Local Rockstars: Scotch and urban folk with The Woodwards

Local Rockstars: Scotch and urban folk with The Woodwards

Dec 13, 2010 |  by  |  Music
About the author
Ridz, advertises, produces indie/electronic music, performs throughout the Netherlands but ultimately always ends up at an Amsterdam based ensemble... then he blogs about all these things.

Whether you went out last weekend to check out an uber geeky beat magician or a depressingly awesome indie rock band, we all know there’s always some serious musical talents rocking around the dam. You might not recognize them all yet, but don’t worry, you will soon. In this series of interviews we take remarkable artists out for their favourite drink at some random Amsterdam-based hangout.

The Woodwards is an alternative folk project created by Peter Schuyff, born in the Netherlands in 1958. His ambitions as an artist brought him to New York at the age of 18 where he lived at the Chelsea Hotel during most of the eighties and nineties, where his art was collected by Dennis Hopper, Sylvester Stallone and Gianna Versace amongst others. After the turn of the century he started writing and singing songs, The Woodwards cought my attention after seeing their performance on MixTup’s Vault Sessions. I met up with the urban folk singer for a whiskey and a chat before the release show of his latest record ‘Burn Everything‘ at Cafe ‘t Smalle in the Jordaan.

Origins & Amsterdam

According to your biography you are somewhat of a globetrotter, do you have any connection with Amsterdam?
Well I was born in the Netherlands and when things started to go well in New York I rented a house here at the Prinsengracht. I rented it to have a place to stay whenever I had to come to Europe for exhibitions. That way it was easier to mentally prepare myself.

But the name ‘The Woodwards’ originated elsewhere?
There used to be a department store in Vancouver Canada called Woodward’s, it was a low price but reliable store comparable to HEMA. Back then, during my years at high school & art school in Canada, if you needed a pair of jeans or even art supplies you’d go to Woodwards. Vancouver used to have a big homeless crowd, after Woodwards shut down, these homeless people squatted the warehouse and it became a very monumental and nostalgic place for me. Even the font we use for our logo is derived from the original store.

And how did you end up making music after your career in the art world?
I wasn’t until after I moved from New York that I started making music. Around 2006 when I moved back to Vancouver. I started with a painting student of mine. we’d just get drunk and sing songs, but he couldn’t sing to save his life. Then I met this girl called Jen Rose, she had a great voice, and found it interesting to join my weird way of ‘talking’ through songs. This remained a hobby until I moved to Amsterdam where I met Signe Tollefsen, the next singer and my current girlfriend. Things got serious after that: we teamed up with Attie Bauw, a well known producer who’d worked with Simple Minds and Judas Priest in the past.

we’d just get drunk and sing songs, but he couldn’t sing to save his life.

Urban Folk

How would you describe yourself?
I’m just an old guy who doesn’t sing very well but writes clever songs. I have three beautiful girls who sing backup for me to complete the sound of the Woodwards. Think of Tom Waits, an urban folk singer with hip-hop orientated lyrics.

I’m just an old guy who doesn’t sing very well but writes clever songs

Any inspirations?
Usually everything starts with a good line. Then I build a song around that. I love Al Green, I’ve always listened to his work. But ultimately my influences are more writer-based. Dr. Dre’s The Chronic 2001 record was pretty influential, as are the works of T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman as writers.

Is there any other representation of your kind of music in the Netherlands?
No. I wish there was. There’s nobody doing anything really comparable around here. The only person that came close was Annie MG Schmidt. If you look at the way she tells a story, I can relate to her in way. She’s older, smart and self referential, but unfortunately I’m still quite unique in my style/genre.

Creations & Accomplishments

You’ve recently toured in the UK & US, would you call these key accomplishments?
Mark from MixTup records has been working hard for me booking gigs in the US and the UK, we had an amazing time with a crew of two ladies on vocals, Mark the tour manager, a writer and I in a Renault Espace.
We’ve toured all over and ultimately managed to make a profit of about 15 euros, but as long as it doesn’t cost us anything I’m satisfied. I’m lucky that I’m in the situation that I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, because you’ve got to be able to have the time on your hands to allow yourself to go through with these operations. Furthermore, making the first record with Attie Bauw and the new one with Ralph Timmermans remain two of my favourite accomplishments up to date.

What do you do besides working on your music nowadays?
I still make paintings and arrange exhibitions. That’s basically how I make my money and how I can afford to do what I do. I’ve been lucky to catch the attention of a few people in the past like Stallone and Versace, but I like hanging out at the studio, which is a five minute bike ride from my house.

Do you frequently visit other performances yourself?
Not enough as I did back in the day. The greatest performances I ever saw were the reunion of Jane’s Addiction and Television. In 1979 I also saw The Ramones and Talking Heads, those were pretty legendary performances.

And what would you say is not so pleasant about being a musician?
When nobody shows up. Especially here in Holland people don’t always understand my approach towards music and my English song writing. I prefer the live music culture abroad.

The Woodwards at Het Perron for their ‘Burn Everything’ release show

The Future

So what’s next?
I want to go back to New York. I want to take it to the next level with Signe on my side, she might be up for that adventure. There’s a lot of stuff going on with my paintings at the moment, we’re also planning to do the next record in the near future. I have enough new material for it by now, but first we’re going on tour around the UK in April which is pretty exciting.

Anyone we should look out for?
A guy in Norway called Charlie Roberts. He’s an artist, musician, video engineer, etc. One of his bands is called Freedom, very odd and interesting music. Extraordinary video materiel as well.

Lastly, are there groupies involved in folk music?
Not really, I’ve experienced more of that during my artistic New York period, lots of sex and drugs when I started going out there.

Photo’s by Rutger Houweling.

The Woodwards performing ‘If things could be’ on the ukulele that night:

Sharing is caring!