What role does time play? How long should you stay in a toxic relationship? How amazing is the feeling, when you reach that moment where you can truly be yourself? How do you feel about living in a time with climate change issues, world leaders that could described as insane, topped off with so-called social media perfection?
These are topics that the guys from Kensington discuss on their new album Time, which was released last Friday. The leading rock band in The Netherlands is known for its abstract lyrics which are open for interpretation. This is why I was so excited about being able to bombard frontman, Eloi Youssef, and drummer, Niles Vandenberg, with questions about what their songs mean.
They gave me this track by track explanation of their album Time. Get ready to be surprised by a personal, raw, and very… human album.
Before we dive into the songs, what role does music have in your life?
Niles: “Music has always been a guiding principle in my life. When I was 3 years old, I already wanted to play the drums, though I really started when I was 6. I started playing in bands when I was about 12, and when I joined Kensington around 11 years ago, it really started to play a big role in my life.”
Eloi: “The same goes for me, though the meaning of music differs a lot to me as a listener. Sometimes I put music on in the background and it will just be ‘there’. In that case, I experience music in a very light way. In other moments, I will listen attentively, and it can really get through to the core. That’s when I consider music to be a force that can rise above differences between people, as a kind of universal language. Nowadays, I mostly listen to children’s songs with my daughter, and seeing how she experiences the music, brings an entirely new meaning.”
How important are lyrics to you guys?
Niles: “I only started listening to lyrics a couple of years ago, and I noticed that I could be touched by music in a new way.
Jeff Buckley’s music, for example, has always moved me. The way he used his voice really did something to me. When I really started to understand his lyrics, his songs gained a completely different meaning. Sometimes in an even more positive way than before! That was really interesting to me.”
Eloi: “I have always been more of a melody person. When a melody is moving, my rule reads ‘make sure the lyrics aren’t extremely horrible’. You shouldn’t be distracted by lyrics that don’t make sense.
Yet there is potential in lyrics to add an extra dimension to the experience of music. The way a song is sung and the themes in its lyrics can really enchant a track. People tend to build walls around themselves, but music is able to burst right through that. I once received an email from someone that said: “I don’t know what you did, but I can suddenly feel all of my emotions and I don’t know how to turn them off. Tell me what to do.’
Music can bring you to the point where you run out of protection. It can take me by surprise, making me think; How is that possible? Didn’t I construct this wall around me so nicely?
On to your new, fifth studio album Time. I’m very curious to discover what the songs are about. Let’s discuss the lyrics track by track.
1. Bats – Kensington
Eloi: “Bats is about two people bringing a lot of trauma into their relationship without giving each other the chance to grow.”
They have emotional baggage?
Eloi: “Yes, exactly. Yet, they want to protect their emotional baggage at all cost, resulting in their inability to develop a connection together.”
Could I ever speak
Will I ever breach
How can I be enabled
If it’s a calling of the heart you cannot see
Can’t read a foreign body language
Who am I to teach
You don’t know about growing pains
That were neglected in me
You don’t know about warning signs
Ignored and left at the scene
Indeed I’m known to falling standards
Who am I to preach
But you couldn’t understand
(And I let it)
So I lied again
And I wouldn’t let you in
(And I’ll get it)
So you cast another stone
You’ll find it on your own
(If I let it)
I better let it
You will let me down now
Cause you could not lift it
I’ll back down when I cannot stand the weight
We’ll wake up to breaking hearts I know it
Bats – Kensington
Was there a concrete cause for writing this song?
Eloi: “Yes, it’s about how I was often in conflict with a person that had a hard time putting her dark side into the light. That could really disrupt things between us.
Yet, at a certain moment I realized: I could point my finger all I want, but a lot of old pains have started to bubble up inside me, so maybe portraying myself as the victim is not the right thing to do at all. These are patterns that I describe in the song.”
Why is it called Bats?
Eloi: “To be honest, that doesn’t make sense at all, haha. We often use working titles before we have any lyrics written down. Bats was one of those working titles and we got so used to it that we decided to keep it. We also thought it was a cool title and it actually fits the song since bats live at night and are able to fly into all sorts of directions.”
2. What Lies Ahead – Kensington
Eloi: “When my daughter was born, I suddenly started to think about all the things that could go wrong. I spent a lot of time asking What If..? . That got me thinking about the way I was raised: How can I do this differently to my parents? What do I take with me and what should I let go of? What can’t I let go because it is too close to me?
In What Lies Ahead you can also read about some of my old sores:”
Cold and broken down
It’s all I knew
I let it corner me in
And hide where my tracks lead
Now I’m waking up
And all I do
Is getting lost in the past
To find where I’d first hear
That I was never gonna be somebody
That I was never gonna feel light come around
And they rise again as I am told that I should see
“The song also contains a positive side though. I wrote the chorus for my daughter and it can actually be considered the conclusion to my train of thought; I will do anything to be there for you and everything will be alright.”
And to fear what lies ahead now
But I know that I will
Do everything for you again
I will do everything for you again
And I bet now
You will see that I will burn what I don’t need here
And I’ll know it’s alright, alright, alright
What Lies Ahead – Kensington
3. Insane – Kensington
Eloi: “This is similar to what I talked about in Bats. You’re going through a rough patch and wonder: what do I hate about this the most? Not the fact that someone is causing me pain, but the fact that she doesn’t seem to understand what she’s doing to me. She’s taken over by a sort of haze.”
A seat on the stand
As you’re causing a row
There to prove again that I am
Just there in both the wrong time and the wrong place
I plead innocent
But you’re dragging me down
Down a road where I know I can’t
Get time to raise up my guard for you, can’t wait
Till I cave
It’s not the words
Not the fear or the doubt
Not the lack of heart that takes me out
It’s the knowing that you can’t relate
When you’re insane
“Your thoughts are controlled by: how can I find common ground for us to engage in a normal conversation? If even that is deemed impossible, it causes a lot of frustration. You’re taken over by the poison that someone keeps spraying at you.”
Scenes of distress
They follow me around
Till I lose again and by then
You might be calm but my head will explode
I’m out of moves here
I swallow it down
Like a poison undefined that
Enters my veins like a threat that I can’t shake
Till I cave
Insane – Kensington
“This is also relevant to modern-day politics. Look at Donald Trump, for example. People wonder: Where’s the transparency? Where’s the validity?
Insane is about that validity having been taken away, there’s no way to grasp it anymore.”
4. Uncharted – Kensington
Niles: “Casper wrote this one and it’s about being in a heavy situation that you haven’t experienced before. You wonder: how did I suddenly get here? It’s all very new and pinching, all you can think is ‘f*ck’.”
No one knows just what to say
It’s like we’re in uncharted territory
No one knows the proper way
It’s like the ground has fallen from under me
And all sensible words
All sensible hearts
Oh where do they go
And why do they leave us now
“In an ideal world, you’d go two seconds, minutes, hours, or days back in time because you lost something. You want everything to go back to the way it was, and you can’t accept losing it.”
And if I could go back again, I’ll go back again
If the worst is happening how does anything work
Now let me please go back again, I’ll go back again
“This can revolve around loss, but it can be interpreted in many different ways. It’s a heavy theme, but I think everyone has to deal with it at some point in their lives.”
Casper explains on Twitter:
A song about loss. A dear friend lost his younger brother in a tragic accident. Never have I experienced something more moving, it felt like uncharted territory. A couple days after the accident this song poured out of an old acoustic guitar. This is the song I’m most proud of. https://t.co/v94doc0ysj
— Casper Starreveld (@casper_kst) November 7, 2019
5. Part Of Me – Kensington
Eloi: “Casper also wrote Part Of Me and I think it deals with the same theme as Uncharted. In some way, it’s about fighting against your intuition while knowing that something is hiding in the shallows. It raises a lot of questions when trying to make a decision.”
Eloi: “Yes, doubt. What do I do with this? Do I want to head into this direction or should I go another way? Though, to be honest, I also feel doubt when analyzing these lyrics, haha. I don’t get that very often.”
It is a part of me
And it breaks my heart to see
I was a part of you
When no one else could be
It is a part of me
And it breaks my heart to see
It wasn’t all of you
But it takes a lot to leave
I know though whatever what my instincts tell me
I keep on coming back
I know if I’m honest that I can’t see clear
And it’s hard to hear that
I found the answers in a place I don’t belong
Will I bend
Will I fold
Will I surrender?
Part Of Me – Kensington
Niles: “When I listen to Part Of Me, I also think of relationships. At one point you were a part of my life, but not anymore. What happened? It doesn’t necessarily need to be about a relationship between a man and a woman, it can also relate to a friendship or to other relationships between people around you.”
Eloi: “I can read that now, too. Isn’t that funny? I recorded it myself, haha.”
6. Chronos Part 1 & Part 2 – Kensington
Eloi: “Chronos Part 1 is about the environment. It’s about the extinction of animals and a very destructive political climate. I had actually never written about this topic before, but since it’s such a massive issue at the moment, I couldn’t think of a better theme to discuss. These were also the last lyrics I finished.”
I’m told that I should not have seen it
I know that I could not obey
Demons line up to fade out our colors
There’s not a fire that we’re not feeding
There’s not a bribe that we don’t take
Leave it undone and take out our mother
In her own home
Seen from miles away
No one moved
How did we lead it this far when we knew it was dead from the start?
How can we still disregard when we know that we tore it apart?
Chronos Part 1 – Kensington
“While writing I thought: how big do I want this to be? Suddenly I felt a sort of connection. As if the song had always revolved around this theme, but I just didn’t know it yet.”
Do you usually start writing the music before writing lyrics?
Niles: “Yes, always. In this case, we had already written the guitar melody that can be heard in Chronos Part 2, which we thought was cool. At first, we wanted to make a song out of it, but it didn’t really work. Then we thought: what if we translate it into a piano track? That became Chronos Part 1.”
Eloi: “It actually makes a lot of sense, considering that we describe a sort of apocalypse. We showcase the extent to which the urgency of our situation surfaces in our lives. It needs to go someplace, there needs to be a sort of explosion. That’s Chronos Part 2.”
What are you trying to achieve with this song?
Eloi: “We want to create awareness. We’re not exactly saying ‘Guys, eat less meat’, but we want to clarify that there is a problem that everybody can see, but that not nearly everyone is taking action.
There can only be awareness when people know what it’s about. Taking that into consideration, this interview actually makes a lot of sense.”
I read that ‘Chronos’ is a character in Greek mythology, personifying ‘time’.
Eloi: “That’s right, that was a slight reference to the concept of the album.”
7. Island – Kensington
Eloi: “Island is about being stuck in a relationship that you really don’t want to be in any longer. It’s about creating an island for yourself or building a wall with the idea that you can’t be touched anymore. Though, that’s of no use at all, it actually only makes everything worse. You feel lonely and you doubt yourself. You wonder: What role do I play in this situation?
I don’t want to blame
I just want to leave this horrid place the way I came
But here we are again
I don’t want to wait
For another wave to come and rule another day
I don’t want to stay
I just want to wash away this vile and awful taste
But here we are again
Got nothing more to say
Only want to leave it and not seek for it again
And I’ll be an island
And the shore where I stand
Can’t be reached by more than waves
I told my sharks
That I need an island
For I know the violence
And I’ll make the same mistakes
Island – Kensington
Eloi: “Island, Bats, and What Lies Ahead were all inspired by the same situation but emphasize the themes in a different way.”
Niles: “Relationship problems.”
Eloi: “Yes, problems that you don’t choose yourself. It’s annoying when someone keeps finding problems like these. You don’t want to go along with them, but you don’t really have any other choice.”
8. Ten Times The Weight – Kensington
Eloi: “I wrote Ten Times The Weight when Chris Cornell [the lead singer of rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, red.] had just committed suicide. It’s an homage to him. It’s about suicide, hopelessness, and carrying the secret: the only way out I can see is in death.”
Niles: “The themes in this track are very heavy, which makes it a very pinching song. There are people that are unequipped to handle outside pressure and the weight on their shoulders. They might insist that they’re going through a hard time but aren’t taken seriously. Ultimately, they can’t find a way out anymore.
Suicide is often a momentary decision. It’s likely that if someone would have walked in 5 minutes earlier, in Chris Cornell’s case it probably wouldn’t have happened. That’s incredibly sad. Someone like him seems to have it all; children and an awesome career. What would be going on in your head when doing something like this?”
Eloi: “That’s what I struggled with when writing these lyrics. Although I personally know what depression feels like, I found it difficult to dive that far into hopelessness and to write lyrics that hit this close to the core. What I ended up expressing in these lyrics, I never experienced myself. I had to look into other people’s experiences.”
Force me to love myself
Ten times the weight
Like a widow weighing down her faith
Force me to find myself
Ten times the haze
On the other side I found my way
No one has to know
That I will go this far
I know it inside as I hold my heart for you
That I will go this far
No one in life who will know
That I will lose it all
Ten Times The Weight – Kensington
What’s it like playing it now? I can imagine this song being excluded from the setlist most of the time, considering that it moves you guys so much.
Eloi: “It actually works quite well live, it’s very moving.”
Do you really dive into that sensation when playing it live?
Eloi: “Yes, that’s the best thing to do.”
That sounds heavy…
Niles: “Yes, it is a little heavy. However, we lift the mood by playing a beat-driven banger afterwards, haha.”
Eloi: “It also works in healing, though. Everyone has a dark side, including me. The moment you literally attribute words to it, it’s no longer a secret and it’s unable to control you as much.”
9. Perfect Family Day – Kensington
Niles: “We’ve been playing Perfect Family Day at our shows for years. We never really wanted to record it, but this record turned out in a way that fit this song quite well, so at one point we realized: now is the time to record it. So we did it. I’m actually very curious to find out what the lyrics are about, I don’t really know myself, haha.”
Eloi: “That’s actually very funny, because Casper and I wrote this a really long time ago. We were kids back then. The thing about the lyrics we wrote back then is the fact that they’re pretty critical of contemporary society.”
Cover up these stains
Keeping up appearances
Jaded smiles remain
Watching fate take place
We’re sulking and we’re stumbling through
Grey and spiteful days
And it hopelessly went wrong
This tiresome masquerade
A perfect family day
Perfect Family Day – Kensington
“That last sentence ‘A perfect family day tragically displayed’ suits the state of the world quite well. Everyone projects a type of ‘perfection’ on social media, though tragedy hides behind that ideal. A tragedy of a desire to be seen, of needing validation, but never being able to get it. Your true self simply cannot be seen, as you never show that side of yourself.
Funnily enough, Instagram didn’t even exist when we wrote this! These lyrics might be more relevant than ever though. Crazy, right?”
10. No Me – Kensington
Eloi: “Where What Lies Ahead and Island are about being stuck in a situation, No Me can be considered a magnum opus that introduces freedom; it’s about breaking out and feeling free. Letting loose of your inner voice and putting all your trust in it. Rediscovering power in life and showing your true self.”
There, I’m all alone again
And it seems as though it’s never been so bleak
With the prize still in my hands
I’m led away towards a fate I cannot flee
Broke a bargain on my end
To redefine, cut all the ties that incomplete me
Turn around I know the winds there
And I was blind for all the sights I could have seen
And the crown that I might get here
Won’t prevail against the walls that I can’t breach
Take the reins now in my stead
I’ll move away from all the eyes that cannot see me now
See me now
Hear the raging in my past
Hear the rising of my breath
Far away, as the veil is nearing death and I’ll grieve
But the fire is lit again, it’s slowly burning me within
All the way, as the scene is nearly set, and I’ll see
Butterflies, that are aching me inside
Through the veins, as they cut out all the mess and they won’t rest till I bleed
Then I’m all alone again
And it seems as though it’s never been so sweet
Let me write it all by hand
And I’ll be the one I’m told I cannot be
All the roads that are ahead
Lead away from all the arms that cannot reach me now
Reach me now
No Me – Kensington
“This was also inspired by the situation I mentioned before. I’ve always had the tendency to create harmony. Whenever someone doesn’t feel well, I always feel the need to do something about that. Though in No Me, I break that tendency: this is not my responsibility anymore.”
Thanks for sharing all these honest and relatable stories behind your new songs. What do you hope that people get out of your music?
Niles: “I would want people to be moved, but aside from the substance, I also hope that they just think it’s a cool record.”
Eloi: “To me, it doesn’t matter in what way they’re touched by the music. Whether people think it’s terrible or amazing, the key is that they feel something. That’s what I like the most. Why? Because we live in an incredibly apathetic time and people hide behind shallow emotions.
We talked about this at the beginning of the interview; one of the last things that’s able to reach people to their cores and connect people is music. It would be a waste to hand that over to apathy as well.”
Is that your main reason to make music?
Eloi: “Yes, that’s one of my main reasons.”
Niles: “For me as well. Though I also make music just because I enjoy it. It’s very simple, but really important if you ask me.”
On Time, you look at the past and the present. What do you want to see in the future? Where would you want to see yourself in 5 years?
Eloi: “Good question, I have no idea. Look, we’ve already lived through so many great experiences and now, more than ever, is the time to live in the moment. 10 to 15 years ago, we thought about things like: where will we be in a couple of years? We are currently at a point where we think: where are we now? It’s important to realize: now is now and then is then. Anything can happen.”
Niles: “We’re just going to try to enjoy whatever happens.”
Curious for more personal stories from artists behind their music? Read the Behind The Track-interviews that I held earlier. For example, those of Keane, Bastille or Bear’s Den!
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– Bats is written by Eloi Youssef / Casper Starreveld / Niles Vandenberg / Jan Haker © Peermusic Publishing, 2019
– What Lies Ahead, 2019
– Insane, 2019
– Uncharted, 2019
– Part Of Me, 2019
– Chronos Part 1 & Part 2, 2019
– Island, 2019
– Ten Times The Weight, 2019
– Perfect Family Day, 2019
– No Me, 2019
: Rahi Rezvani
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