Chordify Backstage: Town Of Saints

Becoming a musician is full of highs and lows. There are times when you’re nailing it, and there are other, frustrating times when you feel like giving up altogether. To give you a bit of inspiration, Chordify has gone to the pros for tips on how to persevere, conquer – and rock!

Town of Saints interview – Harmen Ridderbos (lead vocals/guitar)

Town of Saints - Eurosonic-Noorderslag-14 (Ruben v Vliet)_small– (Harmen Ridderbos – by Ruben van Vliet)

Town of Saints combines tropical sounds with darker influences. Although minimalistic in style, they feature grand orchestral arrangements along the lines of Arcade Fire, Local Natives and Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’. The success of their debut album Something To Fight With (2013) resulted in the performance of over 130 live shows in 2014 across 11 European countries. The band will present their new album this year at various festivals and clubs throughout Europe. To keep us all going until then, last week, they released this kickass new music video:

The Dutch/Finnish band started in 2010, when Harmen Ridderbos (lead vocals/guitar) and Heta Salkolahti (violin/vocals) met in the Austrian mountains. Over the following five years, the duo toured extensively throughout Europe, transforming from an upbeat indie-folk act into a five-headed groove-machine, with the help of Jukka Kiviniemi (bass), Berend Rombouts (guitar) and Jesse Bosman (drums).

Town of Saints - Official Pressphoto 2016 (photo by Ruben van Vliet) LANDSCAPE WEB_kleiner(Town Of Saints – by Ruben van Vliet)

Lead vocalist Harmen Ridderbos started playing the piano when he was 6 years old and switched to guitar when he was 15. He’s here to tell you all about his musical journey.

Which song or artist inspired you to pick up an instrument?
“When I switched to guitar, I was really into punk and punk rock, listening to bands like Greenday and The Clash. Listening to Damien Rice, especially his album “O” was the reason I started playing acoustic guitar. That was about three years later, so I already had all the basics down, but it was just really cool to be able to play that album front to back.”

“For me, music has always been about expressing emotion, so I was more interested in creating my own music, even when I was still taking piano lessons. When I tried to play a song I really liked, I wasn’t so much interested in being able to play the entire song, note for note. I like figuring out a particular sound or style. Like, how can I make my instrument sound like the guy playing the song, what kind of rhythm patterns is he playing? And how can I use that style or sound for my own songs?”

What was the first song that made your fingers ache or bleed?
“Definitely Whistle of a Distant Train, by Ed Harcourt. I still love playing it on the piano and I played it all the time when I was a kid. It just sounds great when you play it, you know?”

What was your biggest obstacle when you were still learning to play guitar?
“That very first moment you pick up the guitar all inspired and it’s like: “Damn, I suck at this!” (laughs). I teach music too, and I see that very same look of disappointment on kids’ faces sometimes. You’re really enthusiastic, but your hands aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do…

“The first few weeks of playing are the hardest I guess. For everyone. You need to incorporate chords into your muscle memory, just play them over and over before it sounds like you’re actually playing a song. And then you try to play something else and you suck at that too! It’s different levels of sucking at first. (laughs)

“Other than that, I had a bit of a head start, because I started with the piano. I pretty much knew most of the theory and chords, it was just something I had to figure out how to play on a different instrument. That makes it a lot easier, I think.”

What’s your favorite chord?
“I’m not really a chord guy, I’m more of a rhythm guy. I love strumming in 16ths, you know, playing on the upbeat. The chords I play mostly just support the melody.

“But recently, I’m trying to make things more interesting chordwise. Something different from the standard chord progressions used in most songs. In one of our songs, Legions, I just take it to a different key in the chorus and then land on the original key. It sort of lifts the whole song up, before landing. Sounds really cool.”

When did you start to write your own songs?
“Pretty much since I started playing the piano. I was always fiddling around and more interested in creating my own sounds and songs than playing other people’s songs. When I was 12, I really started making an effort composing my own songs on the piano, just really simple stuff, expanding on that and improving it, just using what I learned and what I heard.

“I remember my first performance, just when I started playing guitar. It was my first band and we got to play one night for all the kids in our high school. We played a couple of catchy songs we wrote ourselves, and the audience started dancing. That’s so awesome, performing live and people dancing to songs you wrote. That was when I thought “Damn, this is what I should be doing!”

What was your first time playing with others like?
“It was a very gradual process actually. I started playing in bands when I was 15, but before that, I just jammed with friends individually, gradually adding other friends with different instruments. What’s really cool about that is that you start to understand the different roles of instruments, how you create a sound together and figuring out new things, because you’re basically adding them one by one. That’s what I really love about being in a band, making music together.”

HarmenRidderbos_ToS_byTinekeKlamer(Live registration by IDK Sessions during ESNS 2015 – by Tineke Klamer)

Do you still play songs written by other artists?
“We still play covers from time to time, like Rocky Top by the Osborne Brothers. It’s somewhat of a bluegrass classic. And when I’m playing solo, I sometimes do an acoustic rendition of Idioteque, by Radiohead. It’s cool to take a song and try to play it in a different style.

“That doesn’t always work out though! I remember back in highschool, we played Gettin’ Jiggy with It, you know, the Will Smith song? We thought we could turn in into this kickass punk song and amaze the audience. Boy, were we wrong… (laughs).”

Any advice for aspiring rock stars to inspire them to keep on playing?
“Have fun and put your soul into it. Music is all about expressing emotion, so it’s important to play just what you want to be playing and give it your own direction or voice. Stay close to yourself and it doesn’t really matter what you play. You could be playing just two chords, but it still sounds awesome, because it’s you playing it.

When you play other people’s songs, just listen really carefully to what they’re doing, take that and make it your own.”

Thanks, Harmen!

Town of Saints will release their new album on April 1. Check out their tour dates at townofsaints.com

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