The Corno Zwetsloot Tapes – Part the First
April 27, 2014
by Richard Foster
(Space Siren at the Paradiso. Pic courtesy of Damian Leslie)
The idea for this interview hatched about 6 months ago. We were sat having a beer at Next To Jaap studios one afternoon when Corno suddenly challenged me about some of my reviews; “you’re always being positive about people, you should push them more.” Whilst I don’t wholly share the idea that what I write is always “sunny side up”, I did agree that sometimes, trying to be subtle, witty or diffident in reviews was also getting in the way of being, well… brave, and direct; and showing people what I really think. And that’s a quality I admire in Corno a great deal. We also had a feeling that we really needed to somehow get Corno’s thoughts down. Corno’s not in the best of health, to put it mildly, so there was also an element of making a mark, looking to print what he felt needed to be said. So, I cycled over to Next to Jaap, and, happily sat in the big sofas behind the mixing desk, I turned the tape on.
Recently I thought to myself… this last year I’ve really enjoyed coming to this studio. I think it’s an amazing place. And one of the questions I thought I should ask is how special it is.
It’s not a normal studio. But then I thought there’s probably lots of little studios like this.
Corno: Are there?
I don’t know. Maybe, there are lots of little hideaway places.
Corno: There must be all over the world, but I don’t know em. (Smiles) Most studios are quite dark and… feel more underground. And this is just an old barn in the country and I… oh I dunno. It feels good here.
What do you like about it?
Corno: I like the place because it’s the country but it’s the middle of the Randstad so from here you can be everywhere in a short amount of time, so, to start with; the atmosphere. And I also like the fact that bands like coming here because of the parties we have, too; people like coming here and enjoying themselves. People always tell me they like coming here so there must be something. And I feel that other people feel it too. And it’s not a posh place; it’s a really crappy place, an old barn that’s almost falling apart. But I think that is also – studio-wise – why people enjoy themselves, it doesn’t make them nervous. Obviously when you come into a studio the first day, or first half day you are always impressed by the fact you are gonna record so it’s “ooh there’s microphones and a mixing desk”, so… but after that it starts to count that it’s… how would you say… unofficial.
Because you have this very social side to the studio. You can’t imagine a studio being a place where people come and have a drink, because this is a place of work.
Corno: Mwa… Yeah. Well that’s also got to do with my disease; because I have got quite a different view on life now. I wish I had that view before and maybe started realizing more how beautiful life is, because the first twenty years of my studio, I was what you’d expect from someone in a studio; a nerd who was here from morning till night. Then go to the house and go to sleep, wake up, jump in the car, go straight back to the studio. And… I wasn’t very social except when we were with the band and we went places and saw people; but outside of that it was always the studio. And now, since a couple of years – because I can’t work full days anymore – you really start wondering… I guess everybody knows the feeling, or the question; “if I’ve got a year, a week, a day to live, what would I do?” And for me, it’s realizing how many, beautiful lovely people there are, and enjoying their company.
…So the studio is the place to meet! I get some beer in with my friends. And everybody comes in and enjoys themselves. And like last Sunday, where there was loads of family hanging around, that was a totally different vibe to the time before, when there were loads of musicians. And I like that whole idea.
…And the other thing that I really like, is seeing when people meet; you know one is playing in a band, and the other is programming for a place, and hopefully it all fits together and they can help each other out.
I wondered about how this place fitted into this area as well, because Voorhout is in the middle of the Bollenstreek; and you have a very different perspective here than you do down the road in Leiden, where it’s all… you know…. Urban. Here is very independent, very… eigenwijs is maybe not the right word, but it feels that it has got a particular grounding in this part of the world.
Corno: Well I think eigenwijs is the right word. Yeah!
…I mean the studio we are in right now is my father’s. He’s eighty one; he’s still going strong, he still grows his own flowers and he still goes to the auction. He works more than we do together. And erm… try to communicate with this man, it’s impossible! He’s so eigenwijs! (Laughs). It feels like country people are more stubborn than city people. I’m not sure about that. But that’s what I think.
I used to work in the bulbs I know what you mean. It was more of a rhythm. People had a rhythm that was built around the seasons. So it was attuned to the land. People would know what the weather would be like so they’d do things a particular way. They’d say there’s no arguing with Mother Nature! (Laughs)
Corno: Yeah but I guess this place could have been in the Achterhoek or somewhere… another place in the countryside but this place couldn’t have been in the city; that’s another environment.
Let’s talk about bands, and here, people say about you; “working with Corno…” you talk to bands like Sweet Release of Death and they say “well, working with Corno it was… woah…” [Note: as in hard graft. I’d better point out here that I used a hell of a lot of facial expressions and the odd hand gesture to communicate how tough some people found working with Corno at Next to Jaap.] And you work damned hard with Space Siren, WOLVON, etcetera. You have a particular way of working in this space. You push people hard to find what they need to find. Do you think that has something to do with being out here or is that just you?
Corno: No that’s just me.
Corno: Yeah sorry. (Laughs)
I don’t think you’d get that anywhere else? Maybe people aren’t as…
Corno: Ach I think you get that in different places. But Dutch bands aren’t that intense. They just intend to be intense… and that’s why people think I am, let’s say, intense or… I have a strong opinion when they record but in a way it’s…
(Long Silence. Corno looks at the ceiling.)
…It’s not common in Holland to have opinions like that [sic] or hit the highest… it feels to me. There’s always this “gezelligheid” aspect. There’s always “let’s make a brilliant album. We’ll do everything for it as long as it stays gezellig”. And I’m probably not like that. I like gezelligheid but when I record I wanna get the best out of it.
…And it took me a couple of years… but it might be also the difference between listening to what you’re doing or listening to the ideas they have. And if I have an idea to make this really loud, and push three pedals and it’s loud there, well it’s loud. But when you really listen it doesn’t mean that it sounds that way. And that’s what I try to do.
… But it doesn’t get…
…Look (Corno leans forward). I am from the Bollenstreek. I am a son of my father. He gave me the genes, the DNA, so there must be some of the stubbornness in me.
Well… I can see this outside of you. This is the place where I first lived in Holland. I worked in the Bollenstreek, I worked in HiIlegom and Lisse and I lived in Noordwijkerhout, and I used to work long hours in factories and I know people really work hard in these places; and they really push themselves. I thought that was the attitude that was throughout Holland. But I’ve not seen that mentality anywhere else I’ve lived in Holland; this attitude of working all the hours and making sure you did everything right. There’s no bullshit.
Corno: For me this is how I grew up. I’ve seen it differently in factories when I was growing up… but I’m not sure whether that’s there any more now; the supposed big difference between the hard working people and foreign people from Poland or Hungary or wherever. But in the old days I guess the people who were working on the land were for the most part their own boss. They were independent so they had to work hard. And if you start working with those people and you go on their land because they wanna make some money and they wanna live. So they are very tough on you as well. That’s why if you grow up in that environment you get like that. Maybe you see it better than I do.
I remember that I used to think to myself that was noticeable. I liked it; but there was no other way. When you’d see people in the city sitting around in cafes doing nothing, it used to drive me mad!
… When you talked about the idea of “gezelligheid”, and the bands… I never understand that if you make a record you feel that everyone else must like it. I would have thought that you have to like it first. And if you think otherwise, something would be wrong; someone would smell it out.
Corno: Yeah, well I completely agree with that; but it also took me some time to find out that you’re not making an album for someone else. It’s a bit strange to think but in a way you’re often releasing albums that people can enjoy without finding it [sic] strange. (Smiles) But it also took me a time to understand that you don’t make albums for somebody else but you do it for yourself. And that’s quite hard because you make something and other people say “hmmm I don’t like it that much” and you start to thing, “ooh what did I do wrong?” And you stop realizing that “it’s not the person who I made this album for” [sic].
… You know, Gwendolien [note: Gwendolien Douglas, Space Siren singer] was quite surprised that in the beginning of Space Siren, that we had – a couple of times – we had a few people really angry with us. One was at an opening night of a gallery exhibition. The artist had once made a stop motion movie for us [note for the track, “We Have Met The Daylight Before” ] and we said we’ll come over and play in front of the movie. It was on a Saturday afternoon and the artist said can we play three or four times? I mean, it’s a bit boring but can you play the song three times along to the movie. And the gallery is not in a place where a band is used to [sic] play. It was very small and it was loud there. And in the middle of the song there was an explosion of noise. Well my opinion is when someone invites you to play somewhere they know what they get. So it’s the full Monty from us.
…After, there was this guy, he was an artist and you could really see he was an artist; and he’s there and he wore a long coat and a hat. I think he even smoked a pipe. And in between he was boring other people about his vision of art. And he even talked about the misunderstanding of art towards the ordinary man.
Corno: …And this man got so angry and he came towards Gwendolien and said, “this… dit slaat nergens op”, and stuff like, “this is terrible” and he was completely annoyed that this was not art it was just a noise, and it was just to make other people angry… And Gwendolien, she finds it hard to deal with these sorts of people. And I said to Gwendolien. “you know we make music, we really make music and when we make a point we really look to make a point. And if we want scratches on the recordings, let’s have scratches, not some ‘halfbakken’ something…” (Laughs) It took a while for her to get used to it that some people really don’t like it, and they find it horrible. Well, if you listen to our music I know people find it horrible; I really understand.
I know what you mean about that whole art thing… I mean…
Corno: But when you’re younger and you do your first recordings and you try your best to make something nice. And then somebody says “hmm…” it’s hard to stand apart. I remember when I started recording, from the first demos, I always remembered to ask, “anymore beer guys, anymore coffee?” to mask the passage of the song they won’t like!
…You know for sure which parts they will enjoy and say, “aahhh” (Laughs)
… But I had that SO many times recording stuff. After you’re finished with recording (and although you don’t need other people to instruct you then), you listen to yourself; and after three, four, five times listening, you start to realize that it wasn’t that good as it was during the recording. Now, I never met somebody who was there and interfering with my stuff or guiding me during my recordings. So during recordings now, I start to realize how I can help people; I become their judge. I have some distance. And I warn them. And I also realize that they don’t always find it nice to hear what I have to say. Or that I am harsh, or how do you say…
Corno: Overcritical? Naw. Critical. Maybe they find it overcritical. I’m just being soft now and then.
It’s good that you do that. And if you don’t, this leads to the problem I have with a lot of bands. They start to fool themselves. I’m a painter myself and I know if you don’t listen to people you start to fool yourself and you start to believe your own equations. And you begin to ignore other people, and you get a really strange idea of what your work is about. And I think a lot of bands do that, they think they’ve solved everything before they’ve engaged with critics or the public. And then there’s a set of weird excuses or stories from them as to why you’re…. wrong! (Laughs)
Corno: Yeah. Hmmm.
And I don’t think there’s a right or wrong in it, I think half the time it’s due to interpretation.
Corno: Ach come on, that bit’s not true.
Corno: Come on. You know that you’re a journalist, you’re a critic. If you really think like that you wouldn’t be writing these things.
Well, what I’m trying to say is…
Corno: No, no, if I say to you I am a really big fan of Nick and Simon and what would you say? To be honest you would say “there’s something wrong with him, this is mad, this is terrible!” (Both laugh) Or would you say “this interpretation is showing a certain idea”. No; Nick and Simon sucks. Point! [sic]
OK I agree with that. I think it’s probably because I’m doing history and I stand aside form matters rather than jump in. But then you’re right; you come round to the point that maybe that’s just bollocks! (Laughs)
Corno: You have interpretation. I mean I’m not a big fan of things like metal, but for sure there are some brilliant metal bands and even when I don’t like it that much, those bands are good. Now that’s interpretation; but if we talk about Nick and Simon that’s not interpretation, that’s just shit. But it’s a big thing which Dutch bands fall into [sic]. I think Holland is the worst place for a musician to be. Because it’s a terrible country [sic]. They suck in music. They never have anything to do with pop history except for erm… Ben Cramer or Golden Earring! I mean, Golden Earing made some good tunes but there isn’t anything else. OK so we had Gabba. (Slaps legs in frustration) What else did we have? That’s all we accomplished. And I mean, goh… Everyone’s really proud of these couple of deejays who spin their records at Madison Square and are the hippest… I mean they make terrible music but at least – people think – it’s something. And if you’re from England there’s always a small chance if you try the best you can, that you become a big band.
That’s true. What I find interesting about the Dutch side is that there’s no support, or maybe nous in this country to make a band break for “proper”, “big” career. And at the same time; bands and people don’t do it, when they really, really have to do it, they get nosebleeds. You get this you see people going “we can’t do this…” I’ve been on the road with Dutch bands and the shock of being part of the machine, this British machine where things have to be on time, and sound check is 10 minutes and you’re on at 7:30 sharp and then being off after 30 minutes. And this pressure of being “in it to win it”, in front of 30 people. I’m not saying it’s great but there’s a tradition of show business in the UK that is linked into rock and roll or pop music which is not here.
Corno: No, it’s not here. And the other thing is because it’s not here and it’s never been here, people don’t believe in themselves before they start, and question how can they do it? I’ve seen bands in England when they play there and if – and I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant – but if we weren’t that good we’d really be in problems. I’ve seen so many bands in England and really, they’re not that good. But the way they play is rock and roll; they play it loud and they play it with everything they’ve got. And it’s so… impressive And I go to Holland and I go to gigs and sometimes you see a really nice, good band, but it seems as if, deep down, they don’t believe in what they’re doing.
Corno: But that’s history because we don’t have a Sonic Youth or we don’t have a Jesus and Mary Chain or Siouxsie and the Banshees, none of it! Probably in terms of rock the most we have is Golden Earring or Urban Dance Squad. There are more, but if you talk about big bands…
This confidence thing is so noticeable. Maybe there’s also a lack of middle men who are prepared to really go out on a limb and help. For my point of view there’s little support from the industry for a sort of character like Bill Drummond or Andrew Loog Oldham, there is no John Peel or Seymour Stein. There are no independent and brave people who take risks on a big scale here; sitting inside and outside the industry. And you can’t be one by being “gezellig”.
Corno: Yeah, but the “gezelligheid” is where the weak side of Holland comes together with the uncertainty they [sic] have about music. OK, what I am saying may be complete nonsense but erm; it’s a combination of things. It starts with the fact that they don’t believe in themselves. And then there’s the other thing, the real typical Holland thing is the “vergaderen”… the meetings.
Yeah, I know what you mean the meeting culture. You have to agree everything.
Corno: Everything has to be agreed. So the Polder model. And the combination is deadly. So you’re not sure about yourself, and there’s also something inside you that wants to make everybody happy or you look to agree that everybody’s happy. So the combination means that you need other people to be secure; to say “oh you can play well…” but then there’s this, ah… hmm…
A weird over-confidence too; that’s born maybe of having no confidence in other situations. I always find here that when people think they can be confident, they go completely overboard. So it’s with something like football, where there is a common sense that the Dutch are good at it [sic]. And people feel safe to lose their identity in a team AND retain a sense of personal confidence. So the idea of losing identity in total football, no one who is more important than the team; even though you have people like Rensenbrink and Cruyff and Neeskens.
Corno: But this is not true this is fake.
Yes! That’s what I was about to say! It is fake.
Corno: Because you can have total football but you still need Cruyff to be champions.
True; and when they came to the final they blow it, because there is the point of finishing things off in a decisive manner. Which – I think – you need a certain individual identity for. You can play people off the park as a team and still lose.
Corno: But if we talk about this that is a different story.
For sure but I am using it to illuminate the fact that you can hide an identity and also feel confident about your identity at the same time. That’s why I also use football against music in this argument; because there is a structure and a tradition in football that people use to feel safe, or confident in in Holland; one that is not present in music. You probably have the same sort of talent, but it’s cut off at a level that would see it blossom in football. Whether that is because of individual ideas of rock and pop which are against the team ethic of football, I don’t know. But there is still no-one or nothing determined to push it [note: talent] through in music.
Corno: But isn’t that because people believe? Johan Cruyff was an ordinary guy, Van Basten was an ordinary guy, Gullit was an ordinary guy, Rijkaard was an ordinary guy. All those great players were ordinary guys they were living in normal… in some “rijtjeshuis”, somewhere in the street. In Voorhout we used to have Van der Sar. I used to play with him when he was a junior player before he went to Ajax. But that was somebody you know, and he became world famous! But you don’t really know anyone here who’s playing in a band. So because of that, [sic] I remember things like when we were in Zoppo; with the record label, Transformed Dreams. And Marcel, [note: head of Transformed Dreams label] he was really into England. He always had an opinion, and he told me this a few times. He said, “say, there’s a pop quiz; on this side we’ve got a really old man, now 85 years old sitting in a bar every day and he’s English, and on the other side we’ve got a pop professor from Holland”. He said, “if there’s some kind of a challenge, and I would have to give up all my money, I would I would immediately set all my money on the old guy from England, because it’s in the system. They go to the pub. Music is part of the structure there. It’s not strange that if we’re in England, in some normal pub, there’s a room in the back and there’s some punk band playing there. That’s part of the culture. In Holland it’s not the case.
…And the other thing is that it’s interesting when you see these shows, these talent shows. In effect that’s really, really Dutch to decide, “here we’ve got 10 boys and girls to come on stage and sing something.” So, you’ve got a boy or a girl who can sing beautifully and it’s slightly different from things you hear on the radio and then the judges would say, “we’ve got some coach and he can change your style, they make sure that you sing like this person who is in the Top 40, and make sure that you make the moves that are in the videos”. So what we do is that we have a talent that is unique, special and we see that it’s special and we look to reform it into something we know already. So we try to make it into something not as good as Whitney Houston but almost as good. (Laughs) Or we take Abba and try to get something that is near; so the best we can get is something that is almost as good.
… Maybe that’s also in smaller bands. So when people ask about my band – and although people don’t have to like it, I’m sure about my band – so when I say listen to our album it can easily stand between Sonic Youth or Dinosaur or whatever. And people start laughing.
Erm, I don’t.
Corno: And people say you’re ignorant or arrogant or whatever and I say no! This is how it should be! This is how you should feel when you release your album!
(Space Siren at Sweet Release of Death gig. Pic courtesy of Vera-Groningen.nl)
Do you really think that’s a Dutch thing? Because really, music doesn’t really have a passport, even though of course systems and conventions in a country make people react in a certain way…and of course it…
Corno: Ah come on Richard! Look at Dutch journalism… a nice example is how Dutch critics look to Dutch bands and how programmers look to bands from America and abroad, it’s always better there. If you’re a programmer then you can book Dutch bands as long as there are UK or US bands on the night or at the festival. I remember there was this interview in the Oor. And it was on one of the last albums of Urban Dance Squad and the last album from Rage Against the Machine. And they weren’t the most, how do you say it…
Corno: OK, so they did what they did before. And with the Urban Dance Squad the review went “ah they did better it’s just what they did last time” and then they started talking about Rage Against the Machine. And they wrote “it’s cool, it’s aggressive…” and I thought well for fucks sake, about Rage Against the Machine is in a way is an Urban Dance Squad cover band! Why is that not in a review and why is it when Urban Dance Squad went to Yugoslavia and they were on television and the interviewer asked, did they play many gigs and they said “yeah, yeah we supported Rage Against the Machine”, and Milan, from Sing Sing Studios, he was flabbergasted, because Urban Dance Squad was big in Yugoslavia, they were fresh and exciting, and on TV they were so “small” and so…. You know… “We’re supporting someone else”. And Rage Against the Machine should be the support act for Urban Dance Squad. This is Dutch.
I agree. I think it’s criminal. It drives me mad as you well know.
Corno: All those stupid things like Le Guess Who?, or whatever. They pay all those foreign bands a fortune and whatever. And Subroutine and all those Dutch bands, they all have to play the Saturday afternoon, and they get what, 30, 40 euros to get there, and just piss off, and at 6 o’clock when it’s crowded, they close the bar and get everyone out because (Corno adopts an authoritarian voice) “the foreign bands are coming and they have to be in soon” and have a proper sound check. And you come in after two hours and there’s an American band playing there who are often really crappy, and there’s 10 people watching, and they’ve just kicked out all those people for the Dutch bands.
Lots of British bands think this is weird too. They can’t believe being on tour in Holland, the quality of the supports or the service. Say the Long Blondes. Not really great live but really great songwriters. They got Nieuwe Vrolijkheid as a support I remember. And Long Blondes were really impressed by dNV; and although dNV weren’t the best Dutch band I’ve ever seen, they were definitely interesting and had something special. And Dorian from Long Blondes asked why these bands weren’t headlining. This set up goes right the way back. For the stuff I’m studying for my MA; you look at all those Dutch bands like Minny Pops supporting Joy Division, Mecano support Echo & the Bunnymen, and Plus Instruments support DAF. It’s never the other way round or even a joint headline. And you know Rob Gretton didn’t push to sign Minny Pops to Factory for nothing.
Corno: This might be another interesting thing… That bands in Holland don’t stick together or work together to aim high. When I released our record I wanted The Ex, you know what is the point of aiming low?
(Corno takes a swig of some beer that’s hanging around) Godverdomme! Echt fucking goed beer hèh?
Yup – that’s why people leave here with stars falling out of their eyes. (Laughs) And I wonder that’s the same with Dutch bands; looking to help each other to help themselves to a bigger picture. It’s like crabs in a barrel. The story goes, you know, you put ‘em in a barrel and when they try to get out of the barrel the other crabs grab them and try to get on top, but they fall back. So they never get out of the fucking barrel. You never see crabs escape. You can leave it open. That’s sometimes the same with Dutch bands. Or is that unfair?
They don’t see themselves on a public platform. They just see themselves playing a gig. They don’t see a bigger picture.
Corno: No, they don’t. And the level of the music journalists [sic] is just as terrible at the bands.
Because here, I think, they go to journalist school and follow the rules and they don’t dare to follow their gut. If they like something they should just say, whether it’s untrendy or opinionated, or not. But they don’t, there are rules and too many people cautiously stick to them or don’t want to be seen as having an unpopular or untrendy opinion.
Corno: This is interesting. If you talk generally about countries, the people who are seen as polite people who don’t say what they think, then it’s the English. [sic]
To a point, yeah.
Corno: And the Dutch are known for being rude. Or impolite because they say what they think and they don’t see themselves as being rude. And what you say now is the complete opposite.
Yeah! I think there’s a fair bit of that. I always hear this “Dutch people are rude to your face” thing. I don’t really believe it’s like that. The only time I have ever had Dutch people really in my face was in the Bollenstreek where people used to really say what they thought. I think they’re much more two faced in the towns. They are nicer to you, to your face, but there are subtle ways that you see when you get pushed to the side or kept out.
Corno: Everybody says I am rude, but then I’m from the Bollenstreek. But, why do always remember the bad things? They do! When they talk about me as producing they always start with the fact that I am too rude or impolite or too honest or too critical. But then they should think of the result and think what would be the result would be without the criticism.
But you are different because you are a results person, you want to see results; and it sort of goes against the private, preparation work which lots of people like to lose themselves in. The bit where it transfers over from private to public is important. The other bit, from private the final bit of private if you will – I can’t describe it better – is in the long run irrelevant. If you are going to make art the preparation stuff…
Corno: If you became famous it is getting important afterwards, [sic] but not at the time.
It’s just work isn’t it? I do it for my writing. You think, you know what? You produce, you kick it out there, you engage with people. Like, engage with my work! Whereas a lot of Dutch music business people like to find something that is irrelevant and bring it to the party. Regardless of the fact I churn out words by the thousand, and help promote lots of nights and help with tours, or paint, they don’t see anything but me enjoying myself in a bar. They don’t think beyond what they initially see. In England, for sure, and I should know, people would appreciate that you were trying to do things as well.
Corno: I don’t think this will change. It certainly hasn’t worked with me. The result of me and my studio is, bands don’t wanna come back!
Corno: I have had this so many times, people saying “we have been in several studios and you’re way the best but if the band comes again it won’t survive.”
Yeah but that’s surely good for them.
Corno: No but it’s not! Because the band doesn’t survive and they wanna have it “gezellig” and when you’re here and you don’t play good and you’re in trouble.
But that’s what art is in a way, good artists go through a sort of hell.
Corno: (Smiling, after a long silence.) This is a romantic thing to say, Richard.
Yeah, of course but look! Look at people like the painter Max Beckmann in the war. Stuck as a German disliked and ignored in Holland but hated in Germany and he can’t escape anywhere. But he keeps painting. And he paints some pretty pro-British pictures. In the Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam there’s a self-portrait of him and his wide and inside his bowler hat it says “London” so it’s daring stuff. But he just doesn’t stop painting. He has nothing but keeps going. And I think, that is, if you wanna be an artist that’s what you do. It’s not a “stagiaire” job. Too many people here think art’s just a way to be a better rounded person. So you do a little bit of this and that, you have a great sex life and you’re healthy and slim, and that’s great. And I say, no it’s not. It’s shit. You do one or two things really well, regardless of everything else. Then you are truly valued for it.
Corno; I’m good at three things. I can record, play and throw good parties here.
And you’re valued for it! Actually I should ask you, now you mention recording, about the peculiarity, maybe the wrong word, but the special nature of your sound for this studio. It’s very rich, and dense, quite needly sound…
How did you concoct the sound for this studio?
Corno: What’s concoct?
Ach, conjure, cook up.
Corno: Distilled is a better word for here (Laughs). There’s no secret it’s just me trying to make an exciting album. Probably the same thing if you ask Van Gogh “‘why did you come up with this?” I’m not saying it’s the same talent, but it’s the same feeling, why did he come up with the things he did? He didn’t paint like Rembrandt, why…. I dunno it’s because it came out that way. Lots of hard work and inspiration. This is what I like. I am always looking for sounds I find exciting; to find something that is happening.
Driven by your guitar playing?
Corno: Erm… It’s my first thing because I am a guitar player and because I have a couple of guitars and a couple of amps, and I really know what sound I have there. And when people are here and there are good guitars and amps, they use them. And another thing; I’m an arranger in music. So when I listen to songs, immediately – and I can’t help that – I listen to a song and think, “hmmm, interesting intro but it’s a bit boring but maybe we can do something with that, so I will add a melody, or the chorus is a bit dull, so let’s add an organ part,” things like that. And then you… you know, maybe the sound came up with recording a lot of not that good bands [sic]. So you have to make something up to make it interesting. And then my sound appears.
…I don’t… and this is really bullshit; what I’ve just said. In a way…. I don’t know.
But you try to get the best out of what you’ve got. Many people associate you with a big sound, but a lot of your things, however difficult, and let’s take Space Siren; they are brilliantly arranged, because your tracks are never flat. They always look to catch you out. You always use texture and tempo and rhythm in interesting ways.
Corno: Well… more is always more for me. Less is less (laughs) I like that. If I was a painter I think I’d do something like first making my painting red, then blue then yellow then brown and then start to paint. I think the idea that there’s something behind the work to give it depth. In music even always when you don’t hear it as a dub or an extra thing, if you hear something extra going on, it gives depth. And it’s good as a listener if you don’t really know what is going on.
So you initially try to come at it [note: recording] in an abstract way and then you put bits together.
Corno: Yeah, and the other thing is to work from an idea. That’s only since the last year I guess, and there’s another change where, until about 5 or so years ago, maybe more, I used to play a lot on the albums of other people. Now I sometimes do it, but when I get really annoyed where you’ve recorded something and you think you can make it better. I mean, you go to the band and say “you know what we can do, let’s add some guitar here” (makes motions to play a guitar) and the band says “that’s a great idea”. And after, I don’t know, take 25, it really pisses me off, so I come in and I do it in one or two times and it’s on tape. And erm… that’s the only time when I’m on an album now; and then you know there’s something going on there! (Laughs)
… But that’s erm… hmm…
I wonder how did you deal with King Ayisoba? Because that would have been something else again.
Corno: That’s different. That’s a culture shock that’s everything… I recorded him twice, recently with his band, and previously just him and Arnold from Zea. Arnold, who is one of my heroes, brought him in and he thought that King Ayisoba should play here. Now he is such a nice guy, but he is big, he IS the king. And when he comes in, I remember when I first saw him on stage, and well… that morning when I cycled into the studio I expected a big, a real big African guy. And when he walks towards me he was a head smaller than I am! But when he was onstage he looked much bigger, he looked like a mountain! So the first time he came in, I could see he was a bit nervous. A different environment, a different way of dealing with things in Europe… he was by himself too. And I was a bit nervous too; because I’ve never recorded Kologo and I’ve seen King Ayisoba play and it’s so powerful and so beautiful.
…I remember from that first day, everything was really big, so I asked, “can you please step back a bit from the mic” and he was, (Corno imitates a hunched up, questioning King Ayisoba) “should I stay like this? Should I be like this?” I asked him to step back to get more air in the sound. And then he kept asking “like this? Like this?” He was like a small child, asking. But then he started playing and it was amazing. Phew… And Arnold was playing a guitar like a bass guitar. And it still amazes me because I asked King Ayisoba, “how long does the song take?” And he was “slightly more than 5 minutes”. And it was 5 minutes and 8 seconds. He played it 3 times maybe. And each time 5 minutes and 8 seconds.
…Another thing; we put the mics in the room, and he looked at them and said “Biiiiig microphones!” “Biiig!” And he stops playing and came into the mixing room and looked at the desk. And he said “Biiig mixer!” (Laughs) Afterwards I said “did you like the sound?” and he said “It’s BIIIG sound!” So everything was big! But it was so powerful from the first time… and then he starts singing and that is completely unbelievable. So we did one song in a day. He likes to dub a lot of vocals. The second time was with his whole bands, and that was completely different. Because the marimba player starts, and he did a couple of songs, and then Sule, you know the guy with the big shaker, he also recorded some songs and also on Kologo. And at the end of the day the whole band did a song, and it was so special. And the whole environment was music.
…Even…. ach let’s say I’m not into culture, I’m just a musician, it doesn’t matter, it’s all the same in a way. Whoever it is – King Ayisoba, Gwendolien, WOLVON, Sweet Release – they are musicians; they are people, friendly people. But… I really wouldn’t know what to say to King Ayisoba the way he is, is just it. So the whole way of recording was completely different to when a band comes in and searches for sounds, say a band that doesn’t know what they are doing.
Talking about things where you DO know what you’re doing… You’re doing the new Space Siren record. What’s new? Anything we can ask?
Corno: Well it’s a bit difficult because it’s not finished yet. The whole thing is quite different due to the fact that when I recorded the previous one I was a healthy normal guy, and now I am a dying person; so that gives different perspective. For me it’s quite different and the choices are more extreme. But how it is for somebody else I don’t know. All through the years I have done things that I think are completely different to what I have done before and people have said “oh it all sounds the same”. And then I’ll do something that sounds like other things I have done and people say “this is completely different!”
…Look; we have got a deadline; because we go on tour at the end of May, and if we want to take the record on tour to England, and it’s gotta be ready on 25th April. [Note: at time of interview the following week]. I recorded 13 songs for the album, and two have to be recorded completely. And three songs that need vocals. And I gotta mix stuff. So, it’s up to me.
Think you can do it?
Corno: I hope so. I have to. But in my situation, with not being able to sleep well, and all those things together it’s not… well I think, I hope, at the end of the album you can hear the energy for me. The energy is way beyond all the things I did before.
“Mr Wagner, Please Give Us a Call”, your last one, is a slow burner; and it sounds different live and bigger. And you think, when you hear them live, those songs are absolutely massive, epic! Especially when you heard them when you played them on The Ex tour. Especially with Aico’s bass, and the rhythm section; it makes an incredible backdrop to your band.
Corno: I will tell you now, for sure, for the people I met [sic] I have got the most special band I can think of. Ineke for me is one of the best drummers I have ever seen. I have never seen anyone dance behind the drums like she does. Aico, he’s so steady, he just goes on, he never complains, he’s always working on something and goes on and on without ever getting sloppy. And Gwendolien, this time again…. okay, there is a difference this time because I am a bit more into this new album; for me it’s the most important thing in my life, and so much time and energy for me. And previously we did a lot together, but this time, she’s got a hell of a lot of things to do also… so I have to do a bit more, but then last couple of times recording with Gwendolien’s vocals, it’s…
(Corno slaps the table)
And what I really like is that; when you meet her, you don’t think…. I mean she’s really polite she’s really humble, some people think she’s arrogant because she’s a bit quiet. But she’s not. And when she’s in the studio and recording, not even Ineke and I are allowed in the studio. And I said when we did some vocals “can you fuck it over like it’s the last thing you’re gonna say on earth, don’t care about tuning, just make me feel uncomfortable”. And she did it, and when she came in, she couldn’t listen back to it because it was so unpleasant to listen to. And for me that’s so special. And just before that she was whispering vocals that were beautiful and it was so intuitive that it was mind-blowing. And those three people are all IN MY BAND! (Laughs) So it is easy to make a good album.
Your show at the Tivoli, with The Ex, bloody hell, when you were on a big stage, bands like yours are just as good if not better than the foreign bands Dutch bookers book.
Corno: Yeah. And I’d like to say one thing about The Ex. It’s unbelievable that a band like The Ex is not better known. People here had more than 30 years to find The Ex, and still when you talk to people who are supposed to know about music, they don’t know The Ex. And that gig at The Paradiso is the best gig I have ever seen in my whole life. It was so full of everything. It really explored life. Unbelievable, so much energy! And everything was real. And that’s a fucking Dutch band and you know, we complained earlier about how terrible Holland is for bands, but we got The Ex, and Zea, and WOLVON and Vox Von Braun and Space Siren and so…
Just give them a bigger chance!
Tags: Bollenstreek, Katzwijm, King Ayisoba, Next To Jaap, Space Siren, subroutine, subroutine records, The Ex, wolvon