»So, now it’s time to get up and do it« – I am Oak sound so.


Folk, Indie, Acoustic – I am Oak. Thijs Kuijken kommt aus Utrecht (NL); 2008 hat er mit seiner Band die erste EP veröffentlicht. Seither sind vier Alben entstanden, das letzte im Januar 2014. Während meiner Interviewanfrage Ende letzten Jahres tourte er gerade durch Deutschland; Zeit für meine Fragen hat er sich trotzdem genommen. Und mit seinen Antworten ist auch das erste Album On Claws in mein Postfach geflattert, aus dem ich mir den Song On Oxen ausgesucht habe.

schreibstation: Do you write the lyrics yourself?

I am Oak: Yes, I do. I Am Oak is essentially my project. The music and lyrics belong together. They are an integral part of I Am Oak. For me it is important to do as much as possible by myself to have I Am Oak be as personal as possible, this means writing the music, the lyrics and also taking care of the visual aspect of the music, in example artwork. This stands separate from I Am Oak as a live band, which is a more collective endeavor – even though I play solo shows every once in a while.

schreibstation: What comes first when you write a new song – the lyrics or the melody?

I am Oak: For me, in most cases, the melody comes before the lyrics. I usually start writing a song by playing chords on the guitar or keyboard. I’ll sing over it using random words or sounds, gibberish basically, to develop a melody. Sometimes this gibberish will sound like actual words or sentences and these intuitive expressions are usually the starting point of the actual lyrics.

schreibstation: What is the importance of the lyrics in your music?

I am Oak: The lyrics for me are there to give deeper meaning to the song. With the first layer being the sonic part of the song. The first experience when listening to a song is taking in the sound, being moved or not by the chords and melody. Maybe in this first experience you also pick up on the lyrics and in the best case are immediately moved by them. But I think usually you’ll end up spending more attention to the lyrics at a later stage. And at times the lyrics can take on a whole new meaning to you even after you’ve listened to the song a lot already. They keep a song alive and breathing in way.

schreibstation: What makes great lyrics for you?

I am Oak: Great lyrics for me are lyrics that are not too closed-off, but are at the same time not too open. The lyrics should leave room for the listener to finish the picture that the writer started. So, with closed-off I mean that they would be too confined to a certain event and not open to your own interpretation. Although the lyrics to Sun Kil Moon’s latest album Benji are quite closed-off in my opinion, but they work. They are enjoyable in a different way, like an audio book almost. With too open I mean that they are too vague, too abstract maybe, lacking enough reference points. I like it when people can come up with their own meaning. To find out what it means to them personally. Sometimes this meaning differs from the meaning I’ve attached to the song, which is great. This means that the song speaks to people on different levels. There is no ‘wrong’ level, even if it differs from the meaning that I’ve attached to the song. To take this even further: the meaning of a song can even change for myself over the years. I’ve had songs that I wrote with a particular idea or event in mind, which after months or even years came to mean something else to me. I also like it when a lyric acts as a metaphor for something else, while also working on a literal level. For instance for the song On Trees and Birds and Fire I wrote lyrics about trees, birds and fire. Which works on a literal level, it’s about this guy’s sort of nostalgic thoughts about some time that has passed. But to me it’s not just about remembering those actual trees and birds and that fire. The trees stand for something grounded, rooted, like friends or family, like the base you have and can go back to. And the birds stand for the melody that comes on top, the actions, the interactions, living. And the fire is the fuel for everything, the catalyst. So it’s more than just remembering trees and birds and fire from your old hometown. In a recent interview in Vienna someone said to me that he thinks great lyrics are lyrics that feel like they were written for you. I totally agree with that. But of course you don’t know this when you are writing a song.

schreibstation: How do you come up with the lyrics?

I am Oak: I usually come up with the lyrics by simply starting to sing over some chords, like I mentioned before. By doing this certain words sometimes pop up which I can hold on to and build sentences around, or even whole sentences come out at once, which give me the first sentence of the lyric to build on. I really like this intuitive way of working. It allows me to use an unconscious part of the mind to explore what keeps my mind busy. Often times a sentence or a verse or a chorus comes out this way, after which I have to look at it and think about it and find out what it is about to me, after which I can continue to write the rest of the lyrics following this meaning that I’ve attached to this first part. I guess this is a big part of creativity. Being open to whatever is around you and what comes up to you or comes out of you and being able to filter this and know what you want to keep and what you want to discard from all of this.

schreibstation: Does literature influences your writing?

I am Oak: Literature does influence me sometimes, but maybe not in a really direct way. Like I said in the paragraph before, the starting point to my lyrics usually comes from this intuitive outburst of seemingly random expressions. But this comes from some part of the mind where things are stored. When I’m reading books the words, sentences, moods, anecdotes, events and story lines from these books that mean something to me will be stored somewhere and they might come out whenever I’m singing and trying to come up with new lyrics. I remember being really into William Faulkner and Truman Capote around the time I was writing On Claws. Both of them use this vibrant, colorful and poetic style of writing. A rural, Southern style filled with beautiful words and phrases, written so that there is also room for you to fill in a lot of the picture painted, particularly in Faulkner’s case. It fit really well with this back to basics fully acoustic style of music I was working on at the time, so I think a lot of them is in there too in a way. The same thing of course happens with movies, documentaries, museum visits, being in a new city, being outdoors, travelling, talking to friends, seeing shows, listening to other music etc. this all will be stored somewhere to maybe come out again some day in lyrical form.

schreibstation: Has it ever happen, that somebody saw something else in your lyrics, than you did?

I am Oak: I’ve had people come up to me with different interpretations to my lyrics. Be it in person after a show, by email or in an interview. I can’t remember a specific example right now, but I remember it as a pleasant surprise. And I found the idea that someone took time and effort to actually listen to one of my songs and come up with their own meaning quite flattering. And I like it, because it gives me insight into what people hear in my lyrics and I like that other people have me look at my own songs in a new way and think about my lyrics anew and maybe even adopt their interpretations.

schreibstation: And what is the story of On Oxen?

I am Oak: For me the story is about perseverance and working to achieve something, or to get through something. The trigger for this song was my dad actually. He was a carpenter and had an accident at work where he fell from a 7th floor balcony onto a 6th floor balcony shattering his heel and elbow. He could never work in construction again. Having done this since he was about 16 years old this meant his world had turned upside down. This meant a lot of pain, both physical and mental, but he went on and eventually found his own way of dealing with it and finding peace with it to a certain extend. The lyrics to this song were written linearly, as in the first lyrics that came out were the first lyrics in the song: We were breaking wood for the fireplace in the house / Moving an axe around so the wood would fit inside. This is a memory that triggered the whole coming into existence of the song. It was this memory of my dad and I cutting up wood for the fireplace in the house. After which came the lyrics I’ll wear an ox on my chest / And I’ll wear it proudly. An ox is a farm animal that was typically used for hard labor, like plowing fields. This represents this perseverance or work ethic or life philosophy. And the song ends with It’s morning for the work horse now. So, now it’s time to get up and do it. And that’s what I did. It turned into quite a nice album that I’m still happy with.

schreibstation: Is there a favorite line you like to sing?
I am Oak: I always love singing the song Curt, because it still hold as much meaning to me as the day I wrote it. Theme-wise it’s quite close to On Oxen, I think, with the whole perseverance thing. I especially like to sing the second verse Now I read it like bad poems, no shapes in the words / I’m fighting doubt and now I’ve come to know my enemy / I imagine my purpose shaped like an axis / I’m hollowed out, but now I’ve come to bear the echo’s. This particular part is about reading back words I’ve written down or music I have made and thinking it is shit, but at the same time realizing this is part of the creative process and knowing that I have the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff and know how to hold on to stuff that I initially thought was good enough to not discard. Ironically this feeling of doubt turned into one of the songs I’m most satisfied with lyrically.

Weil Thijs es liebt, Curt zu singen und der Song nah an On Oxen dran ist, gibt es beide zum Hören. Im Frühjahr ist I am Oak in den Niederlanden unterwegs; am 25.Februar in Rotterdam (Huiskamershow) und am 4.April in Bergen (Gebouw-T).

On Oxen, reinhören und rauslesen:

we were breaking wood for the fireplace in the house

moving the axe around so the wood would fit inside

I said, „I’ll wear an ox on my chest,

I’ll wear an ox on my chest, and i’ll wear it proudly“

It’s morning for the work horse now

It’s morning for the work horse now

It’s morning for the work horse now

You’ll wear an ox on your chest

It’s morning for the work horse now

You’ll wear an ox on your chest

It’s morning for the work horse now

You’ll wear an ox on your chest

Curt, reinhören:


One Comment on “»So, now it’s time to get up and do it« – I am Oak sound so.”

  1. […] rauf und runter. Ich mag besonders “Curt”, das hier zweite Lied in der Playlist. Hier könnt ihr ein schönes Interview mit Thijs Kuijken […]

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