Amongster. Odd new word worthy of remembrance. Name to a young band from Gent winner of the 2014 ‘De Nieuwe Lichting’ contest organised by Studio Brussel. Their eponymous EP brings a bright light into the Belgian music scene and foretells an even brighter future. Thomas Oosterlynck is Amongster’s frontman and has an eerie warm voice. His lyrics are inspired and the EP’s atmosphere is as cosy as melancholic. Similarities with Radiohead and Oscar and the Wolf are undeniable. But Amongster manages to create a particular sound. Exquisite. Three musicians complete the picture with Tom Soetart (keys), Robbe Vekeman (drums and electronics) and Jasper Maekelberg (guitar), a rising figure in the Flemish music scene. Hard not to fall for them. Listen to their EP on spotify and decide for yourself. I’ve added two of their songas below, too. In the meantime, you can read my interview with Thomas. I met him last week at Le Bal Infernal, Gent. Shy but generous, he told me about the band, the books he’s reading and his past collaborations with his good friend Max Colombie. But not only…
Hello Thomas. You are the songwriter and vocalist of Amongster. You have recently launched your debut EP. What’s the story behind the band?
We started two years ago. I looked for musicians around me to form a band although I would say it’s still my project. I compose and record the songs together with my guitar player Jasper who’s also a producer. He’s young and very good. A rising talent.
I found it in a song by Poliça. She invented the word. I was looking for a name that didn’t exist yet. See, when you’re looking for a band name, pretty much all the words have been used. So I wanted a new name but one that had a loaded meaning. To me, Amongster means a person or a thing that’s really connected to its environment. I guess it has to do with an Eastern philosophy I find very inspiring which states that everything is connected. There’s one life, one energy, one everything. From a zoomed out perspective, we are just one thing made of tiny particles moving about transforming into each other as we live and die. An ‘amongster’ is one of these elements. A part of the whole.
What was your first instrument?
I started playing classical guitar when I was nine. I was writing songs by the time I was sixteen. I would sing folk songs mostly. Then I worked together with Max Colombie from Oscar and the Wolf for a while. We liked each other’s music and he invited me to take part in his private project called Oh Burgundy. It was quieter than O&TW. We recorded an EP together, got management and had super nice gigs. But as O&TW started to get bigger and more demanding for Max, keeping both wasn’t really possible so we stopped playing together. When I listen to it, it still touches me. Our voices mixed very well together. Max has a sharp voice while mine is warmer. They almost blended. So much so that it was hard to tell them apart. People still say there’s a lot of O&TW in Amongster. And I guess there’s a part of truth in it. I mean we come from the same influences. A lot of Bon Iver, José González… You can hear a lot of those elements in O&TW’s first EP. After ‘Oh Burgundy’ I started writing songs for Amongster and it really kicked off when I entered Radio Brussel Niuewe Lichting in 2014.
Who is Leo?
Leo is a character from Herman Hesse’s “Journey to the East”. It’s a really enchanting God-like character. One of those characters you look up to. I knew the song was going to be called ‘Leo’ before I even wrote the lyrics.
How does your creative process usually go about?
I always compose first and then add the lyirics. The phonetics of the words are very important to the flow and the rhythm of the sentence. Sometimes I write lyrics and then realise they just don’t flow. Voice is an instrument.
What state of mind gets you most inspired?
I guess it’s night time. Evenings. Something happens. A certain calm dawns in on me. Everyone goes to bed and streets are almost empty. You’re the last one up. That kind of atmosphere… Sometimes inspiration can be triggered by a movie’s ambiance or the feeling you get from a song.
The Flemish music scene is bustling. Are collaborations and get-togethers common? Do you work with other bands sometimes, even informally? I mean, with Jasper’s experience as producer of names like Gabriel Rios and Jonathan Jeremiah you must have quite an arty bunch of friends!
I don’t have a big musical network. I know Max and other bands but I didn’t study music so I’m not in the usual music school network, where basically the friends you studied with are now producers, sound engineer, musicians, song writers, etc. The Belgian music scene is very divided. There’s Flanders in one side and Brussels and Wallonia on the other. In Flanders’ media, everything’s in Dutch so inevitably you’re a bit disconnected from the south. Different media, different tv channels… In Brussels I do know some bands. BRNS is pure energy. They’re amazing, especially live.
With the summer festivals behind us -you’ve played in the Absolutely Free Festival, One, etc. what scenes are ahead? What are you working on now?
Right now I’m writing. Our last gig was last week in… Maybe a couple of concerts will come up left and right. We won’t be touring until the album’s out, sometime next year.
Do you read?
Yes. Now I’m really into Paul Auster. After a while his books start looking quite like the others I guess but the atmosphere is great. I’m also reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. He’s huge. He writes every ten years or so and when he does, it’s massive. The way I see it, you only have a given amount of time to read in your life and I feel the urge to go straight to the big authors. The ones that are legendary.
When it comes to music, who blows your mind?
I don’t listen to that much music that I’m really excited about. It’s very rare that a band blows my mind. From the local bands it would be BRNS. I love African beats, where every space is filled with a beat. Chaotic rhythms. Radiohead, too. It’s almost embarrassing to say it because you can really hear it in my music. Iron and Wine, more folkish. When I adore something, I never listen to it because it’s so precious that I don’t want to spoil it. Max (Colombie) is the opposite. When he really likes an artist he listens to it twenty-four-seven until he sucks it dry and drops it. I should explore more artists and more sounds. The more influences you have the more you can feed from them. I don’t get excited enough by many artists. I’m pretty picky in music and rarely blown back.
So….Brusselsprouts…. How do you have yours?
Brusselsprouts soup is delicious. You should try it.