Interview Tom de Wit (Mind:Soul):

"We should try to compose music that is relevant to this era instead of just rehashing stuff that has been done a hundred times before"

(May 2014, text by Pedro Bekkers, edited by Peter Willemsen)

The last couple of years we could notice an increase of new progressive rock bands. Not only the number of prog rock bands increased, but also the quality level of the music appears to be surprisingly high. One of these new bands is Mind:Soul, a Dutch progressive metal band. In 2013 their debut album The Way It Used To Be (see review) appeared. In order to introduce the band to our readers, Background Magazine took this opportunity to do an interview with lead singer Tom de Wit, one of the founder members of the band. He's working hard to create a kind of new wave of Dutch prog music. For Mind:Soul, his other projects and his solo work he even founded his own record label all for the sake of music!

Would you please introduce yourself to our readers and how you ran into the progressive metal scene?
Tom de Wit: “Well, I'm 26 year old and I discovered progressive music when I was about fourteen. I got in touch with the music of Symphony X, Dream Theater, Pain Of Salvation and other similar bands and I remember being profoundly struck by the emotional and technical intensity this
Tom de Wit (picture Henri Strik)
music had to offer. I'm hooked to that kind of music ever since and when I was about sixteen I started to make my own music. I called my first project TDW, after the initials of my name, but also because it felt like an abbreviation for 'The Dream Walker', which I always considered to be a good nickname for a highly sensitive dreamer like myself. I have to redress it a bit though, because when I was sixteen I started to learn about making music. I wasn't musically trained, but I loved to sing and write my own melodies. I remember thinking up songs as a kid and singing them out loud, much to my parents' annoyance! I wanted to be able to create music like the bands and artists I admired so much. However, that doesn't happen without any training and experience, so it took me a few years of writing, taking lessons and learning from others to find a style that suited me. Over the years I released a number of albums, but the starting point of my 'career' came with the release of The Haunts in 2008, I think. It was the first record noticed by the press and the prog community. Since then I've been part of a few bands, but I kept releasing music under the moniker of TDW. As time and my ambitions progressed, the band Mind:Soul came into the picture, which I formed together with bassist Joey Klerkx in 2010. I also started my own label Layered Reality Productions in 2011 that grew bigger over the years. Furthermore I own a studio called The Imagineering Suite in which I produce audio, video and web design related projects.”

In 2013 the debut of Mind:Soul saw the light of day. Can you tell us something about the preparations for this album and how the band survived several line-up changes?
"The process that led to the album was quite something, indeed! When we finished the EP Patterns in 2012, we decided that we wanted to write new material for a full-fledged album. We felt that the EP was a good starting point though, but the new album should become twice or three times heavier than the EP. We quickly had three songs finished: Breakpoint Hour, Novae and Caught In The Pressure Cooker. We played quite a few shows with the
Stefan van Leeuwenstijn
first line-up for which we got great responses, so we knew we were onto something good. After we had written Forever, we already had twenty minutes of new music to our disposal. So far so good it seemed, but then we had to deal with adversity. In the summer of 2012, our guitarist Jim O.S. Ilden could no longer keep up with our working schedule and so he quit the band. We all felt terrible about this since the line-up was very stable and it felt like a heavy blow to us. Fortunately we got in touch with Stefan van Leeuwenstijn who was the guitarist with NeMesyz along with Joey Klerkx, Roland le Fevre, our old keyboardist and me. After an audition he became a band member. In the meantime Joey and I and our Romanian drummer Raul Tămaş kept writing new material, so around that summer we had written all the stuff. We started to record Raul's drum parts, Joey's bass parts, the first rhythm guitar part and a big portion of my vocals. Thanks to Stefan we were a tight unit again and we played a few more shows in 2012.”

“However, at the beginning of 2013 Raul told us that he couldn't stay in the Netherlands any longer since he couldn't find work in his field of expertise. The news shocked us all. In March 2013 we played our final gig with him. Raul was an amazing drummer, so this really took us by surprise and hit us hard. He gave Mind:Soul a rough edge and almost the energy of punk that we needed. Finding a new drummer in the prog metal genre is a nightmare. Only few drummers dare to play this stuff in the first place, apart from being physically able to do so. So we were in a bind, because we already had planned a few gigs and now we had no drummer. Fortunately, Rik Bruineman (ex-A New Dawn, ex-Silent Edge) helped us out and yet we could perform the planned gigs and then we started to find a new drummer. At the same time we focussed on finishing the album; we would at least show that we could unsettle that easy!”

“During the summer of 2013 we found out that Roland Le Fevre couldn't keep up with our working schedule either. So he left the band as well. At a certain point, the band only consisted of Joey, Stefan and me and the only thing we could do was working on the album. Apparently we transposed the negative energy into the songs of which some of them became a lot darker and
Müşfik Can Müftüoğlu
more intense then they initially were, because we just needed to get those emotions out. In August 2013 I was at a party somewhere; a few cover bands were playing in the background. I wasn't really paying attention to it, but suddenly one of the bands started to play Schizm by Tool! I love Tool! Now they got my attention or better said: the drummer got my attention! He played that song like it was the easiest thing ever. Obviously I talked to him afterwards; his name was Inca César, who is now our new drummer and one of the best things that ever happened to the band!”

“After Inca joined us, we started to play gigs again and finished the album that had been haunting us for two years. We finished the master in November 2013. We wanted to release the album on 11-12-13 mostly because of its numerical value, but we also wanted this record to be released in 2013. We liked to play more gigs in 2014 while having an album out. So this is what the process for recording this 'monster' has been like. Well, to wrap up the story, in early 2013 we got in touch with our new guitar player Müşfik Can Müftüoğlu. We were already discussing options with him while Raul was still in the band. Of course that changed when he left and everything turned out differently, but when Inca César joined us we felt that it was the right time to ask Müşfik into our rehearsal room. We did auditions in December right after the album release. He blew us away, so he joined the band early 2014 and he did his first performance with us in January at Concertpodium Boerderij in Zoetermeer. It's strange to look at the album in retrospect, because of all the changes in the band. However, the songs are based on all of us and even the new members could put their own bits and pieces in there. When we perform the songs on stage they still sound like cohesive Mind:Soul songs, despite the fact that the line-up changed radically. Therefore I consider the album to be a testimony of our endurance and our goal as a band to make music the way we like it.”

Are you the only one who determines which music is going to be recorded, or is it a democratic band effort?
Well, at least I try to give everyone a voice in the writing and band running process. I mean, I already have the TDW project as my solo work, so I don't have the need to be in charge in Mind:Soul. I think it's because of TDW that I can let go of that side of me. If the band wouldn't appreciate one of my ideas, I can still use it for myself. However, in each band you always have persons that take the lead and arrange most of the things and apparently that's something which comes natural to me. I don't mind being the frontman and loudmouth that people know, but I would mind if my presence would overshadow the others because Mind:Soul is a real band, so we write music and make decisions together. I love the guys in the band dearly and therefore I could never be the big boss, because I don't want to force anyone into anything they don't like. I mean, yes, we take things seriously and sometimes you have to be firm and harsh to get things done, but at the end of the day we want to have a positive outlook on our music and the way we do things.”

How do you look back to the TDW albums and do you think there will be more in the future?
“I think each TDW album has been important one way or another. I don't like listening to my old music that much though, because I'm a perfectionist and I can never really detach myself from hearing all those little things that aren't 'good enough'. But I think I don't have to be ashamed for my discography so to speak. However, in retrospect things could always have been done better! In May 2014 a new TDW album will appear and it's going to be a special one that will be both available online (eight tracks) and in a strictly limited physical pressing featuring eleven tracks. It's called Music To Stand Around And Feel Awkward To and it will become a broad release that will feature folky progressive, heavy metal and symphonic epic passages. I'm now finishing a news video which will feature all the details regarding this album and I intend to release it in April. I shall also announce the official release date and who the guest musicians are. For now I like to keep the details a secret.”

Mind:Soul (L to R): Inca César, Tom de Wit, Müşfik Can Müftüoğlu, Joey Klerkx and Stefan van Leeuwenstijn

In order to release your own music, you founded the label Layered Reality Productions (LRP). Why did you establish your own record label?
“Well, I think the main reason is because I'm a control freak and I didn't want anyone else to touch my music without my consent! No, seriously, forming LRP was something that came naturally to me when I worked on the Scrapbook album in 2009 and 2010. I released The Haunts in 2008 and I shopped around for labels and people that wanted to help me out, but I got the same response every time. The real prog labels didn't think my music was prog enough and the metal labels didn't know what to make out of it. So I was in a bit of a bind because of that. There's a big group of bands and artists who are actually doing interesting and real cross-over stuff, but they just don't get the attention or the chances they deserve! Then I started to work on the Scrapbook project and while doing this, I read about bands like Marillion and other groups that liberated themselves from record label politics and took over control. This inspired me, so I set up LRP basically just to sell the music of TDW, NeMesyz, my former band, and Angrotron, my industrial death metal side project. In 2011 I officially launched Scrapbook and the LRP website and I started to sell my own records. Slowly but surely more bands and artists got interested in joining me, because they liked my work ethics and my mentality. I don't run LRP to make a profit as ninety percent goes to the bands and only ten to the label just to finance it and keep it going. This way I can keep focussing on what's important. That's not to pay my bills, but to create an on- and offline place where people can find weird and challenging metal music that cannot be categorized elsewhere. I don't have the illusion of being 'the only one person to do all this', but I think I can add something to the musical landscape by being there, working hard and showing that there's a place for those bands and projects. I'm proud of what LRP has become already in its short existence and that's not just because of my own music, but also because of bands like Adeia, Dimaeon, Insolitvs and Sense vs Sanity that, in my opinion, stretch the boundaries of metal and prog and try genuinely new things. LRP is an idealistic initiative I'm going for and that's what keeps it relevant. When I would have wanted to make money, I should have picked a different genre, shouldn't I? The genres I focus on are the ones that make my blood run faster. If I can contribute to the music scene by creating a place where these bands can flourish, then I will do so and work hard for it.”

Beside you other bands found a home at LRP. How do you judge a band to be worthwhile to have a release on your label?
“Well, it's not only just me that judges it. Of course I'm the one who makes the final decisions, but when a band or project is potentially interesting I ask them if they already have found a label and what they think of this new possibility. By doing so I keep communicating and I engage the artists in the creative process of running a label like this. With the feedback of all the involved parties I can make a clear judgement whether a band suits LRP or not. For example, a certain band approaches me and I think their music is pretty good, yet I don't know them personally. Then I forward it to the other bands and artists. If they should tell me that the band are a nightmare to work with and lacks professionalism to join us, I will definitely think twice before signing them. I trust the people I work with right now and trust is something I value highly. I know, in a way it's very subjective to
Inca César
choose what is 'suitable' or not, but since I can 'test my ideas' with the other bands, I can also step out of myself and see things in a different light. I think that if you look at our artists and bands so far, it's safe to say that we tend to have a broad scope and outlook on what we think is suitable for our label.”

What's your goal in music?
“My primary goal is self-expression and self-understanding. I think all humans search for things to give their existence meaning and value. I found that by making music, writing lyrics, singing and performing live and producing and releasing music for myself and others. For me it's a way to cope with life. Money and fame are both fun and useful, but they're certainly not my final goal. I mean, I have chosen the least popular genre in the world at this point.”

How do you look at the Dutch progressive metal scene? Do you think there's enough media support and sufficient venues to perform?
“Good question! I think there's a lot of potential in our scene and many bands working very hard and trying to extend their reach to wider audiences. Our country certainly has a nice group of active prog bands that really want to make the best out of it. That's a good thing. It keeps the scene alive and relevant. However, I think there are only a few bands that actually dare to step beyond the clichés and conformations that come along with the prog rock and prog metal tag. On a daily basis I hear bands that perform well, are very skilled on their instruments and know how to play great solos, but I hear only few bands that really sound unique. Don't get me wrong, though, I don't mind if a band sounds like other bands. I don't mind hearing influences from other bands because in the end we all 'steal and borrow' from our heroes or the artists that shaped us when we were young. However, it's important to have bands that stretch the boundaries and play stuff outside the comfort zone even for prog standards. I really hope that I can do so with TDW, Mind:Soul and the bands on the LRP label. Our genre doesn't need 200 bands that play the same 7/8 time signatures, while trying to sing extremely high, having lots of Mellotron in the background with guitarists and drummers soloing their asses off. As much as I love my classics like Yes, Genesis, ELP etcetera, I think we should live in the here and now! We should try to compose music that is relevant to this era instead of just rehashing stuff that has been done a hundred times before. I also share this vision on the metal scene; it's not just the prog scene that has this 'problem'. However, like I said before: you're all allowed to do so and to love it! Just to make things clear: I'm not judging anyone! I for one like to search for things that genuinely stimulate me
Joey Klerkx
and make me come out of my seat saying 'what is this?!' If bands are able to bring that about then I think they have the quality to move the scene forward.”

“As far as the media and venue support are concerned I can be plain. You have the dedicated media such as Background Magazine and other websites or magazines that contribute to the prog and metal scene, but besides these initiatives these genres are still considered to be 'silly' by the mainstream media and people shouldn't pay attention to them. Sometimes when I'm telling so-called music lovers or music journalists that I play in a prog metal band, they look at me as if I'm having a venereal disease or something! The genre is so broad and differs so much that it's unfeasible to put a label on it. That's what makes the genre unsaleable and therefore uninteresting. Unfortunately this also applies to venues. The genre is too unpredictable and in the end all parties want to make money and therefore most people actually go with the play-it-safe option as long as they're not sure whether they can fill up a venue with this kind of music. However, there are more people who like this genre than most bookers and journalists think! That's one of the reasons why I started LRP, because I know that if you have to do everything on your own it's almost impossible to get a gig or get your name mentioned in a magazine. Once you can try this with multiple bands having a good plan in your hands, you can get a lot more attention and therefore gain more profit as a whole. I've seen that it works that way for us, as all LRP bands are profiting from this collaboration. We get more gigs, more exposure and the music gets noticed more in general, so I've learned that joining forces can actually greatly improve your chances in this scene. But even then we will always be 'that genre' and I don't think that will change soon.”

What can we expect from Mind:Soul as well as from your record label in the future?
“In 2014 and 2015 we will continue touring with Mind:Soul to promote our album and to get more people to notice what we're doing musically. We're planning and working hard to get gigs booked abroad in 2015 as well, so in that sense we will ride the wave we started at the beginning of this year. In the meantime, we'll write new material for a second album and we'll see what our new band brings us. We have no idea what the new music will be like, but I sense that it will probably become a lot heavier than the first album. I'm now in the final phase of the TDW record and I intend to release it in May 2014. So that's something I'm heavily involved in as well. That album will also become a bigger project because each song on the album will get a music video as well! So once the album is done, I will still be spending quite a few months on promoting the record and getting all those videos in order. There's no rest for the wicked in that sense! Furthermore I'll continue working on LRP and I'm always looking for new bands that want to join us and add to our artist and band roster to make our musical reach wider and more diverse. So in that sense the label will remain growing. This year promises to feature a host of new releases beside my own release, so it's going to be busy!”

Do you want to add anything I didn't ask and that should be noticed by our readers?
“I think I talked way too much already. Are you guys and girls still here? But seriously, I just want to thank you all for giving me the chance to be what I am and thank you all for listening to my music and my ramblings. It really means a lot to me! See you on the road with Mind:Soul or see you online at Facebook, Twitter or whatever! I wish you all the best!”

More info about Mind:Soul on the Internet:

       review album 'The Way It Should Be'
       review Tom's solo album 'TDW - Music To Stand Around And Feel Awkward To !'

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