Incendiary hang out with Yuko Yuko and The Homesick

That is a bit of a Dokkum thing funnily enough, because we want to play with our friends rather than have a band with other people; you know, just to 'be in a band'.

I'm sat in De Bastaard in Utrecht with Elias Elgersma and Jaap van de Velde, singers and guitarists in Yuko Yuko and The Homesick. Both bands have just played the Le Mini Who? day on the Voorstraat in Utrecht, which is being brought to a gloriously mad ending by Harry Merry, who's playing De Bastaard as we speak; I get the feeling that this interview recording will be full of Harry's groans and yelps. No matter, it's the best we can do, as Yuko have to play Amersfoort and have to shoot off after sharing a beer and a chinwag with me.

They are a funny pair; almost the perfect double act. Elias is a genial and soulful cove with an impish sense of fun. Jaap is a funny lad with daft, spiky opinions. And he likes to talk, and talk. Both like rolling their eyes. A lot.

IN: Ok I want you to tell me about being provincial, about coming from Dokkum, because you like your provincial side don't you? And tell me about Friesland, is it like Drenthe where they say the people are different in character, if they are 'zand', or 'veen' Drentse?

Elias: I am always learning new things about Friesland (rolls eyes and laughs). The difference is probably with the old traditions, and they are still strong there.

Jaap: I'm not sure about there being different areas, but there are a lot of different dialects in Friesland, for sure.

IN: Dokkum, what is cool or uncool about Dokkum?

EIias: I think that if you grew up in that area you feel very isolated compared to the city... and that can be a good thing. Dokkum has a lot less ambitions and pretensions and we don't really get the hassle that you may get here, where you are supposed to do things when you reach a certain age. But then, with the bands, we get to pay the Randstad a lot, so we are here quite a lot now. Before that we'd never really come here.

IN: Do you think you'd come and settle in the Randstad?

Jaap:  Ach I can't see it, it doesn't really bother us where we are from, or that we live in Dokkum. I mean it won't change our music so why move? Dokkum is a place you could laugh at, but you can do lots of good things there.

IN: Similar to the Manchester and Liverpool attitude,  the 'we are never going to London' mantra, a sort of fuck London attitude.

Elias: Sort of. It is a very small world and there are lots of provincial, Fries things with us but we do have an issue now and again with the whole 'Friese trots' attitude where you stick a middle finger up at Amsterdam.

IN: I think you play this double game where you pretend to be stupid hicks and make these daft shitty videos for all your songs, whether Yuko Yuko or The Homesick...

Elias: Yeah (Elias nods and smiles)

IN: That whole, 'let's go and hang out with a horse and wear lipstick' thing, so why do you do that?

Jaap: I think that for us, the main thing is that it's just funny, it's stuff we find funny; and of course, it's cheap! Hahaha!

Elias: The videos are like a Dokkum document really, there are a lot of our friends in there, and a lot of places where we hang out in our neighourhood. They are like 'Greetings from Dokkum' messages. And as everything is so embarrassing and unprofessional anyway with that province's marketing, we just copy it and make fun of it.  That really winds us up - and that's why the videos are like that because loads of marketing, or advertising promotions in our province are a bit amateur anyway. It's funny, and nice to play around with that.

IN: I enjoyed the Fryslan TV thing you did with the toy pistol.  You heard of Mike  von Bibikov?

The lads look at me blankly.

IN: In the early 1980s there was this political poet, a sort of cultural agent provocateur called Mike Bibikov, and he used to use a toy pistol for his performances. You should watch him, there are things on YouTube. He was in a tradition of  Dutch jokers. So you'd see yourself as jokers like him?

Elias looks straight at me, in his friendly deadpdan way.  

Elias: Yeah.

IN: You should check him out.

Jaap: What's he called, this dude?

IN: Bibikov. He had this Provo side to him too. And he was linked in with Rotterdam poets like Frans Vogel.

...Anyway I want to ask you about something else. Now you are the two core members of two bands, how do you work round that? Is one more developed or defined, say, than the other or maybe one has developed out of the other or are they used for different approaches or ideas?

Jaap: That is a bit of a Dokkum thing funnily enough, because we want to play with our friends rather than have a band with other people; you know, just to 'be in a band'. Therefore we come together with our friends and play; and it's also funny to play with them. We also don't know that many people. And it just meant we had to have two bands to get our friends involved.

(Elias and Jaap start laughing)

Elias: And I think that we know what we all want, but it's a little bit different over the two bands.

IN: It's cool and it's good that your friends are in your bands. I like the idea of going on tour (say as Yuko Yuko) with yourself (The Homesick). One for the price of two!

(Laughs all round. Elias rolls his eyes and Jaap starts getting daft.)

... How easy is it to switch between the bands? Do you have issues when you're onstage and you slip into a Homesick riff by mistake or something? What is the difference for you between the two?

Jaap: For me it's important not to discriminate too much between the bands. I mean we are in both; and Elias sings in both and I play in both.

IN: I think you have two very different bands, it's not about discriminating between the two but how do you switch off, or over?

Elias: Ah OK, so let's say with Yuko I'm the entertainer and with The Homesick, Jaap is the entertainer. I don't talk much - if at all - to the public, but I look to entertain with a few moves... And Jaap is the much more himself in The Homesick; he's allowed to show his hyperactive personality, but with Yuko he takes a back seat a bit.  

Jaap: The Homesick is a little bit less serious, ach not less serious but it's off the cuff. If I have to say or do something I do it. I'm busy with the sound in Yuko and that's more measured, and with The Homesick, it's more brutal. You can't really do that with Yuko, that's a band for lovers, let's say.

IN: It's because of the girl, Marrit (Meinema), she's very funny, she giggles in gigs, I think it's great that, that soft side in Yuko.

Elias: Ah yeah but that's not the whole story. Yuko can be pretty sleazy and messy and sorta superficial, but Yuko is cute too.

Jaap: The Homesick songs are tougher and more structured; a bit anxious in a way, and concerned with very important sexual matters.

(All laugh)

Elias: Yuko Yuko is also interested in sex, you know!

IN: A title for the new Homesick LP, 'Seksuele Dingen'.

Elias: Don't forget Yuko is also dirty and that's important for both bands. We've all got that. (Smiles)

IN: How do you deal with the writing, how do you split the writing? in some ways it's impossible to write to order, and you can't say, 'oh, that's for Yuko Yuko and this is for the Homesick'.  Creating something doesn't go like that. Do you jam?

Jaap: Elias makes the Yuko things of course, and it's a bit like what I do for The Homesick. Elias sometimes has an idea and we sit together on the sofa with unplugged guitars and we work it out.

Elias: We never jam. We really don't like it.

Jaap: Never done it really.

IN: No fights over material?

Elias: Yeah that's not really an issue. We have a couple of tracks that we share, in different versions, a Homesick take and a Yuko take.

Jaap: We never argue on that.

Elias: Jaap may have a riff on the Yuko Yuko LP, or I'll do something for The Homesick... the credits don't sit on the records, who has done what. Not our style.

IN: How do you feel about being a Dutch band? You have a sort of defined Dutch image, which is in contrast to a lot of underground or 'alternative' pop Dutch bands who want to present an international image.

Jaap: Yeah that's true. Loads of Dutch bands want to adjust their image and sound to the international market. They come on as very British or very American. And they all try to sing with a British or American accent. But we are Dutch and we make Dutch pop music.  And I don't see anything wrong with accepting that and projecting an image of being Dutch. That's what we are after all.

Elias: I think Harry Merry does exactly the same. You can make music, being Dutch, that is very Dutch and find that an international audience likes it. We can do that.

(Harry's currently knocking the sonic hell out of his audience in the back of De Bastaard).

IN: Of course! I never understand why bands want to be something they're not, musically. In my opinion. Let's talk about sound in the two bands. You have very different sounds in both bands, even though they are built on similar things, lots of delays, phaser and loops and steady rhythm sections. And they dovetail really well at the moment. But how would you see your sounds developing over time? Will you have issues down the line regarding sound?

Elias: No I have no worries about that. Look, when The Homesick started it was a total shoegaze band. Swallowed up with the idea of being shoegaze.

Jaap: And a bit of New Wave. No singing. And we played through that idea.

Elias: And we added more distortion, and developed it into a different sound. With Yuko I pick up and use a lot of modern ideas, lots of modern hiphop, lots of quick breaks, and I combine it with a little bit of nostalgia; and I think that is very modern pop music.

Jaap: And with The Homesick, Erik (Woudijk) is a very important element, because Erik is a very mechanical, steady drummer. And props the sound up. He can drum in one style and he does it really well, and without thinking. He can' t do it any other way.

 

Elias: And he makes the difference between Yuko Yuko, because the drumming in Yuko is much more interpretive. Erik is very repetitive, very dry...

IN: I also saw that in the Homesick video, sat looking out into space.

Elias: I think the video is very funny because that was miming, but when he's really drumming he's really concentrated and stares in the same way. His drumming style is how he feels. He's steady and goes on and on...

Jaap: He drums in the manner that he comes across in everyday life; and at first I found it a bit unsettling because he didn't look interested at all on stage. I just knew that he was really, really good. But he looked totally anti-social; (laughs).

IN: In contrast with Leon (Harms) who is always laughing on stage, and a bit like Animal in the Muppets!

Elias: Him and Bart (Bruinsma) are busy having their own party on stage in Yuko.

IN: Let's talk a bit about your image. I know you are clever because you use lots of smart musical references but you also play dumb a bit on stage, and the first time I saw you live that playing dumb game was great, really exciting. And the fact that you play around with not caring; in total contrast to a lot of  Dutch bands, who do care a lot about their image. So you create a very carefully made image of having no image, or having a provincial bumpkin image. So you hide everything; I mean what the bloody fuck is loft pop? (something The Homesick use as a moniker).

(All laugh)

Jaap: I think that it comes from the fact that we don't really worry too much about the lyrics or 'descriptions' in The Homesick. It's about the music; the music has to be right first.

Elias: Ach, you know when metal bands sing about satanism, or Hip hop bands going on about money and 'bitches' or whatever you know... that's recognisable as that genre. A package. So I see our music as a complete package. And that is not difficult; make the lyrics smart and funny, make good music. And I can't really be pretentious.

...The first pop music in the 1950s and 1960s was all about break ups. It was super simple regarding the lyrics. And they are beautiful; and that is what we want to do.

IN: I think the best lyrics ever  are by Jerry Lee Lewis on Great Balls of Fire, I mean, 'I wanna love you like a lover should.' How good is that?

(All laugh)

...Anyway what do you see the future with both bands? That sounds like a shit question and I hope you don't take it in the wrong way. But how do you see the future for both bands  - because a lot of your music is about the here and now.

Elias: Phew! Yeah... Well, we both live with our mothers (laughs). Ach... We do think far ahead . We know what we want and we think, 'we want to sound like this' and we try, but  somehow everything turns out the way it does. Which is the way we want it I suppose. Regarding money, we want to keep to playing but get better wages for that (laughs).

IN: Will you become rock and roll monsters?

Elias: What, you mean like a sort of pop idol?

IN: Well, yeah I suppose... OK I'll change approach; what is the thing you really think is your idol?

Elias: Kanye West. Kanye West, no I am deadly serious. Kanye West. And that's a guy who's really pretentious, but he is so over the top that it also looks like he's not trying to do anything with his music. He tries to say things with his music, and his music is great but it looks like it's an accident. That's the pop idol of our generation.

IN: It's good to be ridiculous!

And with that the lads rush off to play another gig; Amersfoort if you must know.

The following week I turn up to see Yuko Yuko play the Subbacultcha! bash at hip hang out cum city centre stable for a clothes horse parade, de Nieuw Anita; along with Canadian popsters, Tops. I've seen their new video for When I Cry, I'll Smile. Yet again they are larking about; waving toy pistols, gyrating and smoking fags in the tennis courts, and posing outside the local Chinese restaurant. Elias tells me that they are trying to take the piss out of gangsta videos. Even though waving toy guns about is questionable - even with yer man Bibikov - somehow they pull it off.

And in a packed out Anita (lost, due to a combination of their small stature and the predictable roar of muffled PA and crowd din) they charm. They have this Squirrel and G Man itchiness to them. The last track ends in a scream of noise and delay and even the wannabe Jan Cremers in the audience have to give ground and stop talking. The set is something else, and pretty much puts a lid on the night's entertainment. Tops are too poppy and winning for the likes of us. Afterwards we hang out with the chatty and effervescent Bart and Marrit, whilst Jaap runs around the venue, squawking like a woodpecker about this and that; his hyperactive nature a real presence in the room. Elias contents himself by thoughtfully taking it all in and wandering about. Drummer Leon quietly stalks around. We shoot off worse for wear, but knowing that these two bands from Dokkum are something else, and no mistake.