little about British venues or festivals. But, maybe it’s for the best – no high hopes equals no disappointments and all