In Conversation with BAS JAN's Serafina Steer

Bas Jan In Conversation Serafina Steer

Serafina Steer of Bas Jan


This January, London, UK, based-band Bas Jan release their playfully (and, powerfully) titled album, BABY U KNOW, on Isle of Eigg label, Lost Map. This will be the second full-length album on Lost Map for the band who breathes deep thoughts into each new track they create; from the most curious and interesting corners of each member's music, arts, and inspirational universe. Maybe, unsurprisingly so, as the band also took its original namesake (so christened by Bas Jan co-founder and previous drummer, Jenny Moore) from the Dutch artist, Bas Jan Ader. "I think it's a great name. As well as the association with Bas Jan Ader; I like how it looks, and also, how it could just sound like nonsense." says Bas Jan's Serafina Steer, "I did wonder if we should have dropped the name (when Jenny left to start her new project: Jenny Moore's Mystic Business). I still wonder...but, I think, what we are doing now is a continuation and it's nice to stay in touch with it and build on it while keeping the original roots. Or is it? I don't know!"

Bas Jan's lineup expanded prior to recording the album, "It's actually really complicated. Almost too long-winded to go into. Basically, we had a massive line-up change before the first album, and then Emma had a baby, so Charlie joined. Then it just seemed weird if Charlie would no longer be in the band when Emma came back. So we expanded!" Steer continued, "Sarah Anderson has not been mentioned but she is too important and formative to be omitted. We met because I played with her band Chromehoof for a while and then asked her to join Bas Jan in the very early stages. She currently mainly performs in Deep Throat Choir on Bella Union."

 Bas Jan
Left to right: Serafina Steer (left), Charlie Stock (back), Emma Smith (right), and Rachel Horwood (center).

The expanded Bas Jan lineup currently features co-founder Serafina Steer on keyboard, bass guitar, and vocals (Jarv Is), Emma Smith (Jarv Is, Meilyr Jones, Seamus Fogarty, and founding member of the Elysian Quartet) on violin, bass, and electronics, Rachel Horwood (Trash Kit, Bamboo, Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business) on drums, and Charlie Stock on electric violin. The band was able to secure a grant to release the new album, and when I messaged Steer, I asked about the joys of getting approved for a grant for recording the album in the UK (grants seem more prevalent there, and in my experience, in Canada, than they are here, in the US): "The application process and evaluation is a horror show, but, basically once you're approved, they do let you get on with it. I just applied again to get money to help us tour the UK, so, fingers crossed! We were under enormous time pressure because of Rachel being heavily pregnant and it kept seeming like [the country] was going to do another winter lockdown. Which they did."

Steer continued, "I was really grateful we were able to do it, then, and there is no way that we could have completed the record without that funding. I don't know what it means that we don't make enough money to exist from our music--does it mean that we aren't good enough to exist? That's a bit what it seems like (in this country). However, we are lucky enough to have loads of friends that keep going on in a fairly similar manner, and there's some strength in that."

On completing the album at the end of 2020, both time and stress were a factor, Steer said, "It was really emotional by the end. It was also insanely tiring and pressured, plus, being out of practice [due to being separated from winter lock-downs during the pandemic] and trying to get it all done in such a short amount of time. We mainly recorded the whole thing in three days (and, then, did overdubs, later tidying it up with Capitol K, who mixed the record). Corners were definitely cut, but, it felt like a huge achievement to have all made it happen, and, against those odds."

BABY U KNOW by Bas Jan

Serafina also messaged us about the origins of the title track, BABY U KNOW. "That was a conversation with a really cool lady that I stayed with while in Germany who looked like Patti Smith, and also, looked after sick horses. It was in the early days of Airbnb and there were still really cool places on there (not just 'super-slick' dull apartments)."

Steer continued, "She had an old UN peacekeepers truck that she and her partner had lived in and driven around, all over the world. I was on a long journey (as I had broken up with someone and was devastated). It was an unbelievable place, really, and she was, also, unbelievable...I said I'd stopped doing music because I was so sad about the partner, and so worried, all the time."

"She listened," Steer said, "and then, in her beautiful German accent, she said those lines pretty much verbatim. Like, if you don't want to do the things that give you power, 'baby you know that's not the way.'

Bas Jan has plans for a new video to support BABY U KNOW, as well as possible 2022 tour dates: "We also have a video for our song "Sex Cult" coming out when the album is released! I'm really excited about it, and I think it will be quite special. There are plans to tour! Yes, we are *just about* to announce a bunch of dates. We just hope that things will get better..."

PRE-ORDER BABY U KNOW: (North America) (UK/Europe and North America)

Read on for Serafina's track by track run-down of the songs included on BABY U KNOW:

PROGRESSIVE CAUSES: A song inspired by band magazine interviews, and, Psychic TV. It's not meant to be sarcastic.

SEX CULT: Inspired by the Tom Tom Club and dating apps--a group composition.

ALL FORGOTTEN: This song was inspired by Emma playing the recorder on a cover of Mao Mao by Claude Channes that we did with Jarvis. The Tory government (or, to be honest) any governments of this country and their way of dealing with anything....and how it seems that no one in power is ever held responsible [or] culpable.

MY INCANTATIONS, HERBS, & ART HAVE ABANDONED ME: The lyrics from this track were adapted from an extract of Clare Pollard's retranslation of Ovid's Heroides. Originally part of a half-hour mini-opera with Nat Sharp (FKA Lone Taxidermist). They were also inspired by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, [Henry] Purcell, and Michael Nyman.

VISION OF CHANGE: Another group collaboration--finished off by Charlie's solo.

SHOPPING IN A NEW CITY: The lyrics for this track are by Sally O'Reilly. It also includes extracts from what was going to be a side project to accompany an opera by Sally and Matt Rogers called, 'She Described It To Death,' a nod to [Richard] Strauss/2001: A Space Odyssey,  meditation and drones music... a kind of worked-out improvisation.

YOU HAVE BEWITCHED ME: This song was written together as a group.

BABY U KNOW: Possibly the most Frankenstein of all of the tracks on the album. We ended up bringing this song to life in the mixing process (afterward), whereas, the others are all, in the majority, live recordings, but with extra bits added.

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE: Some people are...

PROFILE PICTURE (OTO Version): Bas Jan recorded a live stream gig from inside Cafe Oto in London as part of the project and this track was a recording from that (with quite a few home overdubs, I admit). We thought it fit with the mood of the album, needing people to be there, in reality. This track was also recorded previously and included on our 'Instant Nostalgia' EP (in a different format, released in 2018).



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