ON THE COVER
SIX OF CROWS
From Break-ins to Breakout Stars
written by J. Van Poel
The Crow Club, reads the blindingly bright fluorescent red script with an image of a crow drinking out of cup.
I'm vaguely terrified of what I'm going to find on the other side of the door, but not as terrified as I am of what rabid animals and/or fans are waiting to attack if I stick around here in the back of this dimly lit alley.
I knock on the door, hands clammy. There's some grunting on the other side, a pause, and then finally, the lock clicks open.
I push open the door and all hell breaks loose.
To be fair, my previous may have been a bit of an exaggeration.
I'm not really sure what I was expecting, especially given the band's reputation and where they're currently holed up. Maybe some excessive underage drinking and substance abuse. Maybe a couple of shirtless groupies. Maybe some dabbing. Maybe some high stakes gambling or whatever it is teenage musicians spend their money on. What I find instead when I stumble into the nest of the Crow Club is six teenagers all sprawled out in the room.
"I just put down my winning pair."
"I'm calling you out for cheating!"
"Nina, this is go fish."
It's past midnight and the noise of the six teens, especially Matthias Helvar and Nina Zenik yelling at each other over a game of cards, is enough to wake a village. It's two in the morning and if the members of the band are even the slightest bit aware of how loud they're being right now, they show no sign of it. But then again, they have just spent the last 3 weeks in 10 different cities, playing sold-out show after sold-out show every night and probably have more Red Bull pumping through their veins right now than they should. They're allowed to just be teenagers.
I've caught the band midway through their first national tour, 10 stops down and at least a dozen more to go.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have come at such an ungodly hour, but ungodly hours seem to be the order of the day for Six of Crows. I was asked by Kaz Brekker himself to come for the interview only after they played their last show tonight in Black Veil, a smaller venue than they're used to; nonetheless, tonight they were welcomed by screaming crowds and played a couple encores. The Crow Club is Brekker's very own brainchild, a small dilapidated club he nursed to life after their first few EPs started picking up steam. With its dark corners and equally dark leather couches, it looks more like a shoot for one of their more rambunctious music videos than a home for six teenagers, but it's been converted into a makeshift apartment for the band for the next three days.
In a far corner of the room, "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes is playing on full blast.
Nina Zenik and Matthias Helvar are locked in a battle about who really won that aforementioned game of cards, Zenik talking a mile a minute and Helvar arguing with her at the same speed, matching her beat for beat, almost like they're dancing a dance only they know the steps to.
Wylan van Eck is sitting on a couch, looking down at the notebook in his lap, erasing something with the end of a too-short pencil, a worn brown satchel next to him, reciting what seems to be either the periodic table or several math formulas out loud.
Jesper Fahey is lying on the floor with a fidget spinner balanced on each finger, all 10 of them somehow spinning simultaneously, surrounded by an unfinished game of solitaire, and he's loudly tapping his foot against the slick wood.
Inej Ghafa is sipping a cup of tea in the corner and nibbling on a piece of bread; I almost miss her the first time my eyes do a complete sweep of the room, despite the fact that she's curled up with a bright neon green blanket.
Kaz Brekker is perched on a chair, a dark smudge in the middle of the room. He looks up from the copy of Machiavelli's The Prince in his hand, and fixes me with one of his famous inscrutable gazes as I walk into the room. He tilts his head very slightly, sizing me up from head to toe, and offers me what I assume is a nod, all within a couple seconds. I'm not sure whether to flinch under the intensity of his scrutiny or be pleased that I've caught his attention.
"Let me guess," Brekker rasps the statement. "You want to know how we did it."
Indeed that seems to be the million dollar question. (Brekker looks over my shoulder as I'm typing this and mutters something like that sounds an awful lot like "30 million." I'm not entirely sure.)
After somehow sneaking into one of the world's most secure music festivals while Brum Brothers and Hringkalla were some of the high-profile bands in attendance, Six of Crows, the band that seemingly rose to almost overnight fame in little under a year, seems to be all anyone can talk about nowadays. In the wake of their explosive performance at the Ice Court ten months ago, the internet is buzzing and critics are raving. The band has thoroughly stolen the industry's attention and they have yet to show any sign of slowing down.
"Proper Thieves", their latest single, has secured a solid place on almost every Top 40 chart out there within two weeks of its release, they have a couple million Spotify listeners every month, thousands of followers on their individual social media accounts, and a pretty strong fanbase. Not to mention the fact that their self-titled debut album goes gold later this month.
Not too shabby at all, especially for a band that currently has no label representing them.
In the industry, there's what one would call a shooting star moment. It's the moment a band catapults itself to the top and marks itself as an act to watch out for. The Ice Court was clearly theirs, and was indeed a long time coming. Even if they played on one of the smaller stages on the outer ring of the festival, the area furthest from the main stage, the band somehow drew in thousands of fans during the weekend and become a trending topic of Twitter and the focus of many a festival-goer's Snapchat stories. After that, it was only natural to drop their first real album, which they had spent the past year writing.
(I still have no idea how the band managed to bypass all the security at the festival to even get the chance to play, but Brekker's question must have been rhetorical because it looks like they're taking that secret to the grave.)
Prior to that performance, the band had already released a couple of well-produced but relatively under-the-rader EPs over the past two years, including a mixtape-type tribute EP covering some of Komedie Brute's greatest hits. Listening to those EPs on the way to meet the band proves that they've always had talent but were just lacking a steady audience.
"Nah, man," Pim, one of the members of their crew, shakes his head at me. "Everyone knew who they were in the Barrel. It just took the Ice Court for the world to take notice."
"The Ice Court changed everything," Van Eck agrees.
Helvar makes a face and frowns. "I tried to tell them it was a bad idea. You're lucky we didn't get our asses hauled out by the organizers themselves."
"Please," Zenik rolls her eyes. "Don't listen to him. He's always a pessimist."
"A pessimist who makes you breakfast."
"That's true," she concedes after a moment of consideration, patting his cheek. "But you're still a nag."
"Helvar was wrong in any case," Brekker says.
Notably, their Ice Court performance also culminated in the band declining the offer to be managed by Red Laurel Records under multi-awarded producer Jan Van Eck, otherwise known as the father of the band's very own Van Eck.
"Yeah, my dad's never been too big on keeping his deal of a bargain," the younger Van Eck says finally. "It's caused more than a few musicians a lot of heartache. And money loss."
"The whole capitalist record label thing didn't really work out for us," Zenik chimes in.
"We made a deal, and Van Eck didn't deliver," Brekker's face darkens and in this light, they all look ages older than they did moments ago.
No one else in the band says anything else about the matter so I don't push it, but it probably was for the better that the band did end up as their own bosses. I agree, and with the direction Red Laurel Records seems to be taking in an attempt to break into the contemporary opera scene with Alys Van Eck, Six of Crows fans are probably in agreement as well.
"We'd been managing fine by ourselves so far," Ghafa says. "So we figured we'd continue to do that. And we never looked back."
With the exception of Van Eck and Zenik, the four remaining Crows learned all they know on the road or in between small gigs and performances.
"It's a baptism by fire," Brekker says, ever the eloquent speaker.
"Either you suck it up and learn or you pack up and move," Fahey translates.
Van Eck was traditionally trained as a flutist and Juilliard-bound before he joined the band as the saxophonist. He was raised on the finest of Mozart melodies and Bach symphonies, which shines through in the band's clean melodies and solid rhythms. Meanwhile, Zenik had minimal training at the Little Academy, under the legendary Zoya Nazyalensky nonetheless, but quit after taking a semester off and ended up relocating to Ketterdam.
The set-up is like this: Brekker on vocals and keyboard, Ghafa on bass guitar, Fahey on guitar, Zenik on drums, Helvar on guitar, and Van Eck on saxophone. The band's sound, somewhere between indie rock and full-on alt-rock, is fresh and marked by soulful lyrics one wouldn't expect from such young performers. However, some of the best gems from their album aren't entirely profound. Some of my favorites are great just because they are infectiously catchy and have killer melodies. These include soft rock ballads like Stay ("I didn't mean to say it say it, I meant to let you go go go") and chart-toppers like Shadow Business ("One more for the ranks, one more for the reaper / Find me in the dark with my shadow business") and Magic Touch ("You can take your stupid face and dress up mine / We can write our way out of this, we do it all the time").
If there's anything such as a self-made man, Kaz Brekker is the epitome of that.
After working his way to the top as a roadie, taking on the dirtiest and roughest jobs that no one else wanted to take for several bands under Haskell Holdings Ltd., Brekker learned the ropes with the Dregs, otherwise known as everyone who works behind the scenes for Per Haskell. He eventually left, taking Inej Ghafa, Jesper Fahey and Nina Zenik, all of whom had been working under the company as well, with him to do their own thing entirely.
The cane he carries seems to be part of the image, but is in fact used due to a childhood accident that left his left leg unhealed. However, the presence he has on stage is electrifying. In the audience of their Black Veil show, I saw this firsthand. There are no dramatic knee-slides across the stage or crowd dives (the band agrees that both of those things are more likely to be done by Jesper Fahey or Nina Zenik) but each movement—a slow lean into the mic, an improvised duet with Ghafa during "Stay" when his mic breaks and he shares hers, a saunter across the stage with his keytar—is deliberate and sure. The fans can't look away, and neither can I. He holds on to his crow cane, which doubles as his mic stand when performing on stage, and the fans go wild. Brekker has a magnetism to him that comes naturally, one that makes people want to unravel the mystery surrounding him, to hang on to every word he sings, and to buy the band's album.
Even with his gloves on, it's obvious that he has pianist hands. Lithe and long, his fingers stretch themselves across the keyboard and move like they're floating. They are currently resting on the table in Brekker's sparsely decorated office at The Crow Club. Aside from several stacks of important-looking papers and a battered black laptop emblazoned with a single 'R' sticker, a single picture of the band from their earlier days sits on his desk in a bright red frame which I doubt he bought himself. On his lap is a small black dog, whose name I learn is Dirtypaws. He reaches down to pet the dog, who growls at me and bares teeth that seem to be too big for a dog that could fit in a purse.
The corners of his lips twitch upward at my flinching, then again when I ask him how he and the band are taking to the their newfound fame. His voice, reminiscent of stone on stone, is as gravelly in person as it is on the band's tracks.
"There's no such thing as overnight success," he says. "We've been doing a lot of unseen work for years to get to where we are today. You'd have to be a podge to think that this stuff happens instantly."
You may be wondering: what prompted his interest in music? A sudden discovered talent? An experience of a lifetime? Apparently, it was inspiration of the monetary kind.
"I needed the money as a kid," he says flatly. "And the pay for pianist subs at gigs was decent."
And as they say, the rest is history. But has it always been about money? Was there ever another dream?
"When isn't it about the money?" Brekker rolls his eyes. "The passion was just a plus."
Prior to her time with the Dregs and the beginnings of Six of Crows, Inej Ghafa's first step into the industry came unexpectedly.
Some of you may remember her from the Menagerie, retired singer Heleen Van Houden's attempt at stringing together the next Spice Girls-type girl group.
The Spice Girls had Baby Spice, Sporty Spice, Ginger Spice, Posh Spice and Scary Spice. The Menagerie had a Mare, a Fawn, a Fox, a Serpent, and a Lynx.
Not the same thing, but if Heleen van Houden's brainstorming skills are any indication of her talent, perhaps that lends reason as to why she was a one-hit wonder. That, and the botched plastic surgery job, but that's another story entirely.
A quick Google search reveals that all records of Ghafa's time there have mysteriously been purged from the internet.
"I told Kaz he didn't need to do it," she shakes her head. "But he went ahead and did it anyway."
The topic of her time with the all-girl group is off-limits, and the look I'm sure she'll give me if I even try to broach it is enough to stir a change in topic. That, and the fact that I'm almost sure she can and will kill me in my sleep, that is if Brekker doesn't get to me first if I even try to bring it up.
When I meet her in the main room of the Crow Club the next day, it appears she's in the middle of something. Ghafa pulls out multiple guitar picks from her pocket, and runs her hand over them, mouth moving as if she's reciting something.
"Inej names her picks," Zenik explains, glancing up from a copy of a magazine she's reading.
Ghafa looks up and promptly throws them like knives at the dartboard. They land square on the money, in the middle of the dartboard. The board is at least 15 feet away.
"Oh, and she also uses them for target practice," Zenik adds brightly, and I make a mental note not to get on Ghafa's bad side.
Chin held high, she walks with the impeccable posture of an acrobat and has a realness to her that makes me feel as warm as the cup of tea she makes for me.
"Everyone thought we weren't going to make it," she shares, after setting down the tea in front of me ("It's special Suli tea." It also happens to be pretty damn good.) "To them, we probably just looked like an ordinary bunch of delinquents destined to be college dropouts if pursuing music didn't work out. It's really easy to put us in a box and tell us what we are and what we can't be, but peel back the layers and there's a little more to all of us than meets the surface."
She holds her bass guitar close to her, strumming the chords rapidly, even though no sound comes out. There is a deftness and slow grace to her movements that is mesmerizing. She's one of those people who makes you feel like you could trust them with your deepest darkest secrets. She reminds me of my best friend.
"Performing onstage left me with a sour taste for a while," she says. "But working with the Dregs helped me remember that music brings a lot of therapy for a lot of people, especially when they genuinely love the music. By the time I started doing small gigs with the Crows, I think I was finally ready to do it again."
"It also helps that I actually like the music we're making and the company I play with." She gives me a small grin, and small as it is, it is one of those smiles that lights up a room. To put it colloquially, my skin is clear, my crops are thriving, I have 20/20 vision, and am thoroughly glad.
After our talk, I look down at my notes to review what's written and by the time I look up again, Ghafa is already gone.
For a band that has built its reputation on being the bad kids of the block, Six of Crows proves soon enough that they're just like you. At least, when it comes to how they start their mornings.
Brekker is the first to rise in the mornings, always at 5:30 like clockwork. No later, no earlier. He takes his coffee black and sits by his desk on the bus, staring out the window with an indiscernible expression.
"It's his scheming face," Fahey tells me in passing one morning.
"Do you mean songwriting face?"
"Nope," Ghafa claims, suddenly materializing at my side to grab a box of strawberry Pop Tarts. "Definitely scheming face."
What the teenage frontman of a rising band needs a scheming face for, I'm not exactly sure.
Ghafa is usually the next to wake up. She usually sits on the bench across the Brekker's makeshift desk, neither of them doing much talking, but she likes to watch the sunrise. And apparently, Brekker likes to watch her watch the sunrise.
("Anchor" sings of a glowing girl and something about windowsills, and in the wake of the popularity of the soft-rock number that appears on the deluxe edition of Six of Crows, fans speculate about whether this has anything to do with Brekker and Ghafa's friendship. Neither party wishes to confirm or deny anything, and Brekker cuts me off with a glower four words into the sentence "So, is Anchor about—")
Helvar follows next, his army training kicking in as he wakes up at 7:15 sharp every morning. His feet come pounding into the common room. He heads over to the mini kitchen island in the middle of the tour bus and pulls on a teeny-tiny white apron that boldly reads "Kiss The Chef". It was a gift from Zenik, apparently, and he sets to cooking with almost military focus and precision.
Van Eck gets up shortly after, and heads over to a small desk to run through a series of notes he's left on the table. He's usually the first one to start playing music in the mornings, immediately reaching for his saxophone to try out a bunch of different tunes and rhythms.
Fahey is the second to the last to wake up, yawning and bleary-eyed until he spots a plate of food in the kitchenette and makes a run for it. "And he's always telling me I'm the one who sleeps like a prince," Van Eck grumbles as he passes him on the way to the table. "Nina always takes all the waffles," Fahey says in a voice dangerously close to a whine. It's slightly adorable.
And finally, Zenik comes out at close to 10 am, groggy and groaning about it being too early. "I need my beauty sleep," she groans, and then stops and makes eyes at the waffles on the tables. "Ooh, waffles!"
"We've had waffles everyday this week," Brekker raises his eyebrows at her.
"Well, you've had the same uneven haircut this whole tour, but I don't say anything, do I?" Zenik snaps and Brekker reaches up to touch his hair, frowning.
"Actually," Helvar adds. "You have. Several times. But please don't let that stop you."
Nina Zenik is sitting on Matthias Helvar's lap when I walk into the room.
Helvar, who is almost an entire head taller than me and built like a tree, immediately proceeds to turn very, very pink in the face and almost shoves Zenik right off his lap. In turn, she scowls at him and readjusts her position.
Out of everyone in the band, the pair are probably the ones with the most history together. Zenik even tells me so herself.
"After leaving the Little Academy, I did some travelling by myself. We met at a ski resort," Zenik says. "He was literally singing by a campfire."
And that was how indie pop duo Drüsje and Drüskelle had its start. The pair went on to drop a few mellow easy-listening EPs that can still be found around the internet before the two went their separate ways after some unfortunate miscommunication that ended with Helvar spending the night in a county jail. After that incident, the pair decided that it was time for a break, much to the dismay of several D&D fans, and went their separate ways to work on their individual careers.
By the time they met again, Zenik was already well-ingrained into Six of Crows, having left behind the roadie life—or, the "low-profile life," as she puts it—when Brekker and company did, and Helvar joined the band only shortly before their Ice Court performance.
If Ghafa is the friend you can tell all your deepest secrets to and who holds back your hair at three in the morning, Zenik is the friend who drags you to that rager and demands that you down four shots in a row with her.
She is all wild eyes and big smiles and bright red lipstick, but the minute we start our conversation, something in her eyes shifts and her back straightens like a soldier looking at the battlefield.
"Our success probably doesn't make sense to a lot of people," Zenik admits. "Especially to the older generations of musicians. Non-traditional doesn't necessarily mean bad, but really, when does anything young people do make sense to older people?"
There's no real malice in her voice when she says this, but there is a small grain of truth to it. While the band has enjoyed mostly positive reviews, there have been older musicians complaining that these newcomers haven't earned their fame yet. Some of their most news-worthy criticism has come from the likes of Jan Van Eck and even Rollins Stone Chairman Emeritus Pekka Rollins, but something tells me the former's comments have more to do with personal issues while it's not entirely out of character for the latter, who has said the same for many of today's artists, the new generation of singers and bands.
"It's not like we didn't work our asses off to achieve what we did," she adds. "And we're all just trying to take this day by day and album by album."
I mention Brekker's reaction to fame to her and she wrinkles her nose.
"Nothing fazes Kaz," she rolls her eyes. "Or so he wants everyone to believe. We got to sit next to Sturmhond at an awards show a while back and he was trying to keep up the act, but you could tell he wanted an autograph."
They've earned their place at this table with music royalty, whether they believe it or not. After all, their fans have already named them the new kings and queens of the scene.
Wylan Van Eck seems to be a triathlete by nature—except, the holy trinity of math, science and the arts are his sports. When I approach him, he pops his head out from the top of his bunk bed, and I catch sight of a bunch of pin-ups on the ceiling. Printouts of constellations, mathematical and chemical equations, music sheets and things that all look like they belong in a classroom are all taped for him to look up at.
It's not an unusual sight, I'm told, as more often than not, Van Eck's head is buried in his sketchbook or sheet music. The latter probably came naturally to him given his family background, but he gets surprisingly candid and tells me otherwise.
"The appreciation for music and math came later on," Van Eck rubs his neck. "It's one of the things I was better at."
"I'm dyslexic," he says slowly, like the words are physically being pulled from him. "So that didn't really leave a lot of options for inheriting the business or even songwriting and producing like my dad wanted. I was really good at reading notes, though."
Good is an understatement. Van Eck reads notes and plays them with its second-nature to him. He listens to the first strains of a song that's blasting on the radio and then he's playing the same song on his sax in the next five minutes. It's easy to forget how young they are when they're playing shows every other night and travelling from city to city like it's their job. But they're still pretty damn good at what they do.
"Thanks." He says finally. "That means a lot."
Once we hit the road again, it's back to regular programming for the band.
The Ferolind arrives early, the driver honking to alert its arrival, and is surprisingly spacey, with one bunk for each of the members and several communal spaces tucked around the bus meant to be used for songwriting and practice and the like. The bus is to be their home for the next couple weeks as they hit the rest of the stops on their tour and finish up with their second studio album. No details have been released yet, only that the album is expected to come out sometime within this year or early next year.
They wrote most of their debut album in the Crow Club and in their shared apartment, which, in true struggling artist nature, was complete with leaky ceilings, poor acoustics and "a rat-infested elevator" so the tour bus must be a welcome change in scenery.
"This is gonna be like being trapped in a rolling metal death cage," Fahey says cheerfully.
"Rotty should have bribed the rental guy into lending us a jet," Zenik says sourly.
Four days into the tour, the true colors of the band start coming out. Fahey was right in that being enclosed in tight spaces for long periods of time tends to bring out the best—or the worst—in people. In the case of the band, it seems that it brings out everything in between.
Eddie Spaghetti once said, "Rock and roll keeps you in a constant state of juvenile delinquency."
That would explain a lot, as the dynamic within the band can only be described as a decidedly more aggressive version of The Breakfast Club. Namely: a lot of banter—most of which involves a lot of stinging and acerbic one-liners that are just waiting to be immortalized by the internet, enough hijinks to send any authority figure running, and a whole lot of waffles.
They're living the rock and roll teenage dream.
Within a week of living on the tour bus, the following are things I've observed and witnessed:
1. At a nearby studio the band's rented for the day, Brekker unsuspectingly picks up his phone and pulls on a pair of earphones, presumably to start practicing. A few seconds later, his eyes narrow and he wrenches the cord out of the audiojack and Smash Mouth's All Star fills the air at full volume.
"Jes," he hisses and Fahey cackles loudly.
2. None of the six teenagers want to pay for a Netflix subscription, and yet all of them magically seem to have one under a variety of different names. Friday night is movie night, and I become witness to Fahey and Zenik quite physically fighting each other for control of the remote. Zenik yells something about ripping his teeth out, and Fahey screams in return about hiding all her snacks.
It happens to be Disney night, and there is a lot of yelling as each person campaigns for their respective movie to be shown. (Brekker for Tarzan, Ghafa for Tangled, Helvar for 101 Dalmatians, Zenik for Frozen, Fahey for The Lion King, and Van Eck for Atlantis. In the end, Zootopia wins out.)
3. Brekker is clearly the father figure of this ragtag bunch of teenagers but in a surprising turn of events, it seems that Helvar is the mom figure of the group. He actually frowns at Van Eck and Zenik as they push away the vegetables on their plates. He's also the one to throw a blanket over Brekker and Fahey when they fall asleep at four in the morning and the minute he sees me, he turns around and puts a finger to his lips.
"Oh yeah, there were other band names," Jesper Fahey tells me, making a face. "But they all sucked. One time after a pretty awful practice session, Kaz said we should just call ourselves 'The Hand-wringing Nursemaids.' And then there was that time Matthias got super wasted and said we didn't deserve to even be in a band because we were all horrible."
Fahey seems to never not be doing anything.
By the time he agrees to an interview the day before their last stop back in Ketterdam, he's eaten his way through an intimidating stack of waffles (of course), a bowl of mac 'n cheese, three slices of pizza and a breakfast burrito.
He's not as much sitting as he is standing, fingers jammed into his pockets, rocking back and forth with an easy confidence to him, feet tapping the ground.
Fahey looks up with an huge grin on his face, but there's a twinge of mischief to it, which makes me think he either wants to hug me or trip me.
"If you told any of us three years ago that we'd be here where we are now, we'd probably have laughed in your face." He pauses. "Okay, maybe just me."
"Inej, Nina and Matthias all had their taste of being in the spotlight," he continues. "Wylan practically grew up in the business because of his dad, and well, Kaz is Kaz."
If he's had any difficulty adjusting to the rock star life style, he shows no sign of it. He clearly dresses the part, and has enough skill with his guitar to make me think he's been playing for at least five years, when in reality he's only been playing for three.
"My poker face sucks," he admits. "But I like to think my guitar face is a lot better."
It's minutes before their show tonight in Elling, and backstage is chaos. I catch the band in a tight huddle, something that's apparently a tradition with them before shows. Instead of traditional pep talks, the band has a call-and-response type of thing going on instead.
"No mourners," I hear Brekker say over the roar of the crowds, who are starting to get impatient.
"No funerals," yells the rest of the band, and then the lights go on.
While the band has a couple roadies to get their equipment to and from gigs, the performing part of shows is all on them. The connection they have with their music and their fans is organic and pretty much all-natural. There's no unnecessary equipment or EDM thumping in the background, just the band and their audience. The show tonight has at least 1,500 people in the crowd, but they make you feel like you're in a group of 300.
After several performances and multiple costume changes ("We steal them from a theater," Van Eck replies when I ask where they all come from. I'm not entirely sure he's joking.) and several encores, the band launches into a performance of "Break Out" that closes the show for real.
"Good night, Djerholm!" Brekker yells into the mic and then the stage goes black.
After the show and after a lot of yelling for a midnight snack, most of which is directed at Brekker, we stop at an unsuspecting IHOP, tour bus and all in tow, and the band proceeds to order enough waffles to feed all the members of a small Ravkan village. All six members of the band are slumped in their chairs, eyes alight with the high of performing but bodies clearly tired.
The peace lasts for all of a good 10 minutes before someone yells, "Oh my God, it's Jesper Fahey!"
What follows is actual madness.
It begins with a lot of rapid typing on several different cellphones, and within the next half hour, a horde of teenagers materializes out of nowhere and they begin to swarm the premises. One of the girls pulls out her phone and starts jumping up and down and screaming in Nina Zenik's face. Her friend with neon-pink braces and a shirt that claims "WYLAN VAN SUNSHINE IS THE LIGHT OF MY LIFE" is doing the same with Van Eck and Helvar, and seems to be on the verge of frothing at the mouth and passing out. Another of the girls tries to shake Kaz Brekker's hands and then literally attempts to pull one of gloves from his hand and he visibly almost freezes. Ghafa comes to his rescue, talking to the fan in low, hushed tones until eventually, she lets go of Brekker's hand and glove, and instead proceeds to start snapping a million selfies.
The band's security detail manages to get the fans out, but none of them seem to fazed by the encounter.
"We've seen more...vicious fans," Van Eck says, struggling to find the right word. "And they're still fans."
"Well, at least they brought food," Zenik acknowledges, holding up a dozen or so cupcakes with the band's faces on them.
Matthias Helvar is frowning and looks at me like there's a million other places he'd rather be right now. Like maybe hunting animals in the European winter or doing the same to writers sent by major music magazines. For some reason I cannot place, in this light, he reminds me of a rock. Or a very angry Abercrombie & Fitch model. He certainly has the hair for it.
"I've been told the likeness is uncanny," he deadpans.
He may be the newest member of the band, but his time with D&D has made him no stranger to the performing scene. The Ice Court was his first show with Six of Crows, but they were on his turf. A Fjerdan native, Helvar grew up in an army family, often moving around the country to the various places where his foster father was deployed. "The natural thing for me to do was to join the army too once I graduated," he says. "That was the plan, and then I met Nina and then making music with D&D changed everything."
"I don't regret any of it, though," he adds. "The ride hasn't been easy so far, but it's been a learning experience. Music was always a big part of my life, even before I started making my own."
Growing up in Fjerda made him no stranger to some of the bands that were performing that night alongside them that night at the Ice Court. "I was a big fan of Brum Brothers growing up," he shares. "One of my all-time favorite songs is Alpha Pack."
Brekker raises an eyebrow and calls out, "Are you sure your favorite band's not Screaming Trees?"
"As artists, you're affected by a lot of different elements in your life. That really shapes you," Helvar says, toying with a stuffed wolf near his bedside. The band's songs have apparently been shaped by all of their collective experiences as a band, and you can hear it clear as day on the album—the gritty feel of Kerch can be heard on "Ketterdam" and "Shadow Business" while the soft vocals and steady drumbeat of "Ice" remind me of Helvar's Fjerda.
"The whole ride has been a big surprise, pretty much," he admits. "But it's the kind of change we all needed in our lives."
The most surprising thing about the tour so far?
"I'm a little surprised we haven't ripped each other's heads off by now," he says thoughtfully. Let it never be said Matthias Helvar is anything less than totally honest.
The band's songwriting process seems to be just that—a pretty intense process. One that involves a lot of pencils with chewed tops, some vehement cursing, and paper getting tossed aside.
Brekker and Ghafa are working on the lyrics, Helvar and Zenik are in a different corner working on the arrangement, and Fahey and Van Eck are off in another corner testing out what they have so far on their instruments. Different sheets of music get passed around the room, melodies are played, and a couple dozen McNuggets are ordered. Then rinse and repeat.
Brekker and Ghafa sit by the table, staring down the notebook paper in between them. They're both studying the papers like they're battle plans and tossed beside them are a bunch of pencils whose tips have broken as well as a sizable pile of crumpled up paper. May the fallen rest in peace.
"What rhymes with suffering?" Ghafa wonders out loud, staring at the lyrics they've written so far.
"Try offering," Zenik calls out.
"There's a problem with the bridge," Brekker says, tapping his cane against the ground.
"Oh God," Fahey says. "This is the Ice Court all over again."
He's referring to how the band miraculously wrote the song they closed their Ice Court show with an hour before they went live, and apparently also got stuck, as one would expect when writing a song only minutes away from performing it. The band pulled through, though, and "Vendetta" sent the crowds wild that night. It ended up being a certifiable hit. It was the first single they dropped after the performance. I'm told that there was a lot of screaming, cursing and general band antics that went on as they wrote that song in a cramped corner backstage against a broken amp.
It was a risk, but by now the Crows have proved themselves to be nothing if not risk takers.
"What's the best way to end a show?" Brekker asks, perched on a chair.
"I know it's not typically within our genre," Zenik starts. "But hear me out. Back-up dancers."
"All of us jumping off the stage and crowd surfing," Fahey suggests. "Shirts optional."
"Massive stage dives," Ghafa offers.
"Pyrokinetics," Van Eck says. "Lots of them."
Helvar says nothing, only puts his head in his hands and heaves a sigh, which leads me to believe that conversations like this are a common occurrence within the band.
"We'll figure it out eventually," Zenik says. "We always do."
On my last night with the band, everything goes to hell. Quite literally.
We've reached the end of our destination for the Proper Thieves Tour and we're back in the band's home city of Ketterdam. The stakes are higher than ever, and a quick peak behind the curtain helps me point out at least a dozen of the biggest names in music from Kerch. Backstage is a disaster. Their mic breaks down, two of their amps apparently got left behind in their Djerholm show, and there seems to be something wrong with the lights system, judging by the way the stage lights keep blinking like they're wincing. It's nothing the band, several self-proclaimed "street rats", hasn't faced before though.
"No mourners," Zenik's voice cuts clear over the roar of everything backstage, just before they go onstage.
"No funerals," echoes the rest of the band in unison.
Brekker steps on the stage and taps on the mic. No sound comes out, so the band does what they do best: they improvise. Brekker turns around and makes eye contact with each of the members, all looking ready to just about give up their lives for one another, and makes a sign with his hands. 3, 2, 1. On cue, the band begins playing the first few strains of Ketterdam, Brekker not so much singing as yelling, and then the audience is singing along at the top of their damn lungs.
Once we're backstage again, it's chaos again. But this time, it's the kind that is welcomed.
Zenik all but tackles Helvar and he scoops her up in his arms, planting his mouth of hers.
Not to be outdone, Fahey looks around until his eyes land on Van Eck and pulls him toward him as well, kissing him.
"GET IN HERE!" she yells at the rest of the band and then it's a tangle of limbs as Zenik tugs Fahey in, who in turn, pulls Van Eck into the group hug, who then proceeds to tap Ghafa on the wrist and pull her to the edge of the hug. The rest of the crew piles on until the only indication that Helvar is still breathing under the massive human pile is the tufts of blond hair bobbing up and down as he tries to inch his way up for air. Ghafa effortlessly slips out from the middle of the circle and makes her way toward to edge of the massive gathering. Once she's on the outskirts, she gives Brekker, who's leaning on a nearby doorway, a huge grin and then she's looping her pinky finger through with his, and begrudingly he comes a little closer.
In the yellow wash of backstage light, it looks like gold is raining down on Six of Crows.
A man who reminds me of an older Ed Sheeran, red hair and all, catches up with us backstage.
"Da!" Fahey yells, and then he's barreling towards the man, one arm wide open and ready to hug, the other intertwined with Van Eck's and pulling the boy toward him.
The band stays like that for a while, various items being thrown in the air (I catch sight of a couple coins, guitar picks, confetti and some underwear that the fans threw onstage.) and everyone yelling like there's no tomorrow. It feels like intruding on an intimate moment, so I make myself scarce and try to sneak away to the sidelines when the band turns to look at me all at once. It's a little unnerving.
Fahey claps me on the back.
"Congratulations," he says, grinning. "You actually made it through."
"Damn it," Zenik pouts at me. "You made me lose money."
"Which means I just gained 100 bucks," Van Eck says, pumping a fist in the air.
"Street magician," Brekker says, turning to look at me after giving Van Eck an approving nod.
The confusion on my face must show because he afterwards he adds, "You asked me if there was a dream before this. There was—street magic."
He offers me the closest thing his face has to a grin. Why now, though?
"Would anyone believe you otherwise?" He says, cocking an eyebrow, and they all laugh.
Perhaps it's true that rock and roll never rests.
Within two hours of the end of their tour, the band has already dropped some major news again. Tonight, they've just announced that their second album, Crooked Kingdom, is scheduled to drop in November and have just released the first look by tweeting a picture of the album cover, a black and gold masterpiece, and the tracklist, which I figure I'm now allowed to include in this article:
2. Blow It Up
3. Everything, Everything
4. 30 Million (The Remix)
6. Until The End
9. Lying To Ourselves
10. Blood On Our Hands
11. Kingdom Came
Later this summer, the band is set to open for The Raven Boys, who are on their second international tour.
(I reached out to the band regarding this but in lieu of an official statement from their manager Blue Sargent, all I got in reply was a single text from their drummer Ronan Lynch. It's gonna be great dude. Caw caw, motherfuckers.)
Until then, the band tells me that their plans for the next few months mostly involve taking a break, maybe a cruise or two around the islands, and gearing up to promote Crooked Kingdom. All in all, the future looks pretty promising for Six of Crows.
"If it all goes well," Brekker says. "You shouldn't be seeing us on any major news channels for anything other than our music."