Bart Hoevenaars isn’t a stranger in the Dutch music indie scene. In the early zeroes he released two record with postpunk bank MONO and toured Europe multiple times. After, he became known as Sir Ian and recorded two records about despair, longing, wasting time and an almost impossible love. Since then he’s played with other Dutch indie bands like El Pino And The Volunteers, Roald van Oosten and – shortly – with Amber Arcades.
On February 22nd, Hoevenaars will release his first record in Dutch, for which he put the work of the deceased Dutch poet Leo Vroman to music. In a park in Rotterdam, he gives us a wonderful preview.
Using Leo Vroman’s poems to write songs
‘Roughly three years ago I felt stuck and couldn’t write songs. I was playing a lot with Roald van Oosten, at Orkater and started playing in El Pino & The Volunteers. I had just released my second album II as Sir Ian and had little to none inspiration for another one. I’d been toying around the idea of singing in Dutch for a while, but also felt the need to drift away from all the personal stuff in my songwriting.’
‘Roald once did a project with poems of Edgar Allen Poe and suggested I should put some poems to music. It was just after I watched the documentary ‘Soms Is Liefde Eeuwig’ (‘Sometimes Love’s Eternal) on Leo and Tineke Vroman. They were so loving to each other and still very productive and creative in their nineties. That’s how I ended up picking his collected work from the library and trying some stuff on guitar. It turned out to be a good match because after a week I had ten rough songs. His poems are simultaneously heavy and light. It’s sweet, but he doesn’t shy away from looking at death and mortality realistically. Every now and the he seems to enjoy being a bit of an absurdist, purely in form. That combination of melancholy, love and playing with language felt great.’
More than just a fun exercise
‘A lot of his writings are easily sung. I adopted the poems almost in their entirety, apart for one or two words I swallow to fit the melody. I found it to be a fun exercise to fit existing words into a song. Sometimes it needed some work, other times the songs sort of formed instantly while reading the poem. I just kept the voice recorder running.’
‘After a while I noticed the songs stuck around and became more than just a way to find inspiration. So I contacted the Vroman Foundation and his publisher who gave me permission to turn his poems into songs.’ Hoevenaars developed the songs further with guitarist Frank Jonas and bass player / brother / producer Jos Hoevenaars (both are featured in this session). Jeroen Kleijn (of Johan, Daryll-Ann, Claw Boys Claw, a.o.) offered to play the drums and talented Dutch singer Janna Lagerström added backing vocals. ‘Recording my vocals was surprisingly confronting, as I hadn’t heard myself sing in Dutch before. Every word is a lot more charged in your own language. I didn’t want it to sound theatrical, I wanted it as natural as possible. The lyrics have to speak for themselves, without my own emotion or meaning added to them. I feel like I succeeded in doing that.’
February 22nd marks the fifth anniversary of Leo Vroman’s passing and the release of Bart Hoevenaars record Vuist Boven De Grond – featuring eleven songs based on Vroman’s poems. Hoevenaars and his band are playing two shows in Amsterdam and Rotterdam to celebrate its release.