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Personal Trainer - Still Willing
Personal Trainer - Still Willing
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Personal Trainer - Still Willing

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Due for release 2nd August 2024 via Bella Union

CD / Std Black LP / Ltd Dinked Edition LP

Dinked Edition No. 300 features :

White vinyl 
Bonus ‘Intagible’ white 7” featuring White Denim remix
16 Page A5 Fanzine
Signed Trading Card
Limited pressing of 600

If you like pop music to keep you on your toes, Amsterdam’s Personal Trainer provide that service fulsomely on their second album. Essentially the project of Willem Smit (working with co-producer/collaborator Casper van der Lans) on record and a band live, Personal Trainer showed a facility for DIY indie-pop exuberance and experiment in sync with 2022’s debut, Big Love Blanket. Now signed to Bella Union, Willem returns re-energised with Still Willing, a multi-faceted album of shining contrasts and spry melodies, bursting arrangements and subliminal sounds, playful lyrics and self-reflection: in short, a pop album executed with dynamism, vim and charm.
 
As Willem says, this is a record fuelled by its extremes: sometimes energetic and loud, sometimes quiet and thoughtful, always full of hidden pleasures. “When I listen to the records I make, the main thing I hope is that every time something happens on them, you’re like, ‘Wow.’ I like to be taken by surprise like that on a record, to kind of be thrown around.”
 
Those surprises start at the beginning, where ‘Upper Ferntree Gully’ shows a dreamy side to Personal Trainer before choppy, chunky riffs and electronics take over. Meanwhile, Willem’s anchoring imprint is ever-present: he prefers not to dissect his lyrics, but the title nod to his mother’s birthplace in Australia and opening recording of her voice seed a spirit of warmth and intimacy in the record – the personal in Personal Trainer, perhaps. 
 
In a sharp left-turn, ‘I Can be Your Personal Trainer’ follows with a buoyant swing. The album proceeds with that duality in mind, always Smit’s work yet always fresh, always seeking. In Willem’s description, ‘Cyan’ is “a weird, happy pop track”, chivvied onwards by contributor Nick Bolland’s sax and leavened by vocal contributions from Dutch alt-pop singer Lena Hessels. “With most of this one I was trying to make myself laugh or at least smile,” says Willem. “And then I started to really like it. Somewhere along the process I found something like honesty or something beautiful in it.”
 
Elsewhere, there’s strutting rock in ‘Round’ and vulnerability in ‘New Bad Feeling’. ‘Intangible’ issues another gearshift, erupting from a rising synth line into spry indie-funk pop, where Willem’s innate melodic instincts light the way into uncharted territory for Personal Trainer. As Willem explains, “I tried to make a song that is something I wouldn’t normally do and experiment with that. I like how it turned out because it’s also probably one of the first instances where I had the chorus first and the other parts later, which rarely happens.” 
 
The plangent sensitivity of ‘Testing the Alarm’ adds playful wordplay (“lallygag in shrubbery”) before live favourite ‘You Better Start Scrubbing’ arrives on album in a joyously abrasive blast of no-wave vigour, its glorious shout-along chorus aided by guest vocals from three members of Dutch alt-rock quintet The Klittens. Finally, ‘What Am I Supposed to Say about the People and their Ways’ signs the album off on a wryly humble note, Willem upholding an inquisitive mindset over the modern bleat of “bleeping know-it-alls”.
 
Witty, welcoming and winningly melodic, Still Willing is the sound of an instinctive DIY-pop musician favouring think-on-your-feet exploration and intuition over know-it-all premeditation. Willem’s initial intent was to record the album as if live, but he realised that his chemistry with Casper would not be denied. “I felt that we had grown and built a language together. We don’t have to say a lot, but we understand each other well. There was a lot less like trying out stuff and taking stuff away compared to the last one, because it felt like we were on the same wavelength.”
 
As for how they work together, says Willem, the songs and sounds are assembled in detailed increments. “I write the songs and record most of the stuff, like kind of the skeleton, and then we record drums together. That’s the first step, most of the time. From there, we build. I don’t know much about compressors or weird effects. But Casper knows a lot about that and is really enthusiastic. If I want some part to work better, he’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, I have an idea for that.’ And there were times when I would say, ‘Do you feel like playing this part?’ And he just plays it.”
 
Recorded between home and – says Willem – “places that don’t cost much to record at”, the result is a DIY pop album brimming with ideas and colour. Whereas Big Love Blanket’s experimental sounds included a celery stick snapping, Still Willing features floorboards, doors closing and “no-input mixing”. Alongside Hessels and The Klittens, contributors include drummer Kick Kluiving and (for half of the songs) bassist Ruben van Weegberg, also Willem’s bandmate in the band Canshaker Pi, who numbered Stephen Malkmus among their producers. Most of the percussion comes from Kilian Kayser, and discreet sounds are served by Abel Tuinstra and Otto de Jong.
 
Willem is the epicentre of the band, which originated from impromptu and exhilarating live shows featuring ever-shifting members of different local bands sharing a bustling stage. The live line-up has solidified somewhat but Willem still welcomes the contrast with his recorded work: “When I make the record, it’s me calling the shots. But I can’t tell everyone exactly what to do every second when we’re on stage. There’s, like, shakers flying around or instruments being thrown all over the place, so I don’t have the capacity to control that. And that’s really exciting to me.”
 
Big Love Blanket harnessed that energy in 10 excitable pop songs, bright and bracing. Acclaim from Steve Lamacq, Marc Riley, Mojo, Clash, DIY Mag and others followed. Support slots with BC Camplight in 2023 were joyfully received, as was a tour for Independent Venues Week with The Klittens and Real Farmer. Personal Trainer have notched up many festival visits, too, including stop-offs at the End of the Road, Wilderness and The Great Escape. In December 2023, an EP featuring the tracks ‘The Feeling’ (all nine minutes of it) and ‘Babyolifantjes’ (translated: baby elephants) also emerged, recorded with a view to capturing the band’s live form. Soon, Smit and his bandmates will showcase that form with summer festivals including Green Man, Deershed, Truck Festival and Lowlands. 
 
Meanwhile, Still Willing arrives as a fervid expression of Willem’s home-recording and studio methods, tethered to inviting pop instincts and rich with the fertile promise of more to come. Willem doesn’t want to tell you what or how to think about the album but, he says, “It would be awesome if people like it and buy the record, so that I can make another one.” On the strength of Still Willing, he’s fit for the long distance.