Dutch singer/songwriter VanWyck dives into her intimate and expansive fourth album ‘The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man,’ an odyssey of folk warmth and wonder, human experience and emotional vulnerability.
for fans of Ane Brun, Laura Marling, Angel Olsen
Stream: “Maybe, Maybe Not” – VanWyck
“A man washes ashore on an island. He is severely wounded and doesn’t remember where he came from. A woman takes the stranded man in and tries to nurse him back to health. She tells him stories about her island. Strange tales of strange inhabitants, of monsters that lurk in caves, girls that sell seaweed and vagrants that know the truth. In the fever dreams of the stranded man her stories mingle with the shadows from his troubled past.”
Intimate and expansive, VanWyck’s new album is an odyssey of folk warmth and wonder: A visceral and enchanting journey through human experience, self-discovery, personal growth, and connection. A gentle giant of a record, The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man blankets the ears and the heart in a stirring array of acoustic reflections and reckonings that uplift, energize, and ultimately, inspire.
Another Monday morning
And I’m walking down these
Same old city streets
Same old stones on the pavement
Same old cracks in between
Maybe if I just keep on walking
Maybe if I don’t look back
Maybe if I leave it all behind
Maybe, or maybe not
Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering VanWyck’s fourth LP The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man, out April 8, 2022 via Excelsior Recordings. The artistic alias for Amsterdam-based singer/songwriter Christine Oele, VanWyck has been actively lighting up our airwaves with silken folk sound for nearly ten years now; this is her first full-length release on a record label.
“It took me a long time to find my voice and maybe even longer to claim my space in public life, but I have now, and I’m really happy that I did,” VanWyck tells Atwood Magazine. “What has driven me onwards these last years against better judgment and against a music industry that until very recently wasn’t very interested in the voices of women, let alone older women, are the songs. They keep calling to me and I keep having to respond. I think I have something true to share, whether it’s about an alcoholic lost in a supermarket, a goddess raging at a landscape, a whispering garbage man, or a drowning girl. I feel it’s my job, my duty, to let them out into the world, to build them homes where they can blossom, so they can search out the people who are in need of them. Like the girl in eastern Russia who did her wedding dance to ‘Lead Me On’, or the American farmer who wrote to tell me that because of ‘Your Favorite Tune’ he cried over the death of his wife for the first time in years. Success is not about streaming numbers or sales figures, it’s about forging a true connection with an audience, it’s about the joy of creating. It’s about being honest and brave – even when that is sometimes painful. It’s about trying to eke out the truth and having the courage to share it. With every album I feel I’m getting better at doing just that.”
“After releasing three albums, I wanted this fourth to be something different, to try to reach for something new or unknown,” she adds. “So I made up this story about a wondrous island where wondrous things could happen and let the songs take place there. To have them all be connected, both lyrically as part of a story and harmonically and sonically. So many songs in our genre (folk, alt-country, singer-songwriter) are either confessional or personal or based on true stories and I wanted to see if I could take these kinds of songs somewhere else. Take them into a fictional realm. Like so many authors that I love do (David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Miller, Margaret Atwood) where there’s room for magic, or myth or impossibilities. Still because of the way I write these songs are very personal and true but in a different way. Sometimes there is more truth in fiction.”
Together, The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man‘s twelve songs tell “a story about a man who washes up on a wondrous island and doesn’t remember where he came from,” the artist explains. “Is he a victim or a perpetrator? Has he escaped, or is he imprisoned? Can he be saved, or is his end near? Luckily a woman enters the stage. Will she be able to save him? The first and the last song on the album are written from The Woman’s perspective. In the other songs, we are in The Stranded Man’s head and follow his feverish journey of recovery. He descends into the madness of his past, is visited by good and evil spirits, and tries to find a way out.”
The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man is conceptual, fantastic, and deeply, undeniably human: VanWyck uses her fictional characters and colorful imagery to delve deeper into herself than ever before.
“I wanted to tie the songs together in a different way, to have them not be just the collection of songs that I’ve written in the last year but to enhance their meaning in connection to each other,” she says. “So the songs refer to each other lyrically and sonically we tried to record as much as we could together in one room in one go with the same people and the same instruments.”
“I hope the multifaceted-ness shines through it. So not only the depth and honesty in the songwriting, but also the humour and the lightness. And of course the artistry of the musicians, there are some wonderful musicians playing on this album. I think the bass-playing of Reyer Zwart, who is also co-producer and writes the string arrangements, is really phenomenal on this album. And to have a full-string quartet breathe life into these songs is so amazing.”
Beyond its own visual allure, album title serves to pull the entire (truly epic) collection together.
“Once I had the first song of the album, ‘The Stranded Man’, I could feel the whole story unfold,” VanWyck says. “This man washed upon an island, not remembering who he was. Having to find his way back. Meeting all these different characters, some evil, some good, some everything at once. The epic also refers to epic poetry. I really like those really long poems, these really ambitious and wondrously weird tales, like the Rime of the Ancient Mariner – in a way they form the perfect antidote to today’s short span bitesize culture And maybe it’s also a comment on these times in a broader sense. So many people are struggling individually. Addictions, anxiety, depression, fear for the future. In all our wealth, we are often not doing well. It’s painful to see that with all of our boundless abilities we are not able to create a society where most people can feel good, can feel valued, or have the feeling they lead meaningful lives.”
“And also as a society, we are living on the brink of epic transitions, we know that the old ways will lead to our destruction but can’t decide on the path forward. Sometimes it feels like we are trapped in our own prisons, in our inability to take good care of each other and this wonderful planet, like we are failing in our most epic of struggles, the survival of our humanity.”
Whilst best experienced in its entirety, The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man is not without its share of standout songs: Opener “The Stranded Man,” single “Maybe, Maybe Not,” the uplifting groove “The Smiling Prophet,” and the elegant, lush “Lola With the Light Eyes” are just a few of the highlights on this entrancing, cinematic experience.
“I have a soft spot for ‘Seaweed Seller,” VanWyck reflects. “Just because she came to me so fully formed, and really felt like something else, something I didn’t write, but more had a sweet encounter with, she’s a different presence, something outside of me. She’s probably not the ‘best’ track on the record and won’t be a single, but she occupies her own realm and I love her for that.”
As a lyrically forward artist, VanWyck shares a few of her favorite lines throughout the record. “I’ve found that on this album a lot of times the punch is in the bridge,” she notes. “Like in “The Havoc Wreaker” and “Pond Floor Dwellers” and “I Was Innocent.” When writing them I found that only after writing the bridge that I knew what the song was actually about:
She knows where to hurt you
She’s friendly with the gods
They use her for their dirty jobs
Cause there’s nothing like the wreaker to stir things up
– The Havoc Wreaker
Did you really think that we’d spend all our lives
Shifting through the trash you left us in
Feeding of your primal sins
– Pond Floor Dwellers
In the prison of our good intentions
The wicked warden laughs behind your back
– I Was Innocent
“But I also really like the Dish Washing Water Green of shapeshifting ‘Ciceline,’ the Cavernous Blue from the ‘Seaweed Seller,’ and the Girl you’re not that special from the ‘Smiling Prophet.’ And this line from ‘The Way Out'”:
Do you plan to pay me with your soul
Shall I keep it it with your good intentions
“And maybe my favorite line is the first line from ‘I Was Innocent'”:
Every story carved into these crumbling walls starts with I was innocent
There is much to love throughout VanWyck’s cathartic and comforting fourth album. The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man is inherently massive and insular all at once: It’s a vast, moving, achingly visceral and raw journey in to the depths of what it means to be human: What it means to feel, to think, to look at the world with wide open eyes, and to discover yourself all over again.
“I hope listeners get the sense of wonderment; that the mystery intrigues them, that they search their own way through it. And also this sense of everything is possible in our imagination – there are no boundaries to creativity,” VanWyck shares. “And maybe this sense of a personal quest – this trying to find your way through all the difficult stuff life throws at you. The opposing forces that work on us, the failures, the sadness, the trying to keep your head above water. A lot of people that have heard the album already told me: This album is about me! I’m that stranded man! So for those who feel that way I hope this album brings them solace and comfort (that they meet ‘Lola with the Light Eyes’!”
Experience the full record via our exclusive stream, and peek inside VanWyck’s The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man with Atwood Magazine as Christine Oele goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her fourth album!
The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man is out everywhere April 8, 2022.
:: stream/purchase VanWyck here ::
Stream: ‘The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man’ – VanWyck[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/1324719253?secret_token=s-iqthzgc3mYC” params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=true&hide_related=false&visual=true&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]
:: Inside The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man ::
The Stranded Man
In the opening track of the album, the story is set up. First, we hear The Woman speaking. Then halfway through the song, The Stranded Man answers. I wanted this album to be dualistic from the start – to always show the two sides of something, the complexities, the opposing forces. It also has a reference to the invoking of the muses, which is done in the beginning lines of a lot of epic poetry. The poet then asks the muses to provide divine inspiration, so he gets to tell a story. In this song, The Woman is the poet, and The Stranded Man is the muse that gives her a story.
I Was Innocent
This is the first song where The Stranded Man starts telling his story. Stuck in a place of confinement, he tries to claim his innocence but at the same time lists his wrongdoings. It sets the stage for the rest of the album, where The Stranded Man will try to find a way out of his predicament. We don’t know if he’s guilty or innocent. We don’t know what his supposed crimes are. We don’t know if he speaks the truth.
Maybe, Maybe Not
This song starts with a very different feel. It takes place outside. The instrumentation is lighter, but it deals with the same subject: being stuck, not daring to move forward. The song’s protagonist looks down (pavement) and looks up (sky) and can’t see anything to his liking. His only answer is to keep walking, even if he doesn’t know where to go.
The Havoc Wreaker
The Havoc Wreaker represents our own destructive force. She could be anxiety or fear, addiction or greed. She embodies the bad and uncontrollable urges that sometimes take us over. She is anger, and fear, and pride all rolled into one. She comes crashing into the bad dreams of The Stranded Man, hitting him where it hurts.
Contradictory characters inhabit the island. The Seaweed Seller is blind but can see into the future. Her ‘seaweed’ is a magic substance that will reveal many things and a dangerous shortcut. Will The Stranded Man be seduced by her ‘produce’? Where will that bring him?
Pond Floor Dwellers
This is the deep point of the album. The Stranded Man is stuck, besieged by the destructive Havoc Wreaker, seduced by the Seaweed Seller, and now has to face the wretchedness of his existence. All the dirty things he has tried to hide come up to haunt him, to overthrow him. He cannot resist them anymore.
The song can also be seen as a kind of anti-anthem for these success and celebrity-driven times. Those can only thrive by making most people feel unworthy. Sometimes I wish the unworthy would revolt.
The Stranded Man thought he was low, at the deepest point, but now he’s sinking even deeper. The Dragon – that thing he thought he could use to his own advantage – that thing he thought would make the pain go away – has taken him over completely and turns out to be bigger and stronger than all the things he held dear. The damage is done. There is no way out.
An oracle, a therapist, a shapeshifter, the truth? Ciceline has no fixed face. She just reminds us that the time is now. She’s also the turning point of the album. From now on, we are climbing back up again. Emily Dickinson’s poem, Tell all the truth but tell it slant, was an inspiration for some of the lines in the second verse.
The Smiling Prophet
After meeting Ciceline, The Stranded Man runs into The Smiling Prophet. He delivers an uncomplicated message of hope and healing, of optimism and second chances. A completely different message than the one Ciceline gave. He is the vagrant that knows the truth, but because of his simplicity, he is so often overlooked.
Lola With the Light Eyes
Lola with the Light Eyes is the good spirit. The all-forgiving, all-seeing, all-encompassing. She could also be the spirit that takes you to the other world, that carries you over a threshold. For The Stranded Man, this is the moment when he forgives himself when he lets himself out of his prison and starts to look for the light.
The Way Out
At this point, The Stranded Man has almost found the way out but has to choose where he wants to go, and what road he wants to choose. He climbs the highest mountain on the island, where an almighty god sleeps in a cave. The Stranded Man tries to get an answer from him on where he should go next – but as in so many legends, the god tells him it’s not so much in getting the ultimate answer, but in finding out what your question really is.
My Baby Rides a Dark Horse
With the last song, we are back in the head of the woman. She recounts an adventure with a man that lasted three days and has left her changed. Is she talking about The Stranded Man, or is she telling the story to him? Is the final answer to his quest hidden somewhere in one of the many lines she speaks? Maybe she is giving him instructions on where to go next…
Because this is The Epic Tale, I wanted the album to have an epic song – a really long song like Gillian Welch’s ‘I dream a highway’ or Bob Dylan’s ‘Red River Shore’. I was also inspired by broadside ballads – the old English narrative songs with multiple parts. This song is eight verses long and slowly spins out the adventure. It starts the morning after, and when I was writing it, I had no idea what had happened. So I let the song lead me onwards, and as the story unfolded for me, it will also unfold for the listener.
:: stream/purchase VanWyck here ::
Stream: ‘The Epic Tale of the Stranded Man’ – VanWyck[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/playlists/1324719253?secret_token=s-iqthzgc3mYC” params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&visual=true&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]
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