April 17, 2014
by Tjeerd van Erve
The Fire Harvest May 2002. He probably doesn’t recall this*, but it was the first time I met Gerben Houwer. It was after opening for Do Make Say Think that the tall blond drummer of We vs Death handed me the first 7″ of the band and the two of us had a small chat. The item was apparently meant for the bookers of the hall, but I – as concert dj – didn’t quite (want to) get that and kept the little white gem for myself. The record was a postrock jewel; one that I enjoy up to this very day. The single was then followed by a handful of intriguing albums; all of which boasted great artwork. Regardless, it wasn’t until three years later that I would run into him again, in the Ekko, Utrecht. After I had rushed up to the dj booth upon hearing this Red House Painters/Smog-like band, the then CEO of – the now defunct – Zabel Muziek handed me the promo cd of this Utrecht based band Excon. This was another little gem that not only brightened the long road home that same evening, but made a lasting impression on me.
Gerben Houwer now no longer plays the drums in We vs Death, Zabel Muziek has perished and Excon never came any further than that first ep; at least not to my knowledge. This tall blond guy, however, did not stop making music, exchanged drumsticks for a plectrum and started recording with The Fire Harvest. The Fire Harvest are a band that takes after bands such as Low, Songs: Ohia, Codeine and Karate; playing indie rock slow, as in real slow. Back round the time of their debut cassette I also got to see them live; on the Subroutine Records showcase during Incubate. Four guys making the music that I always wanted to play, but due to my lack of talent and an equal lack of social capabilities never came around in creating. Still; I started writing about other peoples’ efforts instead; although I couldn’t keep away totally from making music, which is why this series, The Modern Participation Society, saw the light of day.
Making music with The Fire Harvest is interesting; as I am confronted with yet another approach on song writing than with the previous three. Whereas with Rene van Lien it was a one-take which almost happened on the spot and with Rooie Waas, the two core members improvised the backbone of the song as we spoke, ate and practiced; Gerben proposes to start exchanging mails. As most songs of The Fire Harvest start out by exchanging ideas and recording sketches over the web, this seems to be the most appropriate to me.** Monday 17th of February. The whole story has to start somewhere, so let’s start it here. Gerben calls me to talk shop. “Normally I record sketches on my iPad and then send them to Jacco (van Elst) who gives me some lyrics back, because I’m not great with words. I can include you in these mails, so you’ll be really part of the band process for one or two songs?” Of course I agree, this being the whole concept of The Modern Participation Society. Precisely what our government wants us to do, participate.
Within an hour it is clear that when Gerben says “ACTION” he means ACTION. Two mails, each with a garageband attachment roll in my mailbox, with the question if we (Jacco and I) can take a look at them and see what we can edit or add. As said, this is a different approach and I end up expanding on the lyrics with one of the sketches. A darker and more cynical take on the way Gerben sees life, but I can’t let go of my own world perspective in writing lyrics. So it comes down to some sort “Schopenhauer-esque smorgasbord”, and I conclude that knowledge only generates yet more questions. Still, the words find their way into the song; and my negativism colours The Fire Harvest’s work in a bleaker hue than usual. Gerben then records this tune again with his iPad, and sends it around to the whole band, now including his brother Gibson, and new guitarist Nicolaï to rehearse, edit or add to. When the song is ready for recording, the last step in the process is to go to Vechtclub XL in Utrecht, to meet up with the rest of the band.
Or maybe I should say four fifths of the band, as Bart Looman is still considered as part of The Fire Harvest (he’s currently focusing on rearing his young family). “And when he feels like playing again, we will see what we can do with the five of us. Maybe even work with three guitars”, Gerben says, explaining how The Fire Harvest works. And that does bring us to the core of the band. Unlike with his former band, We Vs Death there is no overt ambition. The Fire Harvest is four lads, longtime pals coming together on friday night to play and record music, drink beers, eat the best three vegetarian pizzas of the first available pizza delivery*** and… well.. drink beers. Others play Risk every other weekend, watch the Jupiler league live on the pay-channel while the wives are out to the cinema or waste their hard earned euros on beer, cigarettes, more beer and pretty looking girls that won’t go home with them in the local pub. The Fire Harvest are a bunch of friends meeting up in the rehearsal room to make and create music. Because making music is fun; period. This is also a fun that I really get to become part of, on this last Friday of March.
When I arrive at studio “De Patrick”, Gerben and his brother Gibson Houwer have already laid down the basic track. So drums and rhythm guitar are already recorded and the rest of us get to finish the track. The rest being me and Jacco van Elst (This Leo Sunrise) on guitar, bass and backing vocals. A one-taker, says Jacco. And indeed, two times we run through the song and then – while I finish my vegetarian pizza – Jacco puts his part on tape. A sober bass line, burning through the song; giving it this indie rock Pedro The Lion vibe. A band loved by The Fire Harvest, or so at least the bass player says. My part, even though easiest part of the song, does take a bit longer. There is this little unnatural break in the song that I keep missing, but with the Gerben as director I manage after several tries and a couple of pints. But it is mostly the advice that Gibson gives that make the magic happen; “Just play as if you’re walking home but you don’t wanna go.” I drag myself through the lead, molesting Gerben’s guitar, bending it against my belly and see the rest of the guys smiling. This is it. We have captured the moment. Leaving us only with the vocals and yet another beer.
But first some ping-pong-ing has to be done, as we are recording everything on an old fashioned four track. Digitalising will happen later, as the tape song will go to Stefan Breuer for the final production. We, though, have to do with four tracks and that means Gibson has to create space for the final part by putting several tracks on one. Time for more beer. Gerben wants a choir behind his singing, and this cannot be done without drinking, of course, as one has to loosen the vocal chords. All has to be recorded on one track, so Gerben takes the lead as Jacco directs the gang of three through when and what to sing. Two takes and we’re done. Something like three hours after my arrival the song is ready for the final production. First listen is already a joy, even if the right balance has to be found. A successfull recording session finished, we strap on our gear again to play a psychedelic sludge echo version of one of my favourite The Fire Harvest songs, ‘Secret Holy Place’.
A grand finish of a great night. I feel part of a band. Especially when we head to the train station, I have to catch the night train… it’s like that romantic image of a band. A band of brothers, likeminded, that have just accomplished something. But most of all, a band that have just enjoyed themselves whilst making music and having a good night out. The Fire Harvest, my brethren. The band of friends – I guess I can call them friends now – I never found in my metal-crazy hometown.
* Reading this introduction, Gerben lets me know that he does recall our first encounter. Not the precise conversation, but neither do I. ** Honestly, I’ve just started working like that with Rene as well, as we have set out to expand our collaboration. But still it is somewhat new to me, things like ‘Garage band’ and real recording. Man, I have just bought my first ZOOM recording thingy.
*** Really! That’s the order that Gibson places when he calls in for pizza, “What are your three best vegetarian pizza’s?” followed by “Okay. Give us those three.” Life can be this simple.
Tags: gerben houwer, gibson houwer, jacco van elst, modern participation society, patrick, subroutine records, the fire harvest, The Modern Participation Society, tjeerd van erve, utrecht, we vs death