Q&A With Gijs van Ouwerkerk aka Heliophile
1. Hi Gijs, A brief introduction please and why did you choose the name 'Heliophile'?
Hi Andy! I’m a one man synthpop project from Enschede, in the east of The Netherlands, and I started working on material in 2010. The name Heliophile sort of spontaneously appeared in my head, like many of my ideas do. It means something like ‘organism attracted to sunlight’. Amidst the melancholy in my music and lyrics, there’s often also a positive aspect and I felt that this name reflected that very well. It also is very similar in meaning to the name of my former band Solarisis (‘condition of being exposed to excessive sunlight’).
2. You are inspired by Catharism and that shows in the lyrics of your songs, Is it the beliefs of this religion that give you the atmosphere/melody to your songs?
It’s mostly only my lyrics that reveal my interest in Catharism, I think. However, I am working on a new track about the Cathars that carries a bit of a medieval atmosphere in the melodies as well, a bit like OMD’s ‘Maid of Orleans’. Although I’m not religious, what intrigues me is the Cathar philosophy of dualism. They believed that the physical world was created by an evil deity, but that our souls are inherently good. Through exhibiting goodness to the people and animals around them, they believed that they could get closer to this divinity within. They were way ahead of their time in terms of tolerance of others, animal rights and equality for women. Their mass murder at the hands of the ‘mainstream’ Christian powers (several crusades and the Inquisition) is one of the most shameful events in medieval European history.
Very few of my songs are directly about Catharism, but their metaphors of light and darkness can be found throughout my work.
3. I read the lyrics to Trampled Garden of Delight and I'm intrigued to know what is the meaning behind it?
It’s basically about being in a relationship in which you aren’t sure that the other person takes it as seriously as you. A common topic for a pop song, I suppose, but the biblical metaphors are my way of staying clear of cliché love song territory .
4. You were in a melodic death metal band called Solarisis up until 2007. I've heard some of their tracks and suddenly you become a soloist with a completely different genre of music. How did this come about.
To make it even more surprising, that extreme band was also 99% my own soloist creation. And that really is me ‘singing’! I still love metal very much, but as a composer I felt that I had exhausted my inspiration in that genre. After Solarisis called it quits, I rediscovered my 80s roots and started getting ideas for more melodic songs. Mind you, my next Heliophile EP will contain a song based on an old Solarisis synth riff that I never seemed to be able to build into a song before. So despite the brutal sound of my past music, the seeds of melody were already sown!
5. Talking of soloists – You are on your own at the moment but you have advertised for new band members, Why new members and what do you want them to bring to the band?
I intend to remain the only person writing and producing music for Heliophile, but would very much like to play live as well. So I’m happy to announce that I have found three musicians that will accompany me on stage. We’re in the process of dividing up the parts to begin rehearsing and plan to be ready for action around March next year.
6. Your new Christmas single 'The Silence' which is also accompanied by a video is released today 29/11/13 . Is it going to be a Cliff Richard/Saviors Day type track or have you gone for a more joyous feel to it?
I’m afraid that ‘The Silence’ is not going to be as merry as that. For some reason, Christmas has never had any significance to me and usually, when a Christmas song comes up on the radio, I change the channel. So I decided to write a Christmas song for outsiders. This could be people like me, who dislike society’s tendency to force-feed these holiday season emotions to them. But the song could also resonate with people who are left out of the celebrations due to poverty, loneliness or mental health problems.
7. Are Karen & Michiel from Seven Waters still guest vocals on the track or is it a new version?
Ah, you’ve heard the demo version! Yes, Karen and Michiel’s vocals are still on the track, but I improved my own vocals and the overall mix, to make it sound the best that I can. Ken Porter did a great job on the mastering, like he did with the ‘Nebula’ EP.
8. You are from The Netherlands, What is the current synth/electro scene like there at the moment. Are the airwaves supportive of acts like yourself?
Synthpop is almost non-existent in The Netherlands, I’m afraid. Aside from more mainstream and happy-sounding electropop bands, acts like Model Depose and Krause are the only ones I know of, and I have no idea where to send my music for possible review or radio airplay. Over here, synthpop seems to be a niche within an already small gothic/industrial scene, rather than a subgenre within a much larger (alternative) pop scene. You are very lucky in the UK with such a great scene and I’m very grateful that UK bands, fans and radio DJs have met Heliophile with such friendliness and enthusiasm! In The Netherlands, I suspect that synthpop is mostly unknown rather than unloved, so I hope our live performances will make more Dutch people discover this type of music.
9.. The song 'Radio Ga Ga' by Queen has a big part to play in the creation of Heliophile. What is it about the song that appealed to you?
As a young child, watching the video of this song on the TV, I was mesmerised by the atmosphere, melodies and sound (those filter-sweeped arpeggios!) of this song. Maybe it’s childhood nostalgia, but I consider the period in which ‘Radio Ga Ga’ was released to be the golden age of popular music. Why? Because it seems to me that in those days the only way to climb the charts was to write a killer song with great melodies. Let’s just say that I feel differently about the 90s . Nowadays, artists like Tenek and Martyn Bailey are writing killer songs, but sadly aren’t reaching the large audience they deserve.
10. You recently met Pete & Geoff of Tenek in Bochum, Have you plans to work with Geoff in the future? Every one else is so you might as well Gijs ;-)
Haha! I assume you’re referring to Geoff’s excellent (re)mixing skills. Well, as much as I admire his work, I’ve taken quite a liking to the process of mixing my own material. I enjoy the learning process very much and I’m still making improvements with every new song I finish. However, if I ever feel that I’ve reached my ceiling and I want my stuff to sound better still, hiring Geoff is something I’d definitely consider. As far as remixes go, I must admit that I’m not really a fan of releases with four or five versions of the same song on them. Never say never, but for the moment I’d like to give my listeners more original songs.
On the subject of working with Tenek, by the way, I’d love to be their live bass player for their mainland Europe concerts! I even had a dream about it one night. In the dream, I hit the stage completely unprepared, though, trying to visually work out which chords Pete was playing on his guitar. Very nerve-wrecking, haha!
11. Last year you were working on tracks such as ' Your Clandestine' & 'Haligonian Rain' Do you plan to release them?
Yes, an improved mix of ‘Haligonian Rain’ will be on my next EP. ‘Your Clandestine’ was my very first original production for Heliophile and it would need some improvements in the arrangement as well, before it’s worthy of being on a future release. That song remains very dear to me, though, so if I’m happy with my attempts to rework it, you will definitely see it on a future EP or album.
12. Finally Gijs, Thank You taking part in this Q&A and for your support in putting it together. Is there anything you would like to finish it off with mentions/promo etc..
Once again I’d like to thank the UK synth scene for your warm welcome to my music and my person. Your support gives me the confidence, inspiration and encouragement to keep working and putting out more music! And I hope you’ll welcome future Heliophile live performances too!
Please check out the video for ‘The Silence’ on November 29th. On the same day, the song will be available for download on iTunes and CDBaby (among others) or as a free bonus track bundled with a download of the ‘Nebula’ EP from Bandcamp (https://heliophile.bandcamp.com). I will donate half of the proceeds of ‘The Silence’ to a charity that helps the people of the Philippines recover from the terrible disaster.