Rotterdam four piece Lewsberg deliver intelligent talk-punk through the vehicle of imagery-rich lyrics and meandering guitar work.
Last month’s surprise release of new album In Your Hands marked a more minimalist approach from the band. Fresh tracks such as ‘The Corner’ capture the essence of the US proto-punks of the 60s and 70s. As considered story-telling combines with cool delivery, this new collection of songs mark a perfectly defined chapter in Lewsberg’s discography, and plays as the perfect juxtaposition to the more climatic energy of 2018’s ‘The Smile‘
The live shows in support of In Your Hands have stayed true to the album’s aesthetic. A drum kit that consists of only a tom and snare lays a modest soundbed as frontman Arie van Vliet delivers his tracks with the thoughtful composure of a Greenwich Village beat poet, occasionally contributing understated violin tones.
Bassist Shalita Dietrich takes centre stage and contributes her weightless vocals at intermittent periods. Throughout Lewsberg’s short set, there is an air of effortlessness in their ability to hold the full room entirely captivated.
We caught Arie for some questions before the Bristol date of their UK tour – which is still ongoing.
Rotterdam appears to produce a steady stream of alternative and art-punk artists, be it Rats On Rafts, or AC Berkeimer a little before Lewsberg began releasing. Is there a tangible ‘scene’ for this sound in the city? Or is this merely a geographical coincidence?
It might have something to do with where we’re based, more than with there being an alternative scene in Rotterdam. But I wouldn’t call it a coincidence. Rotterdam has quite a history of bands, musicians, artists and writers who’re not doing things just to please or comfort their audience. And who probably even wouldn’t call themselves alternative or (art) punk. It’s just the way you live in Rotterdam, the way Rotterdam makes you live. Maybe gabber originating from our city is an even clearer example of this: uncompromising and uninviting, but at the same time it has this weird kind of unmistakable attraction.
Having said that: I wonder what will come from Rotterdam art – and music – in the next couple of years, now the city is gentrifying so fast. Rotterdam tries to please its visitors more and more, and if that will translate to what artists create, we soon might see a big change in what Rotterdam is producing.
When did your musical relationship with the violin commence? Do you also practise the violin in a realm outside of being accompaniment your more guitar-facing compositions?
I’ve been playing the violin since I was four years old. So that was long before I got to know the concept of music groups, and way before I found out I could even start one myself. I was actually classically trained when I was young, so playing the violin in a music group never really seemed like an option to me, until recently. We had the idea that the violin might fit the more stripped back approach of the new Lewsberg record, and that was the first time I played my violin in a band context.
Your sound frequently draws comparisons to proto-punk artists of the 60s and early 70s, do you generally search back in time when you are finding new artists to enjoy?
Not at all. I don’t want to narrow down my search for music by its creation date. I do love music from back then, but I’m definitely interested in what’s going on at the moment as well. And I think that’s the case for all of us. We don’t want to narrow it down to genre either, I think we’re musical omnivores, and everything we listen to, from back then to today, from proto-punk to R&B, somehow finds its place in our music. Sometimes a bit more on the surface, sometimes more subtle, but it’s all there.
Lewsberg lyrics, at times, are written and delivered with the patience and space of a novel; how much of your songwriting inspiration do you pull from the literary world?
I don’t like the strict boundaries between these things: literature, poetry, songwriting or everyday conversation. So when I’m writing lyrics, I try to think about the differences between these things as little as possible. And it works the other way around as well: when I come up with a sentence, a phrase, or a text, I don’t know yet at that moment what I want to use it for. It might become a poem, it might become an essay, it might become a lyric, or it might even be something I could use in a conversation.
We love the direction of ‘In Your Hands’. What lead to its stripped-back approach? and what sparked the decision to announce the album so late?
I don’t want to blame the pandemic for everything, but it might definitely have had its influence on the way In Your Hands sounds. With everyday life slowing down and our habitat getting smaller because of the measures, this felt like a logical thing to do. Or actually, we didn’t even think about it, we just wrote new music and it happened to be like this. Besides, I think this part of Lewsberg has always been there. It’s just that we’re putting it more in the spotlight this time. But there have always been stripped-back songs and elements in our music before.
We only finished mixing and mastering the album on the first day of October, and then we thought: why not put it out as soon as possible? Four weeks later, In Your Hands was out. So we didn’t just announce it late, we finished it late as well. We couldn’t announce it any earlier, since it wasn’t ready yet. It was a bit of an experiment, we didn’t know if people would hear about our new album now it wasn’t announced and built up with a ‘traditional’ rollout. But it seems to find its way to an audience in a natural way, and I believe that way really fits Lewsberg. So we might do it this way again next time.
Lewsberg are continuing their European tour until early December:
18/11, The Smokehouse, Ipswich, UK
20/11, The Festing, Portsmouth, UK
21/11, The Latest Music Bar, Brighton, UK
22/11, Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds, UK
23/11, Moth Club, London, UK
26/11, Rotown, Rotterdam, NL
01/12, Kassette, Düsseldorf, DE
02/12, Aalhaus. Hamburg, DE
03/12, Skivbolaget, Aarhus, DK
04/12, Festival of Endless Gratitude, Copenhagen, DK