You know we’d maybe make a dub record, we’ve thought of making a dub record. That should happen at some point. It will happen after we have new stuff, but you’ve got to take things from dub and keep it Rats. We can’t be just appropriating it. But we love reggae….
(video clip from Kevin "Spacey")
Fame fame, fatal fame, about to devour Arnoud
“We’ve brought some drinks, beer and alcoholic ginger beer too, that’s for Arnoud, ‘cos he likes that shit... hey man, what are you playing?” It looks like it could be a long night – as Incendiary have already stocked up with a crate of beer, not to mention the vodka wine and jenever. And for your information, we’re playing Alexander Tucker followed by PiL’s latest record. Rats on Rafts are back at Incendiary Towers, affable, charming and polite - as ever - after a momentous year and a half. And still the main concern is what’s on the turntable and what’s in the fridge. We take this as a good sign. Beers are opened and seats are taken, and before we start talking more records are pulled out of the shelves and inspected. Especially the Lee Perry box sets I luckily snaffled at Plato some years ago “lucky bastard, we’d love this, look at Perry, he looks fucked, man…” Some Perry singles get spun then we stick on The Teardrop Explodes’ last and (until 1990) unreleased LP, Everybody Wants to Shag The Teardrop Explodes, and we’re off.
IN: We’re rolling. I was going to ask you about your single on Louder Than War, I’m glad you’re doing Kevin Cabbage Town and Emma Sofia.
David: That’s for the English one; the Dutch one has a different b-side, Fire. John Robb (Louder than War supremo and all round champion of things Rock) wanted Kevin…, we gave him a choice between that and Fire and I think he’d heard from you that Kevin was a good track…
IN: What always strikes me about your records is that they are pretty much all about things you do or people you know. And this is another example.
David: It’s true our work is very personal. The only bad thing about Kevin Cabbage Town is that no-one will get the jokes in the track, apart from the people who know Kevin. The song is essentially about the fact that he’s very tall and that he also used to date this very small Chinese girl. He used to suffer a lot of jokes about that. He lives in Leiden, and he’s got something to do with the East Asian faculty at the University.
Joris: He’s very reserved.
David: He’s also very intelligent, and when you have a conversation with him, he knows a lot of words… (giggles) so when you’re kind of teasing him he throws in words you don’t fucking know and (laughs) we think “what the fuck is this Leiden crap?”
IN: (Laughs) we will come back to “Leiden crap” in a bit… Anyway I was really pleased you are doing a single with John because he was the first to pick up on you, outside of the group that I sort of joined.
David: You dragged him along to that gig we played (Subroutine Cares: O’Ceallaighs, Groningen, January 2011). He’s a cool character. He’s very funny as well, very straightforward, and his emails are very funny ‘cos he only ever sends back one line answers. Ever.
IN: Tell us about Fire then, and Emma Sofia.
David: Fire worked out really well, because we weren’t going to do it and thought well, we’ll do one take and see what happens and we captured it in one take and it was good and it was the first time we ever did a one take track.
IN: It was sounding really good live, as was Kevin Cabbage Town, which sounds like Can’s Mushroom Head live, that sort of insistent, steady, menacing beat.
Joris: That’s great song, we love that.
IN: Whereas Emma Sofia’s very poppy.
Joris: Jangle pop…
David: We tried to make it less poppy on record, and it didn’t really work…
(All the band laughs)
Joris: We tried using an acoustic guitar on it.
IN: It is a lot less clunky more groovy now. I thought it was very clunky when you first did it.
David: You need to get used to playing songs like that though, ‘cos we’re used to going “bang bang bang” through our songs… We never could play Sleeping (In Rotterdam) live, we did it in Worm once (at the release party) and it didn’t work. It’s something you have to keep trying.
IN: It’s interesting that you say that because I think you’ve become more pliable in your live shows, there’s more light and shade in your shows, more interest in sound and pace. Is that due to the large amount of gigs you’ve been playing?
David: Yeah, definitely, it’s possibly down to the fact that it becomes boring playing the same thing over and over; you have to try something different in making it interesting for yourself.
IN: The last eighteen months have seen a lot of gigs for you…
David: It was a weird time.
IN: Everything has completely changed around you, apart from your core group of friends & original fans.
Florian: Yeah man.
David: There have been a lot of people who never really wanted to say hello to us that were coming up to us and asking “how you doing, how’s your band? But probably the most annoying thing is seeing people who you’ve not seen for ages and they think you must be doing well ‘cos they’ve seen you on TV and you’re thinking “shit”... (laughs). It just means nothing. Nothing to us. This fame thing comes like “this” and is gone like “that” (David makes some dismissive gesture) so… fuck it.
IN: I remember saying to you in this very room that you might as well try to enjoy it ‘cos you’re going to go from being ignored and hated to being loved and then back to being hated again. That process won’t stop.
David: That’s why I think our image is good, for what it’s worth, ‘cos a lot of people hate it and hate what we are already, so it can’t get much worse…
(Once again, the whole band laughs)
David: We are totally, and I mean totally happy to going back to making music we enjoy for ten people, as long as they enjoy it. We’re not scared of that at all.
Florian: Yeah, we just want to enjoy it.
Joris: It all comes down to making the music we want to do, nothing more than that, just the songs we want to play. And play where we want to play too.
(photo - Robin Butter)
Rats bury their career in daytime TV
IN: This whole set of new demands around the band, TV, Primavera, tours with famous names like Minny Pops, famous bands like Franz Ferdinand and the Bunnymen singing your praises, all that and all the changes around you, new managers, new record company, new bookers… certainly from my perspective it is interesting to see how it all influences your music. Having such change around you, despite you being such a close-knit bunch…
David: But we still hang out primarily with the same group of people Richard and I don’t want to hang out with people who want to hang out with me!
(Florian spills his drink laughing at this)
IN: I’m sure that you’re not going to turn into a synth band with long hair but having new people around will affect you…
David: Oh I’m sure it will in some ways. The most annoying thing actually about all of this is that these people keep fucking comparing us to Echo and the Bunnymen, that’s the most annoying thing, them and the Cure. I mean, listen; we definitely, really, really like those bands and I can see in the odd bit of our work we sound similar, but the bloody press overdo it and that’s when it gets annoying.
Joris: Yeah, it’s that Bunnymen thing or we’re “the band who throw beer over people” (referring to an infamous show in Delft, or an equally infamous TV appearance at Groningen’s Eurosonic, take your pick).
IN: Well, two quotes for that: “Fame is the mask that’s eats the wearer” and “a lie is half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on”… And, seeing as I’m the bloke who wrote your original Subroutine press release in English… The one that made me laugh was reading all the earnest reviewers who said you sounded like The Wild Swans… I put that in as a laugh.
Arnoud: We’ve never heard the Wild Swans.
David: I see you’ve got the Peel Session there.
(I parade Strange Fruit #6 around the band for inspection)
IN: Anyway back to my question: you write about everything in your lives and you’re not going to make a concept album are you? So new people around you will mean a new slant in your music. I want to know how you are going to react with your song writing. Because you must be affected, somehow.
David: You know actually I’m very happy that this stuff still doesn’t affect us when it comes to making decisions about our music. I mean we get asked all the time about playing certain songs like Patient, but we won’t play it. Or LaLaLaLa. Patient is the new single but we’ve no intention of playing it. If you want to hear it, play it on the record.
Florian: Well I guess it has changed us a bit, because the last year has been so busy we haven’t had much time to make new music, before we had more time to focus on our personal stuff and work out the stuff we were making.
David: Yes, that is true; it has been a mental time. As well as all the changes of managers and label; I lost me job, Arnoud’s in school, Florian’s been kicked out of school because of this, Joris is struggling at his work ‘cos he’s busy with the band, and when you have to get up at 6am and you’ve got in at 4am and you’re just wrecked ‘cos you just keep working through that tiredness…
…But we’re starting to find our feet again. Slowly we’re getting our thing back together and I reckon we’ll be stronger.
IN: But you have what you wanted when I first met you.
Joris: Very true.
Florian: It’s a very good start.
David: But the most important thing is to hold on to your basic self, as of the end of the year we’re gonna take some months off and practise like hell and do some writing and get back to our basic selves.
Joris: People keep telling you that being played on the radio and being played on TV is the best, they keep telling you that that is it, this is what you should want…
David: Course it’s nice but it’s not what we really want.
Joris: But it’s hard to keep to your plans because everybody keeps saying “this is what you want” and you begin to doubt yourself.
Arnoud: And the question is always; “when’s your next record”...
IN: When's your next record? (laughs)
David: It will probably take another seven years (laughs). And everyone can fucking wait. Fuck it. Top Notch is very relaxed ‘cos they know we’re different to any other band they have on their roster, and they’re learning what it’s like to have a band like us, and it’s logical ‘cos we’re the only good one (the band laughs)… outside of Opgezwolle but they split…
… But seriously, they are very relaxed ‘cos they know we work in a different way. Kees (de Koning) is very supportive, he’s very laid back and lets us sort it out.
IN: He’s in a good position though because all the spade work was done on the Moon Is Big.
David: Yes, but every label is the same at the end of the day, it’s a company. In terms of pushing the record, Top Notch approach it in a different manner than a standard “indie” label way, they can do well, they get promo from different avenues, and in different ways. Subroutine and you and our old manager did so much for us and it the promotion went really well, really great, and we switched labels and it seemed to go again to a new level, and we found that weird.
Joris: I think it’s because we released it on CD.
David: It was quite funny they got God Is Dead on the radio, which was hilarious… (laughs).
IN: Ah yes… I suppose this brings me onto your TV appearances… You always seem to annoy people in Holland; you always seem to rub people up the wrong way. To me on that last time you were just honest… (I refer to one infamous occasion when David got royally slagged by some other “pop star” guests on the TV chat show, De Wereld Draait Door. Rats were nominated by Radio 3fm themselves as one of their artists of the year or some such. David’s mild admission that he wasn’t that bothered about winning awards saw said guests from other nominated bands indulging in some self-righteous and pretty opportunistic Schadenfreunde).
David: That’s the point! I was talking to “Hans Tweede Hands”, (legendary second hand record shop owner in Rotterdam)… I said, “I don’t want to go to that stupid show ‘cos we don’t feel like we should be there” and he said “just be yourself and let them know what you think of this award”. We didn’t lie. And most of the others pretty much did, to look good.
Joris: Ach, the public wants you to lie, they want you to be perfect and they want you to tell them what they want to hear.
IN: It makes me laugh, the Dutch public are seemingly happy for foreign rock stars to behave like idiots – they’d love it if Liam Gallagher pissed on a carpet in an Amsterdam hotel, but for Dutch bands you’re like Johnny Jordan, you have to be a cabaret act, you have to be cleaner than clean. Or pretend “nasty”, like a pantomime villain. It’s quite insulting. I remember that night I got angry with all these people who said “ooh they shouldn’t have gone on the television”…
Joris: But I remember you saying that there were two choices, one of not going on and adding to the lie or being honest. And that’s what we think.
IN: I found that show really insulting that night. I thought well, what do you want this band to do, to collude in something they don’t believe in? You might as well be in North Korea or something. For a country that has such a strong and proud tradition of being honest and upfront in opinions…
David: That’s changed so much in the last few years. I find it a shame I wasn’t able to explain myself because I couldn’t talk as fast as the people on DWDD want you to talk…
Joris: In Holland, if a band is like, “oh we love our fans, and we love it that you love our music” it comes across – and probably means - that they’ll do anything to further their careers.
David: I mean of course we really appreciate it that people like our music, but we don’t look to manipulate other people’s opinions… and I suppose I got the point across we don’t see awards as important anyway (laughs).
Florian: The attitude is here “if you don’t want it (the acclaim) I’ll take it”, it’s all about using people in a sneaky way.
David: And that kind of attitude, you can stick it up yer arse! I actually thought the only guy on it with us who was interesting -and I don’t really like his music – was Blaudzun: at least he was honest. He was a nice guy.
IN: I was half hoping it would turn out to be like some Sex Pistols / Bill Grundy moment which would mean we’d never see (co-presenter) Giel Beelen on the telly again.
David: You know what the amazing thing was? Afterwards Giel Beelen came to say hello to everybody except for me. I mean everybody (laughs). I thought that was really funny. I mean anyone who talks to me knows that I’m not some bad guy, but I’m straight and I will say what I think.
Joris: Because he knows if he says something stupid to you, you will shoot him down.
David: Anyway we were really pleased that some people backed us, against all that backlash, and it was all the good, clever journalists (laughs)
IN: Like Menno Pot and Peter Bruyn and Erik Zwennes?
David: Yeah, and Koen from Subroutine; the good guys. Anyway, imagine if we were actually worried about our fucking image. Imagine that. Not worrying is one of the things that make us human.
IN: Anyway we’re going to change the record in more ways than one; (we put on Der Osten Ist Rot by Holger Czukay. The eccentric sleeve artwork is not unnoticed by Rats).
Joris: Hey is this the record you said we were going to be enlightened by, and would change our lives?
IN: That (Walter Wegmueller’s Tarot) is coming later. We need a few more drinks first.
David: It always makes me laugh that the biggest Krautrock fans are always English. It must be the biggest influence on English music. You never hear it anywhere else, certainly not much here. But you are now hearing a lot of American bands really picking up on that sound and making something really good from it.
IN: It was an English term, and yes bands like White Hills run with it…
David: Have you seen Lower Dens? That’s a very good band. I was very pissed when we saw them but they have some of that Kraut thing in their sound. They do it very well.
IN: OK I want to come back to your public persona. Your public face. You don’t care about image, so how you best develop a public persona?
Joris: I think we’re basically the same as we’ve always been, I really don’t think there’s much to say here.
David: You know, that’s what got me when I first did interviews and that, people in the media would tell me “oh you can’t say that” and people were pushing us to explain to them why we say the things we do but then my answer is as it always was, if we don’t say it we’ll feel bad about ourselves all fucking week. People say “oh David you say stupid things”, well at times I am stupid, big deal.
Joris: We’re all stupid. We’re animals.
IN: Speak for yourself!
Joris: Yeah but everything is ridiculous with interviews. People are way too serious.
David: Yeah, when he (Joris) said in an interview “we’re bigger than the Beatles” people took that seriously… … It is true of course….
IN: You are a mirror for other people’s ideas. So you have to play it canny. The big bands never say much. You’d not find much out about Pink Floyd on their way up…
David: You knew what Syd Barrett was like.
IN: And he got kicked out!
David: I saw this old interview when Syd Barrett was in Pink Floyd. You could see that he was honest and a creative person, a very creative person. It’s like watching footballers nowadays back in the day every player was more honest, and more human: that’s why we like watching the Italian lad, Balotelli because he’s a complete idiot but at least he’s fuckin’ honest. He probably does know he’s an idiot anyway but we love him.
IN: It’s a question of characters isn’t it? You can’t be a character like that as a pop star in NL…
David: Ah you know it’s also a bit of a Dutch thing: I always get a lot of crap for the way I sing. I know I sound Dutch –English but obviously that’s because I’m half Dutch, half Irish, which a lot of people don’t know. But people assume that it’s something I’ve forced on myself so I can give the band something different, which is bullshit ‘cos that’s the way I speak anyway. But if there’s one annoying thing in Holland, it’s that all Dutch indie chart bands here sound like fucking Americans…
Joris (adopting a cod John Wayne voice) Yeah we all sound like Americans in Holland…
David: Stuff like “Oh my god”, what’s that fucking shit about?
IN: The biggest wankers are the people who consciously speak with American accents to Americans and English accents to English.
David: It’s all picked up from the TV, which is funny ‘cos when you go to school they teach you proper English and that’s very different.
Joris: The way I learnt to talk English was watching Star Trek and that’s an American show.
David: But you don’t walk round using an exaggerated American accent do you?
Joris: That’s ‘cos of Patrick Stewart.
David: The only accent I like from America is a New York accent and then when it’s done by people who are actually from there.
IN: It’s funny how “Dutch spoken English” has changed – you listen to anyone from Minny Pops and they have got a Dutch accent you could cut and put on bread: (fatuously attempts to speak like Wally van Middendorp).
David: You make him sound like a German speaking English! (laughs)
IN: But I prefer it! They’re not trying to hide their roots!
David: People from Rotterdam sound like that when they speak English (adopts a ridiculously nasal accent.
Joris and Florian start too. The band takes a while to calm down after this…)
IN: Anyway this “Dutch thing” and how you fit in, I find it interesting. You are seen as a Dutch band in the tradition of all the old underground Dutch bands in the UK… But here you have to fit into this idea of sounding pleasing, harmonic, a bit like the Eagles, say like Moss, to gain widespread acceptance…
David: Dead boring…
Joris: I think your armpits are more interesting than Moss. I’d rather stick my nose in your armpits than watch Moss.
David: I really wonder why people like that shit.
Joris: Because they’re boring themselves, and they look to something to affirm the feelings they have, even if they don’t know it.
David: But the radio feeds you this crap, it’s like being force-fed crap. There are so many good bands but no-one gets appreciated here. No-one gets to hear them.
Joris:If it were up to me Space Siren would be number one. I was blown away by Wolvon and Space Siren at the Roodkapje (club) recently. They are fucking amazing. I got the Wolvon tape from their singer Ike, they’re really great too. I really dug their gig, you were right, it was all cool noise and rolling around, it was great! Ike charging into the audience and playing with his head on me chest, trying to push me over, that was mental. Ike picked you up at one point, and threw you around at Space Siren. He said “I’m not doing that again”!
IN: He did, and I didn’t mind being thrown around.
David: I missed most of them ‘cos of people yapping. But I liked what I saw, Wolvon’ve got proper beards! And I walked in and saw the crowd going crazy at Space Siren, and loads of people really being thrown around; you never see that in Holland. It’s new. For us, anyway.
IN: I think some young bands like April and New YX really have taken inspiration from you, got lippy, and got more cheeky and confident.
David: We think they’re all really good, and they’re really nice people, April. And New YX could be even more lippy (laughs). They always had that lippy thing in them. But they could do it more.
Joris: I want to marry them. All. Especially Jaap. And Ike turns me on (laughs)
David: Talking about bands with beards, who was that lot in Delft?
Joris: Oh yeah the fuckers. They would not get off the fucking stage. We had to play and they wouldn’t fucking get off.
David: Yeah some band of crap. Some band of crap beards, old bald guys with crap beards.
Florian: A two hours set!
David: The promoter actually said – “we paid them a lot more” so we got up on another stage after waiting around four hours…. Half past one, we stood up to play. And we’d passed the curfew so this student nerd ran at us to stop us so I picked up this can of beer and threw it at the student and that’s a waste of beer, man. He was pulling out all the plugs so we fucking lost it and threw things at him. We only played three songs.
Joris: Two and a half…
David: You know, I think we maybe only did one... I think we did Jazz.
Joris: I kicked my bass drum at him and he ran off and security came up… and security was scared of me! One of the best moments in my life, security scared of me, why?
Arnoud: Hey man, what’s that girl pop record? Put that on. (I have a copy of Girls in The Garage: 14 Charming Pop Songs from Swinging French Ladies. It goes on)…
IN: De Nieuwe Vrolijkheid used to have some spectacular bust ups.
David:Were they difficult?
IN: Oh yeah
David: (A little challengingly) Why?
IN: Why? At times they were you lot times ten in terms of looking to kick off. Well, that’s not strictly fair, not all the band, mostly Vincent. Vincent the singer was this very flamboyant, agent provocateur character, he wasn’t a great musician but he was a great presence. And he courted controversy.
David: That’s not a role we play. It’s actually not playing a role with us, it’s just the way we are. Acting different is something we’re never gonna do. I hate it when people play roles to look hard. Anyway, what is it with all these English bands saying you can’t smoke in dressing rooms in case it damages their singing voices? And why do they practise before they go on stage? We can’t get over that. I understand they want to sing but it’s not fucking stage school. Save your energy for going on stage.
IN: It’s maybe part of that British theatrical tradition. Like the Kinks, say.
David: But the Kinks always give you the rock side. These new bands are soft; they aren’t that English, they aren’t that grainy or interesting. The Fall, they’re very English, it’s universal music but you can’t escape it’s from one place, Manchester.
Joris: I love them, I find it so interesting that effectively he gives everyone the finger and people really like him and his music.
IN: It’s just being honest – you see this in Rotterdam and Groningen maybe or Eindhoven.
David: Rotterdam is great of course and Eindhoven’s a nice town.
Joris: Hmm I find Rotterdam much more exciting.
David: It’s not that tough as it should be though, there are a lot of poseurs now looking out if you are an idiot…
Joris: If people call me an idiot I’m happy, it means I’m doing a good job. The crazy people, the fucked up people are the ones who are free. But nowadays it is more difficult to have that attitude and live by it.
David: You should try to live your life the way you want to. I’ve always liked the people who do what they want to do and don’t care, I’ve always been inspired by them, because it is very hard to do that.
IN: How you feel the new record – whenever it comes - will sound? I’m hoping it’s as independent and as “animal” as you can make it? The performance I loved the most out of all your gigs I’ve seen was the one you did last December at Roodkapje at the Minny Pops comeback gig – that was great, that trippy experimental jam. You have the sound to make one like that.
David: It’s possible yeah I bet… I’d say we like both noise and we like pop songs so obviously we would try to take both and mix it and see what evolves.
IN: And you are massive reggae fans…
Joris: Yeah, absolutely, and you (pointing at me) should do vocals, but you know we’d love to play dub live as well. We really love that crossover between reggae, ska and punk like the Specials or what John Lydon did, something direct like that.
IN: vocals, eh? I could do them like Peter Cook? I might, if I could do it like Sven the fisherman I’d do it.
David: What was that spoken word thing you sent to me, I liked that…
IN: Happy the Golden Prince by Robyn Hitchcock.
(We discuss the merits of sounding like Peter Cook and Robyn Hitchcock)
David: You know we’d maybe make a dub record, we’ve thought of making a dub record. That should happen at some point. It will happen after we have new stuff, but you’ve got to take things from dub and keep it Rats. We can’t be just appropriating it. But we love reggae….
…You know people talk a lot of negative shit that reggae artists sing about Zion and Jah and it winds people up but that was a massive part of their lives, man, and they really fucking mean it. And you can hear that they mean it. It’s fine, they sing that God is alive and that’s their thing. They have integrity. That’s the same with John Lydon, he has integrity because he’s open and I love him for that, if he wants to make a commercial that’s fine. I’d rather see him in a fucking commercial than just some dick. Anyway he funded the last PiL record with that commercial so fine. I’m more into PiL, I think the Sex Pistols is just there to fund his activities: when he reformed the Pistols and said “we’re just here to take your money” it was openly questioning the vanity of people wanting to see them. And I think that’s fine. It’s like an open contract. There’s no hiding.
Arnoud: (studying some records breaks in). What the fuck is that, man? Man that’s crazy. Woah!
IN: That is Witthusser and Westrupp, the record is called The Jesus Mushroom, I think it’s a gospel reinterpreted by two folk acid crazies, they were part of the Berne scene with Ash Ra Tempel and Tim Leary: they got a school choir to sing on it too.
Arnoud: Woah, that’s heavy.
David: He (pointing at Westrupp on the inner sleeve, conducting some children) looks like (laughs) an Irish priest (laughs some more). Hey, I’m listening to a lot of the Pogues now. A Pair of Brown Eyes is a beautiful song. I certainly think that’s someone who’s underrated here as well, Shane MacGowan. To write such a Christmas song like that (Fairy Tale of New York) with all those lyrics and be really, really cool and commercial as well, that’s real talent.
Arnoud: And what is on the turntable now? (We hear high-pitched giggles emanating from the speakers)
IN: This is the Laughing Gnome - in French – called Monsieur A Go Go…
Later we get out Walter Wegmueller’s Tarot and lots of Amon Duul 2 – their 1970 LP, Yeti is by far the favourite disc of the night (outside of the Lee Perry singles). We convene to the pub. Whatever their image, whether self-professed or that thrust upon them, however many friends they have, Rats are great company. Even though the house smells like a brewery the next day, it’s been a champion night.