By Nicholas Jason Lopez
On May 21, 2020, Belgium-based post-rock/post-metal trio Tarmak released their four-track debut album ‘Plow.’
Formed in 2015, Tarmak is guitarist Sander, drummer Simon and bassist “Trekpaard” Geert.
The Music Bugle recently had the chance to chat with the guys about the new music and more.
Music Bugle – What inspired your band name?
Simon – We were mainly looking for the kind of word that has a strong sound to it. In our local West-Flemish dialect, it means ‘asphalt,’ just like the song ‘Toton’ is coming from the West-Flemish “tot ton,” meaning “See you next time!” Sander and I were both born in West-Flanders and we like the feeling of putting our roots in it in some way. I feel as well that West-Flemish is a unique kind of accent, throwing different influences in the mix and that creates really strong-sounding words that can have a pretty abstract ring to it. I think it’s awesome that you can separate the meaning of the word from the word itself, causing it to become something standing on it own.
Sander – We have a small fetish for strange words that somehow sound mentally satisfying to all of us. I think “Tarmak” does that for us, but on top of that, I feel the sound of the word captures the sound of our band and the music we want to make. In a way, we’ve named our band – and are titling our songs – in the same way some parents choose a name for their baby; waiting until it’s born, looking at the child and intuitively coming up with a suitable name that matches its character, but besides our word-fetish-motivation, there’s another reason I like ‘Tarmak’ as the band name. For me, an important motivation for making our music is wanting to construct an escape route. An escape route for ourselves personally, but also for the people listening to our music. To me, ‘Tarmak’ is a kind of vehicle that allows me to fly or drive away from reality for a while and all the problems/worries that I’ve got going on at that time in my life and it is exactly that therapeutic aspect that I also want to offer our audience. In aviation, ‘Tarmak’ means the surface for parking aircrafts, allowing passengers to board and disembark, load and unload cargo, collect fuel and so on. I like to think that’s a nice metaphor for what our band is.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Belgium to someone who has never been there before?
Simon – I think that Belgian people tend to be a little bit more reserved and generally a bit more cautious with getting new contacts and although we might be a little bit more hard to figure out from the start, I feel that once we’re past that stage, we tend to open up more. Once you reached that stage, we’ll do a lot to maintain that and we get a lot of value of that. The other thing I notice is that we tend to be a bit shy about what we accomplish, not really wanting to boot and draw a lot of attention, but I think for a small country, we’re doing alright in gaining our place on the map. Another thing is that Belgian people seem to like to complain and especially about the weather, but maybe that’s just a universal thing.
Sander – Simon and I grew up in the same town, in the West part of the country. Generally, people from our side of the country are kind of traditional, hard workers and don’t talk about emotions at the dinner table. To give you an idea, when asking how someone’s doing, the reply will often be, “Work, work, work” or “Busy, busy, busy.” Introducing spiritual concepts like mindfulness would – in general – not go down very well. Belgians from other regions often laugh at us for being or behaving like farmers, but we do love eating potatoes and the term that’s – rightfully – used a lot by the outsiders is that we’re “potato pickers” – patattenplukkers, so if you’re coming from abroad and you’re traveling to develop a wider world view and expand/open up your mind and so on, it might not be the best place to visit. When I was 18, I moved to Ghent, a city on the Eastern side of West-Flanders, to study and I decided to keep living there after my studies were done. I’m 28 now. I gotta say the mindset and culture is totally different here. It’s a very beautiful, progressive and – most importantly – a fun city. There’s a strong alternative scene present. A lot of students, artists and musicians live here and there’s definitely more support for diversity – in all possible meanings of the word. The tourists are always lured to Bruges and Brussels, which is nice, because as a result, Ghent is not as chaotic and touristy.
Geert – I am from The Netherlands, so of course, I grew up with all the stereotypical jokes about our southern neighbors: Belgians are a bit slow, a bit stupid and they don’t take care of their roads. Of course, that’s not true – well, except the one about the roads perhaps, but when I moved here, I did notice some differences. The main one is that Belgian people are a bit more quiet and reserved than us loud Dutch people. That took some getting used to, but spend some time with them and they will open up. I don’t know much about other places in Belgium, but Ghent is a great city full of life. Culture and music are everywhere and the people are open-minded and friendly.
Music Bugle – Could you describe the creative process of putting together your debut album ‘Plow’?
Simon – Sometimes, we tend to overthink some parts and keep trying to find the perfect solution for something that doesn’t feel quite right yet, but In the end, it’s worth it, because you always want to play something that you feel happy about and that you feel proud to play. If you feel that certain part is not right and you have to play it over and over again, you feel those tiny twitches in your body telling you that it’s not what should be played there, so on my part, it’s certainly all on instinct and feeling. Sander always comes with the idea and having more or less everything laid out, being it structure and things like that, but once we play it all together, we start to change things, make certain parts bigger, remove some extra melodies that are not maybe not necessary, change the structure. When we’re stuck about certain things, we tend to just jam it out for at least half an hour straight, just on that one riff. Only to explore the different possibilities.
Sander – The vast majority we make is created in this way: I come up with the first riffs and ideas at home and after a while, it starts to become clear how to cluster some of those ideas to create a song around them. I do some further digging and tweaking and after a while, I start to feel that I’ve reached a result I’m quite happy with. That’s when I bring it into the rehearsal room and present it to the guys, piece-by-piece. For me, that’s always very exciting, but also tense, because that’s when I’m sharing my baby with the guys. Anything can happen after that. Sometimes, it all works out straight away. The baby is largely accepted as it is and it organically evolves into a song we’re all proud of, without having to do a lot of changes, but sometimes, the baby gets thrown off a mountain Spartacus style because it’s seen as a creep of nature with many disabilities! We then spend months and months picking it apart, removing stuff, adding stuff, re-ordering stuff. It can take very long sometimes, but we don’t stop until we’re all convinced we got the full potential out of the idea without ‘spilling’ any notes.
Music Bugle – How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the band?
Sander – In a way, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise for us because it started at a time where we needed to prepare our EP release. It gave us the time we needed to do the work that’s needed to launch us as a band. In the years building up to this, we were very focused on the creative aspect: making songs and practicing them at rehearsal. It’s only when we recorded these songs about a year ago that we really started thinking about all the marketing stuff that should happen. In the last couple of months, I’ve been taking care of getting us on all the streaming platforms and all communication and PR-related stuff. Sending requests to all the platforms I like myself – such as this one – and many other platforms too. Simon is a graphic designer in real life, so he committed to all the creative aspects straight away: creating the artwork, t-shirts, stickers, making sure all of our touch-points and visualizations look awesome and coherent. Geert is doing a lot of administrative / “back-office” work, such as setting up all of our online pages, so all in all, I think the pandemic stimulated us to do some hard, but necessary teamwork in order to get our band on the map, in a way that fits the current state of the music industry. The downside is that we have a lot of musical catching-up to do now. We haven’t played our songs in months and when we’ll get back into the rehearsal room soon, we’ll have a lot of rust-removing to do, so to speak. On the other hand, we’ve been playing/rehearsing some songs for over three years, so there will still be a lot of traces left in our muscle memories.
Simon – Like Sander said, despite the pandemic being a horrible situation, it gave us the change to set things straight that we otherwise never found the time for. On my part, that was mainly thinking about a visual concept and creating the artwork around it. Of course, it’s a shame we were not able to play in the meantime, but in some way, I think with us and a lot of other bands, there was suddenly this time for creating new things, so personally, I expect a lot of great new stuff is going to come out in the next years because of that.
Music Bugle – What is the biggest challenge of being in a band, generally speaking?
Sander – I’m not sure. All three of us are truly passionate about our music, we’re good friends and joke around a lot. Perhaps most importantly: In my humble opinion, none of us really have ego issues, so there’s never been any unpleasant kind of friction up until this point. Sometimes, we disagree about about approaches and decisions, but we’re always able to reach a consensus we all feel good about, without there being any unnecessary drama. All of that is very valuable to me and it allows me to keep being highly motivated/enthusiastic to keep working with and for this band. Now that the most “popular” challenges of being in a band are out of the way, I guess there’s one challenge I should mention and that is time. We all have day jobs, stable relationships and at least one other band we play in. No matter how you slice it and no matter how much we love spending time on those, the combination quickly takes up a high amount of attention and energy. The small amount of spare time that I have left, I have to invest in our music in order for it to grow. I’m pretty sure it’s like that for the other guys too. An irrational wish that I have is that we’ll ever reach a point where we have time to do daily and not weekly four hour-rehearsals. I know it’s highly unrealistic, but I would love to see how much faster we would be able to do what we want to do.
Geert – Like Sander said, ego is usually a big problem in bands. Oftentimes, people try to get along for the sake of it, until that bubble bursts and the whole thing falls apart. I’ve certainly experienced those problems in past bands, but luckily, Tarmak is free of that. None of us are on an ego trip here, we simply want to create music.
Simon – I completely agree with the ego part. I discovered that is always the silent or arrogant killer that is destroying the band from the inside, so I always feel cautious for that. That’s why I feel really excited about playing with Tarmak, because I don’t feel this is an issue. We give each other the space and respect to create and to give our own signature on it, but never wanting to overrule each other. I think time is always the hardest challenge. All of our busy people, having different things going on in our life, so for that, I feel thankful that Sander always comes up with those ideas that motivates us and help us move forward.
Music Bugle – What is your favorite set of lyrics from the group?
Sander – Well, we’re largely an instrumental band. There’s only one song with lyrics, “Krater,” so by elimination, we’ll have to go with lyrics from that song! Personally, I really love singing this part: “We’re both prisoner and warden/Invisible eyes of power.” It’s a song about how people control each other by surveillance and how we all push each other – and get pushed ourselves – into a pre-designed mould.
Geert – Well that’s gotta be the lyrics for “Krater,” because it’s the only song with lyrics!
Simon – Well, for sure, the lyrics of “Krater,” being the only song with vocals, but normally when we play “Petanque” live, I kind of give a shout at the beginning of it to get some energy flowing, so I consider that my tiny moment to shine lyric-wise.
Music Bugle – Of course this depends on how the COVID-19 pandemic plays out, but did you have any set plans for the rest of the year?
Sander – Well, we’ve been very impressed by how positive the reactions to our debut EP is. We’re kind of aching now to arrange gigs and play all of our shit live for people. It’s such a special experience to be able to do that and playing it live has some kind of chemistry you just are not able to capture on any recording. We’re going to start offering our live “services” to organizers soon. I would like to do start doing it now already, but in Belgium, the government hasn’t made an official decision yet on when live gigs will be allowed again. That means there’s still a lot of uncertainty associated to planning events like that. The wisest decision seems to wait planning gigs until that uncertainty is gone. At this point, organizers themselves don’t know when and how it will be possible, so we don’t want to bother them with those kind of questions yet. In the meanwhile, we are starting to plan in rehearsals again – because that’s allowed again by the government, so on the short term, we’re looking forward to band practice, playing our songs for ourselves and continue our writing for the next record!
Geert – Playing as many gigs as possible once we are allowed again! Also, in the meantime, we will continue writing songs, hopefully for a full-length release in the near-future.
Simon – For me, our goal was always clear, which is just playing as much shows as possible and getting to know new locations, new people, new influences. It’s really hard to predict if it’s going to be possible this year, but I feel people are getting creative because of the current situation, so I really hope we will be able to.
Music Bugle – What’s something you feel people should know about the band?
Sander – We’re three nerds with an awful sense of humor.
Geert – Everything we say may or may not be true. That includes this statement!
Simon – We might have some weird twitches going on from time-to-time, but mostly, it’s not stroke-related.
Music Bugle – Does social media make it easier or harder to stand out these days as a band?
Sander – It makes it more challenging, that’s for sure. There’s so many bands and they’re all trying to grab some of your attention, but I believe it can allow us to stand out, as long as we keep doing our best to connect regularly and in a meaningful way with our followers. We think a lot about what and how often we communicate. We want to stay in touch, but don’t want to do it by posting bullshit or simple memes or anything like that. Also, I think a crucial point is the image and visualizations that we put up on our social media. That’s another reason why I’m very glad Simon is in the band, he did a fantastic job in that area and we’ve already received many compliments about our artwork and particularly, the “manonanostrich” on our cover.
Geert – Being able to communicate with the fans directly is certainly a good thing, but it does require a lot of extra time. You have to keep posting constantly, otherwise, the algorithms that rule our online lives won’t show your posts to the fans and that is a bit tiresome sometimes, but luckily, when you have a new album out, you have enough to talk about.
Simon – Personally, I’m not incredibly fond of social media, but I do believe that it gives bands and business a change to promote themselves without having to invest a lot of money. The time that it consumes is another story, because if you want to create useful content, it’s really time and energy-consuming, so all in all, I think it makes it easier for bands nowadays to create a profile in music for themselves if you have a feeling on how to do it. I think having to do that before social media, you really had to prove yourself through shows. It’s still the most important thing to create real value and credibility, but now, I think a lot of promotors, venues and stuff like that make a judgement of your fanbase just by looking at your Facebook page, so that might be the downside to it. Even if you play awesome music and you’re great musicians, if you don’t have that amount of likes, I think it’s harder to get into places.
Music Bugle – What frustrates you the most about today’s music industry?
Sander – I don’t really hold any grudges towards the music industry. My biggest frustration is more with the tiny attention spans of people consuming the music and social media these days. We constantly have to take into account that most people will only give you about a second of their time. The music we and a lot of other artists make needs more time to be digested, but also gives you a lot more reward in return, but the way we’re evolving now is wrong in my eyes. The time we invest gets smaller and the rewards we receive too, so we’re constantly repeating those minuscule cycles and all too often, it approaches a point where it becomes utterly meaningless, or people misunderstand and form incorrect opinions about matters because too little time was invested. We all know someone who feels called to share a large opinion on a newspaper article of which they only read the header when they scrolled past it on their Facebook news feed. That shit can drive me crazy!
Geert – The music industry has changed a lot over the last 20 years, but the one thing that has remained the same is that who you know and how much money you have are often still more important than the quality of the music you create, so you see a lot of decidedly mediocre music getting pushed on to the public, while actually meaningful music stays hidden. At the same time, it’s become easier than ever for someone to release music online and generally, people don’t take the time to digest new music. You got a minute to convince somebody to keep listening or they’re off to the next song, so all together, it is extremely challenging to find an audience for your music, especially when your music requires a bit more effort from the listener.
Simon – I feel in some way that, now more than ever, the quality of music has become something that is secondary in comparison to the popularity or commercial feeling. I notice that now popular music seems to be created with certain formulas so that people will buy it as much as possible in a short amount of time and then just be forgotten again, so the timeless feeling of funk/grunge/rock… classics that you have in your head without even realizing it, seems to disappear a little nowadays because the quality of music and originality doesn’t seem to be the most important thing anymore.