Though born in Holland, Ad Vanderveen has Canadian parentage. It shows through in his musical influences—one can trace touches of Neil Young or Jackson Browne in the strum of Vanderveen’s guitar, or in his earnest croon. He’s got a rich career to show for his chops, too, having been working at it as a solo artist since the early 90s. He’s shared the stage with a swath of noteworthy performers, to boot, from Eliza Gilkyson, to the late, great David Olney, and Van Morrison.
Vanderveen’s latest, Release, sees the Dutch singer-songwriter navigating pristine, organic production, finding beauty in sparse acoustic settings. As his musical stylings have changed, so has he—with his goals, his outlook, and who he is as a person. For Folk’s Sake is privileged to have him join us as the latest in our ongoing ‘FFS 5’ series.
Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?
I’m from the Amsterdam area in The Netherlands and was drawn into music in the 60s. As for so many, the sounds and impact of rock’n’roll were life-changing to me. British bands at first, later crossing over to American music, discovering singer-songwriter stuff, and then digging back into the roots where I feel my music belongs. I’ve often wondered about geography and musical roots, the music that comes out of me has more of a connection to the Canadian side of my family. Also a lot of my favorites are from there.
I’ve been playing in many bands before finding my own voice as a singer-songwriter in the early 90s. Songs are what’s always driven me. Writing and playing the guitar are a necessity and seem to go on throughout my life. It made me have to become a singer too, although reluctant at first. I wouldn’t play a center stage role if the songs weren’t commanding it.
As an artist, how do you define success?
That has been a changing process…success in any case is a very fleeting and relative thing that you can’t really measure. Unless you want to judge by just numbers – but even then, I’ve witnessed people feel like losers because they sold ‘only’ 7 million cd copies.
I have an old friend I hadn’t seen for 40 years who was in the record business, stoking the star making machinery, in Joni Mitchell’s words. He asked me: how has it been, a life in music? I answered: well, not a success story exactly but…what do you mean, he interrupted, you did it, you still do it, that’s what I call success! That really stuck with me.
A lot of what people call success is actually a heavy burden. I’ve had a peek into Van Morrison’s life once when he had invited me to open a show for him. I can’t say I envied him, it felt like his own machinery just weighed him down, having so much to live up to and to control. Compared to that I travel light, no one to answer to, free to do just what I want. Of course that can be a lonely path too, there’s always a tradeoff.
What do you find your greatest struggle to be when it comes to the music business?
Business? I don’t see it as a business, I just concentrate on the music side of things. I know there’s people hovering around it that can make it go places but it’s such a fickle world that I can’t keep my attention in it. The hardest thing is when you have expectations of people actually living up to their words and promises, that can be very disappointing and this scene is a good therapy to let go of that. And I mean that as a good thing actually, from a human point of view. It’s a good lesson to learn to create, work and give, without expectations or calculation of getting something in return. That’s where you find the true motive and purity.
What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist and as a band? What do you hope to achieve?
That ties in with the success question a bit – I hope to be able to continue doing what I do and sharing it with people, regardless of their numbers. As long as I can make a modest living , I’m happy.
Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?
Meditation, walking, reading, sauna, keeping myself and my instruments in good condition.
Words by: Jonathan Frahm