Interview Silhouette

"We are just a group of friends sharing a passion for music"

(August 2012, text by Henri Strik, pictures by Arthur Haggenburg, edited by Peter Willemsen)

From the moment the Dutch progressive rock band Silhouette released their debut album A Maze in 2006, I started to follow them. Their second effort Moods (see review) was released in 2009 and showed a band that music wise had grown. However, it seemed that they had not yet reached the top of their musical abilities. Their latest album Across The Rubicon (see review) shows a matured band of an international quality level. I was very curious to know how they got so far in such a short a period of time. Therefore I invited the Brian de Graeve (guitar, vocals), Erik Laan (keyboards, vocals), Gerrit-Jan Bloemink (bass guitar) and Jos Uffing (drums, vocals) to talk about their past, present and future!

Can you tell us a bit about the history of the band and how you got the line-up as it is today?

Jos Uffing
Jos Uffing: “Back in 2001, I concentrated on drums and I played in a country band that I'd met through a friend. It was a nice band, but not particularly my music. I learned how to drum, but that's all there was to it. During that time, I saw on the internet an advert of a band that needed a singer and a drummer. That was perfect since I'm a singer as well! I made a phone call with a guy called Brian de Graeve, but unfortunately the band had already disbanded. During our conversation it appeared that music wise we had a lot in common, and we decided to stay in touch. Every other week we met and exchanged self-written songs, listened to music and played the guitar. After a couple of years it started to itch: wouldn't it be great playing our own songs in a band? So, in 2004 we decided to take the plunge, and after Brian making a tour amongst his many connections, we had a complete line-up in no time and bassist Gerrit-Jan Bloemink, keyboardist Toine van Riesewijk and guitarist Henny van Veenendaal joined the band.”

“We used the school where I'm working as a temporary rehearsal room, so we got started. It felt good to finally play our songs with a complete band. However, the line-up fell apart very soon. Henny lived quite a distance from the rehearsal room and he had many other things to do. He remained close to the band as he's an excellent graphic designer and − as turned out later on − he would apply this ability by creating the artwork of our albums. Toine developed health problems and was inevitably forced to quit that same year.”

“Our main mission was to find a new keyboardist. Again we placed an advert in the autumn of 2004. Gerrit-Jan, Brian and I practised a lot to create a solid base for Erik Laan, the new band member, who finally joined in early 2005. Besides his (vintage) keyboards, Erik also contributed to the band with written songs and an excellent voice. We had a more than welcome new band member! We picked a name and in 2005 Silhouette was born!”

How was it being a young band to record your debut album A Maze in 2006?

Erik Laan: “When we started Silhouette with the current line-up in 2005, we were just a group of friends sharing a passion for music but without having a plan, whatsoever. However, right from the start we had a lot of fun and there was a lot of chemistry between the band members. After a great rehearsal evening, I jokingly cried out: 'We
Erik Laan
should make a CD'! At first the others laughed at me, but finally we decided to go for it without having any experience in recording, engineering, mixing and producing. We did it just for fun with an ultra-low budget. However, after the release we noticed, that it was sold all over the world and received pretty good reviews even though it was clear from the outset that A Maze couldn't meet the current production standards. Taking that into account, it's pretty 'A mazing' that it's still sold. As far as the compositions are concerned we are very proud of A Maze.”

Why was it re-released lately?

Erik Laan: “It's just a simple reason. We ran out of stock while we still get requests for the album, so hence this re-release.”

How influential was Hansi Cross of Progress Records, who released the album Moods?

Erik Laan: “There have been some funny rumours about Hansi Cross, who supposedly demanded all kinds of stuff from us. Let me get this straight. Hansi has always supported us completely and shown faith in Silhouette. He never had any influence on us artistically or demanded to have so; on the contrary. Of course this is for us a fantastic situation. We can write the music we want to record and we don't have to make any artistic compromise whatsoever. For our latest album Across the Rubicon, he just heard one demo track and he decided to go on releasing it without listening to the other songs. Hansi is a musician as well; he released a number of CDs under the bandname Cross. That might explain why he understands how important it is for an artist to get all the artistic freedom one needs.”

Your second album Moods showed a band that music wise had strongly grown. Do you agree?

Erik Laan: “I fully agree! With Moods, we made a tremendous step forward. As we noticed that we could win a lot with a proper production, I contacted Gerben Klazinga, whom I admired a lot for his great work with Knight Area as a producer, composer and keyboard player. I asked him if he would be willing to mix and master our next album. He said yes, and this worked out very well, not only because of the mixing and mastering, but also because he gave us very valuable hints and tips about how to do the recording and lots of other stuff as well. So Moods met the requirements of the modern production standards, but also in terms of our composing and instrumental capabilities we had grown a lot. We also contacted a couple of label managers. I think Progress Records was recommended by Joop Klazinga, Gerben's brother, but our bassist Gerrit-Jan also had contacts with the label.”

Brian de Graeve

Your deal with Progress Records also brought Silhouette known abroad. Was it strange to get more attention from foreign people and how did you handle this?

Erik Laan: “As I told you before, our debut album A Maze was positively reviewed all over the world, even though we did the production, distribution and promotion ourselves. So in that sense the change with Moods was not that big. Of course, it's very helpful if an experienced label does these things for you and in addition, having a contract with a well-established label as Progress Records opens doors as well. What we were still lacking though, was someone who could lead us into the world of clubs and venues, finding our way in the social media landscape, knowing how to properly market a CD. I tell you, these skills differ from being a musician.”

Did it mean that your attitude towards making progressive rock music became more professional?

Erik Laan: “Well, what is professional..? We are amateurs; we all have jobs and families next to the band. We have no illusions whatsoever about being professionals in the sense that one day we can quit our nine to five jobs in order to go for the sex, drugs and rock and roll international tour life. However, we're fanatic and passionate about the music we want to make, or better we need to make. Personally, it would feel like amputating a limb if I would no longer be able to make music. It's a very important part of my life, it brings joy, it gives me energy and it gives me an outlet for issues that I struggle with. Jos says something similar in Nothing, a track from the new album 'it's a way of healing' to write and to play music. Being a professional or not is not the issue here. Is it our passion? Yes, and do we want to break through new boundaries? Yes! And do I believe we have reached our top? No!”

Why was it so difficult to perform the studio album on a live stage? I had the impression that Silhouette couldn't perform its music live on stage.

Erik Laan: “Part of it, I already explained earlier, is a lack of experience and the only way to get experienced is to have more gigs, but we didn't know how to get more gigs because we lack experience in organizing it... On a few occasions, we settled for mediocre sound systems and poor engineering and we just had bad luck with monitors blowing up during gigs and so on. In other situations we had great gigs as well, for instance when we played Moods in 2011 in its entirety and there was real chemistry with the public. Sometimes it's hard to explain why a gig works or not, but we experience an improvement every time we enter the stage.”

Aldo Adema

How important was the role of the former Egdon Heath guitarist Aldo Adema in the realization of both Moods and Across The Rubicon?

Erik Laan: “For Moods Aldo was approached by Brian, who's a fan of Egdon Heath. He always dreamed of working with Aldo. So he just asked him if he would be willing to add a guitar solo on the track Another Bed Time Story. He accepted his request and it worked out fantastically with a great solo in the best David Gilmour tradition. So we became friends. Aldo had some interesting ideas about mixing and said he could take us to the next level. In the process his ideas went further than that. He appeared to be very handy with midi and samples and stuff like that. So in several occasions, he added orchestral arrangements and guitar solos again on the title track and on Breathe for the new album which really worked. So from a mixer he became co-producer, together with me. It was a big advantage to have a critical person who's not a band member close to us. The final decisions were made by the four of us. We have asked Aldo to join the band though, but the distance made this unpractical.”

When did you start thinking about the follow-up to Moods and how long did it take to write and record the songs for Across The Rubicon?

Erik Laan: “The process of thinking about and writing Across The Rubicon already started way before Moods was finished. Our fans know this, as we have already played Anybody, a very central song on Across The Rubicon for more than five years live. Also now we have many plans. Brian literally has written hundreds of tracks which are waiting to be arranged and recorded. At this point we have a number of ideas about the fourth and the fifth CD as well. However, we prefer quality over quantity even though people in the music business keep telling us to release an album every year and a half. This time it took us a bit more time, because I was building a house with a studio called The Brewery. It was finished in the spring of 2011, so after that, we rather quickly continued with the recordings.”

Moods was a concept album telling a story. Who came up with the idea to record eight stand-alone tracks for Across The Rubicon that all have a common theme dealing with dramatic choices from which is no return?

Erik Laan: “That was a joint decision. When Brian suggested the idea of Moods, we all loved it and enthusiastically started arranging and composing with it. In the meantime, Jos and I didn't stop writing and we came up with ideas for Across The Rubicon. The common theme that you adequately describe wasn't a plan beforehand. When we had all songs sort of ready, we realized that many contained a common theme. Apparently we all like nostalgic music, songs about things we value that will or can never come back. When I suggested the title Across The Rubicon, the others immediately liked it and Brian wrote the title track the same evening.”
Back side picture of
Across The Rubicon

You must have been aware of the fact that the idiom 'crossing the Rubicon' means passing a point of no return, which refers to Julius Caesar's army crossing this shallow North-Italian river in 49 BC.

Erik Laan: “Well, this is exactly the story we came up with. What I liked about the concept was that crossing this river meant that the Rubicon was a very physical point of no return. Such themes stimulate your imagination and this worked - as I said - immediately as Brian wrote the title song directly. It also helped for the designer of the artwork for Across The Rubicon, Ed Unitsky who brilliantly put it into images.”

I was told that Breathe deals about the suicide of a friend.

Erik Laan: “You have been informed correctly. Breathe is about a friend from my youth who had a mental illness for which there was no cure. At one point he chose to end his life. The song is about my feelings when I stood next to his coffin, a moment in which I wanted to cry out loud that he should breathe again, fight his fears and become again the bright and cheerful guy I had known years before his illness manifested itself. His dramatic choice had an enormous impact on me, and writing this song helped me to deal with it.”

You have three singers in the band. Does anyone decide who does the lead vocals on a song or is this just a natural process?

Erik Laan: “I can't recall that we made a decision on these issues. Sometimes things go as they go. I think that the one who comes with the basic ideas of a song also suggests who'll sing the lead. Sometimes, such as in the case of Breathe, I came up with the basic composition and started singing. In the case of Anybody Brian came up with the idea, and thought that it would fit the voice of Jos. And this worked out well.”

The new album contains some impressive keyboard parts. Can you tell me who inspired you as a keyboardist? Is it right to say that the keyboards are the framework for the album?

Erik Laan: “Well, thanks for the compliment! In my youth I studied classical piano for many years and what I liked playing a lot was Chopin, Bach, Debussy and Schumann. I was seriously preparing to go to the conservatory until I had a disagreement with my piano teacher who thought that the way I played Bach
Erik Laan and his keyboards
was too much of a 'romantic' interpretation. My teacher said 'please don't play Bach that way because he belonged to the pre-romanticism. What you're doing is like going to the Rijksmuseum to repaint Rembrandt's Nightwatch on the original canvas. That's when I decided not to go to the conservatory, which, at the time was literally a conservative institution. It's probably not by chance that I love progressive and innovative music being an antidote to conservative music. And that's also why I like Tony Banks (Genesis) and Eddie Jobson (UK) in particular. Back then they were incredibly innovative. Both have experimented a lot with synthesizers and other keyboards. I love the way Jobson's Hammonds and Yamaha CP80 piano make Danger Money rock, knowing there are no guitars on that album. Currently, I listen a lot to Richard Barbieri and to Arjen Lucassen, who can do terrific things with analogue synths. Lucassen is an underestimated keyboardist, probably because he's known in the first place for his guitar virtuosity. I also listened a lot to the way Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds combines analogue synthesizers with orchestra's. Although I also like to listen to bands like Dream Theater and its keyboardist Jordan Rudess, I decided that his virtuoso style would not be my ambition. I rather like to play a few notes that add a certain harmony, an atmosphere or an emotion, than playing many notes that drown in the total picture.”

How did you write the songs for the album? Did one of you come up with a tune or did you all jam or improvise during rehearsals?

Erik Laan: “We tried the jamming, but that that doesn't work for us. What seems to work is that one of us brings in a basic structure. Sometimes, this structure has already been finished and we can start arranging soon. Sometimes it's not, and in that case, we get together in my brand new recording studio and try different things, arrangements and so on. Then we try things out during rehearsals and new ideas come up. So songs grow in this process towards real band compositions. That's also why we share the credits of the entire CDs.”

Who came with the idea to use the voices of your children on When Snow's Falling Down? One of them is a guitarist as well. Do all these children have musical talents or is your son Bart the only one? How did it happen that he played during the release party of the new album?

Erik Laan: “It might be hard to believe, but Brian and I had the same idea about the same time. Snow just demanded a children's choir. We considered performing with a children's choir, but technically it's not that easy. Who knows one day we will, because it works out wonderfully on the album and Snow has become an instant favourite according to many of our fans. My son Bart is a really talented guitarist and he already did several gigs with bands on his high school, which is very active in the field of culture and music. On another occasion, also Geoffrey, Brian's son, played during a gig with us.”

So far the three albums have stunning art work and cover designs. Henny van Veenendaal did the artwork for the first two albums, but for Across The Rubicon you managed to get the international cover artist Ed Unitsky who worked for The Flower Kings, Unitopia and The Tangent. How did you get in contact with him?

Brian de Graeve: “I was already friends with Ed Unitsky on Facebook for a long time before I discovered that he was such a great artist. One day he posted another beautiful piece for the new Starcastle album and I realized that he was the one we needed. I sent him a message with Anybody, the first song we completed. He reacted enthusiastically and agreed to do the artwork for the album.”

A Maze Moods Across The Rubicon

Were all the images in the booklet and on the cover especially made for the album?

Brian de Graeve: “Ed Unitsky got all the lyrics with some inside information about the meaning of the songs. Sometimes we added some first ideas, but mostly Ed was able to visualize it into something beautiful. The booklet has become very special in my humble opinion. So, to answer your question: Yes!”

Did you use somebody to help you out with the English lyrics? In the booklet I noticed the line 'Perfect English Tim'.

Jos Uffing: “Tim is my nephew. He's an English teacher who also lived in England. He not only speaks, but also thinks in English. When I write the lyrics of a song I think in Dutch, and then translate it in English. It's possible that you use the wrong words. I gave Tim him all the lyrics and when he saw incorrect sentences he suggested an alternative.”

Who's MaryO who did some playing on the flute and some background vocals?

Brian de Graeve: “She's a wonderful woman who can play the flute and sings beautifully and she's also my girlfriend... Nice thing is that Erik came up with the idea of letting MaryO do the backing vocals on Grendel.”

On the new album Aldo Adema played again on some of the tracks. Why was absent on stage during the release party of Across The Rubicon?

Erik Laan: “As I said, Aldo lives in Friesland, the rest of the band lives in and around Utrecht. So it's quite a problem to do joint rehearsals, but Aldo believes in our music and I hope and think that we will continue to work together.”

Why didn't you arrange a release party yourself in order to perform the album in its entirety? Instead you performed a 45-minute set as a support for ENorm to present the album.

Erik Laan: “We wanted a professional setting for our new album and Cultuurcentrum Boerderij was the right choice. To be honest, if we would hire that venue on our own, I'm afraid we won't get enough public (yet). The logical choice to do then is share the stage with another band. ENorm is a band we admire. It was a good choice I think, because afterwards our fans stayed because they liked ENorm as well and vice versa. This way you create for both bands a win-win situation. It was a great evening according to many people in the audience we talked to.”

Yes, indeed it was a great evening and mostly because I noticed that all band members had strongly improved. How did this happen?

Erik Laan: “Thank you! The most important thing of course is practicing and be very demanding to ourselves when rehearsing. This means that you have to trust each other and create an atmosphere in which you can give feedback in order to grow step by step to master our instruments and of course become a band in the true sense of the word. This is what we have been doing consistently over the last few years and it seems we are beginning to see the results. We have had a lot of bad luck with sound engineering during live gigs in the past. For us the release party was the first time we played in a professional setting. What a relief!”

Gerrit-Jan, I noticed that you are older than the other band members. Does that ever lead to a kind of generation gap in the band?

Gerrit-Jan Bloemink
Gerrit-Jan Bloemink: “No, it doesn't. We're just a group of friends having lot of fun together making the music we love without any compromise. Age has never been an issue.”

Why do you never use bass pedals on stage or in the studio in order to give the music of Silhouette more depth?

Gerrit-Jan Bloemink: “Well, bass guitar is first of all my absolute favourite style of making music. During the last nine years I have learned that playing the bass guitar means that a bassist have to master several techniques using his fingers, a plectrum, slapping, and so on. So if I have enough experience and I'm natural with bass playing, than the opportunity will come to make the next step: playing bass pedals. You may have noticed that Erik already uses bass pedals to create Taurus-like sounds with his keyboards.”

Jos, being a drummer, have you been inspired by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd? On Breathe much of your drumming reminded me of him.

Jos Uffing: “I'm not especially inspired by Nick Mason. My heroes are rock drummers like the late John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and the late Keith Moon of The Who, but I'm certainly a fan of Pink Floyd. When we recorded the drums for Breathe, Erik suggested using the toms in a part of the song. That's maybe the reason why it reminds you of Nick Mason. In the earlier Pink Floyd songs he handled the same style.”

Can you tell me what's next after the release of Across The Rubicon?

Erik Laan: “In the short term we want to do as many gigs as possible. We've found somebody who has many contacts and a lot of experience. He was tour manager and sound engineer for a couple of great bands and he said to believe in us. He's trying to promote and program us both in The Netherlands and the surrounding countries. We love to play live, so we will concentrate on that. In the meantime, we'll continue rehearsing as we are hooked to our weekly rehearsal Tuesdays and will start writing number four.”

Do you think you would play the album as a whole shortly?

Erik Laan: “Well, that sounds like a good idea. We did that once with Moods. This was a logical choice because Moods is a concept album, but we might consider it for Across The Rubicon as well.”

Thanks for answering my questions and good luck with the band!

All band members: “Thank you very much!”
More info about Silhouette:
   Silhouette Website
   Silhouette Myspace

Album Reviews:
   "Across The Rubicon

Concert reviews:
   18-Apr-2009 (Utrecht)
   10-Apr-2010 (Germany)
   06-Nov-2010 (Progfarm)
   30-Jun-2012 (Zoetermeer)

From L to R; Jos, Gerrit-Jan, Brian, Erik

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