Stories from the Rotterdam Poppodium: Half Way Station

One can say many things about Rotterdam, but not that it lacks artistic potential. This series aims to introduce you to Dutch musicians in Rotterdam who are definitely worth listening to.

Half Way Station is one of those rare acts that triggers what some researchers coined in a case study as "nostalgia without memory."

I have never set foot in any small dusty town in the southern states of the US in good old western times of folk and blues, yet hearing Half Way Station makes me long for and miss that specific landscape. Perhaps their music is in itself a raw, gritty landscape, with enough psychedelic tones to dream on.

Named after an American Greyhound Bus Line in Jackson, Tennessee, the name "Half Way Station" is about the suspension between the beginning and the end, or the focus on the journey itself. The band’s latest material and what they consider their debut album is entitled "Moonshine," after the homebrewed strong liquor from the southern states.

The band formed in Rotterdam in 2009, when singer / songwriters Elma Plaisier and Rikke Korswagen got together as a duo. Rikke began to seriously consider making music after coming across the recordings of Alan Lomax, field collector of folk music in the 20th century.

Over a period of 60 years, Lomax collected song, music, and dance from places ranging from the Bahamas to Russia, Haiti to Wales. Other influences of Half Way station include Nils Frahm and Grizzly Bear.

The sound of Half Way Station has since added progressive drumming by Benjaming Schaipp and piano by Mink Steekelenburg. The members of the band also go beyond the classic instruments, playing, and switching between each other acoustic instruments such as banjo, washtub-bass, guitars and blues harps, as well as electronic instruments.

Elma has noticed how the sound of the band has changed, or "grown" with the coming of new members and instruments, coming together in what she calls a "soundscape."

Elma says their music speaks of "struggles of life, longings, about going on and moving on in life." Writing songs often starts with a melody practiced on the guitar, but other times something that is happening in her life and cannot be otherwise explained boils in and turns into a song, Elma adds. "Alina," from "Moonshine," for example, speaks about a real person, an Italian dancer the band knows.

half way station band

Rikke Korswagen envisions the performances of the band as a sort of movie. They always try to build a consistent style and atmosphere on stage, creating something of a story, therefore a plot, and a conclusion.

"There is no band sound, every song is a scene," Rikke adds, further pointing out that this way of playing ultimately comes from playing with feeling. "Many bands just play their songs, 53 minutes and 21 seconds, as they are hired to do, that is the safe way to go." Half Way Station takes a gamble when they go on stage, and that is where Rikke says they get their kick from.

When asked what they would like to achieve with their music, Elma refers to the name they chose for the band and admits to not thinking about the end, but about being part of the music scene as long as possible. Rikke would also like for the band to go on tour.

In the end though, they agree that Rotterdam is not a bad place to come back to. The music scene here is open and diverse, and artists are serious about their own work.

Getting out of the local music scene is a bit of a challenge, but as Rikke says, they worked very hard and they also have the advantage of being able to play on all sorts of stages, without complex technical installations.

For Elma, a day when the band comes together for a song and sees everything running smoothly towards a great piece would classify as the perfect day. In Rikke’s words though, "the perfect day is the imperfect day," as time should always be enjoyed.

More about Half Way Station
 Official website

Catalina Barzescu


Catalina Barzescu

Catalina is a media and journalism graduate from the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and an avid writer and reader. Instead of returning to her Transylvanian roots when the studying was done...

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