No Ninja Am I is the name of the act that started out as singer Sander van Munster’s solo project, but has now developed into a real band, including members from other acts that did Onder Invloed sessions in the past, like drummer Wubbo Siegers (Novack, Klangstof) and Chris Siegers and Rens van den Boogaard (Palloc) on bass and guitar.
Van Munster grew up hearing a lot of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul. “My father’s a huge fan of the song Girl, but the cassettes that we played in the car also had Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen and the hippie songwriter Melanie on them. As a kid I was a fan of Michael Jackson of course, and I still am, but during high school I explored the alternative genre listening to The Doors, dEUS, Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Radiohead, et cetera. I’ve spinned records on many parties, so I might have been influenced badly by a hit like Mousse T’s Horny”, Van Munster concludes jokingly.
“The old version of No Ninja Am I – the solo project – is just as consistent in its style as my big heroes Beck, Damon Albarn or Thom Yorke: not very much. A new song starts by getting exited about a vocal line, a strum on my guitar, a drum sample or bass line. When I’m writing I just try to follow that enthousiasm while not thinking too much about styles or genres.” That happens later, when deciding what to release. In 2011, No Ninja Am I released the acoustic singer songwriter record Montélimar, which was followed up by the more electronic EP’s Vegas and Broken Dice. “It’s probably due to the specific kind of music that I’ve been listening to if I’m more into acoustic songs or electronics at certain moments. Vegas and Broken Dice would no doubt have sounded different if I hadn’t been listening to Youth Lagoon that much.”
“All the previous releases have mainly been solo efforts and really were home studio projects. I didn’t think about playing live when I recorded. The next album will be a totally different story. That’s going to be a band record. We’re currently working together a lot to develop the sound we’re looking for, both in the rehearsal studios as on stage. It feels good to try out new songs live and performing with this group is fantastic anyway. We have one or two songs still to write before hopefully heading to the studio this summer.”
This new band version of No Ninja Am I works rather democratically, says Van Munster: “It’s really cool to bring a raw idea of a song to the group, have everyone write their own part and see it develop into some that would have never existed if I had done it by myself. I would be a fool to tell them what to do, especially since they’re such great musicians. Working as a democracy doesn’t mean that we’re endlessly debating which direction to take a song. We almost always agree rather quickly, and if not we just skip that song and move on to the next.”
For their Onder Invloed session during Grasnapolsky, No Ninja Am I covered Paul McCartney and the Belgian rock band Balthazar. Van Munster gladly explains why: “Balthazar is one of the best bands around at the moment and we’re fans. Their music is melancholic, theatrical and still always energetic and uplifting. Sinking Ship is a good example of that, but we could just as well have picked any of their other songs; they write nothing but really good songs. Paul McCartney’s Junk is a gorgeous song off his first solo record, which has a lot of raw home recordings on it. It was an eye opener to me that you’re able to make a record that way and that lead to the first No Ninja Am I record The Roaring Twenties in 2009. An album of home recorded miniatures.”
So far so good for No Ninja Am I. It’s going to be interesting to find out what the next album will sound like. If this session is any indication, I’d say we’re in for a treat. Van Munster is in no way planning to stop writing songs anytime soon. “When I’d finished my Law studies, I decided that I wanted to play music as much as possible, because there’s nothing better. Not just in my own little room, but on stages. I would always have the option to get a fulltime job later in life. All the records that I loved inspired me to make my own, at least one. When that record was almost finished, I wanted to make a second. When that was almost done… It’s the way it goes and so far I’m delighted with it.”
All photos by Matthijs van der Ven.
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Grasnapolsky, Radio Kootwijk