November 15, 2013
by Tjeerd van Erve
Fever dream: I’m on my way to Rotterdam, sweating, nervous; I’m about to meet up with Rene van Lien. To drink coffee, some beers maybe…and to talk. About cats…or about his recently acquired PhD in psychology. But most of all, about music: Rene van Lien being the voice and guitarist of NeonRainbows, as well as boasting a fine résumé performing in bands such as Feverdream and Jimmy Barock. All of them are underrated, playing the kind of edgy noise-rock akin to Shellac, Sonic Youth I have grown up to love. For the most part though, I’m nervous when we head out for a studio. To record. Yes, you read well: to record. But it’s no fever dream. It’s really me on the train to Rotterdam, on my way to the studio.
Feverdream with Elle Bandita
It’s been eons since I seriously played any music. I barely even touch my guitar nowadays. But once upon a time – in a previous life – Rene and I first met. I had just opened for Karate, a show I mostly recall for breaking the same string twice in a matter of minutes (quite an accomplishment for a singer-songwriter, I must say). Strangely enough, he liked my songs, even though I had only five strings during most of the show. Strings that were – on top of everything – in tune with something…but not each other. Still, it was at that exact time when the idea arose we should one day try and record something together.
Nevertheless, our paths split. Rene made several great records with Feverdream, wrote ‘Spain Rhymes With Pain’ with Jimmy Barock (what should’ve been an indie rock anthem world wide) and travelled Europe extensively with these formation. I carved out a career as a light engineer, and later a history teacher while – as a side project – filling the internet with my opinions on music. I decided that making music myself would be too painful for the audience. I kept following Feverdream though, being one of the best underground noise rock bands that The Netherlands had to offer in the late nineties and early noughties, as well as At No Bikini Beach and NeonRainbows, the two bands that ensued after the sudden demise of Feverdream.
Rene picks me up at Rotterdam Central Station. The backside, so for once I get to miss out on the ever-enduring construction pit that is the entryway of Rotterdam for the last decade or so. We took a five-minute stroll through a small city park, past several sex shops. One of them was filled with people dressed in latex, celebrating the new collection, I guess. These barely dressed latex models, erotically dancing in the windows, will stick in my memory forever. We laugh about it and continue to talk music. How he loves listening to live concerts of Portishead of Sonic Youth. Music that’s intense, but gives him the rest he needs to work at the same time. About finding a job, because ever since his dissertation, Rene is unemployed and looking for work like everybody else. Psychophysiological research in the field of post-traumatic stress has his interest, but he’d like to work within a slightly independent climate.
Which fits the way Feverdream, NeonRainbows and all other side projects function within the system; independent. Maybe even too independent, making it hard to get around in the Netherlands, where several people have double functions concerning promoting and support of Dutch music. This makes it hard to get through if you’re not on the right label or connected to the right booking agent. And even harder when you openly propagate independence and DIY-culture. An attitude that took Rene van Lien and Arnold van der Velde (his partner in crime ever since they started Feverdream in 1997) around Europe and the UK, where they did get the recognition they deserved. Especially Italy and the Balkans held a warm heart for the noise rock formation that was considered (too) experimental to succeed in The Netherlands.
With NeonRainbows the band now is truly independent since 2008. After Feverdream’s sad ending, Arnold and Rene teamed up with members of The New Earth Group to build their own studio. A place where they wrote, recorded and finished the whole debut record An Idea For A Plan. Still toughing out on noise rock, but now less edgy hardcore punk style while more melodic. A record that lends itself to the works of Pedro The Lion, Cursive and Girls VS Boys. Again a sound that doesn’t fit the nice and “netjes” attitude of what the mainstream Dutch station 3fm regards as ‘alternative’ (hey, a new band on Excelsior!!!). Subroutine Records (you remember, those friends of Mr. Foster) picked up the record, as did some journalists. Despite the fact that it’s a very fine record, it hardly led to any shows in The Netherlands. The band members – all thirty-somethings – by now had other occupations, which probably played a part.
But Rene eagerly moved on. We listen to some solo recordings he has done lately. Darker recordings, more on the triphop and atmospheric side. A new project, other than NeonRainbows, of which he had recently lost all material due to a malfunctioning hard disc. NeonRainbows though, is not forgone, even with Arnold and Rene left on their own. After the previous Balkans-tour, the two other members left the band. This hasn’t stopped Van Lien and Van der Velde from writing and recording as duo. More experimental music, probably the result of Arnold’s work with Yuri Landman in Bismuth, as they are now experimenting with tape loops, trying to create a more atmospheric noise experience.
But today, Rene and I are going to stray far from that experimental stuff. The only experiment is the fact that we haven’t rehearsed anything. Nor have we decided on what to play. Nonetheless, we are planning to have several songs recorded by the end of the evening. Honestly, I’d be happy with one decent song by the time I have to return to Little Rotterdam (aka Tilburg, with one main difference, we destroyed our own city centre with some of the Germans’s help). My nerves run sky-high the moment we open that heavy studio door. We find Arnold van de Velde working behind a twin screen, putting the last hand on the upcoming Bismuth record, which at least gives me a small delay before execution. I try keeping my cool as I nonchalantly sip on the beer offered by Arnold. But in fact, I’m scared shitless.
Over nothing it seem, as it turns out later. Five minutes into the recording session, we have already recorded our first song. No rehearsal, no details assessed. We just sat down and started playing as the “tape” was rolling – two simple chords of rock ‘n’ roll. Or, as Rene puts it later, We were riding with the ghost. Less than three hours later, we close that same heavy studio door, carrying two new songs and two Jason Molina-covers on the hard drive with us. Songs to work on. And thus it happens. Two weeks of mailing up and down, we end up with one song and the plan to re-record the others. Only our first recording survived the post-recording sessions.