|Byron Bay (D. Lybaert, S. Stuer, D. Maes and T. Verstappen). Photo: Isabel Val.|
Tom Verstappen (21) could have been a great harmonica player. He admits he kept asking one to her mom when he was three years old, “even before speaking properly”. However, the fate made him follow another path, although not a very different one, since it was also related to music. He is the lead voice of Byron Bay, a Belgian band that has recently visited Barcelona. Being influenced by the old American songwriters, like Jackson Brown, the group has three other members: Dries Lybaert (21), the guitarist, David Maes (26), the keyboardist, and Sander Stuer (20), who plays the drums. Nearly all of them have a classical music background, despite moving soon to a more contemporary jazzy and poppy style. Adria’s News shares a beer with Byron Bay just before their last concert on their tour.
Your international tour began in Italy and after a short trip to Andorra you are now in Barcelona introducing the group to new audiences. How has been the reception in all these places?
For us, doing this tour with Byron Bay is amazing because it allows us to meet new people and break stereotypes, such as the one that says that Spanish and Italian people are very similar; they are not! [Laugh] Jokes apart, it’s kind of a blessing to be able to be here and play our music.
How would you describe your average fan?
It’s hard to draw their profile, although according to Facebook they are from 18 to 25 years old! [Laugh]. And it might be right because we actually really think our followers are mostly students.
Byron Bay seems a name that hides an interesting story, since it doesn’t refer to anything obvious within the music industry…
You are right. It’s actually a long story… Some time ago, we got into the semi-finals of a big contest in Belgium where we found a manager who got interested to work with us. She told us our former name –Mocking Jay– was a pending brand name, so we couldn’t sell it and, thus, we decided to change our name. We only had three days to think about it because after that the contest magazine, one of the biggest publications in Belgium, would be printed. Tom eventually got bored, went to Google Maps and found a street in America called Byron so he wrote it down and talked to David, who had been to an Australian town called Byron Bay. After this, we decided to take that name and we think it sounds great now. We are very proud of it.
Was your song God Only Knows the beginning of everything?
Yes, we think it was, because after this song got airplayed on Radio One –the national station in Belgium– Tom decided to start a band with David so we can say God Only Knows was our first song.
You have God Only Knows, but also My Jesus. Is religion an important matter to you?
No, it’s a coincidence. My Jesus is actually a cover of an American band and we don’t think the original version of the song is really religious. It is more like a commentary on modern religion than someone proclaiming his love for religion. And God Only Knows is an expression, you know? So the religious part is not very important and we don’t think about it. It’s just a way of speaking. We all grew up in a catholic country and these expressions live in our language although none of us practice Catholicism.
How would you describe your musical style?
We always call it electronic-folk-pop. The electronic part is very obvious, since we have electronic drums and we use a lot of laptops and synthesisers to build our sound. The folk comes from Tom, because he’s also the guitar and writes the songs. The pop it’s probably the less important tag to our music; it just merges a bit, but I think it’s not the main part. We have to get more creative and find a better bay to describe it but, for now, we’ll use this [Laugh].
You said Tom writes the songs, but what’s the process of creating one of them?
It’s very simple. Tom creates the songs and then he takes them into rehearsal to let us participate. Then, we spend some time worshiping them together and we change a few things in order to have a better version by the end.
Byron Bay was born on 2012, but it wasn’t until 2013 that you added the last member. Would you say that your musical style and the direction you wanted to follow changed within that year?
It’s hard to say, but we see we have progressed and moved from a really folk kind of songs to a more electronic one, and we think is a good evolution. Maybe we were too traditional at the beginning and now we are ready to break some rules…
For now you are four, but do you think you’ll add more people to the band in the future?
At the moment we are fine with four. It’s a good number. We just are four friends and works well. I don’t think we need anything else. Well… Maybe a girl! [Laughs]. We’ll see in our next tour. At least, our manager is a girl!
How difficult is in a little country like Belgium to develop a musical career, being as young as you are?
We think that its smallness makes it easier because there are a lot of places where you can play, and you can move between them by bus. The difficult part is that there actually are a lot of good bands in Belgium and it’s hard to get on top of those and get more media attention. Fortunately, we sing in English, and it allows us to be open to the international market.
Have you every thought of singing in another language?
Not quite, because with English we get more attention, especially outside. People get more interested. Nearly all of the commercial music in Belgium is in English and very few sang in Dutch. Those are always complaining since they want more Flemish music on the radio, but we don’t think young people want to hear this stuff. We know they are great artists, but it’s difficult for them to change this situation.
Belgium is a country that has a parallelism with Catalonia. They have both some people who are asking for the independence. What do you think?
Well, we think it is a bit different, though, because Catalonia is a small part of the country and the Flemish region is actually half Belgium. It’s hard to say anything about this matter since we don’t think it’s that relevant… That’s politics and we are not quite thinking about it. We don’t care. For us, music is more important. It’s true that in Belgium a lot of people have an opinion, but they don’t share it. Also, you don’t see flags on the streets, like in here… We think that this debate is more active in older generations than in ours…
You used Indiegogo to fund your tour. Do you think crowdfunding is the only way for young artists to get through?
We don’t think it’s the only way, but it’s an easy way to create noise about the tour and get people involved. That’s the reason why once we come back, we will be offering a concert for all the supporters. We want them to be part of this. But to tell the truth it was also quite and experiment for us. We actually don’t know any other Belgian band that has done this before or, at least, not any band of our size. We are really small!
Did you expect to be successful?
Not at all! We set our goal in 500€ and we even thought it was a little bit high. We were amazed when we say it being exceeded in two days so, apparently, there is some people who really like our music and that’s the best thing that can happen to us. It’s funny how everyone who has talked about us on the net or on the papers mentions this detail, so it might be important what we have achieved, because perhaps this is still a bit strange here, although in the US we see a lot of bands that use the crowdfunding tools to get some money and record an album.
Would you say Byron Bay is your full-time job or just a hobby?
We are all studying, so we are Byron Bay in our free spots. However, we’ll try our very best to make this our first occupation.
Which are your next steps?
First, like we mentioned before, we will have a welcoming gig once we come back to Belgium. Then, we have some small festivals, and we also want to record a single. We hope we can release it and get some airplay. We also want to join a bigger artist and tour around with him to play on bigger festivals. We’ll see, but we feel we are on the good direction.