Literary Boyband releases debut album: ‘What we do is sincere’

Loneliness, masculinity and life in the late twenties and early 30s. These are some of the themes that return on the literary Boyband’s debut album, where music and poetry alternate. ‘People think too much in genres.’

With a release show in Merleyn, the five band members of Boyband present their debut album next week. In Canon contains twelve songs, ranging from danceable hits to literary expressions.

The five-man band has been around since 2018 and has previously performed at Wintertuin Festival and Lowlands. On stage, they alternate between music and performance. They often do this accompanied by dance moves and sultry looks, as befits a real boy band.

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Three of the five members – poet Wout Waanders, cartoonist Jelko Arts and musician Laurens van de Linde – know each other from studying Dutch at Radboud University, the other two – theater makers Koen Frijns and Martin Rombouts – met them at literary parties.

In Canon has become a fun and emotional record’, says Jelko Arts in a coffee shop overlooking the Waal. ‘There’s silence in it, jokes and songs to dance to.’

‘Our dream with this album? Being at the Boekenbal’, adds Wout Waanders. “That’s why we ever got the number Adrian van Discotheque made.’

Arts: ‘I’ll only be happy when we get streamed a billion times on Spotify.’

How did you come up with the idea to release an album?

Wout Waanders: ‘We started as a scene where we linked a boy band’s dances and movements to literature. We couldn’t perform during the corona crisis, that’s when the idea for an album arose.’

Jelko Arts: ‘An album fits well into our history, it’s a typical 90s thing. There are many disadvantages to a plate: You cannot make steps, kiss or wink at the people in the room. But you can quite easily invite guests or pretend to be a radio programme’.

Boy band in the little comedy. From left to right: Martin Rombouts, Wout Waanders, Laurens van de Linde, Koen Frijns and Jelko Arts. Own picture

Wout: ‘The literary boy band’s starting point was not just reading literary texts out loud on stage. We wanted to do something new, explore possibilities. That’s why there are boy band songs in the album as well as someone leaving a voicemail.

What is the record about?

Wout: ‘Loneliness played a role during the corona crisis. Masculinity is a theme, but also everything you encounter in the lives of people in their thirties and late twenties. But we are not very committed. There is also a lot number on it.’

Jelko: ‘We once started with a performance at Lowlands. It was very much about us doing everything a boy band does: fighting, taking the plane… We’ve passed that point now: now we’re making the songs we want to make.’

Does the gimmick of the boy band get in the way of certain themes?

Wout: ‘It is more of a form than a material commitment. We don’t just have to bring dance moves to the stage, we can also do a solo performance’.

Jelko: ‘Many come to our show with the idea that we are a gimmick. But what we do is sincere. I find many themes in a boy band interesting. Put five characters together and see what creative process occurs. That literature on stage is dead boring and that you can do it with a boy band spice it upis also somewhat substantive.’

Wout: ‘The excitement is that people think: is it fun or not? We play with that’.

Where did the name of the album, In Canon, come from?

Wout: ‘If you do something in canon, you do it together, but everyone still has their own voice. It symbolizes how we work. But the literary canon has another meaning: a framework that contains all standard works. Of course, our goal is also to get in there.’

There are both songs and literature on the album. Will your songs also be played on the radio?

Jelko: ‘Anyone who doesn’t want to be played on the radio should write a book of poems. Some songs are very suitable for the radio, but the album also includes a recorded voicemail message. A deejay can’t do anything about that. I really like that tension.’

“Our goal is to end up in the Top 2000”

Wout: ‘Adrian van Discotheque has already been played a few times on Radio 1. My goal is to get into the Top 2000 with Boyband, but then with a poem (laughs).’

Jelko: ‘Behind this is the idea that the Top 2000 does not contain poetry.’

Wout: ‘While poetry and music are sometimes close to each other.’

Do people think too much in genres?

Jelko: ‘The longer we work with this, the more we discover that this is the case. When we asked Merleyn if they have a lectern to stand behind, they said they don’t. And in the Perdu bookshop in Amsterdam we mustn’t play too loud, otherwise the neighbors will be a nuisance. As soon as you want something that in a way reverses a genre, there are many who do not understand what is happening.’

In one of your songs, Adriaan van Dis has a soundbite.

Wout: ‘On the song he says: “What a party, what a party, my name is after a disco”.’

Jelko: ‘Someone at Radboud University thought it would be nice to play that song at the presentation of his honorary doctorate at Radboud University. We dreaded it, but in the end he really liked it. I hope he will listen to the whole album.’

Boyband brings literature to the stage in an accessible and attractive way. But isn’t the luster of literature lost a little that way?

Jelko: ‘Many people get upset when we call our shows poetry and poems. One of our last performances was at the presentation of the Tollens Prize, which went to the poet Ellen Deckwitz. Many people in the room found it objectionable that we were programmed for a distinguished poetry prize.’

Some of you studied Dutch at Radboud University. Will it return in Literaire Boyband?

Wout: ‘Jos Joosten (professor of Dutch literature, ed.) was thesis supervisor for three members of the literary boy band, and he gives a lecture at the publication in Merleyn. But we have no figures on morphology or argumentation analysis.’

‘All Boyband members are fascinated by telling a story’

Jelko: ‘Many Dutch students want to become teachers, communications advisors or journalists. I especially wanted to do something with language and stories. That’s where I found Wout and Laurens: they also wanted to tell or turn stories in a new way. All Boyband members are very fascinated by telling a story.’

Wout: ‘I didn’t learn to write poems on the course. By reading a lot and knowing what’s out there, you learn what you like and what you don’t. I learned the broad lines on the Dutch course. That’s university thinking: putting two things together that don’t belong together. You can do that in an essay, but also in a boy band.’

Diversity is an important topic in contemporary literature. How is the diversity in the boy band?

Jelko: ‘We are not different in terms of gender. We are hyper-aware of that, but it is not easy to find a solution to it.’

Wout: ‘What we do is also about men. If five women want to start a girl band, of course they can. But in terms of content, there is diversity in our band: As a poet, I want to bring poetry to the stage, others have more of a background in music. You have to take that into account, but it also keeps it interesting’.

The boyband’s ‘In Canon’ can be listened to on Spotify and other platforms from 17 January. There are still a few tickets left for the release show in Merleyn.

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