We discussed this some time ago, why erm doesn’t a Dutch band has the oomfph which American and English bands have, They are very serious about what they do, but in Holland it’s always… “rechtvaardig te maken wat je doet”. You can put a kind of a cabaret around it to cover your emotions.
I know Hallo Venray’s Henk Koorn likes scones. So does his partner Natasha van Waardenburg – co-owner of Sahara Studios, leader of Appie Kim and fellow band member of Deze. I know this because the pair of them wolfed down a whole load some years ago (aided by a fair amount of Beaujolais) at my house. It remained to be seen whether Melle de Boer liked scones and wine but he was going to get them anyway – to paraphrase Queen Victoria. Incendiary had invited Henk, Natasha and Melle round to the gaff to chat about Henk & Melle’s marvellous LP Roodnoot; so why not dust off the baking tray, get the scone mix made and settle back with a cheeky glass of red?
Once settled comfortably, covered in crumbs & smeared in butter we started asking questions…
IN: I thought it sounded so much like a Dutch folk record almost a weird Dutch country record…
IN: Why did I think that? Well it was … rough… like a pirate record, tough. But it didn’t feel smooth like those “classic” country records.
H: Not like a 1980’s country record… out of the States… ah they’re terrible. Ach shit this is the hardest part (Henk tries to keep the butter on the knife)… no, it’s erm I can understand why you think that it (the record) has a kinda rough oppervlak... a rough surface.
IN: And lots of mini dramas, enclosed dramas too. Dutch tales too; the stories on your LP feel very Dutch.
H: That’s because... maybe…. because we’re Dutch!
IN: You add something different though.
M: I guess these are our own stories and yes we’re Dutch so it’s maybe that feel seeping through.
IN: What’s the title about Roodnoot – “red nut”?
M: It’s the name of the farm we recorded at.
N: The organization - the cultural set up – going on there is called Roodnoot. They get subsidised don’t they?
M: I guess they are…
H: I’m sure they get subsidised because theatre groups have rehearsals there, there are stables there too with ponies and chicken (laughs) subsidised chickens… but they’re theatre people and the stables are the big practise room.
N: They are very actorish, they are very “we are actors dear, blah blah blah”...
M: So it’s not a musical environment.
IN: This is funny; you were surrounded by luvvies and livestock when you made this LP?
N: They weren’t there all the time, but it felt as if they were because you could hear people walking in and out.
H: Once there was a party the actors said “oh there’s a party we’re going” and we were in the next room and we heard lots of voices so we thought let’s get out of here (laughs)…
M: And it was very, very cold.
H: It is an old house, it’s got a riet dak, how do you say, a straw roof… and they are very rare now. It was very dusty too…
IN: That’s the name Thatcher comes from… thatching roofs… English cultural lesson number one for today.
N: Shit I never put that together I knew what thatching was but I didn’t twig… (silence) ahahaha did you hear what I said? (Natasha laughs at her own joke and drops her scone).
IN: Talking of sounds, remember recently at a radio session we did and you had me running around looking for stones and pebbles? Why?
N: It is the way it was recorded, the percussion you hear is Henk doing a stamping percussion with stones on the ground.
N: Outside on the gravel.There’s also a little video of the song Greatest Living Poet where he’s doing the recording and you see all the noises “in action” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFFb5st-TZ0&feature=related (including the gravel percussion)
H: If you listen closely you can hear the cars going by.
IN: Because it’s a record that doesn’t have any overdubs is that right?
H: Ach jawel… we sneaked some overdubs in there… but not many. After we came outta there we waited for months and then listened again and thought to ourselves, “what did we do in that week?” So after a listen we’d go, “Oh alright it’s good enough to go further with it. So do we wanna keep it the way it is or is the sky the limit with the track in question?” And then we’d decide it doesn’t matter we were gonna stick to the material but we’re gonna do as many overdubs as we like. So sometimes we didn’t do any and sometimes we did a few. Natasha added some bass, and we added some more vocals but we thought that the guitars were good anyway…
IN: there are lots of little noises lots of creaks and squeaks on the record, it’s like when you walk into an old windmill and you hear the wood creaking and moving.
(More weird goings on here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nt0sIsNPyLA&feature=related)
IN: It reminded me of a time years ago when I went own to Zierikzee and visited this eighteenth century prison and there were all the prisoners’ drawings on the wall and all you could hear was the sound of the sea and the creak of the old iron and wood… and what it’s like in winter is anyone’s guess.
N: Holy crap. That is scary. Well, this whole recording was built on ambient recordings, and taken from there.
H: A lot of squeaking…
N: You should see the video, it’s very atmospheric, and it gives a real flavour of the place http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i17dZBnhJEM (Chainsaw)
M: Songs about doors, songs actually about the noises…
IN: You whisper a lot on this record too, Melle, why is that? I put it in my review that you were like some guy with a bottle of Jenever whispering about his life… a private thing.
M: It’s all very close mic’d.
H: Yeah, a lot was close mic’d, But it wasn’t as if we chose to do that. You know, we just started the day writing songs, when we were done we started recording them, had some food and went on later in the day and not in an “ordeelend” manner.
IN: No pattern then.
H: No… we didn’t think is it good enough to record? No. We just recorded it, got it down and carried on.
IN: Titian the great painter used to do that, he’d build up his compositions with a basic pallet and then turn them to the wall for months. Once he turned them around again he could see what needed to be changed.
H: Our mission was to produce a record in 6 days. Produce the songs, nail them down and then forget about them…
M: It is what it is, nothing else.
N: Good Dutch album title, “it is what it is” (laughs)… Don’t argue with me!
IN: I really liked this I found this LP very short in a way it’s a very enjoyable listen, especially when you do household chores, it’s a domestic record. Are you doing it again?
H: Well we’re gonna do an EP.
N: People’s reactions are really good, so yeah.
IN: Journalists are I supposed to make things up so bear with me. I was talking to Marc from Spilt Milk, and I said to him “well you’ve got one end of this Dutch alt folk thing cleaned up and Henk & Melle have cornered the rest”. I find this very much like a Dutch country sound.
H: That’s true.
N: And look at all the bucks they make! (laughs)
H: We kinda covered the lofi range of country I would say. It sounds kinda strange that I say Spilt Milk is lofi because it sounds fantastic but still people say that is lofi, I don’t know why…
N: Yeah because people are so quick to stick this lofi tag on things because it’s underground “Oh that must be lofi”.
IN: Lazy observers guide to music isn’t it? Push something into a corner and don’t let it escape; allow me to get some more wine… A very cheeky Médoc, Melle.
M: This is what I need; I need it to help me smile.
IN: Where were we oh yes the tyranny of lofi. Bequeathed on all bedroom music practitioners. Which is bollocks because…
N: NO ONE records lo fidelity! We make recordings on tape and people call it hi fi and we think, what the heck? (Laughs)
M: Daniel Johnston I think, he’s lofi.
IN: Harry Merry is maybe lofi? Or is he crazy.
M: Is it an act or is he crazy?
IN: I once saw a film of Harry Merry where he’s been collecting his toenails in jars.
H: I saw them on a festival and the first thing I thought was “that’s a lot of drugs”. The best act of the day and I really liked it, liked it a lot, but the band was drugged up.
N: I never see that. But he was the best act of the day. Maybe secretly Daniel Johnston thinks he’s Michael Jackson whereas Harry Merry is Tom Stoppard, you know what I mean?
IN: You were talking about people’s reaction s to this record. Is that why you made it, to get a reaction? Because you are both pretty established figures in your own way.
M: It’s a good question. I guess, I guess the idea was there and we had a feeling that sum of us together could be more than what we are apart…
H: Because we like each other’s work, we saw each other in the pub, you know? So we decided to do it in a way you don’t do it with your own band. With the band it’s more a process and one that starts to evolve and with Melle it (recording) was the most straight, direct way. With Melle that’s the way it worked. We didn’t have any thoughts that we were gonna make a great record, but we just were gonna do something; and even if nothing happens it’s okay too.
IN: That’s quite adventurous for Holland, people don’t do that here really do they? They expect a polished record.
M: I think we didn’t do what they expected. They thought I guess it would be more acoustic guitar singer songwriter thing, and it’s more…
H: …uplifting than people were expecting, it’s… cheeky.
IN: Yeah I agree! Another similarity with this and Spilt Milk is that the listener can easily imagine the bands enjoying it. Singer songwriters are all too often so bloody serious & precious!
M: It’s a tough record.
H: Maybe… erm …this is why didn’t we make a precious record? Because we didn’t want to no crying shit (laughs).
M: But also there are a lot of self-reflecting lyrics on songs like Six Pack and I have songs that are also very… you know it’s very easy to make it sad. We wanted to make them ironic.
IN: The songs are often are like stories… like Tom Waits does.
H: That’s what I like, lyrics I can listen and follow and in the best case they surprise me at some point.
M: Not too poetic. Not word games really.
IN: I won’t mention a band’s name – a really good band I must say - but I once got hot under the collar about some of their lyrics, because there are too metaphorical and sweeping apropos of nothing: one lyric was “I won the war” and I was thinking what war have you won?, the price war at Hoogvliet?
N: What’s that song with the line, “I catch a grenade for you”? That’s a stupid lyric. Now why would you do that?
IN: If the pin’s in maybe, otherwise no, I agree. But this vague bullshit is annoying.
H: Yeah, it is.
N: That’s also a Dutch thing… when they take a sentence from English and just use it and you think “argh this makes no sense”. And people sound so stupid doing it. The biggest problem I think is Dutch bands translating Dutch proverbs directly into English and it sounds stupid.
IN: My main bugbear. And it goes against the Dutch genius for encapsulating ideas in a clear and direct way, one of the forms of miniaturist art. “Eentje Quack” or 17th century still life painting, take your pick.
N: Yeah and I don’t like the way people in the media react to things, everything has to have its place. Oh and I don’t like cabaret in Holland. Everything has to be cabaret…
M: The comical duo; that’s how they see us. We are seen as this pair of old funny guys…
N: When we played recently all these people were laughing I didn’t think the jokes were that funny I just thought “they’re only introducing songs!”, and all these people were rolling about laughing.
IN: Establishing roles… The biggest problem that Dutch bands face is this expectation that they have to have an established & understood role in the scene; and also they are expected to stick & perform in a certain manner. I am officially bored of people saying “yeah but” about what bands should do in Holland. Or “Why can’t”… Because – and I think the root problem is - people always want to make every act into a kind of cabaret act ‘cos it’s safe. THe genius of Frans Bauer, Johnny Jordaan & Tante Leen aside.
H: You’re too serious then if you rebel.
N: Dutch people get very uncomfortable you know… when you can’t put the greasepaint on…
H: We discussed this some time ago, why erm doesn’t a Dutch band has the oomfph which American and English bands have, They are very serious about what they do, but in Holland it’s always… “rechtvaardig te maken wat je doet”. You can put a kind of a cabaret around it to cover your emotions.
N: I hate it when bands have to explain their work here; I hate that when Dutch bands have to say “This is only blah blah blah.” But you’re, (i.e. Henk), you’re not excusing yourselves when you talk about your music, you just say it (laughs).
IN: I genuinely feel the Dutch feel very uneasy with their own type going mad or going out of control in front of them. There are acceptable ways of showing “whackiness” in Holland like with Go Back to the Zoo with that bloody stupid inflatable gorilla on the Lowlands stage…
N: Maybe that’s the story behind a 3voor12 review we got; Dutch people are not comfortable with a band just behaving like a band, there was a gig we played we had a really nice night playing and we brought a lot of people, everyone was singing along and one reviewer said it didn’t come across and I’m thinking why? What do we have to do? I had a sense that the reviewer didn’t feel comfortable in this environment where everyone was having fun…
IN: Dutch people don’t want to surrender themselves and be seen to be going too far & losing their perspective and then not being able to give judgement. After all this is a country of judges, that Cruyff quote… the Courts at the Hague.
…And that goes against art because on art in whatever expression there is often no answer.