By Lotte van Wageningen
‘Maastricht Cultured’ is a series of interviews with the creative minds shaping Maastricht’s diverse cultural scene.
Do you ever wonder where your old friends from high school ended up? And wouldn’t it be weird if they all of a sudden show up in the newspaper you’re reading?
This is happening to me right now. The whole week, and everywhere I go in Maastricht, I get reminded of one old friend in particular. With her short bleached blond hair and fierce expression, standing in front of a pitch black background, she dominates the cover of this weeks ‘Week in Week uit’ (the paper version of the cultural agenda that can be found at every corner in Maastricht), promoting her first ever concert in her hometown. I’m talking about MOAN: the musical project of Merle Sibbel.
Last Friday I traveled to the idyllic Wienkontor, across the water in front of the Lumiere, where her concert took place. While entering the small wine bar, I immediately made eye contact with, at least, ten more familiar faces from old times. All there to support our mutual friend. And there she was. Standing tall in high heels, miles away from the girl I knew back in high school. Armed with large glasses of wine, we listened to MOAN’s introspective songs touching on feelings of anger, despair, and longing for more.
What was it like to play in your hometown Maastricht?
Fun! A lot of fun. It was pretty busy. It was one of my first times playing with other musicians, and there were many friends and family in the crowd. So overall a charming experience.
You usually play for strangers in bars at open mics, was it different to play in front of friends and family?
Yes definitely, it’s very easy to play for strangers because you can just act out your sort of alter-ego, but with friends, you’ve got to get over the fact that they know you in regular life as well. Probably also as a more of a shy person. But then again, they already like you, and you don’t have to win them over anymore.
If you had to pick three words to describe your music what would they be?
Ehh… I think POWERFUL, VULNERABLE and HONEST
Ok! Both powerful and vulnerable?
Yes, I think both elements can be found in my music, which makes it more interesting I guess. Sometimes people who’ve watched me play, tell me that I scare them. They might get the image of me being a furious person, but then they also say that at some points during the set I seemed like a fragile little bird. I like that contradiction.
Who influenced you the most in writing your music?
Hm… I used, but currently, I take a lot of inspiration from female artists such as Fiona Apple and PJ Harvey. But also still Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone. More recently, Ricky Lee Jones and Joni Mitchell.
So almost only older musicians?
Yes! They keep it simple and get to the core of raw emotions. Although I can also appreciate very obscure electronic stuff, when listening, I mostly focus on the voice and the feelings they describe.
Ever since you started, it has always been just you and the guitar. Are you also thinking of joining or finding a band to play with?
Yes, I would love to. I think playing with a band could enhance my music. Although, and this might sound arrogant, it should always be about me. I’m more of a solo musician, and I would only want to play with a band if they play to serve my music, and not secretly try to do something of their own. But right now, I am rehearsing with a drummer. We plan to play the semifinals of ‘de Grote Prijs’ together. I find it very interesting to collaborate with other musicians and hear their vision on music and what they think of mine. That’s probably very useful.
Alright, so when we were in high school together, you’d always play these beautiful covers of classic songs. Can you recall the moment you decided to write your music?
Yes, I remember it very vividly. I mean, honestly, I wanted to write and play my songs for a very long time. I had enough to write about, I guess, but at that time I felt like other musicians were already explaining precisely the emotions I was feeling and did a far better job then I could ever do. So for a while, I let go of the dream to become a writer myself and accepted the fact that I’d only do covers as a hobby. But everything changed when I fell madly in love. It was very intense but unrequited, which helped in my writing.
Are you speaking about a muse?
Well, I call him my catalyst. It was an extraordinary sensation, and I couldn’t do anything else but write about the feelings he evoked in me. The longing, the sadness, and the anger. It didn’t work out.
When listening to your music, it strikes me you’re not shy to write about some slightly taboo subjects, like cheating on your boyfriend, stressful family situations, and sexual escapades. How come you lean towards such personal topics?
Well yes, I like to express the feelings and emotions in my music I would usually not show in daily life. Like for instance, that I’m not necessarily an angry person, but when listening to my music, I can be perceived as such. I am much more reserved in real life and daily interaction with people. Music is the place I can express it all. Sometimes even in an exaggerated form because, while I write, I emerge myself entirely in a specific emotional state. That’s in my opinion also the function of art in general. To have the freedom to express those intense feeling instead of getting destructive like punching someone or something.
Speaking of the subject of art, you are also an art-student at the Willem de Koning Academy in Rotterdam. Does this education help you as a musician as well?
Yes, for sure, I think when developing creativity in one area, you simultaneously get better in another creative field as well. I think, if I had studied music I would have less of a personal sound, it would have understood very technical. Practically my education helps me right now too for instance design my posters and cover art for my albums. It made me more self-supporting
In my work, as a musician as well as a visual artist, I touch on similar topics. I have a fascination with this sort of feeling of ecstasy, an emotion that could be an expression of both pleasure and pain at the same time. I would draw faces that seemed like they might be orgasming or could be in complete pain.
Ahh so does that explain your name MOAN?
Yes, I love that word. You can moan out of pain, pleasure, anger or frustration. It’s a noise that just occurs, outside of your control.
Ok so lastly, what are you planning for the future with MOAN?
Well, right now I’m focusing on this competition De Grote Prijs, where I will play in the semifinals the 25th of February. Hopefully, that will help me with broadening my network and doing larger scale shows. After that, I’d like to move back to Berlin. I’d like to find a manager or a small record studio that agrees with my sound. Although, I also realized it could take maybe five more years to be able to make some real money of my music. On the short-term tough, I’d like to make a music video for my song ‘Sister moonlight.’ I already have a clear plan with it and am just waiting for more beautiful weather to be able to shoot it outside.
Pictures by: Stephanie Niewenhuisen