August 30, 2013
by Jasper Willems
You may or may not have bumped into ’em, whilst prowling through the night to some dark, decrepit cavern, something resembling Amsterdam’s ancient Vondelbunker. Another known habitat: on stage, frolicking at some unhip annual festival in Tilburg, one of ’em diving head first into the crowd while nearly decapitating some stuck-up music critic with his guitar neck. Also, you’ve got a good chance spotting ’em at some Thee Oh Sees-gig, joining in the fracas of sweaty appendages, throwing the occasional eyewear-displacing elbow.
Yep, it’s Those darned Foreign Kids again: notorious for causing mayhem when and wherever they set foot, rabid like a pack of wolves, just as likely to eviscerate each other as their own prey. For the record, Marijn Westerlaken (vocals/guitars) and Teun Heijmans (vocals/drums) aren’t – actually – foreigners, but given their humble beginnings in the sleepy district of Rosmalen, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, they might as well have been.
Much like Those Foreign Kids’ impromptu plunge into Amsterdam’s music underground, aptly titled debut LP Zero Gravity Somersaulting Craze harnesses the same whimsical energy and reckless abandon. Eight tracks of fiery, multi-layered guitar/drums blitz that flaunt a much more expansive overall sound than your average twosome. It marks a significant departure from their lo-fi roots. Luifabriek dropped by Heijmans’s Amsterdam residence for a lively chat over some spicy chili dinner.
Form the band
Marijn and Teun met while playing for the same football-team-of-rejects during high school. “Around that time, we basically thought of each other as total dicks”, Marijn cracks. Teun: “We weren’t exactly gifted, nobody on that team was. But we had a lot of fun. It was quite a mixed bunch: skaters, punks…even the chairman of the chess club, whose dad coached the team.”
It wasn’t until Lowlands 2005 when the two started to shift their interest towards music. Shows by Death From Above 1979 and Art Brut left a particular impression on the two youngsters. “(Art Brut) had this tune called Formed A Band'”, Teun recalls. “As they performed the song’s breakdown, they called on the crowd to “go home and form a band”, pointing straight at us.”
Teun: “We looked at each other and thought: Why not?”
Marijn: “We couldn’t play anything, really…I could play a little saxophone, but Teun had never touched an instrument in his life.”
Teun: “I had a guitar lesson once. My dad and I went to the music store and bought the cheapest guitar available, one of those Fender rip offs.”
With Marijn on guitar and Teun on bass, the two quickly surrounded themselves with other musicians. The initial goal was to adopt a Britpop-like template; as the duo’s musical taste rapidly developed and refined, other band members started to bolt one at a time. “At one point”, Marijn recollects, “we were in awe of this video on MTV2 by Test Icicles. That particular moment was quite a turning point for us. We thought these guys were way cooler than all that Britpop-(stuff).” Test Icicles-founders Rory Atwell and Sam Mehran were roughly the same age when their frantic dance punk made a brief but noticeable mark on the Zeitgeist. Little did Marijn and Teun know they were in fact watching the same kid who would master their début LP seven years later.
After all other musicians had left the band, Teun started picking up drums by trial and error. According to Marijn, this was the precise moment where Those Foreign Kids’ boisterous garage-punk blueprint began to take shape – already penning three songs during their very first rehearsal together. However, Hertogenbosch’s smaller music scene – predominantly grunge-era indierock and stoner bands – wasn’t the most suitable demographic for a young, energetic two way garage-punk outfit to do a lot of shows – although not by lack of trying.
Marijn: “Driving all the way down to Maastricht just to play in front of five people, eventually you get fed up with that. It wasn’t a very fruitful way to continue.”
Thankfully, Marijn and Teun were able to change fortunes on a whim while studying International Media & Entertainment Management in Breda. Marijn landed an internship at Subbacultcha! while Teun found a home with Belmont Bookings, one of Europe’s premier booking agencies of alternative music. Suddenly, Those darned, mischievous Foreign Kids found themselves right at the center of the music industry. With senses working overtime, Marijn and Teun found themselves visiting Amsterdam and the Randstad regularly.
“Arriving in Amsterdam, we felt like kids in a candy store, simply because we hardly went down there. Except for maybe the occasional gig.”, Teun reminisces. “Everyone seemed to be totally amped-up, scurrying all over the place. There was live music everywhere. People listened to the same bands as us, which was a first. In Rosmalen we knew literally no one who shared our musical tastes.” Marijn adds: “We still had no clue whether or not our music actually sounded any good, because we had no recordings or anything.”
While studying however, Marijn unearthed a (sometimes) fickle business plan that would not only kickstart Those Foreign Kids’s frenzied guitar wails, but their ascent into the Dutch underground as well. Marijn: “At one point, I wanted to ditch that ugly old guitar I bought when we first started for a new one. I coveted something a bit unconventional, the type of guitar no one else would wield. That’s when I stumbled upon Eastwood, a brand of guitar that also produces airline models. I had to drive all the way to Germany to obtain one, since they’re not available over here. On my way back, I came up with the idea to just import and sell them myself. So I started by borrowing some money.” As Westerlaken set his business venture Digitaar in motion by stocking an inventory of guitars and pedals, he immediately found himself in viable position to make a living, while simultaneously savoring his own creative output.
Westerlaken: “Digitaar has been up and running for a good five and a half years now. It has actually attributed a lot to the music we were making at the time, because I had access to a myriad of guitar pedals and effects, which I could try out at rehearsals at my own leisure. That’s quite a luxury, because most guitar players save up to buy one pedal at a time – I had this whole collection immediately at my disposal.” This allowed Marijn to experiment thoroughly with his sounds, almost on the fly. “We applied a different sound to the songs with each practice”, Teun adds. “Though it went all over the place, it still sounded fresh at the same time.”
This heavy experimentation precipitates Those Foreign Kids’s frenetic sonic contortions, akin to the likes of Liars and No Age, blemished to a point where it’s almost impossible to differentiate where these noises derive from. Marijn laconically agrees: “We DO get that a lot, yeah.” Keeping taps on such a broad array of sounds is especially a challenge during live shows. But, for better or worse, Those Foreign Kids would rather instigate ceaseless mayhem than replicate their recordings to a tee. Marijn: “Just improvising out of the blue is way more fun. That Queen’s Day show we did for instance, that was sort of abysmal. By the time we took the stage we were pretty much wrecked already.”
“We drank an entire bottle of rum.”, Teun deadpans.
Marijn: “We played an outdoors gig, so first of all, we couldn’t hear a thing. To make things worse, some drunk fella started kicking my pedals all over the place. All my configurations were disarranged. Eventually, he got hauled off stage. As soon as we did our regular set we inclined to finish with a ten minutes of pure noise…which was actually the most fun part of that entire ordeal.” Those Foreign Kids deliberately pinpoint specific parts within their recordings, potential rifts of chaos which Teun and Marijn eagerly conjure on stage. Teun: “In a live environment, our music definitely has more extreme peaks and valleys. This either backfires on us or turns into something wonderful.” In other words: seeing the same Those Foreign Kids-show twice remains highly unlikely.
Geertruida should be my home
Between stints of adrenalized, punch drunk stage-pandemonium, Westerlaken and Heijmans frequently intertwine when engaging their respective virtues. Whenever a band from the Belmont Bookings-stable needs gear, guitars, accommodation, recording space or good ol’ fashioned hospitality, Teun usually appoints them to Marijn’s base of operations – a Haarlem household called Geertruida. For instance, when Seattle-based songsmith Damien Jurado forgot to bring along his guitar to Europe last year, it was Marijn who came to the rescue (hopefully well aware of the stress his equipment endured along the way).
Teun: “Sleepy Sun came to Europe to do a three week tour when the airport misplaced their guitars. Conveniently they had an endorsement going with Eastwood, so I called in Marijn – even though he didn’t feel like sending them along with pristine, unused guitars.”
Westerlaken set up shop with Yannick Tinbergen, co-founder of the Geertruida record label (along with Bert Zaremba). Those Foreign Kids previously released REKKORDINGS, a limited edition cassette, as well as split ’10 inch Copenhaarlem, featuring Danish bands The Beardy Durfs, Himmelschiff Excelisor and Tinbergen and Zaremba’s own band, gritty synthpop cluster Treasure of Grundo. Tinbergen formed another band with Westerlaken, terrific shoegaze-outfit RAAF, marking yet another Geertruida release. The two got acquainted during Westerlaken’s internship at Subbacultcha.
“When I started living there two years ago, Yannick was already doing these kooky living room shows. They figured I’d get used to all the havoc going on around here”, Marijn chuckles. “(The label) Geertruida just happened, basically. Yannick made a pact with Berndsen – an Icelandic artist he met while wandering about at Iceland Airwaves – to release his records after being told he had none.” According to Westerlaken, Berndsen’s LP served as vital lynchpin for Geertruida to officially operate as indie-label and DIY-platform. The next Geertruida release: Those Foreign Kids long awaited debut LP, Zero Gravity Somersaulting Craze.
No holds barred
As you might suspect from a band clamoring about benevolent creatures like swans and sloths becoming ferocious killing machines, making this record wasn’t without its hardships. Those Foreign Kids employed a no holds barred-attitude towards the recording process at IJland Studios, Amsterdam: compulsory sleepless nights, the occasional temper tantrum and plenty of booze. Thankfully, Those Foreign Kids anointed oddball producer/musician Pim van de Werken as overseer to keep things relatively structured. Heijmans was a big fan of Van de Werken’s work on Broeder Dieleman‘s LP Alles Is IJdelheid.
Teun: “We actually go way back, because we shared the same rehearsal space with Pim’s band Silence Is Sexy in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. He had an abundance of great ideas and helped work out some of the kinks.” Marijn: “Eventually, we were able to rework all the songs within a day and a half.”
Especially the vocals presented a tricky hurdle to clear. “One time we were were drinking whisky till 5 AM, trying to get the vocals and lyrics to coincide. Only to show up the next morning completely hammered, trying to do the take exactly as intended. But instead we mess up, fumbling with like one syllable or whatever…we were definitely at each other’s throats that day.”, Marijn wryly reflects, giving Teun a devilish glance. “That’s when we decided to approach things a little more meticulously. It took two more months to record everything, partly because I had both my wisdom teeth removed during that span.”
To master the record they found the perfect man for the job, none other than Rory Attwell, co-founder of Brattwell Recordings. An easy choice, as far as Teun is concerned: “We could’ve tossed our money at some producer in Holland who may or may not have done a great job or invest just a little more to be absolutely certain.” A pretty “full circle moment”, as Marijn puts it, giving the reigns to one of the band’s early inspirations. “We basically sent him an e-mail out of the blue”, Marijn recalls. “He responded within an hour.” Marijn and Teun insisted to be there in the flesh during the mixing process at Atwell’s Lightship95-studios, which indeed is a huge red ship moored at Trinity Buoy Wharf, East London.
Marijn notes that Attwell’s mixing duties for Zero Gravity Somersault Craze wasn’t exactly unfamiliar territory: “(Rory) is actually kind of a workaholic.” In all his excitement, Teun forgot to bring his passport and had to fly in from Eindhoven the next day. “We were able to stay with our friends Ice, Sea, Dead People, whom we had invited to stay at Geertruida during their tour.” Yet another piece of the jigsaw puzzle seemingly to falling into place for these former small town suburbanites. Those Foreign Kids might be the perfect subject for all you chaos theorists: almost every unassuming action – whether big or small – triggers another reaction that catapults this band into an entirely new apex. That’s swagger for ya.
Those Foreign Kids’ inherently more elaborate network (by virtue of Geertruida/Digitaar and Belmont Bookings) also means setting loftier aspirations for themselves. The title Zero Gravity Somersault Craze may suggest this kind of spontaneous, haphazard endeavor,Teun and Marijn stress that it is anything but. “You only have the chance to make your debut once, so you take the necessary steps to make it worthwhile. We have never approached it as merely making a record. The artwork (made by Kim David Bots) needs to match. It has to become its own little universe”, Marijn explains. “The story has to kind of unfold itself, really. There was a lot of stuff that needed to unravel. Especially the older songs – where it sort of hung in the balance whether or not to re-record them – came out stronger than we could ever dream. That little bit of pressure coinciding with the creative process is one of the more fun aspects of it.”
Bearing the name Those Foreign Kids – it’s pretty logical to eventually do some sightseeing abroad. Teun: “We’re looking for an English label, because I feel there is a lot to be gained there.” As of now, Those Foreign Kids finally are able to tote a significant release to kickstart their ever erratic yet poised career trajectory.
Teun: “In the end, I want to hold a physical copy of this record, having made something good enough to store in my closet next to the rest of my collection. Something we can be content with, a hundred percent.”
Marijn: “Never a hundred percent. But close.”
Teun grits his teeth and mumbles: “Yeah well, seventy percent.”
Well, there you have it. Something tells us Those DARNED Foreign Kids still have plenty of peeve up their sleeve. So next time you run into ’em again, turn on the lights, get ready to duck and cover and for Pete’s sake, bring your least posh pair of specs.
If you want to catch Those Foreign Kids’ release show at DOKA, Amsterdam on Sunday, better take note!