Personal Trainer

Still Willing (Bella Union)

Contact Jessica Linker, Patrick Tilley about Personal Trainer

Dutch collective Personal Trainer announce their new album Still Willing, out August 2nd via Bella Union, and release the exuberant new single “Round.” Essentially the project of frontman and bandleader Willem Smit (working with co-producer / collaborator Casper van der Lans) and a band in a live setting, Personal Trainer showed a facility for DIY indie-pop with their 2022 debut, Big Love Blanket. Willem now returns re-energized with Still Willing, a multi-faceted album of shining contrasts and spry melodies, effusive 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.”


Following the previously released single “Intangible,” “Round” is a strutting rock number featuring big pop-guitar hooks and an earworm of a chorus. According to Willem, “‘Round’ was one of the last songs to make it onto the album. I had most of the record mapped out, but I felt it needed something that in The Netherlands I would call ‘een lekker nummertje,’ which I guess means something in-between ‘a banger’ or ‘a tasty little ditty’. Or something. I tend to want one of those on records I make.”


The “Round” video was directed by Kilian Kayser, who adds, “The idea of making a video with an orange playing the role of Willem seemed fun. So we organized a last-minute show with an orange on lead vocals at the Helikopter in Amsterdam and spent a day wandering through the city to shoot the video. A major inspiration is the video for ‘Tom Courtenay’ by Yo La Tengo. I thought it would be a fun idea to end the clip with a live show. It’s my favorite typical music video trope. A sort of feel-good happy ending with a band making everything right for the protagonist on an uncomfortably small stage.”


Witty, welcoming, and winningly melodic, Still Willing brims with ideas and color. It’s the sound of an instinctive musician favoring think-on-your-feet exploration and intuition over know-it-all premeditation. Willem’s initial intent was to record the album as if it was live, but those plans changed as he and Casper got into an undeniable groove together. “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 of trying out stuff and taking stuff away compared to the last record, because it felt like we were on the same wavelength.”


The songs and sounds were assembled in detailed increments and recorded between home and “places that don’t cost much to record at”, says Willem. Alongside Lena Hessels and The Klittens, contributors include drummer Kick Kluiving and (for half of the songs) bassist Ruben van Weegberg, also Willem’s bandmate in 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.


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.