DPRP's Menno von Brucken Fock
speaks with members of Illumion
after rehearsal in Opmeer (The Netherlands)
on 6th September 2009
In 2002, after her graduation from the conservatory of Alkmaar, department Guitar Jazz & Pop, Eveline van Kampen wanted a band to give the music in her head a concrete voice. She asked Peter H. Boer, knowing he could deal with the more experimental symphonic rock music, if he was interested in forming a band. The bass player of the progressive-fusion band Songs of the Exile (S.O.T.E.) participated in her graduation project. Finding a singer and drummer was easy enough. Esther Ladiges, Peter Boer’s partner and also singer in the band Unicorn, was happy to join in. She graduated in jazz vocals at the same conservatory, and is known for her ‘progressive’ contributions to Sangamo, Ixion, Entropy and Ayreon. Emile Boellaard was an obvious choice for the drums, since he was also a member of Songs Of The Exile, but left that band several months ago. Illumion was born when John the Bruin joined on keyboards and guitar. Illumion started out with some of Eveline’s original compositions and covers from bands like Pain of Salvation and Fates Warning, finding a way to combine the various musical influences to a unique style and to create new music out of that inspiration. After a while, the position of the keyboardist became critical, but since a few months, playing guitars/synthesizers in S.O.T.E. Gerton Leijdekker fills that position. Illumion is a progressive, symphonic rock band with definite feminine edges. Historical and literary themes form the basis for the lyrics, closely interwoven with the mysticism of the human mind, creating a world of intangible fantasy.
Illumion has recorded a demo CD "Into the Labyrinth" and recently released the album "Hunting For Sigificance".
MENNO: In 2002 you had an idea, in 2009 an album: isn’t this a long road?
EVELINE: Yes it was, but at first we only played covers and things weren’t really serious at the time. Two years later I started to write my own songs. The fact that we had a lot of changes in the band had an influence on our abilities to rehearse on a regular basis. During that time I’ve spent a year in China as well.
MENNO: What exactly have you been doing these past seven years?
EVELINE: After my graduation I have been involved in a lot of music-related activities but I had the urge to study more: I wanted to learn Chinese and my objective was to do combine the two studies into some sort of job. Perhaps giving music lessons, making music and be a Chinese interpreter. My graduation paper was about Chinese music because I really like to link these two entities: music and the Chinese language. I surely hope to have an opportunity to do some research on Chinese music in the future. I did some work on translations for the music theatre but at the moment I have a full time job working for a Chinese airline company.
MENNO: When did you start to record?
PETER: Some four years ago we started recording our demo "Into The Labyrinth". After that we simply concluded we would need more songs to record a whole album, so Eveline started writing more songs.
EVELINE: Actually I wrote most of the songs when I was in China. I had access to the Cubase software and I had a laptop with me so that’s how I did it!
PETER: Eveline used to send me her files and then I could start arranging her parts and add my bass, drums and keyboards. When she came back we did all the guitars anew because they were played with a plug in. Finally we did the vocals and started mixing, but because we only had the Sunday evenings available because of our jobs things weren’t moving very quickly.
MENNO: How did you get to know Peter?
EVELINE: Through the conservatory. The year before I graduated, Peter (as well as Esther) were involved in the graduation project of a fellow student, a female keyboard player. That’s when I met them for the first time. Esther went to the same conservatory but started her education a few years before me.
PETER: I have been involved in graduation projects for about eight years now. Every time a student wants to do something else than mainstream music, namely ‘progressive’, it turned out to be exceptionally difficult to find a suitable bass player and that’s where I came in.
EMILE: You know, even I have played the bass on some of the graduation projects at that conservatory in Alkmaar!
PETER: I haven’t been studying in that particular conservatory. In fact (laughs) ages ago I had lessons in contrabass for one year, even bought one at the time, but I played the electric bass already. I consider myself to be self taught as musician.
MENNO: Eveline, when did you start playing a guitar?
EVELINE: I think a got my first guitar when I was around 13 years old and I knew right away I wanted to pursue an education at the conservatory. In the early days I started playing pop music but I had a decent training from a teacher. I’ve played in all kinds of ensembles at school, entering competitions and so on. At first I did the MAVO as secondary school but went on to the HAVO (higher level, 5 years) and got my diploma.
MENNO: How hard is it at present to record an album and to put a band together?
PETER: Except the (real) drums you can record everything in your home studio so in that respect, recording an album is much easier than it used to be.
EVELINE: I wouldn’t have known how to record an album if Peter wouldn’t have been there to help me! Fact is, the recording process takes much longer because you have much more time and there’s no pressure of a timeframe you have had if you would have chosen to record in an expensive professional studio. Another point is, that recording an album without a real band is different from putting ideas together when you are jamming or rehearsing; with Illumion it was difficult to get the whole band together. Even with the first line up when we were a real band there was always someone missing at the rehearsals.
PETER: Eveline came up with almost complete tracks, the only thing I had to do was to do a bit of arranging. To put a band together is much more difficult. Everyone’s busy and one of the most important driving forces to rehearse is having performances in distant prospect. Nowadays it turns out to be extremely difficult to arrange gigs and when a band doesn’t play live, the interest in playing together on a regular basis, is lost. Only when you are already famous or when you are good at playing covers of well known artists, you can count on having enough shows booked.
EVELINE: In our genre it is very hard. We could not play our music at some wedding party now could we?
PETER: As a progressive act you depend on getting gigs at government subsidized podia and another thing is that in my opinion most of the prog fans are in their thirties and forties, with younger children. When do they go out to see a show? Not very often and if they go, it is to the big names in prog, rather to “AHOY” (Rotterdam, 15.000 people) than to “de Boerderij” (Zoetermeer, 880 people)! Because of the 24 hours availability of music through downloading or streaming, music is much more ‘ consumed’ at home rather than at shows.
MENNO: The only positive thing in progressive music is that people in their thirties, forties or even fifties like me (hilarious laughter from all band members fills the room…) are more inclined to buy stuff, particularly special editions etcetera compared to the younger generation.
PETER: I agree (pointing at his vast collection of CD’s and DVD’s), these are all bought and paid for, but the truth is, this category might be willing to buy a CD but does not go out to see bands live very frequently. Our own CD was available for download without our permission on some forty websites 2 days after the release! Earlier the LP-sales should create an income and tour were only promotion of that album. Nowadays the album is just your business card, not your income: the shows and the merchandise are generating some money but then again you need shows to sell stuff…..
MENNO: Eveline, you mentioned your stay in China; most of the compositions for Hunting For Significance were written there. How exactly did you end up in China and where did your inspiration for those songs come from?
EVELINE: The university of Leiden granted me a scholarship which included all the expenses to study one whole year in China. Therefore, I didn’t have to work in China and I had a lot more spare time to spend than normally the case in Holland. Living in China was a sort of ‘culture shock’ for me, but all the impressions and events resulted in a great deal of inspiration. Another source of inspiration came out reading books late at night. Usually, I had some lyrics to start with and then I used to pick up my guitar and started to jam and in the end there was a melody going with those lyrics. Through that year in China I was able to finish my study of the Chinese language and got my masters degree a year later.
MENNO: What’s the story behind the erhu (Chinese two-stringed spike fiddle )?
EVELINE: I got hooked on the sound of this instrument. Everyone urged me to try the four string lute, the pipa (used on the song Chrysanthemum, played by Marjolijn Kaiser) because it resembles the guitar, but I didn’t like the sound of it as much as I liked the sound of the erhu. I was very intrigued by this strange little fiddle with the bow fixed between the two strings and I liked the sound right from the first time I heard someone play this instrument. You need to practice playing this instrument with a completely other technique compared to play the guitar: the timbre, the vibrato as well as the positioning of the fingers are fundamentally different. The erhu is also not to be compared with the ‘ordinary’ violin, because of the position of the bow.
MENNO: Talking about bows: Peter, you have an impressive list of equipment but one of them is the E-bow?
PETER: Yes indeed. I saw Michael Manring play it and I decided I wanted to have one of those as well. It’s an electronic device; by creating a magnetic field you can play guitar strings with a sound similar to playing them with a bow. Mostly I use it occasionally for instance with intro’s, otherwise the peculiar sound would become too ‘common’.
MENNO: Emile, you graduated for the conservatory too? What’s your musical background?
EMILE: I started playing flute (the German flute), then I played bass guitar for two years and I started drumming when I was 16 years old. I liked it so much that two years later I decided to try the conservatory and fortunately they accepted my application. I did a four year course which, upon graduation, would allow me to teach. Most of the students do this curriculum and most of them end up teaching privately or through an institute. Only a few of them, like myself, make their living playing music. I also teach students but financially I don’t need to teach. At the moment I’m involved in a lot of things: I play in a Dutch cover band and because of the many gigs we do, I get paid a nice salary. I work freelance for a lot of artists, then I play with an ensemble accompanying an actress and a comedian during their theatre-tour and people can hire me for anything ‘drums’ related. Recently I was invited to play for a TV show by Erik van Muiswinkel (VARA), so I guess I’m pretty busy. I’m the only full time musician of this outfit (grinning).
MENNO: Gerton, although the link with S.O.T.E. is quite obvious, I’d like to know how you got involved?
GERTON: Well, the rehearsals with S.O.T.E. precede those of Illumion. Until recently Peter as well as Emile were there and stayed while I went home. Every time I witnessed the moaning about not heaving a steady keyboard player, so in the end I was asked to try playing keys. I had to adjust, because I’m a guitar player and although I use a lot of synths (which I control using my feet) I wanted to have a certain level of mastering the keys before I was willing to accept. Right now I am feeling more and more comfortable with that position. I was already familiar with unusual rhythm patterns so that was an advantage on my part. You see, most of the times the guitarist IS the band, as in Illumion. S.O.T.E. is MY band but since we play far more ‘ extreme’ music it’s even harder to get gigs. This means if music is your hobby but you also want to perform live now & then, sometimes it’s necessary to broaden your horizon.
MENNO: The ‘ not so common’ rhythm patterns Gerton mentioned: are those a deliberate choice?
EVELINE: They are not. It’s just my natural sense of rhythm. Somehow I feel comfortable in writing my music in 7/8, while for most people it is an unnatural rhythm. If by popular demand I would be forced to a more simple approach or more easy rhythm patterns I wouldn’t be inclined to give in more than just a little bit. The thought I’d have to adjust my songs into ordinary pop songs horrifies me: I wouldn’t be able to play them more than two times and probably by then I would be getting bored to a level I wouldn’t have any fun playing them live anymore and that’s not my purpose at all.
MENNO: On your biography you mention Gong Linna (erhu), John Petrucci (Dream Theater) but also the famous violinist Maxim Vengerov as one of your heroes. Isn’t that a bit odd for a guitarist?
EVELINE: The link with Gong Linna is obvious I suppose. The name of Vengerov is there for two reasons: he’s an extraordinary gifted violin virtuoso but also a truly great performer, therefore he is an example for me. I hope someday I will be able to perform the way he does, with so much energy and effortlessness….
MENNO: Lyrically your sources of inspiration are writers like Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Franz Kafka but also Charles Dickens? Do you really read that much?
EVELINE: on our forthcoming album there will be a song inspired by “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. One of the characters, Miss Havisham, intrigued me and I have tried to use the same type of ‘old fashioned English’ to emphasize that connection. Whenever I have an opportunity, I read a book and I prefer to read English. In my opinion, especially when the book was written in English, it doesn’t make sense to read a translation if you’re able to read English yourself.
MENNO: What exactly are ‘ feminine edges’ referred to in the biography of Illumion?
EVELINE: (a bit shy) That’s Peter’s remark, not mine!
PETER: Well, how shall I put this: Illumion’s music is not to be compared with the whole gothic scene or a progressive band like Landmarq for instance. Most, if not all, of the music has been composed by males with a female vocalist as an addition. It’s not that Eveline’s music ‘lacks balls’ (laughter all around) but it has all kinds of hooks and changes you won’t find in progressive music written by men; in my opinion the subtlety and the way Eveline composes and plays are notably different from any other progressive act. Her finesse and variety might become her trademarks!
MENNO: You have recorded a lot of vocals for the album. Will you perform live using a backing track or hire other vocalists?
EVELINE: At the moment we are rehearsing a simplified version vocally. It’s not my intention to use a backing track but the harmonies in the future will be done by Emile, Peter and myself. I will have to focus on my vocal a bit more in the future but Esther will do only the single lead vocal.
MENNO: Before this interview I had a quick look on the S.O.T.E. website because I had this question in mind if S.O.T.E had become your backing band (band members laugh out loud), but I noticed Emile recently left?
EVELINE: It’s just the way things went. I put out several ads but in the end the vocals were too demanding or people just didn’t have enough time.
GERTON: The progressive scene around Obdam is very small so it’s not that strange musicians play in several bands or are involved in different projects.
PETER: all (ex)members of S.O.T.E have played and still play with Ixion, as also two guys from the band Ulysses have been involved with Ixion.In the near future I will play bass with Ulysses as a stand in, so it’s a bit of ‘ inbreeding’ out here.
MENNO: Do you have enough original compositions to play a full show? Are you considering playing some S.O.T.E. songs in the future?
EVELINE: actually we have more material, about two thirds of a new album already finished but we haven’t rehearsed those new songs yet.
PETER: together with the demo-CD we have about one hour and twenty minutes to play live, but for the upcoming shows we will play the set we are rehearsing right now, about one hour. Because it’s Illumion on stage we will certain not play S.O.T.E stuff. It’s another subgenre and when we would need more songs we’d rather play covers of Pain of Salvation songs, as we did in the past.
MENNO: Eveline, how did you end up using an Ibanez guitar?
EVELINE: I guess because of Steve Vai, one of my biggest influences. I was looking for one and I came across an ad by the guitarist of After The Silence. He was offering one fairly cheap so I went to his house and played it. It played so delightfully easy, that I immediately decided to buy it and that’s the guitar I’m still playing. As backup I have a handmade PRB guitar by a manufacturer from Alkmaar.
MENNO: Emile, you are a band member of Illumion, but you recently gave up your position with S.O.T.E.: why?
EMILE: This decision was made by mutual agreement. As I told you, I have a pretty busy schedule and this means I don’t have much time to spend on rehearsals. For me, rehearsing is only justified if you do live shows. Since S.O.T.E is hardly performing live I felt it wasn’t right to put my time in anymore. Being a professional musician who has to make a living out of playing live, I have to make carful choices when I put my time in or not, while Peter and Gerton want to make this music ‘ just’ for a hobby.
GERTON: We also wanted to go back more to our earlier days when we literally created music in the rehearsal room in contrast to our last album where I wrote most of the material and ended up ‘looking for who were going to play it with me’. Especially when there are just three musicians in the band you need to see eye to eye about these kind of things and you would like to have the same perspective.
MENNO: How about future plans?
EVELINE: a few gigs coming up. Of course I will continue writing songs for the next album, arranging those with Peter, perhaps even with the whole band, but most importantly: trying to get us more shows!! Anyone who can help us in that respect is welcome to contact me!
Interview & Photographs by
Menno von Brucken Fock
Eveline van Kampen
Peter H Boer
Illumion - Official Website
Illumion - MySpace Page
DPRP Review of Illumion's Hunting For Significance 2009