Interview with Henk

The Interview took place on Dec 10, 1995 at Haus Leipzig, after the concert, and was done by Tobias Luther, who also added some remarks in square brackets.
Q: Is this the first time that you are in East Germany?

That is right, of course we have been driving through East Germany already a long time because we played in Berlin from 1981 I think. So we've been on this road for a long time, we've never been in Leipzig or in towns in East Germany. Former East Germany. Or is it still the East? How do you call it? The East? Still?

Q: Yeah. It's a little bit difficult, it's becoming like the West, but still there's another kind of identity.

I think so, yeah. How can you ...

Q: And it'll take a long time ...

Of course, but that's pretty normal I think.

Q: Yeah, I think it's beautiful.

Jajaja, of course there's not very much time to look around and that's a pitty, because we are playing tommorrow in Berlin, for otherwise I would have gone through the town tomorrow, but we have to leave quite early, that's a pity. So maybe another time, that we can look around a little bit.

Q: Do you want to come back to Leipzig?

I'd like to. Anyway, I like to go to cities that I don't know. Leipzig, or Warschau, we've been to Tallin in Estonia, ... We've been to so many places ... We are curious, maybe it's not always looking for London or Manchester, but I'm curious how Tallin looks, I'm curious how Athens looks in Greece, and that's why we like to play there.

Q: And the dominoe on dA dA dA was from Tartu ...

That's true, I bought it there.

Q: You seem to like Estonia?

Well, I like Tallin. I saw Tartu just for one hour in the afternoon, because we drove there and did a concert and at night we went back. But I thought it was pretty exciting to go there, yeah. The first time we went there they were afraid that the Russians would come in and they had these big stones in the street for protection.

Q: I've noticed that there are hardly any old songs on Nest, but you played a few old songs now.

We did, yeah.

Q: Why that?

Ehm, because, when we were doing this Nest-Compilation we thought about we won't go further than 1980, I think 1982 or 1983. Red Tape was the oldest song on it. Otherwise we probably would have needed another album to do all the old songs like Tent, Tutti Ragazzi, ... You have to draw a line somewhere, and we wanted it to be more, let's say, the time that is now. So it's not always digging in the past. But on stage we like to play ... we change it every night. Tonight we played Tent, just because we like it.

Q: How does your stage show develop, does it really happen or do you plan something?

No, of course we think about the songs every night, because we have so many songs that we have to make a choice, so almost every night we make another list and then we play it. In a way it is planned, but it is planned in the last moment. We do a sound check around five o'clock and then we think about what we are going to play. Maybe we'd play some new, some old songs, and we put it in the set. It depends on our mood, it depends on the acoustic of the hall, it depends on wether the people are sitting or standing, sometimes they sit and then we'd like to play more slow songs ... I don't know, there is not a system.

Q: How do songs develop?

You mean the writing? Most of the time, I think all of the time now, I am doing the lyrics, I'm writing almost every day, I just carry around a small notebook and I make notes everywere, while I'm traveling, while I'm at home, and, yeah, sometimes it just happens, that I find a theme or a song in it. And then I bring it, I bring the idea to the band, we start rehearsing, (in Amsterdam we have our own studio, a kind of old gym where we work and do everything) and then we just start. I've got an idea in my head, maybe it's a title and I say Bike In Head and then Robert Jan thinks "Oh, maybe I can do sounds of a bicicle", Rob ... It's a matter of improvisation, I think. It's not constructing, like some people who really are songwriters are really constructing. We just fool around a long time. And we tape everything, all the rehearsals, all the ideas. Our sound engineer, the one who is also here, he is also doing the recordings. So he's always with us and sitting up there in the control room taping everything we do. Most of the time it's a mess [laughs], it's just rubbish, and at the end of the day you think bah, this is nothing, we'll have to through it away. But when we listen back at the end of the day we sometimes find nice parts in it and then we combine them. It's like a very big puzzle and you never know. You just dive in. It always happens. Sometimes you find those little pearls in it. That's the way we work most of the time.

Q: And that's what I hear out of it and that's what I like, because the songs and words are like a puzzle.

That's true, yeah.

Q: You can look for so many things ...

It's the way I like to write, there are many possibilities in the lyrics. There are kind of stories, but for a lot of people there are different stories, a lot of people hear different things in it. I'd like to keep it that way. To my oppinion to every song there should be a kind of secret, a thing you want to find. That's quite important, I think, when you're writing. But when you're also a performing artist and not only a composer you have to play them again and again and again, maybe for years and years. So you have to live with it, you can't throw them away, of course you sometimes do, but - when you are a movie maker you make a movie and then that's it. The movie is there and you can go on with other work. But we carry with us all those songs every time. I think that makes it sometimes difficult to a song for maybe a hundred times a year. And does it still live? Is it still a puzzle, a sensation? For us it works, that's true.

Q: And what are your influences?

Oh, well ... of course I am from 1951, so I was born when Rock'n'Roll was starting and the first real memories are listening to Everly Brothers on the radio, Wake Up Suzie, all those songs of the Everly Brothers, the well known songs, and I was already playing when I was eight, I was playing guitar and singing and trying to imitate this kind of music from America. The big change came when The Beatles came. For me that was the first sign that there was a band playing, electric guitars and so. So from that time I always wanted to be in a band, like so many people in the world, because it's very sensational to be in a band. I've been playing music throughout my school time, throughout my studies, always changing bands, in the beginning of the Seventies I started writing songs and my influences was of course all the music that was played. Let's say from the Every Brothers till Kraftwerk in the Seventies, XTC, till ... I don't know, as everybody I've listened to a lot of music. And now I have to admit that I listen to a lot of classical music more and more, because for me that is a new field, a new ... how do you say that ... a new world. So I listen to a lot of Bach - of course it is nice to listen to Bach when you are from here ... [laughs] [Bach lived in Leipzig, from 1723 until his death in 1750, T.L.] The influences never stop, but of course there is not only music, there are also films and books, it not only music that influences me, it's also paintings or a book.

Q: Can you tell me your favourite book and painting?

Yes, I can tell you. One of my favourite writers is Paul Auster, he's from America, maybe you've heard of him, he just did this script for a film Smoke, which is quite popular now I think. I've been reading probably all of his books, I've been reading his poetry and, ehm - he's great [smiles]. And my favourite painters, there are probably many, I'm quite fond of Max Ernst, I like some abstract painters from America, from the Sixties, there are probably many paintings I like, I like Velazquez, some periods of Picasso are very important, always Miro, Francis Bacon of course, Paul Klee, ooh - I can go on for hours because, it never stops of course.

Q: You studied painting?

Yes, I painted, even.

Q: Do you still paint?

Not very much, no. I have to admit, that I somehow ... when I started really playing in a band, and I was painting at the same time I had to make a decision because I was painting during the daytime, being in a band during the nighttime, and after one year it simply destroyed me, it was too much work. So I had to make a choice, and I chose this life of being with friends and playing music.

Q: You had only one real hit, would you like to have another one?

Yeah, in Holland we had a couple of more of course, and in France, but ... Yes, well, I've been thinking about it a long time, having hits, because, when we had this hit with In The Dutch Mountains, I have to admit that most of the time I did not enjoy it that much because we were invited into the wrong programms, we had to do a lot of playback all over Europe, and my passion is to perform, to play, real playing in front of an audience. When you have a hit you have to do a lot of other things. You have to do a lot of talking, a lot of waiting in TV studios for months and months, altogehter. So I'm not that sure, if ... I always thought that having, let's say, a number one or a number ten hit is the final thing for a band. But when it happened I suddenly was not sure about it and I'm still not sure, because I also think it can destroy a band. It's nice to go on tours, of course it's nice to have hit, but you shouldn't forget about real playing. I mean, not all the hype, not all the nonsence about it, with teenage magazines and - I get so tired of it, I mean, they ask ... unbelievably stupid questions [laughs], with all the respect for the person, but, I mean, I'm writing a lot of music, and I'm playing a lot, and if you only can ask "Oh, Henk, well-a, tell me:" [laughs], then I stop. [laughs] It's not enough, I mean, it's not enough to have a complete life, I mean - if you're a grown up person and you have gone through life and so many things, and you like so many things - I'm not able to fulfill that image of a teenage star. I can't do it. I'm over fourty and I like a lot of other things, too. So, it's a pity [laughs]. It's no problem for me, like many jazz musicians, or classical, they don't have a hit at all and they spend a whole life making music. Frank Zappa maybe once hat one hit in Sweden, with one song, but never in America, and he had a quite wonderful life making music. So I think that the industry behind it is a little bit worn out for me. It's not very exciting. It is just people doing their job and if it's you or another person, ah, well, they don't care.

Q: So having a hit would mean too much preassure?

Maybe now it would, because we already have a ... if you look at our year - touring and making albums and making videos and making the covers - it's too much. I'm doing a hundred concerts a year and then the rest, so sometimes I really like to have some spare time and stay at home and watch TV and sit with my family [laughs] and go to the zoo with my daughters. I think that's sometimes much more important. If we would have a hit now it would destroy this ballance, it would make things very complicated. That's very strange, because you think it makes you rich but that's not true because when you have a hit everything goes a bit bigger, but there are more people in between, so most of the time we said a lot of other people get much richer and you keep on the same level, especially in Holland. So I'm not sure. I'd like to keep it like this, a kind of Geheimtip [laughs].

Q: The best known Geheimtip from the Netherlands.

Yes, but that's no problem. We travel all over Europe, and, o.k., tonight there weren't that many people, but a couple of days ago we were in Helsinki for a thousand people, sold out Holland, and we play in Athens, so it dithers, there's a lot of variety and I like that very much.

Q: Dit you meet your "Friend from Finnland", I can't remember his name ...?

Seppo, he was there, he is always there. And I am seeing him more, he sometimes comes to Amsterdam or I go to ... I am working with him on a project, a kind of Helsinki-Story. Helsinki will be the one of the cultural capitals in Europe in 2000, so our project is one of the projects. Probably it will be a film, it will be a record, it will be a concert ... Anyway, we still have a lot of time, but we are working on it now.

Q: And what are you Nits doing when you are not working with the Nits?

I sometimes write for other people, songs, I write film music, sometimes I make little movies for other people, documentaries, videoclips for other bands like a director, I'm, eh, yeah, and for the rest, then all my time is gone. And I like to go to the zoo with my daughters, but that's my favourite pastime [laughs].

Q: And the others, are they working with music?

Yes,they do a lot with - everybody's doing other things. Peter just did film music, very nice, for a documentary, Robert Jan is doing a lot of music for documentaries, film, TV, eh, Rob is sometimes doing projects with his avantgarde-drummer-friend from Basel, Fritz Hauser, and he's doing very weird concerts that nobody understands, but it's fine, so - and Martin is also doing a lot of production and, writing songs, and of course other things, Rob is sailing a lot, and Peter too, they sail on sea, going [makes a quick movement with his hands, like a ship going throuh water ... and laughs]

Q: So probably that keeps the band alive, that you are not always staying together?

We are not always staying together, of course we spend a lot of time together. But our spare time is not spent together that much. Because I really like to see other friends who are doing other things, who are not doing music, who are having totally different jobs, that I can spend a night or an evening talking not about music but other things. That's very important because otherwise you are in this cocoon of music all the time.

Q: Let's come to Urk, where does this name come from, where is the connection between the city and the album?

It's not a city, it's an island, an island that once was an island, but because they made everything dry around it (like in Holland we like to make land out of sea,) and suddenly this island was not in the sea anymore, it was surrounded by land. I like the idea of ... I've always liked that word Urk because it's very dutch, but it's also a kind of ... it's also a kind of word that makes a sound, like "uurrk!!", it could be skandinavian or finnish. So - I don't know, we just said Urk.

Q: You seem to like Skandinavia, there's a lot of Finnland, ...

I like Finnland a lot, ja.

Q: sometimes you mention Canada ...

Ja. Of course there a a dozen paces where we played, we stayed a lot of in Canada and the Quebec-Festival for a couple of times, so I wrote a couple of songs connected to Quebec City, Mourier Avant Quinze Ans, Saint Louis Avenue, The Wales Of Tadousac, of course, I've written also four songs about Athens. One day I went with my friend Seppo to the island of Leonard Cohen, Hydra, to make a film for the finnish TV, so we've been there twice because we know Leonard Cohen and he allowed us to go into his house and I wrote a couple of songs about this: The Night Owl, De Rode Vas that we played tonight, it's about Athens, too. I like to write, let's say, a couple of songs that are connected to a place and to things that happened. Maybe I will write about Leipzig, I don't know [smiles] ... I sould stay a little bit longer then.

Q: I have got the impression that Giant Normal Dwarf is kind of a concept album, but - did you plan it like that, or did it as well just happen?

I planned it a little bit by making this painting of the map of Holland and the situations in there. It is in a way a concept album, I think every album that is in a way in one atmosphere is a concept album, like in my opinion John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan a concept album, Pet Sounds [Beach Boys, T.L.] is a concept album, Revolver maybe [Beatles, T.L.] because it's so unique in sound, in words and the idea behind the recording. And I think Giant Normal Dwarf is very close to that. I think Ting maybe less, but the concept of Ting was more strict than Giant Normal Dwarf, the original planned album [meant is Ting, T.L.]. We did a couple of Ting-concerts in our studio and when I listen back now I really would like to make a redecision about the album. Like sometimes when you are a film director and they cut up your film, but of course nobody cuts up Ting, years later you can make your director's choice in cutting the film again and I'd like to make a new edit of Ting. But [laughs] that's maybe too much.

Q: So you, I mean the band, are the ones who say: That's what we are going to do?

Yeah. Always. There's no-one ... Some people of the record company they listen and then they approve or disapprove and then we are very polite, and we shake hands, but we do exactly what we want [laughs]. There's no discussion about it.

Q: On Giant Normal Dwarf Joke shared out, I heard she was ill, and is that the meaning of "Joke Geraets is still wearing our radio shoes"?

Ja, ja. Because we were still waiting for her. She was trying to recover from her hand problems. That's why we played a long time with three. We had a band with three and we were in fact waiting for her to come back, but then she was not getting very much better and she is still not able to play bass guitar like she did. I mean, she's playing music and composing, it's fine with her, but it's not possible for her to do a concert. So when that was sure after the whole Giant Normal Dwarf and the Ting recording then we invited Martin and Peter to join us and have a bigger band. But we spent a long time with three persons.

Q: And what is she and Michiel Peters doing today?

Michiel is working as a bookkeeper somewhere. He went back studying, he studied law and he finished it of course, but then it was difficult to find a job and he is still in a firm somewhere and I haven't talked to him for a long time because he is living in another part of the town and I am leading such a different life. I'm talking a lot more to Alex, who was the bass player, and he is very much into designing and computers, so I sometimes do things with him or talk to him.

Q: And what is Joke doing?

She is composing for theatre and film and she is quite happy with it. And [smiles] sometimes she comes to a concert. Just for fun.

Q: How did Hjuvi develop? It's an extraordinary project, it's great, it's unusual!

[Smiles] It's very unusual, it was an invitation of the orchestra, it was of course sponsored by the dutch government, there was a lot of money involved, there was a TV-broadcast, so, it was especially for Robert Jan a big chance to do a lot of composing and we were really in the orchestra, playing with them and Rob was doing these percussion things and I had to look at the conductor when I was singing ... We did it a couple of times, we also did it in Switzerland, an open air, but that kind of projecs are very, very special and they cost a lot of money when you want to do it. So it will be a unique happening.

Q: Is there a video of that or was it only shown on TV?

[Thinking] There is not a video of that, no, they never made it a commercial ..., no, it was a broadcast on TV.

Q: Yeah, it's not commercial, it's too difficult.

Ja, but that's why we like to do it. Because for us it was also an experience, to see how an orchestra works and that's very important that you keep very open to these kind of possibilities. Because that's much more important than, what we talked about, going to the Hit-Factory and the TV-shows and so. I mean, of course it may be nice for some time, but this kind of thing is kind of ... we also had a lot of fun with it.

Q: What came first, Hjuvi or Ting?

At the same time. More or less in the process of Ting I went on with Ting (editing and producing) and Robert Jan went on doing Hjuvi.

Q: So that is the reason why Ting is such a step forward and a classical album? Well, it's not a classical album, but it's ...

It is not classical, but of course, it has to do with all ... because we decided to do it like this, just only the piano and the classical percussion, vocals. It was not planned as a classical album, but a very minimal album ... no excitement with guitars, but only this very balanced sound of classical drums, the Timpanis, the Grand Piano and vocals. It's a very speacial sound, I think. I'm quite proud of that album because it was almost impossible, it took a long time to make because we had to rehearse a lot because it is very difficult when you leave out the groove, the bass drum and hihat. Then you have to rehearse songs in a very different way because there is no groove, it's very difficult. We found out.

Q: That album helped me a lot when I started studying here, so thanks a lot for that album .... [both laughing]

So maybe that is made for that ... [laughs]

Q: Is that the reason why you are doing music?

I am doing music for a lot of reasons but sometimes I even can't think of a reason because I just want to do it. But it's true, it has to do with giving structure to your life, like every artist or every person feels. It's very important for me to write down the things I discover, things I enjoy, things I remember. Because they and those albums that we made, for me they are kind of diaries. They are not diaries, of course, but they are simmilar to diaries. They remind me of all those years and it's nice to be able to play those songs from such a long time ago and to keep them alife, because they are a kind of memory-system in my head. They are connected to the way I felt, during The Dutch Mountains, or ... That's important I think. I think that's important when you are a composer.

Q: Talking of J.O.S. Days, was it a footballteam you played in?

Yeah, I didn't play in the end of course, because they kicked me out, but that's the big tragedy in the song.

Q: Do you like sports?

Not that much, no. I like watching football, sometimes, but I am not very fanatic with sports. I enjoy walking, running I mean, I am doing a little bit of running, but not in a very active way, just enjoying it a little bit.

Q: Well, I was just standing there [in front of the stage] and wondered: how can such a sad song become such an on-going song?

I like that combination. It's seldom that it happens with us, when the words are down or let's say melancholy, then the song is down, but J.O.S. Days is a ... almost happy song when it's not true. But I still like the song very much, I like the two stories connected to it, my football story and the story of the war. I was quite happy when I finished the song. Like "Ha, hm, it fits".

Q: And after Ting you made dA dA dA, which sounded to me a lot like going back to the basics, which probably was the only thing you could do.

Yeah, because otherwise there would have only been silence, we would have ended up like John Cage or something. We were playing a lot with the five of us, on the road all the time, so more or less it's a live album in my opinion. We recorded it live in the studio in between tours. We came back from Greece and the next morning we were recording. It's very live and it's the first time that I wrote songs on the road, like the songs from Canada, they were almost written at the spot and recorded sometime later.

Q: Are you really happy with the album, because to me it sounds - I don't know, in a way incomplete.

For some time I thought I was not that happy with it, but now, when we were rehearsing the songs again and playing them, I found out that most of the songs I like very much. By replaying them. So maybe, when we would have waited a little more with dA dA dA it would have been a better album. That's pretty possible. Because sometimes you just have to write a song and leave it a little bit. Like wine [laughs] and then do it. At that time I was just writing in the studio, it was very fresh. But I can understand the doubt about this album sometimes. But sometimes [smiles] years had to do it.

Q: And then we had Nest [sorry, I just forgot to ask about FRITS, T.L.], which we have already been talking about, have you got an idea of what could be coming next?

I have no idea [sighs, smiles]. No, really, of course I have a lot of ideas about albums, but it's very strange, what I really want to do is to make a very long video or movie about all the homemade videos I made during my traveling with the band. Since 1981 I've been filming, just on the road. Like today I've been filming from the car, here, everly little detail in dressing rooms, in conversations, interviews sometimes, so I have this enormous collection of videotapes, big boxes filled with it. From Estonia, from Greece, from Canada, from New York City, from Tokyo, Yokohama, from Senagal, where we also were, and I'd like to spend one year editing this whole stuff [laughs] and then look how we can make something out of it. Maybe that can be an inspiration to make an album, a kind of travel-album going [makes a quick movement with his hands] ...

Q: And - what's your favourite place to be?

[rubs his hands] My favourite place to be?! [rubs his hands] He? Where? [laughs] Oh ... I ... if I'm honest, I really like to be in Amsterdam. That's where I'm living, ja.

Q: O.k.. Thank you for taking so much time for me -

Oh, it was a pleasure.


Q: Oh, how did you get to know the Internet-thing?

We didn't, because we have one German fan from Düsseldorf I think, and he started it. So now it's getting bigger and bigger because people from America, from Finland, they join the whole club. So you know it?

Q: Yes, I'm in that club.


Q: And there I found a lot of information which I could make this interview out.

Aha - that's the way ... So stay connected, because we are doing a lot with it and we will maybe if there's a little bit time sometimes put things in it ourselves. But I think it's Jochen, he is really doing a lot, I mean he is really very precise and wonderful. Aha. [laughs]

[We get up]

Modern times. [Shrinks his shoulders]

[Tape off]

[Henk on Nest] [Nits in Print] [Main Index].

Jochen A. Stein, jst at nitsfans dot org
Last modified: 02-12-2003