A Conversation with Jan van Eerd aka YAN
Written by Snigdha Bansal
Dutch musician Jan van Eerd has done it all, be it playing with some of the biggest names in the Netherlands or winning the coveted Edison Award for “Best Album” with Wende. Now, in his second innings as YAN, the electronic music producer is making music that is not only cathartic for himself, but also an experience for his listeners. We caught him in his studio at Treehouse NDSM, ahead of the release of his new single Apollo, named after the Greek god of light and music.
Hi Jan, you’ve been making music for several years under different artist names. How did the name YAN come about?
Jan: The first time I decided to call myself YAN was when I played with Wende. It was also the first time I was playing with vibraphones and electronics on stage, and I decided to take it forward. Around four years ago, I started playing around and produced a few songs in my little studio at my home. I took them to a record company, and at first, they said no. And then the second time, they said no again. But the third time, they said yes!
And that's how the journey of YAN began. Essentially, it’s just my name spelled in a slightly different way. Then, along with Xavier on the piano, I was also able to create YIN & YAN, which was an electronic music experience.
What do you think changed in between the second and the third time you took your music to the record company and they finally said yes?
I think the third time my music was more organic, and less electronic. The first demos I used were all made on a computer, but then I started using special synthesizers, which made my demos more musical. You see, I was still trying to find my identity. I got inspired by a lot of artists, especially (German musician) Nils Frahm, whose music greatly influenced my work.
What else has influenced YAN’s music?
I find inspiration in the old music I made before the Internet came around. I found influences in a lot of other artists, be it the Beatles or Nils Frahm. But I also got inspired by the artists I was playing with, and my own career as a musician. I was on every stage, playing with all the big artists in Holland.
That’s when I realised that if I really wanted to experience freedom, I needed to make my own music. Now that I’m music director for Wende’s band, I continue to work with some great people. It’s nice for me to be in that team and to be connected with those people and get inspiration for my own project, because YAN is a really small entity at the moment. It’s like starting from scratch all over again.
I do get the sense that before you were accompanying a lot of big famous people, but as YAN, you get to explore your own identity as an artist. Has anything changed in the way you approach your work?
When you’re young, you want to do many big things in a short span of time. You want to play with all the big names on all the big stages; you want to earn money. All the motivation is extrinsic. But when you get older, the motivation comes from the inside. You want to play your kind of music. It doesn't matter if the stage is big or not. It's nice if it's big, but it's more important that you can earn just enough money to continue working on your own project than being a famous person. The goal now is to make good music that I can enjoy making even when I hit 60.
So what was it like touring with Wende?
It was like living a dream. Sometimes you work on a project where everything goes smoothly, and that was such a project for me. I was working with the synth, and everyone was really happy. And then it stopped. It was all gone. It can be a little depressing and make you feel like there’s nothing left. That’s when you begin to realize that those feelings are temporary, and they arise because you’re being driven by your ego. Working on your own, on the other hand, is a lot more vulnerable, but also a lot more exciting at the same time. I’m really enjoying making my own music, which is the most important.
Does it matter to you how many people are listening to your music?
I almost never followed the numbers, but now it’s even more so like that. If my new single doesn’t work, I can just make another one. And then another one. The joy of making is really, really important.
The pandemic affected artists around the world in different ways. How was it for you?
Right before the pandemic, I was starting to work on a few big projects, and all that vanished. Yet, for me, the pandemic only brought good things along. My biggest problem then was that I couldn't say no to anyone. I had just finished Wende’s tour and my phone was blowing up. But at the same time, my record company was demanding the album that I had an agreement with them for. In my head I was thinking, ‘How am I going to manage this?’ Because I just couldn’t say no.
I’d just said yes to produce music for a really big theater show. And I remember, right after I said yes and hung up, it dawned on me that I really didn’t have the time. It was all getting too overwhelming, and I was on the verge of being... overspannen (burnt out). But as soon as lockdown began, I immediately started to make new songs and finish the album. That's how some of my music is already out on Spotify. I could've never done it without the pandemic.
What does a day in your life look like when you’re working on new music?
I try to be really organised. I’m not the sort of person who has to smoke a joint for inspiration to come. I come to work at a certain time, say 11 o’ clock, maybe go home for a break, and then come back and stay till 10. I do that every day.
Would you say that the place where you're working is important for you to be able to create?
I'm not the guy who will move to a little cabin in the woods to work on something new. But I really need a place and a space that’s my own. This studio is my creative corner, where everything makes sense. It doesn’t look organised, but there is a method to the madness. I can record everything standing in my spot, and then practise my live parts for gigs too. Even during the pandemic, everything I’ve made, I’ve made in my studio here.
What advice would you give to budding creatives?
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. I think everyone who creates should just sit down and start making something. Sometimes you have a good idea, and sometimes you don’t. But the key is to make something, and keep it simple.
YAN’s new single Apollo comes out on April 30. You can listen to it here.