Coffee with Tom Vrolijk and the Lucky Spares2 April 2019
-By Emma Louise Dailey
Rather than investing in pricey tickets to stadium concerts and stressing about the last train home from Amsterdam, take a look around and get to know the musical community. You don’t need a big name to listen to enjoyable music, which is something that Tom Vrolijk proves wholly. Based in Delft, Tom Vrolijk and the Lucky Spares are an up and coming band best described as “energetic 1960s pop-rock with a modern twist.” The band is composed of four musicians, Tom Vrolijk on vocals and rhythm guitar, Daniel Levenbach on Bass, Dylan Siemerink on Drums, and finally, Steven Gerkes on lead guitar. I sat down for a coffee with their lead singer and songwriter, who also happens to be a masters student in Psychology at our very own Erasmus University. We discussed the genesis of his band and of his style, the creation process, and the highs and lows of professional musicianship.
How did Tom Vrolijk and the Lucky Spares come to be?
“It was quite a long search actually. In 2014, I really wanted a band and asked a few friends, but they weren’t very good musicians, mostly just fun to be with. We practiced in the drummers attic, but he couldn’t drum, and quite a few times we showed up to his house for rehearsal and he just wasn’t there, so we’d wait outside for a bit then go home. It didn’t work. Then I started a band with some other friends but they dumped me. They didn’t believe in my music, my style or my skill. But I think I proved them wrong because after that I found some better musicians than they were. This third lineup was the first where we actually made demos. This guitar player is also the one I just produced an album with. But people come and go. In 2015, I created the Lucky Spares, but only the bass player, Daniel, has been there since the beginning. Now I hope to finally have a loyal formation, I hope they will stay. But I think we’re making a lot of progress.”
What has been the musical journey of your band members? Formal musical education?
“None of us has attended a conservatorium. Of course we’ve all had lessons but we’re quite uneducated. I think that makes it more fun. We’re a band that focuses a lot on energy. When we play live, we like to get the crowd dancing and feel involved, sing along. That’s our main focus. And concerning how we sound, it’s funny, because when you don’t have that theoretical background that CODARTS students have for example, it’s actually more fun to discover. It takes longer but sometimes you do something you don’t understand and it works. It makes it more alive, its truer.”
Which musicians/era do you draw inspiration from?
“I’m inspired by the 1960’s, a little bit of 1970s. The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Tom Petty… I feel dreadful about his passing away in 2017, I can’t believe I never saw him perform. But The Beatles are definitely my favorite band, and also the reason I started playing. Whenever I felt down, coming home from school as a kid I’d listen to the Beatles and feel better. So I decided to learn how to play their songs. I would strum along to the CD, and eventually started singing as well. I was my own John Lennon, it really helped me. I just did it for fun but after a while I discovered that it’s not so bad when I sing, so I decided to do more with it. Then I wrote my first song. I don’t think we should label things. I understand it’s a good thing to help promote your music but its restrictive. But if I had to, I would label my style energetic 1960s pop-rock with a modern twist. But then I’m not trying to be something, it just happens, it’s difficult to say.”
Do you have a songwriting process you stick to? Has it stayed the same?
“I am the sole writer. I get a melody in my head, I add chords to it, then lyrics. I always strum on the guitar which adds the beat, that the drummer works from. Then the bass and guitar players create their part. I write a song, the drummer makes the arrangements, and the entire band gives their opinion. Then we add the details like backing vocals. It’s really professionalized. But we only start working together as a band once I’ve found a melody and chords that really work. That means a lot of my songs never make it out of my room. This process is quite new. In 2014, I’d write a song and we’d just meet up and play and it was fun. When writing my first album, the songs came together in a more amateur way, we were still growing a lot. We didn’t discuss the song, or focus on pre-production, we just played what we felt. Pre-production is so important. Before you go into the studio you really have to know exactly what you are going to play and how you are going to play it. Thankfully we were blessed with an amazingly talented guitar player and everything worked out, but without thorough preparation, it doesn’t always. It doesn’t work with everyone.”
What was your first song?
“Ondanks dat”, which translates to “despite of”. It’s a dutch song on my first EP. An album is a collection of songs 25 minutes long, but my EP is 24 minutes and 44 seconds long so it doesn’t qualify. It was the first song and basically I was at home on a Saturday evening, and I wanted to go out but all my friends were busy, and saw on facebook that the girl I liked was hanging out with two of my friends. I was feeling down so I picked up my guitar and started playing some chords (C G Am G...) and then came the song. I only liked her for two weeks but it was good timing for her because she got a song out of it. I played it at some school events and it got a lot of positive feedback. This was at the end of 2012, then in 2013 I wrote dozens of songs but none of them made the album. I don’t know what it was about this song, there’s something catchy about it.”
What general themes do you tend to find yourself writing about?
“There are a few things. ‘Time’ is a very interesting theme that I address in “Tell me a Story” and “After Tomorrow” for example. I get quite philosophical about it, how fast time passes, what to do with the time you have… Time scares me, it flies by. I’m already 26 and I don’t feel like that at all. This really fascinates me and it has for years but it feels like weeks.
Love is another theme I gravitate towards, but “they’re not silly love songs, like Paul McCartney would say. I like to write about the melancholic side, or when you feel almost obsessed with someone and how to deal with that. I like the dichotomy between the obsession being slightly creepy, but also really sweet. I like to play with those contrasts.
What has been your proudest achievement as a band so far?
“My 2017 album release in Steck, the main stage in Delft, and then of course my single release in 2018, playing with the support act, Bonno Geerse - he’s really something. There were around 100 people, and they each paid around 7.50 euros, which is quite a lot, but just enough to cover our loses. It was a great evening, the atmosphere was amazing and people were dancing all over the place. I also like the video we made for Happy Words because it’s very slow and kind of romantic, walking through Delft at night doing avant-guard stuff… We didn’t plan it. It was the night before Christmas, and we decided to walk around Delft and see what would happen. It was me, walking in the dark, playing with those lights, stepping in and out of it…”
You can watch the clip for ‘Happy Words’ here:
You can listen to their album here:
You can listen to their single ‘Lazy Jim’ here:
What was your greatest challenge you faced during the production of your album?
Keeping the band together. You all have to be on the same level, not only musically but also with your priorities and level of commitment. After a few guitar players here and drummers there, you learn to recognize it when you have a valuable musician in your band. Then it’s really important to communicate with them. I can sometimes be a bit passive with that but if someone has a problem I really want the to come to me so we can discuss it, solve it and learn from it.
“Our next big gig is in Delft on April 20th, at ‘STECK podium - club - bar’. It’s an important show for us because if the audience votes that we are the best band of the evening we get to play at a festival this summer!
When it comes to the long term side of things, I’d like to combine working as a child psychologist with my music. I’m doing my Masters degree in Psychology and Erasmus University right now, and I have been mentoring children for several months now as an internship. One thirteen year old in particular, a brilliant kid, very creative, was inspired by me to start playing guitar. And that in turn inspires me. This positive feedback loop has brought a lot to me. These children inspire me, I can recognize myself in them, like a mirror into my past. That inspires me and I take that positive energy and give it back to them. It’s very nice to be in this positive loop.”
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