One-on-One with Théan Slabbert (Bosveld)

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by Laura Stanley

Théan Slabbert (aka Velodrones) – the ardent heart of Bosveld – doesn’t like genres. He thinks they’re arbitrary. To pin one on Bosveld’s music is a task that’s hard to do without laughter. On Bosveld’s Bandcamp page, the genre currently reads “FUTURE-FOLK” – a tongue-in-cheek label that tries to embrace the technologically supported DIY mindset of many new artists, Bosveld included. When I talk with Slabbert over the phone he laughs about that description and is quick to joke around with others like “immigrant post-sokkie,” sokkie is a popular style of music in his birthplace of South Africa, and “tribal psych-folk.” He eventually laughs some more and admits to not knowing how to label the record.

“I have no idea what the album sounds like. I can’t tell you,” he says. “To me it just sounds like a time period in my life. I don’t know anything about genres, I’ve always been confused by them. I don’t think about music that way.”

While eluding genres, Veldbrand, the debut album from Bosveld, is a journey. CBC Music described it “at once odd and enjoyable” while Quick Before It Melts called it the “rarest of treasures.” It is a computer-based folk record that employs multi-tracking and live-sampling (the album features no synths or sequencing) to add layer upon layer of sounds and emotions. The opener “Back of Yr Mind” rises and falls like the breath of a living creature, “Doors” shakes under the weight of Slabbert’s baritone, and the all-instrumental “Second Sight (for Shlomo),”  – dedicated to Shlomo P. Coodin – glistens thanks to its coating of guitar reverb. And those are just the first three songs. Taking in all sides of the record, it’s easy to understand why Veldbrand was a long time coming.

In 2012 Slabbert released the ambient record Instrumental/Electronic 01 under the name Théan as a test for himself to see if he could make something in the medium of a record. In the spring and summer of that year, Slabbert also began writing some of what would eventually become Veldbrand.

“I’m a really slow writer,” he says about his writing process. “I have a very particular process and it takes me a very long time. I’m very picky.”

The following year he began Bosveld with friend (the two met at a particularly wild St. Vincent show) and band co-founder Jeremy Mulder. They played shows for friends like Old Cabin and digitally released their first single “When The Dead Arose” (a cover of an Eamon O’Leary song), but didn’t have any physical recordings to sell at shows.

By 2014, Slabbert was very eager to show what the pair had been up to in the studio. Inspired by the hip-hop mixtapes Slabbert’s brother had shown him, Bosveld put out Catalysts Mixtape, (via HAVN records) a collection of demos and ideas Slabbert and Mulder had been working on.

“To be honest, we put it together during a night,” he explains. “I was over at Jeremy’s house compiling all these demos so they would somehow flow into one another. It was just a bunch of random ideas plugged together. I don’t have any regrets.”

These ongoing experiments and fragmented ideas ended up becoming the foundation of Veldbrand; an early layer of the album. Kickstarted by a grant, the record, originally intended to be an EP, finally took shape. With the help of numerous friends and musicians – Slabbert prefers to call Bosveld a “modular project” rather than a band because of all these different personalities at play – the songs blossomed.

It seems that this is the first project where people have ever paid attention to anything I’m doing,” Slabbert says. “Maybe I’m finding my voice a bit but I also have a lot of people helping me. Musicians I admire so much are helping me push myself, test my limits, and be more professional.”

With so many players (including guest vocalists Jenny Berkel and Olenka) and sounds at work, there’s an outward complexity to Bosveld, one that Slabbert hopes isn’t the only quality listeners take away from the album. “I’m trying to make music that might sound like there’s some complexity about it but I want people to look past that and find simplicity in it,” he says.

“I’d rather have people find simplicity in my music because I believe that, to paraphrase the South African musician-composer and one of my favourite musicians of all time (and a huge inspiration for this record) Derek Gripper, ‘simplicity is something not to be underestimated.’ I think simplicity is a thing that can drive music.”

To understand this simplicity that Slabbert describes is to understand Veldbrand. By record’s end, listeners will find serenity in the panoply of sonic layers and solace in Slabbert’s, purposely vague and therefore shapeable, lyrics. The record is not the esoteric entity you may think it is.

“I hope that there’s something people connect to. I don’t really care about anything else, I just hope someone – be it a friend of mine, be it someone I’ve never met – connects with it.”

Bosveld is hitting the road with Isaac Vallentin this fall. For tour date info check here

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