There is a big thing coming: Elephant will release their debut album Big Thing on May 27th, 2022. Elephant’s members (singer Frank Schalkwijk, drummer Kaj van Driel, guitarist Michael Broekhuizen and bassist Bas Vosselman) have spent many years playing in other bands. In fact, you might recognize Schalkwijk from the Traditionals records we put out many years ago. Anyway, a couple of years ago, just before the pandemic hit, they all decided it was time to jump ship and put all their efforts into their own band: Elephant. And then…
So, late 2019, these four Dutch musicians started a band and were ready to hit the road and play. And then covid happened. There is really no need to talk about that too much because we’ve all lived through these past two years. But it must have been tough for them, right when they decided to leave other, sometimes profitable, projects to pursue this band, the world stopped. ‘We created a rehearsal room in the greenhouse where we filmed this session, and kept rehearsing weekly, spending many hours working on songs and our sound.’ This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because now when you hear Elephant play, they have such a strong and cohesive sound. ‘There were no distractions, Elephant was our focus. Our strength lies in our equality. We are a group. And all of us went all out for this band. The lockdowns helped, although at a certain point it became pretty dire financially. If we would have known up front that it would take over two years, I am not sure what would have happened. I’m glad we made it through.’
And make it through, they did. Without playing any shows, they first released an EP then recorded an album, and signed with renowned Dutch indie label Excelsior Recordings – also home to Moss, Tim Knol, Anne Soldaat, Bertolf, Jelle Paulusma and many others. In these last few months, they released three singles leading up to their album: Calling, Medicine and Hometown. Two of these songs you’ll find in this session, along with covers of Cass McCombs and Titiyo.
Greater than the sum of its parts
Rewind two years to Paradiso in Amsterdam. Frank Schalkwijk and I happened to run into each other at Big Thief’s show, just days before the first lockdown started early 2020. They are one of the bands influences, he tells me now. ‘Big Thief is a good example of how we like to work as a band. The solo albums by Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek are beautiful, but in Big Thief something extra special arises. That band is greater than the sum of its parts. Their lyrics are extraordinary, and something to envy. Or to aspire. Of course, some of our influences are also bands that revolve around one front man, like Andy Shauf, or Pinegrove. Sometimes that works well, just not for us.’
People often look at Schalkwijk as the front man of Elephant, but not the singer and guitarist himself. ‘If I had a band with other people, we would never make these songs.’ For me personally, I spent years hoping he would leave his former band and focus on his own songs. Schalkwijk: ‘I was never really satisfied with my own songs; did not think they were good enough. And I still don’t. It needs the collaboration with Bas, Michael and Kaj to become good.’ Well, let me tell you, they are more than good enough. Debut album Big Thing is a big step forward from the already enjoyable EP Elephant (2021).
Dutch producer and musician Pablo van de Poel (also known as guitarist and singer in DeWolff) produced both Elephant releases in his studio situated in a wharf cellar on one of Utrecht’s canals. ‘Pablo added bits of his sound to the production. You will hear it on Hometown or Calling, the heavier guitar sounds. Pablo is incredibly good at that, and we loved adding that to our songs. The base of many of our songs are quite poppy or sweet, but the message of the songs shines brighter because of those frayed edges. It is not your usual studio, and much like our rehearsal room in the greenhouse it feels like you are closed off from the rest of the world. It was just the four of us and Pablo. That helped a lot in the recording process.’
Come along and you´ll see
For this session Elephant decided to cover an unexpected influence; Titiyo’s Come Along. ‘Many people would choose the most beautiful songs by well-respected artist. But of course, we’re also influenced by the more popular songs, especially growing up. Of course – for most of us – our taste in music evolves, but there are certain songs that stick around in our head. When you listen to them now, sometimes you are surprised by their quality. Even though originally, you had categorized them as shallow Euro pop. We wanted to cover Come Along because we’ve all known it from when we were kids. When you try to discard the original production, you will find there is such a beautiful choir and development in that song. It could very well have been produced as an indie hit. This is just one of our influences, so we tried to record it our way.’
‘We identify with Cass McCombs‘
‘Cass McCombs is a shared idol within our band. Writing our songs is a collaboration between all four of us, and that only works if you have a similar outlook on music. Of course, everyone also likes different things, but we found that shared many influences and preferences. Cass McCombs is one of a few musicians we all love. When we had only just started Elephant in November 2019, we went to see him perform in Utrecht and it inspired us to continue working on our music. He is an incredible person who creates intriguing songs; his lyrics and his songs vary from beautiful accessible to pretty weird. He is a very versatile and original songwriter. As a band, we identify with Cass McCombs, because he has always worked hard to get his music out there. It’s not like he’s got one hit that carries him, he keeps releasing unbelievably strong albums. Harmonia is one of his more poppy songs and it fits us. It is one of my favorite Cass McCombs songs.’
Back in my hometown, nothing really changed here
Hometown was inspired by Rijsoord, a small village on the outskirts of Rotterdam where guitarists Michael Broekhuizen and Bas Vosselman grew up together. Fun fact: Rijsoord is part of Ridderkerk, which is where I grew up too. It’s still big enough for us not to have met until now though. Due to the loss of income during the pandemic, they were forced to leave their studio in Rotterdam and returned to Rijsoord. In a greenhouse, amidst fields of bok choy and Chinese cabbage, Elephant found the peace to work on their music. It resulted in Hometown, a song about leaving your hometown to chase your dreams and find your own place. And about returning and realizing that the peacefulness is comforting but you can no longer call it home.
Big Thing is available for pre-order in Excelsior Recordings’ web shop.
Filmed & edited by Matthijs van der Ven.
Audio recorded & mixed by Matthijs van der Ven.
A greenhouse in Rijsoord
Ridderkerk, The Netherlands