Track By Tracks: Tarmak - Plow (2020)


Sander, guitar player (and very occasional singer) wrote this:

1. Krater:

When we were preparing for the recordings, this was the song that I was least convinced of. I liked it a lot at the time, but it never felt as great as the other songs we were going to record. The song was originally meant to be instrumental, like all of our other songs. But just before we went into the studio to record this, the extra vocal melodies popped up in my head, out of nowhere. I presented them to Simon (drums) & Geert (bass) and we were all convinced they offered the song a valuable extra dimension. So we recorded this ‘extra’, along with some other creative additions (such as extra acoustic guitar riffs at the start as well as at the end of the song). When we were done recording, we felt the multiple extra layers gave the song the enrichment it needed. It matured a lot and it’s one of our favourites now. Storytelling reaches the very core of our music. Each song represents a journey, with its ups and downs, going through a whole range of emotions, and we feel we were really able to capture this storytelling aspect with this song. Many different vibes take you to many different places!

The lyrics are kind of observational / philosophical. I’ll put them right below here and discuss them in the following paragraphs (spoiler alert!)

Come back
And I’ll show you everything
You and I
We’re in essence just the same

We carry out
What’s been handed from above
Surveillance
Is keeping us in place

(We’re) both prisoner and warden
Invisible eyes of power
We’re so fascinated By the offender
Those who never play by the rules show us 
We can get out too

Reinforce
These underlying schemes
We’d do anything To be just a stone trapped in a wall

It’s pointless
To try and find where it’s coming from
It’s all around
Yet never here nor there

I wrote the lyrics starting from my perception that our society is, in a way, just as barbaric as it was a few hundred years ago. Everyone is a conscious or unconscious participant in carefully woven power/control structures. A weird phenomenon happening these days is that we all get so excited about watching crime TV shows. People get aroused by this because these shows give a glimpse of what it could be like if you would be able to detach yourself from these fixed structures of control. It’s that flood of sudden kind of misplaced excitement that inspired me to investigate where it comes from.

You could say we’re all contributing to the elimination of free will because we observe each other, more than ever (via social media too). Besides observing, we’re also constantly judging. The judgments we make are based on the moral framework that is put / pushed forward by our society. So somehow, we’re imposing the same behavioural laws on each other, and everyone actively pushes but also gets pushed themselves into a pre-designed mould. It’s a system that’s more subtle yet more effective than the physical punishments that were invented in the Middle Ages, but the goal remains the same: pushing everyone into that mould.

Usually, I’m not super excited about having deep philosophical debates but when it comes to writing lyrics I try to ‘unlock’ that side of myself. We barely have any lyrics so for the small amount we have, at least some meaning should be in there, I think!

2. Petanque:

This is the very first song we ever wrote as Tarmak, way before Geert joined the band. I think it must have been 2015 when we finished it. Compared to our other songs, this is probably the one that was created most impulsively. For other songs we tend to (over)think a lot and do a lot of re- structuring/replacing in order to -after months and months of tweaking- come to a result we all feel delighted with. But not for this one. Out of all of our songs, I think it’s the most versatile one. There’s a lot of sudden turns & twists throughout, a lot of tempo changes, ups & downs, and a climax near the end.

We’re very glad to have received a nice number of positive reviews about our EP in general, but we especially like how journalist Bret Rumbeck described the song in his review here: http://www.bretrumbeck.com/blog/tarmakplow

“Just when I thought I figured out what the rest of “Plow” had in store, “Petanque” kicked into my headphones. The opening bars sounded like a 90s riff from Helmet but shifted quickly back to a completely different environment just before the one-minute mark. Geert leads the song with a bassline that sounds like it jellied helium and an underground funk track. Sander steps back and lets Geert and drummer Simon lead the song, which is a prominent sound throughout the EP."

A fun fact to conclude: The melodic instrument that kicks in at 0:25 is 'just' a guitar but played with volume swells so that the attack of the first note is not audible, which makes it sound kind of 'synth-y'. Some people have said they thought it was a synth or melodica but that isn't the case.

3. Krampus:

All 3 of us are big fans of cult horror & sci-fi (B) movies. It’s a subject we often talk about and to be honest: We have watched a lot of very weird shit together, over the years. So maybe this unconsciously influences us when we’re writing! Krampus is our own ‘horror / sci-fi’ song and its very intention is to summon the right kind of wrong atmosphere. We wanted to play with those sinister vibes that are present throughout some of our own favourite movies (eg: The Thing, Alien, Videodrome, The Fly, In the Mouth of Madness, …)

When we read the review that skullnews.de wrote (here: http://skullnews.de/2020/05/25/album-review-zu-plow-von-tarmak/), we felt like they really picked up on this and hit the nail on the head with their description. About this song in particular, they wrote:

“Tarmak reminds us off huge waves that washes up driftwood and between the seaweed and the old wood there is a mysterious creature lurking... let your fantasy drift while listening to the album ‘Plow’! But before we vanish completely in dopey dreamworlds in the style of 60’s B-movies, the chain- sawing guitars rock us out again, just to lead us astray again later with their lovely melodies. The folky Krampus, a terrible figure from the southern German pre-Alpine customs, is similarly creepy: as companion to St. Nicholas, he punishes the bad children and spreads fear. We wonder how Tarmak came up with the idea of ​​making a musical memorial to this fiend! For us "Krampus" is the coolest song on the album! Unpredictable and yet a round thing, it never gets boring for a moment, which is why it is without a doubt our favourite song.”

We thought that was so cool to read, because that’s the type of story we wanted to tell with “Krampus”. It’s about a creepy creature that represents the sinister personae that we carry with us and try to supress in our daily lives. The alter-ego, the dark passenger, the shadow side, whatever you call it.

4. Toton:

Just like parents would say about their children, I’m proud of every song we have. But there is one which I’m extra proud of and that’s this one. (I guess this last sentence really makes the metaphor work). I’ll try to explain why: Coming up with the first foundations for a song for me always starts with whether the riffs can ‘tickle’ my ears or not. The best riffs for me are the ones that tickle my intellectual ear, but also the instinctive one. The ones that have some technical uniqueness in it but are also very much feel-able in your gut. I’m particularly proud of this song because I feel like we mastered that with the riffs at the end section. I think that over the years, Simon and I have set up some kind of organic counterbalance system between us when it comes to this. I sometimes get lost in the intellectual side of writing music. Then I bring a very busy song idea along to the rehearsal, with constantly differing riffs and multiple layers. Simon then uses his instinctive ear to help transform this overconcentrated complex fusion of ideas into a real breathing song.

“Toton” means “see you later” in our local (West-Flemish) dialect. For me it’s a story about being forced to part ways with someone close to you while there are still lots of unresolved issues. At first you can feel a lot of sadness and grief, but after a while it’s possible that anger and tension begin to rise as the unresolved issues are making their way to the conscious surface. For me, that’s what the heavy end section (the last +/- 2 mins) of the song represents. Letting go of your anger in order to be able to fully accept and embrace the departure you’re confronted with.

Choosing our titles mainly happens intuitively. When we’re (almost) done with the music, we try to purely listen to the song and come up with a word that sounds interesting but also matches the story that we pick up on in the song.

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