It’s been 14 years since Dutch indie pop/alt-country band Grapes of Grain last set foot in the music world, and, from health problems and COVID to an increasingly digitised industry, there’s been a lot they’ve had to get used to.
“One of the reasons I quit making music is that I have a hearing problem,” says Alexis Vos (vocals, acoustic guitar). “I’m almost deaf in my left ear, so I can’t be in really loud environments anymore.
“I really miss it, and…I especially would really love to play live again or just be in a band practice room with the guys, but it’s just not safe.
“We also always used to practice every week and rehearse our songs [but] the new record was recorded separately [and] it felt really weird.”
We’re chatting over Zoom, Vos calling on a wintery Amsterdam morning and I on a humid Australian evening. He’s recently returned from a trip overseas and is nursing a small cold. The record in question is Grapes of Grain’s new EP, Getaways, which was released at the tail end of January. A quiet, atmospheric affair, its acoustic sound echoes that of R.E.M. and M. Ward. It’s their first release since 2009’s It Slowly Fades.
“I wanted to [make music] for a couple of years, but every time I picked up the guitar, started playing for 10 to 15 minutes and started strumming using the same chords, I was like, ‘ugh, it’s the same old same old’,” he says. “I wasn’t really inspired.”
Like many who felt trapped by the repetition and gloom of the COVID pandemic, Vos sought a creative outlet. Music was an escape from the claustrophobic working-from-home environment and low mental health. But what truly pushed Vos was the motivation from his bandmates.
“I always need some external pressure, so I contacted Stefan Breuer (keys, guitars, vocals). I said, ‘hey, do you wanna record something again?’ When he said yes, I immediately started writing songs and within two days I had five pretty good songs, I felt. I just got inspired from him committing to this.
“I made the first five recordings just playing on my iPhone and then I contacted Berend [Jan Ike], the guitar player.”
Grapes of Grain has a long and complicated history. Although the band was officially founded in Utrecht in the Netherlands, Vos had been playing in different groups while studying in Rotterdam in the 2000s. Many of these acts had intertwining lineups, with members playing in each other’s bands and forming various side projects. Grapes of Grain was one such side project, which Vos had envisioned as an indie folk group.
Playing live gave their acoustic sound a poppier, louder flavour to it. They toured extensively around their native Holland in addition to France and the United Kingdom, as well as releasing two extended plays and an album on Snowstar Records.
If you’re going to spend your whole weekend dedicated to one show, and you have a family, and if you want some downtime as well – it’s hard to mix after a while.
However, in 2009, they called it quits. Despite the joy of playing live, the band had yet to achieve their big break. And as they transitioned from students to adults with families of their own and full time jobs, Grapes of Grain simply wasn’t feasible anymore.
“It was like, ‘what’s the point?’,” says Vos. “It was a lot of fun, but playing shows also takes the most amount of time and work. If you’re going to spend your whole weekend dedicated to one show, and you have a family, and if you want some downtime as well – it’s hard to mix after a while.”
Getaways is the band’s first release in 14 years. The five-track extended play opens with the moody, introspective single ‘Floating’, which is accompanied by a dreamlike music video shot in Rotterdam. Similarly, the following track, ‘Night Away’, is quintessential indie pop. Mellow but upbeat, it’s one of the most accessible tracks on the EP. The band also recently released a video for it, filmed in Amsterdam.
The introspective feeling that begins on ‘Floating’ permeates Getaways. It’s an EP that boasts gorgeous mixing from Adam Seltzer, who is known for his work with groups such as R.E.M. and The Decemberists. Each track feels measured, thoughtful – as if these sounds and ideas had been brewing continuously throughout stifling COVID lockdowns.
Vos tells me the band are currently in the process of recording a new album due for release in September or October.
But now that Grapes of Grain have stepped back into the fold, Vos’s hearing problems have made the possibility of touring uncertain.
— Lonely Oak radio (@LonelyOakRadio) March 6, 2023
“Maybe we’ll do a couple of acoustic shows in September, but… we’re just gonna record a lot [for now]. Being an online band instead of a physical live performing band, it’s a lot safer.”
It’s also not easy being a band from the Netherlands. While Vos tells me Amsterdam has numerous venues hosting indie acts and large turnouts at festivals, it’s a different story outside the Dutch capital.
“I think Holland is a very poor country to be in for indie music. Local bands, our national bands – [they’re] never gonna make it big… people are more interested in the foreign acts rather than some of the local ones,” he says.
In spite of this, Vos is grateful just to be making music again and he has plans to make an alt-country album somewhere down the line.
“I didn’t know if it could work, but somehow we still have this connection,” he says.
“The way we work now works as well, so if this is it, I’m happy.”
‘Getaways’, the new EP by Grapes of Grain, is out now on all streaming platforms.
Main image supplied.