When we directly translate the name Feng Suave, we’re left with a meaning which graciously personifies the sound and emotional aesthetic of the band – “wind smooth”. Daniel De Jong and Daniel Elvis Shoemaker unify the soul of yesteryears, and sedative synthesizers with a vintage appeal to create a garden-fresh form of indie/bedroom pop. Talking about bedroom pop, if you’re an admirer and avid listener of the genre then Feng Suave’s single, “Sink Into the Floor” (from their self-titled EP back in 2017) must’ve crossed your ears.
Something that’s interesting to note is the subtle and often palpable themes of death explored by the duo within their songwriting. With their first release this was somewhat subtle although with Feng Suaves latest EP Warping Youth, we’re exposed to darker subjects that are lavishly decorated with bright synths, a soothing bed of catchy guitar arrangements and of course… The embellishment of rosy vocal melodies, something that Feng Suave seems to effortlessly execute. It’s this contrast that makes the soundscape of the duo all the more ravishing particularly for a solitary listening experience as their lyrics are so relatable, to the point where it feels like you’re intimately getting to know both Daniels, but through a speaker. Thematically, the songs are about coming of age and the directionless wandering through adolescence that comes with it. In this interview with Daniel De Jong, we explore their drift away from their 'bedroom sound', major life events that influenced Warping Youth, death and so much more.
There is a clear Soul influence in the style of Feng Suave - particularly when it comes to vocal delivery. Is this influence coming from the music you heard during childhood or more so a fascination with the 70s Soul era in general?
It did start in my childhood actually. My dad used to listen, and still does, to a lot of heavy metal music. Actually it's the only thing he ever listens to, and he loves music, so I would hear that a lot. It bothered me. My mom is not that into music, but she has always had a soft spot for black singers with warm and rich voices. Since I hated metal music myself, I was naturally drawn to the little bits of Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers or Gladys Knight that were played. They became one of the first people I ever really loved in music as artists and when I started developing more of my own taste people like Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Mahalia Jackson and Marvin Gaye entered the mix and they have all been some of my favorite singers ever since.
So I would say my conscious mind in music started with these voices and I've basically been trying to sound as good as they do. I will never try to be the same since they are all very different themselves, but they have had a huge influence on the way I like to use my voice.
The 2017 track "Sink Into the Floor" introduced you guys to wider audiences and put you onto the radar of various platforms. What do you guys think it was about "Sink Into The Floor" that became such a hit?
Not sure. I think it's a hook-driven song that doesn't ask too much from the listener without being too bland or sounding incredibly poppy. Guess that's the reason. It's funny how the very first song we ever released is still the most popular, but we of course hope to top that with future releases that represent us in our current form.
How do you feel about being associated with the genre of Bedroom Pop? Do you actively make attempts to drift away from being slotted into a genre?
We think it's fine, but we never set out to be a bedroom pop group. We were just two guys making pop in a bedroom without having ever really listened to any bedroom pop. We were thinking of some fancy shit when mixing the first EP, but it came out sounding kind of crappy, which I guess sounded intentional. So that’s how that came to be. We’re not trying to move away from the bedroom pop genre per se, but we do want to sound classic, fancier and more natural, which I would say aren’t keywords to describe bedroom pop. So we’ll just drift wherever people think we fit, and we are not really hung up on the idea of fitting within a specific genre or style.
It's been three years between the Feng Suave EP and your latest EP, Warping Youth. What are some major life events during the creation of Warping Youth that have notably influence the project?
We both fell in love again, I experienced a lot of personal problems and felt nearly every emotion humanly possible. Kind of waiting for it to get more stable, which is probably a long wait, but that's ok. There are good days and bad days and the good days are the days which you get work done. It's a myth that past famous artists would work and create most when they feel at their most depressed, the same goes for us. We need some good days, and that’s part of the reasons the EP took a little longer. Also because we were learning new stuff, we didn’t know about before, like using more than 4 chords, and having an overall theme on a body of work.
The tracks towards the end of Warping Youth are somewhat more dramatic and longer, and I'm curious as to how the overall order of the tracklisting connects to the overarching theme?
The theme is pretty loosely connected but mostly not really chronological. We just like the way the record ends. At first listen it doesn't seem to be a logical ending to a somewhat breezy sounding record. It's a pretty sad closer with the most abstract lyrics. In some way that felt like the right move because it feels like we can go anywhere from thereon. We very much like that because we're still learning and trying out new things so who knows what we want to make in half a year.
When it comes to the songwriting on here, the lyrics are *presented* in a manner that is rosy and sweet by virtue of the endearing vocals and instrumentation. But the lyrics themselves I noticed have a dark undertone and the opening track 'Half-Moon Bag' is a shining example. How was your approach to songwriting different coming into the creation process of Warping Youth?
Yes. We like creating contrast because the songs are mostly Sweet and a little ‘Disney' as we like to call it. The contrast makes for an interesting effect because life usually acts that way too. The saddest and hardest moments tend to harness some beauty and at times happy people can seem dumb and uninformed. Our approach to songwriting was different in the sense that we used to make like 8 bar loops in logic, and then grab a mic and sing over it, until it felt good. For this record, we left that part out and made acoustic demos of everything first. Also, some of our friends from our live band (Ivar Otten, Adura Sulaiman and Kike Zwagerman (shoutout well deserved)) have helped us pulling some of the songs over the finish line, which we are very thankful for.
Please elaborate on the theme of death that is continuously either brought up subtly or evidently in the project?
Never realized this, but yeah, now that I think of it, it is being mentioned quite subtly quite a lot. We like it when things are round, closed, and done. At the end of the story the protagonist dies, feels very closed, full circle. Might be where that is coming from. It might also be the growing sense of the end of the earth as we know that haunts our generation or something else dramatic we’re unaware of.
Which track did you find yourselves really struggling to finish and why?
"I'm Warping Here". Most songs are a struggle to pull over the line, but we played this one at our very first gig three years ago, and to be honest, we're not even sure it's finished really. It has lived as so many different ideas and variations, that it was hard to find a final structure that felt right. Sometimes you just have too many ideas and you just have to keep it simple. That's what we tried to do with this one.
How are you trying to make people feel, or what kind of space are you wanting to put people in after they've experienced Warping Youth?
I personally make this music for the 16 year old me. I used to secretly smoke hash joints in the shed when my parents would be asleep at night. I would wear headphones and just sit there in the dark with an iPod classic full of music. Every night I would find this one thing to totally obsess over, be it a drum track, lyrics, synth sounds, whole songs, or a whole new artist. Those moments still mean a lot to me, cause I used to be this sad little kid, and they would make me forget and just feel on top of the world. It would feel like the music was composed for me alone. It was always the best time and I romanticize it endlessly. I make these songs thinking of someone who is doing just that. I know Dan feels this way too. We like it when music feels like it speaks to you on a personal level, so much so, that it almost feels like there’s no one else ever listening to it and it’s yours alone.
Pros and cons of being independent artists?
Hard to compare, never really been anything else than independent. But I guess we’d have some more money if we were signed (not lying, would help). Being independent is nice though. No one is telling us what to create and we have full control over basically anything concerning our career, which is exactly what we want. Signing a record deal probably has the advantage that more people get to hear your music, but we have our ways and they have been working pretty well thus far. So it’s pretty good being independent.
During these times of uncertainty and chaos, what are you doing right now to cultivate a sense of clarity and calm?
We just keep living like we always do. We see even less people and write a lot of songs on our own. This is what our lives look like when we are not on tour anyways. In a way we're some pretty clear and calm dudes over here. We are now again able to drink a cup of coffee at our favorite place, which is one thing we have been missing. Life seems wholesome once again now.
Okay so, 1) An artist/band you’d love to have a D.M.C (deep meaningful conversion) with 2) An artist you think would be rad to party with 3) An artist you would love to spend a week within the studio. You’re welcome to select from artists who are dead/retired.
1. Nina Simone
2. David Bowie
3. Brian Wilson