On Musical and Artistic Collaboration in Bloomington: Friends, not Fans
As Echo Dance Company welcomed its newest collaborator to echo with us, we learned that Diederik van Wassenaer views his creative and collaborative processes with a seriousness, attentiveness, and purposefulness unparalleled by such a young person. From his background being raised in Holland to performing as a local Bloomington musician today, he captures the unique resourcefulness of Bloomington creatives through the lens of the unique young people of the community, where the music is just as underground as its musical venues. You may know him from his band’s, Dietrich Jon’s, somewhat recent EP release, but in my opinion, Diederik’s willingness to take every opportunity for collaboration demonstrates just how fruitful it can be to ‘go with the Bloomington flow.’
I came to Bloomington to get a fresh look on things. My mom is American from Boston and she met my father, who is from Holland, while he was studying at Harvard. I was raised in Holland and in high school I was studying violin at the conservatory in Amsterdam. But I knew I had to try something new; I had spent my entire life in Amsterdam until college.
Would you say you had a passion to play violin on your own or influenced by your parents?
Well, I think the idea of passion is really commercialized. Like you have to have a passion in order to excel in anything. I never really had a passion; a love for things, sure, but nothing that drove me to obsession to play. When I hear ‘passion,’ I think of obsession. I wanted to play music, but the fact that it was a violin was more or less random. My dad played the viola, my mom played piano, and originally I wanted to play the harp or clarinet. I guess my dad suggested to me a bit to play the violin, but they never really forced me to practice. They’d suggest, “Don’t you think it’s time to practice a bit?,” but it was never really forced upon me. My dad would never actually play with me unless I asked him to. It was me who really sought out pre-college music performance. It was not until college (Jacobs School of Music) until I really started to feel like I wanted to practice more. From practicing a couple of hours a day in high school to being required to practice five hours a day in college, it became a bit like a religion.
But as an orchestra member, I never really felt a part of something. Classical music listening is very dogmatic, you just have to sit there and let the music wash over you. Don’t get me wrong, I love classical music…that and The Beatles is like all I listened to until I was 16. But it wasn’t until I started playing in local bands that I really began to feel the importance of what I was doing.
Classical music just isn’t up to par with what live music can be. I hated the idea of performing on a stage, separating the performer from the crowd. That’s why I love playing basements. The ‘show’ is how artists are going to pay their bills, and that is something I’m trying to get closer to. Whenever I perform with my band, I’m so happy to go out there! It’s exciting. You know, I’m not having to go out there, alone, and play impossible 300 year old music to a crowd of people sitting still! (Okay, sometimes I enjoy doing that, but it’s just weird usually). If you’re going to play music for people, you should be happy to play it for them! So I began thinking, ‘How do you make a show interesting so that people want to come back?’ I’m really interested in exploring this not only with my own band, but in general. I think music has to be a grassroots thing in order to survive.
And I’m going on a tangent here, but that’s another point that I’d like to make, about the language the music industry uses. For example, I hate the word passion, like I said earlier, because it’s over-commercialized and insinuates you have to have an obsession in order to do something creatively. Also, ‘fans!’ Describing the people who go to shows as ‘fans’ creates a bigger gap between the performer and the people they are trying to communicate with.
Listen to Diederik playing on this track in the last minute of this perfect message about the all important question, “Why should we do the work that we do?”
But you don’t bring fans back to a show, you bring friends back. If you play what you love, it’s magnetic to the people. It doesn’t mean they’ve become satellites gravitating to you, it’s more like an energy. Good energy attracts more and more, bad energy attracts less and less. Artists should try not to play for the fans and start playing for their best friends. That’s also what I like about basements. There is no stage. Why should there be a stage? Stages used to be like an amphitheater (where the people are all raised and there is no stage, and today I just don’t see the use of a raised stage. Theatres were created a long time ago, and today we keep using them because they’re there, but we don’t have to. I just enjoy watching a show more when I’m on my feet, when I have the ability to move to what’s going on. Parrots move to music! They move to a beat! It’s not just a human thing; it’s an evolutionary thing. Dinosaurs could probably do it. It’s primal! So why do you put people in a chair, where they are forced to sit and just watch? Nobody should be inhibited to experience the music like this.
Diederik mentioned that classical music and The Beatles were his main music selections while growing up. I love the idea that Diederik melds into the music scene so well and has such an understanding of what a good show is all about because he has a deep understanding of these two musical influences, as perhaps you will hear in this cheeky violin collaboration with musician David James in an equally cheeky song, “Indiana Bananas,” that just makes you want to move like (Oh, who are we kidding?) a banana!
Do you like writing and/or performing in Bloomington? You mentioned collaborating is important to you, so can you talk a little bit about why?
I think you should be performing in order to write music, and you should write music with the thought of trying to achieve this while performing live. I really enjoy the process of songwriting, where the basis of [a song] is good, and then anything you add can enhance that. That’s why I like working with other songwriters because we can talk about if there should be a little string piece in this little section of the song…stuff like that.
Collaborating makes me a better musician, and I love music and I like to share with others who love music too. As long as neither group has to sacrifice anything, then it’s improving, and as long as the work is getting better with each addition, then it’s becoming bigger and better. I recently worked on Lil Bub’s new album, and I just loved it! It’s like on Buzzfeed and Pitchfork, and it’s awesome! That was a fun project. I hope people take the album seriously, because the music is actually really good! I’ve primarily worked with people in the Bloomington area, and when you start seeing this place for what it is, this small college town, I can play with someone on a record and then see them later in the supermarket! It makes you feel really good and makes you feel like you’re contributing to ‘the scene’, if you will. Of course it’s constantly changing too! But here in Bloomington, as opposed to a larger city, it is such a tight-knit community, so [musicians] are constantly feeding off of each other and collaborating with local bands…and everyone plays in a lot of different bands. And if they’re good you can get a local gig somewhere, whether it’s in a basement or in the Root Cellar or the Bishop, ya know, there’s lot of places to play. Granted, you’re playing to mostly the same audience, but it’s a big audience.
I saw a pie chart the other day, like a day in the life of a musician, and 75% of it just said, ‘Crippling self-doubt,’…(he says, laughing, ‘have you seen this?’), and there is a lot of that, but with the violin, I’ve kind of found a way to be a part of a music scene that I really like where not a lot of other people play the violin, and I kind of feel like I’ve found my way. I can contribute to the scene but also thrive in it. But I guess I play to empower people through music. If someone at the end of a show has a lot of positive energy, then that’s what it’s all about! If everyone in the room feels like they are a part of what is happening, like the kind of show where you walk out of a venue and feel like there is a weight off your shoulders, those are the kind of gigs I love. Like if I play on someone’s track where there is a violin arrangement, and then that person can go have a cup of coffee and go to work, that’s what I’m doing it for.
Because the show is not really about the band, it’s about making sure people don’t leave, about keeping their attention, so we’re doing it for them, not ourselves. It’s why bands work so hard. Bands should see this work as a job, because we are doing it for other people, not just for ourselves. Give the audience what they want, whether it’s singing a cheesy pop song or eating a bat, (he laughs, ‘Ya know?’) it’s a really good show!