The life of a musician is one of constant travel; less than a week after the release of his first album, album1, Sander van Dijck, who performs as San Holo, flew to Denver, Colorado, a day ahead of his Red Rocks performance with RowdyTown and Big Gigantic. This wasn’t his first performance of the week; he’d just come from spending two days at home in Holland, prior to which he’d been in Asia. “I’ve been all over the world this week alone,” he laughed. “It’s pretty crazy if you think of it. You do get used to it at some point – I think I was a lot worse a couple years ago when I never really traveled a lot, but now I’m getting used to it more and more.”
All of this traveling means constant stimulation and social interaction, so finding alone time is key. If there’s a long flight involved for a show, van Dijck tries to fly in a day early- not to party or see people straight away, but to head to his hotel room and relax. “It’s not always possible,” he conceded, “but it’s little things like that that make it livable.” There’s never much time to sight-see, as his passion means he gets wrapped up in work, but he’s confident that the grind is ultimately worth it. “Maybe if you do a couple of extra shows then a couple thousand more people can hear your music and it will build your audience. It all has to do with your music and you want people to hear your music and you want it to mean something to them. So whatever you have to do to make that happen on a larger scale, you do that- that’s the drive.”
Music had always come naturally to van Dijck, who got his start by playing guitar and playing in bands. “I can’t remember not thinking, ‘Oh this is gonna be something big for me’,” he said of his beginnings, “because as soon as I started playing guitar I took it all super seriously…. I really saw it as a serious thing, not as a hobby. Ever since I started playing guitar, I realized I wanted to do something with it – I wanted to go to college and university for music, so it’s always been a drive.” There was no question that music would be his career, but the problem with playing in bands is that “being in a band is… like a relationship with a couple of people”; when things change in someone’s life, goals, or ambitions, bands break up. As his old bandmates moved on to new ventures, van Dijck began producing music on his laptop, and quickly realized “the power of music production and how much fun I was having just being by myself making music and trying to get everything in my head to come out of the speakers at some point.” Creating music on his own meant leaving behind the variables and uncertainties of playing with other people, though his experience playing in bands gives him an advantage when it comes to working with singers or other performers “on a different level” on his tracks.
Following a handful of singles (notable releases include “Light”, “We Rise”, “One Thing”, and “I Still See Your Face”) and EPs (most recently, the Trip EP in 2017), van Dijck released the first San Holo album, album1, on September 21. From the opening track “everything matters (when it comes to you)” to album closer “vestal avenue”, album1 consists of twelve tracks that total nearly an hour. While the streaming age has led many artists across genres to focus more on singles than creating albums that feel like a complete picture, van Dijck “really wanted it to be something special – like a little story for an hour.” He originally wrote around two dozen songs, which he cut down to twelve for the final release; while he didn’t initially plan on those songs being together, “they do feel like a story… in what order you put them, they still seem to make sense with what I was feeling at the time and what I experienced that year. It sounds very artsy, but I’m really happy I did it this way, because personally I feel so happy with this project – because it’s all really close to my heart. It’s all based on experience I had.” But what this story tells is up to you, and he later mentioned that he chose album1 as the title because “I didn’t want to put images or words in to people’s heads before listening to it – I wanted them to create their own story with this album.”
album1 is an ambient yet explosive and melodic take on future bass, and one that pulls the listener in for something that’s sure to make them feel something. It’s an album they can – and likely will – get lost in. Lyrics on songs like “everything matters (when it comes to you)” and “worthy” (“Tell me am I worth it? Tell me am I worthy?”) help tell the story, but even without words, the beats and melodies paint a picture of their own. Describing the moving power of his tones, van Dijck said, “I realized that I’m kind of addicted to a certain kind of sound; it’s almost like a happy-sad sound, a pleasantly sad sound. And I think I really zoomed in on that with this album. It’s not, per se, a sad feeling; it’s also not super happy – it’s more like melancholy and nostalgia, something like that.” Yet perhaps the strongest emotion that album1 provides the listener is one of catharsis and relief, a reminder that whatever troubles you doesn’t have to prevent you from experiencing the euphoria of letting go and feeling understood.
In the weeks since the album release, van Dijck has been overwhelmed by heartfelt messages from fans who have connected with it. Seeing these positive reactions – that the album has made them cry or has hit them hard in a personal way – is “really one of the biggest rewards I’ve ever felt in my music career, to see people understand this album and feel this album the way they do. It’s really beautiful.” In fact, all of these messages make van Dijck think of the feelings he gets from his favorite songs. Speaking on the power of our connection with music, he shared, “The fact that people will listen to my music and link it to a certain situation in their life, or a certain mindset in their life that they’re going through at the moment, or they have gone through, is super special to me. It literally becomes a part of their life, and that’s something indescribable to me. A song being part of someone’s life is crazy.” The feeling is intense; though positive, it’s hard to describe: “It’s a priceless thing because- I don’t even know – I think if you can’t really explain it in words, don’t try to explain it in words. It’s a beautiful thing to me and I’m very humbled that people get to listen to my music and think that – it’s mind-blowing.”
album1 was created at an Airbnb in Los Angeles over the course of several months. Los Angeles had been one of the first stops when San Holo started touring four years ago. Coming from Holland, where the weather is often gray, van Dijck was immediately taken by the sunny weather and palm trees. Recognizing Hollywood sites from films he’d seen at home made him feel “like I was in a movie right there; it felt like a complete different world.” While in Los Angeles, he stumbled upon an Airbnb on Vestal Avenue in Echo Park that “just felt so magical.” That Airbnb was close to the city but in a quiet location where “you can hear birds chirping and the wind through the trees; it’s just a really inspiring place. I just knew, that’s where I’m gonna write this record.”
When it came time to write, van Dijck holed up in the Airbnb and wrote most of the album there, his laptop on the kitchen table with speakers and instruments set up in the living room. “For me, I personally like to write in a non-studio environment. I’d rather write let’s say in someone’s yard or someone’s place than in a professional audio studio. I never really liked the vibe of it; it’s kind of cold and like – this place is for working. I don’t really like that,” he expressed. “So I think being able to just get up and see all those guitars in the living room and see all the little samplers and synthesizers in the living room and being able to walk outside whenever I want to and get some coffee and go back without being on a time restraint or something – it felt really good to me.”
In the EDM world, vocalists will often send a selection of top lines to a producer who will then pitch it to the right key for their song. But this never felt right to van Dijck, who prefers to write with someone in the same room; all of the vocal collaborations on album1 (Sofie Winterson features on “lift me from the ground”; Bipolar Sunshine features on “brighter days”; James Vincent McMorrow features on “always on my mind”; longtime friend and collaborator The Nicholas features on “voices in my head”) were done in person. He explained that he’s “very picky on words and meaning”, and continued that, “I don’t want it to sound too cheesy or I don’t want it too simple. When you’re in the room with someone you can really easily say, ‘Hey, I don’t like that – I love what you’re saying right here but I just don’t like that word’ – and for me, in order to feel close to all the songs, that has to make perfect sense in my head. I have to connect to the lyrics completely in order for me to feel like this is something I want to put out.”
Following performances at Red Rocks and Austin City Limits, fans all across the US will get to hear new songs live on San Holo’s first headlining bus tour, which begins on October 31 in St. Petersburg, Florida, and concludes on December 21 in Seattle. Those who have seen San Holo live before can expect a completely different show, with new visuals and light shows to complement album1. He’ll be playing every song from the album in some way, whether in full or mashed-up with other songs; the set will also include older classics like “We Rise”, but it will all be mixed up “in a way that it makes sense, in a way that it all feels really connected to each other.”
The upcoming tour is exciting, albeit nerve-wracking because of everything involved for what is “literally the biggest project we’ve done in our lives, me and my management crew.” As of the time of the interview in late September, van Dijck and co. were still in preparation mode to get the sound and light shows ready, as well as solidifying logistics for touring and travel. He acknowledged that it’s still a work in progress, and “even when we do the first show, it’s gonna be a work in progress, something that will get better and better along the road.”
With album1, San Holo has done something new, and most people have reacted positively. Of course, some people don’t understand what he’s going for, or they’ll be hung up on wanting a re-creation of an old sound (van Dijck is adamant that this comes not from wanting the same song they heard four years ago, but from wanting something that would connect with them the same way). As melodic bass music has risen in popularity in recent years, at times he felt that he wasn’t doing anything unique; now, he finds it incredibly rewarding to see the positive reactions to the album. Innovating and pushing the scene forward is “one of the most fun parts of making music to me,” and he’s okay with the fact that it will take some people a long time to understand this new sound. “There’s also some beauty in people not understanding it,” he offered, “because if everyone would just love it, then – I don’t know. Maybe I actually like the fact that not everyone gets it, and it takes some time…. That’s the most beautiful thing of being a creator or an artist – your ability to expand someone’s taste with your music or your art.”
album1 is out now. San Holo will be going on tour beginning October 31; head to his website for a full list of dates.