Dutch singer/songwriter Maarten Swaan founded his band Melou in 2005 after meeting American Annie Goodchild in Guatemala. Since then both the band and Swaan's reputation has grown. Swaan has recently released his third studio album Voices.
What do you like about the music scene in Barcelona? I’m with this label Whatabout Music, owned by Dave Bianchi and for the past seven years the label has built a platform with 55 or 60 bands and over 80 CDs. All of these musicians on the label are friends. It’s like one big music community around this label. Within it there are so many different styles of music—it goes from rock to jazz to world music, African, South American, Argentinean folk rock to Japanese flute. It’s such a big mix of everything. This is especially what I like about Barcelona because you can record all these different bands and all these different types of music and it’s because everything is in Barcelona. Barcelona is basically a place where so many people from around the world come together, no matter what they do. It also means that so many different musicians from all over the world gather here. They always seem to find each other; it’s amazing what beautiful things come out of it. I don’t tend to go to [see] the very big named bands; I like the smaller, more intimate gigs; the special ones.
What changes have you experienced in the music scene since moving here? It’s become more difficult to play. When I first arrived three years ago, you were paid to play, but now you basically have to pay to play somewhere; [this is] the change that I really don’t like. People assume that music is like a hobby… but for me, music is my life. It’s a little bit sad that it’s been so hard for music to grow and thrive. Everything is so much more tied up; you need a permit to play on the streets, bars close down because of neighbour complaints. I find it hard to get shows, and even if you get them, it’s hard to get the support. [It’s] an obstacle you have to face, that you have to deal with.
Are there any local bands you are interested in? There are many bands that I’m a big fan of within the Whatabout label, for instance: Amanda Jayne, an American song-writer who has lived here for about 10 years; Iluminata, who I have played with. I’m not usually a big fan of Catalan music, but his music is very special; there is Tal Ben Ari, an Israeli singer who has just released an album, she also works closely with Mû who is an amazing African singer. A huge man with dreadlocks, you are overwhelmed when you see him, and even more so when he begins to sing. The label is like one big family, so you have a lot of crossover, a lot of collaboration between the musicians and bands. We play together and help each other on CDs. You get influenced by your surroundings, particularly if there is a variety of sounds.
You have just released your third solo album and you are working with Melou. What is your next project? We have just released a double album. I wanted to record a new album, but I also wanted to record a new EP with Melou because after the band broke up, Annie Goodhild (lead singer of Melou) went to New York and I came to Barcelona. A little over a year ago, we started working together and slowly writing again and we came up with a couple of songs that I wanted to record with my album, and so what I did was make two albums in one. So there is an album of Maarten Swaan with 10 songs, and an EP from Goodhild with four new songs. We are both working together now. We did a double release and a double tour. For example, in the Hard Rock Café, we are performing both albums: I do my songs, then we switch to Annie’s part.
After working with Melou on this album, are you looking to do more solo work? Honestly, Melou right now is basically my band with Annie as the singer, so it’s a different style of music, but it works very well together. I am very excited to keep working with her and writing more songs. We just need to get into the vibe again. We are both excited about playing together again and about writing together again. Right now we are trying to work with the two projects together.
Could you sum up your music in three words? Folk, rock, psychedelic. The psychedelic part is Seventies psychedelic. We try to do a little bit more with electronic sound, Radiohead-ish. There is definitely a little bit of movement within it, but I like to move in different directions and try different things.
What are your favourite spots in Barcelona? To dance I like Marula, especially when they have the good old Seventies music [like] James Brown. I also like to go to nunArt in Gràcia. It’s an art society in an old monasterio. It’s a space where they have a lot of art, every Saturday there is a concert, or at least a performance. It’s a place run by artists, for artists. There are a lot of creative things going on there. They have an awesome festival in the summer called the nunOff festival. Actually, this is where we released the album. They have two weeks straight, performances every night. Music, dance, theatre: everything together in the courtyard of the monasterio.
How long are you planning to stay in Barcelona? I have no plans to change, but if anything comes my way, I’m very open. I’m not stuck anywhere, right now I have just lived here for three years because things are going well, so I have no reason to really change. If something comes up, I’m OK to go wherever. I tour a lot anyway.
Do you have any gigs outside Barcelona coming up? At the end of December, I’m doing a tour of Catalunya. In February, we are also going to do a tour in Holland with the double project, which is very exciting.
Listen to Like the leaves in Autumn here.