Groningen’s Michelle Hindriks and her band CIEL deserve more attention. One of many acts trying to secure a footing in the soi-disant, fleeting world of mainstream alternative pop, and straddling the creative baggage of two country’s scenes whilst not really being in either, CIEL’s music has a nagging, moreish, sometimes quietly glorious quality to it. Not content with a new career in a new town (Brighton) she now has to contend with a music industry that is under permafrost. Operating between worlds, Hindriks is a thoughtful soul whose (over)analyses on virtually anything she talks about bleed into her music. High time to chew the cud, then.
CIEL releases a new single, ‘Pretty Face’, produced by Jack Wolter from Penelope Isles and mixed by Austin Tufts from Canadian band BRAIDS. Another piece is coming up in May of this year, produced by Steven Ansell from Blood Red Shoes.
LTW: You make dreamy pop music that has a lot of echoes (certainly for an old git like me) of a particular strain of British pop music from the 1980s: Felt, a million 4AD things, also the 80s Liverpool alternative pop stuff such as Pale Fountains, The Heart Throbs, Wild Swans…
MH: Yeah I love a lot of these 80’s and also early 90’s bands. Mazzy Star, The Breeders, Blonde Redhead, Kate Bush, or the music in Twin Peaks. I actually started listening to a lot of these artists because people around me would compare my music with it, so then they became inspirations later on. My own musical journey started with Nirvana when I was about twelve. I went through a Britpop phase as a teenager and eventually started listening to other sorts of stuff like Massive Attack’s Heligoland. Halcyon Digest by Deerhunter, Warpaint’s very first EP and Still Corners’ Creatures of an Hour were also records that inspired me massively as a teenager. I really loved the imperfections and the pureness in these albums. So I guess I started to listen to more modern versions of what people call “dream pop” to start with, and only after discovering all of that, I found out about the roots of the genre.
LTW: What do you mean by imperfection and pureness?
MH: I mean a certain pureness that is in the music. Maybe it is recorded slightly sloppily or there are little mistakes in the guitar parts and the vocals aren’t too perfectly tuned. It gives the music this human touch and makes it feel real to me. But of course it shouldn’t have imperfections that are too extreme and are not really pleasant to listen to. I think it is a very thin line when something is nicely imperfect and when it is too imperfect, and I wouldn’t be able to put into words where this line is, it’s more like a feeling I get when listening to certain music. I think how we experience this is very personal and depends on the time and place, too.
LTW: CIEL’s sound is very romantic. Lots of minor chords playing elegantly off each other and washes or chorus and delay pedals…
MH: I definitely love chorus and delay! Our producer Iggy B luckily shared that with us, he’s got a studio full of all great vintage reverbs, delays and choruses, so that definitely gave a lot of character to songs like “All My Life”. At one point we recorded different loops of pure feedback of his juno synth through a delay pedal and selected the best parts which are now softly layered in the bridge of the song. We mixed our last EP, ‘Movement’ with Iggy B. We came into contact with him via Jack from Penelope Isles. Iggy’s worked with artists including PINS, Ghost Poet, The Duke Spirit and Spiritualized, and we share a common ground for the kind of productions and sounds that we like.
LTW: What does chorus and delay bring to your sound do you think? What does it release?
MH: Chorus gives me a certain nostalgic and melancholic feeling. I think it also adds to this “imperfect” vibe that I love so much. When you double the instrument in a slightly different timing it literally makes the instrument sound the slightest bit out of tune. Delay brings this extra texture that makes the sound of the music more interesting to me. I could compare it to a painting: you can colour all the parts in the exact same colour which looks quite flat, or you can mix in different colours in a subtle way and colour all the parts in with different techniques that give depth and adds different textures to the whole. To me, that is more interesting and satisfying to look at.
LTW: I think the first time I saw you was in OCCII, Amsterdam, quite a while ago. Yet I thought that you weren’t really part of that underground circuit. What was it like starting up in NL for you?
MH: That seems ages ago to me, I think it was my second show ever as a frontwoman. I had always been playing in bands as a guitarist and synth player and had just decided to give my solo work a go. I remember being quite nervous. I have always been a huge fan of the underground circuit in The Netherlands and went to tons of basement gigs, yet I think I somehow never found the right place for this project in The Netherlands. I lived in Leeuwarden at the time, a small town which I still feel really connected to, though the scene there is quite small and I struggled to find the right people around me to collaborate with creatively. Weirdly it’s only now I’ve moved away there seems to be more interest for this project in The Netherlands.
LTW: But you saw most of these things people are now raving about in NL?
MH: Yes. I grew in a place called Groningen, in the north of The Netherlands and the venue VERA played a huge role in my teenage years – it formed my musical taste. They have the main venue where loads of exciting international bands have played and they have the “Kelderbar”, which is a bar in the basement with a little stage which can host about 100 visitors. I saw many gigs in this venue – some of the bigger ones being Health and Beach House. It was the thing that got me excited during my high school years!. I would go to a lot of gigs of Dutch bands too, mostly at festivals like Le Guess Who, the travelling “locals festival”, Popronde and the showcases by LEPEL, Subroutine Records and Subbacultcha!, during Eurosonic. The show of Wooden Constructions in VERA during the Popronde always stuck with me; it had a certain rawness to it. I was also a big fan of a small label called Samling, with acts like Eklin and Bonne Aparte. I saw The Sweet Release of Death and Slow Worries play at (Subroutine’s) The Sound Of The Dutch Underground during Eurosonic, and those gigs impressed me a lot! And more recently I think the Dutch underground scene is still very interesting with acts like Yuko Yuko and The Homesick, who both come from the North too.
LTW: Do you want to tell us about the bands you were in before? Or is that a no go area? MH: Before I started focusing on CIEL I played guitar and synth in Dutch dream pop band Sväva. We formed in the North of The Netherlands and played together for about 5 years, including festivals like Noorderslag, Here Comes The Summer, Dockville and Le Guess Who. I had a great time playing with them, they felt like a family to me. I think one of the last shows we did was in WORM, supporting VÖK – which I remember as a very exciting show.
LTW: Your lyrics do sound like you’re waging a continual conversation with someone else… Who are these dialogues meant to address? Who’s getting it in the neck?
MH: I think it is mostly an internal dialogue with myself. A lot of my lyrics are quite introspective. Some of the songs are about closure of certain periods of my life, written at the point when I’m moving on to new things. You know, relationships, the places I left and friendships that changed. I think I sort of address the lyrics to the songs’ subjects almost in the way of explaining myself, but without actually expecting it to reach them. So in the end it is also more like an internal thing I guess. ‘All My Life’ is about being an introverted person and my journey of finding my space in the world with this personality. Sometimes I felt that people expect you to be more outspoken and outgoing. And in the past I sometimes wished to be less of an introvert, but nowadays I really value it and see the strengths of it.
LTW: And lots of lyrics about looking at things from an edge of somewhere, out of windows, on the shore, looking around whilst waiting for someone, your lyrics paint you in a permanent state of suspense…
MH: I am definitely “an overthinker”, which I guess brings you more easily in a state of suspense, although at the same time in day-to-day life I am quite a proactive and positive person and I don’t like to sit still at all. Especially in The Netherlands I went through some challenging times. And it comes naturally to me to write songs about things that I struggle with – sometimes it almost feels like some sort of therapy. I think being in a state of “not exactly knowing what is coming next” is quite a difficult feeling for most people, as it is in our nature as human beings to want to have certainty. Yet, I believe these uncertain times are necessary in life too. These are the times that give you the opportunity to re-evaluate certain stuff in your life and change something about it, even if you’re not yet sure how. I think these in-between periods are a quite important part of this process.
LTW: Yet you got active and moved to somewhere else, to Brighton, am I right?
MH: I lived in Brighton before – in 2010 – and I thought it was a good time to visit the city again for a month. From the second I arrived the second time, I was 100% sure that I wanted to move back and eventually I only went back to The Netherlands for a couple of weeks to move out of my apartment there. It was a moment in which everything seemed to fall into place in the same time.
LTW: How do you see the differences of working creatively in a different country? The UK can be tough. Is that why you went?
MH: Moving from The Netherlands to the UK to do music here is probably not the most logical choice financially! [Laughs.] Back home in NL it was definitely easier to earn money from music and I got paid more than I do here. Moving to Brighton has been more like a strong gut-feeling, a dream, that I had been ignoring for years. I moved to Brighton for the first time when I was 18 years old and I always wanted to return to this town. Creatively I now have the feeling I found my place here in the UK. I have an amazing band around me, my bandmates Jorge and Tim work very closely together with me on these songs. There are so many like-minded people and amazingly talented bands in Brighton.. Penelope Isles, Hanya, Demonstrations, Lime and Holiday Ghosts to name a few. It is really easy to collaborate with people that like the same sort of stuff and it’s exciting to be a part of that scene.