Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
My early memories of music as a child were seeing my dad and granddad singing. Granddad was a rather well-known opera singer in Germany – his voice is still out there on YouTube and Spotify I found out recently! His name is ‘Anton de Ridder’. My dad being a major music-listener, with always something playing, made music a real part of being alive I suppose, as natural as eating or breathing. I played the violin (badly mainly…) from when I was about 6, also in a youth orchestra, and I sang in a kids’ choir. I especially remember the choir being a place where I felt in my element when I didn’t find much in my life around that. I guess it gave me a sense of belonging. Music always has.
Another clear moment I recall is that when I was about 11 (and a rather chubby girl who had been bullied quite a lot about this) an American band called No Doubt had their big hit ‘Don’t Speak’. I read an interview about front-woman Gwen (as I was a huuuuuge fan) and she talked about her history and her childhood, which was much the same as mine, it turned out. And how she just stopped caring about being chubby or not or what people thought about her. I suppose she was a big inspiration in building confidence and just doing what I loved doing.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I’d say the music-teachers I had, like the choir leader when I was little and my high-school music teacher, really encouraged me to believe in myself. They showed me joy through music. My parents have always supported and encouraged me as well in a big way. Never pushed me but always asked me questions about what was important to me and facilitated me having instruments to play or having lessons or making it possible for me to practice with my band when I was 15 and then driving us to gigs and such.
Around that time too I was looking at options for studies after high-school and found some music degrees I wanted to scope out. My mum took me to the college open-days and I fell in love with a pop-music course in at a college in the south of the Netherlands. Even though it would mean me moving 2 hours away (which they weren’t all that happy about), they encourage me to audition and I got in. Then they supported me financially for the biggest part. Rather amazing parents, I’d say. All this gave me time to pursue music, the tools I needed and the confidence to keep at it.
When did you start writing songs? What were your earliest influences?
I picked up a guitar when I was about 12 as my dad gave me his old guitar which his dad had given him. I taught myself how to play by listening to tunes I liked and trying to work out the chords or by looking up ‘tab-books’. Mainly songs by Nirvana and Greenday and No Doubt. Pop/Rock bands. Around the same time I started making little songs and recording them on old school cassettes. I’ve been trying to find those tapes for years now but they seem to have disappeared! Such a shame.
I clearly remember one of the triggers for me to write were ‘angsty teenager’ things. Or just life struggles I suppose. The way most of us songwriters seem to start. I lost my great-grandmother whom I felt very close too. And life at home wasn’t all too easy with family ‘situations’. It gave me a space to express myself and be in the moment.
Writing is a good place to be for me. I find a similar joy and flow in drawing and creating artworks and such. Though it hasn’t always been that way. Maybe I can expand on this more later on here…
Lyrics and poetry play an important role in your work. Where do you get your ideas, imagery and inspiration?
I really like reading and I love reading other artist’s lyrics and the kind of poetry that one can understand more easily. I’m not one to have the patience to decipher meaning in poetry; I don’t instantly relate to or enjoy the use of difficult words. I guess my inspirations lie between the world of adult life and that of the experience of being a child, still curious and open.
Ideas come from everywhere and anywhere. Though for the biggest part my writing will have been triggered by personal experiences and the direct world around me I see, feel, hear, touch and taste. However, over time I’ve learned that things expressed in a way that’s ‘too personal’ can’t quite resonate with others. I suppose with writing-practice the feelings can shine through in such a way that songs become more of a universal thing that people can connect to. The tricky thing in trying to explain songwriting to others is that so much of it (at least for me) is intuitive. Or becomes intuitive over time. Which in my opinion can be both a strength and a downfall too, as it’s easy to stay in the ‘writing comfort zone’ this way.
Things I do to keep the ‘writing muscles’ practiced is my morning pages (at the same time religiously every day, at other times on occasion). I call this ‘free-writing’. Writing words without the mind judging or interfering or editing. I guess a kind of written meditation. I surprise myself sometimes with what comes out and fun wordplay or inspired sentences usually come from this place and not from laboured thought. The editing and grafting comes after.
I guess in my approach, lyrics come first and musical arrangement second. I feel I have work to do though on the musical side to come to my next project with some new ideas and sounds.
How would you define the genre of the music you compose and perform?
I guess it’s put in the ‘singer-songwriter’ box as many always do, seeing as I sing and write my own songs. But I feel that genre description gives so, so little definition to what the music actually is. In my music you can hear many influences shine through. Because of the acoustic sounds and lyrical focus best put with ‘Folk’ and ‘Indie Folk’, but with clear hints to pop, playground kids’ songs and lullabies, with at times a step towards ‘prog rock’ (in songs like ‘Alternate Reality and ‘These Hands’), and ‘world music’ mainly in the upcoming album. I guess in this way I have a sound of my own that is clearly recognisable, yet hard to put in a single bracket. When one thinks about music-marketing, it’s not the best approach as the easiest music to get ‘out there’ is music that sounds most like what people already know. Perhaps that’s a plus or minus point in career matters, but I mainly make whatever I fancy. Which is totally a luxurious situation for me!
Where do you see the boundary behind formal musical training and an instinctive musical intelligence?
I think formal musical training can be a hindrance to creative musical expression actually, insofar as that it takes a lot to move beyond ‘taught skills’ and back to an integrated and individually unique way of expressing oneself musically. Many don’t manage to move beyond it and stay stuck in ‘sounding like everyone else and perfect technically without any real character’. At least that’s how I see it.
At the same time it can generate a pool of skills to ‘drink from’ in crafting songs. I guess it’s all to do with where one is at in the cycle (of subconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and finally ‘subconscious competence); the final being a place where the skills aren’t being thought about and make way for ‘flow-expression’ rather than an attempt at forcing ‘good work’ to come.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Oh gosh, so many! First couple that come to mind of my late favourites are actually Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen. Both extremely crafty songwriters who’ve stood the test of time and who have a real way with words and vibe and arrangement. Otherwise some current inspirations would be Ane Brun in her earlier incarnations, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Iron & Wine, Sufjan Stevens, Patrick Watson and people like my musician friends Martha Bean (also active as ‘Nursery Rhymes 123) and The Magic Lantern (Jamie Doe) who inspire me hugely in how they approach their own music-work.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
If meant one I attended it would be the first time I saw No Doubt play live in Paradiso in Amsterdam. I must have been 13, and was with my big sister. We were right at the front with only two people between us and the stage. I remember how some people were crowdsurfing and the girl in front of me got injured by someone landing on top of her (I know, right, wild days!) which meant she got taken out of the crowd and to the medical people. This meant we were now right at the very front and I managed to give a couple of my bracelets to Gwen, the singer, which afterwards I saw her wear on TV during an interview she gave in the Netherlands. So cool! haha.
One I played: There have been many amazing ones, but the first that comes to mind now was in Italy in 2019. A place in Tuscany in the marble-mountains of Michelangelo at a small community church called Sancturario or ‘The Sanctuary’. It used to be a pagan church, now Catholic, and still visited by the people of the surrounding towns. You can really feel the years of history in the building and in the surrounding towns. When people arrive up there they ring the bells. I got to ring the bells too. And to get up to it one has to walk a steep mountain path through the forest which is just so beautiful. Having my gear sent up in an old school cable cart contraption was rather exciting and a little scary too, seeing it fly up the steep mountainside in a wooden crate attached only to a steel cable. The people were so kind and everyone brought food (this was on Easter Sunday) and shared. Playing music with views over the Tuscany-mountains was just magic. This was during an 8 month European trip I made in 2018/19 with my man in our ‘converted-truck-home’, which we lived in to record the new album, during which I busked a lot and played many wonderful and surprising places. Such an amazing experience!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
For me that means having enough time and resources to make/play what expression brings while being able to maintain a real connection with fans. Being able to perform regular concerts to people that want to listen and see more of all the amazing cultures out there and the crazy world we live in while at it.
I’d say for most of this definition I’m already there. However it’s always a battle between time and money and finding the finances to make my records and create my artworks with a small fanbase. More fans means more resources and more ability to take on bigger projects. My big dream for the next project is to create a ‘theatre worthy’ song-story-album with a show around it that I can perform with more musicians by my side in nice small-to-medium-sized theatres around the Netherlands, the UK and further afield. Now it’s nearly always just me because it’s just easier and that way at least I can make a few pennies to live off. Right now I also work as a Pilates teacher (I started this in London in 2012) with a few regular classes a week but it’s always a bit of a circus-juggling-act to make it all work.
One has to be continuously creative in finding ways to actually make stuff happen. I recently set up a Patreon page to hopefully build more of a community to be able to support these projects better and make ever more music and art. I’ve always wanted to do a ‘real-post-newsletter’ so I figured this also gives me a platform to do a quarterly mail-out to my Patrons called ‘The Happy Current’ which is kinda like a ‘happy newspaper’ and artwork poster people can read and hang on the wall if they so fancy. I’m excited to start making those too! 16 more Patrons to find before I can start printing runs 🙂
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I think the most important thing is the commitment to doing it and to keep tuning in to the joy and passion of playing. To keep realising that to be able to do it is the gift and success in itself. To not stare blindly at the ‘goals’ while feeling or becoming unhappy because of them. And to stay grounded in the heart and true emotions of expression that create a real human connection. Music is magic and only ever experienced in the moment – which makes it a thing one can never grasp and only ever experience. It literally moves the air and with that all the cells in our body. And it’s only there when played, not like a painting that’s a tangible thing. Through our own individual filters of the senses there is something for everyone. Don’t try to make/play something that is for everyone out there. You’ll only get lost there in that vastness. Make/play something that is honest and real and in your own way.
Let go of perfect, just focus on it being real. I think for me that’s the strongest mantra I create by.
GITTA DE RIDDER grew up in the Dutch Newlands of Flevoland, 5 meters below the sea in a town so new even the trees were only young and little. Spending much of her adult life in the UK she found a home in the British indie-folk scene and the English language she writes and sings in. Like many with a different mother-tongue; however, in her wonderings about our human tendency to identify with our culture and heritage she put on her clogs and wandered across Europe for 8 moths during which she recorded her upcoming 8-track album ‘To Our Children’ in 8 different countries.