Interviews

INTERVIEW: Jasper Barendregt Of Dodecahedron, Ulsect, And Psion

Jasper Barendregt is the impressive drummer behind projects as diverse as DodecahedronUlsect and Psion, all of whom released records this year. The Dutch percussionist has a versatile and powerful approach to his craft as a musician, and he was kind enough to share some very in-depth responses to It Djents‘ questions for him.

 

ID: You have played on a number of impressive releases this year, including Dodecahedrons kwintessens, Ulsects self-titled debut album, and Psions self-titled EP. What motivates you to play such a wide variety of styles with so many different musicians?

 JB: Early on, I developed the attitude that opening up your mind to all music and its diversity is key to musical growth. This is partly thanks to my first drum teachers, some of which were pop, jazz, rock, latin, fusion and metal orientated drummers. This mentality has certainly been of vital importance to how I’ve developed as a musician throughout the years.

In the first place, my motivation to want to play a diverse range of styles is often initiated by curiosity. What drives that motivation is keeping a sense of open-mindedness and determination, either by questioning something by gathering information from a wide range of sources or delving into the subject matter headfirst – that is, if my intuition feels good. I believe by following this tactic deeply into a wide variety of specific styles or creative settings, you’ll end up with many different angles to tackle a specific problem with, or will find the “missing links” to follow a brainstorm through to a plan, all the way towards a concrete result. If you’re perseverant enough to hold on to such an attitude, I think that you’ll eventually be able to break the clichés and present something that is truly authentic (i.e. not unique, since there is hardly such a thing in my opinion).

To shed some different light on the subject, here’s an example of an insightful question a great teacher once asked me: If you were to wake up tomorrow, suddenly completely unable to drum, what would you do? Basically, the essential ‘larger-than-life’ question being implied here, was if I was still making the conscious decision to do what I do – on a daily basis. My answer would be that I would try and find something that gives me a similar drive and purpose in life that my drumming gives me. Maybe I’d focus on coaching people, maybe I’d try to do more on the production side of things, maybe I’d become a music reviewer or interviewer, maybe I wouldn’t even try to do something in the realms of music at all… Let’s face it; even though I find it painful to say, in the end it’s “just” music.

So in conclusion, I want to keep diversifying myself, while consciously staying on the lookout for connections within (or between) disciplines. I think doing this can only work in your benefit on the long term. To me, some good examples of contemporary drummers bridging these gaps and traveling on routes less traveled are Sean Noonan, Eli Keszler, Shigeto, Knimes and Glenn Kotche.

 

ID: How do you find these different projects allow you to express yourself as a musician?

 JB: I find that a very interesting question! They allow me to express myself through them because I try to look past genres, styles and settings, and on the other hand, always try to stay close to who I am as a person – and therefore, as a musician.

Finding out who you are as a person and finding out what you need to develop yourself endlessly seem like far more important goals to me than developing things like ‘inspiring licks’, ‘sweet technique’, ‘amazing speed’, ‘awesome pocket’, ‘incredible control’, ’jaw-dropping improvisational skills’, ‘out-of-the-box sound creativity’ or ’great feel’ etc. Sure, these can all be great crowd-pullers and good ways that enable you to express yourself – often even necessary qualities to develop (sometimes only achieved by maintaining an almost stoic form of perseverance, and delving into the deep). But, at a certain moment along the way, personally, I came to a point where it almost felt as if I was viewing things backwards, thinking: I am this and this person because Ive gathered these skills and this knowledge, and those now define who I am and where Im heading! Maybe this is stating the obvious, but I’m simply dumbfounded with how many people either seem to be only able to work “bottom-up” (developing skills and “working in the trenches” – and being unable to view things from a different perspective) or – on the contrary – only “top-down” (being great conceptual thinkers / visionaries, but lacking the practical skills to make things concrete). At the time, I felt the need to start “reversing” my way of working, and later on, felt the need to be able to learn how to switch back-and-forth on the go.

Qualities that I think do define me, are things like: open-mindedness, devotion, drive, honesty, teamwork and reliability, but also on the other side of this coin: being quite sensitive, trying to keep things in harmony, getting stuck in perfectionism and being to hard on myself or others. I believe if you keep an eye on these interpersonal characteristics of yourself and the others you work with, you’ll be able to put yourself in situations where you can more easily and continuously express yourself while developing yourself (and your colleagues) much further in a better way.

 

ID: An element of your playing that I really enjoy on Ulsects new record is your decision to contrast guitar riffs with unpredictable drum patterns pairing a djenty guitar section with blast beats, ringing chords with a syncopated groove, or slow tempos with fast, complex parts. Was that a conscious part of the bands sound?

 JB: Yes, the elements you describe (energy, aggression, atmosphere and polyrhythmic patterns) were already embedded in the ideas of composers Joris Bonis and Arno Frericks during the early stages of the writing process. Most of these rough principles and arrangements were further developed along the creative process with help from the other band members. This approach – along with following our ’gut feeling’ – gave us the realization which elements could be best deployed in which ways, while keeping focus on the overall atmosphere above all. Aspects like dissonance versus harmony or ‘light’ versus ‘dark’ were used to create a sense of tension within both the heavy and more spacious passages, and emphasizing this contrast on both sides mutually can create interesting friction.

My main goals were to enforce this vision and to accent or create interesting moments – whether those were invoked by the compositions, the instrument- and vocal arrangements, or were moments that came to realization in a later stage – as reactions to the drum arrangements I wrote. So, in a nutshell; evoking walls of sound – where I really have to push myself as far as I can, supporting certain vocal lines or accents, purposely filling up gaps in between the rhythmical information, and trying to hold the sense of lingering threat – by creating captivating or intricate moments that lead listeners through the dark and brooding passages.

ID: You have an extensive list of influences that you have included on your website, but is there any new music that is motivating you or capturing your attention?

 JB: As I indicated, I’ve never blocked out any musical styles, genres or settings, and have always found inspiration in the world of jazz, fusion, metal, percussion based music and experimental music. However, honestly, although I try to stay open for new music, I feel a bit “oversaturated” as of late. I think that’s the reason why I’ve been going back to a lot of music and bands that I haven’t listened to for a while.

It’s actually insane how different some of the music of Cynic, Planet X and Mats & Morgan sounds to me now. Also, listening back to albums by Tool, Gorguts, Allan Holdsworth and Fredrik Thordendals Special Defects has made me realize again why these records had such an impact on me when I heard them for the first time. So, what I’m trying to say is that, in terms of motivation, lately I seem to be going more in-depth with my favorite music, instead of broadening my horizon.

That being said, as far as music capturing my current attention goes: I really love the latest Ingurgitating Oblivion album, am looking forward to the new Celeste record, and have – again – some catching up to do in regard to bands like Svart Crown, Decapitated and Septicflesh – all of which include some ridiculous drumming.

 

ID: Building on that, is there anything in the current progressive/metal scene that you feel is missing or could be developed further?

 JB: In terms of development, there’s obviously always exceptions, but I’ve noticed more and more that I enjoy music that has some sort of common thread throughout a track. This is what I believe makes the releases of Our Oceans, Ulsect and Dodecahedron interesting and very enriching ones to have been a part of.

So, in others words, music that isn’t crammed full with thousands of incoherent riffs and sections, but with a subtle or recognizable concept throughout a track – without the track becoming too one-dimensional or stagnant. I think compositions by The Contortionist (especially on Language) are a great example of this (Hear the Planet X / On The Virg / Derek Sherinian resemblance I make with their track “Integration”? Haha!). But also, on a different side of the spectrum, a band like Ulcerate creates a similar listening experience for me: The momentum of their compositions simply becomes colossal because they keep the seamless threads that connect their arrangements intact before using that built-up momentum and unleashing the havoc at the moment suprême.

When I zoom out, and try to look at what I’m missing in the modern (metal) scene, it’s the impression that on the upside of things, it’s easier to release a concrete result nowadays: Everybody has their home studio, much can be emulated, and, with enough time, effort and dedication, you can potentially work together with anyone you want. But, on the downside, this often brings forth bleak, static or emotionless results: There seems to a broken-up or lop-sided “call & response” and less investment in teamwork.

Lastly, I always enjoy seeing which directions some of the more established bands in the genre seem to go – especially if they stay true to what works (i.e. pay respect to what got them where they are) but offer some innovation or subtle change on the side. Although I wasn’t keen on the latest Decapitated releases on first listen (Carnival Is Forever being my favorite record), I have to respect the distinctive music style they’ve managed to profile themselves with (I find the sense of drive and aggression they’re able to put behind the syncopated patterns they incorporate throughout their tracks to be amazing!).

ID: In addition to your drumming with your various projects, you also offer session drumming services. What do you enjoy about session drumming?

JB: What I enjoy about session drumming is that it enables me to express myself in ways I could never achieve on my own. And also, that the struggle to ‘not lose yourself’ within a project is always an interesting (but rewarding) challenge! To which extent are you still yourself as a musician? And does it really matter in the end if all of your initial expectations suddenly are being turned upside down? Maybe not. Maybe that’s only a healthy and educational process.

To add some clarity to the matter: I indicated earlier that I’m almost always busy with the interpersonal qualities of myself and others around me. Of course, it’s always important that others can push you to new heights and can recognize your strengths and flaws, while responding to it accordingly (and vice-versa). But there also needs to be a shared ‘drive’ or simply a common ‘click’ that serves as a mutual fundament (that’s what I mean with judging on intuition and feeling the drive to delve into something headfirst or not).

So, although I’m open-minded in general, I’m quite selective when it comes to doing session jobs, but if the connection is indeed there, you can count on a deep and strong cooperation. I mean, when you work together for an extensive period of time with people that know which of your buttons to press – and are on a similar wavelength overall – that’s quite a special bond in my opinion.

 

ID: With the variety of projects you pursue, are there any types of music that you are still hoping to explore in the future?

JB: To be honest, I’m not sure at the moment. What I do know, is that I want to focus on quality above quantity for a while. There’s still unfinished music on the shelves, even some stuff that I’ve had a more leading role in (in terms of concept, direction and goal). I’m a person that likes closure and substantial results, so I don’t know when I’ll finish these projects, but am determined that I eventually will.

Besides this, I’ve re-found my interest for “hybrid” music (i.e. music that consists of digital and analogue components and – preferably – contains the qualities to mold both worlds together into an organic whole). So maybe that’s something I’ll get back to again.

Lastly, my work as an aspiring educator has certainly shed some different light on the music that I know – and on the classics that I haven’t touched upon enough – and in conclusion, the cross-disciplinary arts have also been of constant interest to me. So, who knows where I’m heading?

ID: Youve already had an extensive and varied career. What does the future hold for you, or what goals do you hope to accomplish in the next while?

JB: My head is always buzzing with new ideas and extensive (long-term) concepts that I want to make tangible as soon as possible – to examine if these are worth my time or not. Often this process consist of going back-and-forth between an almost stoic form of ‘doing’ and consciously reflecting on the results and (new) goals. Luckily, these ideas seem to be able to bring to practice faster and faster, due to the network I’ve built up throughout the years, and the “successes” or “victories” I’ve booked in the past.

The part I still struggle with most is finding effective ways to present myself as a creative individual that takes on many roles – without losing my integrity, authenticity and personality I try to profile myself with along this meandering road of creative outputs. This is already quite a tall order for myself, but when you consider how confusing these outings seem to be to people that don’t know me well (or simply don’t take the time to do so) you have quite the puzzle to figure out (if I should care about this aspect, is a totally different point, but I simply care immensely).

In conclusion to the question: As of late, I give private drum lessons here in Tilburg, the Netherlands, under the moniker Rhythm Vision, with which I’m enthusiastically building up my education facility and developing my lesson programs and teaching methods. I’m currently looking for new students, regardless of current skill level, wishes or background. It really doesn’t matter to me whether you’re new at drumming or an advanced player, or if you want to learn general or (very) specific things. I offer a custom-tailored approach to fit the wishes of the individual, with a lot of room for personal input and direction – all based on the principle of developing what you need to enable you to teach yourself endlessly.

I’m thinking of offering online lessons and courses in a later stage (either by myself or by inviting interviewee’s) so that I’m also able to reach international interest – but for the time being, I want to focus on those private 1-on-1 lessons.

This all comes back to that ‘through others’ bit I’ve mentioned earlier, and this is actually something I’ve come to a realization to as of late. I’ve found out better who I am as a person (and therefore ‘creative person’) and have realized that I want to get better at putting others in the spotlight. Eventually, I would love to be able to take myself to a level in which I truly know how to coach other people and bring out the best in them – and thus myself, but realize that this still requires a ton of hours and experiences as an educator. That being said, I’m starting to get more and more determined that I am truly the type of person that could be active in such a field of work.

Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings, and last but certainly not least, a big ‘thank you’ to Landon and It Djents for the interesting questions and for taking the time to do this interview! Much appreciated!

 

You can check out Jasper’s website to keep up with his various projects here.

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