September 11, 2015 Interview – Richard Wouters of Civil Twilight
The Alternative Rock scene has been booming in recent years with a mix of talented artists all bringing something new and different to the stage. One of those acts to stand out are South African natives, Civil Twilight. Coming together back in 2005, the young band made the bold decision to leave their home, Cape Town, and set off to relocate to North America to further purse their musical dreams. Debuting with their self-titled album in 2010, the band attained exposure with songs such as “Human” and “Letters From the Sky”featured in a variety of television series and films such as House MD, Vampire Diaries, One Tree Hill, and more. Following up with the highly charted Holy Weather in 2012, Civil Twilight began to turn many heads, and now in 2015 return with their much anticipated third album, Story of an Immigrant. Making their way and building a strong fan-base in the process, Civil Twilight are perhaps one of the hottest Alternative Rock bands on the scene just about to boil over into super stardom. Recently we sat down with Drummer Richard Wouters for a look into the development of the band, their heritage, the process behind their new record, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Civil Twilight was initially formed a decade ago, and in recent years, the band has really seen some strong commercial success after the release of the sophomore album, Holy Weather, in 2012. What has it been like to see the progression of the band?
Richard Wouters – It feels like a long journey because we started when we were so young and have moved across continents. So much has happened in that time, but it is always exciting to see things continue to steadily grow. Then things will happen where you have a bit of a break here or there or get a break that is very significant, but over time, it is a lot of little things coming together. I guess you get to a certain point where you build enough momentum where there is force and it is moving, things are kind of coming together, and growing. It feels good, it is kind of our dream as kids. It is cool to able to look back at where we came from, this little town in South Africa, and see where we are now. We are really fortunate to do what we do and have the success that we have had.
CrypticRock.com – As you said, it has been a steady progression through the years, and obviously the band did benefit strongly from having your music featured on a variety of television series. As mentioned, Holy Weather really made an impact in 2012, attaining high chart rankings across the board. In hindsight, now that that record has been out for three years, what do you think made Holy Weather so successful?
Richard Wouters – I do not know exactly one particular thing. We always just try and make music that we like at the time, and Holy Weather was actually quite a different record than our first record. I think that, at first, our fans were a little bit unsure about how to receive it, but it was definitely still our signature sound. It was kind of a different approach and a little more experimental, but it has those elements that make us who we are. We gravitate towards certain things. We just make music that we are passionate about and hopefully that comes across, and that is all you can really do. Hopefully that is enough, in terms of people responding to the music. Of course good songs are always a big part of that. I think there were some on that record that were good songs. You just do what you do and you hope to connect with the audience. It is kind of a strange business to be in actually.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and the sincerity certainly does come across in the music. You are back three years later with the newest record, Story of an Immigrant. This record also sees the band’s sound progress and mixing a variety of styles. What was the writing and recording process like this new record?
Richard Wouters – This one has quite a few influences, and we took a lot of time to write this one. Holy Weather was written fairly quickly, and the third record, we actually took about a year off to write, we had probably fifty songs demoed, then we went in with a producer to cut it down to twelve or thirteen, and then eleven of what is on the record. It was a long process honing in on what we wanted the record to sound like and what we thought the best songs were. We tried to focus more on the songwriting on this one. We tried to focus on what we thought were our strengths and play to those. We wanted the rhythm to really drive the songs and focus on breaking it down to a little more essential ingredients such as rhythm and melody.
Then with those things in mind, you go into the studio with your producer and see where it goes, you never really know how it is going turn out. It is an interesting adventure and there are definitely twists and turns we did not expect, but we are happy. That is inevitable in the recording process and those are often the most fun actually. Things that turn out differently than you anticipated or expected, when you wrote the song, often being things that make it special in the end. The songs that I end up enjoying the most are the ones that take the most unexpected turns.
There was all of that happening and there is a lot more influences from South Africa in this record. That was not actually intentional, that sort of just happened and we found ourselves kind of embracing that a little more. On the first two records, I think we intentionally maybe avoided some of those influences, for some reason (laughs). For this one, we felt, we are who we are and own it.
CrypticRock.com – As stated, the record is extremely diverse in styles, and there is a lot of great songs on this record. One of the things that is most notable is the really big percussion sounds. The drum sound is really epic from track to track on this record. Was recording the drums on this a new challenge for you as a drummer?
Richard Wouters – Yes, actually, we recorded them in a very different environment than the last record. We did the record in Atlanta with Ben H. Allen. He has a studio there with a really big live room. So we tracked the drums in a really large space.We sort of wanted to make a record that was unashamed and kind of bold. That was definitely in our mind when we were recording the drums. Ben has a big focus on rhythm. He definitely pushed me to play really energetically. He pushed all of us to play together. We tracked a lot of the stuff live, to try and get that live energy, and then we would over dub vocals and a few other things around the main ingredients. It was definitely more of a push to get that big sound and energy coming through. That is mostly because we felt that is something that we do pretty well and we wanted to do that on this record, which is a little different to Holy Weather where we horribly tended towards more subtitles on that record.
CrypticRock.com – It worked well,and the drums definitely stick out on this record, kind of reminiscent of a classic record from the ’80s. That big drum sound sort of seemed to go away for a while, but it is coming back now. A lot has changed through the years in the music world. If you look at the decades and look at the ’90s, we saw the complete negation of any use of electronic and synth in Rock, it seemed like no bands were using synthesizers. Interestingly, recently a lot of bands, such as yourselves, are finding a New Wave influence and incorporating it into the band. What do you think has ignited this hybrid of influences in modern Rock?
Richard Wouters – I tend to think that music just goes in cycles and people react to what was going on before that. The ’90s sort of reacted to all of the synthesizers and electronic stuff that was happening in the ’80s. Then coming out of the the 90’s and the early 2000 as well, there was a lot of the return to the organic sound. Then I think a new generation of musicians discovered all the Synth stuff probably for the first time because they were not born yet in the ’80s, so they kind of embraced it, and it started to come back around again. I guess we will see what happens next. That is my general theory on it. Whether I am right or wrong, I stand to be corrected (laughs).
CrypticRock.com – It is a good theory and it makes complete sense. Different generations see things differently.
Richard Wouters – Yes, and also, I guess the computers have been completely incorporated into the whole writing and recording process. Instruments and programming more than ever, I am sure that also has a lot to do with it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and quite honestly, it is wonderful to see the two things incorporated into Rock again because it is different and it gives music more texture sometimes. The band was originated in South Africa, but you now reside in North America. Was it a difficult decision to leave home, and how has your time been in the USA?
Richard Wouters – It was difficult to leave home for sure, but it was also a big adventure that we were setting out to fulfill our dreams, so it was definitely exciting at the same time. I think that sort of excitement and the adventure definitely fueled us and kept us going for a long time. Now we are a decade into being here and we are definitely more settled now. We are set up in Nashville, which is where we always wanted to live, and it feels more like home. I would not say it totally feels like home. I still feel a little bit divided between South Africa and America, but we definitely have made a life here in the US now. It has taken some time and I do not think we will ever fully feel like Americans just because of where we come from and where we grew up. We definitely appreciate America and we are grateful that we get to live her. It is an amazing country with so much to offer, especially by way of opportunity which is the whole reason we moved in the first place. Just the opportunity here to be musician is so much greater than where we came from.
CrypticRock.com – Of course, and it is always difficult to leave home, but it is great that you feel comfortable here now in the USA. The band is currently on tour across the USA in support of the new record. How does it feel to be back on the road and for the first time ever headlining gigs?
Richard Wouters – Yes, it feels great. It is exciting for us to have the new record out and we are really excited for the new album. We look forward to more and more people discovering it. We are on the road doing a headlining tour in September and October. Playing live has always been a big part of what we do. It is where we started, playing together in the garage back in Cape Town, and the interaction with each other and the audience on stage. That feeling, it is live and anything can happen. It is great to be able to see our own audience as well and to do the headlining run. We are just grateful for the fans we have. We think we have really great fans and we appreciate the support.
CrypticRock.com – Yes the tour is going well. The fan base is growing and new people are discovering the music which is all very positive.
Richard Wouters – Yes, absolutely true. It is really exciting to see more and more people continue to discover the music and share.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and that will certainly continue to happen and progress. My last question for you is pertaining to films. CrypticRock.com covers all types of music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, do you have any favorites?
Richard Wouters – I am actually not a fan of Horror films, I am afraid. I am not the person to talk to. As you probably know, we have had a lot of music in film and TV, but I am not sure about Horror movies actually.
CrypticRock.com – The Vampire Dairies would be a Horror related series since there are Vampires involved, right?
Richard Wouters – That is right, yes, we have had a number of songs in that show.
CrypticRock.com – Horror movies are not for everyone. Do you have a particular genre of film that you enjoy?
Richard Wouters – I enjoy films that have something to say, that make you think a little bit. I always like a good character and a good story. We recently watched The Hurt Locker (2008) and The Dark Knight (2008), both of those were good.