As the frontman and principal songwriter of the band Klangstof, Van Der Wardt conjures up the dark atmospherics of rural Norway in guitar rock that breaks free from traditional song structure.
He was kicking off Coachella on Friday, becoming the first Dutch act to play the leading music festival that takes place in the desert of southern California.
Now 24, Van Der Wardt recalls growing up in The Netherlands listening to electronic dance music like other Dutch preteens. In Norway, he said, he spent his first year engrossed in only one album – Radiohead's “OK Computer,” the English rockers' seminal 1997 transformation into digital experimentation.
He first picked up a guitar in Norway simply out of boredom. But he gradually came to appreciate his parents' decision to move.
“It was very inspirational to have no pressure from the outside world that you usually have when you live in a city or live in a country with a lot of people,” Van Der Wardt told AFP before a pre-Coachella rehearsal at a Los Angeles studio.
“Norway just makes you feel that you don't have to care about anything around you,” he said, “because there isn't much around other than beautiful nature.”
Mood, not words
Although the music bears the clear influence of Radiohead, Van Der Wardt's high-pitched, melody-resistant vocals and Klangstof's Nordic sensibility also bring to mind the Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros and, to a lesser extent, the earlier era of progressive rock.
Klangstof – the name, so evocative of the band's sound, is a portmanteau between the Norwegian word for “echo” and Dutch for “dust” – had its break when it uploaded “Hostage,” a bleak song about personal confinement.
The song was spotted by David Dann, founder of label Mind of a Genius, who quickly signed the band. “Hostage” became the starting point for Klangstof's debut album “Close Eyes to Exit,” released last year.
Van Der Wardt said he focused on creating an ambience on the album – reinforced by vaguely futuristic cover art — and sang only where he thought the voice built the mood.
“I got kind of fed up with sitting down and writing verses and choruses. I thought that was a bit boring,” he said.
“For me it was always about having a lot of cool sounds instead of having a catchy hook.”
Dark music, happy life
If Coachella's sunshine and scanty outfits seem a disconcerting match for Klangstof, Van Der Wardt is hardly gloomy as a person, with an easygoing smile and constant laugh.
“I always felt like I put all of the bad emotions into the music, and as soon as I'm done writing music and I'm on the road or living life, I actually feel like a pretty happy person,” he said.
“People always expect to have very depressed musicians on stage and when they come to me after the show, they're like, 'Huh? What was going on there? You were dancing, you were happy, you were screaming.'”
Van Der Wardt expressed pride at being the first Dutch act at Coachella, but said he was barely thinking about it.
“Music isn't a nationalist thing. Music is for everyone and it doesn't know any borders. In any case, I don't feel like I'm 'the hippest export product from The Netherlands' or anything,” he quipped with a laugh.
After Coachella, Klangstof will play more festival dates and open on US tours for The Flaming Lips and Miike Snow.
In a fitting sign of the band's origins, the headliner Friday at Coachella is Radiohead.
“I'm definitely going to try to see if I can get a little high-five going backstage,” Van Der Wardt said.
By Shaun Tandon