Grand Haven native adds classical spark to West Michigan band

When Grand Rapids area residents David Mouatt and Jake Van Ravenswaay started introducing an ’80s vibe to their last rock band, the group slowly died and the other members moved in different directions.
 
But Mouatt and Van Ravenswaay weren’t fazed. Instead, they kept pursuing their own retro sound produced in a modern way. 
 
The pair wrote a song called “Dead by Dawn” and asked Grand Haven native Kaylin Heydenburg to sing on the track. After her strong performance, they invited her to join their new band. 
 
“‘No, I don’t have time for that,’” she says was her initial response. “But then I did have time for that. So here I am.”
 
Von Kaiser, a Grand Rapids-based Vocal Synthwave band, was born. The trio has since performed its high-energy show at venues and festivals across the country. The band’s next local event is at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 14, at the Pyramid Scheme in downtown Grand Rapids. 
 
“It worked out in the end,” Mouatt says. “Now, we’re three albums and two EPs in.”
 
The Von Kaiser sound
 
While the musical backgrounds of Mouatt and Van Ravenswaay centered around rock, Heydenburg offered a different expertise to the band. She grew up in choral music, musical theater, and opera. In other words, she was classically trained. 
 
Combining those influences helps Von Kaiser music stand out, both locally and nationally. One ’80s band has especially inspired the trio’s sound.
 
“It would be like if Tears for Fears continued making music now. It just kept evolving,” Heydenburg says.
 
“And it added a woman,” Mouatt says with a laugh.
 
“It’s a retro feel but it’s new music,” Heydenburg says. “It’s electronic, so we have some new sounds in there, but also those older sounds reflecting back to days gone by.”  
 
Their songs are a mishmash of themes: dark, light, sad, and happy. 
 
“We try to cover it all,” Mouatt says. “Like ‘The More You Know’ Rainbow.”
 
Producing during a pandemic
 
Their latest album, “Animals,” began in the middle of the pandemic, in the fall of 2020. With so many events and businesses shut down, Von Kaiser had fewer distractions than normal.
 
“We were in the studio all the time,” Mouatt says. “Actually, it's nice that we had that.”
 
“People always asked, ‘Oh, was it hard to focus during that time?’” Heydenburg says. “No, that’s literally all we did.”
 
The band has refined its album process over the years. But the basic formula remains the same: Mouatt comes in with a thought, and Van Ravenswaay and Heydenburg expand upon it in their own way.
 
“David is usually the idea guy,” Heydenburg says. “He always comes in, ‘I have got this thing I thought of while I was taking a shower.’ Or, ‘I was sleeping and I woke up in the middle of the night and had this idea and whistled it into my phone in the closet.’”
 
Looking ahead, the band continues to explore new ways to reach more people. 
 
“Trying to find a fan today is harder than it's ever been because the internet provides so many choices,” Mouatt says. “If you don’t know what you are looking for, it can be hard to find something new.”
 
Listen as Von Kaiser tells the rest of their story on The Gonsior Show podcast

 

Read more articles by Jeremy Gonsior.