There is something very endearing about Sietske: her quiet complexity, her nervous strength and her amazing voice. “I was always a shy person, not so tall and the first response was – you’re such a small girl and such a big sound came out of you. I thought, great, I can be bigger when I sing,” she tells me as I interview her on Skype.
I am in Germany and she is in Holland. We’re talking in English – which she speaks with lyrical, slightly accented fluency, punctuated with graphic expressive sounds and surprising turns of phrase. Bare shouldered, she apologises for a pneumatic drill that somebody is using just outside her living room, in Amsterdam. Birds are singing outside my office window in north Germany.
I ask her, “What made you become a singer and why?”
“I was about 10 years old. I played the piano first and in the lesson I always wanted to sing with it and at some point my piano teacher sent me to a vocal singer. It just felt very natural to sing. It made me happy.”
Inspired by Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Esperanza Spalding, BeccaStevens, amongst many others, Sietske listened to both sentimental singer songwriters as well as more complex poly-rhythmic musicians – and then developed her own original style. She studied Jazz at the Conservatory in Amsterdam, and at the Boyer College of Music and Dance, Philadelphia. It was in Philadelphia that she wrote Homeland, one of four songs on this CD for which she wrote both lyrics and music. “It was the first time I was not at home for longer than a few weeks. It made a big impression on me, living somewhere else and knowing nobody. The song is about trying to define what is home for you…I met people who I connected with and got this new perspective.. this can be your home experience wherever you are.”
The song All I need has a similar theme. “People are moving around. There is a lot of chit chat, but nobody is actually connected, so you feel lost in a very busy place. It’s a song with different sections, one is very spacious, not grounded. Then there is a section which is a bit aggressive, punchy, which is where you have a certain rejection of all this nonsense, this non-connectedness. I’m trying to express these basic feelings, the intensity.”
“How do you feel about conveying this intensity to your audience?” I ask her. “It feels quite… vulnerable” she replies. “I hope they’re OK with me sharing this, that they can relate to it. It does feel like an internal thing that you’re sharing. You hope that it’s making something vibrate on the other side.”
Jan Jasper Tamboer wrote in the magazin Jazzenzo, that Sietske “…possesses adisarming freshness and expresses herself with complete sincerity. She’s got all the technique and knows how to use it in a very musical subtle way. Her core-value is communication from the heart; with gentle power she seduces the audience…”
The songs are both seductive and revealing. Thousand Shades of Green explores feelings of euphoria and body strength whilst running through nature, whilst Gloomy Streets is about “the sensation of experiencing eyes that undress you”. The Sailor is one of seven songs on the CD with lyrics by Sietske and music by the pianist Dirk Balthaus, who accompanies her alongside Marco Zenini on double bass, EfraimSchulz-Wackerbarth on drums and Eran Har Even on guitar.
The Sailor, elegantly composed and complex, is Sietske’s favourite. Set in a railway station, its theme is of a daydream in which you have chosen a different path at a crucial moment in your past. Sietske calls her music “cinematic folk Jazz”. She searches for an explanation. “Because it comes from the lyric… that would be folk-ish. The cinematic part… I see it as depiction of a scene, the atmosphere of a certain situation”. Sietske’s voice and the instrumental accompaniment are beautifully balanced. I ask her how the dynamic interplay comes about. She is disarmingly honest about the process: “We have a variety of characters in the group, it makes the music happen. Dirk is an introvert, but he always wants to play (…) adding some spicy notes as soon as it becomes quiet. So you can always expect him to do something to make it bubble. Eran, he plays the guitar. He’s a very strong character, he’s a modest person but he has a lot of passion, he likes to bring intensity to everything. He’s always encouraging the drums to give more. That’s Efraim. He’s super reliable, can really keep time like nobody else, he’s very calculated, but also comes up with surprising additional sounds to the groove. Marco (bass) is a lyrical player, not just steady, he also likes to make lines, and play beautiful embellishments, so altogether – it needs to be tamed a little bit. It forces me to speak up and in the end we find a way to bundle our voices homogeneously as a vehicle for the lyric. ”
As we are talking Eran pokes his head round the door. Sietske and Eran are a couple. “What’s it like living together, with someone that plays in the band?” I ask. „It’s great! Music is very much an everyday thing for us, so we talk about it all the time and we also both work in other projects, but to be able to share the process of making music, which is very personal and intimate in a way, with my favourite person is the best. Of course the personal aspect of it is also something to be aware of when working with the band, but it works. Sietske hopes that her music is thought about – not just heard and forgotten – and she senses a change for the future: “There’s a lot of melancholy in this music. Maybe I’m moving a bit out of the melancholy. I guess It reflects the life situation. You pour in it what’s there.”