Cafebar 401: Just Rock 'N' Roll
Despite growing up nearly half a continent away from the bands they were inspired by—the Black Crowes, Beck, Masters of Reality, and Radiohead are some obvious influences—the Dutch four-piece known as Cafebar 401 have gone beyond being yet another band that sounds like every other homogenized pop band. The band, made up of Martijn Masman on bass, Dennis Kleinlangevelsloo on guitar, Wout Oosterwechel on drums, and vocalist Tije Oortwijn, manages to blend the elements of hard rock, dance, and glam to create some of the most exciting music to hit the airwaves in years.
Or at least the Dutch airwaves. Since first hitting the streets earlier this year, Cafebar 401's eponymous debut has received prominent airplay in their native Holland, as well as being featured on Dutch television. Not content with idly writing and recording music in seclusion, the band has also become a regular fixture at pop festivals throughout the Netherlands, including Dauwpopfestival, Struikpaaspop, IO-festival, and Wollipop.
Oortwijn credits growing up in the village of Luttenberg as the reason he became a musician. "Luttenberg is a very musical village, with a long tradition of rock music and bands," he says. "Many of our friends play in bands, too, and that's how we got started playing music. Wout and I have played together for a long period of time now. Martijn and Dennis played in other bands and teamed up with us later."
The band name, Cafebar 401, came from an old automatic coffee machine that was standing in the band's former rehearsal room. "We needed a name for our first gig and we liked how the name Cafebar sounded," says Ootwijn. "We contacted the company Cafebar and they really love that there is a band named after one of their products! Over here they always ask us first, 'Where did the band name come from?' You can watch them think, 'They can't be named after the coffee machine, can they?' But yes, they are. There is no connection whatsoever between the name and our music," he adds. "We thought it was a cool name, and that was it!"
Having catchy, tongue-in-cheek name doesn't come close to detracting from the seriousness of the band, however. Their debut, released and distributed through Pink Records in the Netherlands and Wampus Multimedia in the U.S., is evidence of just how good a band Cafebar 401 is.
The opening track of Cafebar 401, "Full-Pro Disco!," is very reminiscent of songs from bands like Sweet and Cheap Trick, with an anthemic chorus and big, strong power chords. Another song, "Senses Working Overtime," is a hard rock love ballad, with moody, melancholic minor tones and lead singer voice hitting the falsetto notes beautifully and in perfect pitch. "Troubles" is a bit of a musical departure from the album, leading into the song with only vocals and a piano and building up to a full band crescendo that still follows the piano chords, reminding one of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper.
Throughout the album, the band shows an amazing range of emotions and styles, somehow making an album that calls on sounds as disparate as classical stringed instruments and balls-out rock guitar, with subjects ranging from dealing with a parent's death to casually observing women walking by, and making the album work as a whole, like some great story that needs to be read from the beginning to end to truly understand all the facets of the characters' personalities and lives.
"The album consists of four or five songs we'd played for a long period of time ("2 am" is the first Cafebar song ever written) that we thought were the best (non-recorded) Cafebar songs, and the rest of the songs were written during the recording process," explains Oortwijn of the album. "I wrote the songs, working on them in the studio and sometimes taking them to rehearsal to take a look at it with all four of us.
"The album took about half a year from beginning to end, and apart from the drums, was recorded whole at our home studio. So in the end, we did it all ourselves, making it intensely satisfying to hear the final product. The idea was to make an album with good songs that weren't interchangeable, whilst maintaining one overall sound and a certain vibe. But there's no theme or any conscious idea that we applied during the recording process. In time, the album went in a certain direction, and we liked where it was headed.
"It never even crossed our minds to sing in Dutch or any language other than English," he adds. "To us, Dutch sounds really lame, and singing in Dutch in an alternative rock band is simply not done over here, with very, very few exceptions. Further, everything we hear and like is sung in English."
Because of this, there's a good chance that most Americans who hear this album won't even have a clue that this is a Dutch band at all. As in so much music, from all over the world, accents tend to completely disappear when a singer is singing, as though music itself is the accent. There's no struggle to communicate ideas, and any message being passed on can be easily understood by the listener.
So does Cafebar 401 have a message to pass along? "No," says Oortwijn. "We're not really a band with a message or philosophy. Maybe someday we will be, but right now we're just focusing on making good music and, more importantly, making music we like."
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