“Simple music for complex emotions”. This is how Joep Beving describes his own minimalist and often romantic compositions.
What began with a humble goal to self-produce an album of piano music for posterity’s sake tumbled rapidly into a trilogy of highly acclaimed albums – released by prestigious German label Deutsche Grammophon. In the five short years since his debut album, Solipsism, Beving has traveled far from his homebase of Amsterdam to bring his intimate, immersive music to audiences worldwide.
ZoneOut’s Paul Dougherty spoke to Joep Beving to learn more about his journey from skateboarding, tape-collecting, and playing drums in a grunge band to become one of the world’s most-streamed pianists.
What drew you to the piano as a child?
It was the instrument that was in the house that attracted me the most. Plus it was the only functioning one – a guitar, or a violin, or a clarinet – the rest were all broken. So, piano.
I had a classical piano teacher, and I didn’t really like it that much. After a year and a half or so, the jazz teacher walked into my class and said, “Maybe you want to try taking a lesson with me”. I think in the first lesson he introduced me to the pentatonic scale, and I was like, “All right, this is much more interesting.”
So I switched to jazz, and I started to enjoy playing. Then grunge started to become bigger, so I switched to drums.
So you almost traded in the piano to play drums in a grunge band?
I was a skateboarder. We would order online or go to the big cities and go to skate shops and buy magazines, usually from the States. The magazines would feature all these punk bands like Bad Religion and Pennywise. There were also loads of little indie bands. We would order tapes from the magazine.
Then Nirvana was announced in one of those magazines. And for some reason we instantly went to the record shop in the nearest big city to buy that record. I have no idea why. Nobody knew them, back then, where I’m from. We started listening to Nirvana and we were all completely hooked.
A young Joep Beving today would be growing up not with tapes and magazines, but streaming and social media. How has living through the transition from analogue to digital media influenced you as a person?
I think there’s a natural nostalgia present in everyone’s life, subconsciously wanting to stay young. Your formative years have the deepest imprint on your recollection or memory. But I do think I’m a seventies kid. I was born in the seventies, and there’s something about the era that attracts me very much. It’s the analog, it’s the organic. The whole aesthetic from that time really appeals to me.
Can you tell us how your long standing artistic collaboration with the visual artist and photographer Rahi Rezvani came about?
In 2014 I was writing the music for Solipsism, my first release. Initially that was just intended to make something that I could give to my kids and say, “I made this record once.” It wasn’t really intended to be an official release until Rahi stepped in.
I was looking for artwork for the vinyl, and I remembered being photographed by Rahi a couple of years earlier. That was a commissioned photo from when I was working in advertising. I had won this award, and all the award winners had their portraits taken by commissioned photographers. Rahi was appointed to me. I’m not sure what it was, but in his picture was what I wanted to say with my music.
I approached him and he didn’t respond, he was kind of a big photographer at the time. Then one day I sent him the demos of Solipsism. The next day he was on the phone, and he said, “OK, you can use that picture, but let’s make something special.”
He kind of got what I was doing before I got it myself. He was the one that said, “You’re not going to release this for your friends and family, this needs to go out and we’re going to do it properly”. So besides doing the art he’s been a bit of a mentor as well, even though he’s younger than I am.
THE PROMISED LAND
Speaking of music and visuals coming together, you recently worked on providing music for a Japanese film, The Promised Land. How did that come about?
It was like a dream come true. I had this idea when I was 18 – I’m a very tall man, so I thought, let’s do a fun project, let’s go to Japan and I’ll pretend to be some sort of weird solitary guru. And then see how quickly I can make it onto Japanese television. Of course, I didn’t have the guts to do it back then.
Years later, I get a call from a Japanese director, because he likes my music and he wants me to score his film. So that was an opportunity to be very much actively involved with the Japanese culture, which I love.
But I couldn’t do it because we were working on Henosis at the time, with lots still to do to finish that album. So then he came back and said, “Well, can I maybe then use your catalog, and then you can maybe write little bumper thingys for in the middle of the film. And most importantly, an end theme.”
I said, “Well, of course. That’s very doable, and it’s an honor.” Then we got to the premiere in Tokyo, which was my Japanese television moment. Cameras everywhere and people waving.
A HOLISTIC WORLDVIEW
When you talk about your music, you often talk about the bigger connection between people, and a holistic view of humanity.
I’ve had a holistic way of thinking for a long time. That has always been my ethos, that came as a response to feeling very alienated from the people around me.
I was a bit heavy minded at the time. There is this weird disconnect between what you feel and what you know on the inside is right, and what you see happening on the outside in reality, and not being able to get to grips with that.
That started me thinking about, what do I believe? What do we hold onto? What are universal principles that can keep us grounded, and can keep us connected and sane as a species? Since there are a lot of forces that are trying to drive us apart, and we’re very willing to let that happen on so many levels.
But on a really deep level, we are desperately seeking things that show us that we’re all feeling the same thing, experiencing the same thing. To kind of find a voice to that feeling, that has been my main inspiration.
Follow Joep Beving at joepbeving.com