Incendiary eat scones – again – with Henk Koorn of Hallo Venray

And this record, it was very… tense, very… because I didn’t wanna give it away.

 

Photo courtesy of Joni Spaan

 

Are we going to eat scones again?

Sure…

I’ll bring some wine too.

Me and Henk have got this thing going round scones. It brings out the best of us I’m sure. Or I like to pretend it does. I think Henk just likes eating home baked scones. And that’s fine. Henk turns up for an afternoon of convivial chat and a few records; the playing of which are - due to the incredibly sensitive ears of our neighbour – conducted at a noise level not far off silence. From an initial volume level (I may add) that was quieter than the radio in our back room. I could get it if the place was a monastery and the neighbour was in their 80s and someone implacably opposed to all forms of electronically amplified devil’s beat music, as perpetrated by the young. They’re not.  I shouldn’t complain. (Or I should, but won’t.) Henk’s been kicking against this sort of thing all his life.  

But enough about me living in the land of Eternal (Middle Class) Silence… to business. Once settled, and partially sated through scones and red wine, we start the tape rolling. We started talking about squatting. Reason being, I’d been speaking recently to a lot from the ULTRA scene, who had often talked about squatting. I wondered if Henk had come from a similar background.

HK: Yeah we did things like that back then. I remember that we broke in the Boterberg and we stole our food and energy… I don’t know (laughs) and we broke in some old bunkers too…

IN: Kraaking was all the thing then wasn’t it? Do you think it affected the outlook of what you did later with Hallo Venray?

HK: It was. It did. Of course, that’s where Hallo Venray started. I think that was the whole attitude. Doing your own stuff at your own pace, and just with people you liked at that moment; and it had a kind of circuit so if you had a band you could play in a squat in Amsterdam or Nijmegen or Rotterdam. So that’s how we got about. That’s how we played in… let’s say from ‘87 something like that we were playing all the squats in Holland. And you know we were kind of a romantic band in comparison with all the other squat bands in Holland. There was an industrial, dopey sound about.

IN: A lot of the bands that came out of that whole squat scene were very interesting. You have all the bands that came out of The Ex / Wormerveer scene don’t you? And it’s really committed stuff. I remember talking to Andy about when he joined The Ex, and he said they were like a machine, a self-contained unit.

HK: It was the same with us in a way. We played some time with the Ex. And they had really that political background. And I was more the Neil Young guy who got into squatting because it was the way to live and the way to do the thing I wanted to do. They were kind of militant on stage too; I always say “pamphleterig”! (Laughs)

…And then I asked other people well what do you think of The Ex? And they always said “a hart onder de riem” (an English translation would be – roughly - a “clap on the back”). But I never felt it that way because it was too much in my face. But I had so much respect for The Ex; over how they were doing things and how they were dealing with things, and staying away from the pitfalls of, of…

IN: Dealing with the music grid of Holland! (Laughs) Once you’re in there... which you are… I mean you are a successful band, and on a well-respected label within the Dutch industry (Excelsior). Which makes it interesting for me to talk to you about where you stand. I mean you are all very independent people within Hallo Venray. And yet you deal with a very smooth operator with Excelsior, Ferry Rosenboom, who is in that whole “shaking hands” business, hanging out at De Wereld Draait Door… How do you feel about that?

HK: I don’t really… it’s just a thing you have to do. You know, I like playing on stage and making music, and to continue that you have to do this and that… and that is... no big deal! (Henk looks at me sardonically and smiles.)

IN: How did you find DWDD this time? They still got those ridiculously huge tables backstage?

HK: Yeah! (Laughs) Now; it was okay… you just have to see that as a burst of energy that all these people give in an hour’s time and the whole organization and everybody is running I just see it as concentrated energy and that is good.

IN: And that’s good for the record. Hey, just switching subjects… You just mentioned you were a romantic band, and I always thought your name is quite romantic. You are always going to different places, it’s not cynical is it? It’s regenerative, you can keep on doing things… Is there anything in that name?

HK: It’s kinda simple; because we just needed a name!

(Both laugh)

…And the guitar player at that moment… we always kinda made fun of the Lost Vast programme and then I said well… that’s our name we have a gig in a week. And that’s our name. And we never changed it. (Laughs)

 

Prosaic beggars

 

IN: The other thing that strikes me about Hallo Venray is that you have a philosophical element to the way you write your lyrics. And especially with this new record, Show, that’s the most rounded of all in terms of the emotions and thoughts. They are open and it seems as if you allow people to interact with the lyrical content a lot more. Is there a reason for that?

HK: I think it’s about 6 years ago since we put our last record out. And I’ve been writing all the time and just throwing things away and keeping things. So it kinda meant… I could… I had a chance to nail it! And sometimes it takes time and sometimes it takes 5 minutes. And this record, it was very… tense, very… because I didn’t wanna give it away. Because with some records we’ve done, you know you can’t control it anymore. But this record, well I just kept on pounding. You know, ‘it has to be this way’; or ‘this is not good’. And I therefore kept more control on it. Why? I don’t really know if I’m honest. (Laughs) Maybe I felt that this could be a good thing.

IN: Yeah; I know what you mean… Because sometimes you get that feeling that you are in a good space artistically, and if you lose it, then it’s gone.

HK: Yeah. If you lose it then it’s gone. And often if you’re in the business, other people come around and before you know it’s not your record anymore.

IN: I remember interviewing someone years ago, I can’t remember who it is, and they said ‘once you get successful, other people start making your records for you.’ And none of them play in the band! (Laughs)

…But this is a very personal record, there’s some very personal stuff in there. And you’ve always been very open with your lyrics but this one… It was noticeable how easy it was for the listener to sing along and get a mental picture of where you were coming from.

HK: Well, maybe it’s the melody, maybe it’s the background chords, the rhythm. Maybe it’s the combination of all three. I think we put a lot of thought in that; in sounds. Especially in guitar playing. There as a lot of thought in what I wanted and how could I get it. And the fact that we were also playing on Vlieland for 10 days, and 14 hours a day just… slamming it out! (Laughs) That was very good. Yeah we erm... had loads of hard drives of music! (Laughs) But in a way I could hear, that this could be good... If I worked on that.

IN: It’s a great record. You’ve stripped away a lot of things.

HK: Yeah!

IN: And one thing that you’ve avoided too, and it’s one thing that really used to annoy me about Hallo Venray records is – and this comes down to the fact that you are such good musicians who know how to work a studio – that you often know how to hide things behind technique; and you can play with the idea of not being caught out. Sometimes your older records are so polished they are like little demonstrations of technique. But this one is not a demonstration record is it?

HK: No; it’s mostly live and ahm... it’s always great to have a song that can make you… how do you say… solid, that you can put your teeth in it? And on this record there are lots of songs where you can put your teeth in the melody. Just sitting on the kitchen table and playing it on an acoustic guitar yuou know? And you say, alright! This is the stuff I’m looking for.

IN: So you did a lot on acoustic?

HK: Yeah everything.

IN: And I suppose you can hear a sort of acoustic sensibility; that it hasn’t been immediately built on an electric.

HK: Not immediately, but I… when you start playing with a band you break it down to something that’s usable for electric. Because I didn’t wanna do the Neil Young strumming thing or just erm… a living next door to Alice thing! (Laughs)

IN: If you do things on acoustic and when it moves over to electric it can sound really weird.

HK: that’s true.

IN: But on this record you’ve used the electric to drive the melody. Fair?

HK: Yeah. That’s very fair. But this was the first record with a concept; it was “bedacht” in one second, but the electric helped me through the record, to fill up the gaps.

IN: I was writing in my review of your latest LP, that the Henk and Melle record  made a difference as well because it’s was a fantastic record and it was fun. And you’ve taken that fun and openness and thrown it into this record.

HK: It certainly gave me some self-confidence, erm… knowing that I could make a record in a week’s time; compose and record it, and it wasn’t so bad! (Laughs) So you can see it as a sharpening of the pencil ready for action.

IN: I liked as well that the Henke and Melle record had these simple melodies; straight down…

HK: Yeah straight down; and clear. Yep.

IN: the other thing about the record is you’re not ashamed to mention or reference a lot of the people you love like David Byrne, Jonathon Richman, Lou Reed. And you can really hear it. But it feels really fresh the way you’ve done it. What was the thing behind it; because some of the tracks sound really ‘Lou Reedy’… the way you say things, some guitar licks… It’s very confident Henk!   

HK: Not ashamed to do it! (Laughs) No it’s erm… I just erm don’t think about it that way. When it’s done I can say it’s a Lou reed kinda thing. I can just try in the moment to make it good, you kow, with the band. And because I love The Velvet Underground, Neil Young, Talking Heads, Joy Division. All great bands and that’s just… just my luggage. That’s what I listen to.

IN: Totally valid.

HK: And of course the sessions we did with Natasha… we did the Talking Heads. And that was the first time I really, really dug into the Talking Heads, the sounds, the lyrics...

IN: Talking Heads have incredibly clever lyrics.

HK: They are really, really, good lyrics.

IN: Some of the things Byrne says on Remain in Light and Fear of Music are incredible. And it works as pop music!

HK: My favourite record is Fear of Music. That’s so crazy, so… I dunno… it has humour, a kind of panic. It was a record I erm.. grijs gedraaid! (Laughs)

IN: What I like about that one is that there’s always, as a friend of mine said – now this might sound like a diversion but I will come back to the point – anyway me and a friend of mine were once discussing what we really liked about music and he said ‘I like alien music.’ And I thought wow that is really cool, to say you like music that is considered alien. And one thing you can say about Talking Heads on that record is that it is alien pop. You’re being informed by this weird intelligence. A guy getting freaked out by animals, and freaked out by an electric guitar in a way that is…

HK: Paranoid! Yeah. But they’re still good lyrics, you can connect with them. And that’s the good thing about it. I don’t know how he does that.

IN: Some people can write lyrics that are incredibly straight lyrics. Morrissey, or Lou Reed. And listening in you can think that if you sang that you’d sound like a lunatic!

HK: Nuts! I think because they really mean it! (Laughs) That’s a key thing too.

IN: And worked out a way to say it. And I think that’s what you’ve done on this new record. There were some very funny lyrics . The Two Feet one is great. But the delivery is great

HK: Delivery! Very important. Now we’re gonna play with Neutral Milk Hotel at Le Guess Who. And if you talk about delivery, that’s a singer who can deliver. And he’s not a good singer in the singer kind of way but he can deliver and it’s always great stuff.

IN: I like Le Guess Who. That’s gonna be a cool day, what with Le Mini Who on the Voorstraat  as well. I normally don’t dig festivals, but I like that. So that’s more work for you! You’re on tour.. De Wereld Draait Door, Le Guess Who

HK: And Valkenhoff! That’s good! It’s coming all of a sudden. When you make a record you always think, well it’s done; it’s out of the factory it’s in my hands… alright! We’ll go to the next record. And then all this comes along… (Laughs)

IN: Given you’re all three very independent guys in that band and you come from the squatting, and I know you said earlier that you just get on with all the promotional thing. But it must still be weird to do that circuit over and over again. Doesn’t it drive you mad sometimes?

HK: Naw… For me it’s having fun, it’s making a record that is the hard work and THAT drives me mad (Laughs) Now just playing stepping in a bus, putting your amps down and getting on with it. Well... just have fun. It’s not a big deal you know, touring. Just enjoy it.

IN: Talking of fun I went to see The Ex festival recently.

HK: That thing you wanted me to come to?

IN: Yeah. And they sold out every night, near enough. And to see all that, with The Ex on the Paradiso main stage. And now you’re back in the picture, so these two Dutch independent stalwarts are back. Wish there were more things like that going on.

HK: Yep but there are not a lot of bands left from the 80s period.   

IN: And yet loads of British bands of that era are back on the road… Are there any bands from when you started that you thought were really great?

HK: Yeah, erm… let’s see. De Div. I always thought that was a great band. And I see sometimes Marc de Reus the bass player. But they’re all doing good business now as architects. Maybe they don’t think about it that way.

IN: Maybe there’s you, GW Sok and Terrie Hessels left as real rockers; the proper career rock musicians in Holland. As in that’s your life…

HK: But Terrie and me were always still going you know? We never stopped. We maybe stopped for the main public… but we just kept on going. And I’m very happy for The Ex that they are still doing their thing, and I think it’s just great. You know, when we recorded our first record; that was in Joke's Koeienverhuurbedrijf. There was so much done there…echt bizarre!  

IN: It’s a lost hub – the whole Wormerweer / Schellingwoude scene was incredible for its productivity.

HK: Ah yeah… Dolf and Beat. We recorded there in ‘88. Our debut record was there! (Laughs)

IN: It’s so interesting that you have one foot in that world and another in showbiz! I know I keep going on about it but I think it’s a really important element in your band make up.

HK: But you can see... you need Excelsior to let people know you still exist. IF they do their job well… (Laughs) And so, I just see that as a sort of necessity that I don’t really get a… “identiteit” from. I just play guitar and sing, and that’s my identity. All the other stuff, that’s well…

IN: Is that where you get the LP title, Show from?

HK: Ach now… that’s very simple (Laughs)

IN: As usual! (Laughs)

HK: Well the designer called me up and wanted to know what the title of the record was. And I said, let’s call it Seven. And a week later he called up and he’d made something and there was a huge “Seven” on the disc. And I said, I don’t like it. Try to do something else. So a week later, he called, and I said, let’s call it Show! (Laughs) Probably because we were just mixing the song or something like that. It’s not important!

IN: I thought it was maybe something to do with the fact that you are back! Maybe other people think that.

HK: It’s all a kind of show, too. I could have named it My Favourite Uncles, too…

IN: What’s your favourite song on that record?

HK: My Favourite Uncles! (Laughs)

IN: Why is that?

HK: Because it has simplicity and complexity all wrapped up in one. And it was written in about 5 minutes. That too.

IN: No better feeling.

HK: Yeah! Done, that’s it! Ready! The two songs, Faster and My Favourite Uncles were written in a space of 15 minutes. Because those were the last numbers. We needed more songs. So, everyone points at me, hey we need more songs. So get ‘em down! (Laughs) Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

IN: When you talk to people making records, they often say the good work comes at the end

HK: Yeah! It’s kind of like that. Becaue you’re a sort of panic state because all the other pre-songs are done sorta worked through, and it gets… tense. Because this is the moment! You know if I don’t do it now and we’re on Vlieland and the band are asking me what are we gonna do? But, Vlieland for me was not such a stressful thing. It was maybe that we could record something and do other things. But now, we did it in just over 10 days.

IN: Almost as fast as The Beatles.

HK: Yeah! But Stevie Ray Vaughan did it in 2! Now you know, back then these people played live for a year, then walked into a studio, mic’d it up and it was done. The More I Laugh record, the first day we were in the studio we did 9 songs. OK we recorded it in 10 days then we listened through and said what was good and what was not. And where we needed guitar on top. And that takes a lot of tie, a lot of brain work. And the doubts start coming in; “oh this isn’t good enough, I’m gonna rewrite the song”… Then you rewrite it and you go back again… (Laughs)