Culture

Joep Beving makes classical music for a pop audience.

Meet the Dutch Composer Behind Your Go-To Chill Piano Tracks on Spotify

As we learned from Josh Radnor, it’s never too late for a second act. Let Dutch pianist and composer, Joep Beving be further proof. Four years ago he made the transition from the advertising world to the music world at the ripe age of 38, when most men are considering moving from a sedan to a sensible SUV.

Joep (pronounced like “Yoop”) first started dabbling in music when he was 14 and made his debut at his town’s jazz festival. But, like most creative endeavours, it takes an unparalleled level of confidence to follow through. Joep didn’t have that at the time—hell, he may not have it now, not that that’s all bad. “It’s just like a genuine doubt whether what you’re doing is special enough for people to actually pay for a ticket,” says Joep.

Music was far too seductive for Joep to give up. He made a successful career making or finding music for ads. But it basically was his commercial way of supporting his night gig. Joep saw his relationship with advertising as love-hate. “I was never comfortable using music to sell people stuff they don’t need.”

It wasn’t until a trip to Cannes for the Lions Festival—basically the Grammy’s of the advertising world—that Joep fully understood how his music resonated with people. He played one of his melancholic compositions on the hotel lobby piano and the response was unexpected. People started to cry.

It was this experience and a slew of unfortunate events (his grandmother passed away, followed closely by a good friend) that his debut album Solipsism came to fruition. Through pure luck, his track “The Light She Brings,” was added to the popular Peaceful Piano playlist on Spotify. Soon after, another track was added to the playlist, “Sleeping Lotus,” which is nearing 20 million streams. Not a shabby number for minimalist piano compositions.

With his new found, unexpected success, Joep followed up his first album with Prehension, an organic successor to Solipsism. Following many of the same themes he put forth in his debut, it’s almost a direct continuation of what he previously set out to do. “I am reacting to the absolute grotesqueness of the things that are happening around us, in which you feel so insignificant and powerless that you alienate yourself from reality and the people around you because it is so impossible to grasp,” says Joep.

We got a chance to sit down with the pianist and composer to chat about his latest album, Prehension, the Internet and the difficulties of picking just one title.

TITLE: Last night was your first show in Canada. What is a Toronto audience like? Was it what you expected?

JOEP BEVING: Yeah. I mean, U.S. audiences are very, overtly…not loud, but enthusiastic. Here it seemed a bit more reserved. It’s slightly more reserved here during the concert or polite maybe. But afterward, there was a very long queue of very lovely people patiently wanting to talk. I’ve had quite a bit of response online from people in Canada. So I figured that would be the vibe.

Your music is so different from what’s happening now. Maybe that’s why people can connect to it. It’s kind of melancholic and very personal. Do you prefer people hearing you play live or do you prefer people listening to albums alone?

I don’t really have a preference. I mean, performing for me is still quite scary. It’s still pretty much out of my comfort zone. So when I picture the ideal situation it’s me alone in a room making it, and reaching out through the Internet or the ether or vinyl to people. Alone or together, listening to it. That was the initial idea. But a lot of it is meant for trying to establish that connection. So then, if you practice what you preach, it would mean bringing everyone together and playing it live.

What was the recording process like for Prehension?

I cannot answer that question separate from the first album because it’s completely related. The first was late nights, at home, because I was still working and I have a family. So, it was only at night I could record and that was just at home in my kitchen with two microphones and a laptop and my grandmother’s piano. That first album kind of happened to me and I was a bit worried that was like a moment of inspiration that I couldn’t get back to. Or that was it. So, I kept on playing and like with the first album basically everything that came out I kind of accepted. Like, this needs to be here so, I’m going to move on to the next one. At one point I thought, okay, I’m done. Instead of recording at home I recorded in my studio, which I share with Gys, (Gys Van Klooster) who is my producer. We took the piano to the studio and basically we had a couple of magical nights where we recorded it with a bit more microphones than the first time. But it was all quite simple and that’s how it went. And that piano is indeed the one I inherited from my grandmother.

Is that the piano you played last night?

You mean the one I played on yesterday? That’s definitely not my grandmother’s piano. That’s the opposite. There’s a big difference between new and old pianos. And also between Japanese and German pianos. I have to be careful not to generalize, but I’m pretty sure it’s the case in general.

You said on stage something along the lines of, this is still kind of new to you and that you’ve been doing it for only four years. Do you think you have imposter syndrome?

I have that conflict. I especially had it last night [at the show]. It’s just like a genuine doubt whether what you’re doing is special enough for people to actually pay for a ticket. I know what I do. And I know what I can do and sometimes I feel it and it’s like, okay, and I can see it that it does what it does. But many times, you know, there’s not ‘doubt,’ but a big leap where I’m not really understanding what is happening. And then you just have to accept that gap is there between understanding why these people are here and the fact that they are actually here.

Do you think that feeling stops at some point?

I hope not.

I feel like it’s what keeps it all going.

Yeah. Also to make sure you don’t start taking things for granted.

What do you listen to when you’re working out, or just at home?

At the moment… I used to listen to all sorts of music. But, in the last year, it’s mostly my inspiration playlists. I’ve been making playlists to get me in the mindstate for the third album and there’s a lot of stuff in there. It goes from ambient, electronic, new electronic, old electronic, classical, really old classical, contemporary classical. Also, just basically anything that has relevance.

You said the music you make is not classical or pop, that it’s somewhere in the middle. Can you explain what that middle space is?

Well, the middle space would be that I borrowed from the classical vocabulary in a way. Unintentionally, I have to say. In the structure of most of the compositions, that’s also quite unintentional. They have a bit of a pop form but they’re also on an average length of, let’s say four minutes. And to the classic meaning of the word pop, it speaks to quite a wide audience. So, in that sense, it’s kind of that middle space. You take a little bit of classical and bring it to a pop audience. Or I hope an indie pop audience. And it’s consumed as if it was pop or indie. I didn’t realize when I released my first record but that was right on time with the whole neo-classical wave. Which is getting rather big now.

Your music was kind of described to me as an escape from the chaos of the world. So, what do you think is the biggest issue facing humanity right now?

Whoa. Well, I think our extinction. That’s the biggest issue. I mean seriously, we’re being overpowered, in a historical sense, by institutions that have grown bigger than us and that we don’t seem to be able to control anymore. There’s only so many ways of dealing with that. Which is about being united and standing up towards it and overthrowing institutions, which is quite a dramatic scenario. On the other hand, technology obviously creates a better version of us. The real question is, does that better version habe a soul or not. I’m inclined to think that it could have. So, on two sides, we’re being pushed down and away from what we actually could be or need to be. I think that’s the very big picture of what the problem is.

What do you think is the most challenging thing for creatives or the greatest challenge to getting into the creative industry?  

It starts with the definition of creative. I’m not aware of the most recent version of that definition but I reckon it’s someone with an iPhone and an outlet and a filter and a bit of copy. So, basically, everyone is creative. Which,in a way, is pretty cool. Although, a lot is looking like a lot. But it’s great that the opportunity is there for so many people to discover their creative side. That’s pretty healthy. But then you want to be pursuing something that is within the creative domain, which is less healthy for society because we need all these other jobs to be done. I think, there’s a difference between art and creativity. There’s a lot of applied creativity which is a lot of fun jobs in media, design and advertising and fashion. Even opening up a pancake shop, whatever, it could be considered very creative. I think the art is where it has relevance for the times. In a way, it’s the feeling of the times reflected in a piece of work. That should resonate, with many people hopefully.

You’re career started on the Internet…through Spotify. Do you think the Internet is inherently good or bad?

Inherently good.

Why?

Because it’s an ultimate tool of democracy and it empowers the individual. Which is also the dangerous side, obviously. It makes people infinitely powerful with knowledge and communication. It’s like you plug in the thing in the back [gestures to his neck, like in The Matrix] and absorb anything you want, which is phenomenal. You can share and talk and do something with it. I mean it’s a tool of power and it could hopefully make for a global democracy one day. That would be pretty phenomenal.

Were you surprised your first album got any success on Spotify?

Yeah. [Laughs.]

How did you celebrate?

I didn’t really celebrate. It was like five months after I released it. One track got picked up by Spotify and put in a popular playlist. Then I saw a humongous increase in streams. I was like, what just happened? That’s when hope sparked and it was kind of like, wow, this can actually be something. That’s when I went from thinking it was for friends and family to, I might actually spend the rest of my life making music, which is the dream.

Our tagline is “Good Men Are Hard To Define”. If you had to define yourself with only one title, what would it be?

That’s very dangerous. It either gets pretentious or lame.

What’s the lame one?

The lame one would be…artist or composer.

How about the pretentious one?

I’m not going to tell you.

Why?

It could be human. For example. I don’t know. Gosh, that’s a tricky one.

I thought in my head you would have said, “Dad.”

Whoa! If you go to my Twitter account, that I don’t actually use, that’s the first word I put there. So, yeah I would love to borrow that from you.

Photo: Rahi Rezvani