Singer-songwriter and Bear’s Den touring member Christof van der Ven is to release his long-awaited debut album ‘Empty Handed’ this week. The Dutch musician will release his debut, the culmination of years of hard-touring, writing and recording on the 13th of April.
Listen to the album in full below and read Christof’s own track-by-track guide to the album.
Empty Handed – Track-by-Track
I wrote this song in a self-build holiday home out in the countryside near Donegal town. It was very secluded and I stayed out there without a phone and forced myself to just read and write. I also had a recording device I used to record the progress/process. Whenever I hear this song I feel nostalgic and wanted to get this across to the listeners as well. I think the sound of Hold me has a particular character to it that brings me back to my time in Ireland. And I hope it takes the listener on a journey of their own.
You left it too long
I’ve always imagined this song to be an indirect dedication to Feist. It never was my intention to make it sound like her music nor did I try. I ended up writing these chord progressions and thinking to myself “this kind of sounds like Feist a little bit” and later I was like “I want this to sound like Feist a little bit”. I love her music, she’s so awesome and obviously, she has influenced me.
This song has a lot of personal meaning to me that I don’t want to open up about and I would like for the listener to figure out for themselves. It was written last minute in the Montreal EP sessions and only finished the lyrics in the studio so I wasn’t quite a sure whether it was going to make it on the EP. I remember being super excited about the outcome of this song. We didn’t know what it was going to sound like until Kristofer Harris did one of the first mixes. After that, I knew it was going to be on the EP and of course the album
Love’s Gory goes a long way back in time. It must have been written in my first year of London which was about 6 years ago now. I was cut up about a relationship, had just moved to London and was feeling a little lost in the big smoke. The song went through a few stages recording-wise. It was recorded in West London first and released on the Love’s Glory EP. But recently for the album, I re-recorded the vocals and the acoustic guitar and Tom Hobden added some beautiful strings to it arranged by Tommy Heap.
It’s one of those songs that has been around forever. I actually released a version of this song a couple of years ago that we recorded at Urchin Studios. It was a lot more lively and country but I always knew it wasn’t the right sound for it. I once heard Davie play it on his guitar during one of the Bear’s Den’s sound-checks and knew instantly that that was how the song should sound.
Borders are never fun, are they? I got stuck once and send back to Canada whilst on tour supporting Bear’s Den. We were heading back for our last two shows in Boston and New York but I, unfortunately, had to miss out and stayed in Montreal for a few more days to then fly back to London. It was pure frustration that I exhausted for those days so I got a ‘Montreal’ tattoo on my chest as a reminder.
No one is here
In a world where it’s just you and your lover. Barren landscapes, soft white beaches, dunes with swaying grass and the greenest forests you’ll ever see. And friends from both sides trying to hunt you down.
That’s the sort of imagery for this song.
Killed this stone-dead
KTSD is the newest song on the album. I’ve written it nearly a year ago actually so it’s not that new anymore I suppose. I wanted to keep this song simple. Stay true to my roots as a singer and songwriter. I love the simplicity of the song. Here and there a few claps and some bv’s, to then finish up quite big with the horn section in the end. It’s amazing how you can transfer a small and empty song into a big one with just a few instruments. And a few plugins.
Oh when the night
Written in the same writing session in Ireland as Hold me and No one is here I think the same sort of imagery is required for these songs. Everything was quite bare and lonely. I don’t mean it to sound like the classic “I’ll go to this place on my own to write some sad songs” scenario but it’s what happened out there. I was a really uplifting and fun experience. It was like camping. Lighting the fire every night, reading some books, sometimes do nothing for a while, walk around the hills, speaking to the nearby neighbors. Everyone that lives in a city should go for a bit of solitude once in a while. It’s refreshing.
I think this might be my favorite song to play live from the album. Especially with a band. Inspired by the city’s drug problem this song is about frustration and anger and I can let it all out on stage. The beautiful horn parts are played and arranged by my friends Marcus Hamblett and Jools Owen.
Born near Eindhoven in the Netherlands and raised on a steady diet of 1960’s American / English folk and his Mother’s classical music, Christof travelled to Galway in Ireland intending to spend a few months writing and developing songs and ended up staying for 4 years, taken aback by the generosity of the people there, he produced 2 EPs – Springtime (2010) and Honey Tears (2011) before relocating to London where as a pot wash he worked his way up the ladder, eventually working as a chef in a number of London restaurants.
All the while he was writing and making music, two more EP’s followed as well as extensive touring in the UK and US with artists including Bear’s Den, The Staves (who feature on the album, providing backing vocals on ‘Oh When the Night’), and The Boxer Rebellion.
Christof’s debut album is reflective of his already varied career up until this point, featuring music written over a number of years in places all over the world from his beloved Galway, to his home in London and far-flung places he has visited with Bear’s Den. The song ‘Montreal’ for example was written while stranded in Canada on tour “Its about the end of one era and the beginning of a new one – moving on from old love to a new life” explains Christof. This journey is mapped in his music, it’s base firmly in folk but along the way, picking up expansive synths and electronics, alt-pop and the constant lingering sense that deep-down, his noisier sensibilities might get the better of him at any moment.
‘Empty Handed’ is a gorgeous record that draws from influences like Damien Jurado and Fionn Regan, with chest-pounding, Springsteen-esque instrumentation, Grizzly Bear infused subtle arrangements and the influence of years spent on the road in Bear’s Den all coming together to create a record that at it’s very core, has been crafted slowly and carefully by an artist who has honed his craft on some of the biggest and smallest stages in the world.
Talking about the album Christof said: “It’s taken me ten years of dragging myself around and playing to whoever would listen, putting out EPs in the hope that they would be heard, and frankly procrastinating in the hope that the elements would combine with enough force to kick my arse into making this album. These songs are the culmination of my experience of the world to date, the story of me and mine from growing up in the Netherlands, over to rural Ireland, here and now in London and everywhere in between. They’ll take you from urban sprawls, to nature’s wilderness, through fugitive love affairs, and home to your beer stained sofa bed (if you have one).”
‘Empty Handed’ will be available on the 13th April 2018. Christof will be heading out on a UK / EU tour in April as well as at the ‘Naked Song’ festival with Lisa Hannigan on the 14th of April in his hometown of Eindhoven.
Upcoming Tour Dates
Pre-Order Empty Handed via https://www.christofvanderven.com