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Meet our Alumni: Gilles van Wees

Meet Abbey Road Institute graduate Gilles van Wees, music producer, composer, engineer, multi-instrumentalist and member of the band Banji! Banji is one of the fast-rising bands in the Dutch music scene, with the potential to cross borders. They describe their music as Hyperactive Indie, with strong influences from Hip Hop and have been featured numerous times in the Dutch media and have played at Eurosonic Noorderslag, the biggest showcase festival of Europe.

But let’s not move away from the subject here; this article is about Gilles! We recently interviewed him to learn more about his musical journey, inspirations, projects, aspirations and the importance of having a proper plan. Have you ever wondered how you can become more structured as a producer? Be sure to read on!

(Cover photo by by Ben Houdijk)

Meet Gilles van wees! Let’s start at the beginning. How did you start with music?

I grew up in a very creative environment, and there was always music in the house. On my eighth birthday, my dad gave me my first guitar. My dad is a creative genius; he’s a designer and artist; I have some of his paintings in my home studio. He introduced me to the guitar and taught me the first chords. One year later, I started taking music lessons with my guitar teacher in Haarlem. That’s also where I met my friend Morris, who is now the lead singer in our current band, Banji.

We decided to do our music lessons together, since we thought it was much more fun and our focus shifted fairly quickly to writing our own songs instead of playing only covers. And then we would record them in Garageband, which made it all more interesting for us. Our music/guitar teacher was also very supportive; he stimulated us during the process of learning music and guitar combined with writing our own songs and starting a band. Having fun has always been the main focus.

Bands like Arctic Monkeys, Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers really inspired us.

Gilles van Wees in his homestudio, with a painting from his dad

Gilles van Wees in his homestudio, with a painting from his dad

They sound like ‘fun’ bands too…

Yes, coming to think of it, these bands very much represent ‘fun’ indeed. In the band, we loved to watch other bands too. Besides listening and playing, you would find me quite often watching different bands on Youtube, analysing them. That whole concept of performing, being on stage, the looks, listening to their albums, and analysing their drum sounds really intrigued me.

Getting into music production at an early age?

Yeah, it was early. At first, it was just the guitar, but then I discovered guitar pedals, different amps, and soon people were saying I had a ‘cool guitar sound’. That made me realise I created something that other people like too. It was a first attempt at creating and shaping my own sound. And after that, I made the step to recording in Garageband.

How did school influence your musical career?

Our first band, which was called The Curtains, started at primary school, a great environment. Music was important at that school; they invited us to play during parties, and we had a lot of time to rehearse, and we would often jam during breaks. It really helped us in our songwriting process.

During that time, we recorded two songs, all done by ourselves and made a video clip. We also signed up for band competitions, won some of them, and ended up becoming the support act for local bands. We were like 14 years old when this all happened; the gigs, the recordings, first studio experience were all great, and step by step, it became more serious.

What happened after high school with the band?

Together with my friend Morris, we decided to study music at the Herman Brood Academy. We auditioned with our band, The Curtains, and we got accepted. That also meant a new chapter for us; the other two band members had different aspirations, so we quit the band and focussed on our studies. And at the academy, you had to form and play with other bands. We were surrounded by great drummers, singers, bass players; you name it. It was a bit overwhelming; we were pretty young, and all these Rockstar-looking musicians played super tight. But for us, it was all great; you learn pretty fast when surrounded by people that are better players than you.

After the Herman Brood Academy, what made you decide to study at Abbey Road Institute in Amsterdam?

During my time at the academy, I was really into producing and making demos for the band, bringing it to a higher level. And listing to the work of producers like Mura Masa, I wanted to learn how he made it sound so good. I was really into that, sometimes even more than playing my instruments.

So, after I finished the academy, I decided that I wanted to do something with production but not willing to do another four years of study. I wanted something very specific, with a strong focus on becoming a music producer and recording engineer. And that’s how I came to Abbey Road Institute. So, I worked for a year to save money and then I started at the Institute in Amsterdam.

How was that for you, studying at Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam?

It was super and kind of overwhelming because of all the things you have access to. I learned a lot, and the great thing is that there was enough room to work on my music and projects and doing it my way. For me, it was the perfect combination of learning the things you should know, like how to mix and record to make it sound ‘right’, but at the same time finding your sound and play with the rules. I think that was really. And also, with the other students, I learned a lot from them too. We had a very nice group.

And the official graduation ceremony, which was at Abbey Road Studios in London, that’s sacred ground. I took my mom and sister to the event, which was super special and such a beautiful place to be.

SO how did the band, Banji, start?

That happened at the Herman Brood Academy. At first, I started a band, together with Morris and two other students called Palmsy. It was one of our rehearsal bands at school, and we played ‘super driven indie pop’, like the Wombats. We were really into it, and our teachers stimulated us because they liked it. We wrote our own songs and recorded an EP within two months. After the release, we got airplay on 3FM and invited to play at festivals; we did our first club tour, but for us, it was a school project, it was lots of fun, but we were still in the learning phase.

We even played at the Noorderslag festival in Groningen. But we had no real plan and soon we realised that we needed a plan supported by the right ambition and that we needed to set specific goals, both for ourselves and as a band. And at that time, we were all over the place, playing in 10 different bands, wanting to learn as much as we could and everything at the same time. One of the other bands we played in, Radio Eliza, also went fast, we got picked up, and people wanted more. A hectic period, to say the least, but also a great learning experience.

From those two bands, we formed Banji, four band members that decided to take it seriously and focus on one thing, with the same ambitions and musical taste. That helps a lot too. So, for two years, we wrote songs, rehearsed, developed our Banji sound and wrote a plan.

Banji on stage

Banji on stage | Photo by Bart Heemsker

Only the four of you?

A good friend of ours, Jelle, who was always with the band, helping and thinking with us, started to do some management tasks. He was always one of the band members. At a certain point, he began to work for an artist management company. And with the start and success of Banji, we really wanted Jelle to be our manager. He is super talented, also ambitious; he’s just a perfect fit.

When did you realise you were heading in the right direction?

When we finished our first song. We were all in the same room, playing all the right parts, everybody being themselves; we were on top of it! That was super powerful, this ultimate feeling for every one of us like everything fell into place. Something we never felt and heard before. Also, the four of us feels like family, and we said to each other: “Ok, we want this, but we have to work for it, with a focus and a plan. Let’s do it.”

What are you guys working on at the moment?

We released several singles, and currently, we are working on our first album. We signed a record deal, and 80 per cent is finished. So, we are about to finish the rest of the songs, write songs, produce everything and done by ourselves.

We also had a few single releases and our first video clip (see below). We decided that every new release should have a video clip. We can’t play live at the moment, and we want to stay engaged with our audience.

In the band’s description, you are mentioned as a multi-instrumentalist. So not only guitar?

That started with Radio Eliza, where I also wrote key and rhythmic parts. So instead of guitar, I was mainly playing keys. And in Banji, I also write drums or bass parts, but in general, we are all super all-around musicians. And while writing and during live shows, I want to play instruments that best fit the part of the song. And if it’s better to do certain parts on keys or on a different synthesiser, why only stick to guitar?

Who are your inspirations?

A big inspiration for us is ‘Phoenix’, a band from France. They are also musician-producers that play different instruments, and their songwriting is super strong. My personal inspirator is Mura Masa; he is more of a producer and also plays multiple instruments. For me, Mura Masa was like the biggest inspiration to get into producing. He has this super unique, original and fresh sound. There is nothing like that.

Do you still have time for solo projects or producing your own music?

Currently, I’m doing production and mixing for a friend of mine. He’s a solo artist from The Hague, working on his first EP. He is writing the songs, and I’m producing, recording, mixing, basically pushing it to the next level. I’m thrilled that I can do this, like the production and mixing, because that’s what I’ve learned the last years during my time at Abbey Road Institute.

Due to Covid, I got time on my hands. So, I also made a mixtape for myself with instrumental beats and tracks. I got inspired by producers that do everything themselves, from production to mixing and creating their own tapes. I mean, you can make super interesting music without having too much focus. It started as a fun project and something I wanted to learn from, from the whole process. It was also good to set a deadline for myself, which really pushed me to work on it and finish it. I think I will release it at a certain point.

Gilles van Wees in his studio

Gilles van Wees in his homestudio

For the london Institute, we wrote an ARTICLE ABOUT PORTFOLIO CAREERS. Hearing about all the things you do, you seem to be the perfect example. What other things do you do?

Yeah, I do see myself having a portfolio career. That’s how I do it now, and that’s how I always want to do it. Besides mixing and producing, I also started giving lessons about music, guitar and production. I’m also contacting companies to see if I can do more, offering my services as a freelance engineer, sound designer and editor—anything from engineering to making a jingle, so to speak.

I like the variety of a portfolio career; one day I’m producing or writing, the other day I’m engineering, and the next I’m meeting people to work on a new project. For me, it’s super motiving to be able to do multiple things. It gives me energy.

Nowadays, an artist or band needs to have a solid social media presence. And looking at Banji’s channels, you have great content. Do you have someone that does your social channels, or you do it yourself?

Basically, I’m doing most of the social media for the band. At a certain point, we decided to choose a couple of pages of bands and artists we liked and based on that; we determined our style.
For instance, every picture is taken with an analogue camera (Instagram feed Banji). We just like that look, and it fits the band and our music. And I also get a lot of help from Jelle, our manager. When we have a new release coming up, we develop a strategy, create the content, write the captions and schedule that. So yes, we do everything ourselves because we want to keep it very personal.

And what is the main takeaway from your time at abbey road Institute?

That’s a good question, a lot of things. Maybe it sounds a bit weird, but just to finish stuff, complete things, and know when your work is done. Sometimes I’m over creative, and it’s never finished, so having deadlines helped a lot, and then listening to it afterwards and being quite happy with the result. It made me way more structured.

And I also learned a lot of technical things. Before the Institute, I was mainly doing songwriting and creative things, and now, with the technical knowledge I learned at the Institute, I can combine it all. It’s really nice to work with people from the Herman Brood Academy, who have very little technical knowledge, and add value to the process. Including my own flavour. I’m super happy I did the programme at Abbey Road Institute.

But also, the entrepreneurial knowledge and skills and topics like social media, personal branding, developing social skills, working in teams, all these things I still use in the band from time to time. It’s really helpful. And the plan for the band was my business plan assignment at the Institute. At the time, Jasper, our drummer, was also graduating from the conservatory, so we wrote the plan together. It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad we had to do it. In the end, it was a great plan and an excellent start for the band too.

Thank you, Gilles! We’ll certainly follow you and your band’s progress.

References:

Banji (via Sena website): https://sena.nl/nl/artiesten-aan-het-woord-banji
Luister naar de vrolijke indie-pop track van Banji (via VPRO): https://3voor12.vpro.nl/update~5d60743e-2698-404b-b653-74e51ca3c262~luister-naar-de-vrolijke-indiepop-track-van-banji~.html
Official website Banji: https://www.banji.nl/
His personal website: https://gillesvanwees.com/
Gilles van Wees on our Alumni page: https://abbeyroadinstitute.nl/alumni/#gilles-van-wees

Check out the first video clip of Banji “Listen”!

Banji, Live at 3voor12