Behind the Guitar: Eller van BuurenMay 27th, 2009
He’s more than just a guitar player. More than just ‘the little brother of’. Eller van Buuren has all the talent and persistency one needs to build himself a solid career in music. Music in every sense of the word, as Eller doesn’t restrict himself to just one genre. This crossover-hungry ‘rock but not roll’-star grew up with the influence of a future number one DJ by his side. Growing up in a musical family didn’t only result in an open minded musical taste, it also led to some very exciting collabs and fusions of sounds. There was no way of getting around him. That young rocker on stage at Armin Only quickly gained interest of the 20,000 dance fans enjoying his play. They were soon to find out that Eller wasn’t only the guitar behind Armin’s productions, but he was also rocking it out with his own band, Bagga Bownz. A busy guy with plenty to do, lots to discover and even more to find out about. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Time for a look behind the guitar, with Eller van Buuren.
Armada: You’ve probably heard this question millions of times before, but it has to be asked. When did you start playing guitar?
Eller: “I was 8 years old when I had my first guitar lesson. When I was 15 I started teaching and I still do nowadays. I studied guitar at the Rock academy in Tilburg (south of Holland), some kind of conservatory, based on today’s music, like pop, rock, hiphop and even dance.”
Armada: What was it that drew you into rock music?
Eller: ” What didn’t drive me into rock music? Haha! I like the energy of it, and also the fact that it isn’t too clean. But I also like to listen and play other sorts of styles. I play blues, jazz, country, acoustic Mexican music, metal and even dance. I agree in what Armin says: ‘Don’t be a prisoner of your own style’. All music has little bits and pieces of other styles. For example, I like to listen to heavy metal, but technically it has many elements of classical music in it, or sometimes even jazz or country. Most metalheads hate that kind of music.”
Armada: When and how did you notice there was more than just a good ring to what you were doing?
Eller: “I still don’t know if it’s good what I’m doing. There is so much talent around me that I sometimes tend to forget that I can play, too. There’s still so much to improve for me. But the grass is always greener somewhere else, right?”
Armada: While Armin was spinning, you were busy playing the guitar. How did those different interests blend? In other words: when were you open enough to dance music to ‘help’ Armin with his music?
Eller: “Actually, at first I didn’t like dance music at all! I even thought it was a threat. I was practicing hard (I studied guitar almost every minute available), while ‘DJ’s earned their money with playing records of other people’. But I’ve learnt to see what’s good about it and the difference between DJ’s.
The first record I did with Armin was when I was 14 years old. I like the fact that the human element revives in dance music, with singers and guitarists. I decided to face ‘my former enemy’, to know what the music was about. Obviously I know a lot of musicians, but they are not very open to dance music. There are some great things about it, but you got to see them. Dance music for example, is less about knowledge, technique and skills, musically. But there are a lot of people that may have that skills and knowledge, but they cannot make a proper dance track.”
Armada: Back to you and your music. How did Bagga Bownz came together? For how long have you guys been playing together?
Eller: “We started a couple of years ago, but for me the launch of our debut album ‘Done With The Pain’ was the real kickoff of Bagga Bownz. It was released in the summer of 2008.”
Armada: Bagga Bownz is a mix between hip-hop, rock, urban, rap and a whole lot other genres. How do you guys manage to bring all that into one?
Eller: “By sitting in our studio, based in The Hague. Everybody has his/her own expertise. We decided to throw that into one big blender to see what happens. I think the mix of those styles work very well. It’s unique and that also makes it hard to define sometimes. So the promoters don’t know where to put us, because although there IS an audience, it’s sometimes hard to find.”
Armada: How are the Bagga Bownz doing actually? Any big tour coming up?
Eller: “Very well. We’ve played in the US a couple of times, and even Japan is trying to get us there! Bagga Bownz is in writing mode now. But we’re still open to gigging, especially at festivals. I think our main target should be festivals all around the globe, not only Holland. Bagga Bownz is not a Dutch thing, it’s universal.”
Armada: How’ve the reactions been to ‘Done With The Pain’?
Eller: “For Holland we hired a company, to get our album reviewed by as much magazines and other press as possible. I think 98% were very positive about it. Some even thought this was the best album of 2008! In the US Bagga Bownz is being played by a couple of radio stations. Some of them even play us at high rotation and prime time! Those are mostly college radio stations and commercial stations. Asian countries like Japan are also very enthusiastic about us. We’re trying to set up some deals there as we speak.
The reactions when we play live are even better. We don’t sell out big venues (yet ;-) ), but people that have seen us playing are always amazed. Well, that’s what they say, haha. It gives you a really good feeling when people write these things in our guestbook, or on our MySpace. Even on my personal MySpace I get a lot of supporting feedback. I read it all and always try to answer all the mails I get.”
Armada: Though EDM will probably never be your main thing, how do you look upon the genre itself?
Eller: “Never say never. I really like the collaborations between Armin and me, musically as well as in a live situation. Armin and I learned a lot from our father, who played all sorts of music for my mother, while we were sleeping upstairs. Our father has a HUGE collection of ALL kinds of music, from Musique Concrete to Jimi Hendrix, Mahler, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, cabaret, Jean Michel Jarre. He spent so many hours behind his tape decks, recording music from radio. So you can say he fed us with all these genres. Armin and I both ‘chose’ one side and now we’re putting it together. Happy days!”
Armada: What similarities do both genres have?
Eller: “The energy. That’s what music is all about for me. There’s more, but I’d better not get into technical details about this, haha! Nobody would understand me when I talk about chord progressions and timing’_”
Armada: Compared to dj’ing, do you feel it’s a lot more hard work to do ‘real stuff’ with a live band? Or harder to get your breakthrough?
Eller: “Maybe, but for me there’s a lot to get out of it as well. It’s mostly the practical stuff that’s makes it hard to have a band. Venues don’t book bands anymore, because it’s too much work for them. A DJ comes with just a couple of cd’s, plays them and goes back home. A band needs sound checks, crew, food and breaks. And they sweat much more than DJ’s during a gig, haha! Promoters prefer DJ’s instead of bands. But that also counts for the audience. In my experience people don’t search for music anymore. That bothers me.
It’s like illegal downloading. People take complete discographies from the internet. I did it once, just to see how it works. The thing is, when you have complete discographies in one click, you don’t take the time to listen to it all. I think this is the worst thing about the whole downloading issue, not just the loss of money for record companies. Music has no value for people anymore. I know people that have terabytes of music on their computer, but they don’t know any music.
I’m not saying I’m completely against illegal downloading, but this is one of the downsides. Even if you buy an album for just one euro, it has value and you don’t throw it away. What I like about music is that you got to put a little bit of effort in it. When you buy a good album, you buy it because you like one song. But because you bought the whole thing, you listen to the rest of it as well. And after a while you start to hate that one song and like the other ones even more. If you don’t know this feeling, then you’re already infected by the mass production of internet, haha! Long term music is the best! Eating at a restaurant is better than at McDonalds, right? Am I still answering your question? Probably not, but I think it’s important to say this! When I graduated at the Rock academy I won a national price for my thesis and it was about music and internet.
Still 70% of the most sold music on the world is pop and rock music, so I guess that’s a good thing for us, as a band. Bagga Bownz doesn’t make mainstream music, but it’s not completely underground as well. So yes, it is hard. But hey, ‘Done With The Pain’ is only our first album! Still a lot of work ahead!”
Armada: Was studying at the Rock academy a natural choice, or did the rock ‘n roll life seem more interesting?
Eller: “I did auditions both at the conservatory in Rotterdam and the Rock academy in Tilburg. I passed both, but I decided to go to the Rock academy, because it was fairly new in those days. It is just a school, like every other school. There’s a rock ‘n roll element in it, but in the end you got to pass and they are pretty harsh on that, although I passed kind of easily.”
Armada: How rock ‘n roll are you in the end?
Eller: “I’m rock, not roll. I’ve seen too many drunk and drugged people to start doing it myself. I like a beer or two every once and a while, but I’m not a heavy drinker. I’ve once done a gig while I was drunk, I fell into the drumkit, so the band had to quit playing. That was my onetime R&R moment, and I hated it.”
Armada: You teach class at the Herman Brood Academie, do private guitarlessons, recorded an album with Bagga Bownz, toured around with Armin, toured around with Bagga Bownz and so I’ve heard, you also do some modeling work. How the hell do you manage to keep yourself together when you’re this busy?
Eller:”Not having children and not living together with my girlfriend! Haha! No, it’s just one step at a time. If you like what you’re doing, it shouldn’t feel like work. That could be a bottleneck as well. One day you play for 10 people, the other for 10,000. One day you’re a model, the day after you’re in front of a class telling people about marketing. Switch, switch, switch’_”
Armada: You’ve worked together with Shah, Tenishia, Armin, Andy Blueman, and various others. Which project appealed you most?
Eller: “I go for the ‘various others’, because I can’t decide. Well, there’s one special place for me for the Armin Only shows. Because playing for 30,000 people with your brother is a very special feeling.”
Armada: Your acoustic sessions on YouTube are immensely popular. How did that whole thing started?
Eller: “I brought an acoustic guitar to Armin Only in Belgium. I phoned Chris Jones at his hotel room, and asked him to do ‘Going Wrong’ acoustically, just as an experiment. We didn’t practice, just (un)plug and play! I brought a camera and asked Susana to film it. I sent it to Armada and as people on the internet started to react positively, I decided to continue the experiment.
Because there was an unexpected good vibe between all the artists and crew during the tours, everybody felt comfortable when doing the acoustic sessions. It’s really cool to see that the artists are so professional. It’s all real, no rehearsing at all! And no post production, or heavy edits to make it prettier. And I’ve got a special friendship with Chris. He’s such a nice and funny guy, and very talented. I hope one day I can do some music with him.”
Armada: People keep asking for more of them and long to see more of your guitar play. Do you think there will ever be an acoustic album of some kind?
Eller: “I’ve no idea. For now it was just an experiment and the fact that it was recorded during the tours in hotel rooms makes it special. I don’t want to lose that feeling. But we can try. I have some other thoughts on this as well, but one step at a time!”
Armada: Is there anything in EDM that you specifically would once like to do? Perhaps a special team-up or project you’ve always dreamed of?
Eller: “Oh yes, there’s so much I would like to do’_ Maybe sing, maybe even play the drums. I’d also like to put Bagga Bownz in it, or vice versa, get a track remixed by Bagga Bownz.”
Armada: You were also singing in one of the acoustic sessions. Got any plans to extend that guitar-work to a fully fledged artist?
Eller:”Haha, I hate my singing in that song! Like I said, nothing was rehearsed or anything, I didn’t know the song that well, especially the words. I can sing, but there was too much to focus on at that time. As a musician you should follow the lead singer (Audrey Gallagher), but I was also focusing on the recording with two cameras, the chords I was playing, the words and the melody. That’s was a bit too much. If I’d do it again, I’d do it a lot better.”
Armada: What’s the next EDM track we can hear you play on?
Eller: “I play the guitar on Robert Nickson’s ‘Circles’ (Andy Blueman mix) in the break. I’m also jamming with Armin in the studio. We’ll see if we come up with something good.”
Armada: The 30th of May, you’ll be doing a live performance with Tenishia in Malta. How did that idea come to life?
Eller: “I played with Shah in Malta once. Apparently the people liked what I did, so I did a special track for that show with Tenishia.”
Armada: Any other stuff we should know about that is coming up, in the next following months?
Eller: ” Work on the new Bagga Bownz album, teach, enjoy life. And hopefully some of the ideas I made with Armin and Benno will make it to the next album or even Armin Only.”
More information on Eller, check Eller van Buuren.com.
More info on Tenishia meets Eller van Buuren @ Malta, 30th of May, check the Tenishia meets Eller story on YouTube.