The Bony King from Belgium
Bram Vanparys — The Bony King Of Nowhere
Bram is 22. Bram is Belgian. Bram is The Bony King of Nowhere, and yet, his name will be embryonic anywhere and everywhere in the music race within impending months heading into the New Year. Mr. Bram Vanparys is an emerging nu-folk composer who, earlier this year, released the debut album Alas My Love under Helicopter Records in Belgium. As he explains it, his music is honest (unique) and proffers something different, infusing his inimitable voice with harmonious/melodic backing guitars, vocals, resonance and percussion. His lyrics are customarily dramatic and his intention is to convey his sound across borders for all to favor and adore. Jarrod Dicker sat down with Bram to discuss his debut album, his first time in New York City, his obsession with the 1960’s and what we should expect from the Bony King of Nowhere in the future.
JD: Hey Bram, how are you enjoying your first trip to New York City?
BV: Well, it’s really nice over here. Its my first time I’ve ever been to the states, so it’s a really nice experience. I love it over here.
JD: As you stated, this is your North American debut tour. You recently played at Rockwood Music Hall on October 12th and soon after Crash Mansion on the 15th. How does this experience differ from playing venues overseas, specifically at home in Belgium?
BV: To me the biggest difference is the way clubs are. In Belgium the clubs are really accessible. In New York it’s harder for a band to schedule shows and to make money with their performance. In Belgium, when you play in a cafe around the corner, you can easily earn 100 Euros. In America it seems to be more difficult to make money with your music. So you almost have to invest money because you have to pay for taxis and for instrument expenses. I just think it’s harder in New York for a musician to survive and play shows, however I like this atmosphere. I like the way that you have to fight to get into the clubs. I really like it.
JD: And how would you describe the NYC crowd’s acceptance of your music?
BV: Acceptance is a bit hard. The first show at Rockwood was pretty early, it was around 6pm. So there were few people about at that time. Its also difficult because I do my own booking and I don’t really know how to promote for the shows. For me this is also a learning process [laughs]. To book a tour in New York is certainly a learning process. Crash Mansion was a totally different club from the Rockwood… it was more of a hard rock theme club. I don’t think it was a good idea for me to play there. I just booked it and didn’t really know what kind of club it was. I felt that the more clubs I could play the better. Maybe I should have skipped it because it was more of a fancy/hard rock venue. The band playing before us was doing covers of TOOL and stuff.
JD: Oh so when you say “hard rock” you mean that the music was hard and extremely heavy as well, correct?
BV: Yes it was pretty heavy. The public was also a bit strange, all these 30 year old men in suits and ties. It seems they just got out of work and were drinking beers with their mates. I don’t think it was “our” crowd, the crowd we’re used to.
JD: The Bony King of Nowhere is unique due to your specific and distinctive voice. Were you a classically trained vocalist or did you find your niche through random acts and exploration?
BV: I’ve been playing music now for almost 5 years and in the beginning I was just singing songs from the Radiohead catalog; not on the guitar, I just sang along with the CD [laughs]. That’s how I discovered that I really loved to sing. I also learned a lot from the way Thom Yorke sings and the way Bonnie Prince Billy sings. So that’s how I discovered my voice in a way. I didn’t really discover it; it was there anyway so…I guess I got lucky [chuckles].
JD: Your songs are very melodic in their backing vocals, guitar sound layers and percussion. This is similar to that of Queen, the Beach Boys in that you incorporate these melodic strategies to build harmonies and other musical tactics. Who specifically influenced your desire to integrate melodies & harmonies within your music?
BV: I think it’s mostly influenced from different kind of groups like, of course, Radiohead but also the guys that make music for films and who made soundtracks back in the 50s for western movies. I really enjoy that kind of music as well. Also stuff like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. It’s mostly 60’s stuff; I don’t really love the music right now. I am inspired by the 60’s musicians like modern groups Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear are.
JD: Your lyrics are exceptionally dramatic. Where does the content for your lyrics derive from? Is it personal or is it more a brew up of words?
BV: Yes mostly I just brew up words. Some songs are personal of course. I don’t always have a story to tell, sometimes words just come and afterwards I make a meaning out of them. My song, Maria is about a man who’s dying and he addresses Maria, or Mary the holy virgin, that he really likes the way he lays there in his bed dying and being very ill. It’s just a song about…Well, I think you must feel very happy when you’re very ill laying there in a bed and you know you can rest at peace and not worry. I wanted to describe it in a song. The strange thing about it is I wrote this song about 3 years ago, and I recently bought an old guitar from a man and asked him why he was selling the instrument? He said that he was a guitarist and wanted to get rid of all his guitars because he was dying. He was very ill and only given a few months left to live. So the song Maria, for the album, I recorded with that guitar. To me it was really bizarre because I wrote that song so long ago and now it’s connected with this old man. The new songs I’m writing are more personal. A lot more personal. The lyrics are a lot more important than the first album. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob Dylan. I think his is the best stuff ever made so far. He made me learn that lyrics are just as important as the music itself. The way you sing it is also very, very important as well.
JD: How has the feedback been from your premier album Alas My Love in Belgium, Europe and North America (if it could yet be measured)?
BV: In my own country it’s doing well. They play it very frequently on the radio and I’m surprised about that. To be honest, I don’t really care if people like it in my country because its such a small country. In the states, I don’t know because the record hasn’t been released here as of yet, so I don’t know what people think of it. I do know that some songs on the record were added to the soundtrack of a new American movie called, “Boy Meets Girl” but it’s not released yet. It’s still being worked on. A Canadian man also used a song in one of his dance performances. It might work pretty well in the states I think, I’d love it to of course. I’m looking for a North American release right now so we’ll see about that.
JD: The album Alas my love was released on the label Helicopter Records. Do you enjoy being on a record label as opposed to doing it on your own, and also, have they been beneficial in the distribution of your album?
BV: It’s a very small record company. It’s only for Belgians but it does make things easier of course because you don’t have to distribute the music yourself. I love being a part of them.
JD: Jon Kelly, the infamous producer of Paul McCartney and Kate Bush, expressed much interest in mixing your debut album. Have you developed a relationship with him and how does it feel to be recognized by such a musical titan?
BV: It was a great honor just knowing his history and who he has worked with. It was a really big honor. But it’s pretty difficult to build up a relationship with a British guy [laughs] because they’re kind of reserved. It was really nice to work with him however. Everything he did was right. He really felt the same way about the music and the record as I did. It was a pretty amazing experience to work with such a man.
JD: When I listen to your music I hear a lot of connection to Sunny Afternoon and other Ray and Dave Davies material. Did they influence your direction for this record?
BV: No. I know them, of course, but I am not influenced by them because I don’t own any of their records. I should check them out definitely! I only know a few songs of theirs so…
JD: How has American music influenced you personally and that of Bony King of Nowhere as well?
BV: To be honest, I think American music is almost the only music I listen to except for a few British artists like the Beatles and stuff like that. I’m just not really interested in the music from my own country. I don’t know why that is. There is no such music in my country like Dylan and Neil Young. I can name 20, 30, 40 bands that I would never see in Belgium, so I don’t know how that comes to be. It seems that in Belgium, nobody is interested in Dylan, but I don’t know why that is [continuous laughter].
JD: Is the title of your group taken directly from Radiohead’s alternate title to their song There There?
BV: Yes that’s right.
JD: So would you say that Radiohead’s strong influence is responsible for bringing us the product of The Bony King of Nowhere?
BV: I have to be honest they’re really a big influence on me, but not really that big anymore because, as I said, I’m listening to a lot of 60s stuff right now. I think that the first record, like a lot of people said, sounded a lot like Radiohead and you can hear the influence real clearly. It is true that they influenced me a lot, but the second record will be more “honest” music I think. For the second record I am just going to record maybe a few takes, not like 20 takes for one song like Radiohead [chuckles]. I’m going to do it pretty fast — I’ll call it “honest.” Just one take and cut it. That’s another thing I admire about Dylan.
JD: What’s your initiative on changing modern music?
BV: I don’t really plan to change it because I don’t know if it needs to be changed. I think the music on the radio has always been what it was for almost 50-60 years now. I don’t know why I would change it. I think its wrong to have the intention to change something, I just think you have to do your stuff and see what happens. If people like it, that’s fine, and if people don’t like it, that’s fine too [laughs].
JD: When should we expect your second record? What else should we expect from the Bony King of Nowhere in the near future?
BV: I want to be the first Belgium artist to play a song on the David Letterman show. In Belgium, there is such a different climate in the music scene, and everybody seems to make rock music and stuff like that. I just don’t really like it. So I’m going to do something different from all the other bands. That’s what I really want to do. Just make my songs….and we’ll see what happens. Expect the new album in a bit!
JD: Well thanks a lot for your time Bram. I’m looking forward to seeing you at Arlene’s Grocery on the 25th hopefully. I know NYCTaper will be there.
BV: Thank you so much Jarrod. Its my pleasure.