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Even though the Dutch-German border is only 150 Kilometers away, Sonja van Hamels new album ”Trancendental Man” - already critically acclaimed in her Dutch home-country – hasn't made the jump to German territory yet, as the record, seemingly inspired by artists like Burt Bacharach, The Carpenters and Stereolab, is only available in digital form through Amazon & Co. Nevertheless, the Dutch musician, illustrator and graphic designer has been on a lengthy journey already: after playing guitar in a band in the '90s, she returned to the piano about ten years ago and formed the duo Bauer with Berend Dubbe (ex-Bettie Serveert) for three excellent albums. More recently, she made is as far as China, where ”Transcendental Man” premiered as an audiovisual spectacle with both music and background projections a couple of months ago.
”I was invited by the Dutch Foundation for literature to perform music and Draw Clips on the Book fair in Beijing,” says Sonja. ”So we were part of a delegation dutch writers that lectured there. We brought in some ”storytelling” with the Draw clips. I performed with Ken Stringfellow, Annie Tangberg and Eddo Hartmann, who filmes and projects the Drawings.” So even though Sonja now operates as a solo artist, she's not alone. Together with the whizz-kid JB Meijers (De Dijk), Stringfellow (as multi-instrumentalist and co-producer) and Annie Tangberg (as cellist and general inspiration) were crucial in the studio as well. Sonja met the latter while working with the Metropole Orchestra, which Tangberg is part of, on the last Bauer album. ”She is not only an incredibly creative and talented musician, but also very adventurous,” Sonja explains. ”She plays excellent cello but also experiments with effects, delay pedals, pegs on her strings...etc. We also wrote all the string arrangement for this album together. Annie added some genius lines in there” Equally important were her two co-producers during the sessions. ”The most important was the energy and space JB and Ken brought in. By playing amazing guitars, basslines, synths etc but also in the way they recorded things. For example: almost everything including synths and pianos would be recorded thru tube amps, (and not direct) which enables you to record ”the space” too. This added a magical and warm layer to the tracks.”
There's no doubt, Sonja is completely happy with her first real solo album. While the soundtrack for ”Winterland” was her first release under her own name two years ago, ”Transcendental Man” marks the first time she could follow her own vision and instincts entirely. ”At present I feel very much in place, doing exactly the things I was meant to do,” she says. ”I have grown a lot over the past 10 years, both in music as in graphic design & drawing. I'm a bit of a late bloomer, it took me a while to get where I am now but after making this album this year I feel I am at a new starting point. 10 years ago Bauer was started as a solo project by Berend Dubbe. I joined in as a keyboard player and singer but we instantly started writing songs together and became a duo. We made 3 more albums over 7 years, mixing '60 influences (Beach Boys, The Free Design) with modern beats and samples. I learned so much during that period, and really developped my skills in songwriting and arranging. Berend was an amazing collaborator to work with, a true genius. ” His knowledge (and his record collection) were a real source of inspiration for Sonja, and to this day, the above mentioned inspiration runs like a red thread through her work. Nevertheless, after seven years in Bauer it was time for something new. I was curious to see what i could do by myself,” says Sonja. ” This resulted in my first solo album ”Winterland” (2009) that was written as the soundtrack for that same movie by Dick Tuinder. After all the multi-layered abums I had made with Bauer, I choose a more simple and transparent sound for this album, that complemented the film in a subtle and introvert way. So, after that I wanted something bigger, more produced, and a little dirtier. I had never worked with a producer before (altho Berend was very good at production, and can easily be called a producer) I decide it would be a challenge to do so. JB and Ken provided the perfect skills and visons to take the songs to that next level. I was a very adventurous album to make, and again I found collaborations to be the most inspiring way to work in music.”
For the lovingly detailed production - Wurlitzer organ, mellotron, clavinet, guitaret, banjo and triangle all make appearances next to all the more ”regular” instruments - and the distinctive retro-futuristic vibe of ”Transcendental Man” also fit the sci-fi references that appear in the cover artwork and elsewhere. ” I'm a big lover of music, movies and design from the '50, '60 and '70 (and even before),” Sonja confesses. ” I've been collecting books, postcards, records etc for many years, as an inspiration for my work. I alway combine these influences with elements from the now. The SF fascination is definately a subject that fascinates me. The title was based on a docmentary i saw on Philip K. Dick, the SF writer. He had a very predictive view on humanity, and described a world in which people only communicate through technologies and live in different levels of reality. All these ideas are also themes in my songs ”
On stage, Sonja's show isn't just about the music. The above mentioned ”Draw clips” – check out Sonjas website to see them – give her the chance to bring together her love of music with her other talents.
” I think my music can surely stand alone but the visuals add something that is just extending it into an experience,” says Sonja. ”The 'Draw Clips' are live videos of drawings based on my songs. You are during the concert filmed live and projected in that they are based very heavily on the musical performance. This is in some ways a kind of storytelling, because each song is told with the text of the piece and the pictures and still remains a unity. ”
It's no surprise then that Sonja likes to pursue all her interests at once, instead of concentrating on one of them. ” I do all, i love all, i will never choose, simply because there's no need to,” she says. „There will be times when they form a unity (like now) but also when one will fade to the back or step forward, like actors on a stage. But all part of the same play! ”
For more information: www.sonjavanhamel.nl
Interview: Carsten Wohlfeld for www.gaesteliste.de
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