woensdag 28 januari 2015

Interview with Maggie Brown's Marcel Hulst

Interview by Wout de Natris

© WoNo Magazine 2015

In 2014 Maggie Brown released its eponymous album which led to quite positive reviews by Erwin Zijleman and Wo. on this blog which ended with a number 3 spot in Wo.'s top 10 for 2014. The next step was simple: let's find out some more about the band and the songs on its beautiful album. Singer/guitarist Marcel Hulst answered our call.

As not all readers may be familiar with the band, how would you like to introduce yourself?

Five guys who share a love for pop music, in the widest sense of the word. Yet, we weren't raised on classical music or jazz, but guitar music from the 80s and 90s. So, that's where most songs take off…

The name of the band is unusual. Who is Maggie Brown? And what was the reason behind choosing this name for the band?

Maggie Brown is the name of a coffee bar in Brooklyn NY, where -according to the New York Times- the worst coffee in NYC is served. I tried, of course, and you might not always believe what's being written in the papers, but this time they were right.  

To start an album with an instrumental is sort of a dangerous choice for a vocal band. Still, you’ve made this choice. Can you tell something of the reasons for this choice?

The song popped up, all of a sudden and once it was there, we said: we've just found our opening song for all our upcoming gigs and the album.  

Influences on the album range, in my opinion, from Pink Floyd to indie bands like e.g. Caesar. Which bands are influences on your album, ‘Maggie Brown’?

Sparklehorse, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, Midlake

In the lyrics the U.S. and England come by regularly. What is the link with these countries?

As far as England concerns: I don't know…the U.S. is the most fascinating country in the world, I think. I go there quite often, and even though it's still considered the land of hope and dreams by many, there's not much to dream of anymore. It's not the most friendly country on the planet, the gap between rich and poor is widening, but people from all over the world still dream of making it there. Yet, the country will always be an inspiring haven for dreamers and artists alike. And each time I set foot on American soil, I feel terribly happy. Bizarre, huh?

As far as songs go, who is responsible for what within Maggie Brown? How does a typical Maggie Brown song come about?

Usually I come up with 80% -90% of a song, and we try to make it sound like Maggie Brown. 
Sometimes a brilliant idea won't even survive the first attempt of turning it into a song. Other moments, a three-chord song pops up and once it's there, we can't remember where it came from.  Sometimes, songwriting is more mind-boggling than witchcraft. 

‘Permanent resident card’ on the one hand seems a song on travelling but on the other about illegal border crossing into the US (which involves travelling also of course). Can you share what the song is about?

I was traveling from Canada to the U.S. border and I was held up at the U.S border, while entering Vermont. We waited for 2 hours, and all bags were checked. We queued up in line, and everyone was interrogated, but two African people were taken aside and addressed as if they were non-U.S. citizens. They were repeatedly asked the same stupid questions all over again, and obviously it had to do with their origin. I objected and was taken aside as well. They told me rules had tightened because a 28-year-old Afro-American had killed someone at that very U.S. border protection office. I told him: "why don't you check all the 28-year-olds?" but he didn't want to answer any of my questions, obviously. A few minutes later, we all had to pay our 6 dollar entrance fee, and one of the Africans paid a 20-dollar note. It was held against the light. I took a 20-dollar note as well, but it wasn't checked. I told them: "You'd better check my note as well…..". She looked up, and said: "is there reason to believe it is counterfeit?". I replied: well, it was issued by an American financial institution, and we all know where the economical crisis came from…". Ten minutes later I was continuing my way to Burlington, with an idea for a song…

‘Queen of England’ seems to be about an unobtainable love (and Elizabeth II was queen around 24). Is the lyric based on a true story, a personal metaphor or is it fantasy?

A personal metaphor.

Can elaborate on that?

'Queen of England' is kind a of dreamlike song about a youthful, naive outlook on the world and the fact that growing up isn't an easy thing to do. It's hard to be more specific. It may sound as if there's a message in a song, which there isn't in this case. I prefer to keep a distance and like it if things are not too specific. I'd rather describe the scenery around a topic; more as if looking at a picture instead of telling a story. 

What does it take for Maggie Brown to let ‘The golden age’ begin?

Well, a booking agent and a record company that has a little faith…(and a marketing budget).

Several lyrics seem more observations. Where does the inspiration come from? And, what comes first, the lyrics or the music?

The music, always the music, and lyrics-wise: it's just hard work. I don't believe that much in inspiration myself, I just have to work very hard for it. I wish I could go to a park, open a notebook, and be inspired and write, but I can't.

Your album is on Spotify and Bandcamp. Are these sustainable models for a starting band? On the other hand, are there alternatives left to get spotted? 

No, Spotify only caters for the U2s, Coldplays and Lady Gagas I think. Not small indie bands. We stopped selling records the very day our music was on Spotify. But we don't want to sound frustrated, and don't want to think too much about sales, just focus on the music. Last week, someone paid 6 euros for 2 latte coffee, but didn't plan on buying the latest War on Drugs record for 15 euros, for "it's on Spotify anyway…" It really made me think.

I do hope this vinyl revival will blossom for indie bands as well, and not just serve pressing plants who 'need to' press a minimum of 500 copies. 

The cover art by Gerhard Richter is beautiful. What is the story behind the cover? How was it “found” and what happened next?

A miracle happened there. I was walking through Cologne (where Richter lives) and saw the Seestück looming up in the distance. I told my friend: that's the perfect cover for our album. He said: "Why don't you write him?" and started laughing. I said: "OK, I will…". A week later I wrote the gallery, and someone replied: you have to mail his personal assistant.

Which I did. A week later, his assistant said: Gerhard Richter is in the US and won't be here any time soon, and usually he rejects these kind of requests. I asked why. She said he's not that much into pop-music and would -anyhow- need to hear a song before agreeing. I send her a song, and asked her to forward it. The song was Alaska. A month later he replied. "Your music is really interesting. You can use one of my paintings as your album cover. Best regards, Gerhard." 

The cover suggests a deeper meaning. The sea, ‘Atlantic’. What made the band go for this specific painting?

The sea - unfortunately- is the only thing that keeps me from walking straight into America. 

Is Maggie Brown a serious hobby or is there the intention to grow?

We want to grow. Not because we're a bunch of naive kids who dream of 'making it into indie music', like a billion others. Besides that, 'making it' is bullshit, especially in Holland. But I feel there's so much more people out there who might love our songs. And of course; our songs need to grow, too. We have to get better, both live and in the studio. But believe me: the 2nd album will be even better. 

Speaking of which: I've just finished my first solo-album, and it's a small step forward.
I'll send you a copy and hopefully you'll dig it!

That gives us something to look forward to. What are your plans with Maggie Brown for 2015?

Recording our 2nd album, starting this weekend. Finding a booking agent. Getting better.  

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