This past Tuesday, I Am Oak wrapped up their NYC mini tour at Pianos on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Visiting the city for the first time, all the way from the Netherlands, the foursome put on two shows at Brooklyn’s Northside Festival followed by three more at local venues.
Performing songs infinitely larger than the small stage they were confined to, I Am Oak left all they had in the back room of Pianos Tuesday night before striking the final chord and packing up to fly home. With gritty electric riffs, folky twangs emanating from the nylon string acoustic, and the soft yet powerful earthy vibes coming off the cloth covered snare drum; the band demonstrated just how diverse a journey each of their songs can take you on.
I Am Oak is based around the music of Thijs Kuijken, who hails from the Netherlands and has been making music for most of his life. Inspired by the world around him, Thijs draws from the quiet forest-side village he grew up in. Using natural elements from the world around him, he is able to capture the essence of that very nature in the gentle manner of his lyrics and music.
“From an early age nature was part of my life,” Thijs began, just moments before the last show of their five-show run. “What I really like, in connection to the music, is the way natural energy is really sort of, for me – it’s easy to make it poetical, and make it about feelings instead of directly about nature,” he explained.
The music of I Am Oak is not unlike that of an immense forest. Using vast soundscapes and dissonant guitar work, the band is able to weave simple yet moving parts together to create something larger than the songs themselves. Referring to his songwriting as an intuitive process, Thijs is influenced by the idea that ultimately we are all one with nature.
“I think a lot of people can get something out of it, because it’s easy to relate to, because we are, in a sense, part of nature,” he said.
Not one to limit his ideas to just songs and lyrics, Thijs was able to bring to life a vision he had for a music video based around the concept of using as few scene transitions as possible. Filmed in a forest in Slovenia just at the border of Italy, using a guide rail and a wire, the video for ‘Palpable’ eventually became a reality. The video follows a young man traveling through a dense wood, before ultimately emerging atop a massive ravine.
“It was supposed to be done in one shot, but in the end we couldn’t do it,” Thijs admitted with a touch of disappointment in his voice, although the cut is hardly noticeable in the finished product. “I had this idea to do it like that, because of all the MTV music videos which change shots like every two seconds. I wanted to do something different.”
Thijs first began writing I Am Oak songs about five years ago. A self-recorded album burned onto about 50 CD-R’s started it all and would eventually lead to four albums, three EP’s and a Dutch-based 3VOOR12 Award in 2011 for best album for their 2011 release, Oasem. I Am Oak went on to tour throughout Germany and Switzerland, before heading to Austin, Texas in 2012 for the South by Southwest music and film festival – and now adding Brooklyn’s Northside Festival to that list of places traveled.
“The shows at Northside were super cool,” Thijs said, “a lot of people came up to us, so it was great.” During their downtime in the Big Apple the band found themselves checking out different tourist attractions, like Central Park and the Museum of Natural History, but a personal favorite for Thijs was his time spent in Williamsburg. “It’s been cool to just be able to be here and play music. The shows have been quite nice, especially the one in the Williamsburg Music Hall, that was really really great,” he recalled.
More recently Thijs re-recorded that first demo tape that consisted of the first I Am Oak songs, appropriately named Ols Songd, and re-released it as a proper album. He also worked with Geert van der Velde of fellow Dutch-based band The Black Atlantic. The two wrote and released a six track compilation album together titled Black Oak, where they each covered an original song written by the other in addition to creating some fresh songs as well.
As far as future plans for I Am Oak are concerned, Thijs isn’t sure what the road ahead looks like, but he is sure of a few things. “I just want to continue doing this, going abroad more – do some more tours in Europe and hopefully come back to the US – and make new records,“ he concluded.
Article by: Nick Hodgins
Photos by: Shayne Hanley