THE SPACE AGE TRAVELLERS
Holland’s favorite instro-rock trio, The Space Age Travellers bounce back in 2022 with Satellite Shuffle. Showcasing a dozen new and original instrumentals, the albumis a perfect showcase for Space Age Travellers founder, lead guitarist and principal composer BJ Baartmans. With BJ and co-producer and drummer / percussionist Sjoerd van Bommel leading the attack, the pair are joined by electric / acoustic bass player Gerco Aerts.
The 12-track Satellite Shuffle is a solid follow up to the band’s 2019 CD debut @Ventures In The Shadows as well as their 2020 release Spaceology. Every track here is memorable but clearly, the appropriately named lead-off track, the pandemic-era inspired “Cabin Fever”, is dazzling in a very Hank Marvin-inspired way.
By January 2022 the pandemic and lockdown was still impacting the music scene in Holland yet, with the band itching to get back in the recording studio, a new and refined Space Age Travellers sound began to emerge. With the band’s high-octane instrumental surf-noir sound presented in its full force, Satellite Shuffle retains their classic Euro-tinged guitar sound.
In various interviews BJ Baartmans has said that chief among his guitar influences are Bill Frisell, Ry Cooder, Jeff Beck, Wes Montgomery, Duane Eddy, Hank B. Marvin and others, yet hearing the music perfectly coalesce on Satellite Shuffle makes for an authentic listening experience. Even though Satellite Shuffle took just weeks to arrange and record, the album is meticulously crafted with the sound literally transcending musical genres and styles.
Satellite Shuffle still retains the band’s trademark vibe, yet the recording quality is better than ever with every nuance coming through loud and clear in the mix. With a dozen future guitar classics, Satellite Shuffle is clearly the best Space Age Travellers album yet. bandcamp.com / www.bjbaartmans.nl
mwe3.com presents a new interview with
mwe3: How are things in Holland? We went through a rough two year period. How is the Dutch music scene recovering in 2022? Is this the recovery environment from which Satellite Shuffle was recorded and come out from and do you think we can fully recover from the craziness of the past 2 years?
BJ Baartmans: In The Netherlands it seems that most things are back to normal again. There are no restrictions anymore and there are very few people left that get Covid and need hospitalization. That's good news. Vaccination programs work. There's enough common sense I guess. People are aware though that this doesn't mean it's all over and done with. What's gonna happen after the summer? Will we be sensible enough to do what needs to be done if the virus strikes again and accept that?
mwe3: What did you think of the online social media scene these past two years? Seems like the battle lines are being drawn now more than ever... to quote “For What It’s Worth”. But it’s a good thing we had the internet especially during this pandemic although Facebook and twitter have kind of turned into a kind of a politicized freak show. Where do you see the internet going from here as it relates to music and improvements to the musicians?
BJ Baartmans: No idea. I see the internet first of all as a great tool to share creativity, to discover things, to do research. Which hopefully leads to getting together with people and communicate through that wonderful channel called music. I do feel more and more lost in the world of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and all that. But it's not that much different from how lost I felt years ago in what was the business side of music. There's always been so much bullshit around art when serious money is involved. It can be a very uncomfortable setup. My bank account could show you how estranged I have always felt from the commercial musical world (lol).
mwe3: Satellite Shuffle was just released this spring of 2022 and it’s the best album yet by The Space Age Travellers. How would you compare the new album with the earlier albums by Space Age Travellers and did you have a specific goal in mind while recording the Satellite Shuffle album and is it more upbeat or downbeat because of the era it was made?
BJ Baartmans: If anything it might be a bit more personal in the writing compared to the previous two albums. I guess exploring the world of instrumental music and making that work for this band became less of a goal in itself. It's been a learning process and I feel like I can maybe better express deeper feelings without using words now. But I don't really know that. Sometimes I listen back to instrumental parts or songs from a couple of years ago and happily find that they still sound good and work for me.
mwe3: Was Satellite Shuffle cut live or were there a lot of overdubs, out-takes and other treatments? Because of the pandemic pressures, did it all come pouring out in a kind of adrenaline rush or was it more pre-planned?
BJ Baartmans: Adrenaline rush absolutely. A lot was done live, one or two takes. There's hardly any out-takes. But there's more to it. Co producer/drummer Sjoerd van Bommel and I choose to first use the energy of the rush but then add all the productional ear candy to make for a potentially longer lasting listening experience.
I doubled parts of melodies or chordal parts using banjo, mandolin, 12 string electric, sitar, resonator guitar or even piano and there's plenty of subtle percussive additions... So there's quite a few overdubs on the album while at the same time you always hear the trio upfront, moving and grooving with a genuine live feel.
mwe3: Is the dark theme of Satellite Shuffle reflected in the album cover art, which is in black and white?
BJ Baartmans: I don't know about that. I took the photos that we ended up using for the artwork at the studio and they just looked nice or nicer in black and white. And I guess they do fit the mood. Black & White also has a timeless quality that I hope the music on the album will prove to also have.
mwe3: Tell us about the chemistry between you Sjoerd and Gerco on Satellite Shuffle. It’s great you all pulled together to make another great Space Age Travellers album during the pandemic. It’s quite an accomplishment.
BJ Baartmans: It just feels so natural to play with these guys. They are fantastic musicians. Great company. We never had to work on finding a good band sound. It was there from the get go. And then it got even better. No ego's got in the way.
I'm proud and I'm lucky to have found people that have so much fun in playing music with me that starts in my head and make it resonate. I also worked hard on that, learning how to communicate through music and be open to others yet stay true to my musical beliefs. The Space Age Travellers is a wonderful thing of beauty.
mwe3: The album’s lead off track “Cabin Fever” is one of your best tracks. Is “Cabin Fever” a kind of soundtrack theme-song of the pandemic era of the past 2 years? I added it had a kind of Hank Marvin style melodic attack but I didn’t know there was also a kind of Ska influence as I ask in the next question...
BJ Baartmans: The music came first. I see the song as a tempting melody sitting on top of a rumbling background. Something nice coming out of a disturbing situation. It starts with this alarming drone sound. The title "Cabin Fever" sums up a lot of what I think we've been going through in the pandemic. Locked up in our own houses so desperately willing to go out and share something good. Do you remember the band The Feelies? The sound of their music was in the back of my mind writing and recording this one. It may have come out completely different though...
mwe3: I saw the video for the new track “The Saturn 3”. Who did the video for you? I didn’t know The Space Age Travellers also had some roots in the Ska music boom of the early 1980s. Actually I just saw that movie with Kirk Douglas on that YouTube channel Videos4U2C. It’s just amazing it shares the same name as the 1980 movie Saturn 3. Did you make any recordings as The Saturn 3, the video said “Cabin Fever” actually hails from that era. Also tell us about Ian Clayton, he did the voice over on the track. Something so cool about a British accent!
BJ Baartmans: Fooled you! The song is both fiction and fact but "The Saturn 3" is a bit of a scam. I loved Two Tone music when I started playing in bands in the early 1980's. But the band I was in played mostly punk and new wave. Many great bands I have indeed discovered listening to John Peel radio shows but I never saw the Kirk Douglas movie. And there never was a lost Saturn 3 record on Flying Object Records. I wrote the music, which has a bit of a ska vibe and - going out of the SAT box - thought it would be cool to have a rap or spoken word element to go with the verse parts and then I made up this story of a band that could have been the 'back to the future' version of The SAT. I looked for a related band name and came up with The Saturn 3. Then I googled it and what a fantastic coincidence that there was a sci-fi horror movie from the exact right period with that title!
The story came to life in the house of British writer and former BBC reporter Ian Clayton. Iain Matthews and I were on a short tour in the UK early February this year and stayed over for a couple of days at Ian Clayton's place. Ian's also the co-author of Matthews' biography. He has this perfect British radio voice and was so kind as to write the text with me. We had a blast.
mwe3: I was listening to the track “Rundown” and there’s a definite jazz element to it. Is that how you keep The Space Age Travellers sound fresh, by constantly merging in the widest possible influences? I guess it’s not surprising then that the next track is “Monk’s Mood”. Is that named after a famous jazz artist? You mentioned some jazz influences before. Seems like the best guitarists have a really wide range of influences including jazz and classical and the retro influences you seem to like. I notice that retro influence on “Charlie’s Pickup”, which seems to blend in a kind of Chet Atkins guitar style.
BJ Baartmans: Yes, it's what keeps the music fresh. I love jazz records from the 1940's and 50's. Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian, Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus are all big influences even though I never really mastered playing jazz guitar. And that also goes for classical Spanish guitar music, gypsy swing, desert blues or Cuban music... and more. If you really want to learn how to play like the greats in specific styles you have to completely dig into that for a long period, plus be fortunate enough to have the right motor skills, sources and probably super ears. I never really went that route with any style except for maybe mastering slide guitar..
mwe3: The Space Age Travellers really sound refreshed on Satellite Shuffle. Maybe the craziness of the pandemic era lit a musical fire underneath the band. Tell us about the title track “Satellite Shuffle”. Seems like it’s got a strong undercurrent to it. How did you come up with the name for that track? It sounds influenced by the blues too. I was thinking Clapton and some of the other greats. How would you describe the album’s title track?
BJ Baartmans: Blues guitar and its heroes are a major source for me in a similar way jazz guitar is. Blues is technically a little more accessible so probably also easier to detect in my playing style. But I stray away from the blues idiom just as easily when I play freely. And blend it with elements from jazz, rockabilly, gypsy or Latin. I don't believe myself when I wear a big hat, big belt, cowboy boots and bend big vibrating notes on a Strat. At the same time I listened endlessly to Son House, Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf and also Stevie Ray Vaughan and Clapton during periods and at times still do. The new Black Keys record is a big favorite at the moment by the way. Very bluesy.
The song “Satellite Shuffle” I envisioned as a blues played by someone who feels the power of the style but doesn't know the rules. Bit of an alien experience. Good title track.
mwe3: Did you have a go-to guitar on Satellite Shuffle? You mentioned your Duesenberg Starplayer, a Fender Jazzmaster and a Hanson Gatto Deluxe as guitars you played on the @Ventures album. What other guitars take center stage on the new album and have you made any changes to your amps and reverb devices and pedals on the Satellite Shuffle album?
BJ Baartmans: The basic set up of amplifying and recording the guitars was similar to previous recordings. I usually run two small combo amps with a distinct difference in character at the same time and combine those sounds. On this record it was a Matchless Tornado and a Fender Princeton Reverb on every track. I use Shure 57's and AEA Ribbon mics, UA Audio preamps. Plate reverb, analog delay and some sort of low gain distortion are in the chain. Sometimes a tremolo or phasing effect. In any situation the specific type of guitar can shine through as I usually play rather clean.
mwe3: Is “Sandology” a mix of funk and jazz? It’s not really surf or noir sounding jazz as it’s very groove based. Plus the title is very unusual. Was there a style or styles of guitar that you were trying to bring together on this track? It’s very eclectic but in a good way plus it has a very strong outro.
BJ Baartmans: I love North African desert blues. The mixture of blues scales, middle eastern semi tone bends and funky percussive drum patterns. Sjoerd sends me drum grooves he comes up with from time to time that I can write music to and this was one of them. Irresistible beat. It sent me straight into that Sahara direction. Guitarists like Mdou Moctar and the band Tinariwen are an inspiration here. The title is a nod to jazz song titles like "Ornithology".
mwe3: “Who Framed Roger Flint” sounds like a title for another spy / noir film. Is there an element of soundtrack sounds on that track? The guitar sound is very potent and the band sizzles on that track. Does “Who Framed Roger Flint” just go from strong to stronger?
BJ Baartmans: A lot of the SAT music is cinematic people have said and that's such a big compliment! The films still need to be made but I secretly already know what they will look like and even better how they will sound. One of the good things that came out of the pandemic is that I have been asked to do some film and documentary scores which most likely wouldn't have happened without the Space Age Travellers background. It gave me the confidence and tools to say yes to the projects. And it's something I really like to do more often in the future. Even if it means spending a lot of long lonely days in the studio. Zen.
mwe3: “Ferrini’s Trap” is another jazzy cut with some nimble guitar work on it. Is there a story behind the title? It also has a kind of lounge music vibe to it.
BJ Baartmans: Another track based on a superb, very tricky 5/4 Sjoerd van Bommel groove. He and his wife run a little business selling handmade, gorgeous looking leather guitar straps under the brand name Ferrini Straps. The song is a tribute to my soul brother.
mwe3: “Rewired” is pretty dark and swampy. Is that how you see the track? It seems like our brains have all be rewired these past two years. This sounds like one of the more dark, noir guitar tracks you’ve ever done.
BJ Baartmans: It's an homage to Jeff Beck paying tribute to Charlie Mingus (“Pork Pie Hat”), while being in a situation of danger, set in a spaghetti western. How does that work? I don't know. I found a melody and realized after a while that it was related to that Mingus song on Beck's Wired album. I just let it happen.
mwe3: “Miles Inbetween” has a very Wes Montgomery style in the guitar sound. Did you set out to make a Wes-style track in the spirit of West Coast jazz?
BJ Baartmans: Guilty. I must confess. Wes's playing is unparalleled. I wasn't sure if this one should be on the album. But then again as we played it, it felt just right. I found a really good tone on the Greco guitar I just acquired a few weeks before the recording sessions. It's a labor of love.
mwe3: How about “The Waiting”? Does it follow the kind of anti-surf guitar theme of the album? Is that another track that suggests the effects of the pandemic and the waiting involved in seeking a return to normalcy in times where nothing is normal?
BJ Baartmans: The melody of “The Waiting” came to me as I was waiting for news from the hospital where my partner was in surgery. Just a few weeks before the pandemic started. It's a love song. It was a very stressful period already and anything but normal. She's doing well again I'm happy to say. A good ending.
mwe3: Tell us about the new album you made in 2021 with the legendary singer Iain Matthews called Distant Chatter. When did you form the band called The Matthews Baartmans Conspiracy? Seems like he never lost his knack for crafting catchy pop songs. Is the album kind of low-key in nature? Is it Americana in the age of the pandemic? How’s Iain doing these days? I remember I had a decent conversation with him back in the late 1980s in NYC, back when he worked with Windham Hill. Good that his early stuff is still in print and it still sounds fine.
BJ Baartmans: Iain's doing good. 75 years old still going strong. He writes a lot. This album was a true duo album. I wrote 80% of the music and arranged and recorded it, Iain wrote the lyrics.
mwe3: Also the Matthews Baartmans Conspiracy album, Distant Chatter album came out in Germany on MIG. How did that come about? Seems like a cool label. Did you decide to make an A side and a B side to the Distant Chatter album and did it come out on Lp too? How would you describe the album?
BJ Baartmans: It's out on vinyl indeed but only in the UK. MIG only did CD's for the European market. We had too many finished songs we thought were good for a vinyl release so we split up the collection in 3 parts. Side 3 is now available through Bandcamp under the title Close Call. It's been a very fruitful operation this Conspiracy.
mwe3: So as the future stands, is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? Seems like there’s still plenty of arguments to go through, on both sides as we move through our collective return to normalcy. What are you looking for and forward to in this turning point year? Does it get better from here on out?
BJ Baartmans: I've got plenty of things to look forward too. Things that are worth overcoming difficulties for. How much better does it have to be? We came this far and it's been worth it. I'll embrace the darkness but prefer to look at the bright side in the end...