One More Step Away from the Dark

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Fourteen Twentysix are not metal. Nor do they claim to be. Nor do I. Yet, for some reason, they fit Teeth of the Divine’s bill just fine. Last year I reviewed the band’s latest effort, Lighttown Closure, and while I thought it showed a lot of promise, it just didn’t quite reach the premise. This was one of the reasons why I got into a discussion with the band’s primus motor, Chris van der Linden. The other reason was, that on their upcoming new album, Antimatter’s Mick Moss will be making an appearance. Bang! Newsflash! Chris wasn’t the only one to take part in the party though, as Jelle Goossens and Tom van Nuenen from the band popped in and answered a few questions as well. Some even, related to metal.

How have you been, Chris?

Chris: I’m great. The last year has been great as we’ve seen quite some press interest and we did some great shows after releasing Lighttown Closure.

Apparently you’re keeping quite busy with Fourteen Twentysix?

Chris: Yes, I’m an ambitious guy. Next to running a game technology company I spend a lot of time on the band, sometimes to the frustration of my girlfriend. [Laughs]

No doubt! Anyway. Let’s get down to the chase. I know you’re doing a new album…

Chris: Yep, we are. Actually, our new album is already in a far advanced state where we only need to do the final vocal takes before going to mix and master. Then, because we write and record in the studio, we need a few months to actually learn how to play these songs live. This means setting up new live show gear and figure out who’s going to play what parts. [Laughs]

And not to stop there with the accusations, there’s been a rumor about a certain Mick Moss (of Antimatter) doing a cameo?

Chris: [Laughs] Yes, that’s correct. Mick is going to do a guest vocal on one of our new songs.  We can’t dish out any details at this moment, but it’s going to be great!

Seeing how Mick went his own way as well with Antimatter, do you feel camaraderie with the guy as it’s quite easy to draw spiritual links between your two projects?

Chris: Oh yeah, I can totally relate to his way of doing things. Obviously, he’s already earned quite a few more credits but yes. Also, he’s more from the “metal” camp and his music breathes that dark atmosphere I like a lot. Mick loves to collaborate; he’s an open and relaxed guy, which is great. The music industry needs more people like him!

How did you wound up coming together with him?

Chris: I just went out and asked him if he was interested. Through Facebook and MySpace we’ve build up quite an extensive network of people and with a lot of them I frequently chat about music. So, I pitched the idea to him and he said he would love to work with us. He chose a different song to sing on than we expected though, so we had to alter our plans a bit. [Laughs]

Since then I’ve talked to him a few times to arrange the practical side of things. The single is being mixed right now after which it will be sent to the UK for him to sing his lines in the studio there. Then everything comes back to us again through the digital highway and we will process everything into the final song and video.

Anyway. Lighttown Closure was the first time you branched out to try out your own wings?

Chris: Not really. Before Lighttown, I recorded and released two EP’s, namely Songs to Forget (2008) and Chromatic (2009). Songs to Forget was the first thing I did after quitting drums in my previous band Sweet Assembler. After 10 years of drumming I thought it was time to try my hand at writing and recording my own songs. At that time I didn’t know how to play guitar or keyboard, nor could I really sing – some doubt I can sing today [Laughs] – but I was so frustrated being in bands and not being able to contribute as much that I just had to go for it. I wanted to create.

Thus Fourteen Twentysix?

Chris: I started recording my first songs in my bedroom in Sonar with some drum computer plugins, guitars and keyboards. Before, I had played in indie rock bands and metal bands, so I really wanted to do something different. That resulted in dark, electronic drumloop-based songs, influenced by Tiamat‘s Deeper Kind of Slumber and industrial acts such as Form Alkaline. I love hypnotizing, lengthy and dreamy songs, so that was my starting point. The name Fourteen Twentysix I chose to match that more stark and abstract approach, as opposed to a band name you could immediately identify with.

At first it was not my intention to hit the stage with this project as I didn’t see the music fit and I didn’t feel comfortable enough with being a front man. When StF was released I somehow got in touch with Jelle Goossens [guitar, tech, keys] and together we started talking about making a real band [out] of Fourteen Twentysix.

Lighttown Closure received quite a mixed bag of press. Some seemed to praise it to high heavens whereas others had a much more cautious approach. Why do you think the bipolarity between all the reviews?

Chris: Songs to Forget received quite unanimous and good reviews, especially because of its atmosphere and its relative high quality for a debut solo effort.

Lighttown Closure was a definite step up in scope and recording quality, if not song writing quality but people seem to either hate it or love it.

It’s a very, very gloomy and down tempo. Combined with my, some say over-the-top, mournful voice it apparently is too much for some people. I grew up listening to bands such as My Dying Bride, Anathema and Skepticism, so things are not easily “too gloomy or slow” for my taste, but I guess the album just buckled under its own weight. There’s definitely some great creative moments on the album but certainly too many overlong passages and lack of real dynamics and variation. A lot of people ended up commenting on how much they liked us live on stage and they didn’t really care much for the album. We’ve tried to address that, and all the other feedback, with the new album.

All in all, I think it’s definitely an album that needs time to grow. Our new album will definitely gain and maintain interest more effectively. Whether that makes an album better is difficult to say for me. A year later, I really feel Lighttown Closure is an achievement for just its feeling of scale and density.

So, how does the new album differ from the previous one?

Chris: The new album is being written and recorded by us as a band. All the guys—who used to just play my songs on stage like session musicians—now contributed, which results in a more varied and richer palette. We chose to work from a pre-written concept serving as a sort of anchor point for everybody. We really didn’t want the new album to be about my personal pains again, so with the concept we moved things into a more universal area.

The new album is incredibly varied in sounds and musical influences, all weaved together into a giant painting, that ebbs and flows from beginning to end. The overall mood is a lot lighter and way more hopeful; really there are only one or two darker songs you could compare to our Lighttown-period. We expect the beginning of the album to really surprise our fans. Hopefully in a positive way!

We tried to do something with all the feedback from reviews and friends. The people complaining about a lack of dynamics in our previous releases will notice we really worked on that. Those who we’re annoyed by a forced wavering voice might notice the singing has matured, etc. We really went a long way to try and re-invent ourselves as a group.

Jelle: The new album is less dark. Although it definitely has the gloomy parts there are uplifting, bright and up-tempo bits and songs as well. I think the contrast is a big improvement on this album. Compared to Lighttown Closure—which was a long ride set in one mood—this album is much more organic, dynamic and surprising. The lyrics are of a higher level and we are a few steps closer to combining acoustic and electronic elements into the sound we want to achieve. Also, it’s not just a collection of songs but a coherent whole that should take the listener on a journey. Perhaps a tribute to the gone age of actual full-length albums. [Laughs]

Was it hard for you [Jelle] to step up and into something that was initially a solo project?

Jelle: It was actually quite a smooth ride, we expected some more bumps in the road. I think it became clear what we could do together as a band quite early in the experimenting/writing process and just continued with enthusiasm from there. It is still hard work as an independent band, trying to get the music out to people, etc., but the step up from solo project to a full band went great because it is what we all wanted after the successful live shows together.

How has the songwriting and recording process developed?

Jelle: A lot of song sketches were made by Chris or a few of us together before we started the whole writing-recording process. I think we had about 15 sketches before we went into the studio together. The first weekend we did was in an awesome countryside farmhouse. We made a live jam/studio setup. It was a great working environment and we also streamed this via video on the web [see here and here]. Looking back on it now, those few days is when a lot of essential stuff was done. Rough sketches mostly, but it set the skeleton of the album as it is now. After that first weekend we moved into our small studio and kept improving the songs and wrote some new ones from scratch.

Working with more people works great for us. There’s simply more input and ideas to experiment with. And although we have a rock band setup on stage we don’t necessarily follow that approach in the studio. We can all think about sound and global composition instead of just sticking to our own instruments. A lot of synth lines actually came from Jeroen [drums] and a lot of drum parts were composed by Chris and me, for example.

The approach to writing this album was different from Lighttown Closure from the very start. We had a global idea of what it should be and a concept/storyline to work from. This resulted in a strong LP that actually works as a circular listening experience.

Tom: Speaking for myself, the thing I missed the most on the previous album were interesting songs, both lyrically and structurally. As a result, we’ve been thinking more about the structure of songs on the new album. Although there’s also quite some experimental rhythmic stuff you wouldn’t find on LC. Jelle had a great influence in the latter. We set the bar high, and I think you can hear that.

Chris: We talked about doing the album together at the end of Lighttown. I had my doubts, especially in regards of time management and discipline as well as letting go the musical reigns.

I was afraid working as a group would result in a train wreck of ideas, not a consistent Fourteen Twentysix-album. While I was ready to take that risk, I was even more afraid the writing process would slow down too much. I’m an über-workaholic and I am used to working extremely fast and disciplined. With five people, I just didn’t feel it would work that well.

Being a metal site of sorts, I think it needs to be asked if there is any—and how much—metal on the new album?

Tom: There’s as little metal on it as on the last album. Sure, it can be moody and dark, but it’s no Slayer. Less manly.

Chris: Yeah. Literally taken there is none. We’ve moved even further away from metal and doomy atmosphere than before. On the other hand, with my metal background, the atmosphere in a lot of songs certainly has that dark, doomy vibe. I think people loving Anathema and My Dying Bride will appreciate it, even if it’s not as loud or with a growled voice.

I’m a huge fan of Fredrik Thordendahl’s Special Defects album and one day I came into the studio, the other guys had come up with a bridge for one of our new songs and I was blown away. It reminded me of those staccato, crazy headbanging freak riffs of Fredrik. That really made me happy. [Laughs]

Jelle: It’s hard to say for us at this point since we’re still in the process of finishing the album and we don’t know what’s up and down anymore, but I dare to say there is a little bit of metal on this album. No moshpit-action but definitely some headbanging. [Laughs] Soundwise some guitar parts and rhythmically some drums and bass. So don’t expect simultaneous riffing and lead solos, but it’s there if you’re looking for it. I think you’ll find it more in the atmosphere of the album than the actual musical composition.

There’s [also] more distortion on the synths and drums than on your average metal guitar sound. [Laughs]

Which means it rocks of course, but that probably wouldn’t sell it [laughs] since this album has been a new chapter for Fourteen Twentysix.  There’s a lot of different stuff on the album. A lot of which still reminds of Lighttown and perhaps of older metal influences. I think especially the mood we set in the last part of the [new] album still has some of those characteristics. Also, this album has much more heavier parts than Lighttown Closure and one can even discover some quadruple kick drums and Meshuggah-like rhythms! As said, the new album offers a lot of variety and metalheads should be able to enjoy it.

If that doesn’t sell it… what’s left to get the album into a bonafide metalhead’s hands?

Chris: Sneak it into their CD player by hiding it in a Morbid Angel jewelcase, tell ’em it’s ancient and true. Then hope for the best. [Laughs]

Tom: I’d have a hard time doing so.

On your previous album, one could hear a bit of Anathema, Radiohead and a bunch of electronic bands mingle together.  What’s been the source of inspiration this time around?

Chris: We really wanted to do something different and unique so we didn’t set out to sound like others. Of course, we have certain things we like and you might recognize as an influence on our new album.

Jelle: The biggest source of inspiration lies in the concept. It’s about patterns in life and nature, growth, decay and development and I think these themes have been a big source of inspiration, lyrically and soundwise. Furthermore, we are a group of five people with different backgrounds in music and other arts. Although we do of course share a few common inspiration sources, Chris still breathes the love for drawn-out atmospheric Anathema stuff, some Porcupine Tree and loves the ‘80s Depeche Mode-like synths. Tom [keys-guitar-vocals] is a songwriter at heart, think Radiohead indeed.  Me and Martijn [guitar-keys, bass] have been working together a lot before and draw heavy influences from electronic industrial music: Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin, Autechre and the darker styles of dance music. And Jeroen is inspired by (modern) classical composers for example.

We’ve been active for a few years now—be it solo or band—and looking back we’ve come to see strong points in what we did on the Songs to Forget EP and Lighttown and improved on them. And yes, we do believe you’ll be able to hear all of that on the new album! [Laughs]

Are you afraid that perhaps the new lighter mood will alienate people like was the case with Anathema’s latest (We’re Here Because We’re Here)?

Chris: I think it’s always a bit scary to release a new album and to see if people like it or not. To us this was really the logical step to take, move into lighter territory and expand our sound. It was something I already wanted to do with the previous album but it just didn’t work out until I started working with the entire band. I needed them to force me to move on.

We’ve never been a metal band, in fact we are still surprised we get so many positive reactions from prog and metal websites, seeing our music often leans more towards post-rock and alternative pop. So for us it’s not as a dramatic change. The dark stuff is still there, only there’s now a lot of hopeful material as well.

Anathema, though, has been moving way from metal ever since Eternity and Judgement, so I guess people knew at that point they were not going to get doom metal anymore [laughs] and with their last album they delivered the most heartfelt and genuine performance I’ve heard in a long time and I love it. I give Anathema a lot of credit for that, and Paradise Lost as well, which in my opinion made their best album with the infamous Host.

To be honest, I think metal is often defined so narrowly that it doesn’t give much room for creativity and expression other than anger and depression. I’m glad I grew up listening to those acts ’cause I felt that way at the time but I’m glad I’m able to tell a different story now with Fourteen Twentysix.

Jelle: I don’t think we’re afraid of that. I mean, it might happen that we alienate some people but we will also see new people that never heard or liked us before. Many bands have alienated listeners and lost fans by doing something they really wanna do, like changing the tone of their music or even their style. And I think that’s great. Personally, I’ve never liked bands that do the same thing for over a decade, I love a diverse discography and a live show with a lot of variety. If you follow the path you want to take, as an artist or as a band, and do it well I believe you’ll always end up with the right people. And I think that’s what we’re doing as well.

Tom: With every record you write, you risk losing some fans. Still, I don’t think it would be good if we did everything exactly like before. Writing with the entire band, instead of Chris alone, is bound to alter the sound of your songs. This record, in essence, is the product of five guys writing songs that they thoroughly enjoy for themselves. Hopefully, others will share that feeling, and then maybe we’ll gain some new fans in the process. I mean, I never really liked Anathema until their latest album. So it works both ways.

You said you’d gotten a great response playing live but apparently the CD was more of a mixed bag? Why’d you think that is and how does the playing live fit Fourteen Twentysix’s agenda?

Chris: The reaction we got often was that people just liked the dynamics and visuals of our live shows better than what they heard on the album. That was mainly due to the fact I recorded the music alone in a bedroom which resulted in more dreamy and flat mixes. We really worked hard to make our new album much more varied to improve on this aspect. Particularly the ups and downs are more present and my singing is a lot less polished, rawer like I sound on stage. The contrary is also true, however: Last week I got a comment on from a guy saying that Lighttown Closure was the most heartfelt recording he’s heard in a long time!

Jelle: Yeah. We got great reviews from our live shows and we know why. The songs from Lighttown Closure were much more energetic and compelling on a stage. They grew on us. This is partly the risk of making a studio album first and then taking it onto the stage.

Tom: I guess that it’s part of the problem that every starting band has to deal with. You can rehearse your ass off, write a brilliant album and maintain your network as much as possible, but in the end it boils down to how many people are willing to invest time into listening to your music. We try to stay ahead of the competition by giving it all we’ve got.

Jelle: The new album is much more alive because we knew this beforehand. It’s still a studio production but a lot of parts were jammed together and we made sure to include everyone’s playing. It’s easy to forget that with today’s digital techniques but I think we’ve succeeded in catching some of that live vibe onto the record. Especially Chris’ vocals are way more out there, much like he sings live and drums are more varied.

Chris: Our live performances are still a huge aspect of what we do and we are going to try and do a tour through Holland—and hopefully Europe—when the new album comes out. We love playing live, meeting our fans and being on the road…so yeah! We are not only going to sit behind our computers all year. [Laughs]

Jelle: Indeed! We’re really excited about taking this album onto the stage. Being a band that greatly relies on electronic sounds it’s months of work building and tweaking a live set, but it’s gonna be great. Recording is one part, performing another. And I think some of us even enjoy the latter more. We want to do a small tour right after the album release and try to bring our music live to the rest of Europe. We’re also planning on streaming some gigs and perhaps rehearsals or other quirky stuff via the internet. We love to be in touch with our fans this way. We’ll fill up that agenda. [Laughs]

Do you aim to play the stuff 1:1 or do you basically have two definitive versions of each songs?

Jelle: It differs per song of course, but you could almost say they get better and better when you play them live because unnecessary parts disappear overtime and new extended bits get added. And that’s not all there from the first moment you bring a new song on stage, this grows during performances also. I guess you could say every song has its live version, yeah. It’s just not possible to perform all the layers of sounds live anyway, so you make a selection. And we’re gonna be more selective this time.

Chris: Like Jelle said. Most of the time, the songs recorded for the album start to grow when you play them live. Certain guitar or keyboard parts change ever so slightly and the songs mature. Our music is also very layered so we are not always able to play all parts. We do a lot of instruments live. For example, live drums mixed with triggers and a lot of samples and keyboards, so with five guys on stage, we make noise for 10 people. [Laughs] Also, everyone plays different instruments and switches around to whatever the song needs. Tom is particularly good at that, going from acoustic guitar, to electric, back to keyboard and singing backing vocals to boot.

We also try to maximize some of the things you can do live, such as elongating certain parts or going really loud. On the album we try to keep everything roughly in that pop-format to avoid overly long passages of noise and drone. On a stage however these things are often the highlights of the entire show.

Jelle: Lighttown Closure wasn’t 1:1 exactly but it did sound close. For the new album we’ll actually rebuild some synth, drum and guitar sounds and especially add more options for tweaking those live to surprise fans and ourselves. We’ve dug even deeper into the digital realm so we’ve gained a lot of exciting options to perform the new songs. We’re still us, it’ll be chaos in the first few rehearsals probably and everyone will be drowning in different parts on different instruments but it’ll be a blast!

One thing that caught my eye with your previous release was that you really had put an effort on the ‘material’ side of things. From coherent graphic design to promo supplements, etc. It all worked towards selling Fourteen Twentysix as something to look out for. I take it that the importance of the visual side hasn’t lessened at all?

Chris: No, our visuals are still a huge part of what we do. In fact some of the first things we did was sit down and discuss what feeling or look we wanted the new album to have. We put together a mood board with various photos and pieces of text to give everything a direction from the start.

Now that the music recording is coming to a close we slowly move into the production/promotion phase of the entire operation. This means we will be spending more and more time on getting new band photos made, working on draft versions for the album cover, preparing press releases and so on. We feel it’s really important to have a proper look and approach for everything. It just makes you look more professional and shows that you really care about your music.

For this release we will be focusing more on music videos as well, which is something we couldn’t manage last time due to time constraints. Also our live presentation will be a notch up as well as our promotion material and online activity. We will also be LiveStreaming a lot of acoustic living room concerts, rehearsals and other cool things this year. So everybody can tune in to planet Fourteen Twentysix. [Laughs]

Jelle: It hasn’t lessened, indeed. Not only do we think it’s important to deliver a professional total package but we also find it a lot of fun! Our personal interests go beyond music only, we feel like artists, not musicians only. This is why we also have visuals with most of our live shows, and we believe we can do more with this and that will hopefully be visible in our upcoming shows. It’s just exciting for people if they have more to look out for, be it a release or a gig. They know they get to see, hear and feel more than just the songs and if they don’t know they might be well surprised. [Laughs]

How big of a project was it to get all the material scraped together?

Chris: It’s a lot of work really. Since we started this new album in October 2010 we’ve worked almost every weekend on writing and recording. During weekdays I generally spend another two to four evenings as well doing various things from booking shows to arranging photo shoots or interviews. Now that the recording is almost done we are going to spend a few months rehearsing, preparing all the promotional material and arranging press coverage and live shows. Running a band properly takes up a huge amount of time but we love doing it.

Jelle: Chris said it all. It’s been a huge project so far and we’re still far from finished. [Laughs] The recordings might almost be done but the rest has just started. We’re gonna do a video for one or more songs that will take a lot of time and building a live set is not something you do in a day or two. It’s been quite a journey already but a great one!

Speaking of DIY… what’s the label situation? Are you still actively looking for a label or gearing towards fully embracing the independent solo-route?

Jelle: We’ve talked a lot about this. We love to be able to do what we want when it comes to releasing songs, arranging remix contests, doing special online streaming events, and so forth. It should be possible to maintain a large part of that independency with some labels, but I guess we’ll just have to find them. [Laughs] A nice label would give us good exposure that we can use but what we mostly need help with is booking shows and getting us into places. We’re looking into the possibilities for staying independent from a label but having a booker for example. Anyway, it’s all a matter of finding and contacting people and that’s what we’re taking some for also after the recordings are finished.

Lighttown Closure was freely downloadable from your site. Any plans to continue that model?

Jelle: We chose to release our music for free to get a lot of exposure. Being an independent band it’s a good way to invite people that don’t know you. “Here’s the music, come see us live sometime!” And when they do, they might buy a CD or a shirt. A lot of people did. It’ll be slightly different this time though. We’re thinking about how to release this album online. For free, flat price, pay-what-you-want, three free tracks, there’s a lot of options.

So when can we expect the new album?

Chris: We are planning to release the new single Every Line with Mick Moss in a few months from now, depending on how fast we can get the promotion video put together. The entire new album we aim to release around September. It will be under wraps a lot sooner but we are spending even more effort this time around getting the promotion to a higher level and arranging a small European tour.

And where do you guys see Fourteen Twentsysix further down the road?

Tom: On a bigger road. [Laughs]

Chris: Oh, we feel we’ve only just started, really. Writing as a group feels like a new beginning. Already Jelle and me have been exchanging ideas about the next record and I know the other guys have a ton of ideas as well for more music.

We’d love to play live more, in and outside of Holland, and we will keep releasing quality music that we love to make. It would be great if we can gather an even bigger online—and—real world following, so that more people could enjoy our music. Aside from that who knows where we will end up right?

You’ll end up at Teeth of the Divine. Whether that’s good or bad… who knows?

[ Visit Fourteen Twentysix ]

Original band photograph courtesy of Leon Versmissen


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