Tarmak have a new EP out and took the time (a lot of it – thank you!) to tell us more about it, themselves and other random crap we asked them about…
Sander (guitars, vocals): Simon (drums) and me (guitars/vocals) grew up in the same town, in the West part of Belgium. Geert (bass) is from Holland.
How did you meet?
Sander (guitars, vocals): I met Simon about 8 years ago when I was 20. At that time, I was playing in State of Time and Simon was ‘just’ a friend of the band (he didn’t play in it). We had about an hour of music with State of Time at that time, and just started doing our first live gigs. Our bass player still lived with his parents who had a massive garden and a caravan at the very edge of their garden. It’s in this caravan that we rehearsed (and slept) but also organised occasional barbeques to which we invited our friends.
On one of these barbeques, Simon was invited through a mutual friend and I arrived late that day. When I finally got there and was approaching the caravan, I heard some jamming going on from a distance, and I remember thinking: “Damn our drummer’s on fire today. I’ve never heard him play like this before”. When I got in the caravan, I saw that it wasn’t our drummer, but a stranger (called Simon). Our ‘usual’ drummer couldn’t be there that day, so we ended up jamming with Simon for a few hours straight. It was awesome and there definitely was some chemistry there that I hadn’t experienced before. When we said goodbye that day, I remember telling him to keep doing what he was doing (as far as the drumming was concerned). Little did I know, at that time, that I was going to see much more of him after that.
A few weeks later, we decided to let the drummer go and get Simon in the band. Looking back, we didn’t handle that in a way that I’m very proud of … but that’s another matter that I won’t get into now. Simon joining was definitely a good thing for the band but it couldn’t resolve the bigger issues that were at hand, which ultimately caused the band to separate altogether, about a year after Simon joined.
In the last few months of State of Time, Simon and me were jamming in the caravan on almost a weekly basis, and the other guys usually weren’t into it. So a lot of the times, it was just the two of us jamming, in someone else’s caravan and garden. That’s where the first riffs of our first song ever created, Petanque, arose. Those riffs didn’t match with the softer-sounding music we were making with State of Time. I don’t think Simon and me ever had a serious conversation about starting up a new band or something. We just focused on continuing our jams and working out ideas between the two of us. After State of Time separated, the two of us spontaneously continued because it just felt like the right and logical thing to do. So we might not have realised it at that time, but in 2014, Tarmak was born.
At first, things went rather slowly. We needed a lot of time to figure out the direction of our band. We searched for additional musicians which was hard. And Simon and me were both still in our student years, and definitely more guilty of laziness than now. All those factors combined meant we needed a few years to really get the band on the rails, but in 2017-2018 we finally got together a full band and a live set of music worth playing.
Then, while we were preparing for our first live shows, Wannes (who played guitar #2) quit, and focused more on his own post-metal band Haester (definitely worth checking out). That caused me to start experimenting with loop/sample pedals and we decided that these live loops/samples offered a nice compensation for the loss of our second guitar. But after that, right before our first show, the bass player quit too. Talk about bad timing… I immediately asked Geert (who plays bass in my other band BufferState) if he wanted to play bass with us. He accepted the offer and really rescued us in style there. He learnt the material in almost no time and we ended up actually playing the live shows without having to cancel.
How long have you been playing as a band?
In total, about 5 years. Since the moment Geert joined us as bass player, it’s almost been 2 years.
Before you get sick of being asked… where does the band name come from?
Simon (drums): We were mainly looking for the kind of word that has a strong sound to it. In our local West-Flemish dialect, it means ‘asphalt,’ just like the song ‘Toton’ is coming from the West-Flemish “tot ton,” meaning “See you next time!” Sander and I were both born in West-Flanders and we like the feeling of putting our roots in it in some way. I feel as well that West-Flemish is a unique kind of accent, throwing different influences in the mix and that creates really strong-sounding words that can have a pretty abstract ring to it. I think it’s awesome that you can separate the meaning of the word from the word itself, causing it to become something standing on it own.
Sander (guitars, vocals): We have a small fetish for strange words that somehow sound mentally satisfying to all of us. I think “Tarmak” does that for us, but on top of that, I feel the sound of the word captures the sound of our band and the music we want to make. In a way, we’ve named our band – and are titling our songs – in the same way some parents choose a name for their baby; waiting until it’s born, looking at the child and intuitively coming up with a suitable name that matches its character, but besides our word-fetish-motivation, there’s another reason I like ‘Tarmak’ as the band name. For me, an important motivation for making our music is wanting to construct an escape route. An escape route for ourselves personally, but also for the people listening to our music. To me, ‘Tarmak’ is a kind of vehicle that allows me to fly or drive away from reality for a while and all the problems/worries that I’ve got going on at that time in my life and it is exactly that therapeutic aspect that I also want to offer our audience. In aviation, ‘Tarmak’ means the surface for parking aircrafts, allowing passengers to board and disembark, load and unload cargo, collect fuel and so on. I like to think that’s a nice metaphor for what our band is.
What are your influences?
Simon (drums): Bands that seem to find something original, something new. Being it from mixing some unexpected combinations of genres to just mixing different kind of sounds or just stepping away from the regular way of writing songs. Being original is what works inspiring. A band like Tool is a perfect example of that.
Geert (bass): Within the context of Tarmak, my biggest influences are bands that bring a sense of storytelling and adventure to their music. Old prog bands like King Crimson and Yes (Chris Squire is a huge personal influence!), newer bands like Opeth and Porcupine Tree. Their songs take you on a journey, you can never predict where they are going.
Sander (guitars, vocals): I discovered Tool when I was 15. I listened to their records all day every day, and they had a very inspiring effect on me. Right away, I felt like I re-discovered the concept and beauty of music through their work. They stimulated me to pick up a guitar and start learning their songs. When, after months and months of practice, I was able to play some of their stuff, my motivation shifted and I wanted to make my own songs.
Before I was 15, I really had no connection at all with music, and if you would have asked me then, I would’ve assured you that making music had no place in my future. So Tool completely changed this for me, and after ‘unlocking’ my deep passion for (creating) music, I went on to discover a whole bunch of other bands from many different genres that heavily influenced me. Most of those other bands are situated in the post-rock / post-metal / film music sphere. First names I can think of are Isis, Russian Circles, And So I Watch You From Afar, Cult of Luna… Perhaps it’s because of that that I’m a very instrument-focused guy. I like a sweet melody as much as the next guy, but if the instruments aren’t doing anything interested, I find it hard to stay interested too.
Describe your music. What makes you unique?
We’ll start our answer in a serious manner here. Storytelling is ultimately at the heart of what we do, kind of like a good old piece of literature. A Tarmak song is made up of chapters that build on each other, brief references to earlier events, and a main theme that gradually gets twisted inside out by cliff-hangers and plot twists. We also aim to develop a sense of recurring threat that runs throughout the entire journey.
We like to think our music activates the imagination, and that it even could be compared with the imagination vehicle from South Park! I guess you could say we represent the singing captain on the ship in that episode. Our first instinct is to say that it’s a bit like that, but darker. But for those that don’t know, that episode goes to some extremely dark places, so considering that, we’re going to keep our lips shut.
Do you have any particular lyrical themes?
Sander: 3 of our 4 songs are instrumental. Only our first song, Krater, has lyrics. The lyrics are kind of observational & philosophical there. Since the lyrics are so limited in size, I’ll just copy-paste them right below here, and talk about them below. That way, if anyone reads this part of the interview, they can make up their own meaning before finding out what my meaning is.
And I’ll show you everything
You and I
We’re in essence just the same
We carry out
What’s been handed from above
Is keeping us in place
(We’re) both prisoner and warden
Invisible eyes of power
We’re so fascinated
By the offender
Those who never play by the rules show us
We can get out too
These underlying schemes
We’d do anything
To be just a stone trapped in a wall
To try and find where it’s coming from
It’s all around
Yet never here nor there
I wrote the lyrics starting from my perception that our society is, in a way, just as barbaric as it was a few hundred years ago. Everyone is a conscious or unconscious participant in carefully woven power/control structures. A weird phenomenon happening these days is that we all get so excited about watching crime TV shows. People get aroused by this because these shows give a glimpse of what it could be like if you would be able to detach yourself from these fixed structures of control. It’s that flood of sudden kind of misplaced excitement that inspired me to investigate where it comes from.
You could say we’re all contributing to the elimination of free will because we observe each other, more than ever (via social media too). Besides observing, we’re also constantly judging. The judgments we make are based on the moral framework that is put / pushed forward by our society. So somehow, we’re imposing the same behavioural laws on each other, and everyone actively pushes but also gets pushed themselves into a pre-designed mould. It’s a system that’s more subtle yet more effective than the physical punishments that were invented in the Middle Ages, but the goal remains the same: pushing everyone into that mould.
What’s your live show like? How many shows have you played?
Sander: You can count the all the live shows we ever played on one hand. Our plan was to start arranging a lot of gigs after the release of our debut EP. Since our release collided with Corona, we didn’t have a chance to arrange gigs anymore.
Before that, we just had a couple of try-out gigs here and there, but nothing massive. The last one was in the B52, a cosy bar in Belgium. A video was made of our last song, which you can check out here.
The few experiences we did have with gigging did all feel great though. For me personally, it’s always very nerve-wracking at the start, because there is a lot of stuff that can go wrong, especially with the loop pedals. But after one or two songs, the tension starts to fade away, you can see the audience is enjoying the energy of our performances, and I really start to enjoy the flow of it myself too then. The other guys are definitely less nervous than me, so they get into right from the start.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen or done at a live show?
Sander: I don’t know if playing a song live, after breaking 2 separate strings on your guitar, objectively counts as wild. But for me personally it definitely felt pretty wild at the moment, haha. The real shitty part of the situation was that they both popped right off, only 15-20 seconds into the song. There was still so much ground to cover after that, including a quite technical guitar solo. In my eyes, those 15 seconds was already too much time that had passed to stop the song and call in a break mid-set. That would’ve broken the entire flow of the gig. So I had to work my way through it and improvise some parts here and there. It really didn’t help that it was at a location without a proper stage. We were playing at ground level and the first row of the audience sat right in front me, watching every move of my fingers. I remember the sweat was dripping down my back.
I’ve been in some pretty wild moshpits too with my guitar, while playing live, but none of that beats that double string rupture experience.
When it comes to seeing wild things live from other artists, my first thoughts go to the time I saw Jardín de la Croix at the main stage of Dunk! Festival (a post-rock / post-metal festival here in Belgium), in 2019. Their music is very technical, with a lot of superfast finger-twisting riffs with a lot of complex tapping involved. If I would be able to pull off all those riffs, my brain would have absolutely no capacity left to do anything else but stand there with open mouth, drooling. But when they reached the last song of their set, the frontman of this band climbed a giant tower on stage, all the way to the top, while playing one of those songs. I have no idea how he either climbed the tower with 1 hand, or kept on playing those kind of riffs with 1 hand. But that was pretty goddamn wild and impressive.
What kit do you use / guitars do you play / etc.?
Sander: I play on a Gibson Les Paul traditional and use 2 amps: a Fender twin reverb, and a Vox AC30. The Fender twin is my main amplifier, and the Vox is there to either play recorded loops through (when a section has two different guitar parts), or to double the signal from my Fender (when a section has just one guitar part but it needs to sound as big as possible).
What are your plans for the next 6 months or so?
We’ve had a great amount of positive feedback & reviews on our debut EP, much more than expected. So we definitely feel encouraged to start preparing for a full-length. We want to use our time wisely to create more songs, and really reach our full potential in that territory. We don’t want to settle for anything that’s ‘just’ good. We already have 2, 3 songs as good as ready (that are not on our debut EP yet).
In January 2021, we have our first gig (since the Corona shitshow started) planned in Charleroi. So we’ll start fine tuning our live set & show too.
If you were second on a three-band bill, which band would you love to be supporting and which band would you choose to open for you? A chance to plug someone you’ve toured with, or a mate’s band we’ve not heard of before!
Sander: I would love to support a Belgian three-piece called HEISA. They released their 2nd album in May and to me, they’re one of the best bands Belgium has got to offer currently. I hear influences from all my favourite bands in their music (like Tool and Radiohead) but it still sounds like something completely new. Captivating stuff.
If we could choose which band opens, I would go for Vrovl or Haiden. They’re both awesome, unique-sounding local bands (from Ghent too). Vrovl sounds like a psychedelic rollercoaster (they just released a whole concept album, containing 3 songs, about the hunt on a duck). Haiden sounds like … badass motherfuckers who brewed and perfected their own taste of intellectual post-metal.