From UncleDJs WorldWideWhiskers and TheBeardChannel, I present to you a Bearded Gent of talent, heart and conscience. I have been interviewing the famous, the talented, the ordinary and everything else in-between for over three decades. Each interview is an opportunity I give to allow someone whose story must be told the opportunity to speak, and what often follows after the meeting has concluded is a special time to discover a person I have found most enjoyable to get to know.
Today’s interview was conducted by email to Michel de Jong of the Netherlands. Ours was a happening of discovery when I found out this bearded fellow had several impacts to share as a social worker, a musician and a man who is much more than profession or talent.
Michel agreed to interview by email, wishing to craft his responses to my ‘8 Questions’ format of interviewing. It was my original intent to get to know him better as a musician who created sounds and imagery of almost mystical presence in his project, Arafúra, his participation in what appeared to be an alter-ego musical expression in the driven presentations with the group IZAH and his passion for helping others where he resides through social services for the local government. As a Beard Advocate, I was also curious about his own experiences with others being in his ‘male prime’ of age and wearing very impressive, fully developed whiskers.
Original intent often finds surprises with phases of discovery, and de Jong could not have excited me more with each response.
Here for you now is our written conversation, with additional photos and a superb music sampling which Michel has agreed to share with all of you.
Tell us, what was life like growing up where you live? How did it shape your desire for following after social work as a career and music as your passion?
I’ve had a very long social healthcare journey, living in various foster homes, institutes and even having lived on the streets for a while, as a homeless person. Growing up, maturing, has been quite the struggle for me and it took about twenty years to close that chapter of my life; spawning from a period of me being two years old to twenty-two. This long path has without a doubt given me a lot of experience in the social healthcare field, especially when it comes to youth care.
For me, it felt natural to work in the field having been so experienced and I felt I could contribute a lot with the experience I attained during those twenty years – and I did! For me, being a musician came into play a bit later, after I turned twenty, my father passed away. With him having been a musician (keyboards) for years, it sparked an interest that almost felt like a primal force I couldn’t shake. It’s a shame I can’t share this with him anymore. At times I wonder if he would’ve been proud of me. But moving on; In that period I felt a lot of built up melancholy that I wanted to give a certain space. That primal urge ignited the first heartbeats of Arafúra; which at the time was a project solely created as an outlet for my depression, but turned into so much more; accepting the cyclicality of life. Birth and death are the most unmovable forces of life and I think Arafúra reflects this cyclicality while feeling that all hope isn’t necessarily lost, quite the opposite, actually. It makes the journey all the more meaningful due to its inevitable end and I feel that feeling is conveyed quite strongly. Arafúra dealt with my longing for intimacy, closeness and warmth and ’til this day still does.
I joined IZAH two years after Arafúra was birthed. IZAH was a different outlet that helped me deal with a lot of suppressed anger and confusion. However, IZAH has never just been about anger and confusion though; it was interwoven with feelings of loss, depression, rejection, hopelessness and angst. Throughout the years I’ve felt that being part of a six piece collective was something that kept my head up at times. It has kept me focussed and driven. The thread that runs through both Arafúra and IZAH have always been melancholy for me and it’s a state I reside in a lot; these projects are my way of having those feelings manifested.
On your point of caring for others, what do you notice today in social work that is helping most the people you have in your care? What do you notice not working that you believe can be done differently?
Being heard. Being seen as a unique individual. These are things that make a client feel appreciated and noticed. Throughout the years I’ve seen various approaches; distant ones and close ones. The closer the healthcare worker was involved with me, the more I could open up and the more I could be assisted. This sounds like such a natural flow, but not everyone possesses that certain skill set and understands that letting go of that manual now and then is the best way of approaching unique situations, which we as people all are. It’s about sidestepping the rules and assessing what works best for each individual. It’s about opening up, as a healthcare worker, showing yourself so you in return can let your client feel safe and confident enough to let you see them. When you open up, let yourself be fragile for a moment, walls break down all around you and the client can pick up on this and will most likely embrace your honesty and warmth.
You have a broad range of background and styles musically which I’ve noticed has helped shaped at least two musical projects. With Arafúra there are strong yet pleasant themes and delicate melodies. What difficulty did you find in developing the style you artfully execute with Arafúra?
From a practical standpoint, Arafúra isn’t a guitar/bass/drums project and relies a lot on atmosphere, drones, melodies and colors. Rarely is anything set in stone in terms of rhythm, it therefore takes a while to truly grasp it. A lot experimentation is done with this project. It takes a long time to create the sound of Arafúra and a lot of elements are part of its creation. Through means of recycling sounds, recording found sounds and sampling, soundscapes are created and from a time perspective, this just takes a lot. Besides, a lot of Arafúra’s material is bound to visual art, colors and emotional states. This often sets the mood and sparks the theme for the album and its tracks.
My viewpoint for Arafúra has always been for it to be more than ‘just a band’ and in ways I approach it from a sound design-perspective, having sounds, themes and textures interwoven into this grand scheme that will hold different elements with multiple sessions of listening. Small, delicate and fragile pieces forming a warm and embracing blanket.
My biggest achievement with Arafúra ’til this day, for me, is the release of the ‘HUMORES I -IV‘ art project, which was created with a good friend of mine, Yvonne Brouwers. Her concept and visual art sparked that entire record. Without her, this release would have never happened and ’til this day, I’m still extremely grateful and proud for having been a part of that. In terms of comments I’ve received, someone once said: “HUMORES envelops the listener in an aqueous sanctuary. Perhaps these are the sounds I heard as my mother grew me in her womb.” I’ve never forgotten that line. It felt so fitting and sincere … It was the perfect verbal expression someone could have given in a single sentence.
HERE is where we’ll tie the words to the creative sounds and imagery of Michel’s endeavors. To open, CTRL+click below each Title listed in Numbers 1 through 4.
Track 1 / Arafúra – HUMORES I : Phlegma [HUMORES I – IV (EP)]
Track 2 / Arafúra – HUMORES II : Haima [HUMORES I – IV (EP)]
Track 3 / Arafúra – HUMORES III : Xanthè Cholè [HUMORES I – IV (EP)]
Track 4 / Arafúra – HUMORES IV : Melaina Cholè [HUMORES I – IV (EP)]
IZAH has its own style and edge and typically it is easier for most young musicians to develop this type of style over the more sedate sounds. What drives IZAH for you from inside and what kind of reaction do people give you when they hear your work?
I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that, to be honest. IZAH is a very complex and organic machine, not unlike Arafúra. Even though it takes roots in the Metal genre, IZAH is all but your traditional metal project, with tracks spawning over thirty minutes of playtime, IZAH at times feels like a roller-coaster ride of emotions and at times can actually be traced back to composers like Ennio Morricone.
IZAH’s drive for me has been shortly touched on at the beginning of the interview. Like I’ve mentioned; it’s a drive that comes from feelings of loss, rejection, hopelessness and in some ways anger and confusion. It has always been a project for me that has helped me compartmentalize those emotions and it’s the only project between the two I have that performs live, currently. Being on stage is a very unique type of energy. I would have no clue where I could find a similar rush. In a way, it’s almost transcendent in the way of feeling the force of stage volume – it’s like being sound personified for a short while, being focused and focused on. We’re with six people and we often don’t fit on stage with all the gear we have, so I sometimes end up setting up in the crowd, which makes the personal connection you feel with your audience extremely intimate, feeling their presence, warmth and enthusiasm. At times it’s nerve-wracking, but it’s so rewarding that I can’t see myself giving it up for anything at the moment.
In terms of reactions we’ve had, they’ve mostly been extremely positive. I can’t think of a specific compliment at the moment, but it always feels extremely rewarding to be sincerely thanked for a performance by an audience member. It’s just really really satisfying to be appreciated.
I’ve always had a bit of facial hair, but the full-grown beard-project has been going on and off now for about 3 years. To me, it feels like my true face. It’s a way of primal expression, a way of honoring masculinity. When I saw old pictures of my father, with a beard, it felt like a small awakening call, as strange as that may sound.
I have noticed some in the Nederlands region embracing beards and others being openly hostile. From your perspective, is there something you share with your critics for being so completely male?
I feel opinions are diverse around here. Some people love it and others simply don’t. I do feel that the acceptance of bearded males has grown here as well. It’s true, some people are a bit hostile against having a big beard and that’s mostly teenagers or kids that don’t really have any real clue that it’s a part of the male-ritual. On the flipside, there are a lot of people that do appreciate it. I get plenty of compliments regarding my beard from complete strangers. So, viewpoints are slowly shifting.
What are your hopes and goals for the future and where do you find the best chance to attain them?
The current goals I have are; performing live with Arafúra, creating a collective of people to bring Arafúra to the stage successfully. Something which is extremely difficult seeing as Arafúra is all but a regular rock band. I’m also planning to resume recording for the full length debut album which is slowly taking form while I deal with bouts of remaining depression. Winter time is a tough season for; accompanied by a lot of dualistic feelings of inspiration and wistfulness.
IZAH’s full length debut album, ‘Sistere’, will be released in March 2015 through the Swedish label Nordvis (with which we’ve recently signed). This undoubtedly will spawn multiple live shows and release parties; something which I’m quite excited for! In the meantime we’ll resume writing the next record and keep on progressing.
On a more social note; I long to find intimacy again, feel a true connection with a significant other. This is something which I think will always be a goal for us, as mankind and is something to always strive for.
Michel and I have had multiple thoughts hit us after our time together, and what has resulted from this exchange is an understanding that strikes a very common place. We are both people who find the ability to express best when sound and imagery are presented in harmony; it is our way of giving thought and tone to what is being communicated to the listener / viewer which allows the craft to represent its entire essence. From this place of interdisciplinary conversation, a range of enlightened awareness gives ability to express thoughts, feelings, reactions…real human interaction. This presentation is embraced by some who get that the mind processes, compares, relates to the sounds and images and hits the mark in both what the artist intended to awaken and what the participant hoped to receive.
IZAH, in similarity, was an awakening of deeper attention to a presentation I often shun but was compelled at his urging to take in. The track Indefinite Instinct has been sent and listened to. It has a definite grunge / sludge / neo-punk direction with the distorted and harsh voices one might expect in such music, although muted to less of a head-banger state. Michel has been the only musician who has held my interest and attention to such an offering, simply because of the tone and nature of what was communicated – a tortured tale just audible enough to understand injustice and suffering mingled with a sense of justice and hope. It caused the eyes to water in a sense of grief, yet it turned a switch inside simultaneously. The explanation I got regarding the selection was that of the cries of a Guantanamo prisoner seeking to be heard and vindicated. The topic in itself stirs, in that America has been fighting a sort of holy counter-measure against jihad, with the understanding that in war there are casualties and injustices on all sides which are ‘collateral damage’. Though war often declares a victor, blood for blood is the most savage of all encounters, and the loss of life is never justified enough for the incident no matter how noble the cause.
A person who can take the worst of his emotions and experiences and turn around the angst and emptiness toward career which embodies compassion and direction for others is remarkable! It takes a man of strength to return and deliberately connect his wisdom and savvy toward painful yesterdays to make a significant investment in others and a real chance at a true victory for those served. Michel de Jong embodies ‘pay it forward’.
A beard so magnificent and pronounced also deserves a massive ‘thumbs up’ from this Beard Advocate. His is a presence that makes an excellent impression visually as fully male – and when you get to know the guy better, the word REAL flashes in front of your eyes. A real person, truly in touch within and without, being relevant and sincere, as himself.
Thank you Michel for the opportunity to tell your story…and to many more days of connection.