Fourteen Twentysix, a musical project hailing from the Netherlands, is the brainchild and logical evolution of a solo project begun in 2006 by vocalist, singer-songwriter Chris van der Linden. While keeping the origins of their band name secret all these years, they have managed to reach a very wide audience for their delicate blend of rock, electronics and experimentations through embracing the tumultuous changes of the worldwide music industry. In a time where being heard and noticed in a vast sea of easily available and free audio on the internet is exceedingly difficult, Fourteen Twentysix has grabbed hold of the reins of an industry run wild and generated over 55,000 free music downloads, opened their doors to their personal progression as artists to their listeners and fans via the internet and celebrated in the change and opportunity new technology offers.
(dis)PERSE engaged in a conversation with two of the members – founder Chris van der Linden and Jelle Goossens, who lends a major hand in merging the acoustic and electronic/experimental elements of their latest efforts. We discuss their techniques, their view of the ‘new’ music industry, challenges and changes, and their departure into new realms for the crafting of their upcoming release. Fourteen Twentysix is busy putting the finishing touches on their newest release due out in September, mixed by Mark Robert Smith and featuring a guest vocal appearance by Mick Moss from UK band Antimatter (ex-anathema).
What is your musical background?
Jelle: I have been making music for a long time. Started playing the guitar when I was young. The Offspring and the likes (more heavy rock music at least at the time), until I got to know Radiohead. Back then, I was in a band and we started to integrate electronic sounds, heavily inspired by Radiohead and similar artists. So I got interested in electronic music, I started to check out artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher and got interested even more. Around that time I started experimenting myself with different synthesizers, software, effects, etc.
The last two years me and Martijn (bass) played in the industrial formation Androgene Collective. We became fans of digital sound processing, also on stage and combined rock music with electronica – the best of both worlds. Now, with Fourteen Twentysix, I like to combine both acoustic and electronic, analog and digital, noise and vocals. I can play the guitar ánd tweak knobs, great!
Chris: I wanted to play guitars when I was a kid but my dad took me to a drum store so I ended up being a drummer. After about 10 years of drumming in bands I wanted to write music of my own. I started Fourteen Twentysix as a solo project which meant I had to learn everything from scratch. Now we are pretty much a full blown band again, under my “supervision” if you will.
When did you first form Fourteen Twentysix and how has the band changed since its formation?
Jelle: Chris started recording songs by himself in 2007. Halfway through 2008 I got involved and helped Chris finishing and releasing Songs To Forget, the debut EP. Shortly after that a band was formed to play the songs live. Befriended musicians Martijn (bass) en Jeroen (drums) joined. Fourteen Twentysix was a side project for some of us back then but that quickly changed when we started on Lighttown Closure. Tom (keys, guitars, backing bocals) helped out on some songs on the album. When he joined the live band it clicked from the very first rehearsal session. I think that was the time we realised we had a strong group of musicians together. Lighttown Closure was finished and quickly after that we started making plans to create the next album as a band. That worked out great and at the moment we’re still together finishing the new album 😉
Chris: Yeah, Lighttown Closure was a turning point. During that time we were halfway between a solo project and a “normal” band. We are now finishing our new album which we wrote as a group. It took some effort to let go of the reigns, doing everything myself. But it was worth the trouble, I wouldn’t want to make such an ambitious record (the one we are finishing now) on my own. It just wouldn’t be as good.
MAM Records has been a longtime favorite of (dis)PERSE – what made you select them for your free digital distribution?
Chris: When I recorded the Songs to Forget EP my only idea was to put the songs on Myspace and nothing much else. The whole “internet” promotion thing had yet to catch on. When we finished Lighttown Closure, which was a far more mature product, we felt it deserved more attention. Naturally bands start looking for a label and so did we. But I felt it was important to keep certain freedoms, such as being able to release what you want and when you want.
Was the idea of doing netlabel releases originally intended as part of your “marketing plan” or was it an idea that evolved as your recording efforts evolved?
Jelle: It evolved. Although we think a lot about how to “market” our music and do live shows, I think netlabel releasing wasn’t necessarily part of our plan but it became more logical to do as we went along. It helped us get a lot exposure, nice reviews and we met nice people. You notice big acts do it as well, Nine Inch Nails releasing music for free online etcetera, really reaching out to their fans and embracing the new music industry. We see it as a big opportunity too, not a threat.
I have had the unique opportunity to hear some newer material recorded since Lightown Closure and your style holds true to the new material, however there are some distinct changes. How would you describe these changes and what brought them about?
Chris: The music is a lot more dynamic and energetic. We got a lot of positive feedback on our live shows so we wanted to catch some of that live energy on record. Also, working as a full band gives way more input to work with, so the results are a lot more varied and go through more feedback stages before being finalised. Lighttown Closure was mostly set in one slow tempo and mood, our new album is a lot more organic, dynamic and surprising.
Jelle: A big change to some people might be that we have become less dark. There are actually some quite positive, bright and up-tempo parts. Our music still has that melancholy and darker mood sometimes but especially the opening part of the album is extremely upbeat compared to Lighttown Closure.
Chris: We also used even more synthesizers on this album, it’s a wonderful marriage between acoustic instruments (such as bizarre drum sounds made out of radiators, flowerpots and barbeques) and electronic stuff like bass synthesizers. It’s not hard to hear influences like Depeche Mode, Autechre and the likes on this record in addition to the “rock” elements.
What was different for you in recording the new material compared to recording your last release?
Chris: This time we worked from a pre-written concept, which is entirely different than just writing nice songs and putting them together to make an album. Working from a concept takes a lot more effort because everything has to tie together. If done right though it results in a nice coherent whole that is way more than just a collection of great songs. What we’ve ended up with is a massive 60 minute record that tells a compelling story, starts in one place and takes you to another… It’s something that doesn’t get done very often anymore by today’s rock bands.
Jelle: We were also better prepared before diving into song recording. We built our own sound library existing of single shot sampled objects to compile drumkits from, noisy environment loops, synth patches and so on. In addition we spent a lot more time to make sure performance was captured better, we wanted parts of the album to feel like being at a live show, not in a studio.
If there a particular process the band follows when recording?
Chris: With our new album we started with a pre-written concept in place so we knew what the album was going to “be about”. We even went as far as deciding that to tell that story we needed to have X amount of songs, and each song already had a certain “sub story” to tell in the big picture.
Next to that I created some “sketches” for sound and atmosphere to get started with so we had a jumping point. From that moment on we all just flew with it and tried to create wonderful stuff that fit the concept/story.
Jelle: Sometimes we try to do the vocals early on in a song process but they end up being finalised at the very last because we just love tweaking the sounds so much 😛 Sometimes we get inspired by some reverb/distortion tail or an accidental sample loop that we just dive in and change the direction the song was going. We can be kinda “all over the place” and not holding back until it’s time to actually finish a track and do final recordings.
Chris: Since we work from our own home studio we have no limits and time constraints. This is a bliss but also a curse, you have to stop at some point and say “this is it”.
Do you think exposing your latest recording sessions via live video feeds on the internet influenced the recording process or the way you work together in any way?
Jelle: I think it gave a positive and sometimes funny vibe to the whole process. We didn’t feel pressured or anything like that, it’s just a nice idea that people are “watching” and that gives us an extra boost to do great stuff! It’s a nice way to share something with fans or people that are new to our music. It shows how we try to experiment with new (digital) techniques, not only to produce music but also to involve the outside world
Chris: Sometimes people watching said in the chatbox like “oh this sounds nice!” and then we kept experimenting with that sound or melody. When you have so many options we sometimes refer back with our friends, fans, mixing engineer and girlfriends to see what they think is a great song. For the most part, broadcasting everything we do, is just really to let the fans give a look into our world. It’s about sharing our experience and interacting.
What are the most important tools in your studio (instruments, technology…)?
Jelle: First of all the digital workstation: iMac + Firewire audio interface (MOTU Ultralite MK-3 / Presonus Firestudio) and a set of KRK monitors. Without it, shit doesn’t work haha. We run the latest version of Ableton Live and use it intensely (instruments and effects also). Our favourite VST plugins, mainly for (drum-)synthesis, distortion and amp simulation. A big library consisting of our sampler and synth patches. One MIDI keyboard and controller in the studio, although we use a few more during jams. Digital Roland drumkit which we also only use for jamming since we tweak and program the MIDI in software at a later stage.
Chris: For guitars we play Fender Telecaster and Fender Jaguar bass, directly into the audio interface, sometimes through a good pre-amp. Taylor acoustic guitar, both directly and room recorded. Blue Bottle condenser mic and a Shure SM7B, both mainly for vocals, and the all familiar Shure SM57 mic.
Jelle: We also have a big pile of crappy acoustic guitars, weird percussion and other sound objects. Lately we’ve started to experiment with re-amping too, maybe something we use even more for the next album
With Lightown Closure you turned to the internet music community and had other artists remix some your songs – do you plan to do this with your next release as well?
Jelle: We’re already busy with a remix project for this release and there’s probably gonna be more, yes. No concrete plans yet about involving the internet music community but that might just happen again Remixes are always welcome, it’s nice to see musicians work together.
What can fans expect from a live Fourteen Twentysix performance and how do your live shows differ from your studio work?
Chris: Fans can expect an energetic and visually stunning live show. The live versions of songs differ from the studio versions. Sometimes not everything you do in the studio translates well to live performance so we slightly alter the song or drop parts. A lot of the songs are more intense in the louder parts and have extended and extra parts because they evolve during rehearsals. We also bring visuals when possible (often depends on the venue) and stage decoration for special shows and bigger stages. The visuals are getting a complete remake for the new live show and are going to be a lot more exciting
Fourteen Twentysix has embraced social media and new communication technology whole heartedly and it seems this has proven very successful for you. For other bands would you recommend this method?
Chris: We would definitely recommend it, but only if you are up for the effort, as it requires quite some work. You can get a lot out of it but don’t think people will just randomly run into you on the internet. Contact people, keep them up to date, give them something special. It takes a lot of time but it’s mostly free and can really make the difference, especially on a local level where other bands are “not into internet too much”. Internet can also cross borders so you are able to generate fans in Hawaii even if you are in Poland.
How do you use social media to promote Fourteen Twentysix and reach out to your fans and new fans?
Jelle: We keep our fans up to date with what we do. We show people some insight in how we work and how far we are with the new album. Can’t get around Facebook. Fans can follow everything we do on there.
Chris: We love Livestream and plan to do more with that in the future. It’s nice to give people a live peak into what we do as a band, how the album progresses, etc and have had great reactions so far. We will probably even start broadcasting rehearsals/shows later on. When we’re not broadcasting live it automatically turns into a sort of TV channel, great stuff.
Do you feel the downturn in the music industry has helped your band or do you think the existence of a traditional music industry model would have helped in your success?
Chris: That’s hard to say but I definitely think the downturn opened up a lot of opportunities for us. Also, we don’t see it as a downturn but a great development and what the future of music should’ve been all along. Walking the independent road as a band can prove successful if you’re willing to work for it. We are willing to do that and people notice it.
Jelle: I think in a traditional music industry model it’s often hit or miss. It might be harder to build up something for yourself as your success is more dependent on other people. A label might help you get more exposure but does it also get you more live shows? More album sales would do you good but maybe no one would have heard about you if you didn’t share the music on the net or played a show in their town. An MTV music video, great, but today I’d rather have a million viewers on Youtube than being broadcast next to the Hills (does MTV even broadcast music anymore? :/). We go with the flow and will find our way. We’re enjoying the freedom.
When can we expect the newest Fourteen Twentysix release to be available?
Chris: We are now actually finishing the album, big portions are already being mixed and mastered by Mark Robert Smith. The release will be around September because we like to take more time out to prepare promotion and a small tour. We tried to raise the bar in every way this time. For example on one of our songs, Mick Moss from UK’s Antimatter (ex-Anathema members) sings a guest vocal.
If you could change anything at all about the music industry what would it be?
Jelle: Bring back the full length album 😉 Nowadays all focus seems to be on hit single songs accompanied by a videoclip. Sometimes I don’t get it because there’s more to a band or artist than just that one song. But if I really had the power to change something I would get rid of all that popular horrible stuff on TV and boost some good bands/acts that make great music but are struggling to even keep going. There’s nothing wrong with commercial music but there is something wrong with bad commercial music, and there is a lot of it, now more than ever.
Chris: I would vote to discontinue The Hills…. oh wait music right? 😛
What inspires you as a musician and songwriter?
Jelle: Other people’s music, mostly. And especially other people’s live shows. Movies, games and soundtracks. Other forms of art like installations, paintings, etc. And.. ‘the more important questions in life’ 😉 I like to zoom out, reflect, look back, look forward. This is all personal though and not necessarily what inspires 1426 as a band.
Chris: I’m a creative person so I always like to “create”, sometimes I don’t even have an idea in my head, I just want to make music. It’s more of an instinctive thing. Maybe this is why lyrics can sometimes be very hard for me, because I don’t necessarily know what I want to say.
What other artists do you feel are important for people to be aware of right now?
Jelle: Oh, that’s a good question. And a hard one. Sometimes you get so lost in the jungle of your own music that you forget everything around you. I should listen to more music 😛 One band I really like is And So I Watch You From Afar, they are great. Autechre, still always ahead of time. And you should keep an eye out for Trent Reznor’s new project How To Destroy Angels, I think they’re releasing their first album soon. That’s a settled name but he always surprises me and the debut EP was quite promising.
Chris: While I listen to and enjoy a really wide range of music there are certain artists I keep coming back to. For example I listen to Katatonia often, Strapping Young Lad and Meshuggah. Things like Depeche Mode and U2 always work for me because it’s just good pop music. I really enjoyed Imogen Heap’s Ellipse quite a lot (for something completely different) which is a true diamond of production an vocalism.
Jelle: Sushi, and olives. Win!
Chris: Traditional Chili con Carne, Macaroni, Pasta with pesto
Listen to and learn more about Fourteen Twentysix
Fourteen Twentysix: Lighttown Closure
The songs of Fourteen Twentysix were remixed by electronic artist Jeroen Bax (EXM).
The culmination of months of remix work by dozens of artists