April 29, 2014
by Richard Foster
Corno: I’m learning trumpet. I can get a tone; (Corno blows hard on this battered looking old trumpet and eventually it wheezes into life, giving a clear and sonorous note).
Corno: Hmmm… Well Ineke and I played in SeeSaw and when that finished – because the recording of the last SeeSaw album was a kind of hell, with everything going wrong – it felt that we had to do something that we had fun with. At that time we were at Transformed Dreams, and I recorded a band called Green Hornet [note: garage rockers from the Hague, round 2005 I think, someone will doubtless correct me; and lo! I was, they were from Groningen, thanks all] and they did a song by DAF and then the idea appeared [sic] to make a split single with 2 DAF covers. So, we recorded the song, “Verschwende Deine Jugend”. And it was a bit double [note: here Corno means had a double meaning] because at the same time Ineke was pregnant, and we thought that was a nice message to our new born kid! But it seems that our version of “Verschwende Deine Jugend” wasn’t trashy enough, so the garage label and they didn’t wanna release it. And, well… it didn’t matter so we recoded another song for the other side and kinda did like a catchy punk song; a really nervous sort of song and we called it “Lullaby”; and in that way we had a birth card for Janneke. So in a way we began, recording for Janneke. [note: here it is!]
…Now, with SeeSaw we were really anxious to get somewhere; we really tried the best we could, and we were ambitious. And now, we’d just recorded a birth card, and Marcel released it and sent it to England. It came to the attention of the guy from Underworld, he had some radio show on BBC Radio 1, and he really found the single amazing and all of a sudden there were several people really interested in what we did. But at that time we really didn’t have the band; so… (Laughs) we said, “sorry; thank you but…” Even so, this guy from Underworld wrote a mail and he was really enthusiastic about it. But we didn’t do anything at that time, except playing in Zoppo!
…One of my best friends, Kees [note Kees Apeldoorn] said that their bass player had quit and they were almost ready to record an album. So I said, “yes I can play some bass parts”, it’s just 4 strings and I’m used to 6 so… It’s not a big deal.
And erm…. Later on, when Zoppo was finished, we had this idea; maybe we can start a band, because Ineke and me weren’t really into doing nothing. Even when we weren’t in bands we’d always made music. So; the band… Well; Aico, our bass player had recorded with another band, he played in Cereal, a stoner band from Haarlem, a nice band and then, later, another band which was a more dancey band; it wasn’t really his thing (laughs) but I always liked the way he played; this really groovy thing he has, the way he goes on and on. He could play one riff for hours. And anyway, he immediately said yes. At the same time I was recording a band called The Cuties. And the singer of that band, I really liked her voice and she was one of the most musical people I’d met, and she was interested so we started. So… we had quite a few songs and then this singer quit; and we had to start all over again. And I had the idea that (because we’d recorded AC Berkheimer before) if we wanna go on, we need Gwendolien for the singer. Because in my opinion, she was the only suitable person for the job. And to my surprise she also immediately said yes.
…Now, in the beginning it was kinda strange; with different people from all kinds of bands, used to all kind of different band dynamics. And I also had the idea that people thought that – because I record bands – that I know everything. Or maybe I give people the idea that I know; but (laughs) this [note: working in a studio] is what comes of practice; and these things help me. So there was a bit of searching in the beginning but after a while it went okay so we released this double 7”. We liked it a lot so we thought, why not an album? In the period between the first release and the album we also released a split single with the Sugarettes. And then “Mr Wagner…” and then, the week before the release party I get the news that I had cancer. So that was…
…That was quite tough.
Corno: Yeah. You really don’t know what’s gonna happen. After half a year of Chemo and surgery, things went quite okay; so we start playing and then we played quite a lot. I always had the idea that I wanted a second album quite soon after, too. So we had already started working on it. And before the first time I went to hospital, we recorded a few things with the idea that, if I’m feeling alright, we can go on with the songs.
…But then, it’s quite tough in hospital with Chemo and stuff, so…
…So when everything was over we started recording again. And then the doctor said I was cured, and you go for your check-ups; but within a year it as the same problem. And again another round of surgery and stuff. So that was tough. Also for the band; because at the first time people were saying that I was tough and they admired me because of going on like that being sick, and going on with the Chemo. And I still had the idea that they shouldn’t think about me; I was more worried about my band members carrying me around… (Smiles) And when the second news came and I had surgery again, I had no time or energy for recording. And when I went back it seems that they can’t cure me anymore so. What to do then? Then you grab your things and go on.
And that’s the stage we are at now. I have to mix 4 songs and we have to look which songs are “wrong” [sic] because we have too many.
Corno: What I think was, everybody in the beginning everybody in the band were… Now in my opinion everyone in my band is really musical, but they all come from different directions. And because of me mostly writing the songs and arranging them, and more used to recording things and having ideas over what kind of sounds I want, it’s wasn’t…
…Ach, it’s not really that I make the decisions, but I talk the most!
And it needed [sic] some time for everybody to understand what we were looking for. I remember in the beginning we had some songs that are on the double single; this song called “Wrong”. The demo I called “Rocker”, because it’s a real rocky song. And all the time I was complaining; “we play it as a rock band; I don’t want it to be a rock song, I want it to be more like pop; you should hear more things like flowers or it should be playful”. That’s the way I work, and it took time for the band to get used to that. They are used to me now and they just don’t listen.
…No, they do their thing and it’s getting better anyway.
Corno: Well in a way, we were almost forced to release an album. It would be more interesting to release EPs and 7”s but the problem is it’s quite hard to sell records anyway and 7”s are more difficult to sell than albums. And erm… as long as it’s not an album, critics are not interested. So there’s another thing. That makes it quite hard to release 7”s. Well… you sell ‘em at shows and finally you get rid of ‘em but that’s… well…. I think we could have released EPS or things on different formats.
…But that single was because the song didn’t make it to the album. Not because we didn’t like it, but it was so different from the vibe of the rest and the idea of the story of the album; and we couldn’t fit it in. But we liked the song a lot, so it was a beautiful opportunity to release it anyway.
Corno: Yes but I also think that the approach of the Sugarettes on the 7” is a result of me recording it; and I record differently than they’re used to. They’re more into this beautiful slick sound and they’re really good at making good pop songs. But I like them the most when they get rough. So maybe I just tried to emphasise that side of the band.
Corno: Essential… hmmm… essential in what I wanna hear, or what I wanted to do or what I hear afterwards?
Corno: Well I like this way of working on sounds and arrangement anyway; so that’s where the sound comes from. I had the idea that with SeeSaw we made songs like that; actually they [note: SeeSaw songs] are a bit alike but we didn’t have the knowledge or the nerve to record like that. And I thought well, when we are gonna make an album it will be something you can listen to for a while. And we would work on the songs until they were finished and not one bit earlier. I hate the feeling when somebody is telling me “I kinda like it but I don’t understand that song”. If I’m honest and I have the same feeling; that I agree completely that it needs something, then…. Why put it on an album?
…And it’s stupid to do that I you’re not satisfied with it. That was the whole idea. Working on the songs till we get the idea that, “this is it”. And it should be that every song could be released as a single. Not that every song is a radio tune or something, but more like every one stands on its own and every one has the same amount of energy and interest. And we try to get all songs to tell their own story from start to end. Maybe that’s it. I dunno, 9, 10…
Corno: OK let’s say 10, and they are all 10 stories. And mostly nowadays it’s one kind of sound.
Corno: No, no, no, they don’t have to start with catchy radio songs. Nowadays it’s more like you make a format and that’s what you put the songs in. Then a whole album sounds a bit the same. And I like albums that sound a bit… all over the place. When I was a kid I was a big fan of Queen and later on there was The Beatles. And bands like Liars and Broadcast. They are the same. They almost make sculptures with sound. That is what I always really like.
Corno: No, you’re right.
Corno: Well…. This song is a bit of a story because when we recorded “Mr. Wagner”, I told you before I think; when the desk went down, we had to call this real Mr. Wagner. He was in charge of automation at the desk factory. Well, I haven’t met him or seen him, so I am still working without automation; I’m still making my mixes manually. When I’m mixing there are loads of little bits of sticky tapes and things. It is almost like you are a musician during mixing.
…But with that album it was terrible, because I had all these troubles with the desk. It got repaired during the sessions, so we started mixing things. But then it went completely down again! The whole power supply went, so then we had to put up my old desk. Now that one, (Corno points over to the current, non-automated desk) you can’t get that one out [note: of the mixing room] it’s not do-able; you can’t lift it, it is 4-500 kilos or something. And then where would you put it? So we left that one here and we brought in the other desk, where we are sitting now. And during the recordings, we had all kinds of troubles. So we decided to get the record done quickly. Try to get the last couple of songs, the last 4 or 5 songs ready. And Tammo Kersbergen helped us in recording. We thought (here Corno slaps the table) “we’re gonna nail those motherfuckers in a couple of days.” So then we went out for lunch or something and we came back, and we could smell something, (sniffs) you know, “what’s that smell? It smells like burning.” The desk, the one we were working on, started burning. And it smelt terrible! So we turned it down and luckily for us Tammo was there. So we took everything out and went directly in the tape machine, just dump it [note the LP] on tape; no EQ interference, nothing. The plan was, I’d wait till this other desk is repaired then we can listen. Well… we could listen to it a bit but we couldn’t get the full picture.
… So we recorded till we thought it was okay. But then, when we listened back we thought a couple of things were quite crappy; with lots of little things wrong. And we thought, “aw fuck what are we gonna do with this?” Then we just turned it around and thought, “this is what we have, why not just go on like this? Keep the recordings as the base.” But it is SO hard if you’re working on things with errors. And because of the errors we tried to fix things, and it was all over different tracks.
…Gwendolien and me, we were trying to mix things, and this is on a board without any automation, so there was a big note, with all the things on the board we had to do. It was almost like dancing on that board! (Laughs) We were reaching over and under, to the left to the right on that board; with the EQ and all of these things! And finally, at the end of the day we had the one. And the next day I had to record another band so there was no time. After I finished with this other band, we listened; and…. Arrgh… there was this “clunk” in the low end part. And during all this mixing, we forgot to turn off the guitar amps! At the time, I had just put a guitar down, and that’s what you could hear. For me at that point… Arrgh… All those sounds. And worrying about these little things.
…So, we did “I Think I Saw an Elephant” again. Tammo had a go to make it more listener-friendly, and we sent the two mixes off to mastering. But I kept thinking about them, thinking that we should master it again. So we had a second go; and then I called Gwendolien and said maybe we should get the mix with the clunks in the end. And I was almost sacred to ask to master it again, with another version. So I asked, and the guy mastering said “this sounds like you; the other two didn’t sound like you at all!” So the album version is the one with the errors and the clunks on the end.
…And nobody ever heard it!
Corno: It is! I was for “Mr. Wagner” and the same for this one we are doing at the moment; they are so filled with stories; problems with this, problems with that. And mostly they weren’t personal problems… we should have personal problems; maybe that’s the next step (laughs).
Corno: Well most of the time when you play the basic tracks and listen to the songs, you could release that. But then, as I just told you, I’m really into those hidden sounds, and depth in sound and working on it.
Corno: Well first there was this terrible news about diseases, which runs through the story of this record. And then, the desk has burnt down two more times (Laughs). And this last couple of months, I have my energy back after surgery. So I’m working like hell on this album, and, especially the last couple of weeks, I am almost living here. But the story is still the desk going down. Let me give you an example. Last Thursday we had the idea to sound check before recording the last two songs. We would start on the Thursday to sound check, so we can finish recording on Friday morning. And because we’re well prepared it shouldn’t take that long to record. And then, I have this idea about a Karel Appel song in my mind. So I needed to do that too. On Thursday night, they [note: the band] came in. Earlier, that afternoon, I had mixed another song for the album and all I had to do was dump it on the master tape. And then the desk starts humming! (Corno makes this low growl.) So, I can’t dump it on tape. But with analogue mixes, if I pull the mix off the board to start sound checking, my mix is gone and a day’s work is gone.
…So what to do when there’s a deadline? We think on our feet; we put up all the instruments, mic it, and give Johnny in Wales a call, so Johnny has some nice tips about the board; so we fiddle around, dump the thing on tape. But in between all of that, I had to go to hospital, and only then we can start playing. And by then, everyone is exhausted, and it didn’t work out straight away. And if everybody’s exhausted and it doesn’t work out, somebody starts to scream and another one starts to cry and another one has an idea about fucking the whole fucking kut band! (Laughs) And there goes the schedule again.
…And this, it seems, is what happens all the time! But every time I think “this song is finished”, I listen once more and then I think “maybe we should change that, or try this again”. It takes loads of time.
Corno: Because I like his painting, and I had this record of Karel Appel for years. I stole it from Kees, my neighbour and my best friend. And it’s a record from 1960 called Musique Barbare. And it’s Karel Appel with tape loops and percussion instruments. And there’s one song when he’s really hitting the big drums and cymbals, and all the way through you hear some tape loops going on. And he is screaming with this real Amsterdam accent, “I do not paint I hit” all the time “I DO NOT PAINT I HIT! I DO NOT PAINT I HIT!” but with a real strong Dutch accent! And he starts screaming, “my painting is the destruction of all that exists!” I find this so beautiful! And I thought, I wanna have something like that. So I thought we should find all the instruments we have and just sort of throw ‘em in and then let’s see what happens.
…So I asked Janneke my daughter – she was playing outside with a friend. And I said, “do you wanna join in?” And they got some tins cans and bongos and I set them up in front of some distorted mics, and Ineke and me were on one thing, while Aico and Gwendolien were on another; so we recorded.
…And then it sounded REAL STUPID!
…I thought we had better start adding things! So we started hitting pianos, but I still thought we could get more like Karel Appel, with more energy! So we found some real stupid pedals, I have some mad pedals with loads of buttons. You plug it in and there’s a sound, I don’t know where it comes from, but you get this sound. You start turning the buttons… and even I really don’t know what’s gonna happen. So one day you get low sounds, like “wooowoowoo” the next, screeching sounds like “yiyiyiyiyi!!!” And it changes, just by looking at it; it starts changing. And it’s not connected to anything; there is just one plug; there’s only noise coming out, there’s nothing coming in! So we did a couple of things with that, and hitting microphones and stuff. And then Gwendolien sang a really sad tune through it, and I recorded that at different speeds on tape.
Corno: Ah yeah, yeah.
Corno: It’s SO NICE to do things like that! The day before yesterday, I was finishing off a song of Gwendolien’s. She had started recording at home and the vocals were just like jabber talk, no lyrics. And she had sent it to me when I was in hospital. And, argh… you know… when I heard it, it was crying time for me. It was so sad, and the whole thing round it… So I thought we should put that on the album, but I thought we should do something together on it. So we got 4 or 5 tracks in total and we dumped it on tape and from there on we started hitting things and adding things, and Ineke played on some crappy stuff [sic] and finally she added serious drums on it. And I did crazy atmospheric guitars with chopsticks in between strings, and echoes… And that’s another thing when you record like that. It takes…. Years!
Corno: It is yeah! The whole COBRA thing… And talking of music, they release tons of weird things nowadays, and some of the things I really like but back then… it seems like releases from the early 60’s had a sort of standard spirit. I recently bought some mad French jazz from the early 60s, it’s called Jazz Sebastian Bach [note: Argh! Corno’s into The Swingle Sisters! Run for the hills!] and it’s so, so weird and so they take Bach tunes and scat over them.
…Now; WHERE do I find stuff like this nowadays? It seems people from the early 60s were way more weird [sic]. [Note: Corno, be careful, I can find stuff if you really want it – Richard]
Corno: I think there’s a different energy. Because nowadays we have loads of beautiful electronic music, but you’re behind your computer sitting there, working things out; probably you start with an idea, but then it’s all “act, react”. But it’s different sitting behind a computer, and going into a space to start smashing things around or connecting wires. Because there is nothing; you have to make it up. It’s a complete different energy than someone sitting behind a desk.
Corno: You have this English label, Touch; they release loads of these weird things; like sounds of empty buildings. And putting microphones into a rotten animal. It’s interesting! I mean it’s not always that you listen to it or think “ah that is nice” and go and get a glass of wine and smoke a pipe… Still; for me it’s inspiring that there are all these weird things in electronics. It’s good that it’s so different. And I don’t mean to say that what they do now sucks…
Corno: I mean it’s just different.
Corno: Yeah. I shouldn’t be talking about this because I don’t interfere with that stuff. But I know the people who made these things. And they are so dedicated, at least as dedicated as I am with the music. I get the feeling most bands think “well, what have we got to do on Wednesday afternoon between 4 and 6? I dunno, hey tell you what, let’s record a video clip then!” And probably they finish at 5, and have a spare hour to drink beer!
Corno: I don’t know how long it takes to make a thing like that. Maybe he’s just laughing at us and he’s able to fix things in 5 minutes and just acting out that it takes months. (Laughs) No; I think it takes a really long time.
Corno: Ach come on there are some really nice videos; I mean I don’t watch all that many…
Corno: That’s actually one of Ineke’s father. All those movies are made by Ineke’s mother; they are real 1970s films. She got this 8mm and really liked it, making those films and then editing them. Alicia, the singer from Sweet Release of Death, she transferred it all to digital and started to sort it out. But the filming was done by Ineke’s mother. Ineke’s father, you see him cycling!
Corno: I think so. Yeah!
Corno: I think so yeah. I think so. I also think that in recording approach this time, we made it further [sic] in making it really raw or really nice. It’s a bit hard, because I’m still mixing and it’s not finished yet. I’ve still got to see what comes out; as we’ve got more songs than necessary for the album. I think it’s a weird combination of songs from really trippy to quite heavy to… strange.
Corno: Actually this song is a bit of a homage to Arnold. The song is called, “Is It Because of That Movie?” And it’s a line from a Zea song. Arnold sings that, and Arnold is one of my heroes. I think he should be a hero for more people in Dutch underground music. So that’s also a reason why we wanted to play that song on The Ex festival. Arnold doesn’t know but… (Laughs)
Corno: Well, my problem is when a band erm…. (Long silence) I’ve got quite a few albums of bands I really like, but after 3 or 4 songs, you know it’s really going on and on and on… and I get the idea there should be something else now. Now my approach at a gig is to tell a story. And if you’ve got 3 or 4 really heavy songs, after a while it’s almost impossible for a listener to get anything from it. You just get tone deaf. Maybe if you play like that for 3 hours or something maybe you get in a trance, but if a band plays a show of 30 minutes; they need to break it up.
Corno: That’s really funny… There are quite a lot of bands who are in the rehearsing room, they have tunes like that. When you’re relaxed it’s not the most difficult thing to do – but when you record, or are on stage you have this tense feeling. You’re not at ease. Then it’s really interesting to play those songs. To play those live, you have to (Corno takes a deep breath) first go in and then start. And in the beginning, I remember it was really difficult. It still is; but it’s also fun to do. We did “You Guys Kill Me” a real slow one; when we were in England last time. We had that in the set. And on the first night before we started playing we thought “arghhh, is this gonna work, in this rough place?” Because you have started aggressive and loud… but it worked really good [sic]. Every band who does things like that, and who gets a crowd quiet [sic]; that feels like the highest compliment you can get. I dunno if it’s because they are embarrassed and cos it’s inconvenient, (laughs) but it feels really great.
I remember once; I went to a release party for Starring Lisa, who I recorded. They had this really nice song but when we recoded it, it was too nice; there should have been something disturbing in it, so we used crappy microphones and stuff in the recording. And still it sounded okay; so somebody mentioned “maybe we need some scratches or something, some noise like your mother coming in with a vacuum cleaner.” So we did that. And the singer was recording and singing his song and the drummer (laughs) grabbed the vacuum cleaner and just vacuumed during the recording! The recording was filthy then, and sounded marvellous. And anyway I went to their gig and they played this song; really beautifully, really easily and people weren’t interested. Now, I was in the back of the room; and everybody was talking… and it fitted perfectly to the song. I can imagine the band found it terrible to play because no-one was paying attention but at the back of the room, with the talking people, it sounded so immense, and one of the loneliest moments I had!