Photography by Felix Bartlett

Kieran Webber
Kieran Webber

Founder of CLUNK Magazine. Normally found hunched over his desk searching for new music.

On a sunny Texan day during SXSW we caught up with Personal Trainer for a wholesome chat about friendship, DIY attitude, and much more!

It was a gloriously sunny day in Texas when we met up with frontman Willem Smit and percussionist Killian Kayser of Personal Trainer. The jet lag had dissipated and we were full of energy, something that the band have in bucketfuls. 

We gathered in a bar near Sellers Underground, just to the right of the British Music Embassy. After a bit of confusion with our ID’s (America is ridiculously hot on IDs at bars) we got our crisp beverages and had a chat. 

The two regaled us in stories of how Personal Trainer came to be, their influences, touring across the UK, and much more. 

Kieran: So, we have you paying down in Falmouth this summer.. I imagine you’ve not played that far down south? 

Killian: I think the furthest we’ve played is Portsmouth and that was the last time we came to the UK. Actually we played Bognor Regis at Butlins that was great fun! 

Kieran: How did that recent UK tour go? 

Killian: Really nice!

Willem: Yeah, it was the first time we’ve sold out shows in the UK. It was really different from playing in front of 3 people which was what happened last time (laughs). 

Killian: I think pretty much every show sold out and there was a lot of nice people there. It was very special. 

Kieran: What’s the difference to playing in Europe as compared to the UK? 

Willem: We play mainly in the Netherlands and we’re normally playing in larger spaces. There aren’t as many small pubs there as there is in the UK. 

Killian: In the Netherlands it is very venue based and there are no promoters that do shows, it’s all in house. The only place we had this experience was with the Heron Arms in Birmingham, they have in house promoters but everywhere else is people working hard to pick a place out that they think will be a good fit for the band. It allows you to play and explore more interesting venues whereas in the Netherlands the venues are all very similar. They all have the same little fridge with the rider in it, it’s very organised. 

The UK is hilarious, as an example we played a show in Portsmouth and we asked if there was a green room and the promoter said no, but I can block the ladies toilets for you (laughs). It actually worked and we’re much more down with that DIY vibe. We found with our UK shows there is more room to play and be more creative with our performance. 

Willem: It makes it much more adventurous! 

Listen/watch ‘The Lazer’ here:

Kieran: It’s interesting that you mention that DIY spirit as it is something I recognise in your music, is that fair to say? 

Willem: I think so yeah. All the stuff we do is self produced, and the record we put out ourselves as well. 

Killian: We have some very resourceful people in the band. We gifted our guitar player a letterman for his birthday, we celebrated in Cheltenham and went bowling. He smashed a record there actually, so if you ever go to Hollywood bowl in Cheltenham, he will be top off the board. Anyway, yeah that letterman has come in really handy and he has used in a variety of ways to get us out of sticky situations. 

(At this point of the interview the barman decided to kick off as we asked a friend to buy a round and because we all didn’t go in with our ID got real shitty. All of us are over 30 years old.) 

Killian: That guy is becoming my nemesis (laughs). 

Kieran: Is the DIY approach something you will retain throughout your time as a band or could it change if a major label got involved? 

Willem: I was in another band that was a little bit more sorted out. We were signed to a label and had a manager that sorted everything. All I had to worry about was the music, which was really nice. When I started this band I was really inspired by Pip Blom, she does a lot of things by herself. As an example she decided oh I want to play in the UK, why not do that and I really liked that attitude. She recorded her own music at home by herself and it felt really nice that she was so in control of everything. I found that super inspiring so that was the attitude I wanted to bring into Personal Trainer. 

“When I started this band I was really inspired by Pip Blom, she does a lot of things by herself”

Willem Smit – Personal Trainer

It’s worked out so far but I am a massive scatter brain which is where Killian comes in as he knows his shit and gets things to actually happen. 

Kieran: So you’re (Willem) the big picture guy and then Killian makes it happen? 

Killian: Yeah, I guess. I think we are both very excited about the idea of seeing everything that is happening and why. That control is very nice but we do still of course ask people for help. It’s very comforting as if you don’t like the way something is happening you can put the brakes on or push more for a thing you really want. We have the opportunity to upgrade stuff too, do we want to invest in this or that ya know? 

Being up to date with everything that is going on the band is really great as it allows us to make very good decisions. However, we do have a slightly larger team now, we’ve got a booking agent in the UK and a manager. It’s very nice to have a team around you that helps but I think we will always remain in control. If we work with a major label we would like for the emails to be read by us first kinda thing. I would advise every band to do the same as it is great to know what you’re up to. 

Kieran: When working with people do you vet them first so that you have an idea who you are bringing in? 

Willem: I think the most important thing is for you all to just get along. If someone is nice and they like what you do, that is all you need really. 

Killian: It also comes down to what you can afford as well! 

Kieran: So what was your big goal with coming to SXSW? 

Willem: I was really against it at first actually as I thought it was going to be way too difficult and way to expensive. But then I was sold on the idea that it is nice to go to the other side of the world with your friends. Obviously whilst we are here we can do some nice stuff with the band too and have some fun. 

Killian: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun but for us it doesn’t feel like a make or break moment. So it makes it easier for us as it’s like oh we’re going to play five fun shows and scavenge whilst we are here. We all packed really light with just hand luggage. 

Willem: The rest of the band are literally shopping for underwear for us right now. 

Killian: Yeah, I need a shaker and we’ve managed to source that. For us it’s a fun adventure, there’s no pressure on us.

Willem: We’re not going to make it in America anyways (laughs). 

Killian: America is fun but it’s so much easier to tour the UK as everything is so much closer, geographically. I would much rather go and tour in Asia, Japan, places like this. That would be so much fun. There’s a big world out there to discover and conquer before America becomes a realistic or feasible option. 

Kieran: I am really curious to know why you feel it’’s no feasible, can you explain a little more? 

Willem: Yeah, it’s a long way from home and the flights are expensive, everything is very expensive. I would much rather allocate the money to making a really cool record. 

“There’s a big world out there to discover and conquer before America becomes a realistic or feasible option.” 

Killian Kayser – Personal Trainer

Killian: The hypothetical situation where you sell out a 500 cap venue everyday for a month in the states, based off a viral hit on Spotify or Youtube, or whatever. It would be a lot of fun but we’re a band of seven people and they all need to pay their rent too. So America is just far away and Europe is a good start for us. I would love it of course though, that’s the teenage dream. 

Willem: Yeah, it just doesn’t seem that realistic right now. 

Killian: But if it comes around we would love it. 

Kieran: I want to pick up on your relationship with social media and being in a band. How do you feel about it and what’s your relationship with it? 

Killian: Willem does most of it! 

Willem: Yeah, that’s all me pretty much. I am really bad at it. 

Killian: I think you’re really good at it because you have that personal approach. 

Willem: You guys teach me everyday though. I only learnt today that there is a setting for Instagram to not compress and upload your image at a shitty quality. I basically use it to let people know where we are playing. 

Killian: Yeah but your tone and way of writing is really funny, I really like it. I will say that we just have fun with it, we’re not worrying about what time to post or anything like that. 

Kieran: Is there pressure from outside sources to post a lot? 

Willem: Yeah, there is always people asking you to post stuff and people messaging us. Actually, for this tour we have had so many people ask us for guest list, which is so weird. 

Killian: The audacity (laughs). 

Willem: I don’t mind and sometimes I wills ay yeah, fuck it sure. Funny enough it’s not people who look like they need free tickets either, it’s the BBC Radio 6 guys a lot of the time (laughs). 

Kieran: It’s pretty cool we live in an age where fans can have that sort of contact with you! 

Killian: Yeah, I really like it. 

Willem: Last couple of months we’ve had a lot of messages and I have started not responding to them which feels kinda weird. Although, it feels like freedom not having to respond (laughs). 

Kieran: So, 2022 was a very busy year for you and 2023 is shaping up to be just as chaotic, what is the long term goal for Personal Trainer? 

Willem: I just want to keep making records and keep playing shows. I am really happy with what we’re doing right now and I would like to maintain this control over what we put out, where we play and have a good time in general. 

Killian: Yeah, album number 2 is starting to emerge as well and I think it is going to be a lot of fun of fun to play. We love just being able to play, we’re 7 friends just having the time of our lives. It’s a very powerful feeling just doing what you love, taking you to fun places with your friends and having experiences of a lifetime. A big part of the band is our friendship and we all want to continue this. No matter where e play, whether that is a tiny bar in Portsmouth or let’s say Glastonbury. 

Kieran: Okay, well thank you for taking the time to chat with us it’s been a pleasure and we look forward to catching you live here in Texas and in Falmouth in June. 

Willem & Killian: See you then and thank you!