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With an addictive lo-fi folkish sound, I Am Oak, Thijs Kuijken solo project, is probably one of the most engaging new acts from the Netherlands. His lyrics are great and often admit several interpretations, as he admits. Mixing acoustic guitars, soothing vocals and distorted sounds is what make his music really interesting. He answered some questions for me and I can tell you this is one of the best interviews I've done! Some really interesting answers, such as his name and song's meanings and Tyra Banks?

Interview and videos after the JUMP ...

Buy his music HERE (NL) or HERE (US)

*First of all, why the name I am Oak? What's the meaning of it?
You know how people sometimes say ‘Hi! Yeah, everything’s A-OK!’. I am Oak is a play on the expression “a-okay” (or “A-OK”). No, it’s not. I just get this question a lot, so it makes me think about how it can be explained in funny ways that would make some sense, but are not related to how the name actually came about. The name has something to do with the place I grew up, the town has ‘Oak’ in its name. I guess the area you grow up in plays some role in the formation of your character.

*How would you define yourself as an artist?
I make music and I expose it through recordings and performances.

*I've seen that you classify yourself as Hip-Hop, do you see yourself responding to any specific strain of it, or do you classify yourself that way just based on your emphasis on the percussion?
You have probably seen that on myspace. When I made the page years ago I had to fill in some genres. I did not put that up as a serious thing. I do, however, like the aesthetics of hip-hip and RnB music; the beats in particular. You might say it shines through in some of my songs every now and then.

*Do you include distorted sounds intentionally?
Yes I do. I do not know much about recording and it’s somewhat lo-fi, but I also sort of know what I’m doing.

*What is the best advice someone has ever given to you?
Never dull your shine for somebody else. - Tyra Banks

*What can you tell us about your life?
I give out quite a lot about my life in songs.

*So you have two albums to date, "On Claws" and "Oasem", what would you say is the concept of each of them?
First of all I would say: dig in. It is right there for you to explore. I could not explain to you in normal cohesive sentences what I can explain to you through songs. Trying to explain it in ‘normal’ words would kind of defeat the purpose for both albums to exist - in a way. I have done my part and now it is up to you to take from them what you need. I think it is important to know that if I try to tell you the exact content you will not be enjoying it for as long or as intensely as you would when you find out what it means to you by yourself. That takes an effort, I know, but it will ultimately be rewarded. Having said that I guess ‘On Claws’ is more about a sense that you feel there is something missing and ‘Oasem’ is more about abundance. So one is more about being trapped and the other about (overpowering) freedom.

*Why the name "Oasem", is there a meaning for that?
It is a word in a certain Dutch dialect (from the region I grew up in). Its pronunciation is similar to the English word ‘awesome’. It means ‘breath’. This is - of course - what you need in order to live.

*Do you consider that your style has changed from album to album?
Yes, I deliberately change the sound for each release. Sometimes it’s a subtle change, sometimes more drastic. Though the ‘feel’ or ‘vibe’ - if there is such a thing - is quite consistent, I guess.

*Do you write the melodies of your songs first, or do you start with the lyrics?
I rarely start with lyrics. I don’t know if I have ever done that actually. The lyrics usually develop in accordance to the vocal melody. That way it will fit the mood of the song better.

*How much time do you spend on your lyrics compared to the time you spend on the melodies? Is it a 50/50 split, or do you tend to agonize over one in particular?
I feel it’s a 50/50 split maybe. Sometimes either one spills out effortlessly and sometimes it takes a lot of work.

*What do you normally use to create your sound? What instruments?
Anything I have lying around or my friends let me borrow. Acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, banjo, keyboards, synths, organ, drums, my voice, voices of friends, computer stuff, whatever works..

*Where do you usually get inspiration from? Is there something you do to inspire yourself?
Nothing in particular. Just about anything I do/read/see/hear/experience/etc can lead to something.

*What made you go darker on this album than in your prior work?
This sort of happened in the process. When I started making new songs I would use this keyboard with a dark organ sound. Probably had something to do with it.

*I realized that many of your songs are titled the same, why do you feel the necessity to separate a certain song in two parts?
Sometimes a song wants to go in two different directions. When I can’t choose between the two directions I make them into two separate songs.

*I'd like to know something more about some specific songs. What can you tell me about "Trees and Birds and Fire"'s concept, it's meaning?
I don’t really like the idea of explaining songs. But here we go; this one is exemplary for the way most of my songs work. It has some different angles. It is basically about wanting to go back to a safe or comfortable place/time/moment/period/feeling.
It could be about the place where you grew up. For instance a house with a fireplace, near the woods (like me). Someone approached me once saying the song described the exact feeling he had when he though of his grandmother, who lived in a house in the woods. It could also be about your camp outs or whatever. That’s more of a literal approach.
For me as a person who makes things I often wonder about creativity, and how it sometimes works or sometimes doesn’t work at all. So I can also relate to it on that level. Wondering about the last time things did work and maybe figuring out why it did. Looking for the fire! The trees are your mind, or thoughts, the birds the expressions, the output, and the fire is the creative process, the catalyst. Trees house birds and the smoke from the fire can smoke them out.
It could also be about a relationship you were in that ended or worsened and you would think about that and want to go back to when it was all good and fun. That’s how it started out for me, when I wrote it, but it’s not about that anymore. These days I can relate more to it as just wanting to be in a safe and uncomplicated place. The meaning of songs can shift, that’s the beauty of it. It can mean something to you one day and something else a year later, when you are in a totally different state of mind.

*What about "Island"?
I was on a hill on a small island once, looking out over the surrounding sea that was filled with many small islands. It did something to me.

*And about "Curt"?
It’s about having doubts and telling oneself to not be a little bitch about it.

*Does any, or maybe all, of the songs in your album reflect a personal experience of yours?

*Are you already working on new material? Will you keep the vibe, the concept, of the current songs?
I am. I will change it up a little bit. Don’t know exactly how it will turn out yet. We are also working on an album as a band. This will have more acoustic guitars than ‘Oasem’, but will not quite sound like ‘On Claws’.

*What can we expect from you in the coming months?/What are your plans from now on?
I will be playing shows, taking a vacation and continue work on a new album.

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