@Ventures In The Shadows


The sounds of rock-based guitar instrumentals are back in style again with @Ventures In The Shadows, the 2019 CD by Holland’s very cool guitar trio The Space Age Travellers. According the band, the 15 track CD owes a lot to 1960s guitar legends like The Ventures and The Shadows, yet other influences creep into the mix, including the late great guitar pioneers Dick Dale and Link Wray as well as modern day players like Jeff Beck and guitar-noir mavens such as Ry Cooder, Marc Ribot, Jim Campilongo, John Blakeley and Norway’s guitar ace Steinar Karlsen. To that mix of guitar heroes you can now add in the name of guitar ace BJ Baartmans, leader and main composer of this cool new guitar discovery that also features key contributions from Gerco Aerts (bass) and Sjoerd van Bommel (drums). Speaking about his many musical influences in the following interview, BJ tells, "I love American classic movies from the 1930's and 40's, all the things Hitchcock did, Spaghetti Westerns, anything from Pixar and I have seen a lot of “art house” films. Randy Newman's scores are fantastic, Ry Cooder's work on Paris Texas, Ennio Morricone comes to mind, the 60’s James Bond scores and Shaft and, of course the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Since there's no lyrics on Adventures In The Shadows, there's a lot of room for imagination when you play or hear the music. I often had movie scenes, paintings or images or complete movie scripts in my head when I envisioned and named the tunes." A most impressive album debut from The Space Age Travellers, @Ventures In The Shadows is packed with 15 original tracks and is an essential spin for fans of classic instrumental rock guitar sounds. / presents an interview with
BJ Baartmans of The Space Age Travellers

: Can you tell us where you and the other musicians in The Space Age Travellers are from originally, what town or city you live now and what you like best about it?

BJ Baartmans: I'm based in Boxmeer, Holland. It's a small town in the South East part of the country, close to the German border. I've lived there all my life, in the same house actually, since I was 3 years old in 1968. My parents moved to another town, following my Mom's job change as a left wing politician in the early 1990's and then I started renting it from them. It was a great opportunity for me to further develop my musical career and to start raising a family a few years later, it's a well built spacious house with a nice garden, friendly neighbors and well... it was affordable! I have always had a great relationship with my parents, they have been very supportive. Rent's just what the actual costs are. About ten years ago we were very fortunate to be able to build a beautiful garden house that functions as my studio space, Studio Wild Verband. I produce records there, easily an average of 6 full albums and many more “loose” tracks a year, often resulting from my own projects but also for various singer songwriters, Americana, jazz and blues bands from my country. And I also had acts from Canada, the UK and the USA in the house.

Boxmeer's an ordinary town that has a lot of commuters living in it. We have 15,000 inhabitants. The closest real city in the area is Nijmegen, that's where I usually go to see bands, movies or have a little dinner party. The cool music stores are there. I discovered a lot of cool stuff in that city... of all kinds. Having said that, Boxmeer also has a nice theater, some good restaurants and shopping center. It's just a bit of a sleepy town. The thing is in The Netherlands you're never really far from any city, venue or recording studio and living in a nice quite spacious spot is a blessing for me even if I miss some excitement and late night bar feedback from soul mates now and then. My kids grew up here and there's no regrets. They go around now, traveling places playing music, making art and writing stories. But this is home.

The other two guys in The Space Age Travellers live a bit of a drive away. Drummer Sjoerd van Bommel is based in a lovely old city called Den Bosch, which is sort of in the middle of the country, and bassist Gerco Aerts lives in good old Amsterdam. That's what a lot of Americans think is Holland or The Netherlands... well luckily it's not! although it's still a gorgeous, happening place regardless of the tourist overkill and ridiculous costs of living there. So we drive separate ways. And we don't rehearse very often so that's no problem...

If you want to work with the finest musicians in our country you can basically look anywhere, even in Belgium or a part of Germany where I'm based, that's a luxury in The Netherlands!

mwe3: Have you been to the US yet and what other countries do you like to visit and also perform live in?

BJ Baartmans: I've traveled and performed in the USA a few times, as a band member with a rockabilly/roots band in the mid 90's at a “European” arts festival in Birmingham Alabama, with my own band BJ's Pawnshop on a two week tour in the area north of Boston in 2001 and in a duo setting with buddy Eric Devries in places around Tulsa and Oklahoma City in 2004. It's hard to get a working permit for the USA. And then the costs of flying, renting gear and transportation are an issue. And there's so much great competition, especially in the Americana genre of course. Coming over on a nonprofessional basis and just hanging out and playing kinda under the radar with friends seems to be the best way for us.

I've been working with quite a few American and Canadian musicians, including Jeff Finlin, Oh Susanna, Levi Parham, Rod Picott, Amy Speace, Cara Luft to name a few, as a sideman but that's always when they tour here or elsewhere in Europe. I've done tours like that in the UK, Italy, Germany, France, Austria. Quite a few with Matthews Southern Comfort, the reformed band around folk-rock legend Iain Matthews that I'm a part of, as a player, co writer and producer.

mwe3: Who are you favorite guitar heroes and when did you start to play guitar? Being from Holland, what Dutch musicians and bands were you inspired by? Most guitar fans know Jan Akkerman yet other Dutch bands and guitarists are lesser known. I’m thinking of the great band Earth & Fire.

BJ Baartmans: Well, when these guys where really happening I was still in kindergarten. But I already had an eye for guitars then and a fascination for pop groups that I saw on TV or in magazines. I've been drawing pictures of rock stars and Stratocasters from my 5th year or so on.

I started playing guitar when I was 8 and my hands were just big enough for a 3/4 sized classical guitar. I learned it at a music school in the traditional way: instrument on your left lap, finger picking and reading notes. It wasn't anything like I had wished for. I passed some exams and got some degree but left these classes as soon as I could. There was a house in New Orleans and “Smoke On The Water” somewhere, “Hey Joe” and a “Stairway” to...

When I was 12 I got my first electric. Inspiration came from a few Beatles records my parents owned, even though they were more into classical music and French chansons and my first own records by The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Lou Reed.

A little later a good friend of my parents who also happened to be my English teacher introduced my to jazz and thus Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery and Django Rheinhardt ao. What they played seemed way out of reach at the time, and maybe still, but it was so intriguing and cool. In the meantime I was writing songs and playing guitar in a new wave/punk band heavily influenced by The Clash, The Cure, Gang Of Four, The Sound and The Stray Cats.

In The Netherlands there were great musicians and bands too of course but not that many that really spoke to me. Danny Lademacher from the notorious Herman Brood's band was/is a hero and Jan Hendriks from Dutch number one pop band in the 1980's Doe Maar was a big one for me. He became sort of a mentor and a a good friend as well. But I have always looked elsewhere for inspiration, mainly across the Atlantic but also the North Sea.

My main heroes? Who comes to mind first? Richard Thompson, Lowell George, Ry Cooder, Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, Jeff Beck, Brian Setzer... And that's a direct link to Hank B. Marvin, Les Paul, Cliff Gallup, Jimmy Bryant, all the great jazz and rock & roll guitarists from the late 1950’s. I also love listening to Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Son House... Gypsy guitars, Tango, Flamenco...

mwe3: Clearly, the Shadows and Ventures albums are a big influence on your musical background. There is a difference between both the Shadows and Ventures sounds. Some of the tracks on the new Space Age Travellers CD also sound influenced by 1950s music, including jazz and Les Paul’s guitar sound too. I’m thinking of your track “Pay My Dues”. Do you differentiate between eras of the guitar? Seems like it’s all in a giant blender, combining generations of music from the past 70 years.

BJ Baartmans: Yeah, but like I said earlier on these two great instrumental bands are almost like a second generation source. I absolutely love the tone of Hank B Marvin, the touch and echoes and the romance. The production of the Shadows records is not so much my thing however, maybe a bit too slick. Greatly done of course but... The Ventures come closer. Nokie Edwards was also a great player. What both bands have is crucial: great melodies, vibe and a fun factor. I've gone pretty far exploring 1950's and 60's guitar styles and sounds. And there's 2 guitar courses for the American-based True Fire company that I wrote and performed for a camera on the market called Slapback Billy and Twang and Space Age Rock & Roll.

It's fascinating how the already very high technical standard of playing and sense of harmony became super adventurous in the mid 1960's as new sound effects toys, production skills and practical guitar inventions came to the scene. I wasn't even born then but it still feels as if this stuff's rooted deeply in my genes or something.

In my head there's definitely place for all of these musical outings and I just hope to be in charge of the blender. Well, sometimes that is. You never really know what's gonna come out and I love that! That's where musical freedom lives.

mwe3: How and when did Space Age Travellers form and when and where did you write and record the music on the @Ventures In The Shadows album? Do you have a certain composing style, possibly blending other genres, that you consider when you write music?

BJ Baartmans: I already knew the other guys from different projects. A good year ago I had written instrumental song material in the 1950's /60's styles for my ‘True Fire’ master classes. During the recording of a bunch of “play along” tracks with drummer Sjoerd van Bommel we got so excited we figured it was a good idea to get a bass player in and work on set we could perform live as a trio. For me it was a huge challenge to write a strictly instrumental repertoire for a trio, also from a guitarists point of few. My heroes did it but could I?

Inspiration came so easily, it took me little time... like maybe a week to write an entire album and all these sounds, ideas, melodies sort of presented themselves. Lots of doors opened: hints of Cuban music, modal jazz, bebop themes. Sjoerd and Gerco are very open minded and gifted players. All we had to do as band was giving it a bit of a direction. A look. And a name. The 1960s vibe was maybe the most dominant one on the album. So there it was: The Space Age Travellers. It all happened in a flash really. It's a great feeling. What can you say? Stuff falls into place. And I feel like I've finally really started maturing!

mwe3: What guitars are you playing on the @Ventures In The Shadows album? Do you feature different guitars to create different styles, say surf-rock sounds as compared to jazzier tracks?

BJ Baartmans: There's around 5 or 6 different guitars I used on the album. It could have been 5 different ones. I have quite a collection... Well I should say plain out a whole lot of things with strings on it at the studio. They're all 'players', I gig and record with all of them if they find me or vice versa in the process. There's a couple of real “collector” guitars but most of them are fine mid-priced or cheaper easily accessible instruments that I once, and often again. fell for.

A lot this record was played on a Duesenberg Starplayer. I also used a Fender Jazzmaster and a Hanson Gatto Deluxe. My main slide guitar's a Saint Blues 61 South and there's a Dan Electro Baritone I used on “Theme From The Baritones”. Amps are a Matchless Tornado and a Fender Pro Junior. And there's some Fender tube reverb and a Memory Man Deluxe echo. Slapback!

mwe3: It seems that guitarists from Holland and other countries such as Finland and Sweden were and are still quite influenced by The Shadows and also The Ventures. I saw you were friendly with Finnish guitarist Kepa Härkönen as well. What did you think of Kepa’s album, Spicy Tales And Spacey Tones, and do you find that there’s a difference in sound and style between instrumental guitar music from different countries? Do you bring a Dutch musical sensibility to your writing and guitar playing?

BJ Baartmans: I read about Kepa's album in Vintage Guitar magazine and it was like reading a review about our own album. Parallel Universe? One of the great things about the internet is that I could find the music straight away and it's fabulous stuff. And yeah, more than a little familiar. We connected on Facebook and who knows what it might lead to? Finland's pretty far away for me too.

What might be Dutch about what I write or how I or we play is the melting pot idea. No typical musical things like melodies or grooves but our country was built on trading goodies from other countries, developing but also stealing a lot. It's a big port in a way. There's a reason why we speak so many different languages. For me that's English and German and a bit of French. Some musical sources I'd say are European like the Gypsy melodies although there's an Arabic element in that too.

mwe3: You mention several artists you backed up or also work with and I saw the band Matthew’s Southern Comfort listed. Tell us about your working with Ian Matthews. I was influenced by their Second Spring album way back in the very early 1970s. What other artists have you backed up or supported and have you done a lot of session work in Holland and Europe?

BJ Baartmans: Iain moved to The Netherlands around 2002, following what turned out to be the love of his life. He started looking for musicians to work with in the town she was living in and a local music venue owner suggested he'd go see my band at a gig where we were backing up New York singer Eugene Ruffolo. He introduced himself after the gig and we had a nice talk. For me he was one of those “legend” names I had read about in music magazines from the 1970's. I guess I'd heard his version of “Woodstock” or seen him on a German Rockpalast broadcast show but I didn't really know his music I must admit.

We picked a date and the next thing, we were recording a demo in the Leon's Farm Studio I was working in at the time. Iain guested on one of my vocal records that same year and then he asked me to be part of his new vision of Matthews Southern Comfort. It's a long term project, in-between other things we all do. We released two studio albums and a live album so far and did a couple of European tours. This month we'll start working on the 3rd studio album. I'm co writing, playing and producing. It's a fantastic job, Iain's 72 now but he sings like never before and his writing is heartfelt, driven and moving. Other people I'll be working with this year are Oh Susanna and Suzanne Jarvie from Canada, Kerri Powers and hopefully Jeff Finlin from the USA. Then there's local bands and singers I'm involved with. Never a dull moment indeed.

mwe3: Every track on the CD is excellent so it’s hard to pick out any from the others? I’m thinking of the track “Space Age Rumble”. Was it influenced by the fabled Link Wray sound? It seems harder edged than some of the other tracks.

BJ Baartmans: Yeah! I saw Jimmy Page talking about Link Wray's “Rumble” in the It Might Get Loud documentary and that was very inspiring. It often seems harder nowadays to create a hard-edged, rockin' sound in studio settings. As if all the technical improved, updated studio tools are in the way instead of supportive. It's all too clean or too nasty when it distorts. And there's too much recording time at hand. We tried to capture as much as we could live for this album. Didn't do many takes. I improvised the solos on the spot. “Space Age Rumble” comes close to that “I don't know exactly what we're doing or why but it feels great and f...k it let's have a ball!” vibe. The bridge then again is a bit too sophisticated I'm afraid, using a whole step jazz scale.

mwe3: Tell us about the album art for @Ventures In The Shadows. It’s so cool looking. It looks like a drive-in movie theater or something. Did you have drive-in movies in Holland way back when?

BJ Baartmans: No we didn't, I think. A lot of rock & roll imaginary is American. A lot of it we've never seen in real life but it had a huge impact nevertheless. I'm a true traveler of the mind I guess. The artwork was done by a young very talented designer/musician that my son Tom plays with... he's a bass player. I'd seen artwork for some of his his cassette releases and loved it! I gave him a USB stick with our music on it and a few directions and then he came up with the drawing and styling and it was just perfect! There's 30 years between us but we have a lot in common. It's great to be communicating as artists like that. Tom and his friends hang out at the studio quite a bit and I love it. They're all fine musicians. I'm accepted as a coach, occasional participant. Well, retro is hip right? And me?

mwe3: The title track is interesting sounding. It almost sounds like a theme song or movie theme. Speaking of which, what are a few of your favorite movies and movie soundtracks?

BJ Baartmans: I love American classic movies from the 1930's and 40's, all the things Hitchcock did, Spaghetti Westerns, anything from Pixar and I have seen a lot of “art house” films. Randy Newman's scores are fantastic, Ry Cooder's work on Paris Texas, Ennio Morricone comes to mind, the 60’s James Bond scores and Shaft and, of course the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Since there's no lyrics on Adventures In The Shadows, there's a lot of room for imagination when you play or hear the music. I often had movie scenes, paintings or images or complete movie scripts in my head when I envisioned and named the tunes. That's always a bit weird with instrumental tunes. There's a lot of wordplay and irony. Fun stuff.

I secretly hope that the actual movies or paintings will follow the songs some day. That already happened with one song by the way. The Brazilian director Virginia Grando, who also did some video's for USA singer songwriter and long time musical partner Jeff Finlin, made a beautiful one take mini movie for the song “347 Street Scene”. It's on YouTube. There's a big cast of Brazilian actors, make up artists, dancers and musicians that participated and all have cameos in it. Free minded folks from all colors, beliefs and sexual preferences. They all did it for free and for a good reason: it's an understated silent protest against the new president and his right wing movement. The writing's on the wall, literally. Doing a movie score is an absolute bucket list thing for me. So it may never happen but in my head I'm already there.

mwe3: Also the CD-closer “Theme From The Baritones” sounds like an Ennio Morricone influenced track. I imagine the Baritone is the guitar right or a play on The Sopranos?

BJ Baartmans: Baritones are the cellos of the guitar family. That's a strong voice. If you can get a hold of it. I love the Danelectro. When I gave the tune a name I had a vision of The Flintstones or The Jetsons in a crime loaded TV series. The Baritones are a twisted bunch. Too much low end.

mwe3: Are you happy with the early 21st century internet model of featuring and selling music? It seems like a great way to plug and sell music but some complain about streaming and free music online. What is your opinion on the internet when it comes to music?

BJ Baartmans: It's a great source and tool. The internet can't be blamed for business people stealing from artists. That's not a new game. I learned all about music from copying albums from vinyl or radio shows to cassette tapes yet still bought whatever I could afford to because for me that's a big treat. I still buy CD's or vinyl releases from bands I like at shows or in record stores and just hope that people will keep on obtaining my music that way too. It surely makes it easier to finance recordings if you can sell some records.

Free media, streaming's kinda like radio don't you think? I also hope that the benefits from it will become a bit clearer for us 'creators' and that authorship right related royalties will find a better way to who really deserve it. But that may be wishful thinking. In any case it won't stop me from doing what I do, where my heart is. Music that is. There's no other options.

mwe3: So now with this excellent CD out, are you planning new concerts, writing and recordings for the future? I hope you’re able to record a follow up to your first Space Age Travellers album soon.

BJ Baartmans: We're gigging regularly this year and it's so much fun that I can't stop writing stuff for this band so there's an album itching to be recorded sometime soon indeed. From the business side it seems like a good idea to wait with a release a little longer though, this one's still warm and could use some more nurturing. That's not my strongest side though, the commercial one... Good thing next week we have two gigs planned at a great festival and I can forget about all that for a while again. And we'll be traveling in a cool musical space.


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