MY BABY talk musical influence, tour life ahead of Colours of Ostrava

If it’s July, it’s Colours time! The Czech festival Colours of Ostrava will start its 14th year on the 14th of July with many amazing performers in attendance.

The 4-day weekend will boast impressive headliners from around the world including Tame Impala, M83, The Vaccines, and Slowdive. The soundtrack of the weekend will also span scores of genres varying from rock to reggae.

Beyond musical performances, the festival will also host workshops, films, poetry, live theatre, art installations, and open discussions. A new event will be taking place on the festival grounds from the 12th to the 17th of July. Called ‘Meltingpot,’ the event is an international discussion forum that will span across 8 stages and hold visits from Nobel- and Pulitzer-prize winners, historians, activists, and writers.

With such a diverse festival, it only makes sense to highlight a diverse act. MY BABY, a three-piece group hailing from the Netherlands, truly encapsulates the variety of Colours of Ostrava. Cato van Dijck, Joost van Dijck, and Daniel Johnston make up the trance-blues-psychedelia band with African influence. Speaking to lead singer and guitarist Cato via Skype, we were able to dissect the musical style that makes MY BABY mesmerising and talk about life on the road.

I: How has tour been for you so far?

CvD: We were just back in the Netherlands. We came back yesterday from playing Pohoda Festival in Slovakia and Exit Festival in Serbia so it was quite some long drives but it was really, really good.

Did you see anybody that you really like at the moment?

Well…we don’t always have much time to look around, which is always a pity. At Exit, I saw a little bit of Ellie Goulding, which is quite not my style…I just heard her sing because we were doing interviews backstage.

You and your brother [Joost, drummer] come from a musical family – would you say that influenced your style of music? Did your parents or family have an impact on what you listen to and what you bring to the band?

In a way. There’s a little bit of folk melodies in our music. My dad used to play a lot of folk tunes, but also a lot of pop tunes like the Beatles for example. There was always music around in the house, so I think you just get very used to music and you get the idea that being a musician is something that you can be. My parents had normal jobs, my dad was a doctor. We never saw that side of him, of course, because when he was back home he was more like a musician. He always played a lot of tunes. He played a lot of instruments like the double bass, the guitar, the piano. He actually taught us to play music and sing harmonies but in a very natural way, we were not really aware of being taught…We ended up being in a family band, which is also not really what we we planned but it just happened to be that way…At first, when we were kids, it felt like a very natural thing. Of course, you come to understand that not everyone grows up like that, being in a family band or having music all around [you]. It did really influence in the way that it felt very natural for us to become musicians.

Your first album [Loves Voodoo!, 2013] is very soulful, very bluesy, psychedelic – sort of a cross-genre album…the second album [Shamanaid, 2015] was a mix of the folk you mentioned your family brought up, but also dance. Those are really interesting to combine. What inspired that change from the first to the second albums?

Well, the first album was recorded before we actually started playing live. We started with an album and we were trying to put a few different styles of music together. So on every song, we tried to combine a few styles…not to make it like a soul song, but put, for example, a folk melody in there or a high speed groove under a John Lee Hooker-style riff. So we were looking for changes or differences there, but then we started playing them live. Of course, you get a lot of energy from the crowd and you feel like you want the beat to go on and on…then also, we played a lot of festivals where there was dance music around so you hear in the distance this boom boom boom of dance music, so I think we got inspired by that as well. You hear these beats go on and on…we were inspired by these dance beats I think we heard in the festivals and thought we can maybe do a little bit of the same, add those beats to our music, you can also sing a gospel tune or a folk song or a blues song on top of that beat…it really happened live that we discovered that and that it worked with the audience because people are used to those drops and beats…but not maybe used to the folk and soul melodies and blues anymore, so there was a bit of a weird combination but it seemed to work out fine, actually. We put a little bit of that on the new record but the second record also has a bit more African and Indian influences and all world influences just so it’s not only American music..we just picked up something from all around the world, I guess.

Are you planning on putting a little bit of that world music [influence] into the third album?

I think there will be, but a little bit more of MY BABY sounds like now…the second album is more in that direction, but what we do live now is a bit more pumping and has a bit more of that trance-y feeling to it, so we’re going to try to put that live sound in a little bit more on the record. It will also have a few turned down songs, which we maybe won’t play live because they’re great on the record to listen to…when you put on a CD in the car or in your house, when you just want to chill out and when you go to a concert, you want to dance. There will always be a difference to what we put on the CDs and the sets we play live because live is always different – what kind of crowd you get and what kind of vibe you want to make. The CD is just one moment of how the songs were originally, but they can go their own way when you play the [songs] live. Does that make sense? *laughs*

Yeah, I get it. There is that whole vibe or the difference between listening to something on the record, maybe even on vinyl that gives a sense a warmth than if you see something live…There is a sense or feeling you get when you’re there [at a concert] in the moment than when you put a CD on in any given moment.

I also wouldn’t want to try to play a record the same live. I know a few bands try to really play their record how it is live. It’s cool if you can make it sound the same, but I am always more interested in making it sound different. You get something different when you go to a live concert than you would get when you put on the record.

Are there any current or past artists that are influencing your style at the moment?

Well, we’ve been listening to a lot of West African blues and West African funk. There’s this artist called Bombino, I don’t know if you’ve heard of him. He’s now playing some festivals. I think he released his third album. He is great. He’s sampled like African rhythm but also combining it with a bit more of a Western-feel. I really like his way of playing. And something else…let me see….I also have to choose something more contemporary *laughs*…oh, it’s hard. I like James Blake, the way he sings is totally different from what we do, of course. Yeah…James Blake, maybe?

I do like that you use West African influence because a lot of people don’t notice. Vampire Weekend use African-influenced beats and nobody notices it because it’s very subtle, but it something that people should explore more because it is great music to listen to and discover.

It’s funny, you know a lot of people don’t really say when they’re describing music, they don’t really put that element in. For us it’s really there, you know? But maybe they don’t really recognise what it is, like what influences that special groove or certain kind of melodies or use instruments that they may not recognise…A lot of times they say it’s all gospel or blues and the trance thing, but there’s also this rhythm you get when you only use African drums. To me, trance music goes way way back to drum circles where you have a beat that just goes on and on and on and people used to dance to that along the fireside and just go crazy because the beat goes on and you get in this trance state of mind. Of course, with dance music, people also like the fact that it goes on and on and at one point you’re just only focusing on yourself and on your body and on this trance-thing that goes on in your mind. It’s really cool if that happens with our audience, as well. A lot of times they don’t expect that to happen when you go to listen to or see a band, but we get that comment quite often that “Oh, I got in this state of mind and I was dancing and I was just…one point aware of myself but I was in the groove and in the crowd and just dancing.’ That’s one of the higher goals we try to reach with our music.

Last year was kind of your busiest year when it came to touring. You traveled to 60 countries, performing over 200 shows. How have you found that extensive touring? Have you gotten used to it or adapted?

In the beginning it’s a bit weird. You’re like “Oh, I’m not home anymore?” and all that stuff *laughs*, but I’ve gotten really used to it because this year is also quite extensive that way. We still play a lot. I’ve gotten used to in a way that it’s actually quite a simple life. Everyday there’s one goal. You turn up to the gig. You drive there then there’s one thing you have to do. There’s not a lot of space for like….an existential crisis or to think about what you want in life or where you should go or who you should be. There’s just one goal. You go to the next one and the next one. It makes life quite simple. Of course, you miss friends and you miss home. You just have to spend your time well when you’re at home.

Do you have enough time to find yourself writing on the road? Is that something you put aside when you’re touring?

We always thought “Oh, we’ll write on the road!,” but it’s quite difficult, actually. Well..for us. Of course, you think a lot on the road and…a lot of times we talk things through, like where songs should go to, but it’s not often that we have the time to sit with all of us together with instruments to write. We try to put that in when we’re back [home] and try to get in the studio. It’s quite intense because all the time we are already together as our group, our band. I thought it would be easier to write on the road, but I also from a lot of other musicians that it’s not so…it’s totally normal that you really try to be in the moment where you are. We’ll try to leave that for when we’re back.

You mentioned that you are in the Netherlands at the moment and you are going to do a couple more shows in the Netherlands after Colours of Ostrava. How do you find the hometown shows?

…It’s still our biggest market. Of course, it’s where we come from and people do really know us and our music here. It’s always like a homecoming where you really know the people who sing along with your songs and everything. But, of course, it’s cooler for us when you go abroad and people sing your songs. That’s more exciting. But it’s good to have your home base as well. Holland really is our home market. I think it’s good to have that [home support]. There’s support here, although we’re not being played on the radio much, for example, but we built our crowd in Holland by playing so much live. It’s really more about the live act that people really want to see it or it could also be the same as going out for a night just to go to a club show or something…just to dance and to have a good night out.

Do you know a difference in behaviour between those in Holland and festival crowds in England, for example?

I’d say it’s more of a surprise when you play abroad and people don’t know you…you really feel you have to do your very, very best. Of course we do our best in Holland as well. If you do accomplish [the goal] that people really know what you’re doing it gives us more of a feeling that we conquered something…like if you conquered a cold crowd that doesn’t know you yet than if you already have a crowd that has its expectations. People are maybe more interested because they may have heard a story about you or they heard something good or bad about you and they want to check if that is true…It’s a different feeling, but sometimes people in Holland can be a bit reserved. For example, in England, or what we had with people in Slovakia, people just went totally nuts, completely wild. And I know we don’t get that so often in Holland. But maybe it’s just the whole mentality of Holland – a bit cooled down, a bit more reserved. So when you get the people going in Holland it’s quite special.

You’ve said that some of music is meant to be heard live as compared to listening to it on a CD or record, do you have a preference of performing live or do you like the recording aspect more?

No, I think I have a preference of playing live. [Playing live] can change all the time. You can add things or leave things away or just sing stuff in the moment in a way that it should be sang. I like the fact that you can change it all and improvise live. A record is something special and when you listen back to it you almost get transported back to the time you recorded it. I can still listen to the recordings, I know a lot of artists maybe can’t, and I’m still happy with them, but I also think it develops over time. I really like the development that you play song different and it ends up to be something completely different than it was on the record. I think, for us, it will probably always be that way. We can’t really repeat ourselves *laughs*…we really like to change things around or change things in the moment. We do so many gigs that we try to make every gig special for ourselves and make it a little bit different. Otherwise, I would probably be bored playing 200 gigs.
MY BABY will play the Agrofert Fresh stage on Friday, the 15th of July. For more information on the band and other artists playing Colours this year, head to the official Colours of Ostrava website.

Photo credit: Colours of Ostrava Matyas Theuer

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