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Chordify Backstage: Orange Skyline

Dutch indie band Orange Skyline was formed in 2012 and draws inspiration from sixties mod bands, Gainsbourgian French pop and Mancunian rock and roll bravado. The latter two influences actually started out as a joke, but nonetheless made it to their official band biography. In a nutshell, they produce clever songs with an instantly recognizable, catchy sound.

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Niels van der Wielen, Mart Atema, Stefan van der Wielen, Simon Christiaanse (picture: Sanja Marušić)

The band is releasing a new album early next year, with a whole new musical direction. The brothers Stefan van der Wielen (vocals) and Niels van der Wielen (guitar) sat down with us to talk about their musical influences, approach to songwriting. As a teaser and a Chordify exclusive, here’s their latest music video (only available in the Netherlands for now.. You can watch their previous video, called ‘Rapture’ here):

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Which artist inspired you to pick up an instrument?
Niels: We both played piano before we started playing guitar, I think around the age of 10. Stefan is two years older, so he already had a two year head start with piano lessons. Originally, I wanted to play guitar first, but I decided i would get more satisfaction out of being better at piano than my big brother. (laughs)

Stefan: He definitely succeeded and made me give up! I never really practiced a lot anyway. When we went to an Oasis concert in 2009, that was the moment when we both were like, fuck it, this is what we’re going to do with our lives, doesn’t matter how. We’re going to buy guitars and just do it! Mart, our drummer and neighbour at that time, was with us too. So all all three of us wanted to go full pull right from the get go.

Niels: Which is of course an incredibly unrealistic expectation when you’re 14 and 16 and you haven’t even bought your first guitar yet. (laughs). But I guess in a way it worked, because we were really motivated. We never really jammed or practiced just for the fun of it, we always had a purpose in mind, something to work towards, you know?

So after you guys bought your guitars, how did it all start?
Stefan: We never took lessons, we just started playing together right away, figuring out how to play by watching YouTube videos and looking up chords. Mart started playing drums around the same time, and we would use his attic to just jam and practice together. All three of us learned to play by playing together.

Niels: The first few times, you’re like, shit, I suck at this! But then you learn how to play two chords and suddenly you think you can take on the world. The first time you see a bar chord, you’re like, fuck, I’ll never be able to do that, but eventually you’ll nail it. It’s just small steps. We never played covers either, we just wrote our own stuff.

Stefan: During our second rehearsal, we were already talking about recording duo albums and shit like that. (laughs). That was before we even wrote our first song!

Niels: And when we wrote our first songs, we really blew ourselves away. (laughs). We were like, Noel Gallagher would be so jealous! It’s actually a lot of fun to look back on those first songs, because boy were we wrong… I think that being naive like that was also a good thing, because you’re enthusiastic enough to learn and keep going.   

When did your bass player Simon join the band?
Stefan: That’s a funny story. He was in Niels’ class in highschool and he was already really good and playing in all the cool bands. We were all like: “shit, we really need this guy in our band!” We actually bribed him. We were recording our demo and rented a studio. We told him he didn’t have to pay, but that it also meant that he was automatically in the band.

Niels: But he had already decided he wanted to be in the band anyway, before we decided to bribe him! He was like: “Nice, free studio time!” But when we played together in the studio for the first time, he really blew us away. Simon just needs to hear something once, and he’ll just play along right away. And he could slap! Oh my god! (laughs) When you’re that age, that is pretty much the coolest thing in the world you can do on a bass.

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Live performance at Eurosonic Noorderslag 2016 (picture: Ben Houdijk)

Any other artists that inspired you besides Oasis?
Niels: Oh definitely! And a lot of artists still do. Like the new Bon Iver album, wow, just incredible! But also Kanye West’s album Yeezus. The intertwined vocals, sounds where you’re not really sure if it’s a guitar or a synthesizer, it’s just so awesome and I think in terms of sound, this is really a game changer. You’ll definitely it hear back on a lot of indie albums in the next five years.

Stefan: Or Tame Impala and Cliff Martinez, who was the composer for the movie Drive. Those synthesizer sounds are so incredibly cool. We’ve listened to a lot of synth pop music and the new album is definitely influenced by it. We played around with old school synthesizers in the studio. It takes some tweaking and fiddling around with buttons and cables, but the sound you get from it! It’s so full and cinematic almost.

What did you take away from other people’s songs?
Stefan: We listen to pretty much everything. Because I’m a musician, I listen to songs in a different way, as in, you look for things that are professionally interesting and that you can use or make your own. And since I started listening to songs in a different way, I get a lot more enjoyment out of it, because suddenly any genre or any song is interesting. Like a super commercial top 40 pop song, written by a handful of Swedish songwriters and worked on by hundreds of other people. I just love it, listening to those tiny details, because it’s something you can learn from as a band.

Niels: It’s funny, because we started with Oasis and bands like that. And when you’re younger, that’s all you would listen to. You’re an indie band or britpop band, and that’s who you want to sound like. You couldn’t even admit to your friends that you really enjoyed that new Beyoncé song (laughs).  

Any advice for aspiring rock stars to  inspire them to keep on playing?
Niels: Make sure you’re not just a band, but a team. The bands I always looked up to were the ones that looked like this cool gang you know? If it’s all business, or if you don’t really hang out together, I don’t think you’ll last very long.

And put in the work and effort. When I just started playing guitar, I’d play like seven or eight hours a day, and we would rehearse five times a week. And play lots of different stuff. I tried shredding to Malmsteen or Matt Bellamy solos, even the intro to Sweet Child of Mine. I gave up trying some of that stuff and other stuff I would never use, but it makes you a better player.

Stefan: Get rid of your principles. People get so stuck on genres sometimes. I’ve caught myself doing that too, where I’d be stuck on “this is the kind of music I want to be playing” and “this is what it should sound like.” Once I was able to let that go, it just felt so liberating. Just have the guts to let go of it and you’ll have so much more to work with creatively.

I think that’s why some bands aren’t able to break through and become successful, and why some successful bands are suddenly no longer relevant after a few years. They’re hung up on the music they decided was cool when they started and won’t let go of that.

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