In the 1960s, after the Beatles and the Rolling Stones began to take the world by storm, there was a term in Denmark used to describe this new loud and ragged brand of rock and roll: pigtraad. Loosely translated, it means barbed wire, barbed wire music.
Some four decades later, the term works as good as any to describe the avalanche of electrified R&B delivered by Danish quartet The Blue Van, who derive their name, appropriately, from the vehicle known in Denmark for collecting the mentally ill, the loonies.
Steeped in the rough riffing bested by The Kinks, and schooled on such blues luminaries as Howlinâ€™ Wolf, the band harks back to a time when the guitars were best raw and the drums went Biff-Bang-Pow like firecrackers.
Indeed, the sound of The Blue Van is one entirely unaffected by the past three decades of popular music, as if it was plucked out of a thrift store vinyl collection. And thereâ€™s a simple explanation for that: When they began making music together some eight years ago, the bandâ€™s four membersâ€”vocalist/guitarist Steffen Westmark, organist Soren V. Christensen, bassist Allan F. Villadsen and drummer Per M. Jorgensonâ€”were simply not very interested in the popular music of the day.
The Blue VanGrowing up in Broenderslev, a rural area in northern Denmark some 500 kilometers from Copenhagen, the group was a rarity. â€œWe didnâ€™t have a lot of other local bands to look upon, so we were kind of making our own thing,â€? says Christensen. â€œI think if you grow up in a big city and you know a lot of musicians, then you sort of get inspired by each other. But we only had each other to get inspired from, to build up our sound on. I guess thatâ€™s why we sound different.â€? Notes frontman Westmark, â€œIt makes the sound a little bit purer.â€?
Starting in the 6th grade, the band â€” the sons of carpenters, truck drivers and farmers â€” began jamming in one of their grandmotherâ€™s basements (Luckily, she was hard of hearing.) Each of them only about 12 years old, they began cranking out covers of vintage blues tunes. But it was not long before they were crafting their own material inspired by The Small Faces, Cream and The Pretty Things
When the band went in to record their debut EP, the aforementioned purity was the goal. They wanted the drums, for example, to sound as powerful and thunderous as those produced by Shel Talmy on The Whoâ€™s My Generation. And just before hitting the studio the band actually played that album, among others, for their producer, noting, â€œThatâ€™s the sound we want: a live sound.â€?
And it comes through. The sound of a gritty, Mandrax-fueled rock band caught on disc -- leaping from stomp â€˜nâ€™ shout rockers (â€œRevelation of Love,â€?) to melodic, Beatles-inflected balladry (â€œBaby, Iâ€™ve Got Timeâ€?) and extended power-jamming (â€œNew Slough.â€?) Itâ€™s the culmination of years of hard work and persistence.
The evolution of the bandâ€™s classically raw sound can be attributed in part to two discoveries made by bassist Villadsen. He ran across a rusty Hammond organ collecting dust on a farm near where the band grew up. When he found it, the instrument had chicken feathers in its belly. The organ would further sculpt the bandâ€™s sound as Christensen switched to organ from rhythm guitar. In a music store, Villadsen found an old $200 Hofner guitar, a German guitar with pickups that generated a beat-up, distorted sound. â€œIt had this Kinks sound, this really smashed up sound,â€? Westmark says of the six-string, which would become his preferred guitar. In another stroke of luck, drummer Jorgenson bought an exceptional Ludwig drum set from his school for 10 bucks -- which he would find out later was valued at over $2000.
Moving to Copenhagen to kick-start their career, The Blue Van got to work on a demo that it could distribute to booking agents, record labels and the like. In an old garage with no heat and the band members wearing jackets to keep warm, they captured early recordings on a disc they dubbed A Session with the Blue Van.
After a triumphant gig at Spot 9, Denmarkâ€™s answer to South By Southwest, interest in the band heated up. At the festival, held in the Spring of 2003, the group scored a prime timeslot that found it taking the stage just moments after one of the most well known artists ended her set nearby. â€œThe mainstream, known acts had just played their last chord, and we started playing just after that, and people just turned around instead of walking out, and saw us,â€? notes Christensen.
Their rep was further bolstered when they scored another key timeslot, at the annual Roskilde Festival. Two days before the actual festival kicked off, the band played the only stage open at the time to 2,000-3,000 early comers, early-arriving campers mostly. Record deals and offers from various industry types began streaming in afterward.
For the recording of the EP the band headed to Hamburg, Germany, in the fall of 2003, where they recorded and mixed the disc within a month. The session found them recording together in one room, overdubbing only the vocals. Says Westmark, â€œWe wanted to capture the energy and feeling of us playing live. I believe we succeeded.â€?
Recalling their favorite â€˜60s bands in both sound and look, the band members recognize that it may take some heat from critics. But again, if their music is anything, itâ€™s pure. The five songs comprising the EP come purely out of the bandâ€™s love for the artists of rockâ€™s golden era. â€œBeing in a band was way more fun back then,â€? says Christensen. â€œThings werenâ€™t so â€˜professionalâ€™ and money-minded then.â€?
So if you see these four cats crossing the street, youâ€™d better be ready. The Blue Van is coming to take you away to a place where the only booze served is a cocktail of Rockâ€™nâ€™Beat-Soul-Rhythmâ€™nâ€™Bluesâ€”a place where you canâ€™t loseâ€¦