April 30, 2014
by Tjeerd van Erve
We part ways when I rediscover the advantages of travelling without headphones. After four hours of making noise with Stefan Breuer I decide that my ears deserve some rest. So I leave the social isolation device I call headphones in my backpack and I sit down on the couch. Today, all train connections between Utrecht and Tilburg are cancelled, so I’m preparing for a long trip home: a long boring night trip, without music to accompany me. Two whole hours of loneliness.
This turns out to be an utterly wrong assumption. Even before I sit myself down, I already get stuck in conversation with one of my fellow travellers. One that takes me all the way to Den Bosch. We talk about music, about making music, writing about music, working as a light engineer, teaching language in law school and teaching philosophy to adolescents. No topic remains untouched. Oh, the delights of a night-liner filled with only die-hard night owls. The initial point of this late night chat is the enormous guitar case I’m carrying around. Inside lies the machine that I have been bending, tormenting and beating in “Studio Patrick” throughout the evening. “You’re a musician?”
Stefan wants to create noise. He has a basic track ready; drums and chords recorded on tape and placed in the computer. He also wants to layer it with a wall of sound. Thus creating a dreamlike full-on psychedelic sound, only exposing its full details and potency when listened to with full attention.
I find myself on a coach once again when I get to listen to the first mix of “Blue Diamonds”: the result of our joined effort. On my way to Amsterdam, surrounded by my bilingual students and their foreign exchange companions, I decide to take a moment for myself and put on my headphones.
I allow the wailing guitars to roll over me, as they accompany the (sic) “perfect” pop tune Breuer has written especially for our little gathering. Perfect pop tunes that Stefan Breuer seems to drop on a constant basis, with Lost Bear, as the Subhuman and (of course) with his latest release Bhava under the moniker The World Of Dust. Stefan is constantly creating music and constantly playing music. And even during the last months, after the birth of his first child, he has maintained his prolific pace. He claims to have written even more than he has done during the time before becoming a family man.
“I never planned on having such a serious job.”, says Stefan, as we walk from our bus stop to the studio. Every week for three days, he does marketing for an organization that promotes nature camping. Nothing related to music or rock ‘n roll, but nonetheless he likes the job and agrees with “Stichting Natuurkampeerterreinen“‘s convictions. “I could also be working the production line, or day jobs I guess, which would make me more flexible. But I really like this job and it – not unimportant – pays well. It does mean, though, that I have responsibilities to my employer as well. So, while planning tours with I Am Oak, I’m always the one creating problems with logistics. As we were planning these shows in New York, it came down to only a single week. Simply because I can’t be away from work for more than this. But they are being flexible and the job does give me the total liberty to do with music what I want to do.”
Things however, did change with the birth of Stefan’s first child. Stefan has chosen to give up on his social life, using up all free time left on his music. A lot of this happens at his home studio, but also in “Studio Patrick”, which is only a few minutes away from his home. “My girlfriend and I had a babysitter the other day so we could rehearse with her band, Howart. It’s our time off. I don’t go the pub. I don’t go to concerts; I will see other bands play when I’m touring with I Am Oak. Everything now evolves around finding this rhythm in family life, work and making music. So actually in the last months, finding this rhythm, I have recorded more than I have done in the months before.”
He backed up this this bold statement shortly after our evening of recording, with the first in what Stefan calls The Golden Moon Series; Private Rocket Science by Okapi (being yet another ‘band’ with Stefan Breuer, along with Subhuman, The World Of Dust, Lost Bear, Howart, I Am Oak and doubtless some others he’s not told me about). A recording he finished while working on the two songs we recorded as well as giving the final touch on the song Luifabriek (me) recorded the week before with The Fire Harvest. This man is indeed busy, but not eager to please. For many of his latest recordings he has actually fallen back on the old four track, using its limitations against the zeitgeist of a limitless digital world. Still, for our recording session he has a laptop staged: lead guitar and drums are already recorded. We’re going to stack guitar lines today…loads of ’em. Later Stefan will add the vocals.
But first we eat. We initially planned to meet at his house, where we would have dinner together. The combination of getting stuck in traffic (after having to drop my girlfriend at the airport) and a relentlessly annoying Dutch public transport system caused me to arrive over an hour late in Utrecht. So…I get to eat this tasteful homemade dish in the studio.
Beef, rice, nuts, veggies and a delightful salad: I’m actually starting to believe that the food served by the artists I visit reflects the music they make. The experimental “let’s-see-what-happens-vegan” cooking of Gijs Borstlap resembles the subversive freeform noise pop Rooie Waas creates as much as the carefully balanced mix of different tastes offered by Stefan Breuer: it fits his strange musical vernacular of progrock and lo-fi. Well balanced, but almost cooked-up on the fly. And what more to say about The Fire Harvest‘s night out with friends than vegetarian pizza flushed down with pints of cooled beer from a can?
Being part of the Snowstar-family from almost the beginning, Stefan considers himself the “odd one out”. The weird-but-loved uncle or nephew who tends to do everything his own way. Through his Subhuman releases* but especially through his latest official release. Stefan Breuer takes a stand. “Normally with a record you start the whole roundabout; the promotional tour, the record release and then more touring. All to sell the record. I didn’t feel this way. I hate to see shows as selling moments, not shows in itself, where you have to play and then rush to the merchandise table to keep shop. It’s distracting and it takes me away from the music, as it all comes down to the amount of units you moved that night. Not to how well you played.” So Stefan decided to limit Bhava to hundred small booklets with cd and present that album on a select set of listening sessions during the celebration of 10 years Snowstar Records. Considering this album was the end product of years of labour, he couldn’t put himself to bring The World Of Dust on the obligatory selling-records-shop-tour, it just didn’t feel right.
An expensive release, which will probably not cover the costs. Still, though, Stefan is happy with the choice to keep it this small as he believes this release reached precisely the people that needed to hear it, and all the coverage it had in the media was sheer positive. The ultimate point in making music for Stefan Breuer seems to be that he is making the music he likes, in a manner that he likes and that he controls. Snowstar records gives him that space as does his job, giving him the financial space to make these rather uncommercial choices; Bhava has not even been put on iTunes or Spotify. Stefan wants people to experience it as the total album that he has created (the booklet is self made, he makes cover art collages for every thing he records), and believes that keeping it limited helps the experience. Even though it means that he’ll probably lose on the release.
Stefan Breuer has Studio Patrick all prepped up already, so we can start the minute I have finished eating. With the pre-recorded track, with former I Am Oak-member Dave Mollen on drums, we put on our headphones and start terrorising the amps, bringing our guitars to a higher level of resonance. The hollow body jazz guitar that I dragged to Utrecht vibrates against my belly, helping the digestion of the rice dish I just had. Four, five times we jam along with the song, piling up guitar melodies, feedback and resonance in the digital studio. Had an outsider walked in, he’d probably thought we we were just creating noise, a racket as excuse for drinking beers. But Stefan clearly has an idea in his head of what he wants to have on tape by the end of the evening. Or at least is constantly thinking about what the song might need, giving small directions, playing with the volumes and levels between the sessions and listening every recording back before starting a new one. I follow his lead, follow the song, bend my guitar and drill the thing into the amp as a play around with the distortion, delay and boost pedals in front of me. With every new layer the song becomes fuller, with every session we both seem to get more determent in getting a melody and rhythm in the hiss we are forcing from our instruments until there is this thick wall of sound that is satisfying enough for Stefan. “That’s it, I guess. This is what I can work with.”
In the ensuing e-mail traffic that prequeled this april night, Stefan proposes to record an entire album within a single day. According to him that can be easily done. Guitar, bass, some drums and then just add the vocals later. In that sense Stefan is ambitious, very ambitious. Considering his own productivity not even such a strange way of thinking, but in the end we stick to recording two songs. One The World Of Dust (featuring Luifabriek) the second Luifabriek (featuring The World Of Dust). So I tune my guitar back to E and play the part I thought up at home, messing around with my son’s 1/4 guitar. Reason for Stefan to drag in another beer and half a drum kit. One run through, a second run through and Stefan stages the microphones to start recording. Within half an hour we’re finished and cleaning up the mics again. I have a bus to catch: thankfully, the core of the song, guitar, drums and vocals are captured on hard disk. Stefan will work on it further at home.
It starts to become boring, but I am on a coach yet again – this time on my way to Nijmegen, again with a group of students in the back, listening to pop, R&B and hard style on their little speakers – when I get to hear the first version of ‘Screw Ups’ on my headphones. My love for Losercore is apparent, verse-chorus and the thing is finished. According to Stefan (or so he suggests in the accompanying e-mail) it’s an instant indie rock slacker hit. I am mostly surprised of what he has made out of it. Some additional organ, glitches, accents with a second guitar and a true (“midi” says Stefan, I don’t hear the difference) choir in the background, the thing is catchy as hell. Edited, produced and mixed at home while hist young born was sleeping, Stefan created a small jewel out of dirt and lo-fi coal. Stefan even went full monty on our recordings and created a cover and true booklet for the ‘release’, #2 in The Golden Moon Series. The letter “O”, says Stefan, limited to two. One for his archive, one for my own collection, because that’s what making music is all about; you do it for yourself.
In the end, while I write this and listen to the songs we recorded that night, I come think back to that one question asked on entry in the night-liner back home; “Are you a musician?”. A strong “No!” was my answer, starting the whole explanation of what I had been doing, Luifabriek, Modern Participation Society, Gonzo (Circus) and another form of “journalism” bla bla. But, fuck, I am. No denying it anymore. Stefan made me one. This whole Modern Participation thingy, and the artists I have worked with so far, has made me one. Or at least it made me sound like one; musician for a night, fool for a ….
* Actually Stefan only releases a fraction of what he records. Most of his recordings end up in his own record collection in limited editions of one, with his self-designed artwork. Finished products, registered solely for his own collection and need for archival purposes.