Three years after the latest cd by The Common Linnets and no less than six years after her most recent solo album Eye of the Hurricane, Ilse DeLange is back with a cheerful, sparkling pop album – simply titled Ilse DeLange. The single ‘OK’ was already evidence of a new musical direction; gone are the acoustic guitars, banjos and mandolins. Enter beats, keyboards and sunny background vocals. And a singer who is aching to return to the live stage ‘like crazy’.
How come, Ilse? It’s a good moment to stop and think about this. Because it is a jubilee year; exactly twenty years ago her debut album World of Hurt was released.
‘Good lord’, Ilse summarizes her feelings about this joyous occasion. She’d rather not think about it. Because looking back, mwah. What’s important to her are the things that lie ahead, and there are plenty of those. But still, after doing two shows in the Amsterdam Carré theater last June, during which she played the music from her debut album, she felt thankful and proud. ‘I can hardly believe the fact that I’ve been doing this for such a long time already. And it was great to put the spotlight on those songs again.’ Country or pop – one could call it the eternal crossroads of het career. But for Ilse it makes complete sense to alternate between those two sides. ‘I grew up listening to Dutch radio and often went dancing in the weekends – always to the pop songs of those times. You can’t deny that, it is part of me. Actually you could say my country heart comes less natural to me. Although I do think that side is the bottom of my soul, something you can even hear on a pop album like this one, in the way I sing.’ And of course that’s the way it is. Even if she’d only be accompanied by a bunch of alpine horns, Ilse will always be Ilse. Arguably the best vocalist of the Netherlands, certainly somebody who always makes you feel something – be it melancholy or, like this time, a sprightly kind of merriment with a touch of melancholy. ‘I’m somebody who is always looking for new adventures’, she says. ‘And it’ll always be that way. With The Common Linnets the emphasis was on my lyrical side. That was great, but it is music that has to take its time, that has to mature a bit. And I felt like bouncing around again, needed new colors, a different energy. Less veranda and rocking chair, more breaking musical borders.’ It wasn’t an easy decision. ‘The Common Linnets’ success was a rabbit that jumped out of the hat just like that. We all boarded that train, everybody put different things on hold because of it, and now I am one of the main reasons they will have to make a living doing something else again. I find that difficult, yes. They are my friends, I feel responsible. Plus: it was one big party with The Linnets. And who wants to leave the party? But sometime soon we’ll pick up where we’ve left off.’
‘Get away from the band for a while; find out again who I am as an individual, look for inspiration with new people, someone who does not already have a set idea about who I am, who looks at me with an open mind.’
She met co-producer Tofer Brown in Nashville and the two hit it off immediately. During their writing sessions the songs usually didn’t originate on an acoustic guitar, like she was used to the last couple of years, but on a computer. ‘Tofer started to fire certain textures and sounds at me. He created the landscape and then I cycled through it with my melody. I loved that, it triggered something else with me than a guitar does. With the guitar I tend to lean towards melancholy much faster. This was a different energy, a palette with different colors, something that eventually also caused more up tempo songs, by the way.’
The wonderfully catchy single ‘OK’ was the starting point. ‘I think it is the biggest contrast that I could come up with after The Linnets. Consciously, making it clear immediately: and now for something completely different.’ Also very different is the compelling, beautifully constructed ‘Around Again’, the peppy up tempo rock song ‘Half the Love’ and a carefree sing-along song like ‘Heartbeat’ – to name a few.
She is not somebody who likes to explain her lyrics. She prefers to leave that to the imagination of the listener. But all right then: ‘For ‘OK’ I let myself be inspired by the letters that primarily young girls write to me. Often those are very intense. Young people who have lots of difficulties, who do not dare to be themselves, almost do not dare to exist. Social media don’t make things easier either. A lot of those girls find each other at my gigs. I think that’s rather strange, but it is also beautiful. The song doesn’t dig really deep, it just says: If you want to cry, cry. If you’re happy, be happy. It’s all okay, and so are you.’
The pretty ballad ‘Sun and Shadow’ is an ode to Bart Vergoossen, her partner in life and drummer. ‘It’s about strong people that stand with you. For me that’s Bart, someone who’s always there and who keeps my feet on the ground, with all my whims and impulsiveness. He is very calm, patient, thoughtful – he has the qualities that I am lacking, and vice versa. So this song is for him.’
Ironically, in her ‘pop year’ Ilse had the most country of experiences ever, when she was asked to act in five episodes of Nashville, the hit series about the ups and downs of the music business in the capital of country music. She performed the role of Ilse De Witt, one of the members of the jury of a talent show (‘Not much of a stretch for me’, she smiles), who takes a young girl under her wings. ‘It was a very exciting experience. I was very nervous, but apparently I did well. The best thing about it was that I got to sing.’ Or no, wait, the very best thing about it was that of all songs she got to sing ‘Love Goes On’, her ode to her dearly departed father. ‘It was the first song that I wrote all by myself, it couldn’t be more personal. And all that in my jubilee year, in an American television series situated in my second hometown. Yes, that was rather emotional. Ha ha, I was completely spent, after that day.’
Will there be a follow-up to her acting debut? Ah, she’ll see. First of all it’s time to share Ilse DeLange with the world. And certainly on stage. As a solo artist, with a partly renewed band.
In September she’ll play her own, massively successful Tuckerville country, pop and folk festival, she’ll follow that up with a club tour, and in February next year she’ll play the huge Amsterdam Ziggo Dome. ‘I can’t wait to perform again’, Ilse says, ‘to have fun playing the songs of the new album. And also to play my hits again, and hopefully create a few new ones. Man, I can’t wait to get out there!’
Ilse’s eight album Ilse DeLange will be released on August 31st through Universal Music as a Deluxe CD with three acoustic bonus tracks, as a regular CD, as a Magazine + CD and, through Music On Vinyl, as an LP.