‘There has to be a certain amount of chaos, or it just doesn’t work’, Sam De Nef summarizes his modus operandi. Sam is a young songwriter, a singer and a musician, but he’s a sketch artist at heart.Just like the paintings of lonesome figures in eerie settings he brushes up occasionally, Sam composes his songs by carefully picking a color and mood. Spontaneous movements are woven into clearly defined shapes and melodies. Impressionist lyrics provide the finishing touch, and the cast of guest musicians featured on Dawn/Duskis invited according to the shade or contrast they can add to the final picture.Over the course of one year, Sam wrote, composed, and recorded the skeleton of this debut album in a period of transition, movingfrom his parental home on the idyllic outskirts of Antwerp to an apartment closer to the urban centre. And yet, despite being in domestic flux, all ten songs on Dawn/Duskbask in the sameintimate, hospitable glow.
Songs from a room, as one great poet (and a De Nef favorite) once named one of his albums. ‘I felt greatly inspired by a visit to my girlfriend’s family in Serbia’, says Sam. ‘The way they sing and play music together, at home, round the table or by a fire -very intimate, very inviting -really shaped my ideas about music’.His experience in Serbia also resulted in the song Olja, a gentle waltz embellished with euphonium -courtesy of James De Graef (Shht, aka Loverman) who also contributed keys on the album -named after and dedicated to his girlfriend Jovana’s late grandmother, the warm hearted mater familias, ‘armed with the pride / of a girl who never cried’.Last year, when Sam released his debut EP, Lonely Day, Crowded Year, he wore the apparent influences of the song writing greats (Young, Cohen, Dylan...) high up his sleeve, in a minimal, mostly acoustic setting.
This time, thanks in big part to the contributions of and creative chemistry with band mate, multi-instrumentalist, and co-producer Pieter-Jan De Craene, his musical palette has more on offer. In keeping with the painter’s metaphor, there’s more depth, shade, and hue to his imagined still-lifes, portraits, and sceneries.It’s in De Craene’s lapsteel and in confidant Nicolas Rombouts’ (Dez Mona) walking bass during Lonely Dinner, a fine example of delicate but compelling americana (‘flanderiana’?) about bowling alleys, hotel bars, and shared casseroles. It’s in the sweeping touches of violin by Justine Bourgeus (aka Tsar B) in Come Overand the epic closer Apollo, a song about the beauty and tragic romance of youth, written by Sam together with his brother Brent.The younger De Nef also contributed to the single Passerby’s Ghost, an intriguing duet with Chicago based singer Tenci, for which he translated his experiences with lucid dreaming and out of body experiences.
‘He’s the only one who can write lyrics that feel like my own’, says Sam of his co-writing sibling. Also contributing to the close-knit, familiar approach of the album’s recording process is Jovana, singing backing vocals on Bells, and friend of the house Camille Camille.‘PJ and I recorded fifteen different versions for almost every song’, Sam explains. `We worked in different studio’s, both professional and low-key home settings. Always looking for that perfect spot where happy accidents and spontaneity could collide with very controlled, thought through concepts. That magic spark, like I call it’. And so Dawn/Duskbecame the perfect sketch, loose yet meticulously crafted. Boundless, yet beautifully framed.