Coming off their latest album, Man Up, Denmark’s The Blue Van have been touring and promoting their music to make a mark in the U.S. After winning Knox Road’s coveted Most Promising Band at Siren 2009 award, frontman Steffen Westmark answered my burning questions about breaking the U.S. scene, going nuts onstage and escaping the Danish “Barbie Girl” legacy.
The Blue Van – “Man Up” [MP3]
So Lee says you’ve been around for about 12 years, your Wikipedia page lists you guys as active for six. What’s your history?
Well, I guess that’s kinda true. In 2003 we put out our first real self-financed EP, called “A Session with…”, which started everything. But me and Søren started the band when we were around 11-12 years old. We were just kids who, along with Allan, started fooling around with our instruments, trying to master them. So we would do grunge covers and old blues stuff just to get better at playing. We played youth clubs and private parties in our hometown. But it wasn’t until our first drummer left, and Per joined that we really started to take it serious, and were trying to find “our sound” – and that was back in ’96.
So we’ve been playing together for 12-13 years, but have been brothers since forever.
How has it been trying to make it in the U.S?
Definitely an adventure. When we got signed back in 2005 our old record label moved us to NY for half a year, and had us do 3-4 full tours around the states. So we’ve been, and still are, working hard at it. But we are aware that it takes time, ’cause it’s such a big and diverse country. We learned a lot as humans and musicians while touring the endless roads of America.
It looks like you’ve had a lot of songs used in commercials and TV shows. Some bands think that’s “selling out.” Was that an easy decision to make?
We used to be against anything that had to do with licensing our music out to commercials, TV shows, etc. But the record business has changed a lot within the last 3-5 years. No label has the money to make a massive promotion campaign for a band of our size at this point, because of the state of the record business and the financial crisis. So it’s a way to get your music out to bigger crowds, and earn a little survival money on the side. We wouldn’t put our music in just any kind of commercial. It is a promotion tool.
What kind of music did you guys listen to growing up?
Everything from Dinosaur Jr. to Hendrix to Helmet to Gary and The Pacemakers. In the beginning when we started playing it was mostly 60s, then it turned into 70s. Now we listen to all kinds of shit.
Your live shows are pretty crazy. Where does that all come from?
There’s always been some kind of energy on stage, we just didn’t know how to release that energy. Then we discovered the MC5, and we knew that we wanted to make our stage performance look as “easy” as they did. I also think it’s just a way to release all the tension both from being on stage, but also tension built up from everyday frustration, etc. It’s meditation;)
And you got to give people a show. We’re always having a party on stage, which we feel the audience should have too. We’re an excuse to let it all hang out!
I’ve noticed most Danish bands write in English. Have you considered writing more songs in your native tongue?
I write poetry in Danish, but I haven’t really written songs in Danish. It just comes more naturally to me to write in English, because we’re taught English in school from the third grade, and a lot of our TV shows come from the states. To me it’s just more inspiring to write in English, and also a fun challenge. I’m always looking for new words and phrases.
How have Danish musicians escaped the legacy of Aqua and “Barbie Girl?”
Yeah, Danish musicians have really shown great variety within the last 5 years. I really believe that we have some really unique bands and artists. Of course we have shitty stuff as well, but every country has a fair amount of shitty bands. Fuck Aqua! Awful band. Luckily people like David Fricke have helped change foreigners’ perception of Danish music. For people who don’t know a lot about Danish music here are some bands to check out:
Figurines, Oh No Ono, Superheroes, Choir of Yound Believers, Are We Brothers, The William Blakes, One-Eyed Mule, The Broken Beats, Under Byen.
What are you guys doing now?
Right now we’re back in Denmark, where we’ll soon continue our Danish Summer tour. We have 4-5 festivals left, and after that we begin our Fall tour.
In between gigs we’ll start working on the next record. We have at least 30 demos ready by now, which we’ll start to do pre-production on. We should start recording, hopefully, around November ’cause we’d like the next record to come out around May 2010 – all depending on how much momentum there’s left in Man Up.
What does the future hold for The Blue Van?
Touring and recording as explained above. This is our living, and we should hopefully soon be able to live completely off our music.
The record will gradually come out in more countries.
The perfect scenario would be the big break-through in the States and a couple of European countries, like for example Germany. So the future for the Blue Van consists of hard work! The sky’s the limit. We have many goals we want to archive.
Name five songs you’ve been into lately and a brief note on each.
Band On The Run – Wings
– just a great song, with many great parts. The whole album is great.
Butter Queen – Three Man Army
– Gurvitz brothers with Buddy Miles. Awesome riff-rock.
Fredag – Dungen
– Swedish acid rock with great melodies
The Mexican – Babe Ruth
– Disco rock from the seventies. Had a minor hit with this song. Just a groovy tune.
The Way It Is – Nicole Atkins
– The Patsy Cline of New Jersey. I might be wrong. She’s just extremely talented, has a beautiful voice and writes amazing songs.