10 October 2023
Dutch humanistic rock unit THE IRRATIONAL LIBRARY is a pretty special affair.
A band with its roots firmly planted in both the regional and international
counterculture. They produce a raw, dirty groove influenced by punk,
provo, punk icons and spiced with sultry saxophone here and there.
Their poetry is packed with social criticism. They drew my ears’ attention with their 2021 album We Are… Doomed. An open-minded-plainspoken-asskicking-anti-establishement-and-other-scumbags opus. The same biting spirit is present on their brand new full-length GOOD BUSY. Moody reveries and blasting belters alternate creating an overall stirring/roaring record in the end. Perfect occasion for an interview.
The band’s highly dedicated and caring America-born frontman-punk-rapper-poet-storyteller Joshua Baumgarten will tell us in-depth about being busy in a very good way. But first, as usual, we start an interview with a slice of steaming music from the new LP.
When and how did TIL got together?
“I guess we got together around 2016. I was then running my own secondhand subculture shop in Haarlem under the name The Irrational Library. It was filled with books, music, film, posters, random weird stuff. We had two barbers, live music, a fridge full of beer, and was an open door to all those who crossed its threshold.
It was via the shop I met Tom (baritone saxophonist and guitarist), and Mishal (bassist). Lars (drummer) I knew from the bands he was then currently playing in. Mishal offered to put some music behind a poem I had called “The Don’t be a Dick About It Doctrine’s featured on our first album Now That We Still Can
Cover of 2017 debut album Now That We Still Can
What he did really blew my mind. We had a chance to do a 15-minute live set on a local festival that spring. Mishal and I and two other musicians did something that I felt was really unique and special. A few months later I told Mishal that I wanted to do this more as a real band. I knew Tom played baritone sax and I liked him as a person, so I said I wanted him in the band.
We did two tryouts for drummers. Lars was the second and from the first beat, he and Mishal clicked as rhythm section. Like most things with us, it happened organically. Wasn’t forced, it just was meant to be.”
What’s the story behind the band’s name and why
you’re described it as a counterculture act?
“I have been using the name The Irrational Library since 2000 as a publishing title for small self-made books of poems and art. When I started living and working in Haarlem I started using it as the name for performance evenings with local bands, poets, performers of all sorts. Then the shop and then the band. It just has a ring to it and it covers everything we are.
A long time ago I lived in Los Angeles and my roommate and I had a very vast and diverse collection of all different types of art. An Irrational Library is the idea that you don’t have to be into just one thing but the beautiful combination different genres, forms, styles make a person a more well-rounded versed person. And being able to recognize the links in music, poetry, art. Self-expression doesn’t need to be single minded but continuous searching into whatever it is that calls to you.
As far as being a counterculture act, I guess the base of what we do comes out of a punk ethos. Push against the grain. To define your own style. To cut and paste your own creative vision. The Irrational Library members grew up feeding off of those great creative visionaries that came before. We aren’t re-creating the wheel per se, just spinning it at our
Plus I like to write a lot about what a fucked up world we all enjoy. I guess that is somewhat counter to the accept it as it is culture. It is a label put upon us so people
can grasp on to an idea of what we do. In the end, this is who we are as a band and this
is what we do.
Which track would you play to the people who never heard of you?
Huevos Rancheros, the first single of the new album Good Busy. It is so out of leftfield for us. It was one of the first we came up with after our last album We…are Doomed. It is fresh and vibey, shows the growth of Tom’s guitar work. The groove just picks you up and carries you along. And lyrically I am very fond of the poetics in it. Somewhat surreal, stream of consciousness but also very pointed.
I can remember sitting down to write and telling myself to just let go and free form something. Huevos Rancheros is what came out. It is a fun and freeing song to play live as well. And it opens the door to the surprises of the new album. We stay true to what we do but are never afraid to follow something that just feels good to us.
It is a song that can make people say, “well now, what was that?” And then the rest will make them think, “well, what is this?” Each track stands alone and is equally part of the whole essence of the album.”
Your 4th album GOOD BUSY is out now. What is
it that you want to express with the title?
“I am an American living in the Netherlands for 23 years. I love playing with the two languages of Dutch and English. Incorporating Dutch words or references into songs.
GOOD BUSY is translated from the Dutch saying, Goed Bezig. Dutch people say this to one another when they are more or less busy with doing something productive. It can also be used sarcastically when you are busy fucking something up. During practice one day we were just doing what we normally do and it just came out, GOOD BUSY.
After our last album We…are Doomed, it was fun to flip the coin and play with something sounding more positive. Also the fact that even during corona we came out with our 3rd album/book together with graphic artist TRIK and also wrote the majority of GOOD BUSY.
Staying busy with what motivates you will pull you through all the ups and downs in life. Giving in, giving up, turning over and going back to sleep won’t fulfill your days. Take a power nap and then get back to it. Stay GOOD BUSY.
We also played around with the title ‘Full On Rock Show!‘.
But figured we could save that for out best of compilation.”
The album’s artwork is impressive in a weird/funny way.
Who designed it and what’s the connection with the songs?
“TRIK, the graphic artist who did the artwork and book attached to
the We…are Doomed project did GOOD BUSY as well. Mishal, our bass
player had an idea of putting a photo of Lars’ dreamy face on the cover,
a sort of homage to Iggy Pop on the cover of Lust for Life.
Mishal made the photo and TRIK did his thing. Not everyone was into it at first. Took a bit of convincing to get all four of us on board. I think it is a beautiful, life-affirming illustration. It stands out. It POPS. TRIK created the letter type as well and the distinct colors. How it connects to the songs…maybe the cover portrays a state of being, blissfully aware? Smile into the face of stupidity? Take from it what you want.
Some people comment that my lyrics/poems are anything but positive. I disagree to a large extent. They are more rallying cries then critical commentary. With a wink and a smile, we can all get by. In that way, the album cover art, the words and music all come together.”
Which music/artists inspired you when writing/making the record?.
“Music is for all of us a daily inspiration. I myself was listening to a guy named Sheafer McOmber who makes epic sort of stoner rock under the name Bloodshot Buffalo as well as Deer Lord. I call it mountain music, cause it makes me want to keep climbing mountains, though Holland has an eternally flat ass landscape.
I reached out and made contact with Sheafer, who lives out in Northern California.
Funny, rad dude who is just doing what he loves to do. It is great to just chat/message
with people about being creative, sharing outtakes of music, etc.. getting inspired by like-minded people who are out there in the world.
And as always when I need a bit of poetic inspiration, I grab the book The Journal Of Albion Moonlight by Kenneth Patchen. Open it to any page and my mind is locked in and lit up.”
Was every member involved in the writing process?
“Yeah, what we do is like I said earlier, for lack of a better word organic. I do my writings when the moment is needed. Then I bring what I have with me to practice. As we are setting up usually Mishal is ready first, so he just starts laying down a groove. His playing is so unique in that he is actually a guitar player. For the band he wanted to do bass. So, what he comes up with it so different than the standard bass playing. Lars is usually next and starts laying out a beat.
Then Tom feels out if it is something at that moment for guitar or sax. And then maybe Tom will switch. It is all a feeling at that moment. And I just shuffle through the poems and wait to jump on to the train. Jams can evolve into songs of course and most times they do. But there are plenty of moments when I am digging something and when we finish the rest just say, nope. I am easily satisfied when I hear the other three play. They make my job very easy.
Once we have a sketch of an idea, then we start puzzling. Looking for B parts, trimming extra fat off the text…killing those darlings. This is my favorite part of being in the band. The puzzling, the figuring out where the words should bounce and land on the beat. Pushing and pulling against Tom’s baritone. The baritone is the counterbalance to my voice. So, we are always listening to one another to see where the space can be filled and left open.”
Are all songs in some way lyrically connected or do they all stand on their own?
“I think they stand alone but are also connected. All the poems are written during
a certain time frame. So, a state of mind can be picked up upon. But as I often write
about what is going on in the world, the stories evolve and change even as they stay
Every album is a sort of time capsule that encapsulates the here and then but
hopefully can also be stand the test of time and be relevant to the “here and now.”
Single HUEVOS RANCHEROS is one of the LP’s highlights. What’s the song
about and how is the colored air balloon in the video related to the song?
“Like I mentioned earlier Huevos Rancheros is a stream-of-consciousness poem that became about, I guess, just about being alive. There are so many fun twists and turns in the wordplay that sometimes that is also just it. But unconscious to me while writing the poem, the wordplay does its own dance. Words have a tendency to pick their own dance partners.
Like these lines… “And as landscapes unfold like origami untold and newspaper swans
are just yesterday’s news, well, I saw extinction walking secondhand alligator shoes.”
I just dig how those words puzzle themselves together and create such a fun vision. Whenever I doubt my own poetic capabilities, I just think of those lines and smile.
The video of the colored hot air balloon was like lots of things with us, a mix of randomness and opportunity. We are not a video band. Who has the attention span to watch a full music video these days? Plus, Huevos would be a tricky one to try to set out and make a video for, unless there were some chemicals involved.
My barber and an old partner in the Irrational Library shop, Rob (now named the Mad Daddys Barbershop) gave me a good tutorial about putting shit online for promo. Insta, Fbook, YouTube, all that stuff that I can never really get into for promo reasons.
But he convinced me of the benefits it can have of at least making people aware of what you are doing, like a candle in the middle of a clusterfuck. Anyway…my family were at the camping we hide out at during the temperate seasons here in NL – and often during the summer, there are hot air balloons passing by in the sky in the early evening. This one sort of hovered for a bit above the camping, then dropped out of sight, then just made it over the tree line to finally set down in the farmland behind us.
I just started filming cause it was kinda cool looking. Later on that night, I thought that it would be a good fit for the song. Plus the length of the video pretty much matched the length of the track. Oppurtunity and convenience.”
Suppose the record would be the soundtrack for a movie, which one would it be?
“We have always thought that our music lends itself to cinema quite well. Maybe one day we will end up on a soundtrack. Qua soundtrack to an already existing movie…hard to say since I feel like we are so based in this time period of existence. For sake of the interview, I will say SLACKER, the first film from Richard Linklater. How the story weaves seamlessly from one character and discussion to the next. I miss the quality of filmmaking from that era of the early 90’s. Our music is also a product of that period.
Lots of rough and tumble edgy work came out during that period. From film (early Tarantino, music like Morphine, writing like Chuck Palahnuik) I feel fortunate to grown up in a period of time that was looking towards the future but still in tune with and open to learn from the past.”
What is an IRRATIONAL LIBRARY gig like and which
band/artist would you love to tour with and why?
“A gig is a coming together. A happening. And for us, an evening or day out with the boys. We come to play. And be that for five of five hundred, that is what we do. We go hard. Even in the softer numbers, we reach deep. We want people to get with us as we want to get with them. Has to be a give-and-take. I aim to hit the people in the head by what I say and th band is responsible for the neck down. Best compliment I ever got was when a woman told me that “we were the only band that made her dance and think at the same time.” Get loose, get lost, get yourself free.
In December we will be heading to the UK for our first time to do one show with the band Dead Anyway and label mates Rick & Rudie (Floprecords.com). Dead Anyway were here last winter for a show with us. We met when both bands were featured on the playlist of an online radio program called Bagel Radio out of New York from a super cool dude named Ted Liebowitz.
Dead Anyway reached out to us to say hello and how much they dug what we did. It was again just a pure and inspiring moment of contact. I like doing things with people I see as contemporaries, like minded searchers. Also helps that we are all grown ass adults with very few illusions about what we do and why we do it. In the end doing shows with people you champion as much as they champion you is a gift.”
What’s the band’s ultimate goal?
“Me doing interviews that contain much shorter answers.”
Thanks a bunch for this interview, Joshua.
May the road rise with The Irrational Library.
TIL: Facebook – Instagram
TUTV: Blog – Facebook – Instagram