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Blue Van – Turning HIllbillies into Classic Guys

Steffen Westmark: vocals/guitar
Soren V. Christensen: organ
Allan F. Villadsen: bass
Per M. Jorgenson: drums

What do you do if you’re a sixth-grader in small-town Denmark and all the kids tease you for having long hair and listening to classic rock’n’roll?

Why, find the only other sixth graders like you and start a band, of course.

The Blue Van have been playing together since grade school, and it shows. Their brand of rock is straight from the sixties, with barely a step in any direction that would’ve led away from the Kinks, the Who, and the Stones. So-called garage rock is big these days, but grandma’s basement rock is a better term for this band, named for the “looney van,” the vehicle that picks up the mentally ill in Denmark.

The band members are all from Broenderslav, a rural area. “We’re all from the countryside of Denmark. We’re all hillbillies,” says bassist Allan F. Villadsen of himself and his cohorts, singer/guitarist Steffen Westmark, organist Soren V. Christensen, and drummer Per M. Jorgensen. Danish hillbillies, though, “are not as bad as over here, because Denmark is a small country, so it doesn’t take long to go into the city. But the small town I’m from has like 200 people living there, and the only thing you can do…you can drive a tractor, or you can play music.”

Sounds a bit like the backstory to a current indie rock darling from a nowheresville town, but The Blue Van are nothing like Bright Eyes. They play blues-influenced rock music heavy on the Hammond organ and sexy but not filthy, just dirty enough to make you dance and sing along. Their first album, The Art of Rolling, out now on TVT Records, is loaded with riffs that you almost recognize but can’t quite put your finger on, and literally sounds like it came out of a time capsule found on an old farm rather than a basement housing a few twentysomethings.

“I think we were the only kids who played music in our town. We were very inspired by the sixties–the only things we were listening to were Jimi Hendrix and Creem and The Who. That’s why we look like we look and the kids made fun of us. It’s a long time to be together,” Villadsen laughs.

You can hear the obvious sixties references on The Art of Rolling, as well as less expected ones–there’s an Elvis-sexy snarl on “I Want You,” and the ballad “Baby, I’ve Got Time” is a radio-friendly laid-back love song. Mostly, though, the Blue Van’s subject matter is rock itself. “You know where I can be found/Among the rebels with a sound,” croons Westmark on “The Remains of Sir Mason,” with perhaps a Bowie reference–“The journey’s now, this is not Mars.” Indeed, the Blue Van have their feet firmly on the ground, at least when they’re not taking flying leaps off the amplifiers. Rumor has it that Villadsen himself is the wildest of the bunch in their breakneck live show, but when asked about it, he laughs, “Maybe.”

The signature sound of The Blue Van is their Hammond organ, an instrument that seems to be sneaking up on the rock scene as the new It Sound. “In the beginning, we didn’t have the organ with us. We were looking at something like Ebay for cars and music equipment, and we found this old Hammond organ, very cheap. And then we went out to this farm to pick up this organ, and some of this organ was used as a chicken fence. You could find feathers in the organ, but we fixed it up so we could use it,” explains Villadsen.

After years of playing music by themselves, The Blue Van decided to branch out and did what all kids who want to play rock’n’roll do: they moved to the city. Copenhagen, the biggest city in Denmark, that is. All four of them squeezed into one apartment and took jobs on the side in order to play and record a demo, which was well-received and led to bookings at festivals like Spot 9 and Roskilde, the largest festival in Denmark. Their album was recorded before a record deal was inked, and TVT Records signed them on the basis of mp3 files circulated by their manager.

“In the beginning, when we signed with TVT, they took us over to New York where we lived in Brooklyn for almost four months just to play in New York, build up a scene,” Villadsen continues. “A month before they put out the album we were touring again, around New York, we went to LA to do a couple of shows.” The differences between the U.S. and Denmark? “Americans, they’ve all got two jobs,” he laughs.

Though there are other bands popping up with similar sounds, such as Detroit’s The Sights, and retro rock seems to be growing in popularity, The Blue Van are secure in their style and each other. “We’re going to make the new classic times,” howls Westmark on “Mob Rule,” and Villadsen agrees. “It could be nice to make a classic.”

Check out The Blue Van at the Ogden Theatre on June 20th with Hot Hot Heat and Robbers on High Street, and pick up their debut, The Art of Rolling.


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